HD Advisor 33 1/3

Posted Fri Oct 23, 2009 at 11:45 AM PDT by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

Deep Color and 36-Bit Playback

Q: Can you explain what they mean by Deep Color and 36-bit playback for Blu-rays? I have a Pioneer Elite plasma TV and a Panasonic Blu-ray player that also output these features, along with HDMI 1.3 cable and Marantz 8002 receiver hooked up for 5.1 surround sound. I was told they don't even make Blu-ray disc at 36-bit. Is that true? Will we ever see discs made this way? If we did, would it make the picture look that much better?

A: The Blu-ray format does not support Deep Color or other forms of extended color bit depth (such as x.v.Color). Blu-ray discs are encoded with 8-bit color, the same as DVD. Although some newer HDTVs support the display of more colors, those extra colors are not contained on the Blu-ray disc. Any Blu-ray player that claims to output Deep Color or x.v.Color will simply upsample the color channel on the disc. Your TV may do this for you anyway, if the Blu-ray player doesn't.

The point of extended color depth is to eliminate the banding artifacts found on some video content (even Blu-rays at times). Upsampling the color channel on a video signal is not the same as having true Deep Color in the source, but may or may not have similar results. Generally, this is a subtle improvement.

If you plan to perform this color upsampling in the Blu-ray player, both the player and the TV must support the higher color depth, as must any intermediary device in between, such as your A/V receiver.

Zoom on a Blu-ray Player

Q: I have just upgraded my TV from a Panasonic Plasma TH-50PZ0B to a Pioneer PDPLX6090. When I watched Blu-rays on the Panasonic, I was able to zoom in to remove black borders without stretching the picture. But with the new TV, the only way I can do this is to stretch the picture, which for me is unwatchable. So my question is can this be resolved with a Blu-ray player with a zoom function? If so could you recommend a model? I use a PS3 as my Blu-ray player.

A: Some Blu-ray players have zoom functions, and others don't. Of those that I've personally used, I can verify that the OPPO BDP-83 does offer this function.

Not to be rude about it, but I suggest that you learn to overcome your phobia about the black bars. As I explained in my Why Don't the Black Bars Go Away? article, the letterbox bars are there to preserve the viewing experience that the director of the film intended. Zooming the image to remove the black bars will also remove picture information that you're meant to see, and destroy the compositional balance of the photography. It's just as bad as stretching the picture. Once you learn to accept that the black bars are supposed to be there, eventually you will come to appreciate them.

Calibration Discs vs. THX Optimizer

Q: Are calibration tools like 'Digital Video Essentials' much better than the THX Optimizer found on all THX DVDs? Do these appear on any Blu-ray (or HD DVD) discs yet?

A: Off the top of my head, both Blu-ray editions of 'Terminator 2' sport the THX Certification seal and include THX Optimizer test patterns.

I will always recommend a good dedicated calibration disc over the THX Optimizer patterns. In my opinion, THX's approach to calibration with their Optimizer program is inherently flawed. The Optimizer test patterns on any given disc are intended for use only with that disc. In theory, the same patterns on any two different discs could yield different results. The assumption that the company makes is that disc-to-disc variances are severe enough that every single movie you watch will require its own separate calibration.

I don't buy it. I believe that calibration should be a set-it-and-forget-it activity. Viewers don't want to be fiddling with their brightness and color settings for every new movie they watch. A good calibration disc will allow you to find your display's best settings for all discs you watch.

With that said, in most cases, Optimizer winds up with the same results as other calibration patterns, or at least very close. If you don't currently own a dedicated calibration disc, THX Optimizer is an adequate "quick and dirty" calibration tool that will get you in the right ballpark until you can obtain a more comprehensive calibration disc.

Audio Bit Depth and Sampling Rates

Q: I noticed that a lot of the reviews on this site aren't mentioning whether a soundtrack is 16 or 24-bit, and 44 or 48 Hz. I'd really like to know this technical info, and would be great if all reviewers would be willing to post the info in their articles.

A: The Info screens on most Blu-ray players do not display the bit depth or sampling rates of the movie's soundtrack. It's very rare that the studios provide this information on the disc packaging or in the press release for the movie, and rarer still that the information they do give is accurate. Unfortunately, not all of the reviewers on this site are equipped with Blu-ray drives in their computers and the necessary software that will obtain this data from the disc.

As I have said many times before, technical stats like this are just numbers. They tell you nothing about how the disc actually looks or sounds. If the technical specs alone were enough to guarantee that a disc looks and sounds perfect, there'd be no need for reviews at all. It's the reviewer's job to analyze the content on the disc and describe how it fares during actual playback. I recommend simply not obsessing about these numbers, which are basically meaningless anyway.

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

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!

Rear Speaker Popping Sound

Q: I own a Marantz SR5003 AV receiver and I have a PS3 and DVD player all connected using HDMI cables on a 5.1 speaker setup. The receiver is also connected via HDMI to my LCD TV. Recently, I have begun experiencing a slight pop sound at the left rear speaker every time the receiver changes source or audio format (e.g. from multi-channel 7.1 to stereo), or when I switch the source from DVD to Blu-ray input. The pop isn't loud, and the AV receiver still works in all of its 5.1 glory. It's just annoying and distracting because it even happens when the DVD changes from the first layer to the second layer of the disc. I looked behind the receiver thinking it's a loose wire, or a rogue wire touching the system's back, but I couldn't find any. I tightened all speaker terminals and checked the HDMI connections, but they are all there. Is it a static electricity problem that I am experiencing, HDMI cable fault or something more sinister like a faulty chip inside? I only just bought the receiver for 5 months.

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.

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