Quick Tip: Dealing with, "One of My Speakers Doesn't Sound Right!"

Home Theater audio systems are sufficiently complicated it can be quite daunting when something goes wrong.  Where do you begin?  Has something failed?  Did I accidentally screw up a setting.  Is it SUPPOSED to sound this way?

In this post we'll discuss some logical steps towards diagnosing audio failures.

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Quick Tip: Suffering Individual Disc Playback Freezes? Clean The Disc!

When you try to play your latest, smash hit, movie disc, does your player "freeze up" part way through?  Does this always seem to happen just as the movie gets to the GOOD part?  Does it then ignore all your desperate efforts to get it playing again?

And are your friends and family now judging you; given all the money you've spent on your Home Theater system, only to have THIS happen?

Is that your problem, Bunky?

Well take heart old chum!  Your problem may have an easy fix:  Clean The Disc!

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"Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" (2011) on SD-DVD -- A Great Documentary!

Sometime in the mid-1980s, somebody — or some group of people — started installing placards in streets and highways, in cities all over the Eastern half of the US. These placards varied in size from something shaped like a US car’s license plate up to something like a poster board. Cut in mosaic fashion out of a flexible, colored, linoleum-like, tile material, these "Toynbee Tiles" were found to be EMBEDDED into the asphalt!

And over the several decade history of appearance of all of these hundreds of tiles — both in the US and in South America — nobody has ever spotted who's doing it. Or figured out why. Or, for that matter, HOW!

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Quick Tip: Avoiding HDMI Topology Problems, OR Loops, Dual Paths, and ZOMBIES!

Folks with other than the simplest HDMI cabling hookups frequently experience connectivity issues directly related to the complexity of their cabling "topology" -- that is, the tangle of different ways their devices are interconnected, often THROUGH each other, via HDMI.

At root, this is due to the fact HDMI is an "end to end" protocol for transmitting your digital content.  Whichever Source device you've selected to use at the moment must set up that protocol, all the way through to the device(s) at the other end of the HDMI signal path -- a process called the HDMI handshake.  To accomplish this it performs something called Repeater Processing -- the method by which it talks THROUGH intervening devices to communicate with each next device along the signal path it is building.  And the end to end handshake, set up by the Source, must ALSO satisfy the demands of HDCP Copy Protection, which, as I've said before, is finicky by design.  It LIKES to fail!

In this post we are going to talk about the common things which bollix this up:  HDMI Loops, HDMI Dual Paths, and the infamous, HDMI Zombies!

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Understanding DSD to LPCM Conversion, OR SACD "Noise Shaping" for Fun & Profit!

In my prior post on Digital Audio, I introduced two, "simple", Digital Audio formats:  LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) and DSD (Direct Stream Digital).  These are "simple" in the sense that each stream of LPCM or DSD contains the audio for just one speaker channel -- as compared to the more complex, Bitstream formats which combine multiple channels into a single stream.

However, there is one huge, practical difference between them.  DSD Digital Audio can not be "processed"!  If you have DSD content, and want to convert it directly to Analog audio for your speakers, without any other format fiddling in between, you most forego all types of Digital Audio processing.  So, no Crossover (bass steering).  No Down-mixing.  No Surround Sound processing.  No Speaker Distance adjustments.  No Room Correction.  NOTHING, except for Volume control.

If you WANT any such processing, you must first convert the DSD Digital Audio into a different Digital Audio format which CAN be processed.  I.e., into LPCM.

Which of course raises the question, "Is that SAFE?"  Can you DO that without screwing up the quality of the DSD original?  Or must you give up quality to gain access to that processing?

The short answer is, Yes, it is safe, given properly engineered gear.  Let's take a deeper look at what's going on!

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Quick Tip: Adjust Image Geometry So You See Every Pixel

Image Geometry is the combination of Image Cropping -- whether the image fills your screen from top to bottom and left to right, and with no pixels lost off any side -- and Aspect Ratio -- whether circles in the content actually look like circles on your screen, instead of tall ovals or wide ovals.

If your video setup has a problem with Aspect Ratio, you will likely notice it pretty quickly.  Indeed you may even have CHOSEN to use incorrect Aspect Ratio -- typically because you don't want to see Pillar Box Bars or Letter Box Bars padding the image on your screen.

But Image Cropping problems can be subtle.  And getting them wrong can have a surprisingly large effect on image quality!

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"The Black Pirate" (1926) on Blu-ray -- A Tale of Old Hollywood!

WOW! Come on, me hearties it's time to buckle your swash!

Cast your mind back:

It's 1926, and Douglas Fairbanks, then 42 and owner of his own studio, has decided he wants to get away from the more, light-comedy, action roles he's recently been playing and make a full-on, all-action movie.

About pirates!

AND he wants to do it in full color!

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Blacker Than Black Video, OR "Hello Darkness my Old Friend!"

One of the Holy Grails of Home Theater (an avocation clearly overstocked with the darn things) is achieving the proper display of near-Black details in your video.  This of course starts with the proper display of Black itself!

It should be EASY, right?  As I detailed in my post on Digital Video, every format for Digital Video DEFINES a particular pixel value as representing "Black".  All the TV has to do is make that pixel, well, Black!  No light output.  And uh, brighter pixels should be brighter than that. Of course your particular TV might not be able to turn a pixel TRULY Black.  But that's a detail.  You get it as black as you can.

Then with a wave of my hand (something oft accompanied in the teaching game with a sotto voce, "Step 2:  A Miracle Occurs!") I mentioned there is ALSO a portion of the video data range reserved for describing pixels as, "Blacker Than Black".  Um, say WHAT?

Well, Bunky, it's time to get dark.  I mean REALLY dark.  So slip into your most Goth outfit, put on that sombre music, and lower the lights.  For we are about to encounter Blacker Than Black pixels, and learn what to do with them.  And what NOT to do with them!

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"Chico & Rita" (2010) on Blu-ray. Amazing Animation with Jazz Recreations!

"Chico & Rita", made in Spain, and with mostly Spanish dialog, achieved the nearly unimaginable by garnering a Nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 2012 Oscars. Unfortunately, it had the bad luck to be up against "Rango"!

Viewing the film, there's no doubt whatsoever it deserved this Nomination. There's enough artistic brilliance in this feature to make, oh, 3 or 4 first rate movies. And the transfer on this Blu-ray disc is staggeringly wonderful!

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Face Palm: Our HDMI Cables Produce Blacker Blacks!

This is the first of my Face Palm posts.  In these I'll discuss claims -- almost always Marketing claims -- so divorced from reality the only adequate response is a Face Palm.

Years ago a fun, parody publication, "The Journal of Irreproducible Results", featured a learned article on the recent invention of the Darkbulb.  The Darkbulb, in one practical implementation, looks exactly like a normal Lightbulb.  Except, when you screw it into the socket and turn it on, it ABSORBS light instead of emitting it.  With enough Darkbulbs, of sufficient wattage, you could plunge any size room into inky blackness!

I often think of the Darkbulb when I run into Marketing verbiage to the effect, "Our HDMI Cables Produce Blacker Blacks!"

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