Monday, February 9, 2009

Onkyo TX-SR876 power consumption

The energy consumption of an Onkyo TX-SR876 receiver was measured using a Kill-A-Watt power meter. The 876 is one of the higher-end Onkyo THX certified AVR's that were reviewed here. It has an HQV Reon-VX video processor, 3 TI DSP chips, and 7 channels of 140W amplification. Here is a list of the watts consumed in the different standby and idle modes:

standby: 0W (default)
standby: 86W (HMDI Power Control on)
idle: 120W (4 ohm)
idle: 149W (6 ohm)

The Onkyo 876 is Energy Star approved and it consumes less than 1W in its standby (off) state. When the HDMI-CEC Power Control mode is enabled the standby energy usage jumps to 86W which is ridiculous in my opinion. Unfortunately the HDMI Power Control option needs to be enabled for the HDMI TV Control to be active, so you can't have any basic HDMI-CEC controls without wasting a lot of juice all the time. It is best to save the planet, and your wallet, and leave the Onkyo's HDMI control options disabled.

The 876 has an amplifier speaker mode for selecting the either 4 ohm or 6 ohm operation. The 4 ohm option dramatically reduces the amplifier power which was required for UL certification. The difference in idle power consumption is almost 30 watts which makes it a good choice if you happen to have external amplifiers and are using the 876 as a pre-amp/processor.

The TX-SR876 was in an open air rack with good ventilation on all sides and it did not get uncomfortably hot. So the rumors of the Onkyo 876 and 906 having a heat problem are false but I'll have to wait for the summer hot months to know for sure. The 876 did get a bit warm but it was definitely cooler than you would expect from a device consuming 120W at idle.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sony BDP-S350 firmware 015

Firmware version 015 was made available January 29th 2009 for the Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player. The S350 automatically detected that a new firmware version was available. Downloading over the Internet and updating was very simple and took about 7 minutes. I really like the way that some networked AV components make firmware upgrades so easy and painless.

Improvements over firmware version 010:
  • Improves BD-Java compatibility to enhance interactivity with some BD-ROMs.
  • Improves BD-Live performance to enhance interactivity.

Some people have reported that the 015 update fixes the Baraka Blu-ray freezing problem. I am skeptical that something that appears to be a laser layer focus/transition problem could be fixed via firmware. I will update this section when more Baraka user reports are in.

The new 015 firmware did not fix the Wall-E Blu-ray DTS audio glitches that I was having with my Lexicon DC-1 pre-amp/processor. The Lexicon DC-1 has DTS firmware from 1997 so it is probably something that can't/won't be fixed externally. It's time for me to upgrade my old DC-1 to something newer that is HDMI compatible with the newer lossless codecs.

The higher end Sony BDP-S550 model also has firmware 015 available with the same improvements listed. The S350 and S550 firmware download files both have files sizes of 51,822,592 bytes but they have different md5sum checksums so they are not the same. I will update this section when I compare the contents of both firmwares and determine what is different.

It has been 4 months since the 010 firmware came out September 30th 2008 that added BD-Live support to the BDP-S350. At this rate the S350 will probably get a couple more firmware updates this year. They will likely only be bug fixes as Sony hasn't announced any future features like their competition has for streaming Netflix, YouTube, and Picassa support. This is sort of discouraging since Sony has such a great track record of adding new features and functionality to the PS3. Time will tell how this affects Sony's AV consumer business.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Netflix streaming HD devices

Netflix, Inc. Netflix members with a $8.99 per month or higher plan will get unlimited instant streaming of HD titles. Here is a list of devices that can do Netflix HD streaming:
  • Samsung BD-P2500 Blu-ray player
  • Samsung BD-P2550 Blu-ray player
  • LG BD30 Blu-ray player
  • Roku $99 box
  • Xbox 360
  • TiVo Series3, TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL DVR's
  • PC or Macintosh running Silverlight

Later this year LG and Vizio HDTV's will support Netflix HD streaming. The LG models cost an additional $200 - $300 premium.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wall-E Blu-ray DTS audio glitches

The Blu-ray disc of Pixar's Wall-E experiences several brief DTS audio dropout glitches when played on a Lexicon DC-1 THX AC3 DTS preamp with the v2.01 firmware. The DTS audio plays flawlessly until about 18 minutes into the movie when the first brief audio dropout occurs. The glitch is very annoying and it happens about 20 times during the movie. The dropouts are repeatable and they always happen at the same locations. When it happens the Lexicon loses lock on the 5.1 DTS signal, switches to 2ch 48K PCM, and then reacquires the 5.1 DTS signal all in a fraction of a second.

