Oh, and by the way, the War is over…

In what some now think was a very predictable outcome, HD-DVD has died, and Blu-ray is the winner. Since it’s been covered elsewhere, here’s a link:

Engadet Story

So what now? Are we done for good? Never!

Now that we know what disc based HD format we’ll be using, there are still lots of problems to solve! Here are some:

1. Player control – most Blu-ray players are sluggish to respond to remote controls. In the old days (yes, way back!) early VCRs, particularly Betamax machines, responded instantly to a remote control button press, giving the user a feel of control. Scanning back for a missed piece of dialog was immediate. And the remotes themselves made sense…simple, and easy to understand, not like the current glob of black buttons on a black remote with dark gray lettering.

2. Picture improvement – What??? Sorry, folks, Blu-ray isn’t the be-all and end-all. In fact, it’s got quite a ways to go. For some time my personal reaction to HD of almost any flavor has been consistently “Why isn’t this sharper, cleaner, lower noise, just plain better?” Whether it’s been intentionally hobbled to limit the quality available to the consumer, or it’s still a storage capacity thing, there are still many aspects of HD that 35mm film beats. And, digital theater projection is moving to 4K (1080p is essentially 2K). Down the road, might we see some sort of High HD consumer format? That’s a subject for another post, though.

3. Lower the hardware cost, already! Blu-ray’s two limiting factors to a hands-down win a year ago where second to market (can’t help that now) and competitive hardware cost. An HD-DVD has always been less expensive to buy, and that’s a problem still. When will we get the $149.95 Blu-ray player? Oppo, are you listening? How about the Oppo up-converting, all format playing (including SA-CD?) Blu-ray supreme player? I’d pay a lot more than $149 for that!

4. Then there’s the non-disc HD content competition. Most of us still don’t accumulate thousands of movies. We recognize that most of what Hollywood produces isn’t worth owning, but we might subject ourselves to a one-time, low cost viewing, otherwise known as a rental. Yes, we can go to the video store and get a disc, but how much easier it would be to stay at home, not have to deal with the store’s strange lack of organization, already checked-out discs, store personnel with piercings through every body part, huge check-out lines and late fees? Much. And that is rapidly becoming a viable option from Apple via Apple TV, and others. We won’t have the quality of full 1080p for a bit yet, but that’s a bandwidth thing, and bandwidth does seem to keep going up. If on-line rental via a set-top device is as cheap as a physical rental, almost as fast as a trip to the store, and has at least 720p quality, the convenience factors will win, and disc rental will eventually loose volume, stores will close (they are already closing), and physical rental will get harder which will avalanche on-line rentals forward. From a studio standpoint, if you don’t have to produce physical materials, it’s way less expensive to distribute your content. I see non-disc based distribution as being the way of the future, and your dedicated Blu-ray player becoming a dinosaur in as little as 5 years. And while that may not be enough to influence your purchase now, in a few years it will. Look for Apple TV or the like with increased capabilities like 1080p and multichannel sound and a built-in Blu-ray transport. You know it’s coming…

All of that said, the Blu-ray win is welcome. We have a single standard, which we should have had all along. And HD is a definite improvement over standard video, both in picture and sound.

So, for the first time, we have a recommendation: buy a Blu-ray player, plug it into your HD home theater system, and enjoy.

Don’t forget that to enjoy optimum picture and sound in your HT system of any size or type, you should have it professionally calibrated. Call Platinum Home Theaters for details.

The Re-Equalization Debacle…The “Industry” shoots itself in the foot…again!

If the term “Re-Equalization” is new to you, hang on for a minute…it’s something you need to know, and we’ll explain it, and the problems surrounding it as a feature in your receiver or Pre/Pro.

Simply, re-equalization is a tonal correction that needs to be applied to film soundtracks that are mixed for a large theater, but played in the home. Large theaters are equalized to the industry standard “X-Curve”, which deliberately rolls-off the high end in an attempt to correct for the problem of speakers sounding to bright in large rooms. However, the “X-Curve” is actually in error, and applies too much roll off. Dubbing stages used to mix film soundtracks are equalized to an extended X-curve, and sound mixers push highs to compensate for the overly aggressive roll-off. As a result, when film soundtracks are played back on home systems with reasonably flat response, they sound too bright. Re-Equalization compensates for this anomaly. Re-equalization is part of the THX specifications for home theater equipment, and was developed by Tom Holman as part of the original Home THX specification set.

Today there are several variants on the idea (Denon has “Cinema EQ”, for example) but the concept remains misunderstood. Even Denon’s description of the reason their own Cinema EQ is needed is incorrect. They claim it is required because theater speakers are placed behind the screen which causes high frequency loss, but home speakers are not. In reality, ‘screen loss’ is compensated for elsewhere in theater sound systems, and does affect the mix. The real reason Re-Equalization is needed in home theater systems has to do with acoustic differences between large and small spaces, and the effect they have on sound systems. Recall that film soundtracks are mixed in large “dubbing stage” theaters, and thus the soundtrack is created specifically for the characteristics of that size space.

Some form of Re-Equalization is necessary in home systems if film soundtracks are to sound properly balanced and not overly bright. However, other material such as TV programs are mixed in smaller control rooms, which match the home environment more closely. Re-equalization isn’t required for that material. So, on the surface, if you only watched movies on your DVD player, selecting it on your AV receiver or Pre/Pro could also automatically select re-EQ, and you might think you’d have the problem licked…but you’d be wrong.

In its inimitable style, the entertainment industry has pointed their shotgun once again at their own feet and pulled the trigger. With tens of thousands of films on DVD now, and with the normal procedure being to directly transfer the original soundtrack without modification, re-EQ would seem to be required for every one of them. But in the last year or so some DVDs have produced with re-EQ already on them. Applying re-EQ in the receiver would apply it a second time, which would result in a very dull presentation of the soundtrack. Some of these DVDs indicate in a set-up menu that re-EQ has already been done, but some do not. Even some high def discs have been re-equalized, some have not. How are we supposed to know? A fine-print notice buried in a set-up menu will hardly grab most viewer’s attention, even if they did know what it meant. That means the average consumer won’t know there is any action they need to take for optimum presentation. Then there’s the DTS soundtrack…which has the reputation of being “re-mastered for home video”, whatever that means. If directors only knew what was happening to their finely crafted soundtrack, they’d surely spontaneously combust.

We had a de-facto standard…re-EQ for all film soundtracks, no re-EQ for everything else. Now we have growing ambiguity, and as time marches forward, little chance of a fix. And it’s even more frustrating knowing that the Dolby Digital audio format has within it a status bit designated for a re-eq indication…which by extension, could be used for an automatic re-equalizer trigger. But it’s never been implemented, possibly due to industry rivalry between Dolby and THX…but that’s conjecture…I think…but it doesn’t matter really, because the result is the consumer is the one taking the beating in the form of sub-standard audio. And all of this continues in the new high-definition soundtracks found on HD disks. The Re-EQ debacle is, in fact, worse than ever.

What do we do? Assume that up until a year or so ago, re-eq is required for film soundtracks. For recent disks of any type, you need to research each one to discern if Re-EQ is required on your part, or if it has already been done on the disk…that’s if you can. And finally, use your ears. If it sounds dull, turn of re-EQ. If it sounds bright, turn re-EQ on. And to that statement we do mean to imply that you need to get out the manual to your receiver or Pre/Pro, find the Re-EQ (or similar function) feature, and learn how to quickly turn it on and off, and at least find out how to tell if it’s on or off.

Once again, along with the aspect ratio mess, the entertainment industry has done a major disservice to the very people that support it…us.