by Terry Paullin
Not surprisingly, friends, readers, potential clients ask me "What T.V. should I buy?"
The answer they are looking for is something like " a 50" Binford 3000".
My first response is "There is no good, short answer to that question". Then I ask, "What is your favorite screwdriver?" After quizzical looks subside -
What's that got to do with the price of tea in China?
No, really, what's your favorite screwdriver?
Well, it depends .........
Well, first of all, do I need a Phillips or a flat blade or a Torx
and then of course there is a size choice .... and I don't
always have the wallet to buy all Snap-On, so sometimes I opt
for an economy tool from the Bargain Bin Hardware store.
"See", I said ... "no short answer".
When I engage with a Home Theatre client, I would never begin to answer "What T.V." until I have made a site visit. There I learn about the ambient light environment, seating arrangements and get a sense of the budget. Only then can I decide what display to put in the proposal. I used to ask about viewing choices and usage patterns, but I've stopped that for some time now. I have learned that that all changes when you get a decent theatre system.
For every time I'm asked that question, I imagine my friend Joel Silver is asked it 100 times, so I decided to interview him on this topic.
So, Joel, what do you say when someone asks you "What T.V. should I buy"?
(J) -Terry, as you mentioned the room environment is absolutely a key factor in choosing not only a TV brand, but determines the very TV technology that is applicable to the task at hand.
We often deal with sizable rooms that have fantastic views from really large windows. That creates quite a challenge, and often the best solution is a large flat panel for daytime viewing, and a much larger retractable projection for night viewing - that is the ultimate Day/Night "viewing mode".
(T) - Joel, we have taught in class for years that REAL contrast ratio is the biggest care-about amongst non-technical viewers who still know what pleases them when watching on-screen images ..... but contrast ratios can be relative. Are there some absolute metrics that folks should consider?
(J) - For dealing with ambient light professionally there are fantastic Contrast Ratio performance standards from InfoComm. They specify multiple contrast goals for different viewing applications. We use their "Full Motion Video" standard all the time when planning a media room system with ambient light issues, and then we audit our own installations when we are finished to insure and document performance compliance on site.
For light controlled home theaters there is a new Video performance document from CEDIA and CTA that details both minimum acceptable and aspirational contrast ratios.
We don't have opinions on video performance, we simply learn and apply industry Standards……..
Two really fundamental considerations that we find to be completely client dependent are two simple specifications - "how big should the screen be", and "how high should the screen be mounted".
(T) - Yes, I often find myself urging clients to the next size up. Although ability to accommodate can be a real issue, more often than not, it isn't. I have never had a client say "You know, I wish we had gone one size smaller" - on the other hand, the opposite has been expressed from time to time.
Field-of-view is important to cause maximum envelopment in the movie watching experience. What was the commercial theater analogy I've heard you use to answer those two questions for students?
(J) -Those fundamental personal questions are best answered by simply asking our clients about their favorite seats in their favorite commercial movie theater. We have been doing this a long time, and have found that people are absolutely dogmatic about how far back they choose to sit from the screen. Once we know their preferences, we can recreate their personal choices for their own optimum viewing angles for height and width in their own homes.
We have even found instances where spouses have provided us with different seating preferences, and have uncovered long standing and quite stressful movie going situations. We have not found resolutions for these situations, but if you are diplomatic you may end up doing additional residences for both spouses.
(T) - Indeed. Job security!
(J) - Another major topic is light output. For flat panel TVs this is a quickly evolving scenario. HDR and wide color gamut have raised the bar for what we can wish for in our homes. We can now deliver image quality in many rooms that was just not possible a few years ago. So the right answer about what HDR TV to buy is now the newest and top of the line one!
(T) - So true. HDR and all that comes with it takes us into a whole new realm of movie enjoyment. Still, the best HDR is closely linked to light output of the display. What is your take on the fate of front projectors and HDR?
(J) - For projectors HDR remains a challenge, but if we deploy enough light output and native color space we can now deliver the best images ever seen in homes. Do not expect to easily equal a studio HDR monitor with a 1000 nit image with projection, but we can easily exceed all our prior expectations - and a very large projection screen HDR wide color gamut image in a light controlled room is fantastic.
The real answer to "what TV should I buy" is best answered by a good demo. The recent stellar progress in image quality simply cannot be described in print - and mainstream retail demos of uncalibrated TVs in poor lighting show a mere hint of what is now possible.