The Lexicon DC-1 is a 12 year old surround pre-amp that has played thousands of AC3 and DTS movies on LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-ray without any problems. This particular Wall-E Blu-ray is the first disc that has had any audio decoding problems. It's surprising considering the amount of time, the number of different discs, and how fast technology has changed in pasts 12 years. No audio decoding problems until the Wall-E Blu-ray disc. Amazing actually.

The audio glitches go away if the Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player is instructed to decode DTS internally and output 48K PCM 2 channel surround. So the problem is not the player or the Wall-E disc but the ability of the Lexicon to decode the DTS stream.

The Wall-E packaging says that the audio is 5.1 DTS-HD MA (master audio) when it is actually 6.1 channels. The DTS-MA on Wall-E uses a legacy 1.5Mbps DTS core that since it's 6.1 is DTS-ES (Extended Surround) which has six discrete channels. DTS-ES uses a core + extension design where the extra rear channel uses optional packaging flags that in the past haven't caused the Lexicon DC-1 any problems. Somehow this incompatible DTS-ES stream is encoded slightly differently.

The DTS website says this about the 6.1 DTS-ES core + extension:
So, if you have an older DTS-capable receiver, it will “ignore” any extensions and just decode the core — ensuring you of compatibility and very high quality.
Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case with the Blu-ray of Wall-E and a Lexicon DC-1. So the only solution is to listen to Wall-E with a 2 channel PCM downmix that lack dynamics, bass, and discrete channel steering. I guess it is time to upgrade my Lexicon DC-1.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pioneer to stop LaserDisc player production

Pioneer has announced that it will build 3000 more LaserDisc players before it halts production. Currently 3 models of LaserDisc player are still being built and they are all produced by Pioneer. So this signals the end of an era. Production of LaserDiscs stopped in 2001 and Pioneer had continued building players for people who had large collections of discs.

The current Pioneer DVL-919 is a combo DVD/Laser player that has a $1000 MSRP. It lacks the higher end features that the Pioneer Elite CLD-79 and CLD-99 had. Over the past decade the LaserDisc player hasn't seen any technology improvements or cost reductions. Not surprising consider it's a niche production for a niche collector market.

The LaserDisc format arrived in 1980 and 16.8 million players have been sold. Originally LaserDisc was completely analog for both video and sound. Later digital 44.1kHz PCM audio tracks were added and then DTS and modulated AC3. A couple anamorphic discs were also produced. In Japan there was even a HD version of LaserDisc that preceded our current digital HDTV systems by a decade. So LaserDisc had a lot of firsts. To this day no DVD or Blu-ray player can match the speed and smoothness that a high-end player like the CLD-99 could fast forward, reverse, slowmo, and single frame step. We'll miss you LaserDisc.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Amazon's Blu-ray Buy 2 Get 1 Free

Amazon is having another one of its Blu-ray buy 2 get 1 free deal that runs until January 16th 2009. The selection is quite large this time. Amazon's slow but free shipping is also available which makes this deal even better.

The way to get the most out of this deal is to choose 3 discs that are all the same price. Below is a partial list broken down into price groups:

$17 * 2 / 3 = $11.33
  • Coral Reef Adventure (IMAX)
  • The Living Sea (IMAX)
  • Dolphins (IMAX)
  • The Alps (IMAX)
  • House of 1000 Corpses

  • Monster's Ball
  • March of the Penguins

$19 * 2 / 3 = $12.67
  • The Shining
  • The Road Warrior
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Fugitive
  • Bullitt
  • Enter the Dragon
  • Swordfish
  • The Aviator
  • Eraser
  • Body Heat
  • Outbreak
  • The Omega Man
  • Space Cowboys
  • Every Which Way But Loose
  • The Gauntlet
  • Scooby-Doo

$20 * 2 / 3 = $13.33
  • Top Gun
  • The Usual Suspects
  • The Hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy)
  • Clear and Present Danger (Tom Clancy)
  • Patriot Games (Tom Clancy)
  • The Sum of All Fears (Tom Clancy)
  • Death Proof
  • Mission Impossible III
  • The Terminator
  • The Italian Job
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Robocop
  • Lord of War
  • The Doors
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
  • Aeon Flux
  • Babel
  • Nacho Libre
  • Hustle and Flow
  • Reds (25th Anniversary Edition)

$21 * 2 / 3 = $14
  • Face/Off
  • Madagascar
  • Shrek the Third
  • Mission Impossible (Special Collector's Edition)
  • Mission - Impossible II
  • The Untouchables (Special Collector's Edition)
  • Payback - Straight Up - The Director's Cut
  • Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow
  • Lara Croft - Tomb Raider
  • Black Snake Moan
  • Dreamgirls (Two-Disc Showstopper Edition)
  • We Are Marshall

