December 16, 2012
Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is easily one of the most anticipated films this holiday season, we all know that. The technology around the Hobbit is ground breaking, we all know that too. The real question is, what if anything does all that new technology add to the final product? I have a feeling this is going to be one of the most contentious questions movie fans and particularly home theater aficionados debate in the coming months and years.
It feels like I’ve waited years for ‘The Hobbit’ to arrive in theaters and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I’ll cut to the chase and say I would have preferred something more along the lines of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, non-3D, standard framerate with more of the gorgeous (organic’esque) cinematography we’ve come to expect from a Peter Jackson production.
From the very first glimpses of Bilbo in his Hobbit Hole I had the sinking feeling that 48fps wasn’t going to make me like 3D anymore than I already do (which isn’t much) and by the end of the movie I pretty much felt the same. It certainly looked different but I can’t say I liked it better than anything I saw in the theaters during ‘The Lord of the Rings’. To the contrary in most scenes I found it distracting and artificial. It honestly wasn’t a lot different than the 120hz and 240hz clear motion settings on recent LED televisions (the kind of settings I turn off) although it was considerably less fatiguing to the eye.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad, overall the movie was enjoyable and there were several scenes that I felt did look really good. One of the better looking scenes took place as the Dwarves were leaving The Shire and then later during the flashback to the Battle of Moria. That said, I never really felt like it would have lost anything in standard framerate 2D, I’m sure many will disagree, I’m just calling it as I see it. Admittedly I may be too old to toss out my nostalgia for film (and even its 2K digital counterpart) and look at something like this with fresh eyes, even though that’s exactly what I tried to do with The Hobbit.
December 1, 2012
Ever found yourself rummaging through a closet looking for a HDTV calibration disc? Ok maybe not an everyday occurrence, but that’s exactly what happened to me last Saturday when my shiny new Samsung UN46EH6000 (review in the works) arrived on my doorstep.
I’m not sure if I misplaced them, loaned them out or just didn’t turn over the right rock but I couldn’t find a calibration disc anywhere. Luckily, I recalled seeing some sort of downloadable calibration disc over at AVS Forum awhile back.
The AVS HD 709 disc is available as a free HDMV, AVCHD or MP4 download that can be burnt to a DVD or Blu-ray disc or just ran as a raw file in the case of the MP4. I chose the AVCHD version (roughly 600mb) and burned it to a single layer DVD-R which worked just fine in my Blu-ray player.
There are way too many sections of the disc to get into here and, to be quite honest, I’ve only had enough time to delve into a few sections myself, but it’s already evident this disc is a great tool for calibrating your home theaters display.
The basic settings section includes patterns for adjusting: Black-Level, White-Level, Color, Tint and Sharpness. Also, be sure to watch the video under “HDTV Calibration” as it’s a great introduction to basic calibration theory and good instruction on the specifics of the AVS HD709 disc itself.
October 10, 2011
The Logitech Harmony One has been the universal remote of choice in our home theater for over a year now. I originally intended to write this review many months ago but in a way I’m glad I waited. I now feel like I’m able to give a much better recommendation than if I’d simply used it for a few days or weeks before offering my opinion.
The best way to describe the Harmony One’s appearance is polished, sleek and slightly futuristic. It really is one heck of a good looking remote and it feels great in your hand as well. It’s easily one of the most comfortable remotes I’ve ever used and even after more than a year of daily use, I really haven’t found any significant complaints about the remotes ergonomics.
Fortunately the Harmony One performs just as good as it looks; the remote features a motion sensor that illuminates the color, back-lit display when it’s picked up. I originally felt the back-light was a little too sensitive, as it would illuminate with the slightest touch. After a good bit of use it’s a tad less sensitive and now it’s just right in my opinion. I don’t want to overplay the motion sensors sensitivity here, it never was a real problem, its just even less so now.
Something else worth mentioning is the rechargeable battery-pack tucked away in the lower half of the remote. The Harmony One’s Lithium-ion battery has easily saved us $30-40 worth of batteries in the last year or so, and in that time I haven’t really noticed the charge capacity diminishing at all.
December 19, 2010
It’s been quite a while since our original Boxee (software) review and while a lot has changed much of what made Boxee compelling has only gotten better with the introduction of the Boxee Box by D-Link. Now with Boxee Box there’s a small, self-contained device specifically built for the Boxee platform, no HTPC required. For those unfamiliar with Boxee I still recommend downloading the software version for reference, while Boxee Box doesn’t run the exact same software that can be downloaded, its close enough to give you a good visualization of what I’ll describe in the review.