The best of the new HDR digital video images live in rarified air. The few Dolby Vision theaters worldwide provide a superior new movie going experience that even non technical people appreciate. The few custom installers that have mastered "The Art of the HDR Demo" are now updating all their client's old systems. This is a new era of image quality - and right now is the best time in memory to buy a new TV!
(T) - Thanks Joel for your time. I'm sure our readers will heed your counsel and spend their money more wisely as a result.
Once again Murideo was at ISE 2018 and we had a great time. We hope you enjoy some of the pictures for our products around the show, as well as our lovely staff. Thanks for everyone that stopped by our booths this year.
As an AV professional, buying a new TV for my own home is always a little more stressful than it should be. Since I deal with this stuff on a daily basis, I am hypersensitive when it comes to improvements, new features, and pricing. I am not the type to buy a new TV every model year, in fact just like everyone else I am looking for the best deal.
After passing on the 2016 6 series LG OLED, I decided that the 2017 C series was the one for me. They had finally fixed the dreadful CMS and it finally came out of black much better. These were 2 things that were terribly important to me as I am constantly on the quest for the “perfect” picture. I had a feeling that the chrome bezel would have bugged me, so in December of 2017 I decided on the 55C7.
As CES 2018 was approaching, the question in the back of my mind started to linger...did I screw up by not waiting for the 8 series? Did LG come up with something that is going to blow us all away? Well Now that CES 2018 is over, we know a little bit more about the 8 series OLED and what to expect in the upcoming model year.
LG showed off 2 models that received a lot of attention. One of them was something that some of us have been predicting for years...a TV that rolls up when not in use. This is something that I can see as a practical use. I’ve always been a sucker for automation, and I love the idea that I can hide my TV when it is not being used. I also love is that this isn’t simply a show off feature. Since the TV can roll up and down freely, you could have the screen exposed in such a way that all you see is a stock ticker, weather information, and much more (maybe the Bitcoin price for those who love to torture themselves). For the cinemaphiles out there, goodbye black bars! In a theater application things can get tricky and expensive when trying to hide black bars. In this case however, it is just a matter of unrolling the screen enough so that the display is in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For 16x9 content all one needs to do is unroll the screen all the way. I’d love to see an option to mount the unassuming white enclosure upside down on the wall or ceiling so the screen unrolls down similar to a traditional 2 piece system, but that may be wishful thinking!
Crazy display #2 would be the 88” 8k OLED. Unfortunately this is a prototype piece for CES so don’t rush out to Best Buy expecting to see it on display. The folks who saw it had nothing but great things to say about it, and if we have learned anything about prototypes at CES this may be a prediction on what we will actually see rolling off the assembly line within 5 years. Only time will tell!
So what about the rest of the OLED line? What will we see at the big box stores and on the front page of our favorite A/V websites in 2018? Luckily LG has some cool plans!
First let’s get one thing out of the way because I know you are wondering. The 2018 8 series will not feature HDMI 2.1. We are all excited about it, but it will be at least 1 more year for the LG OLED line. Not to worry though...there are still some great improvements within the line.
Luckily LG decided to not confuse everyone with a change in the structure of the model line. The entry level model will continue to be labeled a “B”, followed by “C”, then “E” (picture on glass), and finally the ultra flat wallpaper thin model keeps the “W” badge. All models will support HDR, Dolby Vision, HLG, and a format that we were surprised with in the 7 series called “Technicolor”.
Want to order an Uber from your TV? Now that is possible as all models in the 2018 LG OLED line will have the Google Assistant built in. Check out vacation photos, set timers, and more, all with the power of your voice. Still need more control? Each model will work with the Google Home, Google Home Mini, and the Amazon Echo.
LG has introduced a new processor to handle the heavy lifting. The “A9” processor claims better color, sharpness, contrast, and faster Smart TV operation. Each model will have the A9 processor with the exception of the entry level B8 model. The B8 will continue to use the A7 processor which was found in the 2017 7 series OLED TVs. More on this in a moment.
