Home Entertainment Blog ArchiveBrought 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, 12 June 2008
Disc Database -
Tuesday, 8 July 2008, 2:02 pm
One of the things I've been doing since not long after the introduction of the DVD has been building a database in Microsoft Access of details relating to discs. I've added additional fields over the years to allow for bits and pieces of additional data in which I've become interested. That includes HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
This database is far from complete, with some records consisting of little more than a title and a year. For many of the discs, the records are quite detailed. For example, consider the Australian Blu-ray release of 'Jumper'. The items in my database for this title include:
Disc Giveaway and swap -
Friday, 4 July 2008, 8:57 pm
I've got some discs to give away, plus some to swap. Before getting to that, though, may I commend to any Australians: purchase Star Trek Season 1 on HD DVD from EzyDVD. This ten disc package, with over 1,400 minutes of content in the full 29 episodes of the first season, is excellent.
Especially if you have a HD DVD player. But even if you don't, get it anyway. This is a HD DVD/DVD combo production. That is, each disc is HD DVD on one side and DVD on the other. The DVD side is in PAL format. The footage has been restored, and some tastefully enhanced with computer graphics. And while stocks last, it will cost you only $49.83 plus postage. The DVD box set is $99.83! I imagine it will eventually come out in HD again from Paramount -- in Blu-ray -- but expect it to cost around $250 when that happens.
Now, as to my giveaway and swap. I find myself with three HD DVDs to dispose of. All three are in their original shrink wrap and I'm happy to swap them for any HD DVD or Blu-ray that I don't already have. The HD DVDs and Blu-rays that I already have are listed here. These are the three I wish to swap:other than ones that I already have:
UPDATE (Tuesday, 8 July 2008, 1:58 pm): Strike-out applied to above items as they are disposed of.
Philips' Digital Natural Motion becomes 'Perfect' -
Tuesday, 1 July 2008, 9:11 pm
I went to Sydney today for Philips' new product launch. Of most interest to me were the new ranges of LCD TVs which will be rolled out over the next couple of months. There are three ranges -- 'good, better, best' said the product manager -- with the top of the range being the 9000 series. They had a demo set up with five 42-ish inch TVs in a row in order to demonstrate smooth motion. They fed a 1080p24 signal to all five via HDMI and a splitter box. One of the TVs was the new 42PFL9703D ($3,299, available next month) and one was last year's model. Two were other brand LCD TVs, and one was an other brand plasma. The purpose was to illustrate how good Philips' motion smoothing technology is.
Back around 2000 Philips introduced what it called 'Digital Natural Motion'. Here's what I wrote about it in my 2000 review of the Philips 29PT9418 4:3 Flat Screen TV. Note that 29 inch CRT TV then sold for $2,799, so after inflation this new true high definition 42 incher is about the same price.
... what it is that makes A Bug's Life so different.Later I found a scene on a DVD that tended break up under Digital Natural Motion. Most of these circuits no longer break up on that DVD scene. But the similar circuits recently introduced by Sony and Samsung in their TVs (and it's high-end projector by Sony) still produce the heat haze effect. All still make the picture seem artifically glossy due to that averaging.
Meanwhile, Philips has been progressively upgrading its circuit. In its earliest incarnation it worked with 576i signals, and that's all. It has improved the processing and enhanced its capability to work with higher quality signals.
Philips has named its most recent version of this circuit 'Perfect Natural Motion'. It is available in the new 9000 series TVs, but not the lesser models. Philips offers this meaningless statement: 'The Perfect Natural Motion technology offers 500 million pixels of processing power.' Um, 500 million pixels per second, per year, per millenia? And what does it do to those pixels?
Anyway, it's results that are important. So, as I said, Philips showed a few 1080p24 clips. Several had fast camera pans which overloaded the processing circuits on all the other TVs, causing picture breakup or masses of judder as the processing fell behind, caught up, fell behind again, and so on. The new Philips one had none of this. None at all. The picture retained its clarity and detail as it panned rapidly down or to the side of the screen. The cost for this was that the picture was noticably delayed compared to the other TVs, perhaps by a frame or two. You should not have this mode switched on when you're playing video games!
