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
D-ILA vs. LCD Projectors
Q: Once I read you say that you would never change your JVC D-ILA projector for anything. I would like to hear more about this. I am thinking about buying a projector. I always thought about the LCD Panasonic AE4000, that established new benchmarks for LCD projectors, but now JVC has just announced an entry-level D-ILA projector (DLA-HD250, $3000 MRSP), which is a price I would pay if I believe a D-ILA projector can deliver better picture quality. What are your considerations regarding D-ILA projectors vs. other types of projectors?
A: Last week, I talked a bit about the differences between LCD and plasma in flat-panel HDTVs. As I said there, each technology has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, and I'm hard pressed to say that one is necessarily "better" than the other. The same sort of situation applies here. A lot of this comes down to specific viewing requirements and personal preferences.
D-ILA is JVC's branding of Liquid Crystal on Silicon display technology (also known as LCoS). Sony markets similar products under the name SXRD. Each manufacturer has developed and implemented this a little differently, which is why they get away with calling it different names.
What sold me on JVC's D-ILA projectors was their high native contrast ratios. Contrast ratio is defined as the range between the darkest blacks and brightest whites in a video image. This has long been a weakness of digital display technologies. Early LCD, DLP, and even plasma displays were notorious for milky black levels and poor definition of shadow details. I believe my first DLP projector (a business model adapted for home use) was rated with a contrast ratio of something like 1,000:1, which was considered pretty impressive at the time. That same number is almost laughable today.
Over time, each of these technologies has made great strides in this area. Nonetheless, it's still an area of concern for some (especially LCD and DLP).
These days, projectors are frequently marketed to claim astronomical contrast ratio specs. Claimed ratios of 100,000:1 or higher are getting to be pretty common. By this time next year, 1,000,000:1 will probably be the average benchmark. However, there are a few very important things to keep in mind with this.
First, be aware that improvements in contrast performance do not follow a linear scale. The higher that contrast ratio numbers go, the smaller the improvements between each jump. The difference between a 20,000:1 and a 100,000:1 display is smaller than the difference between 1,000:1 and 10,000:1 displays, for example.
Secondly, most manufacturer specs regarding contrast ratio are often grossly inflated and misleading. They're typically measured under circumstances that either cannot be achieved in the home, or that you wouldn't want in the home anyway. The manufacturers measure only all-white or all-black frames with Brightness and Contrast settings at levels you'd find simply unwatchable for normal movie content. Regular viewing at proper calibration levels will not achieve anywhere near the same numbers. Any specs cited by a manufacturer must be taken with a grain of salt.
Finally, many of the improvements in contrast performance have come as a result of dynamic iris or dynamic contrast functions that automatically raise and lower Brightness levels depending on the content of the scene. In dark scenes, the Brightness will be lowered to maintain deeper blacks, while the levels will be raised during bright scenes. This is sometimes problematic during scenes that either mix bright and dark in the same shot or have rapid transitions between them. These can lead to "pumping" artifacts where the Brightness adjustments are visible and distracting.
My favorite example of this is the first shot of 'Star Wars' (that's 'Episode IV: A New Hope' to you young'uns), which opens with a black star field. As the bright spaceship passes overhead and takes up more and more of the frame, a dynamic contrast feature will attempt to compensate for this by raising the overall Brightness. As that happens, you can watch the star field in the background turn lighter and lighter. The end credits of movies (white text on black) are also commonly problematic.
Some implementations of this are better than others. In a best case scenario, the transitions should be seamless to the eye in a majority of movie scenes. However, I haven't found one yet that I've personally been completely satisfied with.
JVC's D-ILA projectors have managed to achieve high native contrast performance without dynamic adjustments. (Even Sony's SXRD models use dynamic irises.) Because this is something that I find important, I've been the most satisfied with my current JVC projector than any previous model I've owned. That isn't to say that it's perfect in all areas, or that this will be the best solution for everyone. But those were my criteria, and this was what best met my needs. I still recommend that every viewer research the pros and cons of any specific model he or she has interest in buying. Something else may be more appropriate for your budget and viewing environment.
