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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, 9 July 2009

HDMI Cable weirdness - Wednesday, 9 September 2009, 4:20 pm

What hair I have is so short at the moment that I am unable to get any purchase on it whatsoever. Which is just as well, otherwise after the last couple of hours I would have none left.

I start this period with a Pioneer Blu-ray player plugged into an Onkyo home theatre receiver, but I need to put a Sony Blu-ray player through its paces. So I pull out the Pioneer player and put the Sony in its place. All works fine.

I need to check out the audio decoding capabilities of the Sony, and the Onkyo doesn't offer much information in this regard, so I plug in a Yamaha receiver. All works fine. I check out part of what I need to check on the Sony player. One of the weirdnesses of Sony Blu-ray players is that, Sony alleges, they will decode DTS-HD Master Audio, but I've never been able to get one to do so. Apparently they will only do this if set to 'Direct' output. With a receiver which does the decoding, they supply the bitstream instead. Consequently I've never been able to confirm that they really will decode DTS-HD Master Audio.

But I also have here an inexpensive Sony receiver which has HDMI input, but no decoders, and it provides signal information. So I pull out the Yamaha, and replace it with the Sony. The HDMI cable from the Sony Blu-ray goes into the 'BD' input on the Sony. I switch it on and it shows 'HDMI' on its front panel display, but no picture is coming through. I switch off the Blu-ray player and restart it. Likewise for the receiver, for the TV for everything. I change settings. I change inputs.

I walk away for five minutes and engage in a bit of cursing.

I go through the whole process again. Nothing.

Remember, everything was the same except that now I had a Sony receiver instead of a Yamaha one in place.

As a real longshot, I switched to a different Blu-ray player -- the Oppo BDP-83 -- with its own HDMI cable into a different input on the Sony receiver. Instantly I have a picture up on the display (a glorious 65 inch Panasonic plasma at the moment).

Initial diagnosis: Sony Blu-ray player won't work with Sony receiver! But that seemed somewhat unlikely. Perhaps I'd wrecked the cable I had been using between the two Sony units. It's an excellent cable from Kordz, but goodness knows it gets a fair old workout and has for some years. So I pulled the Oppo's HDMI cable off and used it with the Sony player. It worked!

So I tried a different cable: another Kordz one identical to the first one, but five metres instead of two. It worked!

So I tried a third cable: my very first HDMI cable which is thin and nasty and cost $50 back when they were very hard to obtain. It worked!

So I put the original cable back into play. It worked!

So I have no idea what went on there. But, in the end, I can confirm that the Blu-ray player really does decode DTS-HD MA!

UPDATE (Thursday, 10 September 2009, 9:38 am): I think I've worked it out. Sony players seem to be a touch sensitive as to the precise angle at which some HDMI cables are inserted, presumably well-used ones such as my Kordz. I seem to recall a slight touchiness from Panasonic players too.

The World's Worst Cable - Tuesday, 8 September 2009, 1:09 pm

Tangled Digital Interconnect What happens when you search your cable cupboard, find a collection of random audio cables (at least one a quarter of a century old), join them all together into one 44 metre long hodge-podge, and use it for digital audio?

You might be surprised.

I did it, and wrote about it in the just-out September/October 2009 issue of Geare.

640kbps Dolby Digital on DVD - Monday, 7 September 2009, 1:45 pm

One of my daughters gave me the Pink Floyd 'Pulse' DVD set for Fathers' Day yesterday. Absolutely brilliant concert from 1994, with superb sound. I was startled to find under audio options that you can select Dolby Digital 5.1 sound at either 448kbps or 640kbps. The latter is common on Blu-ray, but is not part of the DVD specification, and a warning in the booklet that comes with the discs suggests that it may not work with some systems.

Still, it worked with mine and it sounded excellent. Better than the 448kbps version? Who knows. I switched quickly between the two, and my impression was that the 640kbps version was a decibel or two louder than the 448kbps version, so that would immediately invalidate any A-B comparison without a great deal of setting up.

