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Answers by Joshua Zyber
Q: I'm just curious, when I go to these big box stores (Best Buy, Fry's, Circuit City-RIP) and watch their demos on 40-50 inch LCDs and Plasma TVs, I always see that great "3 dimensional" pop but I can't get it on my home theater. My TV is a Mitsubishi WD-73734 73" DLP, I am using a PS3 as my Blu-Ray player and Monster Cable 1000 series HDMI cables going into an Onkyo receiver then to the TV. Is it the PS3? Or the cables going into the receiver then the TV? Or is the TV just too big or the fact that it is a DLP? Should I get the TV calibrated, will that help in achieving the "3D" pop? The people that work at these stores get lost when I mention the "3D" pop and tell me "3D is not available for the TV" so any help you can offer would be appreciated.
A: There are many elements to this question. First off, yes, calibrate your TV as soon as possible. If you can't afford to have a professional calibrator brought in, at the very least buy/rent a calibration disc like 'Digital Video Essentials' and follow its instructions.
You should always be wary of the video quality you see in retail store demos. Retailers invariably set their TVs on display to crank up the Brightness, Contrast, Color, and Sharpness. This makes the picture more eye-catching on a bright showroom floor, but it'll look downright horrible in your living room.
Once properly calibrated, you may still feel that your picture doesn't "pop" as much as you expected. That's only natural. Most movies aren't photographed to have the kind of vivid "3-D" look you describe. The goal in home theater isn't to make a picture with 3-D pop. The goal is to make a picture that's accurate to the source and to the filmmakers' intentions. Once you calibrate your TV, take some time to get used to the video appearance before fiddling with the settings further. The more you watch, the more you'll come to appreciate an accurate picture.
One more factor may also come into play here. Many newer TVs have a Frame Interpolation feature. This goes by many names, depending on how the manufacturers have branded it: TruMotion, PureMotion, MotionFlow, Auto Motion Plus, etc. What this does is take a 24 fps or 60 Hz video signal and artificially creates new video frames to insert in between the existing frames. The purpose of Frame Interpolation is to reduce image judder and make motion smoother. At a first glance, it may also make the picture seem sharper, more vibrant, or more "3-D." However, Frame Interpolation has the nasty side effect of making film-based content look like it was shot on video. After a few minutes, you'll feel less like you're watching a movie and more like you're watching behind-the-scenes footage from the set of that movie. Some viewers claim to like this, but many others (myself included) think it looks atrocious. I always recommend turning off Frame Interpolation and any other image "enhancement" settings that only serve to distort the source signal.
Q: To have HD Audio, in theory you need a receiver that can decode the HD Audio Signal. From what I understand, the PS3 will decode the signal and send it to the receiver. Is that true? If it is true, then will the receiver receive the HD Audio signal and output HD audio? I have a Sony STR-DE595 and curious if I am actually listening to HD Audio when I play Blu-rays that have HD Audio on my PS3.
A: If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, I'd like to direct you to my Blu-ray and HD DVD Audio Explained article, which describes the many audio formats available on Blu-ray and how to best hook up your Blu-ray player to take advantage of them.
Long story short: If you have a PS3 (with the latest firmware) connected by HDMI to an A/V receiver, the PS3 can decode all of the Blu-ray audio formats and convert them to PCM 5.1. That new PCM signal will retain all of the original high-resolution quality. All the receiver has to do is Digital-to-Analog conversion and amplification.
With that said, I've looked up the specs for your receiver, and the STR-DE595 does not appear to have an HDMI input. I assume you've connected your PS3 by a Toslink S/PDIF cable? If so, the player cannot output high-resolution audio out of that connection type. S/PDIF only has enough bandwidth to carry 2 channels of PCM audio. Therefore, the best you can get out of your player currently are standard Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and PCM stereo. I hate to say it, but if you want high-resolution audio, you'll need to upgrade to a newer receiver.
4k Video on Blu-ray?
Q: Does Blu-ray have the technical capability of upgrading its profile enough to allow 4k resolution movies? (200GB+ discs obviously). I know most current Blu-ray players probably wouldn't have the hardware capabilities, but would it be possible in the future without having to define an all new format?
A: Unfortunately, this is extremely unlikely, to say the least. The current Blu-ray spec is limited to 1920x1080 resolution video. Although the format does have provisions for multi-layered discs beyond what we use now (which top out at 2 layers and 50 GB), any extra storage capacity that might be added in the future will almost certainly be used for more content and bonus features, not for higher resolution video. 4k video would require a major revision to the Blu-ray spec, all new hardware (no current players would be compatible), and all new disc software. Essentially, it would be a new format anyway.
In that scenario, it would be in everyone's best interest to brand the 4k format with a new name so as to avoid consumer confusion. I've already heard plenty of retail horror stories about shoppers returning Blu-ray discs that they thought would work in their standard DVD players. Imagine how bad things would be if there were more than one type of disc called a Blu-ray on store shelves.
Q: I've noticed at my local Wal-Mart that there are a line of Blu-Ray movies priced at a low $10 each. They include Terminator 2, Predator, StarGate, etc. and usually sell out quickly, leading me to believe that people do want Blu-Rays but, especially in this economy, have reservations. Now I know not all Blu-Rays can be priced as low, but when do you see new release Blu-ray DVDs being priced around the same as standard def new releases? Or do you think, as with video game prices going from $50 to $60 as the norm, are the higher prices charged for high-def movies now the norm?
A: For better or worse, all of the major Hollywood studios are positioning Blu-ray as a premium product. They feel that Blu-ray offers more than DVD, and should be priced accordingly. Also, you have to keep in mind that the format took years of R&D to come to market, and each new title currently still costs more to author and manufacture than DVD. Those expenses need to be recouped somehow. To date, Blu-ray has only captured approximately 10% of the home video market. And realistically, that percentage is comprised primarily of major day-and-date releases. Catalog titles on the format tend to sell poorly. As a result, economies of scale haven't yet kicked in, and probably won't for a while.
I wholeheartedly agree that Blu-ray's premium prices are an impediment to its mass market success. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people say that they'll only buy new releases on the format, because they can't afford to upgrade movies they already own on DVD. Personally speaking, cheaper Blu-rays would be a lot easier on my wallet as well. I'm sure that software prices will come down eventually. We just need to be a little patient.
Q: When can we expect Blu-Ray Recorders in the U.S.?
A: I assume you specifically mean set-top Blu-ray recorders? As I'm sure you know, computer-based Blu-ray burners are already available.
Although DVD recorders are big business in Japan and some other foreign territories, they've never made much headway in the American market. I wouldn't expect Blu-ray recorders to do much better. DVRs and other hard-drive based recording options are more popular here. I have no doubt that someone will release a Blu-ray recorder box, perhaps in the near future. However, we probably won't see too many manufacturers competing in this area.
That will close out another week. Be sure to check back next week for more answers. Keep those questions coming.