I'd say you have it all covered fairly well
-There's nothing wrong with having Comcast as an ISP. In fact, they have rolled out DOCSIS3 service in most of their service areas. That would be the logical upgrade path, along with upgrading your SB5100. For about $80-100, you would get to access the channel pair bonding that really speeds up your cable broadband service. Look at Amazon or big box store prices on the Moto 6100 series. Nice stuff! Understandably, you might not want to fork over $65/mo for broadband service though.
-Running ethernet to your Denon is perfect. I do the same thing with my older Onkyo HT setup from an airport express. Works fine, even on my older receiver using mini-toslink to toslink. Great way to stream from iOS, etc. I also use VLC as a media player sometimes. Works on Mac too, I believe.
-There's really no way to create a 'standalone' DVR by adding a HDD via USB to your Denon. You could however employ some sort of software solution to record programming on your mac if you installed a TV tuner card, and used an external (or internal) drive that way. I am more familiar with that avenue in the PC world unfortunately. Same principles should apply though.
-RG6 cable is wonderful, along with your current connections/splits.
-Netflix app on the Panny is fine (I set my parents system up this way), but make sure you run ethernet from your repeater or router directly to the E3 HDTV. Much better in the long run than dealing with netflix over wifi IME.
-Yes, now there are many ways to stream various content, it's almost ridiculous, really. I am still partial to doing so on the desktop environment and sending it along via HDMI to a large HDTV. IME sometimes the app quality on the various blu ray players or HDTVs leaves something to be desired.
If you have more specific questions, feel free to ask
For 17 years, my wife and I have been completely satisfied with our 27" Panasonic CRT TV, which not only refuses to die, but the picture quality of which seems as good as when new (maybe our eyes are just older). We have finally decided to go with HDTV, incorporating it into a whole new A/V setup in our family room.
While I can plug in a TV, and have a lot of Apple IT experience, the world of HDTV is a bit of a daunting mystery to me, but at 64, I'm willing to learn. Through some monster deals on Amazon and elsewhere, the advice of friends, and eye-wearying perusal of reviews here at Anand and all over the web, I've put together what I think is a fairly respectable system... well, "collected the components for" would be more accurate than "put together" -- I've gotten as far as putting the Viera 42" on its stand and connecting it to Comcast's HD cable box (as you'll see if you don't tire of reading this plea, the Viera will be wall-mounted on the wall opposite its current location, and the Comcast cable box will be returned to Comcast -- we're only getting the most basic of local channels on it now, and I'm much more interested in streaming than broadcast network TV, except PBS, ion, and our three local ABC/CBS/NBC affiliates). I need advice and help, and I hope some in the forum will be kind enough to take the time to read this rundown of equipment, connection options, etc., and give their frank opinions, technical advice, spiritual advice, whatever.
Here's my A/V equipment run-down:
42" Panasonic Viera (TC-L42E50)
Denon AVR-3312CI Receiver
Comcast-leased Scientific Atlanta Explorer 4250C cable box
Panasonic DVD-S68 NTSC/PAL auto-detect and convert Region 1 and Region 0 (All) DVD player
Panasonic DMP-BD75 Blu-ray player
Magnavox ZV457MG9 Digital Video Disc Recorder & Video Cassette Recorder (bi-directional dubbing, though why anyone would want to dub DVD to VHS tape escapes me)
Roku2 XS (Model # 3100R) streaming box, which will be ethernet-connected to my Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (802.11n), which, in turn, is ethernet-connected to a Comcast-leased Motorola SB5100 Surfboard Cable modem (is there anything that will improve cable performance? Comcast is not exactly the Champeen Speed Demon of ISPs, but here in the CT sticks, the state DPUC has left us with the choice of Comcast or nothing (there's satellite, of course, but I'm not interested in that leaky vessel). Also ethernet connected to the Apple AirPort Express Base Station (802.11n) Router, Network switch, Wi-Fi base station and NAS is a mid-2011 -- (most current, AFAIK, and getting a bit long in the tooth) 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5 27" iMac.
One of the questions to which I'd like to find an answer concerns this Gen 5 Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (NOT the Express, which I also have, but which is another kettle of fish altogether). On September 10, 2012, Apple Insider reported:
"Availability of the AirPort Extreme base station has run out at some major third-party resellers, potentially signaling that an updated model with support for 802.11ac could be en route."