Elementary Arithmetic - Monday, 7 September 2009, 1:27 pm

You have 285,200 births in Australia in 2007, according to the radio this morning, of which an estimated 2,000 are home births. That, says the presenter, is 'point zero, zero seven per cent of births'.

A recent issue of a Skeptics Magazine initially claimed that 7.6% of the US population was behind bars.

This article -- which I otherwise think is excellent -- includes the following statement: 'but it represents about one third of a per cent (0.0033 per cent) of the world dolphin population'.

Is doing percentages really that hard? To find a percentage you divide the count of the category of interest by the total count ... and then you multiply by 100. Pretty easy. The figure should be expressed the same whether written in words are spelt out.

The three real figures are, respectively, 0.7%, 0.76% and 0.33%.

BD-Live Travails - Friday, 4 September 2009, 6:22 pm

Here's an email I sent last night to 'BD-Live Help'. I mentioned here a while back how my BD-Live logon with The Da Vinci Code had failed. I whinged to Sony's PR company at the product launch mentioned in the post, and they undertook to do something about it. As a result, about three days ago I received an email from BD-Live Help with a reset password. So here's what happened (logon IDs etc X'd out for security):

Dear BD-Live Help

Thank you for resetting my password and advising a new one, as per your email below. Unfortunately, this has failed to resolve my problem. Here's the sequence of events leading to this pass.

  1. I was early onto BD-Live, back with the original release in Australia of Men in Black. At that time (most likely) I registered for BD-Live as I explored the system's capabilities.
  2. Since then I forgot my password. However I remembered my username: 'XXXXXXX'. My email address was XXXXXXX@XXXXXXXX.
  3. When I was reviewing the Australian release of The Da Vinci Code, I attempted to use the cinechat feature, but without a password could not get it to work. So I tried creating a new registration. This insisted that a username had to consist of at least one letter and one number, so I tried XXXXXXX1. This registration failed on the basis that my email address was already included with another registration.
  4. Following my raising the matter with Sony management here in Australia and their PR, I received your email of 1 September.
  5. I have just loaded The Da Vinci Code and I successfully 'Registered My Disc' in the normal BD-Live section of the disc using my user name 'XXXXXXX' and the new password you provided.
  6. I then exited that section of the disc and entered the 'cinechat' section. This required me to logon again. I entered 'XXXXXXX' and the advised password, and received the following message:

    'Login Failed - The BD-Live user name/password you entered is invalid. Please select 'Ok' and try again.'

    Needless to say, I've 'tried again' several times, with great care as to make sure I entered the correct password. I received the same message on each occasion.

  7. So, I'm still stuck. Apparently the cinechat system uses a different verification mechanism to the regular BD-Live system. To confirm, I exited and went back to the normal BD-Live section of the disc and again used the 'Register Your Disc' item to logon. When I did so, after a pause the system returned a message saying 'DISC IS ALREADY REGISTERED', suggesting that it successfully logged on and checked the disc status. (Incidentally, when I entered the logon screen, the fields had been automatically filled, with the information loaded from the player's persistent storage. Why doesn't the cinechat feature also have this pre-filling capability?)
Suggestions?
Blu-ray Error handling - Wednesday, 2 September 2009, 8:21 pm

Scratched Blu-ray discEarly this year I foolishly purchased a Blu-ray disc from one of those shops that insist on opening the sealed cases. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I got around to doing anything with the disc, and what I did do was scan it with BDInfo to gather information for my Blu-ray database. (Yes, I do also watch movies as well! But often the scan comes first.)

The scanning went swimmingly until about 51 minutes into the disc. At that point, BDInfo informed me that the disc was unreadable. I examined the disc and, yes, there it was. Can you see it in the photo? A scratch! About 1.5 millimetres of nastiness.