Recently I reviewed the Sony VPL-VW200 home theatre projector, an $18,000 full HD SXRD unit (Sony's version of LCoS). This was the first projector I had seen which incorporates one of these motion-smoothing circuits. Here's what I wrote:
You know something? I think this projector may convert me to this processing!That was similar to what the 'Perfect Natural Motion' processing did on the Philips TV I was watching today.
I should be reviewing one within a few weeks. I cannot be entirely confident of performance until I can use my own test material. But this TV is looking very promising indeed.
Now, all they need to do is work out a way to reinsert film grain and other irregularities to avoid the unnatural glossiness of the processed result.
Okay, you can buy a Sony TV now -
Tuesday, 1 July 2008, 7:44 pm
The Sony promo has started. If you purchase a full high definition Sony Bravia LCD TV in Australia during July, you can also get a Playstation 3 for free. Until, that is, 35,000 of them have gone. As I write, 34,253 remain. Details here. I just checked the link and now only 34,525 remain.
Restored Godfathers -
Monday, 30 June 2008, 12:47 pm
I've just received a press release from Paramount Pictures Australia announcing the release on 7 August 2008 of remastered and restored versions of The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and The Godfather: Part III DVDs. They will be available individually, and also in a five disc package with two discs of special extras.
The restoration was a painstaking affair. I highly recommend the article on this from the Magazine of the American Society of Cinematographers. Apparently the first two movies were in a pretty bad way. There are 'before and after' shots there to compare.
One of the most interesting points in the article is that it seems that the appearance of VHS is what prompted film studios to start actually looking after their films: 'the home-video boom of the 1980s proved film libraries could have indefinite, lucrative lives. Before that awareness took hold, original negatives were typically used as printing negatives, which meant the original negatives for popular pictures took a lot of abuse.'
No word on Blu-ray yet, but seeing as how the restoration was performed digitally in the 4K format (ie. 4,096 pixels wide, and as many pixels vertically as required to preserve the aspect ratio), surely this can't be far off.
UPDATE (Monday, 30 June 2008, 9:35 pm): My supposition was correct. I've just been advised that The Godfather will be available in Australia on Blu-ray on 30 October 2008. I am assuming that Parts II and III will be released at the same time, and maybe also the box set (presumably the extras will be DVDs, like the brilliant five disc Blade Runner box set from Warner Bros. I'll advise when all this is confirmed.
Put another prawn on the Barb-b -
Sunday, 29 June 2008, 3:56 pm
Plus 30 Days of Night. This last was shot in New Zealand and features Australian actress Melissa George. The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary in which, about 17 minutes into the movie, she is being gently ribbed about her Australian accent. At this point somebody tosses in a 'put another shrimp on the barb-b', and she rightly comments that in Australia we call them prawns. But she doesn't seem to know how the saying came to be. In fact, this originated in a series of Australian tourism advertisements run in the United States in the early 1980s, fronted by Paul Hogan. Much to my surprise, there's even a Wikipedia entry on it.
This is followed by Ms George enlightening us upon the sad history of Lindy Chamberlain, whose baby was thought to have been taken by dingo back in the 1980s. Ms George relates in the commentary: 'You know she got out of prison twenty years later because the guy said "I saw what happened and had proof, and she went away for twenty years"' She shares this with a remarkable tone of certainty. Only problem is, the baby was taken in August 1980, Chamberlain was convicted of murder in October 1982. In February 1986 she was released after some of her baby's clothes were found. There had been some disquiet raised over the soundness of her conviction over the previous few years. So, all in all, she served less than three and a half years, not twenty. Her conviction was formally voided in 1988.
