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 [email protected]
Answers by Joshua Zyber
HD Audio Through Analog Outputs
Q: In your Connecting a Blu-ray Player to a Standard-Def TV article, you mentioned that the gentleman could play HD audio via his 5.1 analog outputs from his player. Really? I thought I had read from several places that it isn't HD when played this way. That in order to get the true HD audio, you must use HDMI. So my 5 year-old AVR will play HD audio then as long as my player converts it to LPCM?
A: A movie soundtrack has to go through several stages from the compression codec authored on the disc until sound hits your ears. First, the Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio codec must be decoded to uncompressed PCM form. That PCM must then be converted to analog. Finally, the analog must be amplified out to your speakers. Those first two stages (the decoding and D-to-A conversion) can be performed either in the disc player or your A/V receiver. The amplification step almost always takes place at the receiver or other external amp (except in certain Home-Theater-in-a-Box systems that combine the disc player and amp into one unit).
So long as the Blu-ray player has internal decoders on board for the full TrueHD or Master Audio codecs, and offers multi-channel analog outputs, you will be able to get lossless quality from the analog connections.
With that being said, is "lossless" audio output as analog from your player the same as lossless audio output as digital? Not necessarily.
The process of decoding to PCM is pretty straightforward. In my experience, it shouldn't matter whether that happens in the disc player or in the receiver. However, digital-to-analog conversion is more complicated. The quality of the DAC components will play a significant role in determining your final sound quality. So, even if you already own a Blu-ray player with the full decoding suite and multi-channel analog outputs, you may still find it advantageous to upgrade to a new HDMI-capable receiver with superior DACs.
The "lossless" nature of the digital compression codec only guarantees that there will be no degradation of sound quality from the original master for as long as the signal is compressed or decoded. As soon as it's converted to analog, your sound quality will vary depending on the hardware being used. Lossless audio converted to analog in your receiver may (or may not) be superior to lossless audio converted to analog in your disc player, by the same logic that a high-end A/V receiver may do a better job of this than an entry-level model, even though they both support "lossless" audio.
HDMI Handshaking Issues
Q: I have a Playstation 3 hooked up via HDMI to my receiver (Sony STR-DG910). My receiver outputs to a Sony KDL-40V2500 Bravia. Each time when I turn on my Playstation 3, after a couple minutes the screen goes black for about a second and then the screen and sound come back. Also on the screen is the TV information like the display setting (1080p), the video input label, and time, etc. It's as if I had just turned the TV on. This only happens once but it happens every time I turn on my PS3 without fail. This has happened ever since I hooked the PS3 up to the TV.
A: It sounds to me like you're having an HDMI handshaking problem. When you connect two devices by HDMI, each must "handshake" with the other at startup to confirm compatibility and encryption protocols. This process is compounded if you route the signal through an intermediary device like an A/V receiver. In that scenario, your Blu-ray player must handshake with the receiver, and then the receiver must handshake with the HDTV. If the handshake breaks down at any point, you lose the picture and sound.
What's likely happening here is that one of your devices initially confirms the handshake, and then loses it for a second and must re-establish a new handshake. During that time, your TV loses sync with the signal and must start over as if you'd just turned it on. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is pretty common in the world of HDMI.
As an experiment, you should try connecting your PS3 directly to the TV. Does the same thing happen? If not, then the problem is with your receiver. There are a couple of potential solutions to this, but none are ideal.
You can buy an HDMI splitter that will direct one cable from your PS3 straight to the TV for video and another to the receiver for audio. But those are expensive and often even more glitchy than what you're dealing with now. Alternately, you can buy the Component Video adaptor for the PS3 and send that to your TV for video while using HDMI for audio.
In either case, the solution is probably more of an inconvenience than the problem. You may just have to deal with it. But at least you'll know what causes this.
Why Do Some Blu-rays Not Get Reviewed on This Site?
Q: Before I purchase any Blu-ray disc, I check to see if your site has reviewed the disc. I have actually been swayed to reconsider based on the ratings you have given some BDs. That being said, I have noticed you have not reviewed (or at least posted) many Criterion Collection Blu-rays or newer catalog works like 'Raging Bull' or 'Dumb and Dumber'. I was wondering what priority is given for reviews. For instance, is it really more important that you publish a 'Dragon Ball Z' review before reviewing 'The Third Man' (for which I am still waiting patiently)? I know the time and the effort it must take to review discs, but (and I can only speak for myself) I would much rather see a review and be swayed on an analysis of 'Bottle Rocket' than the Canadian import of 'Good Will Hunting'.
A: We at High-Def Digest make a best-efforts attempt to review every Blu-ray disc we can. However, we receive the majority of discs that we review as screener copies sent by the home video studios. Some studios have been better about sending screeners than others. Criterion, for example, did not send us many screeners of their early Blu-ray releases, though they have gotten better with more recent releases. Some studios are more likely to send us day-and-date releases than catalog titles. And some studios hardly send us anything at all.
If we don't receive a screener for a particular title, there are occasions when a reviewer may opt to purchase that disc on his own if he feels a compelling desire to review it. Unfortunately, that reviewer must pay for the expense out of his own pocket. High-Def Digest is a small operation and we simply don't have the budget (much less the time) to purchase every title that isn't sent to us.
By necessity, our priority will always be to review titles for which we receive screeners first. In any given week, there will always be plenty of those to keep us busy. It simply wouldn't be fair to the studios that do make the effort to send us screeners if we pushed those titles aside in favor of other studios that don't. (There may occasionally be exceptions if a title is considered of high interest to both the readers and the staff.)
Of those discs that we do receive, we try our best to prioritize titles that we think will hold the most interest to our readers. However, the interests of the staff who actually have to watch the movie and spend hours reviewing it will also play a role. The amount of content on a title is also a factor. As a result, a multi-film box set with 80 hours of bonus features may have to be set aside while the reviewer completes a few simpler titles first.
Finally, I would just ask all readers to consider that their own specific interests may or may not reflect those of the greater readership as a whole. Although you may not care for 'Dragon Ball Z', you'd probably be surprised at how many people do.
The long and short of it is that we at High-Def Digest will continue to do our best to review as many Blu-ray titles as we can. Unfortunately, some discs may slip through the cracks. We can try to rectify that as best as we're able, as soon as we're able, but the pressure of keeping up with incoming waves of newer releases usually takes up most of our time.
(A note to readers: This question was sent in before our official review of 'The Third Man' was published.)
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!
Smaller HDTV Recommendations
Q: I need to replace the TV in my living room. I currently have a 25" 4:3 standard-def set. By my calculation, a 32" 16:9 HDTV should give me approximately the same 4:3 image size, with additional width. I don't want to go much smaller than 32", because I don't want to give up the current 4:3 image size. My wife still watches a lot of SD programming in the living room, and will be upset if she has to watch 'Next Top Model' any smaller than she does now!
The problem is that this TV must fit into a cabinet that's exactly 31" wide. Because most HDTVs have their speakers on the sides of the screen, all of the 32" diagonal models I've looked at have been more than 31" wide. One in particular I looked at was 31.2" wide. Unfortunately, I have no leeway here. It just won't fit. Can anyone suggest a model with an (approximately) 32" screen that is 31" or less wide? 1080p would be preferred, even though I realize that there probably isn't a whole lot of visible difference between 720p and 1080p at these sizes.
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.