Not just a scratch, but the worst possible kind for a digital media disc: it was at a tangent to a circle concentric to the disc, rather than radial to it. That means that it essentially obscured a sequence of data over a significant length. A radial scratch (ie. radiating from the centre outwards) obscures just as much data, but only a small amount at each point as it crosses the 'tracks'. The error correction is generally able to reconstruct the original signal in that case.

But a tangential scratch: if it cannot be read around or through somehow by the laser mechanism, then one this length means too much data is lost for repair.

I was torn. Should I take the disc back or keep it? I put it into a player I had handy, and it made the player stutter and skip until it had gotten past that point. That sealed it: I decided I'd better keep the disc. Clearly, it was an ideal test disc.

Thanks to Warner Bros for sending me a shiny new one to replace the damaged one for its original purpose: data gathering and enjoyment.

Anyway, since this valuable new test has now come into my hands, I have started to use it. Here are my notes for the first two players (no brand names since my reviews haven't been completed) I tried it on:

Looped around 51:30 for some seconds, then got back to normal after jumping to 51:47.

Paused at 51:02, then skipped to 51:15, then froze at 51:28. Would not skip or ff out of this. Had to stop disc.

The first player was less expensive than the second.

The third player I tried it on was the Oppo BDP-83, which I have on long term loan courtesy of the manufacturer and the Australian distributor. Here's my note:

Played perfectly 3 out of 4 times. 1 out of 4: a tiny stutter at ~51:40.
Who would have thought that a player could make so much difference?
DVD Information - Wednesday, 2 September 2009, 3:13 pm

Player Information menu on Harman Kardon DVD-39 Years ago I purchased a Harman Kardon DVD-30 DVD player, primarily for its decent DVD performance combined with DVD Audio playback.

These days I primarily use an Oppo DV-980H DVD player, or an Oppo BD-83 Blu-ray player. After all, the HK doesn't have HDMI output, and its progressive scan conversion is really quite mediocre.

But I still keep it. Why? Because I'm an information nerd. The HK gives me one piece of information provided by no other device of which I'm aware. That piece of information is the 'Scan Type', which is typically either 'Progressive' or 'Interlaced'

That is the value of the flag in the video stream which purports to tell a progressive scan deinterlacer whether the video should be woven or bobbed. It is this flag which is wrong on almost all Australian and European DVDs. But without the HK DVD-30, I'd have to try to deduce that on a disc by disc basis from how the video looks. This DVD player makes that much more convenient.

The picture above is from the manual for HK's latest DVD player, the DVD-39. So it seems that Harman Kardon remains the device to use if you want this information. But, without having laid hands on the unit, whether its actual deinterlacing is good remains to be seen. It does not appear to have a force film mode, so I have my doubts.

A Decade of Tuning Tips (Part Two) - 1 - Monday, 31 August 2009, 11:52 am

Cover of insert I suspect it was English high fidelity magazines from the second half of the 1970s, and especially the 1980s, that most fostered the irrationality which invaded the world of high fidelity sound. By the end of the 1980s this had reached what I hope was its zenith. I think it has receded a little since then, in large part due to home theatre.

The irrationality depends upon regarding the audio signal as something mystical, yet fragile. It was as though it carried within it some musical essence which could barely make it through into a home by using the most exotic of equipment, and even then only when the gods of fortune were favourably disposed. The sound system was not so much a way of reproducing the sound, but a series of impediments to its proper realisation.

Fortunately, our intrepid audio journalists were there to recommend ways of removing impediments. One way was to improve the equipment: the source first, then the amplifier, then the loudspeakers last. While traditionally the speakers have been regarded as the bottleneck in the sound reproduction process, the hardest part of the reproduction chain to get right, our new audiophiles felt that improving speakers was pointless early in the process, because better speakers would merely explose flaws in the turntable or amplifier (this was mostly before CDs).

