Editor's Note: Have any technical questions about your HD home theater gear? In our new weekly feature, our HD Advisor will answer your questions.
To submit a question for consideration, send an email to HDanswers@gmail.com and we'll see if we can help you out.
If you've already sent a question and don't see it answered yet, please be patient. We're working our way through them.
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Now, on to our first batch!
Answers by Joshua Zyber
Expensive HDMI cables
Q: My question is very simple, but I seem to get a different answer in every corner of the Internet and at retail stores: Does it really matter that much to the video and audio quality to run a $200 HDMI cable as opposed to a $10 one? What are the true differences?
Also, I was recently watching my BD copy of 'Run Fatboy Run' and I noticed that the reds more often than not were blown out. It really distracted from my experience with this film. Is this what you mean when you say there is "minor crushing," or is this something else entirely, like over-saturation?
A: Don't be conned by expensive HDMI cables. HDMI is a purely digital signal. The cable won't "color" your picture or sound quality, as might happen with an analog signal. In my experience, only long cable runs (over 15 feet) are likely to cause problems with signal corruption, in which you could get a picture filled with green sparklies, or no picture at all. In that case, you may need a higher quality cable and/or an HDMI repeater device in between the two ends of your chain. At the shorter lengths more commonly used in home theaters, most HDMI cables do about as good a job as any other. I recommend Monoprice for reasonably-priced, high-quality cables.
For your second question, "crush" refers to a loss of visible picture detail associated with boosted contrasts or oversaturated colors. Vividly saturated colors themselves do not necessarily always lead to crush. But when they bloom so severely that surface texture is obscured, that's a problem. With that said, you should make sure that your HD display is properly calibrated, either by a professional, or at least by watching a calibration disc such as 'Digital Video Essentials' and following the recommended steps. If your Color and Contrast are set too high (as they are by default on most TVs), that can exaggerate flaws in movie transfer.
Q: I just read your 9-28-07 article re: 1080p24 vs. 1080p60 [What's the Big Deal About 1080p24?]. I have a Sony Bravia 46" LCD that I bought because it is 1080p capable. Unfortunately, I just found out this week when I tried to confirm 1080p compatibility with DirecTV's new 1080p service that it is NOT capable of receiving the DirecTV 1080p signal. The apparent reason: DirecTV is using 1080p24, while my Bravia is 1080p60. I profess my ignorance in not knowing there was a 24 frames vs a 60 frames 1080p; I thought that 1080p was 1080p.
Now that I know that there are 2 types of 1080p, is there anything that can be done to adapt my TV to the DirecTV signal, or am I out of luck with the TV broadcasts? I know that my Blu Ray gives me 1080p, so at least I've got that!
A: I'm not a DirecTV subscriber, but from my research it appears that the service is offering select Video-on-Demand content at 1080p resolution. They've chosen 1080p24 over the more commonly-accepted 1080p60 because it requires less bandwidth to transmit. As mentioned in the article you cite, 1080p24 has advantages for film-based movie content in eliminating 3:2 Pulldown judder. Viewers with HD monitors that can accept 1080p24 and also display at that resolution would be advised to use it.
However, as you've discovered, not every HDTV will accept a 1080p24 input signal. Most "1080p" sets are locked to 1080p60 resolution, and many will not accept a 1080p24 input signal. (Some will accept 1080p24 but convert it internally to 1080p60 by adding 3:2 Pulldown.)
If your TV can't accept the 1080p24 signal, I would recommend setting your DirecTV receiver for 1080i output. Your 1080p TV will take that 1080i signal and deinterlace it for display at 1080p60 resolution.
HD Audio Hookup
Q: Just got a Blu-ray player. Have a Samsung 1080p TV. HDMI connection between the two. The question is for the audio. I tried to decipher from your article [Blu-ray Audio Explained], but am still confused.
