Panasonic Frustration, Lossless Analog, Upgrade Blues
Can't Get No Satisfaction
Love your blog at HomeTheaterMag.com. It is very informative and has helped me in many ways.
Are you aware of any remedy for the black-level issue in Panasonic plasmas? Although my Panasonic TC-P50G10 (bought in 2009) still produces a pretty good picture, I do notice the change in black level now. Do you think tweaking the service menu would help at this stage?
Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad I can help improve your A/V experience.
As far as I know, there is no remedy such as a firmware update or service-menu adjustment for the Panasonic plasma black-level problem. However, we have been running a G20 24/7 in our studio, and after about 1200 hours so far, we have measured no increase in black level at all. So while I'm sure it does occur as some users have reported, the problem is not universal. How common is it? I don't know. Do the 2010 models exhibit the same problem? I don't know. We will continue to test review units in this way, but obviously, it takes time to know for sure.
The Only Way
What's the best way to connect the audio from a Samsung BD-P3600 Blu-ray player to my Denon AVR-5700, which has no HDMI? Buying a new receiver is not feasible at this time. My system is 5.1. The Denon has "6ch/8ch Ext In" jacks but only a 5-channel amp (140W x 5), so there is no power for the two surround-back channels even though there are input jacks for them. Can I get lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio sound with my current setup, or do I have to have a 7.1 system for that?
Secondly, the Denon manual states, "the input signals connected to the...Ext In jacks are output directly...without passing through the surround circuitry." Does that mean all my surround parameters (speaker size, distance, level, etc.) are bypassed and handled by the Samsung player instead? The Samsung manual explains setting speaker size but nothing about distance; it also reveals how to turn on the test tone, but not how to adjust the speaker level.
Finally, should the player's Digital Output parameter be set on PCM, Bitstream (Re-encode), or Bitsteam (Audiophile)?
The only way to get lossless audio to your receiver is to connect the multichannel analog outputs on the player to the Ext In inputs on the AVR. Interestingly, the AVR-5700 has two sets of multichannel analog inputs5.1 and 7.1and you can use either one, but since your system is 5.1, I'd use the 5.1 inputs. If you were to add two back-surround speakers in the future, you'd need to switch to the 7.1 inputs and provide amplification for them, since the AVR has only five amp channels as you state. There's no need to have a 7.1 system for lossless audiomost Blu-rays at this point are 5.1, and the two extra channels on those that are 7.1 have been artificially synthesized.
Signals entering the Ext In jacks do indeed bypass your speaker settings, with one exceptionlevels. You can set the speaker sizes in the Samsung player, but it has no settings for delays or levels. The Digital Output parameter has no effect on the analog output, so its setting doesn't matter in your case.
FYI, for those using the HDMI output, setting the Digital Output parameter to "PCM" decodes all audioprimary (movie) and secondary (menu sounds, simultaneous commentaries, etc.)to PCM, mixes it together, and sends it via HDMI. "Bitstream (Re-encode)" decodes all primary and secondary audio to PCM, mixes it, and re-encodes it to regular DTS before sending it via HDMI. And "Bitstream (Audiophile)" sends the primary audio in its native bitstream and ignores the secondary audio.
Time to Upgrade
I have been slowly upgrading my system in a piecemeal fashion. The display remains a limited-edition 35-inch Mitsubishi X7 CRT, which retailed for $7000 back in the early '90s. It still has a phenomenal picture, and since I just missed the Kuro boat, I have yet to find a flat panel or projector that I want to invest in.
Meanwhile, I've upgraded my old Pioneer receiver to a Pioneer Elite SC-27 that handles all the new codecs. I feed it with an Oppo BDP-83 DVD player using HDMI for the audio and passing an S-video signal through the receiver to the TV. If I install a Blu-ray player, can I listen to the new lossless audio streams via HDMI while living with an S-video signal until I can upgrade the TV? In other words, can I play a Blu-ray disc, listening to lossless audio while watching 480i video simultaneously? Are there Blu-ray players out there with S-video or component video outputs? Or do I just have to get a flat panel now if I want better audio now?
The Mits CRT might have a phenomenal picture for what it is (especially in terms of black level), but it's standard-def, so it can't be that good compared with many modern HDTVs, which sell for a lot less than $7000! I strongly encourage you to bite the bullet and upgrade to HD ASAP! Despite the recent scare about rising black levels in Panasonic plasmas, our tests so far have not revealed any such problem on the G20 we've been running 24/7 for at least 1200 hours so far. That's not to say it doesn't happen in any Panasonic set, but it's clearly not universal. Otherwise, Panasonic plasmas are generally excellent. On the LCD side, I really like the LG LE8500 series.
If you must continue to use the Mits, you can hear lossless audio via HDMI while watching a standard-def downconversion of the video from the Oppo's composite output (ugh!)all outputs are active simultaneously. Like more and more players these days, the Oppo doesn't even have an S-video output, though virtually all Blu-ray players still have a component and composite output.
To hear lossless audio and see standard-def video, go into the player's Video Setup menu and set the Primary Output parameter to "Component" and the output resolution to 720p or 1080i. Why not set the output to "Composite" and the resolution to 480i or 480p? Because doing so reduces the HDMI output's bandwidth, so it can't accommodate lossless audio. Video from the composite output will always be 480i, and setting the resolution to 720p or 1080i assures that the HDMI output has sufficient bandwidth to carry the lossless audio.
Seriously, it's time to upgrade to HD, dude!
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