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.
March 28, 2010
Eight months after first learning that Turner Classic Movies would be available in high definition, I’m finally sitting here watching ‘The Graduate’ (in scope no less) and it was well worth the wait. Tonight the lineup is ‘The Graduate’, ‘Red’s’, ‘Chinatown’, ‘The Wind and the Lion’, and the original (obviously) ‘Parent Trap’. Later on this week I’ll be DVR’ing gems like ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, ‘Roman Holiday’, ‘The African Queen’, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, and ‘Key Largo’.
Will they all look as good as recent HD transfers and be in their proper aspect ratio? Of course not, and it hardly matters at this point. I’ve read forum posts from HD enthusiasts (I chose that term over movie lovers on purpose) complaining about the quality and aspect ratio problems of Turner Classic Movies HD, MGM HD, and IFC HD. Yes, problems do exist with these channels, and in some cases they’re quite heinous, but there’s a reason for it and its actually very forgivable (at least at this point in time).
Unlike their recent, big budget hollywood counterparts, many of these films have to be restored and transferred to high definition, independent of the original studio. This is obviously a costly endeavor and one that must be balanced against the fact that there isn’t nearly as much the demand for classics in HD as for newer films. As such, much if not all of the cost of the transfer for classics can’t be recouped in the short term if ever.
December 21, 2009
Humble pie rarely tastes as sweet as it did this afternoon at my local megaplex, Avatar was incredible. I finally get what James Cameron was talking about way back in 2006 when he argued that 3D movies would bring audiences to digital theaters in greater numbers. While the actual numbers for Avatars opening weekend are still being tabulated, I now see (literally) that 3D can indeed play an important role in the future of filmmaking.
Hearing the hype surrounding Avatar for all these months, I have to admit I was dubious at best, biased at worst, against the film but within the first 10 minutes or so I was already at ease with the 3D effects. Avatar in my estimation is a generational leap forward in quality versus what I saw with Beowulf. Gone were the cheesy nose tickles and headache inducing motion artifacts. This was just clean, smooth, artifact free movie-going goodness.
Here’s the funny thing, even though I’m willing to eat a little crow here and admit that the technology behind Avatar has made me a believer, my main critique of 3D films thus far was the real surprise of Avatar, namely the story. Like I said back in 2006 without a great story 3D is just goofy gimmicks, luckily Avatar would have worked on its own, 3D or not. Sure some may draw parallels between the plot and other films but the theme here is timeless. What was new however was the level of detail put into making Pandora a living, breathing world.
From the trailers I was somewhat apprehensive about the Na’vi (the blue, indigenous people of Pandora). For some reason I kept imagining this guy, but luckily my association couldn’t have been more off. Neytiri’s character was a standout in my opinion; Zoë Saldañas work was top notch as usual. There was definitely a more human “feel” to the film even if that’s about the worst word possible to use, considering the subject matter.
October 25, 2009
‘Lie to Me’ season one was my first look at a high definition television series on Blu-ray. I didn’t watch the first season as it aired but I was curious to see what TV on DVD Blu-ray had to offer. Given the success of other television series on DVD and the popularity of network HD broadcasts, combined with the storage capacity of Blu-ray; the medium really should shine with television series. An entire season in one case (on three discs) makes for a lot fewer disc loads to boot.
Plot: Ah, the plot, well I started with the pilot episode of course and within just a few minutes the premise (Murder She Wrote with a dude who reads faces) was already growing tiresome. Someone twitches their face a certain way so it must mean they’re hiding something. Of course this is a real ability and I’m sure it happens every day, but I suspect that it doesn’t happen as easily or quickly as its depicted in ‘Lie to me’.
At the risk of passing early judgment on the series and realizing the face-reading bit was merely window dressing on a story driven plot, I trudged forward through several more episodes. Once the shows gimmicks subsided a bit I was able to get into some of the storylines, at least on a minor level. Don’t get me wrong, Lie to Me isn’t a bad show, the problem is there are better shows, plenty of them to be honest.