All models in the 2018 OLED line will feature HFR, or High Frame Rate. At 120fps, this is will help with blurry, quick motion without the use of motion interpolation. It is important to mention that 120fps HFR only applies to internal streaming apps and OTA, not outside sources. As previously mentioned, the entry level B8 model will use the A7 processor. Because of this technical limitation the B8 will not be able to simultaneously display HDR and HFR. This should be enough for hardcore gamers to ignore the B8 and jump straight into the C8.
Each model in the 2018 OLED line will feature Black Frame Insertion (BFI). When movies, TV shows, and video games are made, the images we see are not actually moving. When we see enough still images in a short amount of time our brains interpret these images as if they are moving. If the display doesn’t flash from one still image to the next quickly enough, we see this as motion blur. BFI helps this by inserting a full black frame in between each usable frame in the image. Some viewers are sensitive to this and describe the display as “flickering” while some do not notice it at all. Because there are now twice as many frames as before there is a bit of loss in light output, but BFI will help with motion blur without the use of motion interpolation. LG gives BFI a new name called “Motion Pro” and will be available in SDR and HDR modes.
The 2017 LG OLED TV’s featured “Active HDR”. This was a great feature as it added active metadata to HDR images, making them look more like real life. Turning the feature on was a bit confusing as LG called it “Dynamic Contrast” and it only worked correctly when set to LOW. Luckily in the 2018 models they have implemented the same feature, but now they call it “Dynamic Tone Mapping”, which makes a little more sense. Because the TV inserts its own metadata, these displays will most likely not be compatible with HDR10+.
The 2017 7 series LG OLED calibrated quite well, and the 2018 8 series looks like it will be even better with the introduction of built in Look Up Tables (LUTs). LUTs are important to calibrators as they give us much more than the typical calibration controls. Until now, a LUT could only be implemented by a rather expensive box that sits last in the signal chain before the TV, and had to be controlled by software such as CalMAN. The OLED models that contain the new A9 processor will be capable of 33x33x33 LUTs while the B8 model with the A7 processor will be capable of 17x17x17 LUTs. The display will talk directly to CalMAN, which makes things MUCH easier for calibrators as this will save a significant amount of time when calibrating the 20pt grayscale and Color Management System (CMS).
Each model will come in the following sizes:
-B8 55”, 65”
-C8 55”, 65”, 77”
-E8 55”, 65”
-W8 65”, 77”
Like the 2017 OLED line, no models will support 3D. All models will be in stores by June 2018.
Gamers and videophiles will be able to take advantage of some new features in the 2018 LG OLED line, but unless there is a significant price reduction 2017 model owners can rest knowing that they made a good decision by buying a 7 series. If you own the 2016 6 series OLED, the 2018 8 series will be a significant upgrade. Now it’s time to sit back and see what happens with pricing, which is usually the ultimate factor.
There’s been a lot of buzz in the last 2 years about QLED technology and Quantum Dots that drive it. They claim more contrast, more color, brighter picture, more energy efficient, etc. The Quantum Dot technology is very promising! If you have 4 minutes, here’s a quick video on how Quantum Dots work.
If you have an hour Scott Wilkinson at Home Theater Geeks gets really deep into it with some of the folks at Nanosys:
Sounds cool right? Well, as with every type of TV technology, there is some confusion on what is really going on. Here’s the problem…remember when “LED TVs” first hit the market? Everyone was (and still does) calling them “LED TVs”. Were they LED? Well kinda. The LED part of the TV refers the light source, or the backlight. The actual panel which makes the image is technically an LCD panel (stuff we’ve been using since the days of the electronic calculator) but now with a much better backlight solution. This was a massive improvement ESPECIALLY over CCFL bulbs. We saw some immediate improvements in contrast, color, efficiency, and all of a sudden TVs were super thin. These are all good things, but we are still dealing with the shortcomings of LCD. If we are being technical accurate these would be called LED/LCDs TVs!
Fast forward to the first QLED TVs. Quantum Dots sound really cool…even futuristic. Almost like something out of Star Trek! QDs are going to solve all of the problems with LCD right? Better viewing angles, more color saturation, better dynamic range, better screen uniformity, and the promises of world peace, right? Wellkinda…
QLED TV’s are not Quantum Dot panels…they are traditional LCD panels with a Quantum Dot backlight. This is still a big deal as the Quantum Dots can get brighter and are much more efficient than LEDs. Now the manufacturers can make the TVs even thinner and even brighter which is what the masses seem to love. But is this a good solution to overcome the shortcomings of LCD panels? Not quite.
