HD Advisor's Super Sweet 16

Posted Fri Jun 5, 2009 at 12:00 PM PDT by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

PS3 vs. Standalone Blu-ray Players

Q: My question concerns the differences between the PS3 for Blu-ray playback versus high-end stand alone models from Pioneer and Marantz. How much better are the Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD and the Marantz BD8002 Blu-ray disc players compared to the Sony PS3? I have a Pioneer Elite SC-07 receiver so I can take advantage of lossless audio via HDMI or multi-channel audio. Will DTS-HD MA sound better coming from the above mentioned players (either hook-up method) than the PS3? If so, does the difference in fidelity make the price tag on the BDP-09FD ($2,200) or the BD8002 ($2,000) worth it? What about the video? Is the video processing that much better?

A: The primary appeal of high-end standalone Blu-ray players is typically their improved audio sections. Specifically, their analog audio sections. The players are able to decode the audio formats on Blu-ray discs to PCM, and then convert that PCM from digital to analog. To take advantage of this, you'll need to connect the Blu-ray player to an amplifier or A/V receiver by the multi-channel analog connections.

The quality of the DAC components is one of the most critical aspects affecting final sound quality. However, if you're connected from the player to your audio receiver by HDMI, then you'll never use the analog section of the Blu-ray player. In that case, you bypass the player's DAC and rely on the receiver to do the work.

If, for example, you had a low-end receiver (or just an amplifier without a processing component), it might be beneficial to buy a high-end disc player with a quality audio section to do the decoding and D-to-A for you, and just use the receiver for amplification. In your case, though, you've got a pretty nice receiver. I think you're better off feeding it a digital signal, in which case you don't much need to buy a Blu-ray player with a fancy audio section.

The other difference between the PS3 and standalones is that standalones can transmit the raw digital bitstreams for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio straight into your receiver for decoding. On the other hand, the PS3 must decode them internally and transmit them as PCM over HDMI. I'm sure some audiophiles out there might like to argue the point, but as far as I'm concerned, the PS3's audio decoding is just as good as any other component's. The only real difference you'll experience is that the PS3 won't light up a Dolby or DTS logo on your receiver's front panel.

As for the video, in my experience, the quality of video decoding on current-generation Blu-ray players is pretty much a level playing field. The PS3 is as good as any other. Those high-end players may add extra signal processing features such as Noise Reduction, contrast boosting, or edge enhancement, but you should turn all that junk off anyway. The best signal from player to TV will always be the one with the least amount of tampering or tweaking applied to it. Calibration is better performed at the display, not at the disc player.

That's not to say that the PS3 is a "one size fits all" perfect Blu-ray player for everybody. Some people may need a player with analog audio outputs if their receiver doesn't offer HDMI, and the PS3 has none. It also has rather mediocre DVD upconversion. Personally, I'm not too fond of the PS3's awkward form factor (it doesn't fit well in an A/V rack) or incompatibility with IR universal remotes. Each viewer will have their own needs, and should plan their purchasing decisions accordingly.

For Blu-ray purposes, I think the PS3 will fit your needs pretty well. If you'd rather go with a standalone model, there's really no need for you to spend $2,000 on one with a souped-up audio section you'll never use. More appropriate alternatives are available for less money. If DVD upconversion is a critical factor (as it will be for many viewers), the new Oppo BDP-83 is my all-around favorite standalone model. We should have a review of that player on this site in the near future.

PS3 Settings

Q: I recently bought a new HDTV (Samsung LN52A550) and a Playstation 3, which I plan to use mostly for Blu-rays. I understand the importance of calibrating your HDTV, but what about your Playstation/Blu-ray player? I made sure that via HDMI the correct resolution is set and such, but there are some display settings on the PS3 that change the picture and I don’t know what to set them as or what they even do exactly. The two that come imminently to mind is the Y Pb/Cb Pr/Cr Super-White (HDMI) setting and the RGB Full Range which can be set to full, or limited.

A: I know exactly what you mean. Sony wasn't terribly very clear with their labeling or instructions for those settings. These are the video settings I recommend in the PS3 setup menu:

BD/DVD Cinema Conversion: Automatic
BD/DVD Upscaler: Normal
BD/DVD Video Output Format (HDMI): Y Pb/Cb Pr/Cr (if your TV will accept it)
BD 1080p 24 Hz Output (HDMI): On (if your TV will accept it)
RGB Full Range (HDMI): Limited
Y Pb/Cb Pr/Cr Super-White (HDMI): On

The "Limited" option under "Full Range" sets the contrast for Video levels rather than PC levels. Super-White allows the console to pass whiter-than-white information.


Q: I've noticed that earlier Blu-rays are often simply labeled with having "DTS-HD" tracks, but now they more often say "DTS-HD Master Audio." Are they all Master Audio tracks, or are these slightly different codecs? If they are the same codec, are the ones not labeled "Master Audio" a remastering/reprocessing of the sound rather than the studio master (perhaps a 7.1 track for an originally stereo movie etc.)?

A: As detailed in my Blu-ray Audio Explained article, there are actually three separate DTS formats in use on Blu-ray.

Regular "DTS" is basically the same lossy format used on DVD (albeit the higher 1509 kb/s bit-rate option). "DTS-HD High Resolution" is a new, even higher bit-rate lossy format that's rarely used. Finally, "DTS-HD Master Audio" is the premium lossless codec. These days, most studios that choose DTS primarily use Master Audio. That's a good thing in my book.

When the Blu-ray format first premiered, the DTS company kind of made of mess of things with their naming conventions. Originally, the basic DTS codec was going to be called "DTS Encore" when used on BD. But the company dropped that idea and instead started calling it "DTS-HD" (without any further description). Naturally, this left a lot of consumers confused. Eventually, they fell back to just "DTS" again.

So, if you see an older Blu-ray that claims to have a "DTS-HD" track, it's really just the old DTS format you'll remember from DVD.

Keep in mind that all of these DTS formats (as well as their Dolby equivalents) are merely compression codecs. Some retain more of the original data than others. The lossless formats (DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD) are both bit-for-bit identical to the studio master. In any case, Dolby and DTS don't remix or remaster the soundtrack. The studio does that. Dolby and DTS just compress the results. (Actually, these days, Dolby and DTS create the tools to compress the results, and license them out to the studios to do themselves.)

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

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!

HDTV Recommendations

Q: Can you recommend LCD or Plasma TV between 55” to 63”? Dollar amount $4,800.00 max.

Check back next week for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.

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Tags: Joshua Zyber, HD Advisor (all tags)