Yes, 3D is upon us and with it has come a surprising promotional turn of events. To grab your 3D dollars TV manufacturers are lining up as many hot titles as exclusives as they can get their hands on, including four of the hottest 3D titles of the holiday shopping season: Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, and Shrek Forever After (and really, how far behind can an announcement be for a 3D exclusive on Toy Story 3?). All of these Blu-ray 3D titles, and others, can only be obtained by consumers who buy a 3DTV and Blu-ray 3D player in a bundle from certain manufacturers.
Everyone seems to have a “for” or “against” position on 3D. In my last Blog most who chimed in were against. Very against. But what I’m wondering is, when people say they don’t like 3D, are they referring to the artistic merit of 3D or the technical limitations of many 3D presentations?
These last two weeks have been very tight to find blogging time, but this is too cool not to share even if it’s a copout in the form of a quickie to those keeping score at home. A Home Theater reader named Andrew Lambert just emailed over a link to this YouTube video of his dedicated home theater.
Since Warner dropped its bomb on the format war on January 4th, the clock has been ticking on Universal and Paramount, the remaining HD DVD exclusive studios. When are they going to give up the ghost and go Blu?
After many months and much gnashing of teeth online and print, Home Theater's ratings are in fact returning starting to product reviews with the January issue being assembled now. The ratings are not only coming back, we think the more streamlined version we've come up with is actually better than what we had before.
A number of things have dovetailed into this Blog in the last week and a half. A NY Times article landed downplaying the success Blu-ray is having thus far and its future prospects, and, IMO, vastly overrating the current and future prospects of movie streaming and downloads. A massive wave of CE products launched at CES that connect to Internet-driven content, adding some fuel to this fire, and well, NPR called me in the middle of the show to get my take on this, which you can read and listen to here.
Answering a reader letter for a recent print issue provided an opportunity to look at how the flat panel TV has evolved since the demise of the best flat panel TVs yet devised, the gone but hardly forgotten Pioneer KURO line of plasmas. These sets looked better, and the measurements demonstrated that in many key respects, they were in fact better than the competition. In blacks and contrast, objective and subjective, we’ve not yet seen their equal let alone their better. My question is whether anyone is really trying any more. The KURO in a short time built an incredible reputation and brand equity and identification. To this day, when readers email me about these sets, they say “KURO,” not Pioneer or Pioneer Elite. That mark stuck with people. When the KURO walked the Earth the other manufacturers were forced to catch up. Within a short time LCD flat panel manufacturers had to answer, and they did. LCDs improved dramatically, primarily through the advent of full array local dimming. Blacks and contrast with LCDs suddenly stood where no LCD had stood before. When the KUROs were here it seemed LED backlighting with local dimming and the performance increases it afforded LCDs were the next big thing. But the KURO went away. Edge lighting came about and is far more prevalent than full array local dimming, making TVs almost iPhone thin. But these sets don’t compete with local dimmers in blacks and contrast and have uniformity issues that may bother purists. The full-array local dimmers are now apparently confined to premium models from LG and Sony, with only VIZIO offering more affordable models. Since thin has been in, there’s also been a massive fixation on Internet streaming apps and of course, 3D. Rumors persist that engineering talent from project KURO now resides at Panasonic, and that the next KURO-like performance will emerge from there. Panasonic’s latest plasmas are definitely the closest we’ve seen from plasmas, but they’re not quite at KURO level in blacks and contrast even though Panasonic has a full suite of Internet apps and excellent 3D.
I was strolling through Costco the other day, looking to buy 55 gallons of something I don't need but can't resist at the price, when I saw this flier attached to all the store's HDTVs (forgive on the photo quality- I was shopping and had to use my iPhone's camera).
My recent post on extended surround surprised me with the response it drew, both quantitatively and qualitatively. I think what surprised me the most was how many of you have already moved beyond 5.1. Myself and most of the writers for the magazine are still using 5.1 as a base system, and occasionally jury-rigging extended surround on an as-needed basis for testing. I can’t answer for all of them, but I did want to pass along more of my own thoughts and experiences on the subject and why I’m still using 5.1 and not at all likely to change that anytime soon.
Years ago, I experimented extensively with both 6.1- and 7.1-channel surround sound, both with a single surround back channel and with two surround back channels. I was then in a dual-purpose living room space, and the 6.1 with the single surround back channel was most effective, but not enough to totally sell me on the concept. My last two rooms have been dedicated media spaces, and each has been in the neighborhood of 25x16, with a first a 10’ ceiling and now just under 9’. The first house was new construction with a ground-up media room build. It was a big room, and I pre-wired the back wall for 7.1 as a precaution. It turned out I never felt I needed it and when I moved to my current house, a retrofit job, I didn’t give any consideration to 7.1, let alone height and width expansion. Let me speculate on why.
Extended surround sound is nothing new. The staple surround sound configuration for movie theaters and home theaters is digitally delivered, discrete 5.1-channel surround sound. But in both arenas there have also been numerous pushes to move beyond that paradigm. In the DVD era we were given a number of options for expanding our surround sound experience toward the back of the room, from the base 5.1-channel paradigm to 6.1- and 7.1-channels. Although only select DVD titles were encoded with extended surround, within a few years virtually every AV receiver and surround processor in existence offered tool sets that would decode these soundtracks- or any 5.1-channel soundtrack- to 6.1- or 7.1-channels on playback. And just about any AVR you look at today will include seven channels of amplification.
So, here’s a little slice of the Editor’s life. I live in the Pacific Northwest and work from home, traveling to Home Theater’s Los Angeles offices about a week per month to close each print issue. Last week and next week are back to back closes for HT’s December issue and the massive Buyer’s Guide annual. Coming home from these work trips, after catching up with the family my favorite ritual is opening up my stack of packages that inevitably arrive in my absence, which always includes my supplementary/impulse buys from Amazon. Yes, movies and music.
Month in and month out I receive letters from readers about pricing on Blu-ray, and noting that the public won’t buy in until Blu-ray is cheaper. What the public at large will or won’t buy into isn’t quite the same thing as what Home Theater readers will buy and for how much. For you, as a Home Theater reader, how cheap is cheap enough? Cheaper than an iPhone or an iPod? Walking through Costco the other day I saw every day pricing on players that was well below $299, and I’m sure we’ll see cheaper prices around the holidays. But realistically, is Blu-ray cheap enough to make it down your chimney this year? Was there ever a case to make that Blu-ray was genuinely “expensive” to begin with?
In the next few issues we’re going to be diving headfirst into the emerging Google TV ecosystem in the form of Logitech’s Revue and a Sony Google TV-equipped BD player. It occurred to me in planning this coverage that I’ve seen some of this before. Just a few years ago this merging of the computer world with consumer electronics was called convergence by its proponents, and collision by its many detractors. Its first clumsy steps were really little more than dragging a full blown PC into your theater system and using your TV as a really big computer monitor with a wireless keyboard and/or mouse. Instead of enhancing functionality, it combined the worst aspects of both worlds. People using computers all day for business had no interest in taking all the issues with computer interfaces and mucking up their leisure time with it. In response to its failure to catch on in the home theater world, computer monitors got bigger, desktop audio systems got better, and the home theater and computer/Internet worlds each went to their respective rooms.
Last week, just days before Black Friday, I received a letter from a reader lamenting the high prices of Blu-ray Discs. He quoted prices from a retailer of $35 for the Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood, and $32 for The Hangover. Curious fellow I am I hit Amazon and found that Robin Hood, a relatively new release, is $23 for a set including the movie on Blu-ray, DVD, and a mobile friendly Digital Copy. The Hangover was $15 for the standard Blu-ray and $24 for the Extreme Edition, which includes an extra disc and a book and other accoutrements. When I noted this to the reader, along with the fact that my, local grocery store is now carrying Blu-ray catalog titles for $9.99 he shot back some more outrage that the Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, which was released on 11/16, was $22-$25, even on Amazon. This is three-disc set, which I just reviewed for our February print issue, includes three full cuts of the movie, and two full Blu-ray Discs full of hours of really incredible extras, including a terrific full length documentary. This strikes me as an extraordinarily good value, but I thought I’d ask you. Are Blu-ray software prices still to high? Do you think price is why some people are looking to move to Netflix, Apple TV and other streaming services or is that merely convenience driven? Or have the movie studios simply devalued their content after years of bargain bin pricing on DVDs?