Have you ever bought something for your home theater that you soon realized was a big mistake? I bet we all have. Perhaps it was a big piece of equipment that doesn’t do what it was advertised to do? Perhaps it was an expensive limited edition movie box set that you blind-bought, only to find out that you hated the movie? That’s what we’re discussing in this week’s Roundtable – our biggest home theater regrets.
We’re trying to keep this to actual big regrets. Wasting a buck to Redbox a movie you thought was just sort-of OK doesn’t cut it. There should be some significant expense or inconvenience to your life involved. I’ll start things off.
This one is especially stupid, and I really ought to have known better. Have you ever heard of the Laserfilm video format? I didn’t think so. There’s really no reason for you to have. It’s an ultra-obscure video disc format developed by McDonnell-Douglas in the early ’80s for flight simulators. The format didn’t catch on and was never marketed outside the company.
Nevertheless, several years back, someone got hold of a bunch of these players (they were cleaning out McDonnell-Douglas storage, I assume) and listed them on eBay for extremely low prices. Curiosity got the best of me. I think I paid $10 for one, but the damn thing was so heavy that shipping cost twice that. Still, $30 was still not a lot of money to waste, so I didn’t feel too bad about it… until it got to my home, and I quickly realized that I had no idea what to do with it.
The Laserfilm player was a big, heavy tank of a machine. It had only one video output: RF coax (the pointy one that cable TV comes in on). I managed to plug this in (I had to route it through my VCR) and power on the unit. That brought up a blue screen that verified it was working. And then… Well, that was it. I had no software to play on this thing, and no way of ever getting any.
So, two minutes later, I unplugged it. That was the end of my grand Laserfilm experiment. I eventually got rid of the player, but I have to admit that it sat as a doorstop in my home theater room for quite a while, taunting me with repeated reminders of my foolish impulsiveness. I’d like to say that I learned my lesson and never made similar mistakes again after that, but sadly that’s not the case.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
Back in the early days of high definition TV (before Blu-ray or HD DVD), JVC released an HD-compatible recording/playback format called D-VHS. It used MPEG-2 encoding to record audio and video digitally onto a tape the same size as a standard VHS cassette. As a huge fan of HD, I ran out and bought one of the first consumer D-VHS recorders, the HM-DT100U, for around $1,200 (list price was $1,499). It had a built-in ATSC tuner, so all I needed was a roof antenna to capture all the free HD shows I could find and store them forever on those sexy rectangular VHS tapes.
Unfortunately, the format was not only expensive, but glitchy too. While it worked for recording over the air HDTV, the unit I purchased had major playback problems. It hiccupped on the audio and video every few minutes, even on the demo tape included in the package. Fortunately, J&R Music World had a decent return policy. My love affair with D-VHS lasted exactly three days, and I was able to get my money back. I’m still waiting for a home Blu-ray recorder, though. Anyone…?
This isn’t something I bought for myself, but rather something that my sister and I pooled together to buy for my dad. Five or six years ago, we decided to surprise him by getting some audio equipment for his then seemingly enormous 32-inch Bravia. Based on the salesmanship of a Best Buy employee, we went with the Bose CineMate Home Theater System. At that time, I didn’t really know any better.
On Christmas Eve, when my father was asleep, we set up the system. In the morning, he came downstairs and was blown away with the amazing gift. Then we turned it on and found that, like The Doors, there was no bass. It was as if the subwoofer didn’t even exist. A quick trip to Best Buy the following day resulted in an exchange for a Panasonic system loud enough to make my mom complain – always a good sign. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and won’t be buying Bose again.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I don’t really have a horror story, so sorry if this one’s kinda boring. I excitedly shelled out for my first plasma TV in the summer of 2005 so that I’d have something to watch all my shiny new HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs that were less than a year off on the horizon. I wanted to take advantage of the set as much as I could in the meantime, so I picked up a Sony DVP-NS70H upconverting DVD player. The upconversion was great, and at $129.99 or whatever it was, the price was right. The frustrating thing is there’s a black bar a little over an inch tall on everything I watch on it. I guess the entire image is slightly distorted to compensate for that too, although that’s never really bugged me. How no one noticed this at Sony, I have no idea. As far as I know, there’s never been a firmware fix either. (It stopped being my primary player years and years ago, so I admittedly haven’t checked.) Strangely enough, even with as long as that bar was displaying on that plasma, there’s no uneven wear on the screen. Score one for Panasonic?
Honestly, I haven’t had a bad home theater purchase, or an expensive as hell home video release that bit me in the ass (other than paying thirty bucks for some movies in the early days of DVD…). In fact, other than the occasional DLP lamp burning out due to excessive use, the only home theater problem I’ve ever encountered was the HDMI handshake issue with my Onkyo TX-SR606 receiver. Even then, I had definitely used the piece of equipment so bloody much that I couldn’t complain.
Keeping the Onkyo in my home theater, rather than buying an HDMI 1.4 compatible receiver when I first decided to go 3D, resulted in me buying a Blu-ray 3D player with a second HDMI port for 1.3 compatibility that ended up costing me a few hundred bucks extra. Even with a new receiver, that second port has allowed me to make a unique setup that I still am utilizing until I split my review televisions into separate rooms, further making my home a giant man cave. I guess I’ve been lucky that all of my purchases, save for a near-launch XBox 360, have paid off.
I may be among the lucky few, but aside from the occasional blind buy disappointment, I haven’t really had any big home theater purchases that I’ve come to regret. It probably helps that I live in a tiny condo, where I can’t exactly blast the surround with a series of ever-updated sound systems. The size of our living room also puts a big limit on the size of the flat screen we can fit on our wall. I guess I don’t really have any regrets. I just want to make a few improvements (bigger screen) as money allows. Other than that, I’m content.