September 16, 2009
This years CEDIA EXPO was a blast, not necessarily because of all the cool new products on the show-floor but because it was held about 30 miles from my house. All kidding aside, given the overall downsizing of this years show I’m glad I didn’t have to shell out for airfare and a hotel. To give you an idea how much smaller this year’s show was I can break it down into time spent before feeling like I’d seen it all. In years past, it took at least until midway or late into the second day before I felt like I’d seen it all. This year I was satisfied and on my way back home well before the show ended on my first day.
That said, there were still plenty of cool things to see at this year’s show, even if they didn’t take up as much square footage as years prior. As I suspected 3D and digital downloads/distribution were both well represented, but the latter more so than I ever expected. Stepping into the main hall you immediately notice the gargantuan Crestron banner hovering over their massive booth. I know Crestron has always had large booths but given the fact that many others were downsizing, Crestron’s booth just seemed all the more massive.
To be honest; I really haven’t paid a lot of attention to Crestron in the last 24 months or so. They seemed to be in revision and refinement mode along with introducing a few distributed audio products but this year they were back with a vengeance. What’s this, a Crestron (ADC-200BR) 200 disc Blu-ray changer? Very cool, even if it is just a re-badged Sony. It shows they’re thinking about the entire chain. The piece of gear sitting next to that 200 disc changer was the real attraction however. The ADMS-BR (Intermedia Delivery System) was a knockout. We’re talking about a content delivery and management system with built-in Blu-ray/DVD player, support for multiple changers, CDs, MP3s, iTunes, Windows Media, Netflix, Amazon.com, YouTube, and I quote “virtually any other online source you desire”. The system does way more than I have time to delve into here. Be sure to check out some of the other specs on this “kitchen sink” via Crestron’s site.
I made a point of walking between a few of the flat-panel manufacturers booths to try and gauge who (if anyone) was ready to step up to the bar Pioneer set with the Kuro’s. Here’s the funny thing about that little exercise, to some degree it looked like everyone was. First, I took a look at Toshiba’s LED powered LCD’s, then I took a quick walk over to Samsung’s booth, switched back across the aisle to Sharp, and then ended up at LG’s booth.
It seemed as if LED back-lighting was some sort of great equalizer among all these brands. I can’t recall a year when they all “looked” so similar to one another. Now, this could be due to many things, calibration, eye tweaking, background colors, or just the fact that they are truly closing in on one another, but it was almost eerie.
That said there were two manufacturers that caught my eye, even if by a slight amount. The Samsung LED’s looked really good, the sharpness was there and the colors looked great, oh and I loved the Twitter widgets. The second was LG, they seemed to have an ever so slight advantage in black-level and I have to admit those frame-less case designs on the SL80 series were very slick.
Stopping by Sony’s booth afforded me a chance to check out their new 200 disc Blu-ray changer (I know all my custom A/V friends have been waiting on this one). I like how Sony’s trying to streamline all their user interfaces to look and operate like the PS3, good move on their part. I also took a second to pop into the VPL-VW85 demo. It looked really nice, but unfortunately the scenes on display (at least while I was in the booth) were a bit monochromatic. I’m looking forward to seeing it again with a broader range of source material.
After a few more minutes of wondering around aimlessly, I found myself at the Control4 booth. Among the notables there were the Kwikset door locks that are C4 controllable, the 2.0 user interface that allows for more customization, and their little networked video player that can handle H.264. They also mentioned opening an app-store similar to the iPhone’s which will allow programmers to upload their own apps to share or sell to consumers. The Buzz at the Control4 booth was palpable. This was illustrated by the two Japanese gentlemen I saw marveling over the number of attendees swarming around the booth.
With all the 3D, LCD, Blu-ray, home automation, and digital download/distribution formalities out of the way (at least the ones that caught my eye) it was time to get to the stuff that really excites me, projectors! In no particular order, I stopped by Digital Projection’s booth first. To be honest, it would be more notable that DP had bad looking video than good. They never cease to impress with those huge, bright, punchy images. This year it was a complete and ready to watch “3D system” that consisted of a 120″ screen, 3-Chip DLP projector, and 3D processor with glasses that allows you to watch 3D right now with a standard Blu-ray disc. It looked pretty good actually. The price you ask? somewhere north of 42k.
Moving over to JVC’s booth, I was anxious to see the DLA-RS35/DLA-HD990 and it certainly didn’t disappoint. This HQV Reon-VX equipped, THX certified, 120hz, 70,000:1 stunner was just so easy on the eyes and artifact free (the entire range is, to be honest), it left me nostalgic for those first days spent with the RS1. There is just something about these projectors that make you forget about the gear and enjoy what’s on the screen. I honestly don’t know of a better accolade for a piece of A/V gear. Those considering the Sony VPL-VW85 should definitely check out the DLA-RS25/DLA-HD950 as well.
After the JVC demo I was on my way over to Sim2, specifically to see the C3X Lumis. Sim2 partnered with Krell to provide the audio for the demonstration and what a demonstration it was. They were using a Stevie Wonder concert disc on Blu-ray. This disc revealed something I don’t ever recall seeing with a DLP projector. Several of the performers were wearing black button up shirts. I could tell that two in particular appeared to be the same shirt, same except the fact that one of them appeared to have been laundered a few more times than the other. I’ve never seen such a subtle difference in shading on a DLP projector, it was quite remarkable. I’m not sure if the optics have been changed in the C3X recently, but it was almost as if a dirty lens had been cleaned versus my last C3X viewing. The price on this projector is somewhere in the high 30k range. Yes, it’s incredibly expensive and yes, it’s drastically better than your average, run of the mill DLP projector.
I’ve saved the best for last folks. I’ve been to front projection nirvana and appropriately enough Norwegians were present. Err wait, that would be Valhalla, but you get my drift. Many of you are familiar with Projection Design but perhaps not as familiar with their home cinema division, Avielo. While Avielo demonstrated several projectors at their booth, there were two in particular of note. First up was the LED lamped ‘Kroma’ with a MSRP of 32k (estimated 27k street). Given the fact the Kroma uses a LED lamp, it’s entirely possible the original lamp will still be plugging away long after the 3-year factory warranty has expired. That’s an entirely new concept to the world of front projection and hopefully one that will filter down to budget projectors as well. I saw a quick demo of the Kroma and the colors were certainly impressive. This is no slouch of a projector and one I look forward to seeing more of.
The Helios was on display twice at the Avielo booth. It was perched up front and center projecting onto a 100-something-inch screen right out in the open with all sorts of ambient light, and it looked as good as some high-end projectors in pitch black, bat caves. As well it should, considering the 65k (retail, I overheard 34k or so street) asking price. Keep in mind we’re talking about the upper echelon of performance here folks and not necessarily something that many of us will ever be able to afford. But the high-end is always relevant, as it gives us a benchmark to aim for down the road; as budget projectors improve right along with their big brother counterparts.
Avielo’s demo room also featured a Helios, thankfully this time under much more ideal circumstances. It was in this room I got a glimpse of near perfection (I say near not as a knock but because it doesn’t exist in electronics). The clip in question was from 10,000 BC. It was the scene toward the end of the movie where the hero is reunited with his object of desire, albeit too late. There are several different actors in the shot, all of different ethnicities. This was hands down the best flesh tone reproduction I’ve seen from a front projector, or pretty much any display for that matter. Don’t let anyone tell you DLP is a dying technology. It’s not the technology that’s being bettered, it’s the price points. The Helios is aptly named (Greek god of the sun) with its dual lamp system capable of 12 foot lamberts at 300” diagonal. It’s as bright as the day is long, but also capable of incredible subtlety as well. I could throw out a handful of other specs at you, like auto calibration, REC 709 standard compliance, etc., etc., but seeing is believing. If you get the chance, be sure and check out this projector. It’ll be well worth your time.
I said I saved the best (projectors) for last, but I do have one more find to share with you. As many of you know Les Paul died back in August and the world of music will forever miss him. I suppose it was fitting that one of the very last things I saw on my way home from CEDIA was a Thiel CS3.7, finished in a special Gibson sunburst orange and signed by Les himself. The Thiel representative I spoke to said they were so proud to have had Les involved with the project and they were honestly overwhelmed at the timing of his passing.
Overall great show this year, of course I’m looking forward to the return of the “mega-CEDIA”, but all in good time.
August 27, 2009
The 20th annual CEDIA Expo (Atlanta September 9-13) may be our first look at some of the biggest CE introductions of 2010, or second looks at products introduced in years past, polished off with a few revisions. The cynic in me suspects the latter, but I’m ready and willing to be pleasantly surprised. Among the potential areas of excitement, 3D certainly ranks high. I’ve made no secret of my dislike of glasses based 3D but of course others can’t seem to get enough of the genre. One of the key things to keep an eye on (pun) this year will be 3D source material. We’ve already seen 3D capable displays, this year it’s the content providers turn to tip their hat. Without full-fledged studio support, 3D is just spoofs, goofs, and gimmicks.
In addition to 3D displays (and hopefully source equipment) I’m sure we’ll see some 240hz displays. Heck it wouldn’t shock me if some weisenheimer previews a 480hz set (that was a joke in more ways than one) and of course with that I’m sure some of them will feature HDMI 1.4. Personally, I’m more interested in LED backlit LCD’s and LED projectors. The life-span of LED’s is already impressive, now it’s time to ratchet up deployment and spec them in mid-range sets as well.
Aside from all the whiz-bang advancements in video, it would be nice to see some audio revelations as well. But as someone, who knows more about audio than I’ll ever have the chance to learn, said: “video is easy, it’s audio thats hard.” Sure DSP’s have improved over the years but at the end of the day, clean pre-amplifiers and high quality amplifiers don’t enjoy the generational leap(s) forward that video decoding benefits from. That said, I wouldn’t rule out serious advancements in audio performance over the next few years, namely in terms of digital room correction. This year’s CEDIA EXPO might be too early for those “next-gen” room correction products but they’re definitely on the way.
August 12, 2009
LG Electronics First to Bring VUDU HD Movie Service to Broadband HDTV’s http://cli.gs/n5dB1X
Comcast Nears ‘Wideband’ Halfway Mark http://cli.gs/mMdyRt
Saw 500 Days of Summer last night, good flick but they weren’t kidding with the tag-line “this is not a love story
TiVo Demands ‘Nearly $1 Billion’ From Dish http://cli.gs/QuXBb9
Just got back from GI Joe, not sure what the critics were expecting but we thought it rocked. It’s better, not worse than the trailer.
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July 24, 2009
Without a doubt Watchmen on Blu-ray has been one of my most anticipated titles of 2009. What’s so special about Watchmen you ask? Aside from some of the most engaging characters to ever grace a graphic novel, Alan Moore’s 12 part series takes place in an alternate universe where super-heroes helped the U.S. win the Vietnam War, while later the United States and the Soviet Union find themselves at the brink of nuclear war. It’s this scenario that fuels the majority of the films plot line.
While the comic’s semi-historical references certainly create a unique and compelling world for the story to unfold, it was the characters themselves that were a breath of fresh air to the comic genre. Watchmen’s super heroes experience self-doubt, heartache, cynicism, regret and ultimately hope for a better world. In a nutshell, it’s the uniqueness of Watchmen’s characters that really separate the story from the rest of the comic world. To date I’ve read some really remarkable comics but nothing quite like Watchmen. But of course as with any comic adaptation its up to the screenwriter, director and cast to bring it to life.
Plot: From the opening drones of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, to the Ronald Reagan reference right before the credits roll, Zack Snyders Watchmen is painted on a canvas of an alternate history of the United States and what a vivid, fantastic history it was. Again though, without Watchmen’s characters the pretty (ugly I suppose) canvas is nothing more than eye candy and it’s hard to single out one character above another here.
From Dr. Manhattan’s omnipotence, to the Comedian’s ability to cut through the fog and see things for what they are, to the Night Owl’s ‘guy next door’ sensibilities, it’s hard to nail down a favorite, but if pressed I’d have to say Rorschach is my favorite. Rorschach’s no-nonsense black and white vigilantism was electrifying on-screen; he also delivered some of the films most memorable dialogue: