HD Advisor Centennial

Posted Fri Apr 1, 2011 at 11:00 AM PDT by

A Brief Announcement from the Advisor: When I started this HD Advisor column back in early 2009, I had no idea how long it would run. Honestly, I assumed that interest would eventually taper off as we covered most of the commonly asked questions. I'm glad to have been mistaken. Here we are, two years and 100 Q&A sessions (plus a few special reports in between) later. It's been a pretty terrific run. However, although questions keep coming in, it strikes me that 100 is a pretty good stopping point… for now. After this article, the Advisor will be taking a sabbatical.

This is not the end of HD Advisor. The feature will return at some point. I just need a little break to catch up on other work. I haven't yet determined how long that will take. Hopefully, not too long. In the meantime, feel free to continue sending your home theater questions to [email protected] I will continue to monitor the mailbox and save up the questions for the Advisor's inevitable return.

Now, on to the latest questions…

Answers by Joshua Zyber

A/V Receivers and 3D Passthrough

Q: I have a 55" 3D Samsung TV and an Onkyo HT-S6100 7.1 home theatre system. I use a Sony PS3 for Blu-ray playback. Since the PS3 has been updated to 3D movie support, will the Onkyo HT-S6100 allow for 3D playback to pass through to the TV?

A: In order for an A/V receiver (or any other device) to pass a 3D Blu-ray video signal, it must specifically have HDMI 1.4 inputs and outputs. This is a new feature that only started appearing in receivers last year. Receivers with this type of connection are almost always marketed as being capable of 3D passthough. Look for that bullet point in the owner's manual or on the box when shopping. Unfortunately, receivers with the older HDMI 1.3 standard (such as your Onkyo HT-S6100) will not pass the 3D signal, and cannot be upgraded to do so.

3D Video and Audio Connections

Q: I have an excellent Yamaha HTR-6180 receiver, which is of course not capable of 3D passthrough. I bought a Toshiba BDX-3000 3D Blu-ray player that only has one HDMI output. I don't yet own a 3D TV. I have heard that it is possible to send the HDMI signal to a TV directly and also to a receiver at the same time. I assume to do so I will need an HDMI splitter box, not a switch box. Is there any such a thing in the market yet? I want the opportunity to watch a 3D movie with a Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA soundtrack in the future.

A: You are correct that, if your receiver can't pass the 3D video signal, you will ideally want to route the video from your Blu-ray player directly to your TV while separately routing the audio directly to the receiver. The easiest way to accomplish this is with a 3D Blu-ray player that has been designed with two HDMI outputs for this purpose. Some Panasonic models have this feature, as does the OPPO BDP-93 player. Other brands may as well.

If your Blu-ray player only has one HDMI output, you could try connecting it to an HDMI splitter device, but it will specifically need to be an HDMI 1.4 unit rated for 3D support. It should be a powered model; don't waste your time with any passive HDMI splitters. I haven't tested one of these myself, but a search for "HDMI Splitter" at Monoprice.com pulls in several models that claim 3D support.

(Be advised that my own experience with other HDMI splitters was that they are very finicky devices.)

All of the item descriptions at Monoprice state that these splitters are intended to divide a 3D video signal to multiple displays. They don't explicitly mention your intended use: to route video separately to a 3D display while audio goes to an HDMI 1.3 receiver. My fear is that the HDMI output on the Blu-ray player will expect to receive a 3D confirmation handshake from both other ends of the chain. When your receiver doesn't confirm 3D, the Blu-ray player may refuse to transmit anything. However, I don't have direct experience with these splitters to know if that's really an issue. In any case, I recommend purchasing from a retailer (like Monoprice) that has a flexible return policy in case the product doesn't work out.

Subtitle Fonts and Appearance

Q:This may seem nitpicky, but I find it quite distracting how the quality of subtitles seem to be subpar, and almost look pixelated. Is there any reasoning for this? Why can't the Blu-ray/DVD authoring companies use higher resolution subtitles that don't appear to have that "blown up" and "pixelated" appearance on screen?

A: I think you'll find that most of the "pixelated" subtitles you're seeing are found on DVD, not Blu-ray. The DVD format stores subtitles as low-resolution bitmap images that often look jagged or blocky on screen, especially if the studio tries to author them to display in an italics font (which is common). Many studios also use a harsh yellow color for the font, which is pretty hard on the eyes as well.

Blu-ray subtitles are instead authored in what is known as Presentation Graphics Stream (PGS) format, and should generally have a smoother, higher-resolution appearance without that pixelated, blocky look. However, decisions about what the font should look like are totally at the discretion of the studios. Many times, the fonts used on Blu-ray are larger and take up more screen space than those used on theatrical prints. Sony and Warner Bros. use a particularly large and unattractive font on Blu-ray that obscures a lot of the movie picture.

The reasoning for this stems back to a mindset fostered in the early days of home video, when most viewers watched movies from low-resolution sources on small (30" or less) TV screens. Larger subtitles were easier to read at home. Theatrical prints didn't need large fonts, because the projected image on a theater screen was really big anyway.

Of course, today's viewers (especially Blu-ray viewers) frequently watch their movies on large, high-resolution screens, and don't need huge fonts to be able to read the text. Nevertheless, big corporate studios are slow to change policies like this unless there's been a major public outcry about the issue – and in this case, there hasn't been.

Perhaps the worst example I've seen of subtitles that harm the presentation of a movie occur on the Blu-ray editions of the Russian films 'Night Watch' and 'Day Watch'. Director Timur Bekmambetov explicitly designed English subtitles for the international theatrical releases of these movies that were presented in a comic book style that moved around and interacted with the imagery on screen. The Blu-ray editions do away with this, and instead present the subtitle translation in a generic white font. The director's intended effect is completely lost. Rubbing salt in the wound, the 'Night Watch' Blu-ray includes a featurette (carried over from DVD) that discusses how those missing interactive subtitles were designed and created.

Madonna Movies on Blu-ray

Q: I was wondering if you had any info why not one Madonna movie has been released on Blu-ray? I know that some of her movies were not great, but as a fan, I think they would sell better than some of the stuff that is released on Blu-ray. 'Dick Tracy', 'A League of Their Own', 'Evita', 'Desperately Seeking Susan', and 'Truth or Dare' were all big money makers. I just don't get it, and don't get me started on releasing past concerts…

A: It's funny, but I could have sworn that 'A League of Their Own' had been released on Blu-ray. However, I just checked and it seems that I was mistaken. Looking through her limited filmography as an actress, I can only find 'Die Another Day' currently available on Blu-ray.

I don't believe that there's any coordinated conspiracy out there to keep Madonna off of Blu-ray (except maybe for 'Swept Away' – it's in everyone's best interest that that one get buried and never see the light of day again). What this mostly comes down to is that these movies are distributed by separate, unrelated studios: 'Dick Tracy' and 'Evita' are handled by Disney, 'A League of Their Own' is Sony, and 'Desperately Seeking Susan' is MGM. 'Truth or Dare' was last released on DVD by Live Entertainment, which was later swallowed up by Lionsgate. By whatever obscure reasoning that each of these studios uses to decide which catalog titles get released on Blu-ray and which don't, these specific titles have all thus far fallen through the cracks.

I imagine that at least 'League' and 'Dick Tracy' will find their ways to Blu-ray eventually, probably sooner rather than later. The concert videos are likely a more complicated matter, unfortunately. The red tape legal nightmare of sorting out music rights has kept many highly-desired concert programs from being distributed on new media.

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

You didn't think I'd leave you without a Homework assignment, did you? 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!

Scratches on LCD Screen

Q: My dad was flying his remote controlled helicopter in the living room (terrible idea, right?) and crashed it into the TV. Now he's got a series of light but visible scratches all down his nice new LCD. Do you know of a safe way to get rid of these? Honestly, I think I'm more bothered about it than my parents are.

Thank you for all your support these past two years. Know that the Advisor has not given up on you. Although the column will go on hiatus after today, it will return in the future to answer more of your home theater questions.

Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.

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