August 15th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

My latest toy, and a toy I need but don't know how to buy.

I don't feel guilty about getting rid of my old monitor. I previously bought a used 17" Viewsonic G773 probably every bit of a decade ago, and used it hard. It still works, more or less, but it was getting more and more unpleasant to use. The anti-glare coating on the screen had been scratched up enough that about half of the screen was starting to look blurry. So I went looking at buying a new one, and found out that there hardly is any price difference any more between a 19" CRT and a 19" LCD. Oh, if I'd hit the used-computer stores I might have found as good a deal as the one I found a decade ago, if I got lucky and didn't eat up the savings in gas money driving all over the place to find a good deal. But buying new, especially buying online, the $20 or so difference between the two was easily eaten by the shipping. And never mind the pleasantness of getting back that much space in my tiny apartment, I was also more than ready to save some money on my power bill and my monitor is on easily 18 hours a day. So I got curious and looked to see if I could find a good deal on a two-for-one LCD unit, something that would replace my 17" monitor and my tiny little 14" TV. To my pleasant surprise, I did find one, and I'm pretty darned happy with it: the Megavision MV190T 19" LCD combination monitor and TV by Hysonic.

I think I got a pretty sweet deal, and so far I could only just barely be happier with it. For $299 it's got an amazing array of features. In addition to being a standard broadcast/cable-ready TV, it's got four video inputs: RGB for the computer, S-video for the DVD player, RCA for the VCR, and one feature I'm not using yet: DVI for an HDTV receiver or HDTV-compatible cable box or satellite receiver. Yeah, I got a jump on the mandatory conversion to HDTV that's coming in 2009. It's 1280x1024@60Hz, very high contrast, very wide viewing angle, and not one dead or stuck pixel anywhere on the screen. I do have two nits to pick with it. That doesn't surprise me; at $299 for this many features, I'm amazed it works at all, so two tiny audio problems that I can and will work around are nothing much. One is a design flaw, by my standards. The HDTV, S-Video, and RCA video jacks all share a single set of RCA audio inputs. I assume that they're assuming that you daisy-chain all of your audio. For example, with my setup of a DVD and a VCR, I'm assuming they expect me to run the audio for the DVD through the VCR. This doesn't work for me, but it's my own fault for going absolutely bottom-of-the-line on my VCR; it's not stereo. My other problem is either a design problem or a manufacturing problem with my unit, and also audio related. The RGB input takes its audio from a standard mini-headphone jack. But if I plug anything into that jack, the speakers have an annoying 60Hz hum. At most audio levels it's tolerable, but if I leave the sound turned up very far, switch over to the computer, and there's no audio coming out of the computer so all there is is the hum, it's pretty painful.

I know how I want to work around these limitations. There's a piece of home audio gear or a stereo component I need to buy. The catch is that I have no idea what it's called. I have a horrible confession to make, a terrible aspersion on my manhood by the standards of the neighborhood I grew up in back in the 1970s: I am not a stereo nerd. I know exactly mathematically nothing about buying stereo components. This was a scandalous lack that I worked hard to hide, back in the day when the baby boomer influence was still strong enough that every guy was judged by the quality of his stereo and how knowledgeably he could talk about it. But anyway, I know that they must make some kind of a box that just takes four (or more, but four is what I need) RCA audio inputs and amplifies them enough to drive a cheap pair of bookcase speakers. I even have the bookcase speakers, left over from a previous setup. I don't need it to tune in radio, play CDs, process Dolby 5.1 surround sound, or clean my floors; I just want a 4-input audio switcher with enough power of its own to drive a minimal pair of real speakers. What am I trying to buy, what's it called? Is this it?

P.S. Oh, yeah, I forgot one other tiny nitpick with it. I called Hyvision and they confirmed it: by design, absolutely nobody else's remote control, no universal remote control on the market, is compatible with their TV. So if you want a unified remote for the MV190T, it has to be a "learning" remote.
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