DVD Rent

Making Movies Affordable

The Problem of Choice

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO, and whatnot… The future has arrived. I have no problem getting used to all these new video streaming platforms. I went through the videotape phase, the DVD phase, why not go through this one as well? After all, it’s becoming the dominant way of watching movies. Movie production companies are still releasing DVDs of their movies, but I wonder when all this will become obsolete. Maybe never, I hope never. I’ll elaborate on that.

Digital streaming platforms are great. You got everything at the tips of your fingers with just the click of a few buttons, and voila. You have a whole universe of movies and TV shows, and even documentaries, to choose from. Isn’t that lovely? If only you could stay inside and watch them all, who knows what treasures you’ll discover. But don’t let me be sarcastic. I really think they’re much more practical and easier to use. However, my problem is that there’s too much choice, and we weren’t trained for it.

Back in the old days, you had a limited selection of entertainment – music, movies, TV, art, books – everything. Now you have a nearly unlimited selection of everything. This is a beautiful thing, but I often see the younger generations have a hard time deciding what movie they want to see because there’s so much choice at any time of day and night. They spend hours thinking about it, and then regret their decision. The end result is – no enjoyment.

I’m not old, but I’m old-fashioned when it comes to these things. I’m not against technology or anything, but I’m not comfortable with it just yet. I know you gotta accept things as they come and I try to upgrade my life whenever it starts to feel a little stale – a man gotta do that. For example, I upgraded my water heater, I got a tankless one professionally installed. I got a Mac, a new coffee machine, an upgraded grass mower for my yard… See, I’m not too bad.

But, I can’t help but feel resistance when it comes to having too much choice. I like DVDs because of the ritual. You pick a CD, you open up the packaging, you feel that smell of plastic, you put the DVD in your player and wait for it to load… I don’t know, maybe I’m being nostalgic.

What do you think?

Before You Throw it Out, Blow it Out!

I just had to tell you guys this story. My friend has a DVD player, and all of a sudden, it quit working. The disc would spin and spin, but then it would just spit the darn thing back at him! He brought it to me because he thought I might know how to fix it. I know how to set up this stuff but repairs? Not so much. Anyway, he’s a good friend so I figured I would give it a try anyway. I did the super obvious one first: I tried a few different discs to see if it was just one or two DVDs that weren’t playing. Nothing would play, however, and it was definitely making me nervous because that exhausted my knowledge of DVD player repair, honestly. I certainly didn’t want to tell my friend that I couldn’t fix it—I hate admitting that there’s something I can’t do. On the other hand, I really wasn’t sure what other options I had.

Since I was at such a loss, I turned to the one place I knew people had gone looking for answers before me: the internet. Most people said to give it up and get a blu-ray player, but my friend doesn’t want to do that. He’s got an older TV too and I guess this hooks up easier or something, I don’t really know. He’s definitely a low-tech kind of guy, not like me and my home theater system. The problem seemed to be, according to the online gurus, that the player’s interior was dirty. This was an entirely plausible situation, so I figured I would give it a try. I know nothing about cleaning internal electronics, though, so I kept reading up on it. Lo and behold, two recommendations came up pretty regularly: a lens cleaning kit and forced air to blow out the vents.

I figured, what was the worst that could happen? I got a lens cleaning kit, figuring this was something it would probably be good to have regardless of whether it was the problem behind my friend’s unit or not. I already have a little portable air compressor that I could take over to his place, so that wasn’t an added expense. I figured I could give it a try and if it failed, oh well. It was already broken, right?

The first thing I did was open up the unit and use my small air compressor on the lowest possible setting to blow out the dust. I stayed away from the delicate looking machine parts and focused solely on the vent areas. Ewww. That was nasty. It made me wonder what’s inside my home theater equipment. Then I put everything back together and tried the DVD cleaner. I ran that through a few times.

Then it was time for the real test—I put a regular DVD in and fired it up. It worked!! Honestly, because I didn’t check it in between, I am not sure which one worked, but it worked! Now my friend thinks I am a genius and I feel like a rock star. Hope these tips can help you if you run into the same problem!

To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!

My home entertainment center is rather complete. You can count it all up and see that nothing essential is missing in terms of a screen, sound system (surround sound what else!), receiver, speakers, etc. There are comfortable chairs, a bar area, and a wine fridge. My center is ready to accommodate anyone’s needs in the entertainment sphere, complete with snacks and beverages.