$23 * 2 / 3 = $15.33
  • 300
  • I Am Legend
  • 3:10 to Yuma
  • The Departed
  • Rambo
  • The Mist
  • Dr. No (James Bond)
  • From Russia with Love (James Bond)
  • Thunderball (James Bond)
  • Die Another Day (James Bond)
  • For Your Eyes Only (James Bond)
  • Live and Let Die (James Bond)
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Halloween (2-Disc Unrated Collector's Edition)
  • Die Hard 2 - Die Harder
  • Ultraviolet

$24 * 2 / 3 = $16
  • Planet Terror
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • I, Robot
  • Troy - The Director's Cut
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • Romancing the Stone
  • Daredevil - The Director's Cut
  • Die Hard
  • Die Hard With a Vengeance
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Rush Hour 3

$25 * 2 / 3 = $16.67
  • Transformers
  • Cloverfield
  • Open Season
  • Basic Instinct 2

$26 * 2 / 3 = $17.33
  • Young Frankenstein
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • Beowulf
  • Jumper
  • The Day After Tomorrow
  • Monster House
  • Nim's Island

$28 * 2 / 3 = $18.67
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  • Ice Age
  • Ice Age - The Meltdown
  • Bee Movie
  • The Love Guru

  • Mad Men - Season One
  • Rambo 1-3 Boxset

There are several collections available in the B2G1F deal. Six James Bond movies can be bought for $15 each. Four Tom Clancy movies are available for $13 each. Three Mission Impossible movies for $14 each. Four IMAX mini-features are only $11 each. There are many more movies that are part of this B2G1F deal than are listed above. Happy Shopping.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Onkyo 706 vs. 806 vs. 876 vs. 906 vs. 886P

The Onkyo 2008 lineup has 4 THX certified AVR's and one THX certified processor/preamp. All five Onkyo products have 7.1 analog pre-amp outputs so they can be used with separate external amplifiers. They also all support the internal decoding and the external bit-streaming of the newest Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA codecs used by the Blu-ray format. Below is a list of the base features that they all have in common.

base features
  • THX certified
  • 7.1 analog inputs
  • 7.1 analog pre-amplifier outputs
  • 3 coax and 3 optical SPDIF digital inputs
  • 1080p upscaling, Deep Color (36bit), xvYCC color support
  • Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding
  • Sirius and XM satellite radio
  • available in black or silver
As you step up through the Onkyo product line higher end features are incrementally added. Other than power, dimensions, and price; the major changes are highlighted below.

  • THX Select 2 Plus
  • Audyssey MultEQ
  • HDMI v1.3a 4in, 1out
  • two TI 32-Bit DSP chips
  • Faroudja DCDi Cinema video processing chip
  • 192 kHz/24-Bit Cirrus Logic DACs
  • 100W x 7 ch
  • exposed front controls (no flip down panel)
  • 14.8" x 17.1" x 6.9"
  • 27 pounds
  • 5.9A power consumption
  • MSRP $800, street $500

  • THX Ultra 2 Plus
  • Audyssey MultEQ
  • HDMI v1.3a 5in, 1out
  • two TI 32-Bit DSP chips
  • Faroudja DCDi Cinema video processing chip
  • 192 kHz/24-Bit Cirrus Logic DACs
  • 130W x 7 ch
  • 16.9" x 17.1" x 7.6"
  • 37.5 pounds
  • 7.8A power consumption (idle: 88W for 6ohm and 56W for 4ohm settings)
  • MSRP $1000, street $600

  • THX Ultra 2 Plus
  • Neural THX
  • Audyssey MultEQ XT
  • ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) video calibration
  • HDMI v1.3a 4in, 2out
  • HD radio
  • three TI (Aureus) 32-Bit DSP chips
  • HQV Reon-VX video processing chip
  • 192 kHz/24-Bit Burr-Brown DACs (PCM1796)
  • 140W x 7 ch
  • switched 110V trigger outlet
  • 18.1" x 17.1" x 7.6"
  • 53.1 pounds
  • 9.5A power consumption
  • MSRP $1600, street $1000

  • THX Ultra 2 Plus
  • Neural THX
  • Audyssey MultEQ XT
  • ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) video calibration
  • HDMI v1.3a 4in, 2out
  • HD radio
  • DLNA audio streaming; Ethernet and USB (AAC, WMA, MP3, WAV, OGG, and FLAC)
  • three TI (Aureus) 32-Bit DSP chips
  • HQV Reon-VX video processing chip
  • 192 kHz/24-Bit Burr-Brown DACs (PCM1796)
  • 145W x 7 ch
  • switched 110V trigger outlet
  • 18.1" x 17.1" x 7.6"
  • 54 pounds
  • 9.8A power consumption (standby 20W, idle 140W)
  • MSRP $2000, street $1500

