Monday, December 29, 2008

Sleep, Flowers, a New Year, oh my!

This is Eileen here - all of the other entries have been posted by my husband, John. Now I'm ready to enter the blogging world. I got my rear out of bed this morning at the lovely time of 10:15. I think the last time I did that was when I was - excuse me, sorry for the interruption - I had to go help my youngest son go potty. That's what I got for Christmas this year - my littlest goes "poopin on the potty" instead of in diapers!!!!!! Okay - so, some of you would be thrilled with a tennis bracelet - believe me - this gift is priceless. Anyway - back to the last time I slept in - I think I was twenty-three and large amount of alcohol was invloved so maybe it would be classified as "passing out", but still, I haven't slept in for a long time. (Just wondering - should I divulge this information in my very first blog entry? TMI? Your thoughts? Comments? You're only young once....)

Saturday the 27th was the end of our resposibilities to other people for the year 2008 and that's why I could sleep like the dead this morning. My friends, Becky and Bob, had a reception to celebrate their private wedding in the summer. It was a great event and I was honored to do the flowers. So I was up bright and early on the morning of the 26th doing one of my favorite things: flower arranging. The arrangements arrived safely after my thirty minute drive to Nipomo thanks to John's packing of the flowers in my mini-van - yes, I drive one of those, but none of my boys play soccer - yet. Vans are the proof that there is evil on the planet. Anyway, I set up the room, changed into nicer clothes, and then enjoyed a phenomenal dinner and danced my tail off. (Huge stress reliever!)

Now we're all just hanging out awaiting our two sets of house guests that will arrive before new year's to celebrate what we at the Calandro house think of as the most anticlimactic holiday of the year. We celebrate by doing a jigsaw puzzle, eating ourselves sick from our chocolate fountain, and watching the ball drop in downtown SLO. We look forward to it every year.

2008 will go down in our record book as one of the most fun-filled, action packed, crazy years ever. Thanks to everyone who has travelled from afar to take part in the craziness and add their own special piece to the whole; and a thank you to the friends, and neighbors, who put up with us on a daily basis - you are a crucial part of all that happens here in our house and we are grateful for your tolerance and willingness to participate. Here's to 2008 and I look forward to a blog-filled 2009. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What it means to Live in HD

Living in HD has been a fantastic experience. First of all, we have a ton of phenomenal equipment. Our family is very busy and used the technology we had prior to having the "right"equipment. Since we have gotten our Panasonic suite of products, everything we do is just better, easier, and faster. We have burned videos of parties and events for friends and families, we have created awesome slideshows to share with each other and as gifts for friends, we have learned how to post photos, video, and content to the web, and we have taken our laptop to places we never thought we would (more on that in another post...).

Our family has had a long standing "Pizza Night". Every Friday we make a pizza and watch a movie. We have been doing this for 9 years now. It is the only night of the week that we eat in front of the tv. Having a Blu-Ray player and a 1080p incredible 50" Viera Plasma tv has pumped that up to a whole new experience. One of our friends commented that the quality on our tv was better than we'd get in any theater! He's right, and with the price of taking a family to the theater these days (over $50 just to get our family in the door-before concessions!), the tv would pay for itself in just a few movies!

The greatest thing about being a LiHD family is the new community of people we now have in our lives. The families that we have heard from in the LiHD project have all been wonderfully welcoming and friendly people. I think it's because Panasonic is looking for the everyday person to be a part of ths project and, contrary to what the news may have us believe, everyday people are generally kind, welcoming, and helpful. You can see this in the videos on Panasonic's Living in HD website- , and in the other blogs developed by families.

The people at the Panasonic corporation and the people that they have sent to us to train us on how to use our equipment have been phenomenal. Greg Harper is a genius and has more energy than 10 people. You'll see him pop up on the videos on the Panasonic site. He's met all of the families in the project and is a driving force behind this whole thing. He has the ability to fit in anywhere and talk to anyone. He tells great stories and always seems to be available to us no matter what the issue.

Naomi at Panasonic has been so patient with all of our requests, questions, and random ideas. She is incredible and we appreciate her tremendously.

Adam Broitman came to us to help us out with posting content to the internet. He has a great sense of humor and is a natural teacher. He is also a powerhouse in his industry (you can check him out at He became family quickly in our household and joined us for Pizza Night!

Jody Gnant came with Adam. They made a great team! She helped me to Twitter and has more hands-on web information than we had time to share. She also joined us for Pizza night and all three boys were enamored of her! You can check her out at (Oh, did I mention she's got a great voice?)

Our friends and family are enjoying our new LiHD life, too. In addition to receiving way more pictures, videos, and information than they ever have from us (because it is sooo much easier now), they have gotten to enjoy our equipment. The highlight of Christmas was watching my mother and my 5-year-old do boxing on the Wii. It was truly hysterical and my mother was better at it than any of us expected!

Living in HD is awesome. I can't wait to meet more of the families and continuing the Panasonic adventure.

