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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, 11 August 2005

The Great DVD Giveaway–2 - Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 4:32 pm

Once again I have some surplus DVDs that readers may like to have for nothing, or at least, only the cost of postage. These are mostly DVDs that have been sent to me for review purposes. Note: These DVDs should not be sold. Most are marked as review copies. None have DVD cases, and most don't even have slicks (the paper inserts), although it is indicated for those few that do. Except where marked, they are in PAL format. Some I am giving away because they are duplicates, others because they have no interest for me or anyone in my family.

Contact me by email (scdawson (at) hifi-writer.com) if you would like to have any of these. First in, first served. And here they are:

UPDATE (Thursday, 25 August 2005, 3:44 pm): As the titles above were and are claimed, I have struck and shall strike them out.
Denon introduces the nearly perfect home theatre amplifier - Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 1:58 pm

Denon AVC-A11XV home theatre amplifier Denon's $13,000 AVC-A1XV home theatre amplifier is overkill, with its ten channels of amplification and 45 kilograms of mass. Now Denon has introduced the much more affordable ($6,999) and lighter (23kg) AVC-A11XV, with seven channels, each rated at 140 watts. It has everything in the way of features, including HDMI switching (one HDMI output, three HDMI inputs and one DVI input), picture scaling to HD if you want (using NSV rather than the Faroudja DCDi in the AVC-A1XV), and conversion of all interlaced input standards to whatever HDMI output setting you've selected.

It even has a phono input. Plus it supports all extant digital audio standards except for MPEG multichannel. There's even HDCD support, and Dolby Headphone.

But it has one piece of silliness that I can never understand. There are three optical digital audio outputs, but no coaxial ones. Since I like to have the output of my receiver plugged into the input of my computer, by way of 15 metres of cable, this is irritating.

Still, I'd really, really like one. 1MB PDF brochure here.

Panel TV Price falls continue - Thursday, 18 August 2005, 3:49 pm

NEC NLT-40W LCD TV I've just received a press release from NEC Australia saying that the selling price of its 40 inch (100cm) widescreen LCD TV, the NLT-40W, has been reduced from $9,999 to $5,499 (as I write, the NEC Web site lists the price as $6,999). That's an extraordinary price reduction and marks the LCD actually becoming competitive to the plasma (admittedly, the competing plasma displays are a couple of inches larger.

The main problem with LCD TVs is their poor contrast ratio. This one is specified at 600:1. That makes them not very good for darkened-room watching. On the other hand, you can sit much closer to one than to a plasma while retaining a very smooth picture, because the interpixel boundaries are much, much thinner.

So for regular, lit-room, family use they're excellent. The NLT-40W, incidentally, is a high resolution unit with 1,280 by 768 pixels, has a DVI input and built in stereo speakers.

Consumer DVD recorders go dual layer - Tuesday, 16 August 2005, 3:00 pm

Well dual layer recordable DVDs have been around for about 18 months now, without too much happening with them. With their expense (still over $8 each here in Australia), their use has been difficult to justify. Might as well just split a movie over two single layer discs.

But the good news is that dual layer consumer DVD recorders are now arriving. Both NEC and Sony are introducing models supporting DVD+R DL, while Pioneer's new range are supporting the new DVD Forum standard, DVD-R DL. I was going to put more details about all these models, but the Internet -- at least my view of it -- is extremely flaky this afternoon.

Dual layer recordable DVDs have a capacity of 8.5GB rather than the single layers' 4.7GB. (In this context, a GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes, not 1,073,741,824 bytes.)

Given that dual layer discs are so expensive, why is this good news? Because these recorders will make dual layer discs more popular. The broader their use, the cheaper they will become. At last, we will be able to look forward to significant price reductions in dual layer recordable DVDs.

The flexible eye - Monday, 15 August 2005, 11:33 am

The eye/brain mechanism for seeing is remarkable. We rely intensely on its 'defects' for home theatre. Consider a projector. It is casting an image onto a white screen. Yet with a good projector in a dark room, the black areas of the projected image look black. Clearly they must be white, because the 'black' is simply an area on the screen where no light is being projected. Or not much.