Out of Print Criterion Collection Titles
Q: In relation to the previous HD Advisor article about out-of-print Blu-rays, what's the deal with the Criterion release of 'The Third Man'? You mentioned that the most likely cause for Blu-rays going out of print was due to catalog titles selling poorly. If this is the case, why did Studio Canal recently release a version on Blu-ray if the Criterion release did not sell too well? I'd like to buy the Criterion release due to the better review on High-Def Digest, but I'm unwilling to pay the hefty price due to it being out of print. Do you think it may be wise to buy catalog releases as soon as they are released in future to avoid a situation similar to 'The Third Man'?
A: Poor sales are perhaps the most common reason for a home video title to go out of print, but not the only reason. The situation with 'The Third Man' has a bit of a story behind it.
The Criterion Collection is a home video distributor, but not a movie studio. Criterion does not produce movies, and owns the rights to very few of the movies it has ever released on disc. In most cases, Criterion must license the rights to distribute a movie title from the original studio or production company that owns it. These licensing deals are subject to terms and conditions, and typically expire after a given amount of time. In some cases, Criterion can re-license or renegotiate the license for a specific title. In other cases, Criterion may not be able to (or may elect not to) do this.
You'll notice that a significant number of the movies that Criterion released on the Laserdisc format were not reissued on DVD under the Criterion label. At the time, Criterion's license only applied specifically to Laserdisc, not to DVD. To release those same movies on DVD, Criterion had to renegotiate the licenses. In the midst of the DVD boom, many movie studios that may have licensed catalog titles to Criterion in the past chose to take over home video distribution themselves. Thus, while Criterion was able to release something like '2001: A Space Odyssey' on LD, all future video editions have come directly from Warner Home Video. The same situation applies to many movies Criterion released on DVD that it may not be able to release on Blu-ray.
'The Third Man' is currently owned by Studio Canal. In years past, Studio Canal licensed the title to Criterion for previous releases on Laserdisc, DVD and even Blu-ray. Recently, however, Studio Canal has attempted to establish its own premium home video label, called The Studio Canal Collection, which it hopes will become a European equivalent to The Criterion Collection. A consequence of this is that Studio Canal will no longer extend the licenses for titles it previously issued to Criterion. Once Criterion's license for 'The Third Man' expired, Studio Canal reclaimed the rights and issued its own Blu-ray in France. That same disc was then licensed out to a host of new partners in different territories, all of which have maintained the "Studio Canal Collection" label. For example, Optimum Home Entertainment distributes Studio Canal Collection titles in the UK, while Lionsgate Entertainment distributes them in the U.S.
Unfortunately, as the reviews on this site will attest, The Studio Canal Collection has not maintained nearly the same standards for quality as The Criterion Collection, at least not on this specific movie. The Studio Canal Blu-ray for 'The Third Man' has inferior picture and sound quality compared to the earlier Criterion release.
This same situation applies to a number of other titles Criterion has licensed from Studio Canal. Hollywood Elsewhere has a list. Most of these were only released on DVD, but Criterion's Blu-ray edition of 'Pierrot le fou' has also fallen out of print as a result of this.
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!
'Kick-Ass' Playback Problems
Q: My initial excitement over opening my 'Kick-Ass' Blu-ray quickly dissolved after I noticed that the Blu-ray took overly long to load, and the Special Features would not play at all. I then received a "This disc is not valid" message. Per some other forums, I have seen this problem has happened to others so it does not seem to be an isolated problematic disc. After attempting to view the actual movie, I see the playback issues are not isolated to the Special Features, as the main film starts skipping after about 10 or 15 minutes. I have never previously had any concerns with playing any Blu-ray on PS3. I attempted to disable BD Live and this did not help either. I must again state that I have seen similar complaints online, so this does not seem to be an individual malfunctioning disc. Can you shed any light on this concern?
JZ: I'm going to assume that you have your PS3's firmware up to date. Have any of our other readers experienced this problem?
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.