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
Early Adoption of 3-D
Q: I was wondering if it makes any sense to wait a while before I buy 3-D hardware. I was one of the first to buy an "HD ready" TV, only to buy a "Full HD" TV two years later. Is there a chance the same thing might happen again technically? I mean, can they make 3-D "more 3-D" in a few years with certain techniques like they HD went from 720p to 1080p?
A: Early adoption of any new technology is always a risky proposition. Some people are more eager to live on the bleeding edge than others. If you're feeling skeptical about the new 3-D technology and have the patience to wait a bit, it may be a good idea to hold off buying a new 3-D TV for a product generation or two. I certainly don't see any harm in waiting… other than that you won't be able to watch 3-D content for a while, of course.
I don't think that 3-D TVs will become "more 3-D" in the same sense that HDTVs transitioned from 720p to 1080p. It looks to me like the industry has settled on the 1080p 3-D standard and plans to stay there for a while. In that respect, the 3-D rollout is likely to be much smoother than HDTV initially was. Even Blu-ray suffered the quagmire of its "Profiles" in early generation players. On the other hand, the proper technology for 3-D appears to be in place from the start for this launch.
However, any new product runs the risk of bugs and glitches, and general performance quality issues, while the manufacturers work out the kinks. As I wrote in a recent blog post, I find it troubling that Samsung has been leading the way with 3-D LCD hardware. I've had my share of problems with that manufacturer over the years, and am personally planning to wait for a better brand.
Black Levels on Digital HDTVs
Q: Let me start by saying I'm behind the times. I have been wanting a new TV for quite awhile, but each time I am nearly ready to pull the trigger, a question is raised or new product is announced. So I decided to wait . How do newer plasma and LCD televisions stack up to old CRTs in black levels? I have a 36" Sony Trinitron 4:3, 1080i, 200lb set that has a great picture, deep blacks, and looks really great with standard broadcast TV. Of course, I lose half the picture when something is widescreen and there is no HDMI input. (I use DVI). I like plasma blacks but prefer the non-reflective screen of LCD. Are the black levels as rich as my tried and true CRT? What about the standard definition picture? I would love to go to about a 55" screen but I just can't decide which option to pursue and if I will gain the screen size but lose on the other options. Please help put my mind to rest so that I can move on with my life and see movies on a larger screen.
A: Generally speaking, black levels have always been an area of concern on most digital displays. For all of its other shortcomings, CRT technology was capable of producing very deep, rich blacks. Digital TVs, especially LCD TVs, have struggled to keep up. In most cases, plasma does better in this area than LCD. The best plasmas (such as the recently-discontinued Pioneer Kuro line) can produce as inky a black as you might ever want.
Since Pioneer pulled the plug on plasma production (try saying that three times fast!), Panasonic has stepped in as the next-best successor. However, some consumers have recently discovered that the contrast ratios on Panasonic plasmas decrease over time. And, apparently this was done on purpose.
LCDs have an inherent disadvantage in black level reproduction. To compensate for this, most newer models have implemented a dynamic contrast feature that automatically dims the picture during predominantly dark scenes, and raises the brightness level during brighter scenes. This has its benefits and weaknesses. If done well, and quickly enough, you may never notice it. If not done well, or if subjected to tricky video content, you may notice a "pumping" of the picture brightness as the TV tries to calculate the appropriate setting. For example, the opening of the first 'Star Wars' is a good test for this. The movie starts with a dark star field. Then a large spaceship flies overhead, filling more and more of the screen as it goes. As the average picture brightness of the shot increases, you can often witness the star field in the background lightening while the dynamic contrast filter adjusts. At its worst, these artifacts can be pretty annoying.
Any contrast ratio specs that a manufacturer may advertise for its TV should be taken with a grain of salt. The way these numbers are measured is often very misleading. You'll be very unlikely to achieve the same results in normal viewing at properly calibrated video settings. I advise checking reviews at a reputable and qualified publication that will give you a more realistic description of what to expect. (In one of my other jobs, I also work at Home Theater Magazine. Although I don't do any TV reviews myself, I know the people who do, and trust them implicitly.)
With all that said, you'll need to accept that any new product you purchase will have its compromises. While black level is an important aspect of picture quality, it is certainly not the only important aspect of picture quality. I have a feeling that, when you do finally upgrade to a newer model, you'll find that so the picture is so much better in so many other ways, that you'll be willing to cut the new set some slack on its black levels. And frankly, things are much better now than they were a few years ago. I'm sure you can find something that will make you very happy.
Why Haven't You Reviewed Movie XYZ?
Q: I just want to know how you guys can review 'The Karate Kid', but not one the most anticipated Blu-rays of 2010, 'Saving Private Ryan'?
A: Before I start, I just need to clarify that our review of 'Saving Private Ryan' was published on May 11th. This reader's question was sent in before that article was published.
With that noted, I'd like to address this as a general topic. We here at High-Def Digest are often asked this same sort of question: Why haven't you reviewed such-and-such movie yet? I wrote up a response to this same basic question last year, and will ask that you read that. The same conditions still apply. We review what we can as soon as we can, based on when we receive the disc and when we have time to do it. These reviews are often very difficult and time-consuming to write.
I'll be honest, I've had a copy of 'Minority Report' in my hands for a couple weeks now. I've watched the movie, and have written the film, video, and audio portions of the review. But this disc has a ton of bonus features on it. Between my three jobs and my work on the Bonus View blog here, I have simply not have the time to dig through all those supplements. I am continuing to work on it, though, and plan to have it finished soon, hopefully around the same time or not long after this column is published.
All of us here are busy people with a lot on our plates. As far as I'm aware, none of the reviewers on staff write Blu-ray reviews as a primary means of employment. (And if anyone did, he'd likely soon find himself living in a cardboard box on Skid Row!) We have day jobs too, just like most of you do. Please bear with us as we try to keep up with the ever-escalating flood of new releases that land on our doorsteps.
As for 'Saving Private Ryan' being "one the most anticipated Blu-rays of 2010," I have to point out that, although 'SPR' was undeniably a popular movie in its day, it's also a catalog title of a movie that's been available on DVD for over a decade and airs on television regularly. As a general rule, catalog titles on Blu-ray don't often sell in big numbers, no matter how popular the movie. When we reviewers find ourselves backlogged, it is always our responsibility to prioritize new day-and-date releases first.
How does that explain why 'The Karate Kid' got reviewed before 'Saving Private Ryan'? Quite simply, they were each reviewed by different staff members. One had more time in his schedule to tackle a catalog title review than the other.
(Editor's Note: Just as importantly, Sony mailed us the review copy for 'The Karate Kid' much earlier than Paramount sent us 'Saving Private Ryan.' In a situation like this it could be in a studio's best interest to send review copies out far earlier, in order to save themselves a very costly recall. As for Fox, who have made it standard practice to send out review copies after movies have already hit shelves, well, we can only speculate as to their motivations.)
The HD Advisor knows many things, but he doesn't know everything. Some questions 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!
Adding an LP Turntable to the Home Theater
Q: I have a home theater system that I mainly use for Blu-rays with my PS3 and Samsung TV. I want to know if I can plug a turntable into it? I am unclear on what devices I can connect to the receiver. Specifically, I have a Sony HT-SS2300 Component Home Theater System and want to know if I can plug a Sony PSLX250H turntable into it.
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.