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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, 8 April 2004

HDMI versus component video - Friday, 23 April 2004, 8:32 pm

I have previously given my thoughts on the quality differences between a digital and an analogue video connection, but here's an example of just one difference between them.

The occasion was the combination of the new Pioneer DV-S969AVi universal disc player, and the new Yamaha DPX-1100 DLP projector in my office this evening. I guess I'm privileged to have the latter, since it's the only one in Australia. (It has to go back to Yamaha tomorrow for training and its forthcoming roadshow). HDMI vs Component Video

What makes these two a good match is that the former has a HDMI output, while the latter has a HDMI input. The video signal carried by HDMI is identical to that carried by DVI, that is, uncompressed digital video from standard to high definition resolutions. In the consumer home entertainment equipment arena, HDMI, like DVI, is equipped with the HDCP anti-copying encryption system. HDMI also carries uncompressed digital audio, although when plugged into a projector this isn't relevant.

The photos on this page show one difference between the digital and component video connections between the DVD player and the projector: horizontal resolution. The picture shown is a very small section of a test pattern I created and cooked onto a DVD+RW for this purpose. Across the width of the picture there are 360 of those vertical bars. The horizontal resolution of a DVD picture is 720 pixels, so I created the image in Photoshop with one pixel-width of white, one of black, one of white and so on across the whole picture.

As you can see from the component video version (bottom), these bars do actually appear (despite the notional horizontal resolution limit of 500-550 pixels from this output), although the variations in brightness range from dark grey to light grey. The HDMI connection, by contrast (sorry), shows very good clarity. (I used progressive scan on the component video output because, contrary to my expectations, it provided a modest improvement in contrast compared to interlaced video).

The uneven thickness of the bars is due to the mapping of them from the 720 horizontal pixel resolution of the DVD player output to the 1,280 pixel physical resolution of the HD2+ Digital Micro-mirror Device in the projector (vertical resolution is 720 pixels, for a true 16:9 aspect ratio). The Pioneer DVD player allows you to send HDMI at native resolution in either interlaced or progressive format, at 720p resolution, or at 1080i. These last two also provided better-than-component-video results, but not quite as good as at 576p. That is, I suspect, due to the superior Faroudja DCDi scaling circuitry employed in the Yamaha projector, compared with Pioneer's in-house scaler.

Moral of the story: if you're looking at spending plenty of money for a projector (the Yamaha is likely a bit over $AUS20,000 here, and is around $US12.5K in America), make sure you get one with a DVI or HDMI input. You will come to appreciate it.

Incidentally, Monster Cable now has out a range of DVI to HDMI cables and converters. They'll be hitting the shores in Australia in early May, I'm told by Convoy International, the local distributor.

What a difference some restoration makes - Tuesday, 20 April 2004, 8:58 pm

Fuzzy and clear FrankensteinsIf you're going to buy the classic 1931 Frankenstein, or any other ancient movies for that matter, on DVD, choose carefully. The graphic at the right shows a detail of the same frame taken from the two versions available in Australia. The top one is the budget 'Silver Screams' version from MRA while the bottom shot is from the more expensive DVD from Universal Pictures (the mob who actually made the movie over 70 years ago).

The latter, according to the back cover, is 'The Restored Version' although there doesn't seem to be any significant discussion of this on the disc. It does have flashes of dirt and scratches across the screen, and an uneven light balance. But it is a marvel of quality and clarity compared to the MRA version. Just look at the focus, the detail, the dynamic range.

Not all of this is due to any presumed restoration of the print. The MRA version runs for 70:09, the Universal one goes for 67:09. The reason for the difference is that the Universal version is a native PAL version, whereas the MRA version has been converted from NTSC. (PAL movies run around 4% faster than NTSC because they run at 25 frames per second, rather than the movie's original 24). This conversion manifests in significant interlaced combing on most frames, and a loss of sharpness (since NTSC's vertical resolution is 480, and this has to be converted up to PAL's 576).

Other differences: the bit rate for the MRA version is 5.40Mbps, of which about 1.5Mbps is the audio (delivered, inexplicably, in Linear PCM) while that for the Universal version is 8.23Mbps, and less than 0.4Mbps is audio. The MRA seemed to be encoded at a constant bit rate as well. The sound on the Universal version is very much cleaner, devoid of the scratches of the MRA version. Universal also gives a commentary track and some featurettes.

Then there's the censorship. Some found one line in particular to be offensive. In the MRA version this is rendered, just after the monster comes to life, as Frankenstein saying 'In the name of God, now I know what it', and while his mouth keeps moving, his voice is muted (25:10). But in the Universal version, the full line is delivered: 'In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God.' (24:08) Interestingly, the subtitles say: 'In the name of God?! Now I know what it ...', and next, '(voice drowned out by thunder)'. Seems like they lifted the subtitle track from a previous version.

KaZaa vs CDs - Monday, 19 April 2004, 11:07 am

Human motivations and actions are usually muddy, so it ought not be surprising to find that studies on the impact on CD sales of people using P2P networks to cheaply obtain music is unclear. However the Freedom to Tinker Blog offers A Grand Unified Theory of Filesharing that, to me at least, seems plausible. (I would call myself a 'Sampler' rather than a 'Free-rider'.)

Link via Marginal Revolution.

Radical Technology - but is it for a niche only? - Sunday, 18 April 2004, 10:53 am

This article from MIT's Technology Review discusses directional sound devices, based on using ultrasonic (above 20,000 hertz) emitters. The two separate developers are talking the usual junk about how they could replace loudspeakers. This is junk for several reasons. One being that in home entertainment contexts, the interaction between sound and the room is an important part of the final result. If it weren't preferable, we would all just listen with headphones.

Another reason is that producing bass using these systems seems to be an intractable problem. Bass is far more omnidirectional than even middle audio frequencies ... and far more penetrating.

So while I can imagine many useful communications an advertising applictions for this beamed sound, for home entertainment, not a chance.

Weird Panasonic DVD recorder resolution - Friday, 16 April 2004, 1:14 pm

I've been doing a bunch of DVD recorder reviews lately and, just now, have noticed something decidedly odd about Panasonic DVD recorders. First you should understand that the native resolution for DVD Video is 720 pixels wide by 576 pixels tall (for PAL, 480 for NTSC). When displayed, the device scales the horizontal resolution to 768 for a 4:3 aspect ratio, or 1,024 for a 16:9 aspect. But this makes no difference to the resolution of the picture as actually laid down on the DVD.

Now I normally use Cyberlink PowerDVD for a close examination of certain aspects of DVD, and when you do a still capture using this program, it saves a bitmap file at the native resolution of the video, as encoded on the DVD. Many DVD recorders lower the resolution to half when in super long recording mode, first in the horizontal direction, then in the vertical direction. So a picture I capture might be, say, 350-ish pixels horizontal. But, basically, it captures images at 720 by 576.

Except when I looked at a DVD produced by the Panasonic DMR-E100H DVD recorder. The captured image for this one (even at the one-hour XP recording quality) was not 720 pixels across, but 704 pixels. Intrigued, I checked out DVDs I recorded using DVD recorders from LG, Sony, Pioneer, Toshiba and Philips. All were 720 pixels across.

So I drilled down a bit into recordings I've done on previous Panasonic models, including the first one on the Australian market. All were 704x576 rather than 720x576.

The practical implications are virtually nil. It is a mere two per cent loss of resolution. But I wonder why Panasonic has done this?

The Simpsons joust with Disney - Sunday, 11 April 2004, 10:48 am

Mufasa speaks in The Simpsons The Simpsons have a lot of fun with copyright in many episodes (Mary Poppins, for example), but watching the episode 'Round Springfield' (Season 6, Episode 22, code 2F32), even more fun is had. Towards the end, moments after the deceased Bleeding Gums Murphy appears in a cloud to Lisa, The Lion King's Mufasa pops up next to him and says, 'You must avenge my death Kimba, ah, I mean Simba.'

Nice play, given the allegations that Disney, one of the most vigorous protectors of its own copyrighted material, ripped off the 1960s animated Japanese TV show 'Kimba the White Lion' (link is to the 1994 US re-release) for The Lion King.

But, then, Disney was doing this from the outset. Its 1928 Mickey classic Steamboat Willie also ripped off the 1928 Buster Keaton movie Steamboat Bill, Jr.

