The Ultimate DVD Platinum
This review is sponsored by
Details At A Glance
||Home Theatre Demo, Diagnostics
||Dolby Digital (Water)
DTS Digital Surround
||Quite a while ...
||Menu Audio & Animation
||Dual Layer (Disc
Cast & Crew
Unapix Entertainment Inc
Paul Speer & Scot Rockenfield
The Blue Angels
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio
||Dolby Digital 5.1
||Dolby Digital 2.0 ,
Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s
LPCM 2.0 48/16, 1536Kb/s
LPCM 2.0 96/24, 4608Kb/s
|Theatrical Aspect Ratio
||Annoying Product Placement
|Action In or After Credits
The Ultimate DVD Platinum demo disc is to home
theatre what a booze-up is to a good hang-over the next day, in other words
We all know of DVD's many and wondrous capabilities, yet how many actual
DVDs make use of them? Well, disc one of this twin-disc set takes care
of all the fiddly issues you might have been wondering about such as Parental
Lock, Multiple Angles, Multi-Aspect Ratio viewing,
5.1 vs DTS and so forth. Disc two is, for me, the meat of the matter,
with various tools for setting up and possibly correcting your home theatre.
Since this is a fairly complicated review, I will
have to eschew the standard review format we all know and love, and go
through the menu structure piece by piece, starting with the first disc.
Before I do that, I will comment that the packaging of this dual DVD offering
is excellent, using an ingenious internal mechanism to hold both
discs in a standard-sized Amaray case, which is so much nicer than other
methods that I have come across.
Being a region-free disc, it
is NTSC formatted, so only TV monitors equipped
with NTSC playback facility can replay this disc in full colour.
Disc one is single-sided and dual layered. It starts
with a rather lengthy intro sequence consisting of various logos and intros
until, after 5 chapters, we finally get to the menu. Luckily, you can forward
through these with the chapter search buttons and get there fairly quickly.
The menu is fully animated, with audio accompanying, as indeed are all
the menus throughout the entire disc, which is always nice and in keeping
with the demo status of this disc.
The menu selections are as follows:
A clip from the very recent "Six Ways To Sunday" movie
is presented in three aspect ratios; Full Frame, 16x9 enhanced Widescreen
and Letterboxed Widescreen. Whilst this is a necessary inclusion, I would
have liked this to be a bit more impressive in both the audio and video
departments. Whilst the 16x9 enhanced image looks very nice, it isn't the
most dynamic image that I have ever seen. Also, the full-frame version
really should have been Pan & Scan, utilizing on-the-fly panning
from the 16x9 enhanced source, rather than simply outputting a full frame
image with more information above and below.
Now this is seriously cool. We get to watch a series
of smooth slow-motion safety crash tests of various vehicles from 7 different
angles, all changeable on the fly. So, whilst the car is slowly and inexorably
heading for disaster, you can watch it from, say, angle 1 (overhead wide),
angle 2 (side) or angle 7 - head on! Be warned that the angle change does
not take place instantly, and my Panasonic A360 took slightly more than
1 second to negotiate the multiple video streams.
Play & Watch
Here you get to choose to watch 9 clips of various activities,
all with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. This is a bit odd, but nonetheless there
is some good stuff here, my favourite being the sped-up construction of
a Boeing 777 plane. These are all presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and
the video quality is not what you might call reference. It does, however,
make for a good demo to use in store-fronts, but has limited appeal in
This shortish clip uses the parental locking feature
found on all DVD players. It is a mock gangster shoot-out scene, with people
getting killed with various degrees of objectionability. The more objectionable
ways simply don't appear if you set your player to a low rating, and this
is handled seamlessly, with no apparent breaks when the player "skips"
those parts which are not within the parental level. Setting the level
to its highest, or "unlocking" the player results in the scene playing
without edits. Pretty impressive, and a feature which should, in my opinion,
be used more often for those of us who would rather not see too much gore,
let alone for the kiddies. I am wet, I know, but there it is.
This feature really isn't all that impressive nowadays,
since most DVDs use multiple languages. There are three clips in this section,
all with stunningly beautiful imagery from IMAX films; Alaska, Ring
Of Fire (no - not a chain of Indian curry restaurants) and Africa-The
Serengeti. All three allow the audio to be selected on-the-fly from
7 or so different languages, and all are in quite stunning Dolby Digital
5.1. These are impressive clips in their own right, even without the multi-lingual
feature, and are great to watch and listen to.
