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Home Entertainment Blog Archive

Brought to you by your friendly, opinionated, Home Entertainment and Technology writer, Stephen Dawson

Here I report, discuss, whinge or argue on matters related to high fidelity, home entertainment equipment and the discs and signals that feed them. Since this Blog is hand-coded (I like TextPad), there are no comments facilities. But feel free to email me at scdawson [at] hifi-writer.com. I will try to respond, either personally or by posting here emails I consider of interest. I shall assume that emails sent to me here can be freely posted by me unless you state otherwise.

This archive is for an uncertain period commencing Thursday, 7 August 2003

It's about time: the perfect projector for PAL DVDs? - Tuesday, 12 August 2003, 11:49 am

ScreenPlay 5700 projector In September InFocus will release its ScreenPlay 5700 projector in Australia. Could this be the perfect home theatre projector? It uses what is apparently Texas Instrument's newest DMD, the Matterhorn. I say apparently because TI has seen fit not to mention it on its DLP web site. So much for up to the minute promotions!

I have long maintained that for PAL countries XGA is a very good resolution for projectors. That's because they offer 1,024 by 768 pixels. If you are playing an anamorphic PAL DVD, then you can work out the vertical resolution of a 4:3 projector this way. Multiply the horizontal resolution by 9 and then divide by 16. Do this to 1,024 and you get 576 pixels vertically. Since PAL delivers a 576 line picture, that makes a perfect match with no rescaling. Potentially this is a much better picture.

The problem with projectors until now is that they have been designed with computer applications in mind. Or, in the case of widescreen models, with either high definition or US-style NTSC resolution in mind. See NTSC is 480 lines. The maths to upscale to the 720 lines available on DLP projectors based on the Mustang chip is easy: multiply by 1.5. But PAL, while it works well, receives a 1.25X increase. I am not sure that this doesn't actually detract from picture quality.

The problem with XGA has been, despite the mathematical nicety of the system for PAL, it seems like a shame to throw away the 200,000 pixels at the top and bottom of the screen. The Matterhorn apparently offers a native 1,024 by 576 pixel resolution which should be simply perfect for PAL DVD playback (and NTSC viewers will, for once, get the compromised performance of modest upscaling!)

Wow, what a find! Free audio analysis software - Friday, 8 August 2003, 2:01 pm

RightMark Audio Analyzer The poor freelance audio writer simply cannot afford to buy all the test gear he would like. Golly, even something as mundane as 250 watt 8 ohm resistors for testing power outputs cost around $AUS100 each ... and this writer has seven of the damned things. I'd love a high-end digital storage oscilliscope, but have to make do with a cheap analogue one (still $AUS1,000). And as for measurements: well, it's just as well that I'm a dab hand at basic mathematics!

Then, yesterday, I stumbled on some software called RightMark Audio Analyzer, put together by some excellent programmers in Russia. This software seems intended primarily for testing sound cards in computers, but if you have a good sound card then it can be used for testing other stuff as well. It measures frequency response, noise, dynamic range, total harmonic distortion, intermodulation distortion and channel crosstalk. And does it extremely well. It will generate HTML pages with the test results, graphs of all these measurements (the frequency response graph shown here is of an in-out loop of a Terratec DMX 6fire 24/96 sound card). You can even subtract two frequency responses to cancel out the effect of your sound card's frequency aberrations when you're measuring external stuff.

How much do reckon this would cost? How about nothing at all!

Comparing the comparable: High Resolution audio vs the CD - Friday, 8 August 2003, 1:48 pm

I've just uploaded to my Home Entertainment pages my 1999 comparison of a Chesky recording. Comparing a recording with itself? Why? Well, one is on DVD in high resolution 96kHz, 24 bit PCM, while the other is merely a CD, 44.1kHz, 16 bits. Are they different? Not all that much. This piece was originally published in Australian HI-FI.

Copying files with DRM - Thursday, 7 August 2003, 10:18 pm

The always interesting Gene Expression Blog has an interesting discussion on the futility of Digital Rights Management on music files.

S/PDIF Misconception - Thursday, 7 August 2003, 4:41 pm

PowerDVD 5 control panel A couple of nights ago I installed CyberLink's new PowerDVD 5 Deluxe. Good stuff -- with some worthwhile improvements over version 4.0, particularly software DTS decoding (this was previously an optional extra). But I couldn't work out this '24/96 LPCM Direct Output' feature, so I went to its support page and wrote:

In FAQ ID number 1366 it states "(25) 24/96 LPCM Direct Output, supports 24bit/96kHz LPCM audio output with more crisp and clear sound. To enable this feature, users should have a sound card that also supports 24bit/96kHz audio output." I am using a Terratec DMX6fire 24/96 sound card with the latest drivers, but when playing a 24/96 Chesky DVD (which does not have prohibition on 96kHz output), the signal is downsampled to 48kHz. How do you enable 96kHz S/PDIF output?
Much to my surprise, I got an email this afternoon pointing me to a response, which said:
SPDIF cannot support 96/24 SPDIF output since it is the limitation of SPDIF itself.

Please switch to analog output (ie 2-speaker or headphone output interface in PowerDVD) to have 96K output.

But, actually, that's not quite right. As I responded:
Thanks for the quick response!

You wrote: "SPDIF cannot support 96/24 SPDIF output since it is the limitation of SPDIF itself."