But they were also ready to suggest inexpensive improvements, each of which could yield huge improvements. Of course, words like 'inexpensive' and 'huge' depend very much upon context. Consider a power supply filter: 'At 299 plus carriage it's not expensive'. For this modest amount of money the improvement in sound was, apparently, obvious ('the sound seemed to grow richer and deeper tonally, with a more dynamic "out of the box" presentation'). Likewise, upgrading the digital clock of a CD player (only 141) apparently delivers 'big gains in resolution clarity and precision'.

And sometimes, they suggested tweaks that were truly inexpensive -- free, even. Some of these were outlined in 'A Decade of Tuning Tips (Part Two)', a small booklet enclosed in the magazine Hi-Fi Answers of May 1989. I've held onto this booklet these last two decades because I like to be able to remind myself from time to time how utterly silly humanity is capable of being.

A shall discuss its contents over the next few posts. But at this point, it largely concerns the theories and consequent practices of one Peter Belt. This story isn't about Belt, though. It's about an industry where such utterly nutty ideas are not only entertained, but accepted and republished.

I'm a Twit - Thursday, 27 August 2009, 10:46 pm

And if you like, you can follow me at twitter.com/STEPHENCDAWSON. Even more worth following is Jez Ford.

Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray - the standard source - Wednesday, 26 August 2009, 12:52 pm

For the past year or more I've had on long term loan from Sony Computer Entertainment a Sony Playstation 3. This has been the source I've been primarily using for my Blu-ray reviews. At the time, the PS3 was the only Blu-ray player that delivered all the performance I needed. Certainly, there were no standalone Blu-ray players that could do the job.

The payback to SCE for the loan was mentions of the unit from time to time in my reviews of home theatre receivers, TVs and the like, and a specific mention at the foot of my printed Blu-ray reviews.

I haven't been inclined to try replacing the PS3 with any standalone players since then, despite one drawback of the PS3 for my purposes: it would not provide the new audio standards as a bitstream, necessary to test home theatre receivers.

Yesterday, following my Oppo BDP-83 review, I broached with Merlin Audio and Oppo Digital the possibility of a long-term loan on similar terms to that for the PS3. The reason: this player does absolutely everything I require of a Blu-ray player, it does it all well, and does it quietly (the PS3's cooling fan does fill the room with bit of swishiness). And, of course, in addition to decoding all audio standards, it will deliver the audio as a bitstream to a suitable home theatre receiver.

I'm happy to say that Oppo and Merlin have agreed to my proposal, so the BDP-83 shall be the major test platform for Blu-ray discs in my office for the forseeable future.

Aside from doing everything well, the Oppo does everything promptly. Here are timings I have made for a number of Blu-ray players. The only one that matches the Oppo for speed -- and is a similar pleasure to use for this reason -- is the LG BD370. Unfortunately, it does not offer the same level of performance in other respects.

ModelOpen drawer from 'Off'Start Sky High from drawer open Start Speed from drawer openEject Speed from menuDVD layer change
Kogan KGNBRVA25 (power, then drawer open)365062.5
LG BD30042033100.5
LG BD3704.5182581
NAD T 58742235101
Oppo BDP-833.818244.81.2
Panasonic DMP-BD35233347181
Panasonic DMR-BW8503843577.51.2
Panasonic DMP-BD6029/13 (Quick Start)395551.2
Panasonic DMP-BD8030/13 (Quick Start)395551.2
Pioneer BDP-LX7127477453.7
Pioneer BDP-12019/2.6 (Quick Start)4774130.8
Pioneer BDP-LX5228385673.6
Samsung BD-P15006364771.5
Sharp BD-HP21X22 (3 in Quickstart mode)5486103
Sony BDP-S35024 (8 in Quickstart mode)355072
Sony BDP-S5000ES25 (8 in Quickstart mode)285181.9
Sony Playstation 3N/A384330
Yamaha BD-S2900264555141.4

What do these timings mean?