Digital Surround Demonstrations
This section leads into two sub-sections, and to get
the full benefit your system will need to be able to decode DTS audio.
This is truly a sweet feature. If, like me, you
have wanted to compare DTS with Dolby Digital and see just what all the
hoo-ha is about then you will love this feature. It is one thing to do
A/B comparisons; it is another matter altogether to change the sound format
the fly whilst it is playing. That is precisely what you can do here,
and the results are immediate.
There are 6 different clips in this section, and
all allow you to listen to DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Pro-Logic (apart
from the second, which does not have a Pro-Logic mix):
Chronos - this is a breathtaking look at the world sped up, or as
I like to think of it, from the viewpoint of a very slow-moving entity.
We run around in our daily lives like mad ants, and it is disturbing and
beautiful to watch. The music is very nice, and like all the clips the
surround channels are used aggressively. When comparing DTS with Dolby
Digital 5.1, the inevitable conclusion is that DTS has better high-frequency
extension, sounding not brighter but just fuller in the high frequencies,
as if a veil has been lifted.
Indoscrub - with techno electronic music, this is a good demo. Again,
the DTS sound has better bass and much better high frequencies. Also, the
surround stage feels as if it collapses when switching back to Dolby Digital
5.1. Yet, if you listen to the Dolby Digital mix on its own for a while,
it sounds very dynamic and open. Switching again to DTS, and the experience
is quite different, seeming to open up once again. In fact, it is almost
like going from Dolby Surround to 5.1, I kid you not.
Monkey & Lions
Ice Sequence - this is an excellent look at Antarctica, witnessing
great sky-scraper sized chunks of ice fall peel away into the frozen ocean.
Whilst both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are great, the DTS soundtrack
has much better bass, and you really feel those icebergs crash into
There are two musical soundtracks here, both
in DTS and Dolby Pro-Logic. This is obviously not a fair match, and really
is only a showcase for DTS, with the Dolby mix present for compatibility
with systems unable to decode the DTS audio bitstream. You can either listen
to Alan Parsons do some magic with some quite aggressive use of
the surround channels, or listen to the comparatively plain Paul Speer
& Scott Rockensfield which is a fairly frontal mix, although very
Going into this section presents you with three logos,
being Dolby Digital, DTS and LPCM.
Dolby Digital 5.1
First off, we are greeted with the Dolby Digital
5.1 Water trailer, and what a good one it is. The surprising thing
for me was, apart from the excellent audio, the perfectly sharp and clean
video. I have yet to see a Dolby Digital trailer actually look any good
on Region 4 DVDs, and just thought they were all a bit crap looking. Not
so. This is how they should look, as well as sound. From there it
is off to one of two clips:
Gate To The Mind's Eye - this is a trippy trek into space, with
some excellent imagery and quite decent surround audio.
Televoid - this is exactly like a PC game, and is a bit ordinary
really. The sound is also a bit cheesy.
DTS Digital Surround
Hey! The DTS trailer! I love it, and would like to see
it precede many more movies in R4. Unfortunately, that is about as good
as it gets in the audio department. Again, there are two clips, and I question
the artistic merit of them myself. They both have Dolby Digital 2.0 audio
soundtracks as backups if you haven't got DTS capability, so you will hear
Jungle Journey - at odds with the title, this is a segment showing
building upon building being demolished, and is very interesting to watch.
Why does this make a good DTS demonstration? I am not sure, but the explosions
certainly sound good, showing off I suppose DTS' ability in the lower-end
Silver Screen - hmm. More of the same, however instead of being
able to see clearly the buildings being blown to smithereens, you only
see a kind of kaleidoscopic view, and it is screen-saverish and
not at all interesting, at least to me.
If, like me, you have ever wanted to see if the 24-bit/96kHz
light on your DVD player works, then this will test it. It will also let
you listen to music using this massively high-resolution audio feature
built into the specifications of DVD-Video. Stereo music running at 4 megabits
per second is something to behold, and there are three examples in this
section. You can, whilst listening to these samples, change to the lower
16-bit/48kHz mode on-the-fly, and do direct comparisons. The results are
not immediately apparent, and will certainly not blow you away, but after
a while you being to perceive little things, like tighter bass, better
imaging and cleaner high frequencies. Subtle things to be sure, but these
are all the things audiophiles strive for and the appreciation comes from
exposure to them. It is also worth noting that even the lower of these
two formats is still better than CD!
