By Terry Paullin
Out with the New, In with the New(er), I'm still Amazed, and other matters ...
Seems like just yesterday (or maybe a year or so ago) that we were all getting Blu-rayed up. New players, new receivers, new cables and, of course, new discs. Ahh, but as in many other aspects of the new millennium, technology is moving at a logarithmic rate.
I started to open with a borrowed line from Dylan - "times, they are a changin" but I've used that a time or two before (when times, indeed, WERE a changin'). What I want to convey is, in our comfy little world of Home Theatre, things are changing at light speed - so try to keep up :-)
The biggest change, of course, is the move to UHD displays and all the attendant benefits that come with it - HDR, 10-bit color, Rec. 2020 color gamut and, oh yeah, higher resolution.
I recently read in a blog somewhere that something close to 20% of those surveyed said that they would skip this (UHD) increment of video technology all together, citing too many iterations, too fast and they "really didn't need it anyway"
What a huge mistake that would be. Sure, waiting for initial prices to come down and early-on s/w bug fixes and updates to subside makes sense, but NOT planning to usher THIS iteration into your living room is to miss what this readership holds dear - making your video environment "the best that it can be". Do what you will with Atmos and the eleventeen Amp channels and speakers that go with it, but don't you dare touch that piggybank that's earmarked for real video improvement. Yes, you may need a new display (look for the HDR compliant sticker), probably new cables, maybe a new receiver (as I found in my theatre) and certainly a UHD BD player. The good news is that players, cables and even full featured receivers are more affordable than ever and with mortgage rates still low, financing can be found for that 77" HDR ready 4K OLED panel. Sorry.
Some of the aforementioned reluctance to move to UHD was the oft-cited, "there is not enough content yet". That complaint has been lodged every time a new technology format has been launched and every time ( uh ... except for D-VHS) the content, clearly waiting for player capacity to be present to accept the content, has caught up. There are over 75 UHD titles as I write and probably twice that by the time this reaches your coffee table. As with all first issues, some are worthy, some not so much. Come on in, the water's fine!
B-T-W, think you are going to get the same images from Amazon or Netflix? They will stream to you at about 15% of the data rate required by fully featured UHD. Bit starvation will be epidemic ... and very visible!
Yup, some things still amaze me. As much as I try to stay abreast of trends and things going on around me in my A/V centric world, events occur that defy my sense of logic and "what ought to be".
Having come from a Silicon Valley background I have seen, and indeed been part of, rapid fire corporate acquisitions and sell-offs. It's a way of life out West. Still, when I learned a few months ago of the shutting down of the Runco brand by parent Planar, I was not only surprised but deeply saddened. Many in our industry shed a figurative tear. Aside from trying to keep up in the flat panel arena, Runco, as far as I'm concerned, built the finest front projectors in the world. The build quality, support and overall finished product performance equaled and in most cases bettered all competitors .... but the real differentiator was the spirit and passion everywhere in the company for bringing clients a superior viewing experience. I guess it may not be so surprising that in the acquisition of Runco by Planar and then Planar by Chinese LED manufacture Leyard, the magic was lost.
I remain somewhat amazed by the alleged number of cord-cutters. There has never been a time when the variety and quality of cable and network programming have been better (I would pay $50/mo. just for HBO!). One of the things at work here is simply inexposure. The old adage is true, you don't know what you are missing until you get it. When I asks friends and clients what they think of specific prime time programs, many didn't know they existed - what a shame.
Although they may not admit it, most families watch about 4 to 5 hours of television a day - maybe a little less during the week, probably a lot more on weekends. Let's call it 140 hours a month. Their $200/mo. cable bill likely includes land-line phone, internet access and high speed modems. Let's call the "pure entertainment" portion $125/mo. That works out to less than 90 cents an hour for a huge variety of choices for a diverse audience (read that, modern family). Match that value with any other form of entertainment ..... good luck with that!
Finally, there is the DVD. I predicted its demise about two years ago. I was wrong - and I remain surprised. This Christmas, shelf space for UHD displays will occupy 3/4 of available room down at "Big Barn Video". Studios are now focusing on UHD/HDR media distribution. We are two evolutions away from DVD. Yes, I get that there are still a lot of players out there, but it can't be long before the DVD goes the way of the VHS ..... uh, maybe next year ?!?
We calibrators often leave a "reference" disc behind with our clients ... something to show off to friends and family and verify, from time to time, that the excellent calibration is "still in there". As we sit with them and watch it for the first time, we remind them that if they see any lesser images on screen (and they will, i.e. QVC) and they haven't fiddled with the calibration (we try as hard as we can to lock them out), that the problem is the SOURCE, not the display. Most get that.
In our old, worn out, outmoded, obsolete, plain Jane (O.K., enough already) 1080 world, the reference disc I gave out was the particularly well mastered "Art of Flight". Filmed with then state-of-the- art cameras, portions of it could pass for 3D.
In our emerging UHD world it's been difficult, and clearly premature, to find a similar disc ... but until something comes along to replace it, I'm now handing out "Rocky Mountain Express" ($25 at Amazon - be sure to get the 4K/HDR version) It is, at once, great food for train lovers, imagery and sound, at times, worthy of the "reference" tag and an interesting history lesson on the building of the Canadian Trans-Continental railroad.
This time, with respect to UHD, HDR, et. al., I'll borrow a title from Carly Simon ............. "It's the Right Thing To Do"
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