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
Video Calibration Standards
Q: Proper calibration of your home theater equipment is quickly becoming more mainstream, almost a must. Especially for videophiles. It's generally recommended to use one of the many different home calibration discs that are available. Most of these discs will guide you through a wealth of adjustments and then provide you with an image or scene from a selected film as the final test, stating that, "If your television is now properly set, the following scene should look like this and you should be able to make out this and this.". Does this truly calibrate your set to properly display all films and content? Or does it only calibrate it to properly display the scene (or type of film) it refers you to? Because all films are shot differently, with different lighting, different film stocks, film and digital, real and animated, and essentially most films all have a very different and unique look. So for example, if you calibrate your set to properly display an intentionally dark and grainy film like 'Fight Club', would that calibration not be off for a slick looking movie like 'Zodiac'? Or an animated movie like Toy Story 3'? And if so, is there really any point to these discs, as in reality in order to properly display every movie you would have to calibrate your set every time you watch something different?
A: In theory, the video transfers for all movies should be mastered to the same reference standards for proper monitor calibration, regardless of any particular movie's photographic style. For example, the reference standards define what black is supposed to look like, what white is supposed to look like – red, green, blue and so forth. When you calibrate your TV, you're trying to bring it as close to those professional reference standards as possible.
These standards don't tell you anything about what the movie should look like, just how the monitor should be set. Only by sticking to these standards can the transfer technicians determine exactly how far off the movie should stray to hit its desired look. If we didn't set these standards, then 'Toy Story 3' might look bright and shiny on the studio monitor but dark and grainy on your TV at home. Or, conversely, a movie like 'Fight Club' that's supposed to be very dark could wind up looking far too bright and washed out on your set. Calibration is about finding the same reference point so that what you see is the same thing that the people who performed the video transfer saw.
You want your TV's definition of "red" to be the same as the studio's definition of "red," or else something that's supposed to be red will look green on your set. And that's just chaos!
PS3 Setup with Soundbar
Q: I recently picked up the Panasonic SC-HTB500 home theater system. It is a simple soundbar and subwoofer, which is really all my living room can handle. I have a PS3 hooked up to it, but don't know what formats to tell my PS3 that my speakers can handle. The product page is located here. I am mostly confused by the fact that the soundbar says it supports 7.1 LPCM even though this is a simple 2.1 setup. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
A: When your soundbar system claims that it can accept up to a PCM 7.1 input signal, it will internally downmix that 7.1 signal to its native 2.1 format. In this case, you have two options for how to set your PS3. You can set the console to output the maximum signal that the soundbar will support, and let the soundbar do the downmixing. Or you can let the PS3 do the downmixing itself.
My first inclination is to say that the PS3 will probably do a better job with this. However, I don't believe the PS3 offers a 2.1 PCM output format for audio. The options are either simple 2-channel (no LFE) or multi-channel (5.1 to 7.1). You may wind up losing the LFE channel and not taking advantage of your subwoofer. On the other hand, the subwoofer that comes with this soundbar is probably not equipped to handle very deep bass anyway.
I think I'm still inclined to say that you should set the PS3 for 2-channel PCM output. However, you should probably try it both ways and see if you notice any difference.
If any of our readers have more direct experience with soundbars, please add your feedback to the forum thread linked at the end of this article.
4k Digital Cinema Revisited
Q: My local AMC theater had posted on its marquee that all screens now have 4K projectors. My first thought was, "Sweet!" But my second thought was remembering that most movies are shot and / or post-produced at 2k. The theater web site doesn't seem to specify if the movie is being show in 2k or 4k. Is there a way to know which movies are at 4k?
A: Even though many digital cinemas have recently begun a transition to 4k projectors, at the present time most of the content distributed to these theaters is still only 2k resolution. When a 2k source is displayed on a 4k projector, the picture is upconverted, similar to how standard definition content is displayed on an HDTV.
I'm not aware of any sources that state whether a particular movie will be projected from a 2k or 4k source at a particular theater, unless the theater itself advertises this. (Someone please chime in if you know of a resource for this.) Frankly, I don't think the movie studios or theaters want you to know this information. They'd rather lure you to the theater with the promise of "digital" or "4k" and leave you in blissful ignorance as to what you're actually watching.
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!
DLP Picture Problem
Q: Earlier this year, I replaced my 61-inch 720p Samsung DLP display with a 65-inch 1080p Mitsubishi DLP display. After calibrating my new set, I am reaping the benefits of 1080p content. When the display is off, there is a gray-like blotch in the middle of the screen. The Samsung display had similar issues, so I was wondering if this is a problem with DLPs (in terms of how they are manufactured), or is there something wrong with the way I calibrated the sets? I used the 'Spears and Munsil Blu-ray and can't imagine that calibration would result in such an effect! I should mention that when the sets are powered on, there is no issue with picture quality.
JZ: Have any other DLP owners experienced this? It doesn't sound like a calibration issue to me, more like a manufacturing defect.
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.