With the first, I press the 'Open' key on the unit while it is in standby mode. The figure is the seconds until the drawer is fully open.

With the second column, I place the Blu-ray of Sky High on the open tray and press 'Close'. The figure is the time taken until the opening language-selection menu appears. This disc is single layer and very simply organised, so it represents a kind of quickest starting Blu-ray.

With the third column, I place the Blu-ray of Speed on the open tray and press 'Close'. The figure is the time taken until the Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment video logo commences to play. Before this the player loads a section of BD Java programming from the disc, so this timing includes this extra work.

For the fourth column, this is simply the time taken after a press of the 'Eject' button, while sitting in the Speed menu, for the tray to open fully.

The final column shows the approximate time taken for a layer change in a dual layer DVD to be negotiated. I use my copy of The Matrix, since I've been using the same disc for this purpose for about ten years. My methodology is to select the music commentary audio track, because the fellow talks right over the layer change (which occurs at 59:12 on this PAL DVD), making it easy to measure. The time shown is the period of the gap in the sound.

The pale blue highlight marks the Oppo. This is a current model. The pale yellow highlights mark the players no longer available.

We're All Going To Die - Wednesday, 26 August 2009, 8:32 am

That's the the title of a recent editorial in Geare magazine (#56, July/August 2009) from Jez Ford, one of my editors. If you met Jez, you'd learn instantly that he is most certainly not a doom and gloom kind of guy. If fact, in this editorial he's injected a very sensible note into the hysterical anti-power-consumption crusade of much of the media.

In particular, he notes the 'widely-quoted statistic that standby power alone consumes 10-12% of total home power in Australia.' And points out that according to the International Energy Agency, about 15% of household power consumption is due to electronic devices. Put those figures together and 'it would mean that our electronic devices use up to four times as much power when they're off as when they're on.'

Oppo Rules - Tuesday, 25 August 2009, 5:31 pm

My review of the Oppo Digital BDP-83 Blu-ray player appears in the newly released issue of Sound and Image magazine. Let me cut to the chase: this is the best Blu-ray player I have yet tested, and I have tested nearly all of them. The reasons are speed, quality, versatility and convenience.

Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray playerRead the review to find out all the details.

But one thing did arise yesterday that confirms my view about this player.

I am presently reviewing a 65 inch (165cm) 'Premiere' plasma display from Panasonic. This TV is simply glorious. It is sold only through specialist retailers, not through chains. As part of the deal from Panasonic you get an in-situ professional picture calibration from an Imaging Science Foundation qualified technician. So Panasonic arranged for Aaron Rigg, from Melbourne-based Avical Australia Pty Ltd, to drop in and perform the calibration. You can see Aaron in the video clip here.

Both the process and the results were extremely impressive. Aaron uses high quality instruments and software to measure the colour from the screen to ensure that things are as close to perfect as the display is capable of producing. But it soon became apparent that his eyes and experience would allow him to do much if this without using instruments. He kept consistently predicting what his instrument showed.

The quality of the Panasonic panel was such that there was almost no compromise at all in his settings.

He used the Oppo Blu-ray player as the source device, along with the DVE HD Basics Blu-ray test disc to generate the patterns for measurement. Given his job, he's probably about as experienced as me when it comes to using Blu-ray players, and he was impressed about how smoothly and quickly the Oppo ran, especially with the smoothness of the animated menus.

He completed the calibration, and then to double check he used patterns from my DVDO iScan VP50Pro video processor. But these produced a green tinge on the display (even I could see this). He thought that this suggested that the Oppo was messing up the colour output. The display was calibrated for the Oppo. If another -- more accurate -- source gave different results, then the Oppo must be wrong.

So Aaron plugged in his signal generator to check. And discovered that the Oppo was correct. It was the DVDO processor that was incorrect.

I shall revisit the DVDO another time and discuss its myriad of other problems.