Incidentally, Icon has this movie listed as having a duration of 108 minutes on the back cover. In fact its duration is 113 minutes (and 5 seconds if we want to get specific). Likewise, Black Sheep is listed as being 82 minutes, when it is actually 86, and We Were Soldiers as 133 minutes, when it is actually 139. This is an interesting reversal. PAL DVDs run four per cent faster than the original film, and NTSC DVDs. The reason is that each film frame is transferred to a PAL DVD frame. But there are 24 film frames per second, and 25 PAL DVD frames per second. This ensures superb picture quality, but a slightly quicker running speed.
Many PAL DVDs have been released over the years which incorrectly state the film duration rather than the DVD's duration. Now this is being reversed. Blu-ray discs run at the same speed as the original movie (24 frames per second), so the original duration is what should be quoted.
Australians: do not buy a full high definition Sony Bravia TV ... -
Thursday, 26 June 2008, 1:11 am
... until 1 July. Sony will, from that date, be giving away a free Sony Playstation 3 console with each full HD Bravia TV sold. 35,000 of them.
You have been warned.
'Home theaters will soon be able to show 3-D' -
Friday, 20 June 2008, 2:16 pm
So sayeth Kevin Maney at Portfolio.com. It's in the context of a discussion about how Hollywood is producing a spurt of improved technology 3D movies. Apparently Hollywood sees 3D screenings as a way to get people back to theatres, just as they introduced widescreen in the early 1950s, colour became the norm over that decade, and surround sound appeared in the 1970s. The problem for them is that the time period between technology appearing in the cinema and, later, in the home is diminishing. I read through the first two and a half pages of this article before finding an acknowledgement that this might not achieve their aims for this reason:
Bringing in 3-D will boost the quality of the experience, but it still might not be enough to lure butts out of living rooms and into cinemas. Home theaters will soon be able to show 3-D. I visited a Kodak lab where a team is working on a 3-D display, and the images rivaled what I saw in Walden's screening room. 'It will be three years before the price and package are appropriate for consumer applications,' says Kodak researcher Patrick Cosgrove.I suspect that Hollywood is just going to have to get used to the idea that much of their profit will be derived from media sales for home theatre use, not public display rentals.
Terms and Conditions -
Wednesday, 18 June 2008, 9:49 pm
There is no real fixed system for obtaining gear for review. It's all over the place, with different companies and relationships. Do I get to keep the stuff I review? Unfortunately, no. Otherwise I would be a very wealthy man. So it all has to go back.
There is a great deal of trust involved in the system. I ring up my contact in some company or other. We chat. I say I want to review product X for such and such publication. They courier it to me. A couple of weeks later I give them another ring and they arrange for a courier to come and pick it up. But increasingly, of late, trust has begun to be replaced with paperwork. In the last two days I have sought review products from two companies I have been dealing with for years. Neither has previously had any 'loan agreement'. It has been a pretty good arrangement. But in these last two days both have required one.
Most of the items in a loan agreement aren't a problem, and are understood anyway. They still own the product. If it gets stolen, smashed, etc, while it's here, it's my responsibility. I have to give it back when they want it. But some things just won't work with what I'm doing. With one of those agreements, I had to exclude two of its items.
The first was a paragraph which said:
You will at all times operate the product in accordance with operational instructions provided with the product and/or specifically recommended by [The Company].But this is not appropriate for a review. I may find it necessary, in conducting the review, to do unusual things. Run it excessively loud with broadband pink noise. Take to it with a screwdriver to find out something or other (I almost never do this!) The purpose of the review is to describe the product to my readers. However, I should note that I don't think I have ever actually damaged any of the equipment I've tested, beyond normal wear and tear, during the two thousand plus reviews I've done. In fact, on several occasions I've performed minor repairs (a crossover in a high-end pair of loudspeakers come to mind -- with the company's permission, I resoldered the wiring since the thing had come adrift during transport so the loudspeakers wouldn't work).
