Cutting the Cord Part IV:II Seamless Intergration

August 28, 2011

As a refresher;  this is my trek to recreate a non cable, alternative TV solution to replace the $100 a month cable habit. Admittedly, I take a bit longer than your average media reviewer to make a decision or evaluate something.  As I mentioned back in Part IV.I, one of the hooks with the Cable TV option is the (relatively)  seamless use of cable box provided remote control and access to programing. As mentioned, the solution I have been creating is a bit more complex. To achieve a similar viewing experience, you need an antenna, an internet connection, a separate DVR, and maybe a DVD player.  While building this solution, I have been collecting additional remote controls and as of this moment I am up to 7 for one TV.

Houston We Have a Problem: Even for a techno geek, 7 remotes is over the top. Here are the devices in my solution requiring a remote:

  1. Cable Box, yes its still hooked up
  2. TV remote; used to shift from one source to another
  3. DVD;  to pause and play  those redbox rentals
  4. ROKU Box; Once you are in ROKU mode, you have to surf around through the selection menus
  5. HDMI Switch; Since all my equipment is remote from the TV, I use one HDMI cable from the A/V closet to the TV, so the switcher allows me to redirect the source from the cable box, DVR or ROKU box
  6. A/V receiver; I use this device when I want to use the surround sound speakers to watch movies
  7. CD Player; not really part of the TV solution, but a remote that is used to turn on the CD player

So needless to say, it was time to consider my options. Here are my concerns:

  • My current solution is fairly complex. It may require 2 to 3 different remotes to switch between the various sources.
  • If my solution is too complex or takes to many hands and remotes, its way too inconvenient. Two or three remotes might work, but 7 is way over the limit
  • If my wife wont accept the procedures required to get to the various sources, she will push back.

Universal Remotes: These all in one controllers  have been around nearly as long as multiple remotes. I have to admit, being cheap, I never considered any of them good enough to justify the expense. However, it was worth some research to see where the technology currently is.

The good news is, there have been dramatic strides in this category of electronic devices and by most sources, the Logitech brand is viewed as the bench mark product by many professional equipment reviewers.

Looking at the Logitech family of remotes  (at least 3 to choose from), they all function the same way but the 650 model only supports 5 devices and the 900 supports 15. In the middle is the Harmony One. The major differences with the more expensive 900 is the RF control. The Harmony One is very similar to the Model 600, but will control 15 vs. 5 remotes. Do you need the RF version? What is RF vs IR. IR (InferRed Light) devices require  line-of-sight to see all the devices vs. RF (radio frequency) that can transmit through walls. So, if you have all your equipment in a cabinet or closet, the RF device will project through the wall (granted you will still require a device to convert the RF to IR to talk to all the equipment since IR is the most common communications path for residential grade AV equipment. The Harmony One appeared to be the best choice for me since I already had an IR pipe to my equipment closet and I needed to control more than 5 devices.

Here is what makes the Logitech standout:

  • The tactical buttons to move around the devices (DVR, DVD, Cable Box) are pretty common. Such as; forward, back, up down, fast forward etc. So, no mater what device you are using, those common command buttons remain the same.
  • Device specific command are through a touch screen that allows you to access specific buttons  to further customize your request. (i.e. choose a CD track or access specific segments of a DVD). These commands are not near as regularly used as the ones mentioned above.
  • Activity based commands: This is the icing on the cake. With programing, you set one button to perform multiple functions on multiple devices. For instance; to watch a DVD with my system this is what happens: TV=On, TV=Video 1, DVD=On, DVD=Play, A/V Reciever=On,  A/V receiver= Video 1.  That is 6 commands over 3 different components  with ONE BUTTON. This is AWESOME… MY WIFE CAN DO THIS!!!!!! SHE DID THIS BEFORE I SHOWED HER HOW!!!!!!
  • The downside: I got excited in the last bullet point, so as you can imagine there is a “But”. You must use your PC to program the remote. Actually I see this as a plus. I found the program fairly easy to negotiate.  With installed programing, it walks you through the various components to perform the set ups… Yes, it will take the better part of a day to complete this function, but it is TOTALLY worth it. With Logitech library of  remotes, the program remains updated so, if you buy a new DVD in 2 years, they will probably have the code set , so all you have to do is upload the new instructions.

I have to admit, this part of “Cutting the Cable” caught me off guard. I did not figure this into the equation. However, if you look at my original formulas (Part I)  on cost and budget, we had some room to make some adjustments. The Harmony One has been out a couple of years, so the price has dropped from its original price of approximately $239 to about $165. The model 900 is fairly new, so they are still pricy ($349). Granted if your equipment is concealed you will need either the RF version remote or an IR Repeater (Channel Vision or Smarthome both have decent solution for under $100). If your equipment is in a remote closet, the RF version will keep you from having to run wires from the TV to the remote location and there is no receptor located at the TV. For me, I had already wired for IR, so it worked out better for me to use the IR.

I am approaching to final step, so stay tuned to see if we can make the final cut.