I have a Kenwood HTB-S715DV Home-Theater-in-a-Box audio setup, no HDMI connection (I think from '06). When I watch a Blu-ray movie, the sound has to be turned almost all the way up to get it to audible levels. The audio is running through the TV I assume, and the TV is only connected to the receiver through component cables. Obviously I have something hooked up wrong, or need a receiver with more capability. Any help is much appreciated.
A: If I'm reading you right, you're only getting audio out of your TV speakers now. If your receiver doesn't have an HDMI connection, you'll have to wire a Toslink or Coaxial digital audio cable from the Blu-ray player to the receiver. You won't be able to get lossless audio over those connections (your receiver simply won't support that), but you should at least be able to get Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1.
You can leave the HDMI connected directly to your TV for video only. You should turn the volume on the set all the way down (or set the TV to disable HDMI audio, if it has that option) so that you don't wind up hearing the movie through both the TV speakers and your HTIB. I hope that helps.
More HD Audio
Q: I have a PS3 with digital optical cable ran to a Yamaha RX-V1300 receiver, but when I play an uncompressed 5.1 audio Blu-ray, I only get stereo sound. Is there a way for me to get uncompressed audio over digital optical wire from my PS3 or only through an HDMI cable (thus requiring a new receiver with HDMI inputs?) And DTS-HD Master Audio comes across fine. Is that being compressed or a different type of file so that I can hear all channels properly?
A: Unfortunately, S/PDIF connections (either Toslink or Coax digital) do not have enough bandwidth to carry a full uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio signal. S/PDIF can only carry 2 channels of PCM, which is why you're getting stereo sound. To transmit a full PCM 5.1 signal requires either an HDMI or multi-channel analog connection. The PS3 does not have multi-channel analog outputs, so that leaves you with HDMI. If you want the full uncompressed audio, you'll need to upgrade your receiver to an HDMI-equipped model. In the meantime, most discs with PCM audio also include a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 option. That track won't give you lossless audio, but it will be 5.1.
DTS-HD Master Audio is designed in what's known as a "core + extension" configuration. At the heart of every Master Audio soundtrack is a standard lossy DTS 5.1 core. The extension added to that core is what gives the track full lossless quality. When using an S/PDIF connection, your player extracts only the DTS 5.1 core and ignores the extension. That's why you're getting 5.1 sound (still not lossless, though) from discs with DTS-HD Master Audio.
Similarly, discs with Dolby TrueHD lossless audio also include a backup Dolby Digital 5.1 track. With discs from some studios (like Warner Home Video), the lossy DD 5.1 option is selectable from the menus. On discs from other studios, the DD 5.1 track may be hidden. If your hardware can't support TrueHD, the Blu-ray player will automatically default to the lossy DD 5.1 option.
PS3 vs. Standalone Players
Q: With almost three years of age, would you say that the PS3 is still the best BD player on the market?
A: The PS3 is a fine Blu-ray player, no doubt. It's fully-featured with Bonus View and BD-Live, will decode all the lossless audio formats, and is still one of the fastest players to load even Java-heavy Blu-ray discs.
Whether it's the best BD player on the market depends on your particular needs. For example, the PS3 lacks multi-channel analog audio connections for users without HDMI-equipped A/V receivers. Although it will decode the lossless audio formats internally, it will not transmit their raw digital bitstreams over HDMI to a receiver. Many users (myself included) prefer to let a receiver handle the audio decoding. The player's DVD upconversion is also only mediocre.
The PS3's Bluetooth receiver is not compatible with universal remote controls unless you add an after-market accessory like the Nyko BluWave, which takes up one of the USB ports and is missing On/Off or Eject commands. And let's not forget that the console is a rather strangely-shaped box that doesn't fit easily into many home theater equipment racks.
That's not to suggest that the PS3 isn't an excellent piece of hardware. It really is. But every user's needs are different. Some will find the PS3 a perfect fit, and others will be better served by a standalone player.
That's it for this week. Be sure to check back next week for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming!