Editor's Note: Each Friday, High-Def Digest's own HD Advisor will answer a new round of questions from our readers. If you have home theater questions you need answered, send an email to HDanswers@gmail.com.
Answers by Joshua Zyber
Q: I am wondering if any improvements have been made to the PS3 Slim model as a Blu-Ray player? Specifically, I would like to know if it has the same quality DVD upconversion. Is it still unable to send out HD audio codecs so they can be decoded by a receiver instead of forcing them to be decoded by the PS3 itself? How does the power consumption compare to other players on the market? Or are there any other changes I did not mention?
A: At this moment, initial specs about the PS3 Slim are still incomplete and unconfirmed. What we know so far is that the console's power consumption will be cut by 34% in comparison to the original PS3, and that it will no longer allow the installation of an alternate Operating System. (Sorry, Linux fans.) However, current indications are that the Slim will finally be able to transmit the native codec bitstreams for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which the original PS3 can't do. (The original will decode internally to PCM, though.)
As far as DVD upconversion goes, I wouldn't expect any differences. The programming for features like that is handled by FPGAs in the console. Unlike the bitstream issue (which was handicapped by the HDMI chip in the original model), there's no hardware limitation preventing the PS3 from having superior upconversion. If Sony were to develop a better algorithm, the company could load it into the both versions of the PS3 with a firmware upgrade.
Q: I have an older receiver that only decodes Dolby Digital 5.1. From LD to DVD to HD DVD, I was never concerned about the lack of DTS. That has all changed with Blu-ray. About half of my discs are DTS only, leaving me with a stereo or a 2.0 surround track at best. Is there any type of processor or pre-amp you could recommend so that I could achieve 5.1 on all of my Blu-ray discs? I hate to get rid of a receiver that is otherwise working fine.
A: If your existing receiver has 5.1 or 7.1 analog inputs, I would recommend buying a Blu-ray player that offers internal decoding of DTS-HD Master Audio and has multi-channel analog outputs. By pairing those two pieces of equipment together, you can do all the decoding in the player, and just use the receiver for amplification. Not only would you get 5.1, but you'd even get full lossless quality to boot. The recently-reviewed OPPO BDP-83 would be a good fit, for example.
If your receiver doesn't have multi-channel analog inputs, there's not much you can do short of buying a new receiver. These days, dedicated processors and pre-amps are mainly marketed to the high-end audiophile crowd and are quite expensive. Besides which, you'd need some way to connect such a unit to the receiver, and for that you'd need multi-channel analog inputs anyway.
Blu-ray Storage Capacity
Q: I'm a fan of '24', but have a question about the Blu-ray box set of Season 7. I'm somewhat confused about the number of discs in the box set and the storage capacity of Blu-ray. The box set has 6 discs, so I would assume there are 4 episodes per disc. That's great for standard DVD, but if Blu-ray can hold 5 times the data of standard DVD, surely they could fit more episodes on each disc. At least 6, I'm guessing. Is it a price thing? I'm guessing the more discs are in a box set the more the studio can charge for it.
A: With any digital optical disc format, there is no set limit to the number of minutes of content you can fit into any allotted space. The two factors do not have a linear correlation. It all comes down to how much you compress the video signal. If you really wanted to, you could squeeze an entire TV season of 20+ hour-long drama episodes on a single DVD disc. Of course, with that amount of compression, the picture would be virtually unwatchable.
On DVD, the rule of thumb has been that 4 hour-long episodes (which come to just under 3 hours total after you remove commercials) are a good fit for a single (dual-layer) disc. Maybe 5, depending on how cleanly the video compresses. More than that, and you run into problems with distracting compression artifacts.
It turns out that Blu-ray works out nearly the same. While it's true that Blu-ray has much greater storage capacity than DVD, you must keep in mind that high definition video also eats up much more of that capacity, especially when you pair it up with lossless audio.
Of course, marketing also plays a role. A larger number of discs in the box set is generally perceived as a greater value. Consumers often feel that they're getting more when they buy a 7-disc set, even if the same amount of content could theoretically fit onto fewer discs. The trick for studios is finding the right balance between their marketing needs and the format's technical requirements for optimal quality.
Some questions that the HD Advisor receives are best answered with a consensus of opinions from our readers. If you can help to answer the following question, please post your response in our forum thread linked at the end of this article. Your advice and opinions matter too!
Q: Are high-end speakers like Definitive's Mythos ST Supertower loudspeakers with built-in subwoofers comparable to sound quality to loudspeakers with a standalone subwoofer unit? I'm trying to make a decision to buy nice floor standing speakers, and thought that I could save a bit of money by buying a loudspeaker with a built-in sub.
JZ: My own home theater is confined to a smaller viewing space, so I have always leaned toward smaller speakers with a separate subwoofer. As far as raw audio quality is concerned, I'll let some of our audiophile readers sound off on this one in the forums.
Check back soon for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.
Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.