BD-Live advances - a Possible Killer App? - Thursday, 13 August 2009, 10:49 pm

Sony BDP-S760 Blu-ray playerYesterday I went to Sydney, courtesy of Sony, to see its new line of Blu-ray players and some of the stuff it's doing with Blu-ray discs.

First, the players. There are three models: the BDP-S360, BDP-S560 and the BDP-S760. They are priced, respectively, at $449, $549 and $729. The 7.1 channel analogue outputs move from the S5xx to the S7xx. All three have multichannel decoding of all formats, Sony says (hopefully without the DTS-HD Master Audio confusion of the previous models). All three are full BD-Live (Profile 2.0) players. The two more expensive models get, in Angels and Demons Blu-ray cover addition to the persistent storage USB port on the rear, a front panel USB port for photo display. They also support photos from DLNA servers over a home network.

Most importantly, the two more expensive models also feature wireless networking, so you can use BD-Live without having to traipse a network cable to your home entertainment room. The S760 is the first Blu-ray player I've seen with a headphone output, and it provides a surround effect using a Sony proprietary DSP.

Naturally I shall be reviewing as many of these as possible as soon as possible. Sony has also got out some BD home theatre systems for those interested in such things. Check Sony's web site for those (although the new ones aren't there yet as I write).

Also on the BD-Live front, Sony Pictures is releasing Angels and Demons on Blu-ray in October. Like The Da Vinci Code, this will be in an extended version, but unlike the first installment, it will also have the original theatrical release.

It also has some BD-Live features. The most interesting is a new one called 'movieIQ'. This provides a hide-able overlay which displays movie information drawn live from Gracenote, allowing you to find out who the actors are, along with their bios and so on. I get the impression it's a bit like hooking into the Internet Movie Database, but on-screen while the movie is playing.

That's a BD-Live feature that has a great deal of promise!

Assuming, of course, that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment solves some problems with its BD-Live logon process. From my forthcoming Sound and Image review of The Da Vinci Code:

There is also a BD-Live 'Cinechat' feature, which is supposed to allow you to 'chat' with others over the Internet while the movie's playing. Perhaps, but I couldn't register because at some point in the past I've registered with Sony, specifying my email address. It would not let me re-register with that email address, nor did it (either via the disc, or the Cinechat website) seem to have any provision for a forgotten password.
I've just tried once again to register via the disc. Here's the result:

Failed Da Vinci Code registration

I don't have another email address. Clearly, some work is needed here.
Been Away - Back Now - Thursday, 13 August 2009, 10:48 pm

Visited my son and his partner in Darwin for a week or more. The minimum temperature every day was significantly more than the maximum temperature here in Canberra. Nice time. Been back since Tuesday.

1.0 - Friday, 24 July 2009, 1:24 pm

The other day I put on the excellent Warner Bros Blu-ray title, An American in Paris, and noticed something odd: the music was coming out of the front left and right speakers. I already know that this disc has seven audio tracks, every single one of which is encoded in Dolby Digital 1/0.0 @ 192kbps. That is, the sound was supposed to come out of the centre channel.

So I started fiddling with the settings on my receiver, the fine Yamaha RX-V3900. Whether I had it set to 'Surround Decode', 'Straight' or even 'Pure Direct', it delivered the sound in two channel stereo format. There was no way to get the sound to come out of the centre channel speaker.

Note: the signal information displays on the receiver clearly indicated that it knew that the incoming audio format was 1/0.0. It made no difference whether the digital bitstream was delivered via HDMI or optical digital audio.

Mono sound delivered as 2/0.0, by contrast, can be made to come out of the centre speaker -- which is how one would have heard it at the cinema back in 1951 -- simply by engaging one of the Dolby Pro Logic modes.

I raised this with the fine folk at Yamaha Music Australia, who in turn raised it with head office in Japan. They responded (I've tidied the grammar a little for readability):

Regarding with your inquiry about Dolby Digital 1.0.

