You can run but you can't hide

I know there are only a few episode left for The West Wing (exactly one after tonight), but that shouldn’t mean the production crew can ease off! Starting three episodes ago, Leah and I both noticed a camera focusing issue with many shots. For example, in tonight episode about 40% of the shots were out of focus. They were either couple of inches too deep or too short, sometimes nearly a foot. So the actors faces were never in focus, but their collars or knees were.

I can definitely take a guess that perhaps the cameraman did not see the focus problem because they were not monitoring on HD monitor. Normal TV in Standard Definition hides pretty much everything errors one can make because of its low quality. But what has changed? Did they switch from shooting on film (as I remembered reading from somewhere, possibly the AVS Forum) to shooting on HD camera? Or did they simply drop the ball because it doesn’t matter any more? I can forgive one episode but three in a roll? There is no excuse!

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4 = 35?

I may not be as eagle eye as the writer of the 24 series but I definitely didn’t see 35 Secret Service Agents protecting the Russia president’s motorcade in last night episode. I can only count 4 agents plus 2 traffic cops on motorcycles.

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No more fat people

The new DVD player was waiting for us in the lobby when Leah and I got home this evening. Hurray! It only took me about an hour to unhook the old Zenith, hooked up the OPPO, and re-programmed the Harmony remote to control the OPPO.

The first DVD I put in was Digital Video Essentials (of course!) so I can calibrate the video settings on the TV. And after I’ve changed the player to accept all DVD regions, I declared to Leah that the new DVD player was open for business and we watched an episode of Drop The Dead Donkey (an old British political comedy series) then followed up with an episode of Hustle.

The OPPO keeps up with its promises and the 4:3 material from Drop The Dead Donkey is squeezed back into proper aspect ratio so all the actors are now in correct girth! No more fat people! Hustle is already 16:9 so no problem there. Both Drop The Dead Donkey and Hustle shows there are no de-interlacing problem at all so the 2:2 cadence flags are being picked up by the player correctly. No more jagged edges!

One problem about the Zenith player that I didn’t mention in my last post is that a noticeable video delay exists on most DVDs. So the dialogues will be slightly ahead of the actors’ lips most of the time. This is caused by the extra video processing required for de-interlacing and upscaling so I can understand why but still very annoying.

With the OPPO, there is an audio delay options to compensate for exactly this problem and after playing with it a few times I found that a 10ms delay seems to work best. 20ms is too much and 0ms is not enough. I think 15ms will be perfect but unfortunately there is no such option 😦

And the most gratifying one is the response speed of the menu system! It actually responses to my button click in less time than a roundtrip to Starbuck to buy a Mocha! How novel is that?

All in all, very happy with the purchase. Well worth the money and hassle!

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Scan lines vs. Skills

Ever since we got HDTV last September we’ve been watching most of our television on HD channels, switching to SD channels only when necessary such as for Battlestar Galactica or British TV on BBC America. In fact, we sometimes watch shows just because they are in HD!

Thanks to the Winter Olympic in Turino, Time Warner Cable <sarcasm>generously</sarcasm> added Universal HD channel during February for the Olympic coverage in HD along with NBC HD. When Universal HD is not showing Olympic events, it shows syndicate shows from the NBC/Universal network which includes the repeats of Battlestar Galactica in full HD glory. What a difference a few extra scan lines make (Ok, a lot of extra scan lines)! The image is sharp with great colour rendition but without being a distraction. Compare this against the blurry, low contrast, washout image from the Sci-Fi Channel I won’t have spent a minute to watch the show if not for the skills of the scriptwriters and the actors.

This just shows that great writing and acting can still attract viewers, verse high production values. Just look at The West Wing and ER. Two shows that were once great but now we only watch them because we used to and that they are on HD. At least West Wing is on its final season but ER is still limping along.

As for the Olympic coverage it is very uneven. Quality range from nice HD image from indoor events such as figure skating and speed skating, to just widescreen SD image (albeit good quality) from outdoor events. Of course only a small percentage of the population in the U.S. (even less for the Europe) own a HDTV set and nearly half of these owners don’t even know they are not watching HD unless they are using a HD set-top box and tuned to HD channels! Oh well, their lose if they don’t want to do some research for their expensive HDTV purchase.

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New DVD player on the way

Thanks to the President’s Day weekend, Leah and I have to wait until Tuesday for the delivery of our new DVD player. I sounded pretty happy with the Zenith DVD player so why am I getting a new one? Here are the reasons why:

  • Menu system is slow as molasses. Every button press takes up to a second to affect the screen menu. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but you have to wait a second to see. And I regularly choose the wrong menu option because I pressed the button one too many time.
  • Even though the Zenith uses the impressive Faroudja upscaling/deinterlacing chip and produces great results on region 1 NTSC DVD, it doesn’t have the 2:2 pulldown capability for region 2 PAL DVD turn on. What it means is that the player doesn’t de-interlace the PAL video properly and produces jagged edges on screen. (De-interlacing explanation here)
  • The player has no concept of 4:3 material so playing old British TV DVD which are made before 16:9 widescreen format means the image is stretched to fill the TV screen.

Initially I thought these issues won’t bother me, and since it was donated to me free I couldn’t complain anyway. But eventually the slow menu response and the jagged edges really got to me.

The new DVD player that I bought is the OPPO OPDV917H which does not have any of the above problems, plus better colour rendition as well as more frequent firmware updates. Not to mention it tops the Home Theater Secrets DVD Benchmark Review, beating even the Denon 5910!

So Leah and I are refraining from watching any DVDs this long weekend so we’ll enjoy them using the new player next week.

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