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
Audio and Video Drop-Outs
Q: I primarily watch Blu-rays on my main home theater set-up. This includes a Panasonic 65" VT25 plasma television, an OPPO BDP-93 Blu-ray player, and a Pioneer VSX-1020K A/V receiver. Occasionaly I will lose both audio and video for just a split second. The television screen will go black, sound is lost completely, and the audio decode display on my receiver will go blank. This lasts for literally less than one second, but I have never experienced this on any of my other televisions, or other A/V receivers. I have a feeling that this entire event is being caused by my receiver, as the television itself has never lost audio and video, or either whilst viewing without the receiver turned on. I have both audio and video going through my receiver via HDMI.
If it were the television causing this, I believe I would only lose my video signal. If it were the Blu-ray player causing this, I don't believe it would manifest itself this way. Moreover, I previously used a Sony BDP-S770 before obtaining the OPPO, and this happened once or twice while using that player. If this is being caused by my receiver, is it putting my television, speakers, or Blu-ray player at risk?
It's quite disturbing to experience it happening, especially if I have the volume cranked up. Is this an issue that would warrant contacting Pioneer and pursuing a service request? Or is it happening too infrequently for them to be able to pinpoint the problem? I have owned many other HDTVs, receivers, and Blu-ray players, and this problem is unique to my current primary home theater set-up. Do you have your video and audio going through your receiver via HDMI? Have you ever experienced anything like this?
A: It sounds to me like you're probably experiencing HDMI handshaking problems somewhere in your signal chain. If the HDMI connection loses its "handshake," video and audio will cease to transmit until the handshake is re-established. If you have an A/V receiver in the middle of your signal chain, the Blu-ray player needs to handshake with the receiver, and the receiver needs to handshake with the TV. The problem could be occurring at either of these junctures.
If you believe the receiver is at fault, I would recommend testing this by connecting the Blu-ray player directly to your TV for a while. If you continue to get the drop-outs, the problem must be in either the Blu-ray player or the TV.
I would also recommend that you make sure that all of your equipment that offers the ability to upgrade firmware (the OPPO player certainly does) is currently up-to-date in that regard. As I recall, the first batches of the OPPO BDP-93 player were known to have handshaking issues with certain brands of receiver. OPPO later issued a firmware update that fixed this. If your firmware is current, I would suggest that you attempt to contact OPPO Digital first, because I know that company to be more responsive than Panasonic or Pioneer. If you provide them with the details of your signal chain and your issue, they might be able to replicate the problem on their end.
Do you have other video sources (such as cable TV?) routed through the same A/V receiver? Have you experienced drop-outs with those? If the drop-outs only occur on Blu-ray, this leads me to suspect the Blu-ray player, or the specific combination of the Blu-ray player with that model of receiver, is the culprit.
As for whether these drop-outs are harmful to your equipment, I don't believe so, unless you've also experienced a loud audio pop when it happens. The audio pops could damage your speakers. If that isn't the case, drop-outs like this are really more of a nuisance than anything. You should certainly do what you can to get them corrected, but I doubt that you've caused any permanent harm to your home theater gear.
Time Compression on Broadcast TV
Q: I've noticed multiple times that movies on TV will be noticeably sped up. The first time I noticed this was 'Spider-Man 3'. If I remember correctly, the channel was TBS. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was putting me off so much. But as soon as I got it, it appeared horribly jarring. It really made the whole thing look cheap. Of course, the commercials were in normal speed. That particularly offended me. I've seen the problem several times since on various channels. Is this now normal? And are the networks just doing it so they can fit more commercials? And how long has this been going on?
A: Unfortunately, time compression of movies broadcast on television is not a new phenomenon. Networks have done this pretty much ever since the first movies were ever aired on TV. It's especially prevalent on basic cable channels, but the major networks do it too.
Aside from the pay channels, broadcast TV schedules are almost always divided up into neat blocks of half-hour and hour segments. The running lengths of theatrical movies, on the other hand, are rarely so regimented. If a network has a two-hour timeslot to fill, but the movie it wants to air is 2hr. 3 min., it's very rare that a network will let the movie run over. The options instead are to cut footage or speed up the playback so that the movie finishes faster. Depending on the exact length of the film, some combination of both may be used.
Of course, you also need to factor commercials into this. Advertising is how the networks actually make money. Per their contracts with the advertisers, the networks will not edit or speed up the commercials. From a business perspective, the ads are more important than the movies being shown. The pressure to fit more commercials into the time slot with the movie often leads to some very aggressive editing and time compression.
The pay channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) are more flexible with timeslot scheduling, don't have commercials, and don't usually have censorship requirements. So, these issues are less common there. That's the benefit of paying for those stations, I suppose. (Editor's Note: Though I recently watched 'The American President' on HBO and was stunned to realize Richard Dreyfuss, the chief foil for the entire movie, had been completely cut from the last half of the film!)
Q: Summit Entertainment recently started releasing "flipper" discs. That is, a disc authored with Blu-ray on one side and DVD on the other. I first noticed this on the 'Letters to Juliet' Blu-ray, and then the trend popped more recently with 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse', and 'RED'. I have not noticed any other studio releasing these flipper discs. I'm wondering if this affects the video quality of the Blu-ray video transfer on the disc? I would assume that dividing up that much disc space for a separate DVD transfer would have to take away from what could have potentially been invested in the Blu-ray video transfer. Am I wrong in believing this?
A: "Flipper" type discs like you describe should not compromise the Blu-ray video quality. They essentially amount to a Blu-ray and a DVD glued together back-to-back. The Blu-ray content and the DVD content remain separated to their own disc layers, and are not intermingled together. The DVD content won't be taking up any disc space on the Blu-ray layers.
I don't have any of the titles you cite, but the Blu-ray spec provides for dual-sided discs that can contain two layers per side, for a total of four layers per disc. This means that a "flipper" disc can store the same full 50 GB of content on the Blu-ray side as a normal one-sided disc. (Assuming that's how the studio has chosen to author and press the discs, of course.)
The HD Advisor knows many things, but he doesn't know everything. Some questions 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!
Bandwidth Limiting Issues with Streaming Content
Q: My Roku box and PS3 were working well streaming content in HD, until recently. After hours of talking to AT&T, Netflix, Roku and Vudu help lines, I am still unable to play any of the above in HD. I have checked all port settings and firewall settings for the units. Have any other readers had this trouble? When I directly asked AT&T about bandwidth limiting these devices (Roku, PS3, Vudu), they would not answer my question! The really strange thing is that my computer can play Netflix and Amazon in HD and pulls 5.5 mbps. I'm at a loss.
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.