Before we get started I’d be remiss not to mention some of the other Boxee Box reviews from Gizmodo, Engadget and Wired etc. Some reviewers have savaged the Boxee Box, others giving a cautious wait-and-see recommendation, while one in particular seemed to be reviewing the content itself, not the player. If your looking for another bandwagon-esque beat-down of the Boxee Box I’m afraid what follows will disappoint. I actually like the ‘Box’ and to be quite honest it’s hard to take reviews like Wired’s “Boxee Box Is an Endless Stream of Disappointment” seriously. Wired’s reviewer seems to be examining the current state of YouTube video quality rather than the Box itself (Wired’s format is gun-’n-run sometimes, no real knock just taking a different route here) while ignoring the Box’s other strong points.
Engadget and Gizmodo also found fault with the Boxee Box but they at least seemed to actually review and give it a fair shot before doing so. I think this really boils down to a matter of perspective, if you’re expecting Boxee Box to “revolutionize” internet TV, then you’re in for disappointment and to be honest online content is only half the story. If however, you’re looking for a single Box that can handle just about any file-format imaginable with a easy to navigate interface and some cool apps thrown in to boot (and more coming) then read on.
So, as I mentioned above if you’re not familiar with Boxee I highly recommend grabbing the software version and giving it a whirl. Even if you’re not really looking for a DIY HTPC solution, you’ll get a feel for the Boxee interface. While Boxee is not entirely different than Windows Media Center on the surface at least, I find it a little more straightforward to use. That said, MCE does things Boxee doesn’t and won’t do by design. i.e. direct disc playback, off-air recordings (for now at least) etc.
Continued from: Boxee Box Review
Use and Performance: As I mentioned earlier, most of the other Boxee Box reviews were written before the first firmware update was pushed out. By the time you read this I will have installed and used my Boxee Box with the third firmware update for nearly a week. That’s one of the main reasons I prefer not to write reviews at break-neck speed to “beat” the other guys. There is no beat the other guy here, I want to be able to tell you whats its really like to own and use a piece of gear not rip open and box and thrown down a stream of consciousness. That said, I’m three weeks plus into the Boxee Box and I’m more interested in whats next than what wasn’t included at launch. Sure Netflix would be a big plus but I’m getting a ton of use out of the Box as-is.
As far as bugs and problems I’ve encountered with the Box they’ve been few and far between. About the only ones I’ve yet to find a resolution to were a .MKV video file that wouldn’t play past a certain point, being able to ‘browse all’ by content type however I haven’t ruled out my own error on that one (I’m still able to browse individual folders and drives), and having audio drop outs on an occasion or two after turning on subtitles (restarting the video corrected the problem). Aside from those issues and getting used to the remote (simple once you get the hang of it), Boxee Box is pretty much like operating a DVR, you browse recordings folders across your network and click to play them. Finding and playing Youtube (and alike) content is a breeze and there are content sources as varied as comedy videos to live concert recordings available right from the menu.
About the remote, as you may be aware the rather innovative little remote included with the Boxee Box it is not an infra-red remote and that has some users complaining about compatibility with universal remote. One way I rationalize it is the fact that its also a QWERTY keyboard (on the reverse side) so if you’re accustomed to HTPC’s and or already have a wireless keyboard for your your A/V system, at least this ones a lot smaller and easily tucked out of the way.
December 6, 2010
I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey (sorry, couldn’t resist). Back before cell-phones were commonplace, even before the internet and way before things like Facebook and Twitter, teenagers had their own social network; but we just called it the midnight movies. The midnight movies were where we could meet with friends, catch up and plan the rest of the weekend and generally just have a great time. Oh and occasionally, we’d actually watch the movie. No matter how crappy the work-week (and lets be honest most teenage work weeks were crappy), we always knew the king of the midnight movies; ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ was there waiting for us and ready to provide a great escape on a Friday night.
At the risk of turning this Blu-ray review into a public confessional, suffice to say “the glorious results of a misspent youth” is a phrase I understand well. No I never got into character or even really participated in the shout-backs all that much, but that didn’t make the show any less enjoyable. Rocky Horror may not be everyones cup o’ tea, but for this (then) teenager it was an awe-inspiring spectacle. It only dawned on me with this most recent round of viewing, just how timeless the film is. It barely seemed dated to me in the 80’s and early 90’s but now given the rekindled interest pop-culture has for anything vintage and especially vintage horror, it actually seems less dated. Throw in the phenomenon that is Glee and their recent ‘The Rocky Horror Glee Show’ and Rocky seems new all over again.
Plot: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a campy, science-fiction movie with one hell of a rock n’ roll soundtrack, but it was much more. Rocky takes a jab at just about everything and anything, from sexual identities, marriage, politics, middle America and everything in-between, you name it and its probably being lampooned. Nothing is sacred, not even what the film cherishes most, namely rock ‘n roll and science fiction.
The film follows Brad Majors and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) through the eyes of a criminologist, ah you know what, this description is going to sound even weirder than the film and that’s no small feat. Lets just say the film follows a newlywed couple on a strange journey that involves bikers, aliens, transvestites and a man with no neck (not necessarily in that order). There, if you’ve never seen Rocky Horror I haven’t ruined anything and if you have, you hardly need someone elses synopsis of the films plot.
November 21, 2010
Audio/video receivers play an indispensable role in many home theaters, they act as the central hub; routing, decoding and processing audio/video signals and providing the amplification for the surround channels. Receivers have come a long way since the days of routing s-video and matrixed surround sound. Today’s AVR’s, handle 1080p video, process high bit-rate digital audio, perform complex video processing, and many newer models even incorporate networked audio, DLNA servers and much more. They truly are the heart of a good home theater. Rumors of the AVR’s demise are greatly exaggerated, at least in dedicated home theaters. I do have to admit products like the Denon S-5BD are intriguing for secondary rooms but ahem, back to the topic at hand.
I’ve wanted to upgrade my receiver for some time now but that pesky lil economic downturn kept getting in the way. I felt like it might be best to wait for a good deal to present itself and.. oh what the hell is this? A new Denon AVR-3310CI for less than $600? I jumped at the chance, and I’m glad I did. Was it risky to take a chance on a receiver sight unseen, unheard rather? Yes, but as it turned out it was well worth it. The reason I say risky is that some of the early 3310CI’s suffered from network and firmware issues that proved to be rather frustrating for some users. Those early production models have most likely been exhausted from the retail supply chain for some time, however.
Ok, that brings us to the next question. Why not a 2011 model, aka the xx11CI series like a 3311CI? This was a case where I had to buy the features I needed over the features I wanted. The 2010 AVR-3310CI model has 5 HDMI inputs and 3 component inputs whereas the 2011 AVR-3311CI has 6 HDMI inputs and 2 component inputs. I’m sure one day in the future I’ll be able to get by with 2 component inputs but I’m just not quite there yet. I also have no pressing need for HDMI 1.4 yet (on the 2011 models) as I’m sitting out the whole 3D craze for the foreseeable future. So it really just boiled down to the 3310CI having the features I needed at a price I could afford, versus the 3311CI having some features I wanted at a price that I wasn’t prepared to spend.
Initial Thoughts: Before we get started, I want to point out the Denon AVR-3310CI originally listed for $1,499.00 and can now be found at Amazon for $567.80 (as of 11/21/10) and I’m going to recommend it at the end of this review. I just thought it was worth pointing that out before the 2000 or so words to follow. So flash forward a few days from the time I ordered mine and I’m unboxing it on my living room floor. Physically the receiver is a little shorter both in height and depth, but roughly the same weight as my aging Marantz SR-7500. The Denon feels sturdy and I can see through the case that it has a toroidal transformer. I believe some of the newer models have a switched power supply but ill leave the merits of the former vs. the later to debate for another day.
Continued from Denon AVR-3310CI Receiver Review (Part 1)
Sound Performance: Feeling the itch to get back to a big Hollywood title, specifically one with over the top sound I popped in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ and skipped forward to chapter 29. One of the best demo scenes of recent memory in my opinion. (p.s. dear neighbors, if you were home during this portion of my review, my deepest condolences.) While it wasn’t on par with our demo system that consisted of a Denon AVR-4806 and PSB GT1 towers, it was easily better than my old Marantz SR7500, and I’m sure the uncompressed PCM was a big part of that. The sound was lush and well placed in the soundstage, the bass was pronounced and the top end was smooth and free of harshness even at loud volumes.
