May 3rd, 2010


Somedays, all you need is one good 6' HDMI cable


Can we all keep it down a bit? No, I'm joking.


I occasionally post 140 characters of randomness. Now and then, I'll link to this, that, or the other, or brag about how we earned $30 in trivia winnings with a team of 6, and that's before our dinners and drinks were paid for, but that's good times, anyway.

But LiveJournal, that's the place where I can get my soapbox out and really ramble on.

Those of you looking for meaningful, important, or personal information can stop reading now - this is going to be both geeky AND cranky.

So. Back up to, say, last Wednesday. I was chatting with some friends/ex-cow-orkers/geeks, and I mentioned that I was excited about getting my new HDMI-ready projector. One of my friends asked me if I had a Blu-Ray player, to which I replied that I had a PS3, which really only saw use in playing Blu-Ray movies, or running Linux. To which, my friend replied, "oh, make sure not to get the latest update - Sony's disabling the dual-boot feature".

I got mildly indignant at the time, the kind of abstract fury that burns for a few minutes, and goes away. But this one took hold, and by Friday, I was seething that this machine, a poor games console, and - to be honest - a poor Linux box, would suddenly become only one of those two things. Reading Sony's comments, I as a Linux user, have a choice:

  • Keep Using Linux - if I always, ALWAYS decline the "required" updates, I can go on using my system as it is. Makes me wonder what they mean by "required".
  • Stop Using Linux - accept the update, which would remove the menu option to boot into Linux. This would allow me to go on using the game features, and I guess certain Blu-Ray features.

When I bought the PS3, I had some burning desire to write multithreaded apps, using the phenomenal power of the Cell Processor. Like so many of my projects, I poked at it a bit, and set it aside, and haven't been back to it. Oh, I installed Linux, and I've got a certain amount of mileage out of the Linux machine - if you recall a Games Magazine contest I was working on, I'm pretty sure that I used PS3 CPU cycles to earn me my Games T-shirt.

But you know, Sony has some sort of a defensible point, sort of - they marketed and sold a device with the ability to dual-boot, and then somebody reverse engineered their obfuscation of their system, leading Sony to feel that now their system would be rife with pirated games. Cats and dogs, living together. Your basic end of the world. So, what's the logical thing? Discourage the avenue for doing that.

Not, mind you, changing their security, really - if I were a guy who wanted to defeat their hypervisor for my own purposes, that information is out there, and if I chose to keep my Linux access, I could go ahead and do whatever I wanted with my hypervisor. You know, the ads say "PS3: It only does everything", and now that this guy reverse engineered stuff, hobbyists can do everything... well, except for playing modern PS3 games.

You know what? I have yet to find a really compelling PS3 game - PixelJunk Shooter was fun, for a $10 game, once you got past the grossness of the PlayStation Store.

So, yeah. Ditching the ability to use games that require the latest firmware, that seems like the right thing to do. I guess there are certain Blu-Ray features that I'll be locked out of using. I can't imagine what those would be. Automatically sending tweets about the fact that I'm watching Princess Bride again, maybe.

Anyway, so by Friday, I had reached an uneasy decision to opt for being a Linux geek over being a PS3 gamer. When I left work on Friday night, I had a 30' HDMI cable in my hand, but I couldn't go straight home from work, I had told a friend that I would see the show she was running. It was a well-performed, good show, but really wasn't the show I wanted to watch right then. I'll say that it was a show about women, and the audience was women, so maybe it was a show FOR women. A good show, but just not a show speaking to me. That has nothing to do with my HDMI cable.

So, between the end of the show and, say, 2pm the next day, I did a little bit of sleeping and quite a lot of cable juggling. I started off plugging the XBox into the Onkyo TX-NR807 with the 3' HDMI cable that came with my XBox 360, and then the 30' HDMI cable from the Onkyo on up to the projector. In this configuration, I could see the Onkyo menus through the projector, but no XBox content. The Onkyo has a display on the front that gives some information about the signal it's getting (stuff like "Stereo" or, I don't know, "7.1 Dolby Whizbangery"), but this display was saying "no signal", which sounded like bad news. If I plugged the XBox straight into the projector, I saw the XBox menu just fine. One thing that's kind of neat is that Microsoft recognized that you might want to run a HDMI cable from your XBox360 and a pair of RCA cables to the AUX IN of your 1983 sound system. There's nothing wrong with that. You CAN send video+audio over HDMI, but if you want to, you can split it up by plugging stuff in at the XBox. Done. I was able to... I forget. Watch a movie, or something, this way. Sound to the Onkyo, video via 30' HDMI straight to the projector.