Disc two is single-sided and single-layered and is well
worth the asking price for this set alone. Ever heard of Video Essentials?
Well, this disc has effectively the same functionality, being designed
to let you tweak your system to your hearts' content using a series of
comprehensive audio and video calibration signals. If you are like me,
your heart may never be fully contented, but you can at least be assured
that when you are done with this disc, your home theatre will be looking
and sounding its best. I promise.
The animated menu has four entries:
Audio Enhancement Tools
First off you get to choose which type of audio signal
you wish to calibrate for, the list being as follows: PCM Stereo; Dolby
Digital Stereo; Dolby Surround; Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital
You then are presented with a choice of common calibration
tools, each designed to specifically test a certain aspect of the sound
chain within your system. Whilst there are no written notes with these
tools, there is an excellent spoken description of each and every thing
you can select, which I feel is better than written notes anyway, because
I would tend to lose them.
Channel I.D. - Each speaker in your system gets to announce itself
to the world, allowing you to make sure that the left signal is indeed
going to the left speaker, and so forth. This is ideal if you have just
wired up (or rewired) a system.
Polarity Test - After you know that your speakers are at least connected
to the right output, this test will let you know if you have wired the
speakers correctly in terms of (+) and (-) signals. Each speaker must
be wired with the correct polarity in order that all sound wavefronts arrive
at the ear at the same time. The polarity of the Front L + Front R,
Front R + Surround R, Surround L + Surround R, Surround L + Front L, Front
L + Centre combinations are tested, and you will know immediately if
something is wrong.
Level Adjustment - Now it is time to make sure the levels are set
correctly, ensuring that the sonic picture is balanced. A band-limited
pink-noise signal is sent through each speaker in turn (selectable), allowing
you to calibrate using a SPL meter (Sound Pressure Level). This tool is
really only useful with an SPL meter, because you just can't do it by ear.
If you can't borrow one from someone, they can be found for around $90
with analogue displays, and around $130 for digital meters. I would suggest
the latter, though either will do. If you are as anal as me, you will probably
want to do this fairly regularly, so you will get good use from such a
Subwoofer Level Adjustment
Noise Floor - This is designed to let you determine the level at
which certain sounds will not be audible with your system at a certain
volume level, and allows you to select 63Hz, 250Hz, 1kHz, 4kHz and 8kHz
signals at levels between 25dB and 60dB in 5dB increments.
Rattle Test - Now this is a cool feature. If parts of your
furniture tend to rattle at certain frequencies, or indeed start to walk
out of the room on their own when your subwoofer kicks in, then this handy
tool will let you isolate exactly what rattles at what frequency. For each
speaker, you can select a band of tones (250Hz to 500Hz for instance),
which will catch different objects in the room depending on their mass/position
etc, so that you can either fix them in place or remove them if possible.
You can also just select a full sweep from 20Hz to 20kHz, although this
is a bit like a torture test for your speakers and so care is advised.
Now that your system is calibrated to perfection, you
can now try out various surround sound effects, again in the sound format
you wish from PCM Stereo to Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. The list of effects
are Jet FlyBy, Harley Davidson, Nascar Race Track, Freight Train, Subway,
Thunderstorm, and Office Background. Along with that there is
a full-bandwidth pink-noise test, and a continuos A440 tone. And
just to top it of there are two music tracks, each different depending
on the sound format you choose to begin with.
I must say that these are quite impressive, and also
allow you to do some more comparisons between digital surround formats.
There is a problem with the DTS versions of these sound effects which is
a trifle annoying. The right surround channel is either dead or very quiet,
giving a totally unbalanced surround effect. The error is in the recording,
since when there is no sound there is at least a dim hiss. The Dolby Digital
5.1 version suffers no such problem, which is very strange.
Video Enhancement Tools
This is the visual equivalent of the audio tools, and
requires a fair degree of concerted effort to master. Each section has
an excellent visual / audible demonstration of what needs to be done and
what to look for. The tools are:
Brightness - This setting is most important for shadow detail to
be visible, something we at this site are particularly concerned with,
and for good reason. Visible shadow detail is imperative if the visual
experience is to match film, and is something which is quite difficult
to transfer from film to video. This feature uses what is called a "pluge"
test, which consists of a very black bar, and a slightly brighter one,
along with a grey gradient on the right. It is tricky, and you must do
this in absolute darkness for best results, as indeed that is the best
way to watch movies anyway. Ambient light is our enemy.
