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Scott's Column
New House Plans, HDTV & more on ADSL

October 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

This turned out to be one of the most existing months of my techno-geek life. We bought a 65" Wide Screen HDTV. We also did a lot more toward the plans for our new house, and I spent a fair amount of time getting familiar with my new ADSL connection.

HDTV

We took the plunge and bought a HDTV Television. A little background is in order. Part of our new house is going to be a built-in entertainment center. I decided long ago I wanted a wide screen (16:9) rear projection TV (RPTV) in the house. We were out to dinner with some friends and they mentioned seeing a new Toshiba wide screen TV that was 65" (diagonally).

I have been disappointed in the number of wide screen RPTVs at the Best Buy nearest my home, zero. Since our friends saw it at another Best Buy we decided to trek across town and see what the hub-bub was about.

We fell in love at first sight. My wife has only ever seen smaller version of wide screen TVs (53-56" or smaller) and always next to 60+" 4:3 format RPTVs. They always seemed too small in height. Once she saw the overall size of the 65" Toshiba she became a believer.

The Toshiba was priced at $5,999. Ouch. We started thinking about it and wrote down the dimensions of the TV. When we got home we measured the opening in our apartment for our entertainment center. Low and behold the TV would fit with about 1" to spare. It was a sign. Not only could we use this TV as the basis for a built-in entertainment center when we build our house, but we can enjoy watching it right now.

I started doing some serious digging on the Internet. I found the Toshiba very highly rated. But I discovered something. The Toshiba (as many other RPTVs) has 7" CRTs (the projection lenses inside the TV). Apparently 7" CRTs are incapable of displaying all the resolution of a 1080i HDTV signal. 9" CRT equipped RPTVs can display the full 1920x1080 resolution that makes up a 1080i HDTV image.

Having realized that the Toshiba is not completely future proof (it will eventually have to reduce a 1080i's 1920x1080 resolution to around 1600x800) we decided to head out to a high end electronics store. They had a significant number of wide-screen RPTVs to view. Of all the models we saw only two looked better than the Toshiba. Pioneer's Elite series of RPTVs looked a little richer in color, but I am not sure that is not a setting that can be adjusted. Also, we saw a brand new Sony RPTV. The Sony was connected to a true HDTV source. I can tell you this... it was gorgeous. When HDTV is common it will be an amazing thing.

The brochure for the Pioneer claimed that it was capable of displaying the entire 1080i image. Since the 65" Pioneer was $1800 more than the Toshiba I figured it would have the 9" CRTs. Some digging on the Internet revealed that the Pioneer has the 7" CRTs, making their claim of full 1080i display capability misleading. However, I was able to discover that the Pioneer was not misleading in the picture we saw. From the opinions & reviews I found on the Internet, the Pioneer was the the only 7" CRT equipped RPTV that people seemed to think was better than the Toshiba.

I have not been able to find out if the Sony model has 7" or 9" CRTs. It had the best picture I have seen to date, but at $10,000 I would have to win the lottery before spending that much on a TV. I have not personally seen any TVs equipped with 9" CRTs (except possibly the Sony, I will continue researching this). But pricing models on the Internet revealed that those few RPTVs with 9" CRTs all seem to cost in the neighborhood of $10K. Ouch.

That lead us to decide if we wanted to buy a TV at $5000-6000 with 7" CRTs knowing that they will not truly support the full resolution of HDTV 6 years from now, or pony up the extra dough to get a 9" CRT equipped unit that will (hopefully) be future proof.

Spending 10 grand is out of the question right now. That would put too serious a dent in our house building budget. We have thought of doing a semi-long term finance deal. Best Buy from time to time will offer 18 or 24 month no interest financing. At 24 months that would mean we could get the TV now and pay for it after the house is built. Cool.

However I have seen prices for the Toshiba as low as $4500 on the Internet. Saving $1500 would be great. But then we would have to pay cash for the TV, denting our house budget.

We decided to put the TV on hold. Then we saw an ad for a Mitsubishi 65" HDTV for $3999. We liked the picture and the price was much more palatable. They asked my wife what it would take to get us to take it. She asked what they were willing to do to the price. They offered to go down to $3749.

We went home to discuss it, and do some fast research on the net. I could not find a single review of this exact model number. So I read about every other Mitsubishi TV. The reviews and opinions seemed to be overwhelming that Mitsubishi's HDTV offerings are only behind the always present Pioneer Elite Series. Then I looked at the cover of the brochure and noticed it was a 2001 booklet. Apparently this is a new model, and would explain its lack of available reviews on the Internet.

I was still worried about performance since the model they had on the floor did not look perfect. They claimed it was due to it having recently been moved and not setup correctly. Reasonable. I returned with DVDs in hand. I wanted to see what it would look like playing a DVD movie, since this was the primary reason for getting such a big, wide screen TV.

Needless to say I was impressed by the DVD performance and that sealed the deal. Two days later it was in our apartment. After a total of about an hour mucking with all the adjustments on the TV I had the picture looking incredible. DVDs and DirecTV look better than they did in the store, proof that theirs really did need adjustment.

