HD Advisor the 13th

Posted Fri May 8, 2009 at 12:50 PM PDT by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

Older TV Shows on Blu-ray

Q: What is the feasibility of old popular television shows, whose special effects shots were mastered in SD, possibly seeing a Blu-ray release? I'm a huge 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' fan and would love to see an eventual Blu-ray release, as the DVDs are quite grainy and unpleasant-looking on an HDTV. I realized the show's special effects were created in SD to save money, so I was wondering if there is any chance at all if we'd see some of these older television series receive a Blu-ray release?

A: The Blu-ray release of 'Firefly' is perhaps the textbook example of what you're asking. Just like 'Buffy', 'Firefly' was shot on film, but had all visual effects rendered in standard-def resolution due to budgetary issues. On the Blu-ray, all of the live action shots without VFX are presented in true 1080p high-def. However, as soon as a CGI element enters a scene, the entire shot containing it drops to upconverted SD quality. Throughout the show, the video jumps from HD to upconverted SD and back over and over again. It's certainly not ideal, but it is possible to release the show on Blu-ray.

With that said, other factors will come into play. Although the 'Firefly' VFX were only rendered in SD, the rest of the show was edited and post-produced in an HD environment. So, an HD resolution master existed for the final product. That isn't necessarily the case for some older shows. For example, 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' was also shot on film, but was post-produced on SD video. Its final master exists only in standard-def form. In order to prepare a new HD master for the series, the studio would have to dig up the original film elements and completely re-edit and post-produce every single episode from scratch. It's a time-consuming and expensive process. Reportedly, Paramount is currently investigating the feasibility of doing that for 'Star Trek: TNG', because they know that the show has an enormous fan base. I wouldn't expect that kind of commitment for many series.

Regarding 'Buffy' specifically, the first two seasons were shot on grainy 16mm film stock. The show had a budget increase and a switch to 35mm film in its third season. I'm not certain how post production was handled, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was done in SD. The spin-off series 'Angel' was actually broadcast in HD during its final season. (Just like 'Firefly', the video dropped to SD during VFX shots.) Unfortunately, I have a feeling that's probably the only season of the Buffyverse that exists in HD form.

Grrrrrr... Arrggghhh... indeed, right?

Power Conditioning vs. More Power

Q: My current receiver, a Technics, is 10-years-old now, and it's beginning to have serious issues. It overheats and shuts down, which I know is hard on my speakers. I believe this is related to the upgrades I've made in my system. I think it's because the receiver is underpowered to push my newer speakers. Even though it's supposed to be 125 watts into 5 channels with an 8-ohm load, it's seems to be struggling to keep up. And I like to watch movies at "theater" volume. Will buying a nice power conditioner help? I'm looking at the offerings from Panamax and Monster. I'm thinking about this with an eye toward the near future: I'm also looking hard at Onkyo receivers to replace the Technics. I know Onkyos are generally beefy, and I want to be able to push my stuff adequately. I also want to be able to take full advantage of cutting-edge soundtracks, and strip out lossless audio from Blu-ray.

A: I don't want to downplay the value of having a power conditioner in your equipment chain. Speaking as someone who used to regularly suffer from electrical brownouts in my neighborhood, power conditioners and battery backups saved my home theater gear from stress and damage on many occasions.

However, I don't think a power conditioner will solve the problem you're having. It sounds to me like your current receiver is simply inadequate to drive your speakers, or is malfunctioning. If you were thinking of upgrading to a new receiver anyway (in order to take advantage of lossless audio), that will probably fix this issue as well.

HD Audio Decoding

Q: I have a PS3 and a Harmon Kardon AVR 245 receiver. I understand that I can't receive DTS-HD Master Audio from the PS3. If I was to buy a standalone Blu-ray that decodes the Master Audio sound, would my receiver play Master Audio?

A: The PS3 is fully capable of decoding DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks itself. You don't need a new Blu-ray player for that. When the PS3 does this, it converts to Master Audio codec to multi-channel PCM with no loss of quality. However, in order to take advantage of that, you'll need to connect the PS3 to an A/V receiver by HDMI.

According to the specs I looked up, although your AVR 245 receiver has HMDI inputs, it uses them only for video switching. The receiver cannot accept audio over HDMI. In that case, you're restricted to a Digital Coax or Toslink Optical connection, neither of which can carry more than 2 channels of PCM audio.

Long story short: If you want lossless multi-channel audio, you need to buy a new A/V receiver. Please see my Blu-ray Audio Explained article for more details.

Where to Perform Upconversion?

Q: I have a question regarding inputs on a receiver versus the TV itself for upscaling. I have a Sony STR-DG910 receiver with three HDMI inputs I bought last year to use with an old 32" Olevia that only had one HDMI input. But soon I will be upgrading to a Sony KDL-52V4100 52" TV with 4 HDMI inputs on its own. I know that to get the highest resolution audio I'll need to run my PS3 through the receiver via HDMI, but is there any reason to run older devices (such as a Wii which only uses component) through the stereo instead of straight to the TV? Maybe I'm naive, but in my assumption the TV would do a better job upscaling than the receiver, although maybe I'm wrong. What are your thoughts?

A: Honestly, this could go either way. It depends entirely on which component has the better upconversion hardware, the receiver or the TV. Unfortunately, I don't have direct experience with either of those models. If you've already made your decision that the KDL-52V4100 is the TV you're going to buy (and I assume you don't plan to change receivers), you might as well try it both ways and see for yourself.

I recommend purchasing a copy of the 'HQV Benchmark DVD', which provides a battery of test patterns that will help you to determine whether the receiver or TV is better at standard-def upconversion. Be sure to set your DVD player for 480i output, with any progressive scan or upconversion disabled. (At any other resolution, the tests will only tell you how the DVD player performs, but you want to test processing outside the DVD player.)

Lossless Audio and Headphones

Q: I have a Panasonic DMP-BD30 bitstreaming HD audio to my Onkyo TX-SR605 receiver via HDMI. My brother and I don't always like the same movies, and he complains because no matter how low a volume I watch a movie at, it more or less shoots through his bedroom door. I'm thinking about getting a pair of Sennheiser RS130 wireless headphones. When bitstreaming a TrueHD track to my 605, will I get audio through the headphones? I know that lossless tracks aren't designed to be listened to through headphones. Do I have to give up lossless to use the headphones?

A: When you transmit any audio codec (whether lossy or lossless) to your receiver in native bitstream form, the receiver has to decode that bitstream to PCM, then convert the signal to analog and amplify it to your speakers. After the decoding and D-to-A are done, the receiver can send the sound signal to a pair of headphones just as easily as it can to speakers. You will get audio from the headphones, but it's unlikely that any pair of headphones will be able to reproduce the full dynamic range of a good lossless track. You'll definitely hear the soundtrack, but probably won't be able to tell any difference between lossy or lossless.

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!

Flash Card Recommendations

Q: Can you recommend a reliable (and compatible, since I don't have any SDHC cards) MS Pro Duo adaptor for an SDHC card? I have a Sony camcorder HDR-UX20. I would like to view the movies we shoot through our Panasonic Blu-Ray DMP-BD55 using the SDHC card.

Check back next week for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.

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Tags: Joshua Zyber, HD Advisor (all tags)