When playing back Dolby Digital 1.0 (Centre channel only, no LFE channel) on the RX-V3900, audio is output from L/R speakers. This is specification, and also applies to the Vx65 series receivers.

>Is there any way to listen to audio output from centre channel only with Dolby 1.0?

Sorry, No.

One of reasons is that Japanese satellite TV uses Dolby Digital 1.0, Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1ch periodically in programs with commercial breaks. In such cases sound always move L/R to Center. It is unnatural sound output. Otherwise, recording Dolby Digital 1.0 (Centre channel only) software is rare.

In short: this was a deliberate design decision to deal with a problem with Japanese TV.

Since I raised this, I have checked the performance of a Rotel home theatre processor on this front, and it correctly delivers Dolby 1/0.0 to the centre channel, and only to the centre channel.

I told Yamaha I'd mention this here because it is an issue that should be addressed. After all, its receivers have a 'Pure Direct' mode which switches off the front display on the receiver and (optionally in some models) the video circuitry, on the dubious theory that these may in some way interfere with the sound. A far bigger impact on the sound comes from turning one speaker's sound into two. I could go into details, but the most obvious one is where a group of people are listening. With 2.0, an off-centre listener will have the sound dragged towards the speaker closer to him or here, and introduce comb-pattern frequency response anomalies due to the different path-lengths causing frequency-dependent constructive and destructive interference.

I would also argue that Dolby Digital 1.0 is not rare, although it is not extremely common. However the quality of the titles on which it appears is very important. The two lists that follow show all the titles in my collection which have their primary audio in Dolby Digital 1/0.0 format. There are 36 discs listed. Of those, 19 -- more than half -- appear in the Internet Movie Database Top 250 Movies list.

Blu-ray:

  • An American in Paris - 1951
  • Bonnie and Clyde - 1967
  • Casablanca - 1942
  • Cool Hand Luke - 1967
  • Dog Day Afternoon - 1975
  • The Omega Man - 1971
  • Rio Bravo - 1959
  • The Searchers - 1956
HD DVD:
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood - 1938

DVD:

  • All the President's Men - 1976
  • Arsenic and Old Lace - 1944
  • Being There - 1979
  • The Big Sleep - 1946
  • The Blob - 1958
  • Citizen Kane (Two-Disc Special Edition) - 1941
  • A Clockwork Orange - 1971
  • Destination Moon - 1950
  • Freaks - 1932
  • Friday the 13th - 1980
  • Goodbye Mr Chips - 1939
  • It's A Wonderful Life - 1946
  • Key Largo - 1948
  • King Kong - 1933
  • The Maltese Falcon - 1941
  • The Night of the Hunter - 1955
  • The Philadelphia Story - 1940
  • Psycho - 1960
  • The Public Enemy - 1931
  • Singin' in the Rain - 1952
  • Soylent Green - 1973
  • A Streetcar Named Desire - 1951
  • Them! - 1954
  • To Kill A Mockingbird - 1962
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - 1948
  • White Heat - 1949
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - 1966
Clearly, I shall henceforth have to include this audio format in my suite of tests for home theatre receivers.

UPDATE (Thursday, 13 August 2009, 11:39 pm): Another 1.0 BD: The Getaway - 1972.

Firmware updates - Thursday, 23 July 2009, 8:35 am

I go out to my office this morning, planning to finish off my combo review of the two new Panasonic Blu-ray players, the DMP-BD60 and the DMP-BD80. I switch on the system. The BD60 is plugged in at the moment. As soon as the TV comes to life, a message pops up informing me that a new firmware upgrade -- 1.9 -- is available. I had previously upgraded from the firmware installed when the players were delivered -- 0.3 -- to 1.7. All my tests were performed with version 1.7.

I can't run with a review of a unit with obsolete firmware. The criticisms I've been making may well have been addressed with the new firmware. All I can find about what the firmware does is: 'This firmware improves the BD-V playability.'

