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Answers by Joshua Zyber
1080i on a 1080p Display, and HDMI Splitters
Q: I have a 1080p JVC RS1 projector, however my preamp outputs a maximum of 1080i. I have my HD sources fed to my preamp either through HDMI or Component video. I believe that my projector is native 1080p so it should upconvert the 1080i signal to 1080p. However it still makes me wonder if I am getting the best picture possible. Would I notice any difference if my preamp was outputting 1080p?
A: Your JVC projector is indeed a 1080p model. As a result, any source you feed into it will automatically be scaled to the projector's native resolution of 1080p. However, by sending it a 1080i signal, you lose the benefit of 24 fps playback (as explained in my What's the Big Deal About 1080p24? article). I would recommend setting your Blu-ray player for 1080p24 output any time the display supports it (which the RS1 does).
If your preamp will only pass 1080i video, and if you need to connect the Blu-ray player to the preamp by HDMI for audio (either for the lossless audio codecs or multi-channel PCM), my suggestion is to add an HDMI splitter to your chain. Connect the Blu-ray player to the splitter, then connect one HDMI cable directly to the projector for video and the other to your preamp for audio.
[Important note: There's a distinction between HDMI switchers and HDMI splitters. An HDMI switcher will allow you to connect two video sources to one display. An HDMI splitter will take the output from one video source and amplify it to two displays. Although HDMI switchers are less expensive, you cannot substitute a switcher for a splitter. The HDMI signal will only travel in one direction.]
Unfortunately, I discovered the hard way that HDMI splitters are finicky products. Due to handshaking issues, many don't work very well with HDCP-encrypted Blu-ray playback. I first tried a cheap passive splitter, and that didn't pass a video signal from my Blu-ray player at all. Then I tried a modestly-priced powered splitter from a reputable retailer (a store that I've recommended previously in this column), and even that gave me almost constant video dropouts because it would lose the HDMI handshake repeatedly. Finally, I bit the bullet and purchased a pricy Audio Authority HDMI splitter that works flawlessly.
I'm not saying that the expensive Audio Authority model is the only HDMI splitter compatible with Blu-ray. There may be something less expensive out there that will work just as well. I can only relate my own experience with the products I've personally used.
Using Component Video and HDMI Audio Simultaneously
Q: Can a Blu-ray player's HDMI output be used for audio only, while still using Component for video? Perhaps an odd question, but I have a very lovely CRT projector that I see no reason to get rid of . I would like to get an AVR to get the high-def audio formats. Right now the best audio I can get is DTS core. I seem to recall reading somewhere that switching to HDMI output will disable the Component video output.
A: Most Blu-ray players will allow you to use the Component output and HDMI output simultaneously, though this may vary by model. As I recall, the first-generation Samsung BD-P1000 required users to manually switch between the two connection types using a button on the front panel, and could not output them at the same time. I don't know if current Samsung models do the same thing. Other players I've used from Sony and Panasonic don't have that limitation.
I'm not sure how the Sony Playstation 3 works in this regard, because I've never had need to purchase or use the Component video adaptor for that model. (Perhaps one of our readers can confirm this in the forum thread linked at the bottom of this article?)
As I explained in last week's column, you can currently transmit Blu-ray video up to 1080i resolution from a BD player connected by Component video. However, DVD playback is limited to a maximum of 480p over Component (upconverting requires HDMI). Also, if a Blu-ray disc were ever to be flagged with an Image Constraint Token (ICT), the Blu-ray spec would require the player to downconvert the video to 480p resolution via Component. Fortunately, no Blu-rays have been flagged with ICT thus far, and it looks like this feature won't be used in the foreseeable future.
HDMI Handshaking Woes
Q: I finally got around to buying an up-to-date receiver, but I'm having a really weird problem with my HD satellite box. To wit, it doesn't want to work through the receiver. The receiver seems to think nothing is plugged in at all. I have plugged other devices into all four HDMI Ins and they all work fine.
The satellite box still works fine when plugged via HDMI directly into the TV. And it gets weirder: a couple of times I've unplugged it from the TV and plugged it into the receiver and it's worked... until the next time the box is turned off, after which it's the same old story. This happened a couple of times; not every time. Do you think I'm right in assuming this is the satellite box's issue and not the receiver's? Is this some kind of handshake failure, or incompatibility of HDMI versions?
A: I had a similar problem between my Motorola cable box and Denon receiver. Constant handshaking problems. I brought it up to Denon, and they claimed it was an HDMI implementation fault in the Motorola box. Given that every other HDMI device I've used with the receiver works fine, I'm inclined to agree. I eventually had to use Component video from the cable box. It works fine, and frankly there's no difference in picture quality between the two connection types from that box.
Playing Non-Anamorphic DVDs in a PS3
Q: Is there any way to turn a non-anamorphic widescreen DVD picture into something anamorphic-like (so it's not 4:3 letterbox...which is very small!) without distorting the picture using a PS3? I think I've come close by turning upscale off and using the TV's embedded features, but I was looking for an easier way.
A: At present, the PS3 only recognizes two aspect ratio flags on DVDs, either 4:3 or 16:9. When set to "Normal," the console automatically pillarboxes 4:3 content into the center of a 16:9 HD frame. That's fine if the content is actually 4:3 in shape (i.e. classic movies and many TV shows), but not so great if the content is encoded in non-anamorphic letterbox format (like 'The Abyss' or 'True Lies'). In the latter case, you wind up with a tiny movie image that has black bars on all four sides of the frame.
When set to "Full," a 4:3 image is stretched to fill the 16:9 screen. That makes everything geometrically distorted and is just a bad idea all around.
As best as I can tell, the "Double Scale" setting is no better than "Normal." You'll still get a windowboxed picture with bars on all sides.
I once owned a Malata DVD player that could tell the difference between 4:3 and non-anamorphic letterbox content, and would automatically zoom the latter to fill a 16:9 screen with correct geometry. That seems to be a very rare feature, however.
As it stands, there's no ideal setting in the PS3 for non-anamorphic letterbox DVDs. "Normal" is the best default. As you already noted, if you turn off the upscaling function, you should be able to use the aspect ratio controls on your HDTV. Just remember to turn upscaling back on the next time you watch a 4:3 or 16:9 disc.
Q: I was just curious if there is a way to clean the optics on a Blu-ray player. I know that you can get cleaning discs for a DVD player, but do they make them for Blu-ray players?
A: I'd advise against using cleaning discs. They tend to use abrasive measures to "clean" your disc player's optics, and are likely to do more harm than good. Really, unless you leave your player outside in a sandbox on a windy day, there's almost no need to ever clean the internals of the unit. The amount of dust that could possibly get in there and obscure the laser is negligible at best.
If you truly did have a problem with dust or impurities preventing the laser from reading the disc data, that would result in catastrophic playback errors, such as the picture breaking up into huge pixelated blocks or the disc simply not playing at all. Assuming that's not the case, there's little need to attempt preventative lens cleaning. I've never used cleaning discs on any video disc player I've ever owned (from the laserdisc days to present), and have never had a problem. Those cleaning discs are a largely unnecessary product designed to prey on false fears.
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!
Streaming Video from Computer to PS3
Q: I've been trying to research a product to catalogue my extensive DVD collection. I know how to rip to a hard drive, but the PS3 won't play a DVD unless a VOB file is played or the DVD is ripped to a DivX file, which won't let one use the menu on the DVD. I don't mind building my own server, but what would be the easiest way to stream those DVDs to a device that will use an HDMI output (preferably). The ability to output Blu-ray and HD DVD files as well would also be desired.
Check back next week for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.