PR-SC886P (pre-amp/processor)
  • identical features of the TX-SR876
  • except 7.1 XLR pre-amp outputs replace the internal power amplifier
  • Ethernet for remote control
  • 17.5" x 17.1" x 7.6"
  • 29.3 pounds
  • 1.1A power consumption
  • MSRP $2050, street $1600
Amplifier power output is what signifies the difference between the THX Select and THX Ultra classes. A 30W - 45W increase only amounts to an additional 1 or 2 dB of headroom which isn't all that significant.

The TX-SR706 and the TX-SR806 both use the same Faroudja video chip which has a "blue dots" problem with 1080p sources that can be fixed by disabling the on screen display (OSD). The Faroudja video chip also has a black clipping problem which is active even when HDMI pass-through mode is enabled. Clipping the black level doesn't let "blacker than black" signals pass through, such as a pluge test pattern, which makes it difficult to properly calibrate the brightness on your video display. So even when in video pass-through mode the Faroudja chip is modifying the video signal. On the the audio side, the analog 7.1 inputs lack ADC's so all digital processing is bypassed, this means that the digital delay, equalization, surround processing, and bass management features are not operational. Channel level control with the 7.1 inputs does work since the gain adjustment is done in the analog domain.

The upgrade from the TX-SR706 to the TX-SR806 adds one HDMI input and a cosmetic flip down panel that hides a number of infrequently used controls and input jacks. Is the extra power and improved looks of the flip down panel worth an exta $100?

The upgrade from the TX-SR806 to the TX-SR876 removes an HDMI input but replaces the Cirrus Logic DACs with Burr-Brown DACs and replaces the Faroudja video processor with one by Reon. The Reon upgrade allows ISF video calibration which is convenient but not that useful if you prefer to do your de-interlacing and video scaling on your flat panel display. Some displays, such as the Pioneer Kuro 9G plasmas, provide higher quality video processing circuitry. In fact, 24 FPS PureCinema film mode doesn't operate with a 1080p source, so Reon processing could even be detrimental in this particular case. Another interesting addition is that the TX-SR876 has an extra TI DSP chip, its use is speculated to be for the extra processing capability needed by the Audyssey MultEQ XT, Dynamic Volume, and Neural THX features. While all these features are nice, except for the potential Reon 1080p Kuro PureCinema problem, the main improvement are the Burr-Brown DACs. It is interesting that last years TX-SR805 had the Burr-Brown DACs. The important question is the improved signal quality of the Burr-Brown DACs worth an extra $400?

The upgrade from the TX-SR876 to the TX-SR906 adds DLNA audio streaming over Ethernet or from the USB port. Audio streaming your music collection is a great feature if you have a home network set up but is it worth an extra $500? Or is the modular addition of a streaming Apple TV, Sony PS3, or a Roku box a better value?

The upgrade from the TX-SR876 to the PR-SC886P (pre-amp/processor) is more of a horizontal move than an upgrade. Since it is a pre-amplifer, the internal power amplifiers have been replaced by 8 balanced XLR outputs. The PR-SC886P has an Ethernet port but it lacks the USB port and DLNA capability the TX-SR906 has. The PR-SC886P is made by the Onkyo Pro division which makes it more difficult to find and since it isn't a high volume product it doesn't get the same pressures on price that the mainstream Onkyo products have. While $1600 is a great price for comparable high-end pre-amps, it does seem odd for the removal of features (power amps) to cost an extra $100.

Unless the performance of the Burr-Brown DACs is a significant improvement, the best value is to use a TX-SR706 or a TX-SR806 as a pre-amp/processor. This represents a $1000 - $1200 savings. That way, in a couple years when the newest greatest codec, DSP algorithm, or technological HT feature comes out it will be that much easier and less painful to upgrade.

For the latest prices and availability check out the Onkyo THX processors store.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in HD

I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in HD last night on CBS (1080i). I've seen this Christmas special many times in my childhood but I was in complete awe seeing it again in high definition. The picture quality and detail was amazing. The fuzz on Rudolph's fur, every hair on the Abominable Snowman, and the fabric texture of Burl Ives plaid vest was clearly visible. Rudolph's glowing nose looked like one of those old style red film covered light bulbs. I could even tell that the Christmas trees were made of felt! You could clearly see how everything was constructed. The amount of detail almost takes the magic away from this Christmas classic.

