Blu-Ray Firmware Updates, A Necessary Evil

 Blu-Ray, Computers and Technology, Home Theater Equipment  Comments Off on Blu-Ray Firmware Updates, A Necessary Evil
Feb 232009
 

Blu-Ray firmware updates are a regular part of life with a Blu-Ray player. Unlike DVD players, where firmware updates were a very rare occurrence, Blu-Ray players require constant updating in order to play the latest movies and the Java based extras they hold. Firmware also updates the audio and video capabilities of the player.

For some of us, the process is as simple as plugging a CAT 5 cable into the back of the player and letting the unit update itself. Others may have to turn their player on, prolonging the already long wait to see the movie menu start. The last way to update the firmware requires the user to either wait for the update in the mail or download it and burn it to a CD. Prior to setting u0p my wireless Ethernet bridge, I was the burn and update kind of guy.

Failure to update the firmware can cause movies to be unplayable or cause all kinds of unforeseen problems. Manufacturers commonly add features which keep the players somewhat future proof. It also allows them to bring a bug filled wreck of a product to market and fix it as they go along. I have not heard of any players that were bug free and just to make you scratch your head, the firmware updates often introduce additional bugs that have to fixed by later upgrades.

The firmware upgrade system isn’t clean or even easy in many cases but it does allow Blu-Ray to continue to grow towards being a mature technology. Updates are a fact of life if you have a player and should be done on a regular basis to ensure your player continues to work properly. I don’t see an end to the update cycle but hopefully, they will become far less frequent in the future.

Which HDMI Cable do You Need?

 Budget, Home Theater Equipment  Comments Off on Which HDMI Cable do You Need?
Feb 162009
 

The HDMI confusion is exasperating for everyone. How did
something designed to make things easier become a simmering caldron of
confusion? Lets try to sort out the facts from the myths.

As I look behind my component stand, I slowly lower my head
in shame. The rat’s nest of cables is beyond comprehension and the worst thing
is that I did my 6 month rewire just a week ago. I dream of the day I finally
step up to a complete HDMI system that uses a single cable between every
component, a magic cable that send both the video and audio. I could go from
what looks like hundreds of cables down to less than 10. That my friends, would
be a miracle.

Every time I step into an electronics store, I am confronted
with $60, $70, even $150 HDMI cables, and that is for a 2-meter one. How is it
that the HDMI cables I use and cherish are less than half that and the fact is
you can get them much, much cheaper… Like for under $15 and it will work just
as well as the marketing marvel from Monster Cable that sells for well over
$100.

Part of the problem comes from the early versions of HDMI,
version 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2 are all capable of transmitting 1080p video at the
same time as the lossless DTS and Dolby formats. This is more than enough for
95% of the people, in fact is well beyond their systems capability.  That brings us to version 1.3.

HDMI version 1.3 comes in 3 flavors, 1.3a, 1.3b, and the top
of the line 1.3c. They all do the same great job of handling HDCP, 1080p and
lossless audio, not a bit better than the previous versions however. Where you
do want to consider the 1.3c cables is if you wish to pass a DVD-A, SACD or
uncompressed audio signal to your receiver. Keep in mind that both the source
and the receiver must meet 1.3c requirements, if anything in the system is less
than 1.3c, you lose all benefits of having that cable version.

In addition to the audio formats I mentioned, 1.3c is also
capable of passing the new extended color formats, Deep Color and x.v.YCC. Currently
neither of these is built into the Blu-Ray spec. and although a number of
players claim to have the capability, it is wasted since the discs don’t carry
the additional color signals. Several HD camcorders do record in this format
however so the capability may be useful if you have one of these and a TV that
is capable.

 

 The bottom line is that getting a higher version cable won’t hurt you, it just won’t help you
except in a very small number of circumstances, if you have the equipment that
matches from source to Receiver and TV, or you just want to pay more for a
cable.

Don’t fall for the Monster marketing system that grades each
cable based on bandwidth. Every one of their cables does a great job of passing
every possible format, their grading system is an all out lie and one you will
pay for if you purchase the more expensive cables. An HDMI cable can’t change
the quality of the image like a processor in a receiver or TV, it just passes
along a digital signal. Do your wallet a favor and find the less expensive
cables and spend the rest on a few new movies.

There is no Difference Between DVD and Blu-Ray

 Blu-Ray, DVD, General Ranting, Home Theater Equipment  Comments Off on There is no Difference Between DVD and Blu-Ray
Feb 122009
 

More and more I hear, “there is no difference between DVD
and Blu-Ray” and I am shocked, dismayed and can do nothing more than scratch my
head. How can anyone with eyes not see the improvement over upscaled DVD? Is
Toshiba working behind the scenes to brainwash people as payback for losing the
format war?

I will admit to the fact that I do not always see the financial
benefit to HD sound or 1080p source material but I sure as hell can see and
hear the difference. I think a fly, with its multi-faceted view of the world
can see the difference. When I have to consider budget however, many times the
DVD wins out. I have discussed my buying criteria in previous articles so I won’t
rehash it here.