While I generally use Apple hardware as much as possible, I realize there are better and less expensive 802.11n (and 802.11ac, once it's adopted) WiFi routers out there. I don't know how much WiFi matters in my case, as from the AirPort Extreme Base Station, all throughput for streaming will be by ethernet from the Airport Base Station to my Denon Receiver, and possibly a simple passive Ethernet router for the Roku box/Wii, Viera TV, as experience shows which combination serves my streaming needs the best.
Another question about which I know zilch is the possibility of using a hard drive, connected to the USB port on the Airport Base Station, or to the Denon A/V Receiver, as a do-it-yourself TiVo -- is it doable? If so, what do I need to get content on to the drive for time-switching and later playback, and is it better to connect to the Airport Base Station (or whatever ends up replacing it, if it gets replaced) or the Denon Receiver?
The Comcast cable feed comes into the basement on the extreme northeast corner of my house, where it is split by a typical RatShack-quality diplexer into two RG6 cable paths. One path runs diagonally through the basement, about 36' to where it pops out of the floor and connects to my cable modem and 5th Gen Airport Extreme Base Station.
The other RG6 cable path runs a further 12', to where my basement ends, and the cable comes up through the southwest corner of the step-down to the family room, which is built entirely on a slab between the otherwise fully-basemented main part of the house and the slab-based 2-car garage.
Right now that RG6 cable that comes out of the slab-based family room step down runs just another 6'-8' to the north wall of the family room, and connects to the Comcast HD cable box.
What we're doing now is mounting the Viera TV on the south wall of the family room, directly across the room from where it is now. This will necessitate any kind of cable run that comes into the slab-based family room step down to travel around the perimeter of the floor (no basement to run through) to the new TV mounting, which will add a total of 40+ feet to the RG6 cable length.
This what I want to do: get rid of the Comcast cable box, AND the RG6 cable that goes to it, AND the splitter, so I have just ONE unbroken run of RG6 (from Comcast's service-in at the north-east corner of the basement) 36' to where it pops out of the floor and connects to my cable modem and Airport Extreme Airbase. The Airport Extreme Base Station, which has three extra Cat5E Ethernet cable ports (one of which hardwires to the 27" iMac, which is within 2 feet of the Airport Extreme Base Station), and run 40-50 feet of Ethernet cable, not RG6, to the Denon AVR-3312CI Receiver in the family room, which has more HDMI ports than I'll ever use. The ethernet, obviously, will be for streaming. Whether I'll be streaming through the Denon A/V receiver, the Viera TV, the Roku box, the Wii, or one of the 2 or 3 DVD/Blu-ray players that ALSO have streaming capability. Oh, yeah -- I also have an Airport Airbase Express that I use as a repeater and, of course, to run music on my iMac through.
To make up for the lousy 5 or 6 channels we'll lose from Comcast's Subterraneanly Basic package, I'll be using a Leaf or similar flat antenna (which my son-in-law uses quite successfully in Kansas City), which will be enough to get our 4 basic news channels: PBS, NBC, ABC, and CBS, plus ion and a couple other oddball local stations.
So that's the plan. I'm sorry to leave the forum with such an open question, but any advice on different hook-up schemes, or any other ideas, comments (polite, please!), or where I may be having unworkable ideas, and how I can make my ideas better. All I want is to be able to watch DVDs, play music (I'm not even going to mention the subject of the speakers I'm using -- that's all too much of a personal preference and esoteric subject), watch a minimum of local TV, stream movies and video/audio content from both my iMac and online sources like Netflix/Hulu/Vudu/DuDu, play some games -- you know, the stuff we put home theaters together for.
My most particular area of ignorance is streaming -- though I've done it thousands of times on my Macs, I've never set up a system like the one I'm contemplating, with so many diverse choices for streaming. For example (here comes my ignorance!), I believe the Panasonic Viera TV can stream Netflix, but not much more, I know the Denon receiver, Wii, Roku, and a couple of my DVD players can also stream, but I don't know how to figure out which devices can access what, including really limited, or really specialized (I'm a huge fan of vintage sports car racing, for example) content.
Hope some of you can give me some good advice, especially if you see me going down a wrong path with any of this stuff. I know this is a lot to divest, but I'm one of those cranks that has to research buying shoelaces, and there's just too much stuff in this project to confuse me.
Thanks very much for your time and -- I hope -- help.