I'm often asked what I use at home for music/TV/movies - nothing fancy (haven't got a 5.1 rig yet!) because money has been tight for the last few years and I try and follow the ex-work/cheap-on-eBay way of getting things done. As a family we all listen to podcasts and music on 'phones/iPods/USB-stick-in-car and since we don't have any consistent manufacturer for anything we keep everything as MP3s and DivX AVIs or MPEG2 (for off air recordings of TV shows).
- Music - I started encoding my music in 1999 when I got my first MP3 player (the mighty Diamond Rio 500 in case you remember!) and so experimented with different encoders and data rates. At the time I concluded that the Fraunhofer MP3 encoder at 128kBits/sec was adequate if I was using ear-buds or in the car. I quickly changed my mind and have been encoding all my music at 192kBits/sec using variable bit-rate. I have blind-tested myself on good speakers and conclude that for my middle-aged hearing I can't spot the difference between uncompressed and that data rate. MP3 is the way to go as I have a mix of playback devices (iPhone for personal listening, Dell Digital Audio receiver for the living room along with various PCs & other-brand 'phones & MP3 players for the rest of the family). Consequently I always set iTunes to encode to MP3;
I often hear people banging on about FLAC and Apple Lossless but I'm not that bothered. I tend to listen to music for the lyrics and chord progressions, not that last 0.01% of perceived fidelity. I spend my life listening to proper speakers (i.e. thousands of pounds a pair) either from behind a mixing desk or in a dubbing suite so don't try impress me with what you bought in the high-street! I know what good audio sounds like.
- TV recording and video playback - I'm using Windows 7 on a ten year-old workstation to make recordings off air; two £15 no-name Maplin-special USB DVB-T sticks allow multiple recordings via Windows Media Centre. I keep thinking I'll buy a DVB-T2 stick so I can make FreeviewHD recordings but I haven't yet, partly because iPlayerHD is so good. The machine that feeds the living room TV is the same machine machine that is the kitchen iTunes/radio machine - it has two soundcards and dual-display. In there kitchen there is a mini keyboard and mouse and in the living room a hand-held RF mouse. You wouldn't know it was the same computer save for when you want to fast-forward the video playback whilst someone in the kitchen is trying to find a song in iTunes and the mouse pointer jumps off your screen!
- Commercial removal/editing - I used to be a big fan of ComSkip as it is an excellent automated ad-break remover for Transport Stream video. However, I watch so little commercial television that I've found my regular MPEG editor Video Redo to be just as good;
- DVD / BluRay - I grabbed a Sony S370 on eBay for £70 and it is an excellent machine; actually better than the S380 that replaced it (Sony lost the right to several codecs). It supports several online video services.
- iPlayer - we used to use the Wii as an iPlayer machine and it is really good, but standard definition only. In fact I picked up a Wii with a faulty DVD drive for my Mum and loaded the iPlayer client onto it and she uses it as her BBC on demand machine. We now use the Sony BluRay player as it supports HD iPlayer and the pictures at 5mBits/sec are indistinguishable from off-air HD playback. Even the SD content looks better than the Wii's output.
So that's it - I'm not in a position to spend thousands of pounds but I am pleased the way I've got it all working for virtually no money.