The aspect ratio of the picture was 4:3 which is expected for a made-for-TV special from 1964. Back then everything was recorded directly to film which explains the high level of fine detail. I wonder what other old TV shows will pop up on HD with incredible looking pictures? Frosty the Snowman in HD will be broadcast Friday December 12th on CBS.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sennheiser HD-280 pro headphones

The HD-280 pro's are closed-ear headphones designed for professional-quality monitoring. Sennheiser claims a frequency response of 8 to 25,000 Hz (-10 dB) and up to 32 dB of noise attenuation which make them particularly useful for in noisy environments. The long coiled cable has a 3.5mm jack with a 1/4" adapter that screws on for a solid connection. The street price is about $85 (hover your mouse over the picture to do a quick price check).

For the past 2 years my HD-280 pro headphones have gotten a moderate amount of use in a studio environment and they have stood up very well, in fact they still appear brand new. The HD-280 pro's are a tight fit and that is key to their deep bass response. I own a number of different subwoofers and the HD-280 pro's bass performance exceeds them all by at least an octave. I fondly call them my "pressure cans" partly because of their tight fit but mainly because that's what bass an octave below 20 Hz feels like. I've surprised myself many times listening to recordings that I thought I knew very well only to hear (feel) bass that I didn't know was even there. I fully believe Sennheiser's claim of frequency response down to 8 Hz.

The HD-280 pro headphones do an amazing job of attenuating external environmental noise. When you put them on you feel like you are in a quiet room. Sennheiser claims "up to 32 dB of attenuation" which may be true in the ultrasonic frequency range. My tests with a function generator show these attenuations with the following signal sources:

  • pink noise -6 dB
  • white Gaussian noise -9 dB
  • 100 Hz sine -1 dB
  • 400 Hz sine -3 dB
  • 1000 Hz sine -6 dB
  • 2000 Hz sine -9 dB
  • 4000 Hz sine -12 dB
  • 5000 Hz sine -15 dB
  • 7000 Hz sine -18 dB
  • 10000 Hz sine -24 dB
  • 14000 Hz sine -30 dB
The HD-280 pro's attenuation of external noise is a function of frequency. Above 400 Hz the attenuation appears to follow a -3 dB / octave reduction curve. Bass frequencies don't have much attenuation. The signal structure of white noise has less low frequency energy than pink noise which results in -3 dB more of attenuation.

Except for the 14 kHz high frequency sine wave test these numbers are all a lot lower than 32 dB but this needs to be put into comparison. Good foam earplugs will give a 30 dB reduction. The HD-280 pro's have better external isolation than any other headphone I've tried but they aren't in the same league as foam ear plugs. That said, the dB attenuation of the HD-280 pro headphones is very significant in that it creates a lower background noise floor which allows the use of a lower volume level while also improving the audibility of weak signals.

  • very accurate sound
  • deep bass pressure
  • attenuation of environmental noise

  • tight fit
  • large and heavy
  • top band messes up hairdo
  • must be worn correctly for deep bass performance

I highly recommend the Sennheiser HD-280 pro headphones to anyone who appreciates high quality audio at a value price. Bass enthusiasts and those who appreciate a quiet background environment will be pleased.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Black Friday deals 2008

Home Theater related Black Friday (Novemeber 28th) deals. Items with a star "*" are limited quantity "door buster" first-come-first-served deals.

  • Sony BDP-S350 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player $199.00
  • 300 [Blu-ray] $16.99
  • Reservoir Dogs (15th Anniversary) [Blu-ray] (1992) $11.99
  • I Am Legend [Blu-ray] $16.99
  • A Clockwork Orange [Blu-ray] $10.99
  • The Shining [Blu-ray] $11.99
  • March of the Penguins [Blu-ray] $9.99
  • The Road Warrior [Blu-ray] $13.95
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day [Blu-ray] $11.95
  • Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow [Blu-ray] $9.99
  • Black Snake Moan [Blu-ray] $9.99
  • Predator [Blu-ray] $12.99
  • Dreamgirls (Two-Disc Showstopper Edition) [Blu-ray] $9.99
  • The Mummy [Blu-ray] $15.95
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street [Blu-ray] $16.99
  • Early Bird Blu-ray's 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. (Pacific time) on Friday, November 28th