Fast forward to March of 2017. Samsung announced the acquisition of Harman International. This was a big deal. Harman International seems to be involved with everything A/V from automotive to commercial theater applications. When the news was released I remember thinking to myself that it made sense but I hadn’t quite connected the dots until Summer of 2017.
Don’t get me wrong. I love going to the movie theater. There’s nothing like being in a room with hundreds of other people screaming in terror with the little girl crawls out of the well at the end of “The Ring”. Experiencing “Avatar” in 3D on a 70” IMAX screen was unbelievable. I swear I could reach out and grab theWoodsprites right out of thin air. And the sound in the commercial theater? I can’t even come close to that at home without a dedicated room with a six figure budget. The theater is still fun, but I have to have to be honest with myself when I say that I do not go to the theater for the image quality. Sure the screen is huge, but it doesn’t look that great, especially if you compare it to your high end flat panel at home. Sure the TV at home is only 65” but it looks much better!
I was convinced that I would never see the Holy Trinity of A/V…a huge screen, that looks great, with a bone rattling audio system.
Fast forward to July of 2017. Samsung announced their Cinema LED Screen. Is this the game changer that we have all been waiting for? Since the late 1800s we have been going to theaters and looking at the same technology…a projector with a screen. As I mentioned before, we can make some really BIG images but they never look that great. As we know from studying how our eyes work and how our brains interpret light waves, Dynamic Range is the #1 important aspect of picture quality. Simply, Dynamic Range describes the difference between the darkest and the brightest part of an image. Nobody likes a washed out picture regardless of how many pixels are on the screen. An OLED (and even some of the best LED/LCDs) can make very impressive black levels. How can a device such as a projector make perfect black like an OLED? Projectors project light pretty well but they have a hard time projecting black! The result is washed out picture with desaturated colors. Two things that our eyes and brains HATE!
Samsung’s Cinema LED Screen gives us the best of both worlds. Each pixel is its own light source that can turn off (black) or get bright based on the scene, just like OLED. The resolution is true 4k (4096x2160), HDR compatible, WCG compatible, and here’s the best part…it’s 33.8” wide! No more need for a projector and a screen as this is a true LED screen technology.
As great as this sounds it will be a while before these theaters are common. By 2020 we are only expecting to see 10% of theatres across the world adopt this technology. My guess is that it’s pretty pricey! So if we aren’t going to see this in theaters until 2020, that means that we won’t see it in the home until somewhere around 2025, right? Well kinda...
This week at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Samsung revealed a pretty interesting new display dubbed “The Wall”. A modular 146” “micro LED” HDR/WCG display capable of infinite contrast (like OLED) but at 2000nits (like a REALLY bright LED/LCD). This sounds a lot like a residential version of the Cinema LED Screen, and the best part is that this isn’t some “made for CES” display…according to Samsung these will be shipping THIS YEAR! Now we wait to see a price…
So as always I have more questions than answers…
Will Cinema LED screens eventually replace the old 2 piece projection systems in commercial theaters? I sure hope so!
With the acquisition of Harman International mean that Samsung is taking aim at some market share in the commercial theater industry? Probably!
Will “Micro LED “ displays become the gold standard and replace OLED and LCD (QLED or LED)? Only time will tell. Will there ever be a singularity in TV technology? Probably not, but what I do know after working in this industry for a long time (19 years this year!) is that the competition is fierce. Some technologies will die (cough cough plasma and CCFL LCD) while some will thrive and lead us up to the next big thing. “Minority Report” anyone???
This chart has always been helpful in explaining the different types and variants in video signals. We thought we would share it, so everyone can have the information in one place. Below is the Bandwidth Chart:
This below is a break down of what makes a great picture on your screen. You might be surprised to find out that resolution is 4th on the list.