If there are difficulties or problems with the Product please contact [The Company] on the details of this letter and we will endeavour to solve the problem as quickly as possible.There are two kinds of difficulties or problems I encounter with the products I review. Some are clearly such things as the product being damaged or otherwise operating incorrectly. Of course I contact the company about those problems. I had one of those just a fortnight ago: a home entertainment system with an add-on module for wireless rear speakers. The transmitter and receiver in the add-on didn't match. I called the company. We nailed down the issue. They sent a matching transmitter and receiver by overnight courier. The next day I continued doing the review.
The other kind are areas of inadequate performance or difficulties in operation due to what I judge to be design flaws. These are the kinds of things that are supposed to be brought out in the review, and should generally not be disclosed to the product supplier prior to publication (since there is the potential for some unscrupulous suppliers to attempt legal action to prevent publication).
Having said that, if I judge that a design or performance flaw may be able to be fairly easily corrected, then I often do contact the supplier. I am working on a review right now, and am shortly publishing another review, where there were problems correctable with firmware upgrades.
Still, what I'm saying is that this has to be my choice.
I suspect that I'm going to have to come up with my own 'Loan Agreement', because I'm spending too much time writing lengthy emails explaining why I exclude certain parts of their agreements.
On the scrounge again - Sony Playstation 3 to the rescue -
Wednesday, Tuesday, 17 June 2008, 1:59 pm
Today I found a package behind the screen door of my house (a remarkable number of couriers seem unable to read the 'Stephen Dawson, Writer, Office at Rear' sign on the house). Within was a 'Testmold' Blu-ray from Sony Pictures of Men in Black. So what? This is, as SPE says, 'the first BD-Live enabled Blu-ray title outside the US Market'.
But that is a problem. BD-Live means the disc has what I am going to persist in calling 'Web-enabled features', even though that is a term I lifted from a specific HD DVD. To give an idea of just some the things that may become available on Blu-ray, here is what I wrote about that HD DVD (complete with screen shots).
As for Men in Black, apparently the BD Live feature is the 'BD Live Interactive Trivia Game' wherein 'Fans will be able to play each other over a network as they answer trivia questions'. While I can't say this sounds especially exciting, I do have great faith that Blu-ray disc producers will eventually come up with some fascinating stuff using this technology.
All this leads to a problem. How do I test discs? Until recently I was using the Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray player, followed by the DMR-BW500 Blu-ray recorder. Both are excellent units, but neither does BD Live (although both remain, as I write, the only non-games BonusView Blu-ray players on the Australian market). In any case, Panasonic weren't interested in a long-term loan and wanted both units back.
There is, as I write, only one Blu-ray player on the Australian market that I presently feel fully comfortable recommending, and that is the Sony Playstation 3. It does 1080p24 output via HDMI, it handles all audio standards including DTS-HD Master Audio since the 2.30 firmware, and it is fully BD-Live compliant!
Three things would make it better for my purposes:
Fortunately for me, and for my Blu-ray disc reviews in Sound and Image magazine, Sony Computer Entertainment will be lending me a PS3 for awhile. This constitutes my usual disclosure. But just so you know, it was I that approached them, after having considered all the options available for review equipment. As it is, I also have here the 30 Days of Night Blu-ray, which has a BonusView special feature, but which, since it arrived after the Panasonic players departed, I cannot fully report on until I receive the PS3.
HiFi funnies of the day -
Wednesday, Tuesday, 17 June 2008, 9:35 am
[Via Transterrestrial Musings]
I have huge respect for the brand Denon. Its range encompasses decent, reasonably priced stuff (nothing really mass market) through to some seriously high end gear. But I do have to wonder how it can bring itself to market a 1.5 metre Ethernet cable for over $US500.
You know, I was originally just going to pile on as well and join in the fun, and I will in a moment (after all, I've been dumping on silly cable theories for a long time).