  • Samsung Blu-Ray Player - $199.99
  • Insignia Blu-Ray Disc Player - $249.99
  • Sony Blu-ray Disc Player - $249.99
  • Transformers Blu-Ray Disc - $9.99
  • Samsung 46" Class 1080P LCD HDTV - $1099.99
  • Insignia 47" 1080P LCD HDTV - $999.99
  • LG 47" Class 1080P 120Hz LCD HDTV - $1499.98
  • Panasonic Viera 50" 720p Plasma HDTV TH-50PE8U - $899.99 *
  • Samsung 52" 1080p LCD HDTV LN52A580 - $1499.99 *
  • Mitsubishi 60" Class 1080P DLP HDTV - $999.99

Circuit City - possible going-out-of-business problem with returns
  • Samsung Blu-Ray Disc Player BDP1500 - $199.99
  • Reservoir Dogs Blu-ray Disc - $11.99
  • SAW Blu-ray Disc - $11.99
  • 007: Dr. No Blu-ray Disc - $17.99
  • Samsung 46" Widescreen 1080p LCD HDTV LN46A500 - $1,099.99 * or @Amazon for $1099
  • Samsung 50" Widescreen Plasma HDTV PN50A400 - $899.99
  • Sharp 52" 1080p LCD HDTV LC52SB55U - $1,499.99 or @Amazon for $1520
  • Mitsubishi 65" Home Theater 1080p DLP HDTV WD65735 - $1,199.99
  • The Untouchables Blu-ray disc - $9.99
  • Predator Blu-ray disc - $12.99
  • The Mummy Blu-ray disc - $15.99
  • The Hulk Blu-ray disc - $15.99


  • Sony Blu-Ray BDP-S350 Disc Player - $179.99
  • Samsung 42" PN42A400 720p Plasma HDTV - $699.99

  • Sony BDP-S350 Blu-Ray Disc Player - $179.99 *
  • 300 Blu-Ray disc - $19.99 * or @Amazon for $18
  • Sleeping Beauty Blu-Ray disc - $18.99 * or @Amazon for $20
  • Samsung 46" 1080p LN46A530 LCD HDTV - $1199.99
  • Samsung 52" 1080p 120Hz LN52A650 LCD HDTV - $2099.99 or @Amazon for $2059
  • Sony Bravia V-Series 52" 1080p LCD HDTV - $1799.99 or @Amazon for $1745
  • Sony Bravia W Series 52" 1080P LCD HDTV - $1999.99 * or @Amazon for $2016

  • Magnavox NB500MG9 BonusView 1.1 Blu-ray player - $128.00 *
  • Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray Player - $198.00
  • Blu-ray Movie: American Gangster - $15.00 *
  • Blu-ray Movie: Indiana Jones Crystal Skull 2-Disc Special Edition - $15.00 *
  • Blu-ray Movie: Iron Man Ultimate 2-Disc Edition - $15.00 *
  • Blu-ray Movie: Kung Fu Panda - $15.00 *
  • Blu-ray Movie: Shooter - $15.00 *
  • Blu-ray Movie: Transformers 2-Disc Special Edition - $15.00 *
  • Samsung 46" Widescreen 1080p LCD HDTV - $1,098.00
  • Samsung 50" Widescreen Plasma HDTV w/ 2 HDMI Inputs - $798.00 *

There are some great bargains here but many items can be purchased at roughly the same price on-line without the hassle of all the Black Friday crowds. So before you go out and shop make sure you do some price checking.

That's right. Shop smart, shop S-mart. Ya got that?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Netflix HD codec details

Netflix, Inc.New streaming HD codec details emerge from the Netflix blog.

For Xbox 360 and Silverlight platforms, Netflix will be streaming HD content using a 720p resolution with the VC-1 Advanced Profile codec at 24 FPS for movies and 30 FPS for video. The two bit rates are 2600 kbps and 3800 kbps so a fast broadband connection will be required. Audio will be limited to stereo only until they figure out how to package a multichannel AC3 audio stream in WMDRM10 (Windows Media Digital Rights Management).

Roku is saying that their Netflix HD streaming should be ready by the end of the year and will be available by an automatic firmware update. Roku claims that their "implementation of Netflix's HD content will take significantly less bandwidth that what is currently required on the Xbox" then they contradict themselves and say that "Roku Players will be using the 2.6 and 3.8 streams, which are the HD streams." So at this point it appears that the Roku box will be using the same VC-1 AP codec that the Xbox 360 and Silverlight platforms use.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Terminator: Blu-ray vs. LaserDisc

The 1984 film The Terminator made by James Cameron stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Michael Biehn. It is the classic action sci-fi cyborg thriller flick.

I purchased the THX certified LaserDisc of The Terminator in 1995. It wasn't a reference quality LaserDisc like the THX pressing of the Terminator 2 directors cut by any means but it wasn't a bad transfer either. The original was a low budget production and to reduce costs the film was mixed with mono audio. I have enjoyed watching this movie many times over the past decade, it was a good purchase.