When you push "Play" on your new UHD Blu-ray player, how will you know what is actually being output? Will the color depth be 8-bit, l 0-bit or 12-bit? Will the color sampling be 4:4:4, 4:2:2 or 4:2:0? Will the picture be displayed with High Dynamic Range (HOR) or Standard Dynamic Range (SOR)? Unless you have a TV or projector that displays color information on screen (a rarity), or you're using a Murideo Analyzer you won't know for sure. Besides not having an on-screen display (OSD) for color depth or color sampling, the choice of settings offered for those features on a UHD Blu-ray Player can be non-specific; AUTO or OFF may be your only choices. Subsequently, you won't know if Standard Color Depth (8-bit) or Deep Color (10-bit or 12-bit) is actually being output. The reason it's important to know the actual color depth output is because HDR requires at least 10-bit color. With 8-bit color HOR's benefits are not apparent rendering the benefits of 4K/HDR useless
On a recent trip to a dealer's store in Oregon, I experimented with the Oppo 203, one of the few UHD Blu-ray Players which allows individual selection of all parameters. I was able to individually select 4K 24Hz or 60Hz, 4:4:4, 4:2:2 or 4:2:0, 10-bit or 12-bit color and HOR or SOR. Wanting the best picture I chose 4K/60/4:4:4/l 2-bit/HOR. I pushed "PLAY" and got a picture. But, wait a minute that's not possible - I shouldn't get a picture because the settings far exceed the 18Gbs maximum data rate for the player, TV and the cable. If the settings exceed the systems specifications why did the TV display a picture? The reason is that the player automatically changed one of my settings, most probably the color depth from 10-bit to 8-bit. That brought the data rate back to l 8Gbps and, at 8-bit, HDR was compromised .. Therefore, if you want HOR don't set the player to 4K/60/4:4:4. Understanding the parameters, the possible combinations and how they impact the viewing experience are the keys to getting a display with the parameters you selected and ensuring your customers are getting the maximum return on their investment.
Here's a list of the parameters for setting up 4K a Btu-ray Player:
Frame Rate: 24Hz or 60Hz
Color Depth: 8, l 0, 12-bit
Color Sampling: 4:4:4, 4:2:2, 4:2:0 Dynamic Range: HOR or SDR
The game-changing feature for the newest 4K displays is HOR. However, for HOR to have its maximum impact the UHO Blu-ray Player's output must have its output setup for Deep Color, i.e., a color depth of l O or 12-bit. One way to ensure that Deep Color can be output is to set the Frame Rate to 24Hz (the native Frame Rate of almost all UHD Blu-ray discs). Then you can select 4:4:4, 12-bit, HOR and still be well within the operational envelope of the player and display. Another solution is to select 60Hz, 4:2:2, 12-bit, HOR. This solution requires l 8Gbps performance for all the components in the system including the HDMI cable.
Possible Blu-ray Player Settings and Data Rates:
To ensure individual performance of all HOMI cable models each and every HOMI cable is
hand-tested at Tributaries using a Murideo Six-G HDMI Generator and a 4K/60 4:4:4 . (18G) display. All passive HOMI cables and UHDO Fiber Optic HOMI cables are tested and verified for 1 8G performance. All active UHDS and UHDP are tested and verified for 10.2Gbps. You won't receive a defective HDMI cable from Tributaries because the Quality Control testing of each cable is done in our factory not in your customer's home.
I recently attended CalMAN's webinar on Color Volume, I put together some things to take away from the webinar, because we are not sure they will be posting it for the public.
They spoke a little about color volume and mostly about CalMAN 2017 and it’s new features.
Here are my notes…feel free to reach out for further explanation! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Remember…Color Volume is used for measuring performance, not calibration.
Color Volume notes
-There are currently 2 ways to measure Color Volume. CIElab and ICTCP. CIElab is more commonly used, but ICTCP is more accurate to how we see in real life.
-There is a new term to know called MDC or Millions of Distinguishable Colors. This is something that the marketing teams will run with. It explains how many millions of distinguishable colors the display will produce. It WILL NOT describe how accurate these colors are, just how many there are.
-If measuring Color Volume in the CIElab format, CalMAN has an app called the Color Volume Visualizer. This app will take the display’s color volume and map it in a 3d model. The user/calibrator can use his/her mouse to spin it, zoom in, zoom out, etc to see finer details.
-The Color Volume workflow is available in all versions of CalMAN
CalMAN 2017 notes
-Support added for autocal on 2017 Q series Samsung TVs
*Note about autocal…you don’t have to use it! Some calibrators will insist on making adjustments themselves. CalMAN will still connect to the display so you can make adjustments via your laptop instead of with the TV’s remote
-To connect the laptop to a Samsung TV, you must have a serial to USB adaptor AND a serial to 3.5mm adaptor. SpectraCal recommends a serial to USB adaptor with a FTDI chipset for better reliability. Once the adaptors are in place, the 3.5mm plug will plug into the Samsung TV’s “One Connect” box.
-HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) support added. HLG was developed by NHK (Japan) and BBC (England) for live broadcast HDR content. One of the things that makes HLG special is that there is no live metadata like there would be on a Bluray disc.
-Broadcast monitor workflow added. A workflow specifically for broadcast monitors
-Dolby Vision workflow added
-Support added for autocal on 2017 Panasonic OLED panels (not available in the US)
They mentioned 2 things about new hardware:
If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me. Thanks.
Murideo Brings Affordable HDMI Testing to the Market with the Fox & Hound Testing/Troubleshooting Kit
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The Fox & Hound Testing and Troubleshooting Kit was built as the ideal troubleshooting solution for all custom and commercial A/V field integrators. With an innovative design and advanced functionality which allows the confirmation of correct bandwidth (up to 18Gbps), HDCP, resolution, timing, HDR metadata and more, the Fox & Hound can assist on the most basic to the most complex of system issues.
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Written by: Terry Paullin
May I have some Catsup with my Crow, Please? (and other matters)
I hate it when I'm wrong. I hate it even more when I'm wrong in print.
A few years ago, I predicted the demise of the DVD - expecting wholesale, unanimous adoption of the Blu-ray disc. Here we are now, two technologies advanced (BD & UHD) and DVDs are as abundant as ever. It has something to do with the number of players installed, the desire to save money and the pull of the moon, in my opinion. Perhaps there will be a resurgence of VHS tape...just kidding.
More recently, I opined that Dolby Atmos for the home wasn't likely to transfer from the Commercial Theatre version. I had been to a demonstration of a small venue (home theatre) set-up in Dolbyville (San Francisco), and at the time, I was underwhelmed. Perhaps it was the notion that the commercial version of Atmos was so dramatically good that enthusiasts (who else would crawl through the fiberglass in the attic to install four speakers) wouldn't buy the experience transfer. My clients weren't asking for it, so at some point I thought the home incarnation of Atmos might go the way of 3D and curved screens.
Recently, I got a call for an ISF calibration in a near-by, well-heeled neighborhood. The video calibration went fine but, as often happens, the owner wanted to take the opportunity to "show off" the audio side of his investment - my guess was he had spent mid six figures on this room. I hadn't even noticed the four speakers in his ceiling, until he pointed them out.
After hearing about 15 seconds of his first "demo" offering, I was stunned. I have experienced hundreds of high-end rooms and this was the best sounding theatre I have ever been in. It's hard to extract five-year-old aural impressions from memory and compare them to something that was being experienced in real-time, but I remember thinking that it was at least as good as I recall the premiere showing of "Brave" in the newly named Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
How much of this could I attribute to the overhead speakers and of course, the Atmos steering in the receiver? I had my client remove the Atmos by simply setting the volume of the four "height" speakers to zero and then asked him to replay the same clip. The sheer quality of the rest of his sound system yielded "decent" sound, but it was obvious something was missing. Back to restored settings, back to Atmos, back to incredibly enveloping sound.
That did it for me. I committed right then and there to upgrading my own, less worthy, theatre to Dolby Atmos.
Although I am doing a complete restoration of my room (audio, video, lighting, furniture, and candy selection) as I write, I have completed the Atmos upgrade portion. Included in the upgrade is a new Atmos equipped receiver, four new wide-dispersion speakers, a couple hundred feet of wire and a great Atmos demo disc thanks to my friends at Dolby. I'm WOWing friends and prospective clients already.
There was something unexpected with my first audition of Atmos in my own theatre. I was prepared for dramatic improvement in precision placement of "obvious" overhead cues such as helicopter flyovers, 747 take-offs and thunderstorms, however, what I was hearing was an unexpected benefit of subtle ambience effects, like birds, wind noises and extraneous sounds that add to the general feeling of being in the middle of the scene. I think that this is one of those things that someone must experience to fully appreciate.
As with less sophisticated audio codecs before it, Atmos is likely to get even better as movie sound mixers get more experience with the tools.
