Your Daily Phil

Archive for April, 2008

DVE HD Basics Part II – Video Tests

Posted by lozenp on April 30, 2008

There’s a lot of content on this disc, there’s no doubt about that. I had to watch several of the sections a couple times to understand fully who to properly test and calibrate my picture. On top of just test patterns, there’s a couple hours of information on how HD signals are created, calibrated and adjusted at the source. I’m still working my way through that, but it’s certainly proving to be educational.

I made some discoveries about my TV during calibration. First, my TV doesn’t accuratly display below-black color, as systems standards say sets should. According to the disc, this is very common. Also, I found that my set will properly calibrate blue and red color, but can’t come close to getting green right. Using the provided color filters, I can see that the green coloring is far from what standards say it should be. Unfortuantely, my TV doesn’t have very good color-correction controls, especailly in the Component connection mode.

I also determined that my set is likely using the standard definition decoder for setting color, another very common issue in some HDTVs.

After about an hour of messing around, I made good progress in completing the video calibrations. Here’s how things have changed, my old settings are first:

  • Contrast – 89 to 92
  • Brightness – 54 to 58
  • Sharpness – 39 to 11
  • Color – 54 to 60

The biggest learning was the sharpness. This control is actually a holdover from the early days of color tv. In most cases, it seems this control doesn’t need to be active for HD signals. Sure enough, using the overscan test pattern, I was able to see I had mine set way too high.

The other thing that I was able to prove to myself is that my screen overscan is very poorly set. When looking at the overscan patter, I’m losing the bottom five percent of the picture, the left three percent, the top two percent and the right two percent. The biggest issue, however, is the amount of picture I’m losing off the bottom. I also determined that my picture is slightly rotated clockwise.

Those are all fixes that can’t be made in the general menus but only in the service menu of the TV. All TVs have service menus that are not accessible to the consumer because of the amount of damage a uneducated consumer could do to the set by getting into those menus. Hopefully I can call Best Buy and take advantage of my service plan to get some of these issues resolved, and maybe convince the tech to show me the service menus while he’s here.

Next up, the audio test patterns.

Posted in Best Buy, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater | Leave a Comment »

DVE HD Basics Part 1

Posted by lozenp on April 28, 2008

I just got a copy of the HD DVD version of the Digital Video Essentials HD Basics disc. For those that don’t know, it’s a disc that contains a wealth of video test patterns and signals, as well as audio tests, to help you properly set up your HDTV. This is the first time a calibration disc has been made with high definition in mind, both in HD DVD and Blu-Ray. HD Basics released an HD DVD remake of their standard version earlier, but it wasn’t designed specifically for HD.

My initial calibration was done using the Avia Guide to Home Theater, which is now in it’s second version. The first time I used it I was amazed at how off my picture was, and how much better it looked when I finished. Over time, however, a tweak here and a shift there and I know my picture is again in bad need of calibration.

So over the course of a couple posts, I’ll take you through the calibration process. It make take only two, it may be a month-long series. Today I’ll let you in on my current setup, and the settings my TV is currently using.

My Setup

  • 50-inch HLR-5067 Samsung DLP
  • Xbox 360 HD DVD player hooked up via component
  • Comcast Motorola dual-tuner DVR (the new edition)
  • Yamaha HTR 5750 5.1 channel receiver
  • Klipsch 5.1 Ch. Quintett II

Current Settings

Here’s what my TV is set to currently on the component input my HD DVD player is using:

  • Contrast – 89
  • Brightness – 54
  • Sharpness – 39
  • Color – 54
  • Color tone – Normal
  • Digital Noise Reduction – off

And here’s my receiver’s current speaker settings. Interesting story as I went to get these numbers, I was getting a menu in my receiver that I’ve never seen before. Usually my speaker settings are displayed in digits, now I’m getting a slider bar. Not sure where that came from. Anyhow, here they are:

  • Front left – 4.75 at 13 ft.
  • Center – 4.75 at 12 ft.
  • Front right – 4.75 at 13 ft.
  • Rear right – 5.5 at 7.5 ft.
  • Rear left – 5.5 at 7.5 ft.
  • Speaker settings – All set to “small”
  • Subwoofer – 5.5 at 12 ft.
  • Crossover – 80Hz
  • Phase – Normal

So for now I’ll play with the disc a bit. Next post we’ll get into some of the tests and start making some changes.

Posted in Blu Ray, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, TV | 3 Comments »

My attempts at an HTPC

Posted by lozenp on April 24, 2008

I have a dream of one day not having to use the cable company’s set-top box as a DVR. I love the potential freedom I would have with my content by using a Home Theater PC as my DVR, especially the portability of the content, and the freedom to access it from remote locations with tools like WebGuide.