I did find a clue to at least one person’s unfavorable
review of DVD VS Blu-Ray however and just so no one else makes this mistake…
You cannot connect your Blu-Ray player to your HDTV with a composite cable (the
yellow one) and see 1080p or even good 480p. You must use at least a component cable
(red, green, blue) for 1080i and HDMI or DVI cables for 1080p.

I understand that to many people, connecting anything to a
TV or receiver is akin to launching the space shuttle, but you spent a lot of
money for your system, read the manual and get what you pay for. If you don’t
want to, can’t or the manual isn’t available in your native language get help
from a friend!

DVD is a wonderful media and I still buy movies on it. The
picture is great and for many of the movies I purchase, quite adequate. Blu-Ray
is amazing and many of my purchased go to HD. The point is, there is in fact, a
huge difference between the formats for movies that are well produced. I
understand that Blu-Ray doesn’t fit into everyone’s budget and that many people
do not have a display that is HD capable. Down the road when prices are right
or there is a beautiful new HDTV in your living room, I hope you make the smart
choice and jump onto the Blu-Ray train, it is better in every way.

Using a Receiver With a Higher Power Rating Than My Speakers

 Home Theater Equipment  Comments Off on Using a Receiver With a Higher Power Rating Than My Speakers
Feb 112009
 

Will using a receiver with a higher power rating than my
speakers cause a problem? I remember worrying about the speakers in my first
system as I had a 130 watt rated receiver with 100 watt speakers. There are
several reasons I didn’t need to worry, and several more reasons why I should.

While very low end speakers are unlikely to show any benefit
based on a higher powered, quality amp, better speakers can see a very big
difference. At lower volumes the detail of the music or movie soundtrack become
clearer, the bass is more powerful and the highs are light and enjoyable.

At reference volume the bass retains its form, is clear and
distinct, never muddy. The highs never become shrill or strained, which is a
sign of a struggling amplifier. More power gives you more headroom, which means
the amplifier is breezing along through everything you throw at it.

The second reason I needn’t have worried is because I was
under the misguided belief that power ratings were accurate, my 130 watt
receiver was never capable of going beyond 70 or so watts. To learn more about
amplifier power ratings click
here
.

Now to the reason I should have worried. Even inexpensive
speakers can handle clean power well beyond their ratings. The enemy of any
speaker however is power clipping, the act of a struggling amp or a poor power source
that begins to cut areas of the frequency range out, send distorted  audio, or begin doing both in a on, off series
of high power blasts. This will tear a speaker apart faster than using a sledgehammer.
If you are hearing distortion of any kind TURN IT DOWN!

Using an amp rated well above the speakers rating requires
some will power however, you don’t want to turn it up above the reference
level, there is never a reason to turn anything up past this point, it is the
exact volume the sound is engineered for, anything louder morphs the
vision of the artist.

Amplifiers ramp up power by doubling the output at every
notch. Turning the volume knob from 30 to 29 doubles the watts and creates 3 decibels
more volume. This means that you are well below the amps power rating all the
way to zero. In most amplifiers and receivers, zero marks the rated output of
the unit. In a 100 watt receiver that means you jump from 50 watts at 1, then
go to 100 watts at zero.

This of course assumes the manufacture is providing accurate
power ratings, which is highly unlikely. Give your speakers what they crave,
clean power and enjoy the clear, distortion free sound as the artist intended.

Why are the studios waiting for Blu-Ray profile 3.0?

 Blu-Ray, Home Theater, Home Theater Equipment  Comments Off on Why are the studios waiting for Blu-Ray profile 3.0?
Feb 102009
 

Why are the studios waiting for Blu-Ray profile 3.0 to begin
seriously releasing Blu-Ray music only discs? For those of you who are not familiar
with profile 3.0 it is a simple update to the existing Blu-Ray versions.
Profile 3.0 allows an audio only disc to start by itself, without menus when
placed into the Blu-Ray player.

While skipping all of the menu nonsense sounds great, I ,and
I am sure many of my fellow audiophiles would happily buy music only Blu-Ray
discs now and wait for the upgrade for auto start. Profile 3.0 uses the
existing formats, including the lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio
along with uncompressed audio in stereo and multi-channel. This is a huge leap over
the current Redbook CD and even DVD-A and SACD.

DVD-A and SACD have essentially killed each other off with a
little help from downloadable music formats. It doesn’t take a quantum physicist
to see that the public has moved towards mobile media but there is still a
strong demand for solid medias. Vinyl continues to grow as a new generation
becomes aware of its superior sound quality and CD sales, while slowing are
still the choice for many of us.

Get it right this time and start selling the profile 3 discs
now, they work just fine on any Blu-Ray player. Getting the media out there now
will create an enthusiastic following, which will make the advent of profile
3.0 players a marketer’s wet dream. Give the early adaptors something special
for their loyalty, bring out the profile 3.0 media today.