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
Film vs. Digital
Q: I have a question to follow up on your column about Blu-ray vs. theatres. Is the time of shooting films with 35mm in its twilight? I've noticed that Blu-ray transfers from direct-digital sources like 'District 9' and 'Zodiac' are significantly more detailed/sharper than that of an internegative/interpositive transfer from regular film stock. Wouldn't it just be easier for directors to shoot digital, thus making the transfer much more efficient?
A: There are a couple of different factors to take into consideration here. As far as ease or efficiency, shooting a movie digitally can sometimes be more of a hassle or expense than shooting on film. For better of worse, most of the production infrastructure in the movie industry is based around 35mm film. Especially for a modestly budgeted production, it may be less expensive or easier to find post-production facilities that will handle film than will handle digital video. Remember also that 35mm film is a universal standard, whereas there are many different digital video formats. When you shoot a movie digitally, you need a production chain that will support the specific format you're shooting on. As with anything digital, compatibility is a critical issue.
The other consideration here is one of aesthetics. Film and video have different "looks." One may be more appropriate for a specific project than another, just as one type of film stock may be more appropriate than another. The razor sharp, super-detailed look common to HD video may make for nice home theater eye candy, but doesn't necessarily suit all movie subject matter. Many critics and viewers cried foul when Michael Mann chose to shoot 'Public Enemies' on digital video, because the resulting visual style didn't seem appropriate for the time period depicted. Mann used it anyway, because he liked that style, for reasons that some of us may not ever fully understand.
Likewise, some directors prefer the look of film. Steven Spielberg is a big proponent of film over digital video. His frequent cinematographer Janusz Kaminski likes the texture of film grain, and often goes out of his way to emphasize it in movies like 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Minority Report'.
I expect that, eventually, digital video will supplant film for all but a few die-hard holdouts. Ironically, the more advanced that digital video becomes, the better it gets at emulating the traditional film-look, which viewers have grown to associate with movies. At some point, HD video will be so good that a director so inclined could use it to make another 'Saving Private Ryan' indistinguishable from the one shot on grainy film. But we're not quite there yet, and it might take a while before we are.
Video Quality of Movie Trailers
Q: Are the movie previews on a Blu-ray disc actually taken from the Blu-ray transfers of the movies themselves? If they are, then is it fair to judge a movie by the high-def preview on other discs?
A: No, the video quality of a movie trailer is not a reliable indicator of how the movie itself will look on Blu-ray. Trailers are usually transferred separately from the movie, sometimes with incomplete color timing or even a different aspect ratio. If it's an older movie, the film elements for the trailer may suffer from damage or fading you won't see on the movie proper. Take anything you see in a trailer with a grain of salt. The movie may look better (or perhaps just different).
LCD TVs and Burn-In
Q: Are any of the current crop of flat-screen TVs friendly to the 4:3 format? I have had two flat-screen LCDs (both Westinghouse), one a 37", the other a 42", and had been assured that burn-in would not be a problem...and had burn-in problems with both. The Westinghouse was purchased less than six months ago. A lot of broadcast TV is still in 4:3, and of course classic films and television. Maybe a third of what I watch falls into that category. I was told LCD did not have burn-in problems, that only plasma did. But my LCDs do have problems. I also have a stuck pixel.
A: What you were told initially is (mostly) correct. LCD displays do not suffer from burn-in as it's typically defined. Burn-in is a danger to phosphor-based displays such as CRT and plasma. LCDs don't have phosphors that can burn an image into the screen.
However, LCDs can exhibit a similar condition sometimes called pixel persistence, image retention, or video memory. The general idea is the same: If you leave a static image on screen for too long, that image can get stuck on the screen. The difference is that once a plasma or CRT exhibits burn-in, the condition is usually permanent. With an LCD, it can often be corrected by either leaving the TV off or displaying a solid gray image (such as from a video calibration disc) for an extended period of time. Also, it takes much longer static exposure for an image to stick on an LCD than it does plasma or CRT.
Burn-in and image retention are primarily factors of having improperly calibrated contrast on the TV. The "contrast" control is the screen's white level. If you have this set too high, the white is more likely to (for lack of a better word) "burn" an image into the screen. Calibrating this setting, either yourself with a calibration disc or by bringing in a professional, will greatly reduce the likelihood of this problem occurring.
I would also recommend varying up the content that you watch. You say that 4:3 shows and movies make up approximately 1/3 of your viewing. Try to spread that out interspersed with content that fills the screen.
You also mention that you have a stuck pixel. That's a completely separate problem caused by poor manufacture of the TV. Unfortunately, that can't be corrected.
Update – A reader sent in this feedback:
It is possible to correct a stuck pixel (not the same as a dead pixel). Using the tapping method, I was able to clear out a bright green stuck pixel that plagued my monitor for over a year before this solution was shared with me.
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!
LG BH200 Disc Error Problems
Q: I own an LG BH200 which I've had for two years. As far as I'm aware, it's fully up to date with firmware upgrades. The problem I have is that 'Battle of Britain', 'Night at the Museum', 'RockNRolla', and 'Coming to America' have all ceased to play. They get the message "Disc Error" and then eject. This is weird because I've watched them numerous times before. All the latest titles load and play straight away. Can you shed any light?
JZ: Although I own an LG BH200, it's currently relegated to the living room, and honestly gets very little use these days. Unfortunately, I don't have any of these specific titles to test. Have any other BH200 owners experienced issues like this?
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.