There’s a lot to consider (cable card, QAM, etc.) but I decided the best way to start was to get a PC, hook it up to my 50-inch DLP and see what happens. So far, the answer is “not much”. Here’s the specs of my PC to get things going:

  • Dell Precision WorkStation 360 from 2004.
  • Windows XP Pro.
  • 2GB RAM.
  • 3.2GHZ with an Intel 875P chipset.
  • Nvidia 7600 AGP video card with 512MB memory.
  • Hauppauge WinDVR 1600 TV tuner card.
  • WinTV and Beyond TV for viewing.

I’m not even trying to get it set up as a DVD/Blu-Ray machine yet, I first want to prove I can get QAM and OTA HD, record it, and slowly ween myself from Comcast’s grasp. The problem is, I can’t get HD to play. It drops frames, it’s choppy. I tried watching recordings, same issue. I tried viewing a recording on a different, much fast and newer PC, same thing. So now I’m stuck, and I’m turning to you, my four faithful readers.

I’ve gotten some ideas from the AVS Forum, but at this point I’m trying to get help wherever possible. If you know a good resource for answers, leave a comment.

Posted in computers, HDTV, Home Theater, HTPC, TV | 2 Comments »

Netflix makes Blu-Ray a premium option, teases Xbox 360 integration again

Posted by lozenp on April 22, 2008

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call yesterday that Netflix would begin charging more for subscribers renting Blu-Ray discs, saying that “consumers are used to paying more for high-definition.”

Netflix helped facilitate the end of the format war when it announced in February that it would stop offering HD DVDs through it’s mail-rental service. This move, while not surprising, is disappointing in that it puts up further barriers for people looking to cross into the HD realm. I’d be willing to bet that the number of people renting Blu-Ray is still pretty small, lowering Netflix’s ROI on buying all the discs.

No details were announced, so Netflix members were left to wonder how (will it be a flat, $2 service charge or tiered, like the subscription plans), how much and when (by the end of the year seems to be likely).

Also on the call, Reed again talked about the partnership Netflix has with LG to create a settop box for watching any of the company’s 9000 available instant watch features. Netflix also wants their client software integrated into internet-connected Blu-Ray players, game consoles, TVs and stand-alone STBs.

He also went on to say that they were working with three other companies, three of which are “major companies which each sell millions of devices per year, likely in Q4.” The smaller company (Slingbox maybe) is expected to hit before fourth quarter. This should start the “Netflix on the Xbox” rumors going again.

Posted in Blu Ray, HD DVD, HDTV, Xbox 360 | 1 Comment »

Major sale possible in the audio market

Posted by lozenp on April 20, 2008

D&M Holdings, which owns Denon, Marantz and McIntosh, among several other brands, is up for sale, and the list of potential suitors is quite interesting.

D&M is owned by RJH International, which has put up 49 percent of its shares. Philips electronics has offered up its 12 percent as well, which means the buyer would be the majority owner. And while news of Blockbuster looking to buy Circuit City was big last week, this change of hands could be even bigger.

The front-runners currently look to be Bain Capital (which owns Kenwood, along with my employer Domino’s Pizza), Harman International (owners of Harman-Kardon, JBL and Infinity) and the big-box retailer everyone loves to hate, Best Buy.

As Audioholics.com points out, Bain winning the bidding war could put Kenwood back into the living room. Most audioholics are probably cheering for Harman to win out. That would add Snell, Boston Acoustics and Escient, along with the aforementioned Denon, Marantz and McIntosh brands, to an already impressive lineup.

But the Best Buy angle is the one that seems the most interesting. The D&M companies currently operate very independantly. If Best Buy gets control of them – most of all high-end speaker maker McIntosh which prides itself on its hand-crafted work – it would be very interesting to see how the retailer handles the changeover. Keep an eye on this, it could change the audio landscape in a very large way.

Posted in Best Buy | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Blockbuster offers $1B for Circuit City

Posted by lozenp on April 14, 2008

Blockbuster today made public its offer to purchase the little sister of the consumer electronics industry, Circuit City, for $1billion. Blockbuster made the original, unsolicited offer on Feb. 17, but has not gotten a response from Circuit City since that time and has been unable to move forward. Making the offer public seems to be a move aimed at putting pressure on Circuit City from its shareholders, who are reeling from a stock price that has fallen from $19 last year to a low of $3.44 last month.