DVI interoperability - Thursday, 8 April 2004, 10:58 am

Derek writes:

I have recently purchased a Hitachi 42 pd 5000ta plasma screen which has a DVI input. I have also recently purchased the Samsung HD DVD-937. My question is in regards to compatability, I have been told by Hitachi that this plasma does not support HDCP copy protection, however when I hooked this dvd player up using the DVI connection, it became clear that it was working to a certain extent. It would work in 576p & 1080i, but would be scrambled in 720p. This would also change, as on this plasma, the DVI connection on RGB 1 has 2 modes, one for PC, the other for STB. It was only scrambled in 720p when in STB mode, however in PC mode the picture was visible, but extremely large & off centre.

I am wondering if this is normal, or for some reason the Samsung dvd player is overcoming any related problems with HDCP encryption. I am also wondering if the dvd player is working to it's full ability?

Any help would be appreciated!

Interesting questions, so let's break it up into two parts. First, the HDCP issue. There are two possibilities here: either Hitachi is in error, or Samsung is supplying machines that do non-HDCP protected DVI output. I suspect the former. The copy protection community are far more concerned about source devices than display devices. Sources (such as DVD players) became available with DVI outputs only late last year because each device has to be approved before it can be make available. However displays supporting DVI/HDCP have been around for a while. It could be that Hitachi put it in but the information never made it from the engineers to the marketing types, or it was an early version that it didn't consider fully reliable.

If Samsung is bypassing the HDCP encryption, the company will be in big, big trouble. So that's not likely.

Regarding the problem with 720p, that isn't too surprising. There are a lot of display devices that support 720p at 60 hertz, but not at 50 hertz. The (PDF)specifications for this Hitachi display show support for '480i/p / 575i/p / 720p(60) / 1080i(50/60) / 1035i(60)'. Note, no '50' after 720p while there is after 1080i.

As it happens, 720p is not an especially useful display format for this display anyway. The vertical resolution of the Hitachi panel is 1,024, so it is as well to go for either 1080i or 576p from the DVI output. Experiment. Offhand, I'd say that it would be best to provide the signal at native resolution (576) and let the Hitachi scale it to its native resolution, because that avoids double-processing the signal. But the Samsung has excellent (Faroudja DCDi) scaling circuitry, so it's worth trying both the 576 and 1080 settings to see which works the best.

A Passionate Dichotomy - Thursday, 8 April 2004, 10:49 am

Regardless of what you may think about Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, it seems to have aroused a passionate response, both from its fans and detractors. One of the many useful things about the Internet Movie Database is the insight it can give into the cultural views of large groups of people. In addition to the many mini-movie reviews it carries by anyone feeling moved to contribute (and some of these are of such insight and quality of writing that they could be from print-media reviewers), there is also the voting system.

Anyone at all can vote on a scale of 1 to 10 for any of the tens of thousands of movies listed on the database. The ratings are averaged and range from 9.0 (from over 90,000 votes) for The Godfather to 1.5 for You Got Served.

Passion scores 7.5 (over 17,000 votes), which from my experience indicates a memorable and well done movie, but not one destined to become a widely recognised classic. What's interesting, though, is to see how it got this score. Consider, again, The Godfather. Its voting histogram shows that nearly 52% of voters gave it a '10', and another 19% gave it '9'. An usually high 6.2% gave it a '1'.

Now consider a movie that was perhaps as controversial as Passion, dealing with the same subject matter: The Last Temptation of Christ. This movie received an average vote of 7.4, not much different from that received by Passion, with the bulk of its voting spread fairly evenly across the '8', '9' and '10' categories (64%) and only 4.4% giving it a '1'. Interesting, given the highly publicised protests against the movie by elements within the Christian community upon its release (in the late 1980s).

So, back to Passion. Its voting pattern shows 56.3% giving it a '10', 10.5% a '9' and 8% voting '8' for a total of nearly 75% in these three categories. So why is the average only 7.5? At the other end of the scale 9.4% voted '1', and this is what pulled down the average.

It seems that The Passion of the Christ really is a controversial movie!

(Cross-posted on the Australian Libertarian Society Blog.)