"Muscle Shoals" (2013) on Blu-ray -- A Great Documentary!

With the passing of Aretha Franklin this month, and of Rick Hall back in January, I thought it high time to revisit my thoughts on this terrific documentary from 2013!

Greg ‘Freddie’ Camalier's Directorial debut is a documentary featuring extensive interviews from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Steve Winwood, Gregg Allman, Percy Sledge, Alicia Keys, Clarence Carter, and Donna Godchaux.  Not to mention archival material from Duane Allman, Otis Redding, the Lynyrd Skynyrd band, and Freeman Brown.

And yet these are not the stars!

The STARS are the backing musicians and recording engineers who created musical magic in the sleepy, backwater village of Muscle Shoals, Alabama -- population 8,000 and surrounded by dirt roads -- starting in the late 50s.  As Atlantic Records music mogul Jerry Wexler says at one point, who would ever believe the best from, say, Aretha Franklin -- the unchallenged Queen of Soul -- was music made by a bunch of young, white guys who all looked like they worked at the corner grocery store?

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The Familiar Ring(ing) of Excess Sharpness!

The Sharpness control is one of the Basic Video Level settings found in every TV.  It is also, alas, one of the settings most commonly abused by manufacturers trying to make their TVs stand out in a wall of competing TVs under garish store lighting!  Indeed, TV Factory Default settings with Sharpness set WAY too high are commonplace --  a key facet of the justly-infamous Torch Mode settings foisted on new TV buyers. See my prior post on Extinguishing Torch Mode Settings for the others.

Excess Sharpness, in particular, produces the appearance of "false detail" in the image, which looks attractive on a casual glance (applause from the Marketing guys!).  However, the REAL details of whatever you are watching are ACTUALLY being obscured!

In this post we'll discuss what the Sharpness adjustment does to your image, and how to set this control properly in your TV -- using a Calibration Disc.

We'll also discuss the problem of "Edge Enhancement"; damage akin to excess Sharpness ALREADY baked into the content you are watching!

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"Way Down East" (1920) on Blu-ray. Melodrama of the First Water!

Woo Hoo! They just don't make 'em like THIS any more!

Lottie Blair Parker's hit play from 1898 -- originally known in contracted form as, 'Way Down East -- that is, 'Way for Away -- was a moralizing melodrama, ALREADY considered dated by 1920. Indeed, the term "hoary" would even be appropriate.  But D.W. Griffith felt so strongly he could make something of it he went all in, paying an astounding $175K for the rights, and spending $700K, all told, to make the film. Contrast with his, "Birth of a Nation", which had a total cost of $112K.

Well, turns out he was right! The film grossed $4.5M -- a major money maker for Griffith, and the 4th highest grossing film of the entire, silent era!

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"Melancholia" (2011) on Blu-ray. OR, "When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie, That's Extinction!"

REFERENCE QUALITY PQ AND AQ!

A while back I saw a documentary which included work by a famous, Japanese, candid shot photographer.  His abstract looking prints were so popular, his new style was even acclaimed with a really profound-sounding Japanese name.  Profound, that is, until you found out it was simply the Japanese for, "Shaky hand.  No Focus."

Well Writer/Director Lars von Trier has certainly made sure his DP adopted the Shaky Hand style.  In one of the Extras, he even admits the excessive use of uncontrolled, hand-held camera work OUGHT TO result in quite a few viewers getting seasick!

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Quick Tip: Adjust your Picture using ONLY the "Video Level" Controls Found in your TV!

Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, and Sharpness:  These five controls establish your "Basic Video Levels", and are fundamental to achieving best Picture Quality in your Home Theater.  EVERY modern TV will feature these controls in its user-accessible settings -- although perhaps less prominently than in the past, as a whole bunch of other weird (and usually unexplained) settings like "Flesh Tone Correction", or "MPEG Noise Reduction" will also be clamoring for your attention.  "Contrast" might be called "Picture" in your particular TV, and "Color" might be called "Saturation" (Hey, Marketing guys LOVE to invent names!), but they are the same controls.

And as I move along in this Blog, I'll undoubtedly talk about each of them -- umm, at some point!  We've already covered Brightness in my post on Blacker Than Black Video, and Contrast in my post on Peak Whites Video.  And in my post on Extinguishing Torch Mode Settings I alerted you to the sad fact the Factory Default settings for these basic controls in your brand new TV are, almost certainly, flat out WRONG for best quality viewing!  So correcting THESE settings is something you'll want to tackle right up front when dialing-in your Home Theater.

But when you begin that task, you may be stymied by the discovery the SAME (apparently) controls are also offered in some or all of your Source devices -- and possibly even in your Audio Video Receiver (AVR)!  So, umm, WHICH set of controls should you use?  Or should you COMBINE the controls? For example, doing part of the necessary adjustment in each device?

In my post on Peak Whites Video, I revealed the basic Rule of Thumb for this:

Adjust your Picture using ONLY the “Video Level” Controls Found in your TV!

Let's explore this further.

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Peak Whites Video, OR "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!"

One of the biggest changes in a long time in Home Theater Video has been the recent introduction of High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, and equipment which can display it properly.    HDR allows elements in scenes to be much MUCH brighter than with prior home video technologies (in comparison to other portions of the same image) -- excellent for sparks, glints, flashes, direct views of light sources, and details in bright objects such as clouds in bright sunlight.  However, there is plenty of Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) content out there which you will still want to look its best.  And the foundation for understanding what HDR brings to the table begins with an understanding of the proper rendering of SDR Video.

In my prior post on Blacker Than Black Video, I introduced the concept of the Headroom and Foot Room portions within the video encoding.  The "Peak White" pixels found in SDR Video simply reflect the Headroom authored into that video content.  Whereas HDR and SDR Video are quite similar in their treatment of Blacker Than Black pixels, they differ dramatically in how they handle these brightest pixels.

In this post we'll focus on setting up your TV to render Peak Whites properly whenever you are viewing SDR Video content:  I.e., what you SHOULD see and what you SHOULDN'T see.  So break out the sunscreen and get ready for a few Bright ideas!  COOLNESS NOTE:  Shades are optional.

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Face Palm: Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard: Original Italian Version" (1963) on Blu-ray. OR, Why People Hate Art Films!

This is Luchino Visconti’s study of the end days of aristocracy in Sicily in the 1860's. Sicily, already resigned to being conquered time and again, will now join the united, Italian republic where it will be pretty much ignored.

3 Hours 5 Minutes long.

No time off for good behavior.

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