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
We here at High-Def Digest get asked a lot of technical questions about our reviews, about Blu-rays, and about home theater in general. I started this column a little over a year ago to address that need. I'll be honest, at the time, I wasn't sure how long it would last. I expected that eventually we'd cover all of the most pressing topics and interest would peter out.
Well, here we are at the 50th Q&A column, and the questions keep pouring in. I think that's great. (And not just because I get paid some meager amount to write these things.) As long as people are interested, I'll try to help.
One consequence of lasting this long and building up an archive of material is that I tend to get asked similar questions that might have been previously covered, by newer readers who may not have followed this column since the beginning. Although I maintain an index of prior articles, the subject titles may not always be sufficiently clear or detailed enough to search for a specific piece of info.
Rather than just tell these readers to dig through all 49 older articles until they find what they need, I'm going to use this 50th milestone column as an excuse to take a look back at popular subjects we've covered in the past.
Audio Not in Sync with Video
Q: I was watching 'King Kong' on Blu-ray. In the middle of the movie, for a few chapters, I noticed that the movements of the lips, gun fire, and roars were coming first before the video. That irritated me, but the chapters when Kong arrived in New York through the end, things went back to normal. What went wrong in the middle of the movie? Is it the disc itself, or does my A/V receiver need to be calibrated?
A: Audio sync mismatches like this typically occur when the video is delayed in the signal chain separately from the audio. I talked about this a little all the way back in my third column.
HDTVs with "MotionFlow"
Q: I currently own a Sony XBR rear-projection TV (LCoS) and was considering an upgrade to an LCD/LED display. However, I noticed that when these models are on showroom floors demoing movies, the frame rate has a strange and unnatural movement to it. I find it very 'unfilm-like', almost as if it was shot with a handycam! I'm not sure if this is the 120 Hz refresh rate, or some other pull-down feature like MotionFlow. Oddly, I raised this issue with a Sony sales associate and he didn't know what I was talking about. Is this a feature that can be turned off?
A: "MotionFlow" is just Sony's brand name for its frame interpolation feature. Different manufacturers have different names for essentially the same thing. LG calls it Trumotion. Samsung calls it Auto Motion Plus. There are many other variations. As I've mentioned in this older column and this one, frame interpolation often has side effects exactly like you describe. Movie scenes suddenly look more like behind-the-scenes camcorder footage. I can't stand it. Fortunately, most TVs allow you to turn it off.
Home Theater in an Apartment
Q: I've been spoiled with my home theater, living in a house distant from any neighbors. The home theater and subwoofer rules were really anything goes. I have an 800 Watt 5.1 system and a 10" 100 Watt subwoofer. Now I'll be moving into a small New York City apartment and my girlfriend is worried I'll be destroying the neighbors next door, above, below, you name it. Any tips for avoiding eviction while still enjoying a reasonably good home theater experience?
A: I live in an apartment myself, but am fortunately situated in a corner with no neighbors on the other side of my HT room. I've only got the laundry room below me and a mostly-deaf elderly neighbor above. I don't get too many complaints about volume. However, in my previous apartment, I had a very inconsiderate neighbor right on the other side of my bedroom wall who would blare bassy hip hop music at obscene volumes all through the night. I eventually had to move just to get away from him. Don't be like that guy!
With the help of another reader, I offered up some tips for reducing the noise that carries through your apartment walls in March of last year.
High-End (i.e. Expensive) Blu-ray Players and Cables
Q: Is there really any substantial difference between a Blu-ray player that costs $150-$300 and one that costs $1,500-$3,000? Also, same question about cabling. Are really expensive cables really worth the extra dough? And I'm not talking about Monster cable expensive, but Kable (or Goertz and the like) cable expensive that can run up to $500 or more per cable, be it HDMI, speaker, etc.
A: The question about expensive HDMI cables was in fact the very first topic I ever covered in this column. Long story short: Expensive digital cables are mostly a waste of money. A digital transmission cannot "color" your picture or sound quality. Analog cables (including speaker wire) may be a different story, however. An analog signal can be easily corrupted by poor transmission properties in a cable that will degrade your end result.
That in no way justifies the obscene prices that some cable manufacturers (especially boutique audiophile brands) charge. In my experience, most decently-shielded cables are just as good as any other. For speaker wire, I recommend 14-gauge for most applications, or 12-gauge for particularly long runs.
Some of our audiophile readers may take issue with this and argue that their $5,000 Toslink cables caused a revelation in the clarity of their soundstages. But I have to take a practical view of such things. If an alleged difference in video or audio quality can't be consistently demonstrated in double-blind testing, then that difference just plain doesn't exist.
Your question about high-end Blu-ray players was covered in this later column, and at least obliquely addressed in this question about Bose (in relation to expensive electronics in general) and in my OPPO BDP-83 review.
Digital vs. Analog Audio Transmission
Q: I have been helping someone hook up a new Samsung BD-P3600 and told him that the best option for audio was to use the analog outputs, since his receiver does not have HDMI but does have 5.1 analog. He said that everywhere he read and everyone he talked to told him that the Toslink optical was the best bet. We tried both and the optical definitely sounded crisper. But this does not make sense to me as the analog would be sending the HD audio formats and the optical would not. Is there any reason why the analog would not be better than the optical? All the cables are connected properly and set up to the extent the player will let you set it up (it lets you choose speaker size but not distance or volumes).
A: The truth of the matter is that there's more to sound quality than lossy or lossless audio formats. When you make a choice between digital and analog audio transmission, you change the location of the audio decoding and the digital-to-analog conversion. That last step in particular can have a tremendous impact on your end sound quality.
I've covered this a bit in this column, this one, and this one. That last article was specifically referring to differences in transmission between analog and HDMI when both keep the signal lossless. However, the basic principle also applies to S/PDIF. It's perfectly possible to get better results from a lossy signal transmitted to a receiver over Toslink than a lossless signal transmitted over multi-channel analog, if the DAC components in the receiver are superior to those in the disc player.
It's also very possible that you've simply experienced a difference in volume, not really a difference in quality. I talk about that in my Uncompressed vs. Lossless Audio article.
That's it for our retrospective. No Homework this week. We'll be back with some fresh topics next week. Keep those questions coming.
Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.