People come over to enjoy life in a relaxing, pastime kind of way. We don’t pretend it’s anything profound. We get enough of that at work and in the news all day. Sometimes it’s just so darned depressing. We have the right to get away from it all, even with the help of a little alcohol. Wine, for example, puts you in a great mood right away, and without the hit of hard drinks. You can only handle so many of them before you need a designated driver. Wine is stocked in my fridge for a good reason. People love it and it seems to solve life’s many problems, at least for one evening.

It all started with a few gifts. People would come over and not want to bring beer. They knew I had tons of it. They thought it was more interesting to offer a nice imported wine, either red or white. I started getting into it and serviced the wine upon occasion. Everyone wanted to participate, even during football or basketball games. It became a thing to take the time to pick a really unusual, unknown wine. The whole thing just snowballed.

Movies were a cinch. Movie night became gourmet with cheese and crackers. Sipping wine seemed the perfect accompaniment. I became an oenophile, or true connoisseur of wine; or so I like to think. Over time, the wine started replacing other beverages, even sodas, and it all just caught on. People knew they would get their favorite variety just by asking. They knew my wine cooler was up to date on the product of the grape.

I was glad I had taken the time to research the right wine refrigerator. I mean who really knows about such stuff. I didn’t know there is a dual control for temperature so you can stock both red and white wines. I didn’t know that these fridges are décor items made of brushed finish stainless steel and special glass. I didn’t know that you can pull out the shelves or that they are made of unfinished wood so that the chemicals in paint don’t tarnish the taste of your wine. And I didn’t know that they are supposed to be quiet and barely hum.

Well, I found out all about it by reading the reviews. I selected a mid-size mid-price model that ran me more than four hundred bucks. But it holds 32 bottles and at the perfect temperature. You never get reds that are too cold or whites that need more chilling. It is an under counter design, but they also come free standing and even in slim size for modest spaces. I was very sure about it, and in fact hit the jackpot. It is now the focal point of my entertainment center when guests first enter, although it does disappear from attention in no time once the screen comes alive.

Cuddling Up for a Movie the Single Way

It’s a perfect day for a movie. I don’t have a lot to do, and those things that are on my agenda for the time being can just wait. I have a few films I have been dying to see, and now is the time. I need a breather, or a respite as fancy people say, from work. It has been particularly hectic of late. I love to get lost in a good movie – either the thriller, comedy, or action kind.

There is nothing like putting in the DVD to calm the mind. You get ready for some real escape. We all have our favorites that we like to see time and again. Even if you aren’t tired of work, watching your favorite actors do their part is a welcome relief from the idle chatter of your texting and messaging friends. You can enjoy a good comedy or an intense drama alone or with pals as you like. Add some good food, a couple of cases of beer, and you are set.

When alone, my routine is a little different. I grab a pregnancy pillow and stretch out to watch on the floor. I know what you’re thinking, but you don’t have to be female to enjoy the comfort of a pregnancy pillow. This is no pillow to sob in: I’m not that kind. It is for sheer comfort and to ease the back. It’s warm in winter, cool in summer, and just a fine way to pass movie watching time. You can get a good one online or in your favorite store like Target or Walmart. Just be sure it is larger than normal.

Amazon has a perfect option made by, of all names, Snuggle-Pedic. That’s pretty hilarious. The ad says it is bamboo shredded, full body size memory foam with an ultra-luxury Kool-Flow cover. That’s a mouthful. Apparently it feels like down but never goes flat. If I didn’t have one already, I would absolutely vote for this one. It is the highest rated pillow on Amazon. Are there others like me who can’t watch a movie without one?

It is made in the US and thus is guaranteed to be eco-friendly for our environmentalist friends. In fact, the contents are Biogreen and Certipur-US certified foam. Who writes this stuff? No matter, the thing has a conforming shape that orthopedically supports the neck for side, stomach, and back sleepers. You have to be one of these! I like a hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant pillow so I will have to check on that. I will see about a guarantee while I am at it. I don’t think you can go wrong with this one. It offers a free exchange.

I like the idea of memory foam as compared to down. You don’t have to fluff so often to get the right shape. Plus, I might have a feather allergy I don’t know about. So the foam is the choice of the moment. My body pillow should see me through quite a few movies to come without losing its consistent shape. It really does wrap around your body comfortably and isn’t heavy or confining. I should buy one for guests and we can sit enraptured together watching our films.

The Death of the DVD: Internet Streaming

DVD 1I love DVDs despite their being a bit fragile from time to time. One of the reasons is that I like to get my hands on things to know they are really mine. It’s a lot like paper books versus eBooks. Give me a paperback every time.

The thing is, even up to a few years ago, streaming video to a personal device was slow and clunky. That’s what made DVDs so appealing to me. I didn’t mind carrying around the 250 DVDs in my collection around in a Case Logic bag because that is what I was used to. True, you had to have a player but they were as common as cell phones at one time – everyone had at least one. Later they came out with those portable DVD players, which I never bought because the whole idea seemed weird. Laptops could play DVDs with a bigger screen anyway, so gave the computer a multitasking environment feel.

But now I have to admit there are a lot of advantages to Internet streaming video content. Notice I said video content, not movies. Because with the explosion of YouTube I can access many trailers and reviews before I plunk down any amount of money. YouTube is its own creature anyway, even though there are a lot of similar wannabe web sites out there now. But video content doesn’t have to be an entire movie, and I’ll admit I am happy about that.

There are a lot of reasons to abandon the DVD. I have a friend who is collecting a ton of them for future posterity. I think part of it is he is hoping to make a profit by selling them on eBay down the road, but I’m not seeing that to be very profitable based on what I have seen so far. The bigger problem is the player. There was once a tape player called an 8-track player that had specially made music tapes to put in the device. The same problem applies here. Having the DVDs is meaningless if you don’t have a player.

What I don’t like about streaming videos is that I really don’t own anything. You pay to use the video, but if whoever you are renting or buying it from decide to slightly change the content or remove it from the library altogether, then what recourse do I have? Whether that will happen or not I’m not sure, but my feelings on that are based in part on the fact that I like to personally handle what I buy.

A good thing about Internet streaming is I don’t have to wait weeks or months to watch a favourite TV series or a recent movie. Most of the time, movies that were in the theatres two or three months ago can be found online today. It is all about going digital and how it has changed the world – especially with music and video. I got a cable package that has great connection speeds so I rarely have any problems with jerky movies or pixilation.

I like to have my hands on what I pay for, but one question I ask myself is who will get my assembled DVD collection when my time is up – and will they want it?

Bean Bag or Couch

Yes, I had to tackle this issue because like art, music, and movies, there are a lot of opinions and everyone is right. People who got backaches from sitting in beanbag chairs will likely curse them more the older they get. Others who fell off the couch when they fell asleep watching a movie will opt for complimenting the flexible, yoga-like positions bean bag-seating offers.

Now for this blog to make any sense, there have to be some basic considerations that are the basis for giving a “like” to a beanbag or couch. The size of the room matters. You might be able to have a mix of both if the room is large enough, but if that is the case there is no problem to speak of. Smaller rooms tend to favour beanbags because they generally take up less space (unless you have a type of denizen that is known as a sprawler). Larger rooms can accommodate one or two couches and offer a cosier environment (if that’s what you want).

Beanbags have the advantage of being able to be easily arranged and stored. Stack ‘em, pack ‘em, and move them around to suit the preference of the viewers. They can be quite comfortable if you know which ones to get. One downside is the viewing angle for the seated. You might get a crick in your neck craning to see the screen or be thrashing around during the movie trying to get just the right position.

On a more positive note, there are doctors who highly recommend the larger versions of the bean bag chair to help with a variety of back and joint pains suffered by people who spend all day in front of a computer at work. There is also an environmental factor, as they are made of cloth or other manmade materials so by choosing a beanbag you are being environmentally conscious. Even if you get a higher quality seat they are not as expensive as you have heard.

A couch is more of an immobile behemoth, though it has several other advantages. You can sit and stack people on it as much as they can stand. There is a firm support for your back, reducing the possibility of morning-after backaches. It also makes the room look nicer, and you can put tray tables in front of or to the side of the couch to make snacking, drinking, and other side activities easier. Getting up to go the bathroom may require some untangling, depending on the number of people seated.

These days when you consider buying a couch there are a variety of choices intended to make your decision harder. You can choose a sectional for flexibility and easier cleaning up afterwards. The biggest choice is between cloth and leather. Cloth is definitely more comfortable since in a warm room leather will tend to stick to you. But it is very durable and resistant to tearing, so you might spend up front to save later. An in-between choice is microfiber, which combines the durability of leather with the comfort of cloth.

My choice? A quality leather couch – as long as I am the only one using it.

The Big Screen Decision

Home-Theater-stone-wallThere was a time where a TV screen was a TV screen. One standard size fits all; it was a simple cathode ray tube that illuminated the fluorescent screen by shooting electrons at it. Black and white made people happy because there was no colour. Then came the computer followed by the Digital Age and everything changed.