The Blu-ray version of The Terminator is a BD25 disc that uses the MPEG-2 video compression codec at an average 18.54 Mbps data rate. The picture visuals are far from reference quality but they are a huge step up from the THX LaserDisc. Video noise is mostly absent and the image isn't that grainy. The Blu-ray also has much more detail and is cleaner than the LaserDisc. Unfortunately these improvements have a downside in that the special effects shots are now more obvious and fake looking. It's a good looking disc and the extra detail provides a definite high-defness. This is probably the best The Terminator will ever look and it is a dramatic improvement over the old THX LaserDisc.

The old THX LaserDisc, as did the theatrical release, had a mono audio track. Cameron had a limited budget for Terminator and decided to spend the available funds on special effects instead of on a surround soundtrack. This was a good choice as the SFX really made the film work. The mono track obviously lacked any stereo or directional sound information. The mono track also lacked bass and sort of dynamics during the scenes with gunshots and explosions.

Several years ago Terminator was remixed with multichannel surround and many sound effects were recreated. The Blu-ray has an uncompressed LPCM 5.1 16-bit sound track along with a 640 kbps AC3 5.1 track those with older audio equipment. This new remixed audio track is impressive with strong bass and extreme dynamics. The battle scenes now have a kinetic sound force that matches the intense action on screen. You can hear the bullets whizzing around the room. Directional pans add a nice touch to some scenes. The rear surround channels are used throughout the film for an added ambience; urban city noise, crickets near the woods, humming sodium lamps in the parking garage, and buzzing machines in the tool shop. One strange ambient surround effect is the choice of crickets inside Sarah Conner's apartment. What are crickets doing inside? Other than that slight flaw, the sound design is well done and almost a bit over the top in some action spots. I enjoyed the new 5.1 remix immensely and it is a huge improvement over the mono track. This is the surround sound track that Cameron probably wanted originally but couldn't afford.

So what about purity of essence and faithful reproduction of the original version? Is 5.1 remixing like B&W colorization or the adding of CG effects years later? The 5.1 remix definitely has more impact and excitement than the original mono track which was lackluster and boring. So as a home theater enthusiast I like this new 5.1 mix but it would of been nice, form a purity of essence standpoint, if they included a compressed version of the original mono track for posterity. Other than for comparisons, I probably would never listen to the mono track but it's the sort of thing that should be included these days with multi-gigabyte Blu-ray discs.

The video and the audio of the Terminator Blu-ray are huge improvements over the old THX LaserDisc. The Blu-ray video has fine high-def details but it isn't close to being reference quality. The 5.1 remix has strong bass, explosive dynamics, nice directional pans, and enveloping surrounds. The Blu-ray provides a better viewing experience and I'll probably be watching The Terminator a lot more often now.

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 10, 2008

0 dB THX reference level

The THX 0 dB reference level is a calibrated volume setting used in dubbing, cinema, and home theaters. The 0 dB (decibel) setting represents an average 85 dB SPL (sound pressure level). Movie soundtracks are created and mixed in dubbing theaters. Movies are presented and played back in cinema and home theaters. The general goal of the reference level is to preserve the directors intent which is to ensure that the volume level that the movie was created (mixed) at is the same as the playback volume.

Pink noise and a sound pressure level (SPL) meter with C-weighting are used to calibrate the individual 5.1 or 7.1 speaker levels. This calibration balances all of the speakers levels so that they are equal and that no speaker is louder than any other. The calibration also sets the 0 dB volume setting to equal the THX reference level. Both internal and external pink noise signal sources can be used to calibrate the speaker levels. External calibration signals found on video discs are typically full range pink noise at a 85 dB SPL. A preamp/receiver's internal calibration signal is typically banded pink noise played at a 75 dB SPL which is -10 dB down from the reference level. The quieter -10 dB signal is chosen by manufacturers because it is less harsh for users. It is also important to note that banded pink noise and full range pink noise will produce dB level settings that are slightly different. Which one equates to the true reference level depends on who you ask and how flat the frequency response of your speakers are.

Maximum Level
The 0 dB reference level represents an average 85 dB SPL and a maximum 105 dB SPL. The LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel used by AC3 (Dolby Digital) and DTS is +10 dB higher. This means that the maximum output for bass peaks is 115 dB SPL. The purpose of the +10 dB gain for the LFE channel is to increase the dynamic range of bass events such as explosions, crashes, punches, and rumbles. This means when the volume is set to 0 dB that the subwoofer could be asked to produce an output of 115 dB SPL. Such loud bass levels places a heavy resource burden and requires multiple high-end subwoofers to produce it accurately. Fortunately THX processors have a feature called the Bass Peak Limiter which compresses peak levels in an attempt to reduce distortion and prevent speaker damage.