But trying the same thing on the PS3 failed. Seems that Sony wants video+audio to go along the HDMI cable together or not at all, so by plugging in the HDMI cable means that the AUX IN option doesn't work for PS3 content if I want 1080p video output.

I think it was about here that I gave up on Friday night (hmm, thinking about it, I think it was 3am Saturday morning), got a few hours of sleep, and googled to see if people in the forums were posting about their Onkyos not doing what they wanted. Turns out, some people had sent their receivers back to be repaired, and some of them got good results from that, and some people found that their receivers (not the 807) only had HDMI pass-through, which seems like a strange feature for a receiver - if I understand, these receivers didn't pull the audio off the line as they pass it through, they simply pass it along to the display, so if your TV has speakers, that's fine. If it doesn't, you bought the wrong receiver.

I spent several more hours Saturday morning wrestling with the various options, and got exceedingly upset at Sony, at Onkyo, at technology. Bah! Technology! Time to burn the house down and flee the greasy plastic smoke of consumer electronics hurtling even faster away from usability.

Tangent: a few days earlier, I attempted to send RCA signals (good old red, white, yellow plugs) from the Onkyo to a second room's TV and stereo system, which had worked years ago. I failed, so I hooked up an old PS2 to that same TV and stereo system. This worked, except that most of the buttons on the PS2 controller did not work. Also, the PS2 froze up when it hit a scratch in the DVD I was trying to play. I eventually managed to find a working PS2 controller, which made things somewhat better.

Round about Saturday 3pm, plus or minus, I walked away from it all, with the intent of calling Onkyo's customer support line on Sunday morning.

You know how they tell you to just walk away from a frustrating problem? Almost like Alton Brown telling you to just walk away from the scrambled eggs before they look like they're done. If you wait until they look done to take them off the heat, they'll be overdone on the plate. Just walk away.

I was still spinning in my crankiness, fed by Sony's decision to change how my PS3 worked, by Sony's PS2 controllers that didn't work anymore with an otherwise working PS2, by Onkyo's possibly flaky receiver, by a minority of pirates causing legitimate users getting the shaft, by my fear that I had spent money on the wrong devices, by my fear that I needed to buy a whole new slew of home theater equipment, by my fear that this ought to just work, and I was just being too stupid to figure it all out.

And around maybe 6:20 Saturday evening, I decided that maybe the right thing to do was to get a different cable to run from the consoles to the receiver. I needed to get a second cable anyway - PS3, XBox, Receiver, Projector, to hook these up meaningfully, I needed 3 cables, and I only had 2. So, I swung by Target, and picked up a HDMI cable, Belkin, meh, GE, maybe, Sony, Good God No. Ok, so a 6' HDMI cable was purchased, and I still couldn't go straight home. At this point, I had promised myself that it was time to go out dancing.

East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Cha Cha, Foxtrot, Electric Slide, Cowboy Cha Cha, Texas 10 Step, Waltz, probably a few others, and I was spent.

I went back home with my 6' HDMI cable, plugged it in to the PS3, plugged it into the receiver, plugged the 30' HDMI cable in to the receiver's output port, turned everything on, and I was stunned to see a Linux prompt telling me to log in. Good gravy.

I rebooted the PS3 into game-console-menu-mode, worked fine. Put a DVD in, and I was getting audio AND video. Good stuff. I watched "Rio Bravo" (John Wayne, Angie Dickinson, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson), and it was incredible. I guess I had seen High Def pictures on LCD or plasma displays, and I've certainly seen good imagery projected on screens. And yet this was still stunning to me. Crisp detail makes a huge subjective difference.

By Sunday afternoon, I had a second 6' HDMI cable, hooking up the XBox in to the configuration, and I was able to watch High Def content from my choice of inputs without having to get up and move cables around. I celebrated that by pinning the 30' HDMI cable to the ceiling and wall, rather than draped down the center of the room. And then I played through Penny Arcade's "On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 2", which was more than I really intended, but there you go. And I played some of Lego Rock Band, and found unexpected frame rate hitching - was it because the audio and video were competing for bandwidth on the HDMI cable? was it because the XBox was incapable of keeping up with the polygon budget of the game when driven at 1080p? I don't know. I guess I can do some more experiments to track that down.

But the bottom line, down here at the bottom, away from all the other lines, is that I was in a vicious circle of a foul mood, and then one success was able to turn most of that around. My PS3 is still halfway crippled, and Lego Rock Band has problems, and I probably ought to do something smarter instead of the PS2 in the other room, but for now, I can watch 1080p movies, and that makes me happy.