For a complete review of the Mitsubishi WS-65807 read my Feature Article. This column is geared toward telling the story about my technology adventures, and not necessarily full product reviews.

If you want a very good Wide Screen RPTV you really should check out Mitsubishi's line of products. In the Platinum Series (below their Diamond Series) you get the most bang for your buck. Highly Recommended.

House Plans

Since we lost our designer we had to start from scratch. My brother-in-law knows a draftsman that could draw us a house for $0.35 a sq. ft. However, my personal feeling is that he lacks the creativity we need in a designer. We would have to provide far too much input on exactly what we want. We are not designers, and hoped we could just tell a designer what we wanted and let his creative juices impress us.

We ordered Homestyles.com's 10,000 Home Plans CD-ROM set. My brother-in-law had an older version of this program that contained 3003 plans. We went through that a while back but never found anything that had everything we were looking for. The old version used a MS Access database to determine which of 3 CDs a plan was on and required you to swap CDs as necessary while browsing the plans. I copied all three CDs to my hard drive, and installed from there. Then I edited the database table containing the disc number and set them all to disc 1. That enabled the program to run from my hard drive.

Alas I was not able to get the new 6 disc program to run from my new 60GB hard drive. They abandoned the Access database for what seems to be a DBase format. I can't tell for sure from the files, and I don't have an application that can read them. Oh well, we will have to do the CD shuffle this time around.

We narrowed our choices to 7 plans. Each had things we liked and disliked. But two stood out as needing the least amount of changes. We contemplated hiring the draftsman to draw one of these houses but with enough changes to suit our needs and be sure we weren't actually copying their plans.

I sent the 7 plans to my father for his professional opinion. He is a contractor and has been building houses longer than I have been alive. We took the two plans my wife and I liked the best, and took them to a designer. It was our original choice for a designer. You may be asking why we didn't go with our original choice the first time. Two reasons, 1) he was more expensive (now we know why) and 2) he didn't provide my brother-in-law and his wife with the "warm fussies" they wanted. We wanted to go with the same designer and settled on the designer that we thought would be best for everyone. We all agreed (too late) that he was not the right choice. My brother-in-law decided to go with his draftsmen friend, while we decided to go back to our first choice for a designer. This allowed us to take the two plans we liked, and had the designer do the best possible merging of the two. We love the 1st floor of one, and the 2nd floor of the other. We also added some points of our own, and a few very important items based on my father's input. Thanks, Dad.

When we have something in hand I will display it here (as before).

Our current plans have been delayed and it looks like we are targeting a March 2001 starting date to build. This just happens to coincide with the time frame we originally had. We accelerated our plans in hopes of beating any further increases in the interest rates. It didn't work out quite as we had intended. At least we are well on our way, having sold our house and hiring a designer.

Our land is cleared as far as we can go without having a footprint for the house. At that time we will stake out the exact location and remove all the tree stumps and any other trees in the way. We have banked the profit from the sale our previous house, and have setup a budget that allows us to save a good deal toward the new house. If we end up in our apartment a few months longer it only means a few more months of saving money. We may consider moving in with my in-laws for the last few months when our apartment lease runs out until the house is finished.

ADSL

Overall the performance I have been getting with ADSL is excellent. However, I have noticed delays that seem unusual. I find that from time to time clicking on a link seems to do nothing. For instance, I will click on a link to a news story, and the browser blips the modem light briefly and noting happens. During these times I tend to hit the Stop button and re-click the link. About half the time the page responds quickly, while half the time it seems to do the same thing... nothing. Eventually the page will show up, but I haven't been able to tell if it is my connection that is the bottleneck or someplace further out on the Internet.

Occasional delays aside, most of the time speed is very fast. Noticeably faster than my cable modem was when I moved out of my house. The speed is much more like when the cable modem was new and the cable modem service was new. I would say that general speed between the two here in San Antonio goes to ADSL. However, ADSL speed is influenced by your distance to the central office. I am less than 1000 ft (about 1/5 mile) from the CO and should be getting better than average speed.

ADSL is a royal pain to get up and running in San Antonio. The phone company doesn't care at all about customer service, and just expects this technology to eventually work its way into homes for them to charge for it. They don't seem to have any care about the quality of customer service they provide. In fact, the level of customer service they provide is so poor that I would rather go back to Time Warner's cable modem service. Unfortunately, it is not available in my apartment.

At this early stage in broadband service you will most likely go with whichever is available in your area, but if you find that you can get both pick the one with the better customer service. Unless you are running a server (something neither provider allows under their home service) you probably don't need the speed difference between the two. In San Antonio the customer service goes hands down to Time Warner (formally Paragon Cable) and there cable modem service.

Conclusion

I had hoped to get around to burning CDs with Music Match. Unfortunately (yea, right) the Big TV got in the way. I am thoroughly enjoying the TV. I am contemplating doing a pictorial view of letterbox movies as soon as I get a little silly time to take pictures of the TV in various viewing formats comparing letterbox to standard TV viewing of movies, and even letterbox on a regular TV.

Stay tuned.

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