HD Advisor 54, Where Are You?

Posted Fri Apr 16, 2010 at 11:00 AM PDT by

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.

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

D-BOX Motion Code

Q: Will D-BOX ever become affordable to the average consumer?

A: For those unfamiliar with it, D-BOX is a motion effect simulator that works by vibrating and jostling your seat in sync with the movie you're watching. The movements are programmed to be specific to each movie. For example, if you watch a car chase and the character takes a sharp turn, your chair will lean in the appropriate direction to follow the action. To use this, you must have a piece of D-BOX equipped furniture, and a motion control box connected to your Blu-ray player. Some Blu-ray titles have the necessary motion codes embedded on the disc. For other movies, you may need to download the codes first.

How much enjoyment you get out of this is largely a matter of personal preference. Some viewers will find it very gimmicky. When overdone, the furniture movements may feel too much like an amusement park ride. This may be more appropriate for some types of movies than others.

D-BOX is expensive, especially if you buy furniture with the motion hardware pre-installed. The company also sells standalone platform devices that can be mounted to existing furniture, but they aren't exactly cheap either. The platforms need to be large and sturdy enough to move your seat in a variety of specific directions. Remember also that when you buy D-BOX, you're paying not only for the hardware, but also for the programmers who watch each movie and create the motion codes specific to each scene.

Personally, I find D-BOX to be overkill. You can get about 90% of the same effect with a tactile transducer, such as this Aura Bass Shaker available for $44.50 from Parts Express. The Bass Shaker is small, affordable, and easy to mount on any piece of furniture.

The Bass Shaker can be connected by wiring out from the speaker terminals on your A/V receiver, but that's not necessarily the most effective method. I recommend connecting the subwoofer output on the receiver to a small amp. (I use the Dayton SA100, which sells for just over $100.) Then connect the Bass Shaker to the amp with speaker wire. Doing it this way offers more control over the amount of power and vibration you get from the transducer. Of course, you may already have a real subwoofer connected to the receiver's subwoofer output. If necessary, a simple coax Y-adaptor will work fine. Send one cable to your subwoofer and the other to the transducer amp.

Tactile transducers vibrate during bass activity in the movie soundtrack. This is not scene specific, and will not move your chair in a variety of directions like D-BOX. But, in all honesty, you get a lot of the same experience for a fraction of the price. And they work on any movie at all, not just those that have been explicitly programmed for it.

Letterbox vs. Windowbox

Q: I bought 'Paprika' on Blu-ray, and noticed that the image was letterboxed on all four sides. A bit of research showed that the actual resolution was 1824x992. And that this is not the only anime with this problem. 'Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade' supposedly has the same issue. Why is this?

A: What you describe is called "windowboxing" or sometimes "pictureboxing." ("Windowboxing" is more generally accepted.) The appearance of black bars around a video image can be categorized as follows:

Letterboxing = Black bars above and below the movie picture.
Pillarboxing = Bars on the sides of the picture. (Ex. 'Casablanca'.)
Windowboxing = Bars on all four sides.

The intent of windowboxing is to counter the effects of television overscan, which I've written about previously. Shrinking the movie picture down a bit ensures that every part of the image will be visible to the viewer, despite any overscan his or her TV may apply. This concept is popular among some major anime studios, who reason that their animation is very cluttered with detail around the edges that needs to be seen. Even the venerable Criterion Collection went through a phase where they windowboxed some of their DVD transfers. (Fortunately, Criterion stopped doing that in time for Blu-ray.)

The windowbox process was developed with good intentions. However, in today's HDTV age, it's really just a needless nuisance. Many digital televisions offer a "Dot by Dot" or "Native" viewing mode that will disable overscan (sometimes only on HD input signals, though). When watched that way, a windowboxed disc like 'Paprika' shows a smaller picture with pointless bars around all four sides of the frame. This can be very distracting. If you're able to, you may want to turn your television's overscan back on for just that movie. Be sure to turn it off again afterwards, of course.

Ideally, a high-def transfer should present the movie in its best possible quality, assuming an optimal playback display. When studios try to manipulate a transfer in expectation of sub-optimal display, they only succeed in reducing its quality for viewers with better equipment.

Video Processors

Q: For those outputting to a native 1080p display, is there any noticeable improvement to picture quality by adding an outboard video processor/scaler to the mix? Popular opinion suggests that the dedicated nature of such a unit (I'm thinking specifically of the DVDO products) might yield superior image quality. I am using a Denon 2500BTCI and a Yamaha RXV-1900 receiver, connected to a Panasonic PTAE-3000U 1080p LCD projector.

A: Full disclosure: I'm a long-time DVDO owner, and currently use the VP50PRO processor in my playback chain. (I'm a bit disgruntled with the company at the moment, and have considered trading out to competitor Lumagen. But that's a story for another day.) I personally find a lot of benefit in a good video processor. However, with all the advances in A/V equipment over the last few years, this is very much a niche product that most viewers won't need.

Video processors have evolved over the years from the early "line doublers" (which merely deinterlaced a standard-def 480i signal to 480p) to add source switching, resolution scaling, aspect ratio control, and other adjustments to the video signal. As recently as just a few years ago, most HDTVs were built with cheap and poor-quality scaling chips that would do a lousy job upconverting a standard-def signal for display on their screens. Even progressive scan and upconverting DVD players varied wildly in quality. A good standalone video processor could ensure that all signal sources were accurately deinterlaced and cleanly scaled to the screen's native resolution with a minimum of artifacts.

We've come a long way in a short amount of time, though. Blu-ray discs encoded with native 1080p content need no deinterlacing or scaling for display on a 1080p screen. They're generally best-served with the simplest, least-tampered signal transmission. For those sources that do still require processing (such as DVDs or TV broadcasts), today's HDTVs and home theater projectors often have high quality scaling chips installed to do the job. And if your display doesn't, chances are that your Blu-ray player or A/V receiver might. By and large, there isn't much need for standalone video processors anymore.

Most of the companies that built their reputations with VP products have now switched business strategies to focus on licensing their chips to the manufacturers of those other products. For example, I found this review of your Yamaha RXV-1900 receiver that states it uses the same Anchor Bay VRS scaling chip as the DVDO line of processors. As such, you probably wouldn't find much benefit in buying one of those processors. If you're currently unsatisfied with the DVD upconversion quality of your Blu-ray player (which is said to be underwhelming), try letting your receiver do the work instead. Feed the receiver a 480i signal when watching DVDs or other standard-def sources, and program it to upconvert.

For Blu-ray discs, a straight 1080p signal from the Blu-ray player shouldn't need any additional processing. And, let's face it, the more Blu-ray and HD content we watch, the less desire most of us have to watch SD content anymore, no matter how well upconverted.

Standalone video processors survive in the market by targeting users with specialized needs. For example, viewers with 2.35:1 Constant Image Height projection screens need very flexible aspect ratio control. Higher-end video processors offer comprehensive zooming, panning, and other such adjustments. Whereas a disc player, receiver, or display will probably only be programmed to accommodate the basic 4:3 and 16:9 ratios. But the majority of home theater viewers probably won't need features like that, and will gain little by adding an expensive new component to their systems.

Reader Feedback

In the recent columns I've written about 3-D, I've mentioned that older DLP HDTVs that were marketed as "3-D Ready" use forms of 3-D that only deliver approximately 540p resolution per eye. That obviously differs from the new "frame sequential" 3-D standard which delivers full 1080p high-def resolution per eye.

In particular, Mitsubishi sets used a "Checkerboard" 3-D format. In that, each 1920x1080 frame alternates between the left eye and right eye views from pixel to pixel in a checkerboard grid. Mitsubishi has announced that it will offer a converter box to downgrade the new frame sequential 3-D format being released on Blu-ray this year to Checkerboard compatibility. The picture will be 3-D, but not true high definition.

One of our readers was fortunate enough to test a new Panasonic 3-D Blu-ray player with one of these Mitsubishi TVs, and found that the player offers a Checkerboard output mode without the need of a converter box.

Panasonic 3-D Blu-ray Players Compatible with "Checkerboard" 3-D

Feedback: I had an opportunity to test the Mitsubishi 82" 3-D ready DLP TV with the Panasonic 3DT-300 3-D Blu-ray player at Best Buy. The manager at the Magnolia section was skeptical as to whether or not it would work. I told him I had my Samsung SSG-1000 3-D glasses and emitter with me. All I would have to do is set the Panasonic deck's 3-D mode to Checkerboard format, and enable the 3-D mode on the Mitsubishi TV. We hooked everything up and set the mode to Checkerboard. A test popped up with two boxes that had the numbers 1 and 2 in them. I turned on the 3-D mode for the Mitsubishi and the 3-D kicked right in. We fired up the demo disc that was bundled with the player, and playback was successful. At 82" the 3-D effect was very good even though it was not Full HD. The manager said he had no idea that the DLP would work with the new 3-D standard. As far as using the Panasonic 3-D player, it appears that legacy DLP owners will be able to enjoy the new Blu-ray 3-D format. Not to mention there would be no need to upgrade their receivers as this player is equipped with an extra HDMI output. As an owner of a 3-D DLP TV, this was good to find out. I hope this information is useful.

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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