As I knew would be the case, the final post-calibration experience in my modest theatre was not quite the same as the theatre that sparked my inspiration (at 10 times the investment) but was absolutely, positively worth the trouble. Now, most sources in my system will get the benefit of Atmos "direction" and because of the "demo" I can now deliver. I predict many more clients will lean toward "Ceiling Atmos".
Installing four speakers in the correct place above your seating arrangement may not be an easy job. Indeed, in some installations, it may be impossible. If installing on your own, look on the other side before you drill any holes and be sure to use wide-dispersion Atmos speakers, especially if you have an 8-foot or less ceiling height. If you are paying someone else to do it, don't expect the bill to be cheap - it's not our favorite job! Either way, I'm confident you will deem the result to be well worth it.
Yes, I was wrong about Home Atmos (at least the ceiling implementation). Who knows? Maybe I will "accidentally" run into an "Atmos Enabled" configuration somewhere else and be surprised .... again.
Waiting to see the Light
The big buzz in our community is 4K/HDR. The 4K part is great, especially if you have a large screen (75"+) or a projector/screen combo, but the real prize here is HDR and all that it brings with it. High Dynamic range is all about "blasting" selected pixels with extra luminance. This requires a display device to be a "light canon". Flat panels are a step ahead of projectors in this regard, but if your wallet is stout enough, you can have it today. The Sony VPL-VW5000ES ($60,000), the not-as-bright JVC DLA-RS4500 ($35,000) and the Wolf Cinema DLD-380FD ($38,000) can render what is required for impressive HDR.
For those of us not willing or able to secure a second mortgage for a flat panel, will have to wait for prices to come down while the nits go up.
It’s not always best to be the new kid on the block. The benefit of waiting has more to do with second generation performance increases - the benefit of second generation lower prices is just a bonus.
By Jason Dustal (Imaging Science Foundation | Murideo | AVProStore)
Fast forward a few years and I started to realize that things can be modified and made better. This didn’t make sense at first; why wouldn’t the product be its absolute best from the factory? Why was there so much room for improvement?
By the time I was 16 I was looking for ways to modify everything in my life, ESPECIALLY my car. Once I figured out that I could improve the car’s performance with a better air filter and a better muffler, I was hooked. Next came the suspension, brakes, and just about everything else on the car. I had a goal...maximize performance. The question still remained: why wouldn’t the car perform its best from the factory?
In 2001 I was selling high-end A/V at a store in Tallahassee, Florida. One day I overheard one of my co-workers talking to a customer who was looking at a very expensive Mitsubishi Diamond CRT rear-projection TV. In those days, the showrooms were much more dimly lit than showrooms are today. My co-worker was going through the picture menu of the TV and explaining what some of the settings will do to the picture. One sentence that he said changed my life forever.
“This is as good as the picture will get without hiring someone from the ISF to come to your home and calibrate the TV to YOUR room”.
As you can imagine, my curiosity went into overdrive. You mean I can make my TV look better than it does now? WHAT will look better? Who is the ISF? I’m in — where do we start?!?!?! Some very familiar feelings and questions hit me. One of them being “why wouldn’t they just optimize the picture at the factory?” From there I found a test DVD called the “Avia Guide to Home Theater”, and as they say, the rest is history!
Back in those days, calibration was all about taking the TV cabinet apart, making difficult (and sometimes dangerous) adjustments to the CRT guns, navigating through the confusing (and sometimes dangerous) service menu for adjustments, lining the inside of the cabinet with darker material for better contrast, and hopefully getting everything assembled back together in such a way that the TV still worked. Calibration was very mechanical, time consuming, and potentially deadly. Calibrators at the time were actually wearing 3 hats...calibrator, mechanic, and hacker. Plus, at that time there were only a handful of certified calibrators in the country. Because of this, calibration was very expensive. Most people didn’t understand why we were doing these things and thought that we were absolutely insane!
Luckily, calibrators survived the CRT days and continued to learn and grow. DLP TVs were a bit easier to work on but were still potentially headache inducing. Luckily we survived those days too! It wasn’t long until we saw the popularity of flat panel TVs explode. This was a game changer! Most (if not all) mechanical adjustments were non-existent in the digital world. The days of taking things apart and making manual adjustments were over. Most adjustments could be done in the picture menu, and what couldn’t be adjusted in the picture menu could usually be done in the service menu. We were still playing calibrator and hacker, but the mechanic hat could be retired. At this point calibrators were rejoicing!
