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.