THX theaters
The THX certification process for cinema theaters has numerous audio and visual quality control assurances that must be met. This THX stamp of approval ensures that the movie looks and sounds good. The 0 dB THX reference level is part of this quality assurance and the volume control knob is usually behind a locked panel so that it cannot be adjusted. This ensures that all movies played in a THX certified theater are played at the correct THX 0 dB reference level. Unfortunately a 0 dB volume level is too loud for many patrons and cinema owners so over time many certified THX theaters will have their "locked" reference volume levels reduced. If the rules aren't enforced then what use are rules?

THX equipment
A related benefit of the 0 dB reference level is the requirement that home THX certified equipment, particularly amps and speakers, be able to reproduce volume at this level without distress. Originally two 12" subwoofers were required to meet the THX spec for large rooms. An output level of 105 dB isn't an easy task at 20 - 40 Hz for subwoofers, especially when the +10 dB LFE channel is accounted for. Actually this output spec has been relaxed a lot during the past decade so that a single smaller sub can meet it. This "practicality" was probably due to pressure from consumers and manufacturers.

The 0 dB THX reference level is a wonderful concept for many other reasons. It creates a standard for comparing playback volume levels. If you and I both have our systems calibrated to the reference level then when I say that watched that movie at volume setting of -15 dB then you will know what I mean and you will have a general feeling for how loud that is.

The engineer in me really likes having the volume control operate with units of dB. And the fact the 0 dB level is actually a reference to something makes it even better. I don't know what is but that dB display just soothes my soul. In fact I won't buy a preamp or receiver that doesn't have it.

Watching a movie at 0 dB is crazy loud and I rarely watch a movie anywhere near that level. It depends a lot on the movie but I tend to watch movies with the volume set between -17 and -11 dB. For some very quietly mixed movies I tend to go up to about -5 dB. I love loud bass and I also love my hearing. I just don't understand how the professional sound mixers can listen to their craftwork at the 0 dB reference level for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, without suffering any permanent hearing damage. According to the OSHA occupational noise exposure levels A-weighted SPL's of 90 dB for 8 hours, 105 dB for 1 hours, and115 dB for 15 minutes per day are allowed.

I'm a fan of THX technology and it is kind of sad seeing the slow dilution of the 0 dB reference level specifications. The THX stamp at the cinema and in the home just doesn't mean what it used to.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Amazon's Blu-ray Buy 2 Get 1 Free

Amazon is having another one of its Blu-ray buy 2 get 1 free deal that runs until November 6th 2008. The selection this time is very similar to the B2G1F sale in the middle of June. Slow but free shipping is also available.

The way to get the most out of this deal is to choose 3 discs that are all the same price. This time the biggest selection and best deals are the $20 discs which works out to a little more than $13 per disc.

$20 * 2 / 3 = $13
  • The Fifth Element (Remastered)
  • Hellboy (Director's Cut)
  • Underworld (Unrated)
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula
  • Gattaca
  • The Patriot (Extended Cut)
  • Resident Evil
  • House of Flying Daggers
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Memento
  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse
  • Dogma
  • Run Lola Run
  • A Knight's Tale
  • A Few Good Men
  • Seven Years in Tibet
  • Monty Python's Life Of Brian - The Immaculate Edition
  • Wild Things (Unrated Edition)
  • Cruel Intentions
  • Immortal Beloved
  • Secret Window

The Fifth Element and Hellboy have excellent Blu-ray picture quality and are visual treats. Bram Stoker's Dracula is a great film but this Blu-ray has a very soft picture quality and the fine detail and resolution look the same as on the old anamorphic DVD. Happy Shopping.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Netflix HD Streaming

Netflix, Inc.Netflix HD streaming will be available late 2008 for the Roku, Xbox 360, TiVo, and both the LG and Samsung Blu-ray players. Unlimited streaming is included with the $9/month and up plans. An 8 Mbps broadband connection will be required for the top quality level. The video encoding will be MPEG-4 Advanced Profile with a 720p resolution. Since this is a different codec from what is used by the Xbox which means that different digital streams will need to be encoded and stored on the Netflix servers. No mention if Dolby 5.1 AC3 surround audio will be streamed,

The Roku engineers hinted that "a new major feature" will be included in the update but they did not specify what it might be. Speculation is that the Netflix Roku box will gain network audio streaming which is a common feature with Roku's other products.