Our next adventure is at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. If you're in the area or at the show, come on by and see us in the Panasonic booth. We'd love to meet you and make you part of our LiHD life!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Panasonic 50" Plasma 1080p TH-50PZ850U with Viera Cast

This television is incredible! As I have said in an earlier post, I had been looking at Panasonic televisions for a long time. I had done lots of reading and research and had decided I really wanted the Panasonic. I had done the side by side comparisons and had always liked the crisp pictures and deep blacks that the Panasonic provided. I had been looking at 42-46 inch screens and was unsure as to whether I was going to go for 720p or 1080p. (confused by all of this? Panasonic explains it on their website and you can get the tv specs here:

I was tempted by the lower prices of the 720p and may have settled for one of those before winning this one. Now that I have the TH-50PZ850U, however, I know that I would have been settling.

Here's a tip- if you are debating which one to buy, the 780p or the 1080p, go for the best you can afford. Had I purchased a 780p tv, I may have always wondered what I was missing. With this television, you won't ever miss a thing! I am blown away by the clarity of the pictures on this 1080p Panasonic Television. The colors are vivid and can be adjusted to your liking with relative ease. There are preset modes to make it simpler or you can fiddle with it to your heart's content. The blacks are deep and true, and the contrast ratio is amazing. The television has an extremely quick refresh rate and handles action sequences with no blurring or pixelating. High definition channels look AMAZING (run through the HDMI cables of course). One of the first days we had the tv we sat down to watch Planet Earth on one of the HD channels...It was jaw-droppingly stunning.

With a blu-ray DVD player connected to it, movies take on a whole new life. Our family loves movies and has a weekly movie night that has been going on for over 9 years now. The first movie we watched on our new Panasonic Plasma television was Sleeping Beauty- it had just been released on Blu-ray two days before and we happened to grab a copy. If you haven't seen it in a while, it is worth a look. If you can see it on this television, it is worth watching again and again and again. I wanted to hug my television!

Iron Man is incredible on Blu-ray and the television picks up every glint of armor, every grain of sand and every explosion beautifully.

Video games play smoothly and look great (we got a Wii, too- more on that in another post), but the Wii is not an HD system.

There are plenty of HDMI inputs to handle all of your audio video equipment and the Viera-Link makes it all work seamlessly. When everything is connected properly, turning on one component automatically turns on the other components that go with it. Beautiful!

The SD card in the front of the television is a remarkably convenient feature. Our digital cameras and digital video camera all use SD cards to record. just pop the card into the television, hit the SD button on the remote and you can view slideshows of your pictures or watch HD videos of the family without ever hooking up a cable, transfering anything onto your computer or a disc, or having to remember what setting to switch the tv to.

The Viera Cast sounds like a gimmick at first, but it has quickly become one of my favorite features on the television. This is a free web-based channel provided exclusively for Panasonic. Currently we have access to the Weather Channel, Bloomberg, Picasa photo albums, You Tube, and the Panasonic Concierge line through the internet connection on the television. Panasonic has said they are looking to add more content soon to the VieraCast channel.

Having access to our photos has been great. We LOVE viewing our slide shows on the huge screen! Having You-Tube at our fingertips has been more fun than it should be because we get to watch our choice of videos on the huge screen! The drawback here is that the content on You-Tube is not in HD (yet) so the picture quality isn't as good as other video.

The same can be said for non-HD channels. It is amazing how quickly we have gotten spoiled by the clarity of this television. It has ruined us for non HD programming!!

A word about size: When you go into a store and see all the tvs side by side, they don't look nearly as large as they do when you get them home. A 50 inch screen is a HUGE television- It will definitely look much bigger at home than it did in the store, I guarantee it. It is very helpful to get the specs for the television and then cut a piece of black paper to the same size as the television. Put this up where the television will be to get the size in your head before you buy.

As for the sound on this television, I will need to address that another time. Our receiver is hooked to the tv and the VieraLink turns the receiver on when we turn on the television- we have not needed to runsound through just the TV. I'll try it soon and post about that another time.

In short, there is NOTHING that I do not like about this television. The Viera Link makes keeping track of all of the devices simple, the VieraCast may be a gimmick, but I love it and I think it's got legs if Panasonic keeps adding content (DEFINITELY WORTH IT), but most of all, the picture quality is superb. Movies look better, television looks brilliant, and even the most mundane show filmed in HD is worth watching just so you can see how pretty it looks on this beautiful screen!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Equipment

On October 9th we had our installation date. After having a friend run an outlet to behind where the television would be, our installers came in and put everything together- that's a story for another time...While the installers were assemlinb everything upstairs in our family room, Greg Harper (our Panasonic rep), was downstairs showing us how to use the computer, the cameras, and the HD camcorder. The boys got their hands on the equipment and had a great time. Miles, the 3 year old, calls the wireless camera his "special camera" and has taken to picking it up at odd times and taking pictures.