So, time to unleash the stopwatch again, pull out the test discs, and start all over.

It's Not Anamorphic - Tuesday, 14 July 2009, 10:38 pm

In my disc database I have tick boxes to describe the presentation of the main feature of the disc. These include 'Pan and Scan', 'Widescreen Anamorphic', 'Widescreen Non-anamorphic' and 'Widescreen cropped'. Pretty much by habit I've been ticking the 'Widescreen Anamorphic' box for Blu-ray discs, but it has recently occurred to me that Blu-ray discs aren't anamorphic.

The word relates to a type of lens used more frequently in the 1950s in the early days of widescreen cinema. The film frames in most cinematographic formats retained the old 1.37:1 aspect ratio, and the obvious way to make them widescreen was just to shoot as usual, but with a mind to masking off the top and bottom of the frame for later cinema presentation.

However, that wasted a lot of the resolution of the film, so one alternative was to use a special anamorphic lens to distort the picture during photography. This squeezed the picture in sideways so that the widescreen picture could fit into a normal film frame. Then a lens to reverse the process was used at the cinema, stretching the picture sideways, so that its contents were restored to their correct proportions.

The term was carried over to DVD. The same frame was used both for 'standard' TV style video with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and for the various widescreen formats. 'Anamorphic widescreen' DVDs scaled the picture out sideways to achieve a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The alternative was letterboxed widescreen, which wasted several tens of per cent of the pixels on the screen, due to the black bars at top and bottom.

As an aside, even 4:3 DVDs had to be scaled. Most NTSC DVDs were delivered with a picture resolution of 720 by 480 pixels, but for square pixels a horizontal resolution of only 640 pixels was appropriate. For PAL DVDs (720 by 576), a 4:3 picture needed 768 square pixels of display width, so these had to be scaled out in width a little.

But none of that applies to Blu-ray. The picture is held at 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, which is 16:9 format with square pixels. It is designed to be displayed on a a natively 16:9 display (preferably with a matching number of pixels), so there is no scaling at all. Blu-ray pictures are not anamorphic, even though they are commonly referred to as such on Blu-ray packaging.

Except for Constant-Image-Height fans. They distort the picture twice at the display stage -- once electronically to scale upwards from 2.35:1 to 1.78:1 -- and then immediately reverse the process optically with a reverse anamorphic lens which can be swung into place. The purpose of this is, I believe, to replicate the way the picture widens at the cinema for the wider formats. I just don't like the picture damage this introduces.

Madman launches Blu-ray - Monday, 13 July 2009, 3:13 pm

Unexpectedly, I received in the mail today the first Blu-ray released by Madman Entertainment Pty Ltd. This company releases lots of Anime titles here, plus lots of independent movies. The Blu-ray was for the 1986 animated movie: The Transformers: The Movie. There has previously been a barebones Blu-ray release in the UK, but this one gets a ton of extras, including deleted scenes, two TV episodes, interviews, a music video, about twenty trailers, old TV advertisements for Transformers toys, a slideshow, and 'animated' storyboard sequence, plus three sets of comparison scenes between the US and international versions of the movies. That's a total of 176 minutes!

The disc is region free, but beware foreigners: while the movie itself is in 1080p24 format (MPEG2 encoded, average video bitrate 24.75Mbps), all those extras are presented in 576i50, some in MPEG2 at usual bitrates, some in MPEG4 AVC, ranging between 15 and 27Mbps! Some US players will not play 50 hertz material.

Also, the original script is provided as a PDF on the disc, so you will need a Blu-ray drive in your computer to read it.

Madman also has forthcoming on Blu-ray: Stephen Fry in America (available 19 August 2009), 'Afro Samurai': Directors Cut, and Afro Samurai Resurrection (both available 9 September 2009). The latter two should please Anime fans.

What I most want to see from Madman is Donnie Darko, preferably in a combined theatrical/director's cut. The US version is apparently region coded.

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