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
50 Hz Frame Rate Problems
Q: I have my Panasonic DMP-BD60 Blu-ray player hooked up to my Panasonic TX-47P500H (Australia) rear-projection TV using the Component connections. When I select 1080i output from the Blu-ray player, the TV screen just goes blank once the disc is finished loading. You can hear the audio for the movie as my receiver has no problem, but there is no video coming through to the TV. If I select 576p or 576i, I get the video signal through to the TV and it plays fine at the lower resolution. I have pretty much tried every different adjustable setting to see if it helps and I get the same result. I also tried the other component input on the TV and got the same result. The TV states that it can play 1080i/576p, but I am unable to get it to play Blu-rays at 1080i.
A: As I've written in other recent columns, all Blu-ray players are capable of transmitting Blu-ray video at 1080i resolution through the Component Video connections. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that your other hardware will be compatible with that signal.
I've done a little research into your older rear-projection TV model, and found that it will only accept a 1080i input signal at the 50 Hz frame rate commonly used in Australian and European TV broadcast. On the other hand, your Blu-ray player will output its 1080i signal at a 60 Hz rate that your TV doesn't accept. This is a tremendous oversight in the design of the television.
I'm not familiar with the Australian release of the DMP-BD60 Blu-ray player (assuming that yours actually came from Australia). I know that the American model doesn't have the ability to frame rate convert video content from 60 Hz to 50 Hz, but I don't know whether the Australian version does. If so, you should try that. If not, you may be out of luck.
You can try to find another Blu-ray player that will convert 1080i60 to 1080i50. This is likely a rare feature. I know that the OPPO BDP-83 will do this, but I don't know of any other models that will. Perhaps this may be a more common feature on Australian or European units?
External video processors can perform this type of frame rate conversion as well, but those are often quite expensive. Keep in mind that even if you find a way to convert the 1080i60 to 1080i50, the conversion may cause your video to stutter frequently.
Realistically, the only certain fix for this problem is to upgrade to a newer HDTV.
Why One Lossless Audio Format over Another?
Q: If the new lossless audio codecs more or less provide the same thing, why would a studio pick one over the other? Are some easier to work with? Is one cheaper to license?
A: Although Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are both lossless formats that provide the same end result as one another (a bit-for-bit identical copy of the original studio master), they each go about this process in different ways.
DTS-HD Master Audio is constructed in a "core + extension" configuration. If a user's hardware isn't compatible with the full lossless track, the Blu-ray player will extract the DTS core that provides the soundtrack at a 1.5 Mb/s bit rate equivalent to the best available on standard DVD. If the hardware is fully compatible with the lossless format, the player simply adds on the lossless extension.
Dolby TrueHD, however, is not built in this core + extension design. A TrueHD track is one single entity. In order to ensure backwards compatibility, the studio must also include a backup Dolby Digital 5.1 track to tag along with it.
Some studios prefer one model, and some the other. From what I've read, the amount of disc space that each takes up on any particular title isn't really that significantly different, once you account for the backup DD 5.1 track. However, that may play a role. Other possible factors include licensing arrangements between the companies and marketing concerns. (Whether it's necessarily always true or not, the DTS brand has an audiophile cachet associated with it that can drive additional sales in some cases.)
There may also be technical reasons on specific titles that require one format over the other. In general, Warner Home Video prefers Dolby TrueHD on their Blu-rays. But they found that TrueHD didn't work so well with the "Maximum Movie Mode" interactive feature on 'Watchmen' and 'Terminator Salvation', and so used DTS-HD Master Audio on those discs instead.
Q: I plan to upgrade from a 61" 720p DLP to either a 63" 1080p plasma or 1080p DLP set. Should the plasma or DLP set be calibrated to ISF standards or would a good Blu-ray calibration disc do the job?
A: You should at the very least start with a video calibration disc such as 'Digital Video Essentials' or the 'Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark'. Those will certainly help to get you in the ballpark of accurate video settings. However, there is a limit to how much control you have over your video using only the TV's consumer-accessible settings. A professional calibrator will be able to access your TV's hidden service menu for more fine-tuned calibration. He or she will also bring measuring equipment like color analyzers and wave-form monitors that will help dial in your TV's picture much more accurately than you can do by eye with just some color bars and a plastic blue filter.
Is Blu-ray Dying?
Q: Is Blu-ray dying?
Since this is the beginning of a new year and I still have a little bit of holiday spirit left, I'll let our readers off without a homework assignment this week. In its place, allow me to post a fun new feature: Hate Mail!
The Black Bar Hater Returns
Complaint: I really appreciate how you took the time to fast-track my query over all the hundreds of questions you are "working your way through." I especially liked the nearly unprecedented dismissive one-liner "STFU NOOB" answer that did nothing but link to a "FAQ" that led me to this conclusion: Millions of consumers shouldn't even have the option to crop wide scope films because when Sergio Leone filmed 'Once Upon a Time in the West' he chose to put two characters on the very edge of the frame that were so important to the history of cinema that they must never EVER be cropped off! Your argument doesn't benefit from the overuse of cliche "evidence" for "black bars". Yeah, I'm just confounded by those black bars that won't go away! Something must be wrong with my TV set! Just one loyal High-Def Digest reader here, exercising my right to uppity sarcasm. Truth be told I'm just proud to have my question posted so quickly (backlogged... really?) and will gladly lap up all future High-Def Digest content. As Bogey always reminds me, when I'm slapped I'll take it and like it!
JZ: For the record, the HD Advisor email box usually has a backlog of about 100 questions at any given time. When choosing which to answer for each new column, I do not address them chronologically. I pick and choose those that I feel will make for the best column. Sometimes that means newer questions, sometimes older questions, and often a mix. If I tried to answer them in order, I would never catch up, and the column would suffer from too many "stale" older topics. Also, many of the emails in the backlog are repetitive of questions that other people have already asked, and do not need to be addressed twice.
As for the bulk of your complaint... In my experience, hatred of letterbox bars almost always stems from a root ignorance of their purpose. Even people who claim to understand that not all movies are photographed in the same aspect ratio as their TV, often still don't understand the basic principles of photographic composition. Hence questions such as yours about why the studios don't just crop all movies to fit your TV screen. Perhaps if you understood why many movies are photographed in a "scope" widescreen ratio in the first place, you wouldn't be so eager to mangle the director's artistic intentions for his film.
But, at the end of the day, some people just don't want to understand. Some people don't care about such highfalutin concepts as artistic intention, or bluntly refuse to acknowledge that filmmaking should ever be considered an art form at all. Some people just want their damn TV screen filled no matter what.
If that's you, so be it. If you want to zoom movies to fill your screen, I can't stop you. Do what makes you happy. Turn on the zoom control in your TV. But I absolutely will never support your demand that the studios intentionally alter their movies just to placate this screen-filling mentality.
I also have no sympathy for the notion that your 34" TV is just too microscopic to possibly watch letterboxed movies on. Back in the days before DVD, I was more than happy to watch letterboxed VHS tapes on a 20" standard-def TV, because I knew that it was the best, most accurate presentation I could get at the time. When I was in college, a 34" TV seemed like a decadent extravagance. As home video formats have evolved from tape to Laserdisc to DVD and now to Blu-ray, the higher resolution images and introduction of 16:9 HDTV screens have only made the issue of letterboxing less and less of a valid concern. More than a decade of prevalence on DVD has proven that letterboxing and Original Aspect Ratio presentations are here to stay.
In other words: Suck it up and deal with it. Eventually, once some of your animosity has worn off and you learn more about filmmaking, you may come to appreciate the importance of an OAR presentation.
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.