Today, the idea of having a cathode ray tube TV screen is in line with having an 8-track player – why? In one sense, even though there are some key decisions to be made when deciding on modern models of televisions for your home entertainment system, you are basically looking at a big flat screen. There are some newer curved models but I am not seeing any reason to spend the extra money at this point.

If you go back and read my earlier blog on Home Entertainment Setup 101, you will see that understanding your room is very helpful in making the best home entertainment system decisions. It is obvious that you don’t want a screen so big you are right on top of it. On the other hand, is it really a home entertainment system with a 20-inch screen? Be careful when you go shopping because the size in a retail store can be deceiving. Measure twice, buy once.

Screen resolution is a huge issue because of your picture is grainy or pixelated your viewing experience is ruined. You have several basic choices: 1080p resolution, full HD quality, and the latest 4K resolution, which is by far the best, you can get (but prepare to pay more). How to decide? The choice is based mainly on what you can afford. Everyone wants the best quality picture. One factor you may consider in your purchase is how often you expect to use the television. Light to moderate use makes it difficult to justify spending top dollar for something you do not use very often. A final factor to consider is the size of the screen, as the larger screens will require a higher resolution to avoid what appears to be a blurry or pixelated image.

Finally, here is a bit of technical information but is becoming a big issue with flat screen purchases – refresh rate. In laymen’s terms, the refresh rate is how often an image is displayed on the screen. What you see on the screen is simply a series of still images that are displayed rapidly, making it appear there is motion. So, the higher the refresh rate, the more natural the motion appears. If you are a serious gamer and connect your PlayStation or Xbox to your television, you will see the difference immediately between the different refresh rates. A rule of thumb is the refresh rate is the number of images that are displayed on the screen in one second. The current highest refresh rate is 240Hz.

For the purposes of viewing, these are the main considerations. Different TV’s offer different features, such as Internet connectivity and built-in DVD players. The more features you add, the more expensive the TV will be. So from a broad perspective, make the size of the screen and quality of the picture priorities. The other features likely can be externally connected.

Home Entertainment Setup 101

dvd1This blog is for those who are setting up something more complex than a simple flat screen TV and connecting it to their cable TV box and maybe a video game system. The components can include surround sound speakers, DVD/Blu-ray players, and stereo receivers. This is a basic guide, so if you are looking for more detailed information there are a number of good web sites what will give you the instructions with illustrations.

First, here are some general considerations. Step back and take a good look at the space where you are setting up your home entertainment system. Pay attention to things that can be overlooked such as whether it is carpeted (sound absorbing) or has a wooden floor (sound reflective). What are the sources of outside noises, if any. This will affect your optimum volume level for your speakers. Tilt your head up and see how high the ceiling is. Lower ceilings will bounce back or absorb the sound, depending on the material. Higher ceilings may give the sense of an echo chamber.

Examine how long the room is and where you will be sitting to watch the TV. Remember some speakers will be in close proximity to the TV, so to get the maximum benefit you should be about 6 – 10 feet from the screen. You shouldn’t have to strain your neck when sitting, so the height of the screen from the floor should put the middle of the screen at a centreline with your eye level.

Now for the specific components. You will likely want to connect a DVD or Blu-ray player to the television. There really isn’t much of a discussion here as to what to use – HDMI cable. The reason is it that it is designed to carry both audio and video signals in a single cable. You may connect external speakers if you are adding a receiver to the mix but this is not an HDMI issue. When determining the length of HDMI cable you will be using, do not worry about the cost as much as making sure that the video player is in a convenient location that also allows for easy access and adequate ventilation.

The issue of ventilation also applies if you are adding a stereo receiver and tuner to the system. Investing in a component rack is a good idea because down the road you will probably need access to the back of one or more components. There is something to be said for rollers. Depending on the features your receiver offers, you may have options for HDMI in and out, six to eight speakers, and a tuner antenna. Having at least one HDMI in port makes your system considerably more flexible.

Setting up the speakers is simply a matter of finding the best location and distance based on the construction of the room, which was mentioned at the beginning. A final note should be made regarding connecting a computer to the television using an HDMI connection to watch movies. You will need a high speed HDMI cable, which will cost a bit more, to avoid any problems playing back digital movies stored on your hard disk. Though this is not a consideration for many people, as they likely will be streaming video through the Internet, for those who have problems and are frustrated this is the simplest and quickest solution.