It’s an interesting move from Blockbuster, who has had struggles of it’s own recently trying to keep up with the likes of Netflix. Blockbuster’s closed more than 250 stores last year alone. Add this to last week’s news that Blockbuster was looking to announce it’s own set-top box and you have a company that appears to be trying anything to shake things up. At least now it would have a place to sell that shiny new STB.

Posted in Blockbuster, Circuit City, Netflix | 2 Comments »

In case you missed it

Posted by lozenp on April 12, 2008

It’s been a busy week that’s kept me from posting a lot. So, in an effort to keep you up to speed, here’s some things you might have missed if you weren’t paying attention:

PS3 adds DTS-HD Master Audio – It’s becoming harder to argue that the PS3 isn’t the best Blu-Ray player available. This week comes news that the console will be adding DTS-HD Master Audio support (as well as DTS-HD High Resolution). Interstingly, the PS3 encodes the signal internally but can’t pass it bit for bit to your receiver (yet), but the jury is still out on if passing that signal straight through will actually sound better. Either way, this is exciting news for Blu-Ray fans and PS3 owners. Prepare to crank that volume knob.

Blockbuster announcing set-top box – The way things are going I might have my own set-top box in the near future. Everyone seems to be announcing these things lately, and my gear rack is already full. Netflix announced one a while back, but there’s been no movement on that one. Meanwhile, Blockbuster is set to announce this one next month, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Wal-Mart, Amazon join the HD DVD rebate game – Circuit City and Best Buy have already been running programs, and word came this week that Amazon and Wal-Mart would join the fracus. Amazon sent people a $50 gift certificate in the mail, Wal-Mart will be allowing refunds, with receipts, on purchases made after Nov. 1, 2007.

Also last week, the first BD-Live titles were released. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The Sixth Day both came out. Unfortunately, for HD DVD adopters like me who were used to a mostly flawless online experience with HDi discs, the results so far for both BD-Live titles have been less than spectacular, with most users reporting long (we’re talking 4-5 minues) load times on online content. Hopefully this is something that gets better with time.

Posted in Amazon, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Blu Ray, HD DVD, HDTV, Home Theater, Netflix, Wal-Mart | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The DTV transition: Are you ready?

Posted by lozenp on April 4, 2008

It’s less than a year away and confusion runs rampant. Some of the big box retailers aren’t up-to-speed yet and false information is pouring out as consumers, worried they will wake up on Feb. 17, 2009 to a blank TV, scramble to make sure their TV will still work.

On that date, U.S. broadcast TV will switch from its current analog broadcast system to a digital one. This will free up the current analog spectrum (the airwaves currently sending broadcast TV over the air) to be used by other companies and emergency services such as police and fire. When that happens, people with older TVs who rely on over the air (OTA) antennas (also known as rabbit ears) to get their TV signal will no longer be able to get those signals without a converter box. Those with newer TVs that have digital (ATSC) tuners or people who subscribe to cable or satellite service will not be affected, for the most part.

The latest statistics indicate about 117 million TV sets get their TV via OTA using antennas, while about half the households in the U.S. have a digital TV already.

What does all this mean to you? I’ll try to answer that question here in the simplest terms possible. There are a ton of sites out there doing this, so I’m not breaking any ground here. For the most part, however, those sites are going into a lot of detail that might be too much for some people. And the official site – while it’s full of info – is a government site, so that’s all you need to know about that. I’ll provide links to some of the better sites I’ve seen at the end of this if you want to learn more.

Here’s the quick overview to get yourself ready, read a bit more info further down:

  1. If you use cable or satellite, stop here, there’s nothing you need to do. Exception: If you have cable without a set-top box as your only TV, it would be worth calling your cable co. to ensure you’ll be ok.
  2. If you use an OTA antenna, determine how old your TV is and if it has a digital (ATSC) tuner. Generally 4:3 TV will not, while 16:9 will, though this is not always true.
  3. If you have a TV without a digital tuner, apply for the $40 government coupon for a converter box.
  4. Buy the box when you get the coupon, hook it up between your antenna and your TV, and continue to enjoy Lost on Thursday nights.

Still have questions, read on:

Is my TV new enough?
tvsa.jpgThe general rule of thumb is, if your TV is more square (called a 4:3 aspect ratio) than rectangle (16:9, also called widescreen) than you likely will need a converter box (see converter box section below) to continue to get OTA signals via antenna. If you have a 16:9 TV, you need to check to make sure it has a digital tuner. Look in the manual for the words digital tuner or the term ATSC. If you see one of those terms, you’re all set. It’s possible some 4:3 TVs will have digital tuners, so check if your TV was bought in the last five years.