If you are using a digital projector (LCD, DLP or LCoS), if the scene fades out to black and you pause the picture, after a few seconds you'll see that it's not black at all, but a dark grey. That's because no digital projector can yet full eliminate some light leakage. Yet even a small bright part appearing on the image can make the rest of the screen look dark, midnight black.

That's because our visual circuits have a light intensity averaging system built in. The point of vision in the human animal is to facilitate recognition, not to act as a scientific instrument delivering lux counts. Our averaging system allows a black cat to look black even in bright sunlight, even though it is considerably brighter than a grey cat seen under modest artificial lighting. It is this averaging system that allows projectors to produce subjectively good images in our home theatres.

This post over at the 'WILLisms' blog demonstrates the point clearly. Two squares are identical in grey level, yet one looks dark grey while the other looks almost white. Go and have a look. It is quite startling.

Panasonic's new projector - Sunday, 14 August 2005, 10:28 am

In early September Panasonic is taking me and another Australia writer to the United States for the release of its new home theatre projector, the PT-AE900, in Hollywood. You can see my reviews of its predecessors, the Panasonic PT-AE700 here, and the Panasonic PT-AE500 here.

I'm quite keen on these projectors because they offer a level of performance for under $4,000 that was achievable only for more than $10,000 just a few short years ago. So I'm hopeful that the new Panasonic projector will be a further improvement for a similar price.

The only problem is that going to America is not a trivial undertaking for the likes of me. Now if I were going as a tourist, no problem. For Australian tourists, a visa waiver is granted upon entry. However journalists and writers must have a visa in order to enter the US. Molly Meldrum found out this to his distress a few years ago when he was stopped on entry, visa-less, and plonked onto the next plane coming back home.

Getting such a visa normally takes six weeks I'm told, but the US Consulate is kindly rushing mine through. Unfortunately, in addition to a couple of hundred dollars in charges (which Panasonic has rather nicely offered to pay), I have to present myself personally at the Consulate. Now since I'm in Canberra, the diplomatic capital of Australia, you'd think I could just lob up at the US Embassy. No, they don't offer consulate services. So I have to go to Sydney for this. And get there before 11:45am on the appointed weekday, since they don't do visas after lunch.

The good news is that once the visa is issued, it's good for five years so I won't have to go through this rigmarole again for a while.

Letters to the Editor - Saturday, 13 August 2005, 9:23 am

Back before I started writing for a living, I wrote letters to newspaper and magazines of the whinging, complaining kind one still sees. For those interested, I've posted the ones that were published here.

The power of selection - Friday, 12 August 2005, 12:58 pm

Darwinism is often the subject of disbelief because one of its two important components is overlooked. The essence of Darwinism is evolution through natural selection. This requires variation between organisms, and a method of selecting the most suitable variants from amongst them.

The variation is provided by various means: primarily the shuffling of the existing elements in the gene pool thanks to sexual reproduction, and by mutation. Both of these processes are more or less random, and in the case of mutation, far more likely to produce a broken organism than an 'improved' one (improved means better fitted for survival and reproduction in that organism's environment).

It is the overlooked component, selection, that produces order out of the randomness. In the case of Darwinism, it is the environment which selects which randomly produced characteristics succeed and spread.

As a modest contribution to this debate, let me produce ordered sound from randomness. Here are the steps.

CoolEdit 2000 filter producing order out of chaosFirst, I used the computer program CoolEdit 2000 to produce ten seconds of 'pink noise'. Pink noise is random noise in which the average level of frequencies in each octave is equal. Since octaves double in their range of frequencies as they proceed up through the scale, the average level of each frequency falls at the frequency increases. This happens at rate of three decibels per octave. Pink noise is closer to natural sounds (which tend to fall away at 6dB per octave) than white noise, in which the average level of each frequency is the same as every other level. We reviewers use pink noise a lot in our tests because of this closer correspondence to reality.

Then I applied a filter to this pink noise. This filter was my 'selection' mechanism. It eliminated (actually, reduced by up to 60dB) all the sound, except for that around the frequencies 80, 160, 320, 640, 1280, 2560, 5120 and 10240 hertz. You can see the filter setup in the accomanying graphic.

What do we find? What was previously somewhat bass heavy random noise has now become a musical tone. Don't believe me? Download the MP3 files and listen for yourself. Each is 78.5kB in size.

'pink.mp3' is the original pink noise. 'pink filtered.mp3' is the same file, modified only by the application of the filter. (Right click on the link and choose 'Save Target As ...')

So, yes, you can produce order from randomness by applying nothing more than a suitable selection mechanism.

More DVD Reviews up - Thursday, 11 August 2005, 9:53 pm

Here are another eight Region 4 DVD reviews, originally printed in Australian HI-FI:

Gattaca and The Truman Show
To Kill a Mockingbird and Pleasantville
Meet John Doe and Casablanca
Starship Troopers (original and Special Edition) versions.

A proper understanding of Starship Troopers - Thursday, 11 August 2005, 5:21 pm

Robert Heinlein's 1958 novel Starship Troopers is totally misunderstood by many, not least the makers of the 1997 movie of the same name. Take the issue of race, for example. The movie features pasty white Casper Van Dien in the part of the main charater, Johnny Rico, when it was clear from the novel that Rico was Filipino. Dien's Rico is smugly ambitious and self confident, the novel's Rico is searching and strives, with the help of others, to overcome his self doubt.

Not least of Heinlein's virtues was his ability to separate the important from the fashionable. His characters are more or less timeless -- as a 'coming of age' story, Rico could have been in a character in a World War I story as easily as in this future war story. Yet -- remember this is 1958 when it was written -- fashion is treated as arbitrary, not fixed. There are references to tough men wearing makeup and hardened soldiers wearing ear rings.

For years I've been meaning to complete an essay on the way that the movie abuses the novel on which it was 'based' and on its own internal idiocies. Now I find that someone has done most of my work for me. Christopher Weuve has a fine analysis and defence of the novel against the mostly clueless criticisms levelled against it, and a decent takedown of the movie. Go to 'Thoughts on Starship Troopers'.

The essence of my criticism of the movie is that it is to the book what a movie of 1984 would be to George Orwell's novel. If, that is, the movie had been made under Josef Stalin's direction, had lifted the characters from the story but reversed their motivations, had made the society a model of benevolence, had Winston Smith correcting errors in past publications instead of falsifying them. Starship Troopers the movie (which Weuve would have liked to refer to as 'Paul Verhoeven, Jon Davison, and Ed Neumeier's Twisted Parody of a Book They Claim They Liked But Have Done Everything to Befoul') is, in fact, a satire on the sentiments and themes of Starship Troopers the novel.

Finally, I would only add that Weuve is too mild in his criticisms of the movie's science. He mentions the asteroid that smears Buenos Aires, having been propelled across the full width of galaxy, yet only glancingly strikes a spaceship. In fact, to traverse such a distance in the short time the war had been proceeding, the asteroid would have had to travel at many times the speed of light. And how the pilots of the spaceship noticed the approach of asteroid - sufficient gravitational tug to overcome their own artificial gravity and tilt the water in a glass by perhaps twenty degrees -- is ludicrous, given that such a strong pull would have first been noticed by them being pulled off balance, the trajectory of their craft being pulled off course and so on. The asteroid would have been incapable, in any case, of exerting more than microgravitational forces. It takes a very big chunk of rock indeed for significant gravity. Even the moon can only manage one sixth of ours.

Other idiocies: the bugs shoot down spaceships by farting globs of stuff from their rear ends into the air. Good way of achieving escape velocity. The single nuke that our chaps use to close up a cave produces a ripple of explosions in the ground rushing towards the camera. And so on.

UPDATE (Thursday, 11 August 2005, 10:02 pm): See also my review of Starship Troopers written for Australian HI-FI.