Life, the Universe and HD Advisor

Posted Fri Jan 15, 2010 at 11:30 AM PST by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

Dolby ProLogic IIz

Q: Does Dolby ProLogic IIz really deliver something valuable? Would it be a good idea, when replacing a receiver, to consider buying one which has this feature? Although this technology works by "decoding spatial cues that occur naturally in a soundtrack," has anything been said about creating a new kind of audio track with channels exclusive to the height speakers?

A: My thoughts on ProLogic IIz and its new height channels are similar to my thoughts on 7.1 audio. It really depends on your room.

The vast majority of movie soundtracks are still mixed in 5.1 configuration. Even those that appear on home video in 7.1 format were usually mixed for 5.1 theatrically, and then remixed after-the-fact for home video. 5.1 remains the standard because it's still the most suitable configuration for most venues, whether theatrical or home theater. Adding extra rear channels is mainly beneficial in large listening spaces with a significant gap between the left and right surrounds. It's less beneficial in smaller spaces, and in fact may muddy the back soundstage if the speakers are crammed too close together.

Likewise, the ProLogic IIz will work best in a large room with enough height to put some distances between your front left and right mains and the new speakers mounted above them. Too close together, and again you'll muddy the soundstage.

All of the literature about ProLogic IIz claims that the height channels are intended for ambient noises and amorphous effects such as rain or wind. The results are undoubtedly subtle. On many movie soundtracks, they may rarely come into play. I'm sure that most viewers with 7.1 home theaters will tell you how disappointed they were after first installing the back rear speakers and subsequently discovering how infrequently they become active in most movie soundtracks, unless you force a processing mode that duplicates audio from the primary surrounds into the new speakers as well. I have a feeling that the height channels will cause a similar reaction.

I don't mean to discount ProLogic IIz entirely. In some home theater spaces, the extra height channels may prove very effective in creating a more immersive auditory environment. However, I believe that the majority of listeners will continue to find their existing 5.1 or 7.1 set-ups perfectly satisfactory.

And as for whether Hollywood sound designers will start mixing movie soundtracks with the height channels in mind, I'm sure that some will, but probably not many. The majority of movies will continue to be mixed for 5.1 into the foreseeable future.

2k vs. 4k Digital Projection

Q: You previously stated that many current movies are being made at the 2k resolution. A couple years ago, theaters were talking about using 4k projectors. Did any ever add them? Because of this, are there any plans by studios to raise the bar on their CGI to 4k resolution?

A: In fact, there are a number of theaters equipped with 4k digital projectors right now. These are still a minority, however. When a movie shot on 2k digital video (or processed on a 2k Digital Intermediate) is projected in a 4k theater, the video is essentially upconverted similar to how standard definition content is viewed on an HDTV.

Some Hollywood producers have had the foresight to create their movies natively at 4k. As I recall, the Digital Intermediate and all of the CG visual effects for 'Spider-Man 2' were rendered at 4k. Unfortunately, this is still a rarity. 2k is considered sufficient for most feature film projects. Even James Cameron's 'Avatar' is a 2k production.

It's also worth noting that, at the current time, all 3-D theatrical installations use 2k projectors. 4k has not made its way into the 3-D realm yet.

A Glitch in the Matrix

Q: For Christmas, my son got 'The Matrix' box set. The discs are two-sided. The side with the special features works. The side with the movie on it will not play. It does nothing or says, "Disc Error." I don't think it is the disc because there are four of them and they all do the same thing. Can you help?

A: If the discs are two-sided, your son did not receive the Blu-ray edition of the 'Matrix' trilogy. Those Blu-rays are all single-sided discs. As far as I'm aware, even the DVD versions of this set were all single-sided discs.

It sounds to me like your son may have been given the HD DVD edition of 'The Ultimate Matrix Collection'. The discs in that set were in the Combo format. The movie side of the disc was an HD DVD, and the supplements on the back side were a standard DVD.

Does the package have an HD DVD logo at the top? If so, the movie portion of these discs will not work in a Blu-ray player or a standard DVD player. They will only work in a player from the (now-defunct) HD DVD format. Assuming you don't have one of those, the person who purchased the discs must not have been aware of these format differences.

Even if you do happen to have an HD DVD player, Combo discs were notoriously glitchy and prone to playback problems.

If you aren't able to return the item where it was purchased, my recommendation is to use Warner Home Video's red2blu program to exchange the HD DVD for a new Blu-ray copy. The studio charges a nominal fee for this ($19.95 in the case of 'The Matrix' box set), but it's still considerably less than buying a new copy of the whole set.

[Correction: A couple of readers have notified me that the red2blu program has expired and is no longer accepting exchanges.]

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

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!

Plasma Break-In

Q: I don't think I've seen your thoughts on the "break-in" process for plasmas. I just picked up a Samsung plasma and have been reading about this process. There seems to be some debate over whether or not it's truly necessary with some of the more recent models of plasma TVs. Then there is further debate about how many hours a good "break-in" period should be.

JZ: Like you, I've read varying thoughts on this matter. Some people feel that it's very important. Others, not so much. Unfortunately, I don't own a plasma set myself, and can't give you the benefit of direct experience. I think I'll leave it to the plasma owners among our readership to weigh in on the matter.

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.

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