Do I need a new TV?
This is the place where the most confusion exists. Unscrupulous retailers are talking customers into buying expensive new HDTVs when the consumer really only needed a $50 converter box.

Under no circumstance do you have to get a new TV. A converter box will work for almost any TV that currently gets OTA signals. Certainly you can buy a new TV if you want to, and if you have an older TV and want to be able to get high def (HD) signals, you will need a new TV. But make no mistake; the DTV transition is not forcing you to buy a new TV.

Will I get high def (HD) TV if I get a converter box, or after Feb. 17, 2009?
Another area of confusion, this is not the HDTV transition and has nothing at all to do with high definition TV. It’s the DTV (digital TV) transition. If you currently get HD, then you will still have HD after Feb. 17. If you currently don’t have HD, then most likely you still won’t after Feb. 17, although you might notice a slightly improved picture. It is possible to get HD using an OTA antenna if you have a TV with a digital tuner, but that’s another topic.

I have cable or satellite, will I be affected?
Cable subscribers with set-top boxes and all satellite subscribers will not have to do anything to continue to receive TV. Further, most cable companies have said that even those with older TVs and who don’t use a cable box will still be ok. That being said, if you’re a cable subscriber with an older TV and no cable box as your only source of TV, I would call your cable company to ensure your TV will still work on February 17.

What networks does this involve?
There are some exceptions to the change-over, such as locally-run stations on lower-powered transmitters, but all the major networks are involved. That means ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW, PBS, and My Network TV, and in turn the local stations broadcasting those channels, such as WDIV in Detroit, will all stop analog broadcasts.

What’s this converter box everyone’s talking about?
The converter box will take the digital signal and turn it into an analog one for older TVs. It goes between your antenna and your TV. The majority of them cost about $50 and you can find them at most electronics retailers. There’s also a government program that allows households to get up to two $40 coupons to be used toward a converter. Visit https://www.dtv2009.gov/ to apply for the coupons. You’ve got until March 31, 2009 to apply for a coupon. I’ve already got mine at home.

Will I still get all my channels?
Reports are beginning to circulate that the digital signals being sent out will not be able to travel as far as the analog ones. This means that people in outlying areas, or those who are accustomed to getting TV from two different cities (like I do with Toledo and Detroit) might not be able to get the same amount of channels after the switch.

 

So there you have it. If you want further info check out:

Engadget’s Guide – http://www.engadgethd.com/2008/02/17/t-minus-one-year-till-the-us-analog-shutoff-are-you-ready/

The Government’s sites – http://www.dtvtransition.org/, http://www.dtv.gov/

DTV Answers – http://www.dtvanswers.com/

 

Posted in DTV Transition, HDTV, TV | 1 Comment »

Comcast adds four HD channels

Posted by lozenp on April 2, 2008

My Comcast HD channel lineup grew by four this week. I live in Milan, MI (south of Ann Arbor) and rumors are these channels are in the majority of the Detroit area and some in Chicago. New to me were: Science Channel, Disney Channel, ABC Family and AMC.

I’ve updated the list of HD channels Comcast provides in Milan from my original post “Who has the most HD (hint, it’s not Comcast)“. Below is the updated Comcast list, read the original post for my full breakdown. Again, this list includes channels available on the basic HD lineup, no pay channels (such as HBO), no sports packages, and no local channels and no On Demand channels. That seems like the best way to see how a provider’s HD lineup compares.

Comcast, Milan MI (24 channels)

A&E HD
ABC Family HD – NEW
AMC HD – NEW
Animal Planet HD
CNN HD
Discovery Channel HD
Disney Channel HD – NEW
ESPN HD
ESPN2 HD
Food Network HD
Golf Channel / Versus HD
HD Theater
HGTV HD
The History Channel HD
MHD
MTV HD
National Geographic HD
SciFi HD
Science Channel HD – NEW
TBS HD
TLC HD
TNT HD
Universal HD
USA HD

Posted in HDTV, TV | Leave a Comment »

Band of Brothers gets Blu later this year?

Posted by lozenp on April 1, 2008

bandI was going to just update my “HD Wish List No. 1” with this info, but it’s such big news (to me, at least) that it demands it’s own entry.

According to a Home Media Magazine interview with Sofia Chang, SVP of marketing for HBO Video, the network has plans for a “Band of Brothers” Blu-Ray release “later this year.” The comments came during an interview about the DVD release for the current HBO series “John Adams”.

Band of Brothers is No. 6 on the all-time TV on DVD sales list, and No. 4 on the TV Series Set on DVD list.

The question now is, how do I get my wife (see comments on my Wish List entry) to allow me to buy “Band of Brothers” again?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »