the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: home

google home mini

I went to Microcenter with my family to pick up a couple flash cards (free with coupon) and as soon as we walked in, we were greeted by an end-cap of Google Home Minis. A well-positioned salesperson said “I think they are still on sale for $29.95.” One of my daughters, armed with Xmas money, immediately grabbed one and started pleading with me to allow her to purchase it (she’s only 10 years old).

With out much banter, I acquiesced to both the purchase and her intended location: her bedroom. Second, older daughter also ponied up. Mind you, I sold my Google Home over the holidays because a) I just never got used to the idea that she was always listening to ALL our first floor conversations, and b) I can perform the same commands on my phone – “Okay Google, play Syd Barrett” – and send them to Chromecast Audio.

Not much larger than a hamburger, the Google Home Mini is quite a bargain at $29.95. According to the web, that’s just about Google’s cost for the thing. Both daughters have Nexus phones (one part of the Fi plan, the younger wifi only), so once home, they quickly downloaded the Google Home app and we began setting them up. The Mini offers my daughters a couple of things that I like: all the music they’d ever want (with a linked Spotify account), an alarm clock, and interaction with voice technology. Let’s face it, in a decade or so, our houses will have voice-controlled access to computer technology in every room. It’s such and amazing and convenient interface: “what’s the weather” or “what’s 56 times 27?” It’s also a single solution for the clock radio and the bluetooth speaker (though I wish it had a time display).

I have to admit, I kinda wanted to buy one myself, but, alas, the sale ended, and so did my desire for it. For now…


google home

Yeah, I’m a sucker for IoT things like this. Amazon’s Alexa found a new home via eBay in Rockford, and I have to admit, we felt a little empty with the gap she left. “Alexa, what’s the weather” mostly.

So I jumped on board when Google announced their own voice-activated assistant, Google Home. I preordered directly from Google for $129 sometime in October, and it arrived just this week. Setup required me to download the “Google Home” app on my android phone, and I was then prompted to enter my Google account info. A simple process, it did some updates, knew somehow it was in my kitchen, and connected to my home wifi network.

Firstly, there is no privacy with these devices. Google knows who I am, where I live, and can listen to all the conversation maybe even in the entire house. That near-field technology is quite good, and even when laying down in an adjacent room Google Home could hear my commands, all given with the obligatory “Okay Google” salutation.

Unlike Alexa, Google Home, or rather the Google Assitant is quite smart, rattling off answers to questions like “Who just won the World Series” and whatever else we could think of. The biggest surprise was when I asked her to play some music. I have precious little in Google Play, but based on one album I bothered to upload sometime ago (The Blossom Toes’ Ever So Clean), she offered a quite satisfying playlist of late 60s psychedelia I could imagine. Bravo.

So here she will sit, ever listening and patiently awaiting our commands, until we too get bored with her!

home theatre

Although I bought this thing back in May, I never got around to writing it up. When I made the decision to do the home theatre, I first picked up the remaining PSB Alpa series speakers to match my existing fronts and subwoofer; it's important to have a balanced soundstage between all five speakers, so definitely I stuck with the same line. I also purchased the Oppo DV-980H, a universal disc player that plays all the multichannel formats, except Blu-Ray (which I'm not interested in). All that was left was to purchase a home theatre receiver.

I purchased the Marantz SR5003 from Decibel Audio for $629.00. Why did I pick the Marantz? Well, honestly, because it was there. I mean, the price point was perfect and the Marantz brand name is still well respected. But I didn't really audition that many receivers, and given how many choices there were (a boatload of low-end options were nixed, as of course were the high-end ones), I was just happy to make a choice (yeah, I'm a Libra) and get on with it.

Now the SR5003 did have a couple of things going for it: HDMI 1.3a (for DVD-Audio over HDMI), High Bit Rate Audio capability for all those 96Khz/24Bit mixes, 90W per channel (plenty for the room I'm in), and a ton of features I'll never use! I hooked it up to the Oppo with both HDMI and optical cables; the latter was specifically for HDCDs (which don't decode over HDMI). Receiver setup was a lot of work, but with some patience and the manual I eventually got it all figured out, including how to enable the subwoofer for two-channel stereo ("both"). Oh yeah, the remote sucks, big time; but find one that doesn't. Britian's Prince Philip is spot on here. I also had to reconfigure the Oppo player to output everything properly – just remember to do so with an empty tray (it won't enable all options with a disc in it!).

One downside of having a projector (Epson) with component input for video, or more aptly put, one without HDMI connections, is that I can't use the video output from the Oppo over HDMI while the Marantz is connected to the projector via component. It's not that critical for my use – I just output the video directly from the Oppo, and don't worry that I'm not using all the upconverting features of the Marantz. Granted, it's a pain during setup as you really need to view the Marantz's options on-screen.

All said and done, I'm now enjoy 5.1 audio from all those DVD-Audio, DVD-Video and SACD discs I have. Porcupine Tree's "Lightbulb Sun" and the Beatles' "Love" were instant favs, although I have been disappointed with older 70s albums that have been "remixed" into 5.1 (like King Crimson's 40th Anniversary edition of "Red"), along with a lot of music DVDs that "claim" to be multi-channel. But most of my Netflix rentals now have that extra edge that multi-channel sound brings, and having the capability of 5.1 audio now brings the entire system up a level and into the present of true home theatre. One big bonus is using the digital-out of my computer over optical cable to take advantage of the 192kHz/24-Bit DAC converters on the Marantz. It's a difference I can actually hear.

There's little on the downside, except of course that all home theatre receivers have so many options that will never be used (video processing and especially, all those audio "modes"); you can only wonder why they're all there. Well, it doesn't matter, it sounds great and it didn't break the bank. My home theatre is complete!

On the web:
Marantz SR5003 Receiver