That is correct as far as the original design of S/PDIF was concerned (it was limited to 44.1 or 48kHz and 16 bits), but S/PDIF now defacto supports AC3, DTS and higher LPCM standards. In particular, the Terratec DMX6fire 24/96 *does* ouput 24/96 on the S/PDIF, and it will *accept* 24/96 on its S/PDIF inputs. Furthermore, my Marantz SR18 home theatre receiver (and, indeed, most receivers these days) will accept a 24/96 LPCM signal on its S/PDIF input. Many good DVD players will output 24/96 LPCM S/PDIF (most Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Yamaha, Denon, Onkyo DVD players, for example). So it would be nice if PowerDVD would likewise support this output on S/PDIF, instead of downsampling it to 48kHz.

The reason, incidentally, is for those of us who prefer the sound of external equipments' D/A converters.

UPDATE (Tuesday, 12 August 2003, 12:27 pm): CyberLink replies:

We just delivered your suggestion to our product team. We will take this into consideration for further design. Be free for further suggestions. Thank you.
Sound and Image cover, v.16#5 Mini Milestone reached - Thursday, 7 August 2003, 3:55 pm

Well, this afternoon I received in the mail a copy of Sound and Image (Aug/Sept 2003, v16, #6) which contains three of my articles:

  • comparison review of five pairs of stereo speakers selling for under $AUS3,000 (surprise winner: JBL XTi-100 -- you're going to have to work the menus to find the product);
  • review of Linn surround speaker system consisting of Ninka floorstanders, Katan compact speakers, Trikan centre channel and Sizmik 10.25 subwoofer (total: $AUS9,496);
  • review of the Strong SRT-5290 (PDF file) set top digital receiver and personal video recorder.
These three articles bring up a mini-milestone: I have now published 1,100 articles.
High Definition programs - Thursday, 7 August 2003, 12:02 pm

Digital Broadcasting Australia has up a list of widescreen and high definition TV programs. Since 1 July 2003 the commercial stations have been required to broadcase 1,040 hours of HD per year (20 hours per week). So it's interesting to see the staples they have selected:

  • Seven: Sunrise, The Big Arvo, Wheel Of Fortune, Home & Away, Alias, The Practice, Crossing Jordan, Saturday Disney, Harry's Practice, Sunday Sunrise
  • Nine: Mornings with Kerri-Anne, Fresh, The Education Of Max Bickford, Burgos Catch Phrase, The Sopranos, CSI, McLeod's Daughters, CSI Miami, Without a Trace, The Parkers, Enterprise, First Monday, This Is Your Life (some episodes), The Footy Show NRL, Business Sunday, Sunday
  • Ten: Totally Wild, GMA, White Collar Blue, Becker, Everybody Loves Raymond, NYPD Blue, The Panel
Thank goodness the game shows are in high definition!
An interesting wrinkle on digital set top receivers - Thursday, 7 August 2003, 11:26 am

Now here's one I'd like to see: the Hauppauge DEC-2000 digital set top receiver. What makes this one unusual is the USB connection, by which it feeds the received signal to a computer for recording. Is there an Australian distributor?

Blush! - Thursday, 7 August 2003, 11:19 am

I shan't make a habit of this, but this is the inaugural bit of hifi-writer.com correspondence.

Ben Kwong writes:

Hi Stephen,

I recently just got back from the Sony Product Launch and did a search on the new KVHR36M31 Tv and stumbled across your site!

I must say I am very impressed by some of your articles after some brief reading of your website. Its been a while since I've found a whole heap of good reading, it'll distract me from my studies! I absolutely love home ent and also pondered the idea of freelance writing as I've been involved in a few forum discussions/debates. Only thing that's making me think twice is I lack experience. Any tips?

I'll definitely be passing this onto my colleagues for reading! Once again, great site!

To which I replied:
I ought to give you a prize (but don't hold your breath!) You're the first person to write to me via my new site.

Thanks for your very kind remarks. I'll keep trying to get up material of general use to home entertainment and hi fi enthusiasts.

Regarding freelance writing, the first thing to do is make sure you keep up your studies. Freelancing is not the way to wealth. But as to doing it, all I can do is tell you what I did. I bought a bit of computer software back in the early 90s. Then I thought I really ought not to have hit the credit card that way. Then I used the software, thought of a fairly original view about it, and figured maybe I could recoup the cost by selling a review. So I just wrote it, using that idea as the theme, and sent it to a magazine. Not one of the industry leaders, but a nice little middle-of-the-market production. Heard nothing so I rang up the editor, who said 'Sure, we'll use it!' And so it started, with ad hoc articles from time to time for a few years. Eventually I had an opportunity to toss in my day job, so I started concentrating on the writing. I intended to do computers, but one of the first ideas I had concerned portable stereo gear. I lobbed the idea at an editor, who agreed. From there, it just built up.

My rules for writing reviews are simple. First, I try to relate the technology to its effects. That the DMD in a DLP has a zillion literally flippin' mirrors is interesting. But the important thing about it is what it provides on the viewing screen: relatively dark blacks, providing a richer picture, and relatively narrow between-pixel borders, providing a smoother picture.

Second, I write about a product with proper regard to its price. Sure, we'd all love Krell power amps and B&W 801 speakers, but there are lots of people out there (including me) who want the best they can get for a given budget. My aim is not to tell them what that is, but what kinds of things to avoid and what kinds of things to keep in mind.

Third, I don't read anyone else's reviews on the items I'm writing about. I don't like a group mentality on anything. Since so much in this game is subjective, there is much room for legitimate disagreement. Better that a range of opinions be aired.