Greg told the installers not to connect anything until he told them to. This, of course, led to much grumbling once he was out of earshot...They were complaining that they had been doing this for 20 years and knew what they were doing. Greg explained to them how the Viera link worked and connected all of the components.
Then he turned on the Blu-Ray player...and the television and receiver automatically turned on with it. The installers were impressed! The Viera link makes using all of the equipment so easy because every piece of equipment automatically turns on any other piece that it needs to function properly.

We fired up the television and were blown away by the picture and sound! It finally felt like our family room was complete!

Next post, a review of the equipment!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Four big boxes

Our contact from Panasonic called us about a week and a half after we had found out that we had won. He explained the program to us:

We are family 39 and they are adding more families throughout the year. We would be asked to participate in weekly surveys and would be encouraged to use and share our equipment. Panasonic really is interested in knowing what we think about all of the equipment we would be receiving and would use the information we provided to improve and enhance future products. The entire family is encouraged to use all of it and we are expected to report the good and the bad.

A few weeks later, we finally had a date set to receive all of our equipment. Before the equipment was shipped, we participated in a family pre-interview that asked about our family, our viewing habits, our use of technology, and how we thought things would be different when we got the equipment.

To be honest, at that point, it was really hard to imagine...What would it be like to have all of this new equipment in the house. When my wife and I sat down to think about it, we realized it was very rare for us to buy the best of anything (mostly because we can't afford it). Here we were, about to receive not only all of the technology that I had ever wanted, but it was the best equipment there was- and we were getting all of once...and it was all going to be installed!

A few weeks later, Here is what we saw:

Four big boxes- The TV (WOW!!), a big mystery box simply labeled "39 Calandro ", some speaker stands, and another long box...The box was delivered while I was at work. I had to sit through a rather long meeting knowing that it was all there...waiting... My wife was kind enough to wait for me!

Needless to say, the boys were excited.

And were dying to see what was inside the big box, which contained a ton of stuff!

Like the video camera (note the stunned look on my face- not my best look!), the receiver, the speakers, two digital cameras, power strips, cables,

the Wii (the boys' favorite thing!),

and a big bag of other stuff- cables, SD cards, blu-rays, Wii games!!! Wahoo!

The youngest, of course, just wanted to play with the box from the computer.
The excitement was beginning to peak...We opened everything up and charged all of the batteries so we would be ready for the installation....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

People do win

I first came across the Panasonic Living in HD contest while searching their website looking at plasma tvs. I had long been a fan of Panasonic's equipment and had been holding off on buying a new television until my old 27" Panasonic CRT television was dead...Unfortunately for me, the tv was still going strong. My 40th birthday was coming up and my wife had mentioned that she may get me one for my birthday. I was excited, but then started looking at the next tier down- I scaled down my size and resolution to fit our budget.

When I came across the contest, I decide that I had nothing to lose by entering. At the time, Panasonic was asking the families to participate in different challenges. I wrote a very long and detailed entry about how wonderful our family was and how we would use all of the stuff, found a half-way decent picture of our famliy and quickly snapped a picture of the room all of the stuff would go in. Then I waited....and waited...and ultimately heard nothing.

I was bummed.

The websitge said to keep checking back for future entries, so I did. I watched and waited and sure enough, it popped up again. They were looking for more families to live in HD. I applied on line- this time I only had the 1000 characters in the text box to explain myself- quite a different task from what I had originally done. So, I edited...and edited...and shortened and changed and boiled it down to my 998 characters in each box.

I realized that I also could have sent a video as an answer to the questions, but decided against that as I really didn't think I would win anyway...I mean they were only going to pick six families this go-round, what were the chances it would be me?

Well, the time went by...The official rules said that winners would be notified within 3 weeks after the deadline for entries via overnight mail. As it was summer, my family was in and out of the house during the day. Each night that we would come home, I would casually check the front door to see if anything had been left for us. Nothing was. As the three weeks were coming to a close, I had all but given up hope.

Then, with only two days left in the three week window, my wife called me at work, "Honey," she said, "a truck just pulled up and left a letter for you. Is it a bill? Did you enter a contest or something?"

A glimmer of hope flared up in my brain...

"Uh, I think I may know what this is...Go ahead and open it..." I closed my eyes, hoping that I was right.

"Dear Mr. Calandro," she read, "You have been selected as a finalist in the Panasonic Living in HD sweepstakes..." She then went on to read the list of all of the stuff we had won: A 50" plasma television, Blu-Ray DVD player, a surround sound system, a laptop computer, two digital cameras, a digital HD video camera, a Nintendo Wii, movies and games, all of the cables and set up and $1000 for HD programming....Thats when the screaming and the happy dance started!!!

We filled out all of our paperwork that day and sent it back the next. For the next few days, I was stunned- I couldn't believe that I had actually won something! Not just something- all of the amazing products I had ever wanted! It really didn't set in until I had actually received a call from Greg, our Panasonic rep who explained the whole process to me.

People really do win. We did. So have at least 40 other families so far (we're family 39!). You can win too! You just need to enter. Trust me, it is SO worth it!

Watch this space for future posts about our experiences with our new stuff.

Next post: Panasonic Products galore!