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Heating/Cooling-Air Filters

August 13, 2011

 Indoor Air quality is between 2 to 5 times more polluted than the outdoor air (US Environmental Protection Agency, September 1999)

I am invoking the 90/10 rule on this subject. Good basic air filtration will reduce dust and keep your HVAC equipment in good working order. For the other 10%, specialized filtering may be required to obtain hospital grade filtration, reduce allergies or conditions that have caused your house to be considered sick. If you have concerns of that level you may try some expensive HEPA type filters or consult an air quality specialist.

aifilter

MERV 1-4

To help us understand filter performance,  the standards body ASHRA created the 52.2 standard for rating replacement air filters. MERV or Minimum Efficiency Rating Value defines filtration performance with a 1-16 scale with 16 being the most efficient. However, “efficient” in this context is about  the amount of  particulate collected through the filter at the cost of reduced air flow. Using  a filter with the highest rating will require more service as it may 1) clog more quickly, 2) require more regular replacements, 3) be more expensive, and 4) add undue wear to HVAC components, 5) cause your system to over work, in-turn use more electricity.  So, if you do not have specialized filtering needs, finding a happy medium between efficiency and air flow is the prime objective.

 MERV Rating 1-4: Typically a very thin membrane made of fiberglass strands. This filter will picks up the big stuff and will reduce particulate to your system but will not provide any real air quality value.  The efficiency rating is <20%.  A MERV 1-4 filter can be purchased for a around $1 each.

Pleated MERV8

MERV 5-8

MERV Rating 5-8:  Typically a pleated cloth type membrane is more efficient and should meet most normal needs. With an efficiency rating of >20 but <50% these pleated panel type filter will provide adequate filtration as well as keep your equipment in good shape. They are about $3 each.

MERV Rating 9-14: Used in commercial or industrial applications based on their ability to remove certain smells and oders are becoming more popular for the home market. Assuming you can find the size you are looking for it will cost you $8 or more. When you get past a MERV11 they can be more difficult to find and expensive.  See the ASHRA MERV table for specific filtering requirements.

TIP: When you jump from a MERV7 to a 11, the price triples. The biggest difference is the amount of efficiency.  Based on the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) Green Building Program they recommend a MERV 9 or better.  ASHRA 62.2P  also recognizes proper air filter efficiency at 60% or 3 microns ( MERV 9).

When you visit your home center they will probably limit your selection to 3 or 4.

  1. The cheap fiberglass stran filter, MERV 1-4
  2. A large selection of MERV 5-7. They may even be packaged in quantity priced at about $3 each or a little less in quantity.
  3. A MERV 9-11. Fewer sizes but still a reasonable selection. About $7.95 each. If you are struggling with allergies, something greater than a 10 may help.
  4. Maybe a HEPA (MERV14-15) or another high-end disposable filter at $15 to $100. These may be recommended to you for specific algeric conditions.
electrostatic-air-filter

Lifetime Electrostatic

Reusable or Life-time filters: Unfortunately there is not a standardized rating method for these type filters and I have failed to find enough independent data to support their use. Depending on who you listen to, an electrostatic filter could be similar to a MERV 4 on the low end and a MERV12 on the high. An electrostatic filter can cost between $60 to $300. If you are using a MERV 9 or better you may consider a reusable electrostatic type filter. You will have to be the judge as to it meeting your needs. HomeownerBOB has no recommendation here but I have read more positive comments about the BOAIR brand. If it works for you, it will  pay for itself in less than 2 years and you won’t be throwing filters in the trash.  The biggest advantages of  electrostatic filter are 1) they can be washed out and reused, 2) their efficiency rating is in the 90% range and 3) the airflow is excellent and does not deteriorate at the same rate as a pleated filter. Once you wash it, it is completely restored. Many times electrostatic filters come with a lifetime warranty.

Hybrid pleated/electrostatic charged filters:  MERV does not rate this type filter either. The manufacturers market this filter by having the attributes of both pleated and electrostatic filters, but at $17, its still a disposable filter.

Many professional will encourage you to change filters on a monthly basis and depending on where you live, that may be the right thing to do. HomeownerBOB recommends that you replace your filter some where between 2 to 4 times a year. You will need to be  the judge on the conditions that may warrant more or less frequent changes.

Reasons to change/clean your filter more frequently may include:

  • Continued use of heating or air conditioning throughout the year
  • Living on or near a busy street, highway, airports or rail road track
  • Living in a dry/arid part of the country
  • Living in an area with a low percentage of annual rain and or high winds (Texas, New Mexico, California, etc)
  • Living on rural property with a lot of exposed dirt
  • Living on an unpaved road

As I said in the beginning of this article, these filter recommendations are based on the larger body of population that does not have health related conditions. There are many more filters, filtering systems,  filtering strategy (cascading) and air exchange studies that can be used to solve air quality issues.

Recomendation:

It should be pretty obvious, unless you have special needs, or live in a very dusty enviornment, the MERV 5-7 should work fine.

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Change, or clean your HVAC filter at least 2 to 4 times per year.