Contrast - This is a very strange way to set contrast, and is basically
a cross-hatch pattern on the screen. The contrast is said to be set correctly
when the cross-hatching does not blur. In truth, I could not use this on
my set at all, so it was effectively useless for me.
Purity - This tests for signal purity across the screen, and presents
a pure white signal followed by a pure red signal for standard televisions,
and a set of red/green/blue signals for flat-panel displays such as LCD
screens, which are pure by definition but might have the odd missing pixel.
This tests for magnetic anomalies, and if there is a problem a good degaussing
would seem to be in order.
Geometry - This makes sure that horizontal and vertical lines are
just that, without bends or kinks. Geometry is vitally important, and if
it is off things can look decidedly ugly, especially during pans where
objects can change shape as they move. If you can control the geometry
on your set, then this is ideal for doing that. You can choose either 4:3,
Letterbox or Anamorphic 16:9 test screens, which are cross-hatched
with a large central circle and smaller circles for each corner. It is
worth noting that this, and indeed all of these tools, cannot be
paused. This is both good and bad. Many DVD players cannot pause properly,
instead showing only a half-resolution field instead of the full frame,
which is not ideal for these calibration tools. Having a looping segment
preserves the full resolution of the image, although the looping does get
annoying. In the end though, it is a fair compromise.
Convergence - This is really useful for CRT projection devices,
and presents a cross-hatch to enable the red, blue and green guns to all
match up properly. I have yet to run into a direct-view set that allows
individual guns to be controlled in this manner, so for most this won't
be useful. For others, like myself, it is indispensable.
Chroma and Hue - These two both present the SMPTE colour-bar
test pattern, and you are supposed to view it using the supplied blue strip
of film and be able to set your colour. This baffled me somewhat, and I
basically gave up on it. Also, the hue setting is only for NTSC
displays, so is not particularly relevant to the Australian market, save
for those with Region 1 DVDs. This is another reason to stick with PAL,
since the chrominance phase is locked from the signal itself, and does
not require calibrating.
Clamp - By using a looping black-to-white transition test, this
tests for the set's ability to hold a black level steady during periods
of stress. This is something which cannot be altered, and is supposed to
be used as a tool before you buy the set.
Sharpness - Now, here is something which many people have a little
problem with, not to mention some DVD producers. Sharpness is probably
the most misunderstood control on TV sets, and is usually not set correctly.
This is an excellent way to correctly set sharpness, and is far
better than that supplied with Video Essentials. The test signal
is a set of consecutively higher-frequency luminance burst signals, which
looks like vertical bars going from thick to thin, left to right. Since
sharpness affects high-frequency information, the right-hand side of this
signal is the one to focus one. Setting the sharpness level at the point
where the right hand part of the screen looks the same as the left in terms
of contrast is a doddle, and is precisely the correct setting for
the sharpness. Too easy, and the results speak for themselves.
Now, you might want to see the improvement you more than probably have
made, and this is a good place to start.
Video Clips - a set of IMAX shot clips - Cheetah, Sharks and
Crater, being excellent in terms of visual quality, or at least
as good as NTSC can be.
Stills - three really impressive still images - Female Model,
Aqua Beach Scene and Floral Arrangement, specifically geared
towards colour rendition and sharpness. Very nice.
Well, that's the package. Phew. In summation, this is
a very compelling DVD to own. The calibration tools themselves are priceless,
and the first disc can be considered a bonus. At the asking price of $29.95,
this is an absolute steal in my opinion. Consider the fact that
the NTSC Video Essentials retails for around $40 US, and you can
see the value of this set. You also get to listen to some stunning audio
demonstrations using extremely high bit-rate signals in PCM and DTS. Whilst
I wish this was PAL, it is nonetheless very good. Once you have calibrated
your system, throw in a decent DVD such as A Bug's
Life or The Matrix and really see what
reference DVD looks like! Highly recommended.
© Paul Cordingley ( read
24th May, 2000
||Panasonic A360 (S-Video output)
||Rear-Projection Pioneer SD-T43W1 125cm Widescreen 16x9
||d t s 5.1 & Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD Player internal
||Sony STRDE-525 5x100 watts Dolby Pro-Logic / 5.1 Ready
Receiver; 4 x Optimus 10-band Graphic EQ
||Centre: Sony SS-CN35 100 watt; Main & Surrounds:
Pioneer CS-R390-K 150-watt floorstanders; Subwoofer: Optimus 100-watt passive