But first, on reflection, I'd like to offer a rather weak defence of Denon. This cable's purpose is not for actual Ethernet connectivity (even though recent Denon home theatre receivers do in fact have Ethernet ports). Its actual purpose is for the 'Denon Link' feature available on some of the better Denon gear. Denon Link allowed the digital delivery of high resolution multichannel audio signals (up to 5.1 channels at 96kHz, 24 bits) from DVD Audio and SACD discs, using Denon's players. This was a proprietary solution to a problem created by the original designers of DVD Audio and SACD. As first released, both of these were limited to multichannel analogue outputs, forcing the signal in many cases to go through an unnecessary D/A, A/D cycle. So Denon Link was a very useful feature. These days you achieve the same effect using a HDMI connection, if your player supports SACD and DVD Audio (I use Oppo Digital DVD players, which do). I suppose Denon used RJ45 connections and Ethernet cable for this proprietary link because it was available. Had they chosen proprietary plugs of some kind instead, then this issue would never have arisen.
Ethernet is, of course, a packet-based communications system. The transmitted information is broken up into packets which are sent down the wire, through the network or whatever. The delivery order doesn't matter. The odd lost packet only slightly impacts performance because the receiver notices that a packet is missing and requests a resend. I don't really know the intricate workings of Denon Link, but I'm fairly certain that it is a serial system. That is, the data has to be sent down (presumably with some error correction redundancy built in, but since it's proprietary, who knows -- perhaps the system was so poorly designed it has very little error correction built in, requiring a more robust link than usual). Okay, the volume of data (up to six channels at 24 bits and 96,000 hertz sampling means less than 14Mbps) should be no stress at all to a regular Ethernet cable over such a short run.
So if this is regarded as a dedicated high-end audiophile digital cable, then it is merely commonly, rather than uniquely, stupid. It is commonly stupid in that high end 'audiophile' HDMI and DVI and optical digital audio and coaxial digital audio cables also exist. Even if you grant that ridiculously expensive audiophile cables do make a difference for analogue connections, it is exceedingly difficult to see the mechanism by which digital cables could improve things, at least over the short distances for which they are normally employed.
Golly, what was going to be a short, light-hearted post turned into a respectable defence of Denon.
Anyway, the reason I started in the first place was to draw attention to the Amazon.com customer reviews. These are hilarious! Not unintentionally, either, so I'm not poking fun at the clueless. Both the 'positive' and the 'negative' reviews are brilliant. For example, from a four star review:
Thank you Denon. I suffer from a rare R/F allergy which makes it nearly impossible for me to leave my lead lined sarcophagus (unless there is a power outage). Generally i can only listen to music on an accoustic gramaphone and hence my library consists entirely of John Phillips Suza. That all changed when i got the Denon AKDL1 dream maker. No random photons here! I've integrated the cable into a bucket i've lined with tinfoil and now my library has already expanded to include Count Basie and Sir-Mix-Alot. Life is once again worth living.and from a one star review:
I installed one of these cables between my gigabit ethernet switch and my Canon Pixma 6700 color printer. I know it's not a sanctioned use, but I was looking for the ultimate in speed and fidelity. I'm freaky that way.
HD Olympics 2 -
Wednesday, Tuesday, 17 June 2008, 9:23 am
Much of the Olympics will, as I mentioned in the previous post, will be broadcast in Australia on Channel 7 (Prime TV in regional areas) in high definition. Some of the overflow will be carried by SBS, as agreed between the two broadcasters.
SBS will not be changing its broadcasting equipment, or broadcasting standards, prior to the Olympic Games. Consequently SBS will be showing its part of the Olympics in 576i SDTV -- its low bitrate, lousy quality version thereof. Presumably it will also be showing in 576p, deinterlaced I suppose from the 576i feed.
Note, when I check a couple of years ago, the MPEG2 bitrate of SBS HD (ie. 576p) was actually less than that of Prime SD (ie. 576i!) However, I really ought to update my figures.