It sounds like things were getting simpler, right? Well, in a way they were. The mechanical adjustments were gone, but the days of advanced settings and features were only beginning. Most manufacturers moved settings like white balance from a circuit board in the CRT/DLP TV to the service menu of the flat panel TV. Some of these service menus were difficult to access and sometimes even more difficult to navigate. One wrong move in there could flip the image upside down. Another could potentially render the TV useless. As you can imagine, this made many calibrators (and TV owners) very nervous! (If you don’t believe me, Google “Samsung HDMI calibration failure”)
Most manufacturers started getting tired of fixing TVs that end users were breaking. End users were upset because these were not considered “warranty” repairs. Manufacturers started charging owners for repairs; after all, the end user was not an “authorized service technician”. As soon as they entered the service menu, the warranty could technically be voided. This caused a lot of headaches, and a lot of otherwise good TVs found their way to the recycle bin...or even worse, the dump.
So what is different today? We are no longer dealing with mechanical adjustments, and we are barely dealing with service menus. Calibration should be a breeze, right? It should only take an hour, right? The price of the equipment should be lower, right? All of this should bring down the price of the calibration...right???
In reality, things today are as complicated as ever. Yes, we are no longer sticking screwdrivers next to CRT guns that are carrying tens of thousands of volts of electricity. Yes, we are no longer worried about bricking TVs in the service menu. Yes, the calibration no longer takes 2 people and a full 8 hour day. Yes, the CalMAN software gives us a workflow in which you can’t miss any steps. So why does it still take several hours and carry a cost of hundreds of dollars (or more)?
In years past, there were only a handful of adjustments that we were concerned with. Getting to the adjustments was the hard part. Today, we can easily get to the adjustments, but there are many more adjustments. Let’s take a look at a recent system that I calibrated for a client.
He has a 65” LG E6 OLED in a room where the lighting is 100% under his control. Most of his content comes from either an Oppo HDR Bluray player or a cable box. Some material he watches is in standard definition, some is in 1080p high definition, some in UHD (4K HDR). His room can be as dark as a cave or as bright as a sunroom. When it’s movie time the room can be black, but during football on Sundays when his friends are over the room can be bright. He has three theater seats in the room. His seat is dead center to the screen, but the other two seats are at a slight angle. The TV has the ability for a “day” and a “night” picture mode. This allows for maximum performance regardless of the room lighting. TVs traditionally have two adjustments for white balance; this model has two AND 20. Most TVs have two adjustments for color; this model has two AND 18. In this situation, the TV has upwards of 80 possible adjustments. Luckily he doesn’t care about 3D or that would have been a couple dozen more adjustments!
That’s just one of the two (day/night) modes.
I also have to consider the viewing angles from the other two seats and all of the advanced settings in the Oppo Bluray player. Oh, and the cable box? That has settings too. Luckily in this case, the video was not passing through a receiver. If it had been, I would have had to calibrate the video portion of the receiver too!
That’s just SDR (standard dynamic range).
Now we are finally getting a handle on calibrating the HDR (high dynamic range) mode in the TV. This opens up a brand new can of worms. Once the TV receives an HDR signal, it has a completely different menu for picture settings. Yep, you guessed correctly, now there is an HDR “day” mode and an HDR “night” mode! By the time I was finally done, I had about 5 hours of work poured into his system.
On top of that, we are dealing with multiple types of HDR. For example, calibrating a Samsung in the HDR mode is very different than calibrating an LG in HDR mode. Just figuring out the TVs menu structure and what the manufacturer names all of the different settings can be a time consuming task.
Can we use our old calibration equipment to calibrate new TVs? NOPE! With the introduction of 4k resolution and HDR, all of the calibration equipment has to be updated. Will my UHD equipment last me the rest of my life? NOPE! It’s only a matter of time before we see displays with 8k resolution at 120hz. I will be upgrading equipment for the rest of my career!
One question still remains: why didn’t they optimize the TV’s picture at the factory? The answer is the same as it has always been. The manufacturers are very good at what they do, but they have no idea what room the TV will end up in, what components will be feeding the TV, where the end user will be sitting, or what they will be watching. Calibration has and always will be a custom service. In the 9 years that I have been calibrating, I have learned one very important lesson. Every system and client is different, but we all are trying to achieve the same thing: the most accurate image possible!
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