The Ultimate DVD Platinum

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Details At A Glance

Category Home Theatre Demo, Diagnostics
& Setup
Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) Dolby Digital (Water)
DTS Digital Surround
Year Released 1999 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time Quite a while ... Other Extras Menu Audio & Animation
RSDL/Flipper Dual Layer (Disc 1)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director  
Unapix Entertainment Inc
Music Alan Parsons
Tangerine Dream
Mickey Hart
Thomas Dolby
Jan Hammer
Paul Speer & Scot Rockenfield
The Blue Angels
et al

Pan & Scan/Full Frame 1.33:1 MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s
Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s
DTS 5.1
LPCM 2.0 48/16, 1536Kb/s
LPCM 2.0 96/24, 4608Kb/s
Theatrical Aspect Ratio  
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    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 essential. 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, Dolby Digital 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:

Screen Formats

    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.

Multi-Angle Viewing

    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 the home.

Parental Lock

    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 on 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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Sharks
  4. Monkey & Lions
  5. Whales
  6. 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 the sea.
Music Demonstrations
    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 clean.

Audio Option

    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:
  1. Gate To The Mind's Eye - this is a trippy trek into space, with some excellent imagery and quite decent surround audio.
  2. 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 something regardless.
  1. 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 department.
  2. 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.
PCM Stereo
    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 Surround.

    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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 meter.
  4. Subwoofer Level Adjustment
  5. 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.
  6. 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. Very handy.

Audio Demonstration

    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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Video Demonstration

Now, you might want to see the improvement you more than probably have made, and this is a good place to start.
  1. Video Clips - a set of IMAX shot clips - Cheetah, Sharks and Ngorongara Crater, being excellent in terms of visual quality, or at least as good as NTSC can be.
  2. 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.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Paul Cordingley ( read my bio)
24th May, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Panasonic A360 (S-Video output)
Display Rear-Projection Pioneer SD-T43W1 125cm Widescreen 16x9
Audio Decoder d t s 5.1 & Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD Player internal decoder)
Amplification Sony STRDE-525 5x100 watts Dolby Pro-Logic / 5.1 Ready Receiver; 4 x Optimus 10-band Graphic EQ
Speakers Centre: Sony SS-CN35 100 watt; Main & Surrounds: Pioneer CS-R390-K 150-watt floorstanders; Subwoofer: Optimus 100-watt passive