Random clips and observations. During ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ a gunshot that panned from back to front (sort of unusual) really caught us off guard, the wife actually jumped, I pretended not to. From there I wanted to check in with something I’m very familiar with, Serenity on Blu-ray. After as many viewings as I’ve had with this title its hard to discover anything new but the rear channels were more active than I ever recall hearing them, a lot more active.
I’ll paraphrase a few lines form an upcoming review, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ on Blu-ray (without giving too much away). From the first few notes of Science Fiction Double Feature, it was obvious the soundtrack had been given the special care it deserved. It had a analog like quality (that’s a good thing kids, contrary to what you’ve been told) to it. I honestly don’t recall ever hearing better on Blu-ray. Regardless, its among the very best I’ve ever heard from a major studio, on a 35 year old, low budget title no less. In case you can’t tell, I love the sound on this disc and the way it sounds through the AVR-3310CI.
I threw on an old DTS HD Master Audio demo disc I picked up at CEDIA a few years ago and skipped forward to a live cut of Perter Gabriel performing ‘Salisbury Hill’. Talk about active surrounds… this track might be a bit too frantic to discern overall sound quality but it again illustrates the 3310’s ability to render complex surrounds and center channel audio, while never detracting from what going on with the main channels.
November 6, 2010
The terms Netflix streaming, instant queue, and watch instantly might not sound as familiar as DVD, MP3, and home theater but that’s likely to change in the near future. Now that 1080p and surround sound have made their way to Netflix’s streaming movie service, look for an ever increasing number of compatible devices appearing on store shelves.
Many of you have already tried or already use Netflix online but there are just as many who’ve yet to try it. I wanted to share some thoughts of what its like to enable and use the service for a beginner, because even yours truly is a Netflix novice when it comes to streaming; this past weekend was my first experience with the service but hardly the last.
I actually had to resubscribe to Netflix prior to this review. Between work, HD cable, Blu-ray, and reading, I haven’t had a lot of free time for movie viewing. But as the days get darker earlier I’m finding myself anxious to catch up on titles that slipped through the cracks. I’m only about 10 months or so behind… ahem, that might be a conservative estimate.
First up was Netflix for the PS3. Installation of the Netflix app on the PS3 is pretty straightforward; just click on the Netflix icon that was already present in the video section and wait the 30 seconds or so it takes for the application to install. (It’s no longer necessary to insert the special Netflix disc for viewing). From there, you’ll be asked if you already have a Netflix account or need to create one. If you don’t have an account I recommend creating it on a PC with a real keyboard versus the PS3’s virtual keyboard. The less typing with that virtual keyboard the better, in my opinion.
October 27, 2010
The term modern classic is surely overused, but in the case of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ it couldn’t be more fitting. I can think of no better way to describe the title as it encompasses some of Disney’s best animation, both traditional and digital and easily one of their best musical scores in decades.
While I’m at a slight disadvantage with this film compared to other titles reviewed here, i.e. not having seen it in the theater, I have seen ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 times, spread out over 4 different formats (VHS, DVD, Cable and Laserdisc); so I think I’ll be able to offer an opinion on the Blu-ray’s quality overall. (Seeing it with a young cousin recently on vhs, reminded me of watching it with my daughter all those years ago.)
Plot: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ of course pre-dates Disney (by a couple of hundred years) so I’m assuming you already know the gist of the story. Lovely damsel meets a cursed prince who can only have the curse removed if he finds true love, deep breath… flash forward to 1991 and the story gets decidedly more animated, talking candle sticks, tea pots, tea cups and hilarity ensues.
Sound and Image: After updating to PS3 firmware version 3.50, I popped in the feature disc. The menu sequence with Lumière was fun and overall the entire menu system was well laid out. No real surprises here but none really necessary either, pretty much what you’ve come to expect with Disney platinum & diamond edition Blu-ray’s – a hierarchical menu system, a few extras with picture in picture on the first disc, and expanded extras on a second disc.
I gave the special extended version a quick run-through but it was the original theatrical version I wanted to compare against my memory. Within the first few seconds of Belle quipping about her provincial life, the Blu-ray put miles of distance between this version and all other viewings; the colors were lush and vivid, and to my eyes at least, perfectly saturated.