Q&A # 180 - June 2, 2000
Q I'm really more of an audiophile and a videophile, but the DVD bug has bitten me. I've been patiently waiting for the new DVD-Audio players (that play both DVD-Video and DVD-Audio discs) to come out before I take the plunge into the world of digital video, but I don't know how much longer I can wait. I know that Panasonic/Technics and Pioneer have JUST released their new players, but they are pricey and will likely remain that way for quite some time yet, or will they? So, I have another idea. What about a Creative Labs DVD-ROM player with companion video decoder/S-Video output and some long RCA and S-Video cables from my PC to my HT system? I know that it wouldn't be a pretty setup, but it is an inexpensive solution that wouldn't leave me with an obsolete component in my home theater component rack. And it is available for $217 Canadian ($147 US). Is there any reason why I shouldn't pursue this? Or should I wait patiently for the second or third generation dual-format DVD players to come?
A DVD-A is still on the horizon, and you are definitely missing out on not having a DVD player today! The best reason to go the HTPC (Home Theater PC) route is if you plan on using a front projection system so you can take advantage of progressive DVD. If that is not in your future, then its not worth the inconvenience of dealing with the PC. One of the beauties of owning a consumer appliance like a DVD player is that when that DVD-A version does become available, you can move the old one to another room. We have seen DVD players, with DD and DTS capability, at Price Club for $179. You might get one of those now, and then put it in the kitchen (connected to the TV with no surround sound) when you get the DVD-A player. DVD-A players are scheduled for shipment this Summer and Fall. They will probably be in the $999 price range. Supposedly, software will also be available at the same time.
Q The dilemma I have is as follows: I want a 36" Direct View TV for my HT. After comparison shopping, I found myself looking for a "higher end" TV for better features, picture quality, and design. My first Choice was a Pro-Scan PS36600 around the $1,100 range. I was basically told that based on the lower end models, there was nothing available that would compete. When I inquired about the next step up, I was introduced to the 36" Sony Wega (this increased my initial layout by double). But I found that the features (flat screen, even better quality pictures and controls) were to my liking, and if I could choose between them, the Wega would win. A few days had passed and I wanted to check out a different retailer to cross reference the same information. I received similar comments to the one above except that I was also introduced to the Sony 34" HDTV with the 16:9 aspect ratio. When I inquired about the difference, I felt like the "end of the world" as I know it was coming. I was bombarded with info regarding new laws being enforced to broadcast digital information, and the proposed elimination of analog TV production in the next 2 or 3 years. Also, in theory, the analog signal we use now will no longer be broadcast in possibly 5 or 6 years. I was also told of the benefits of this new standard (higher resolution picture and surround sound capabilities). These are my questions: 1. What would be considered a "good return on investment" if I purchase an analog TV today? 3 years? 5 years? (Is there going to be a time where, even though my TV is still operational, it can't be used any longer due to HDTV?) 2. Can you shed some light on the timetable regarding analog signals being discontinued? 3. Do you have any info regarding a "converter" of sorts that will allow an analog TV to produce HD quality and features? 3. In your opinions, which of the first two (Pro-Scan vs. Wega) are truly worth buying if price were not an issue? 4. Is it really worth the $5,000 + to purchase an HDTV with a converter now? Right now, I am confused. I don't want to make a poor investment. For at least the last five years, the size of the TV (minimum 27") was one of the only decisions to make. Next would be the quality of the picture. However now, there is a technology issue that is making this extremely difficult. More importantly, I don't want to be a slave to "upcoming technology" based on a salesperson's desire to make an even bigger commission. I want to do this portion of my home theatre right the first time. My hobby right now is building an awesome DVD collection (if that's a factor in all of this). Please Help.
A Don't let the sales person bully you into anything with "upcoming laws." It is true that they plan to pull the plug on NTSC in 2006. At the current rate of adoption, it may be 2106! I spent all last weekend trying to get HDTV going at my house. This was on both DSS and over-the-air (OTA) with a UHF antenna. I am doomed, no HDTV for me. I took the HDTV receiver over to a friend's house, and with the antenna just sitting in the floor, he picked up all of the HDTV channels. They were coming in and out, but the antenna was on the floor. I am surround by trees that block my view for DSS HDTV, so I can get standard DSS but no HDTV (it's on a different satellite). If they do cut off NTSC in 2006, even the current DTV set top boxes will downcovert the signal to standard NTSC, so your TV of today will still work.
You said you are building a DVD collection. To get the most from DVD you really need two things: a 16x9 TV for the 33% resolution gain, and progressive video. I am currently using a Toshiba SD-5109 and a TW40X81 DTV-ready TV that can accept the progressive video from the 5109. Its nothing short of amazing! It did require a full calibration that should be done by a trained professional. I will admit that out of the box, the Toshiba looked bad! After a month of break-in and full calibration, it's a whole new set. That Sony you looked at used to retail for $9,000. The Toshiba street price is $2,499 and the 5109 is another $600. What we are saying here is that (1) an NTSC TV is still a good investment since you will be able to use it even after NTSC broadcasts are terminated, through down conversion in the DTV decoders; (2) You don't have to spend a lot of money for the HDTV-ready TVs now that they have been around for a year or so. The Toshiba can be had for about $2,500, and it will improve your DVD movie viewing right now, regardless of how few the HDTV broadcasts are.
Q My Sony S300 DVD player has two selections for 4:3 TVs: Pan & Scan (P&S) which crops the picture at left and right, and normal which displays the widescreen to produce black bands at top and bottom. I have never been able to observe any difference with any of my DVDs between these two modes. My question is, does P&S depend on some feature of the DVD programming or is there something wrong with my player?
A Your player is just fine. That particular feature of DVD has not been implemented by any disc that I am aware of. With this feature, a studio could put one version of a movie on the disc (the 16x9 version). Then the player could convert it to P&S on the fly using flags that would be stored on the DVD. I am not sure why this feature has not been used. I will try and find that out.
Q I have a Harman Kardon AVR100 receiver, four Bose 201s for my left, right, and surrounds, and a 15" JBL sub I have in a sealed cabinet with a Crown amp to drive it. Unfortunately, I have spent most of my money on my basement where these are located. I also made another large purchase on a Proxima LX2 Data/Video Projector. The Proxima is 1200 ANSI lumens and 1024 by 768 PC resolution. I can get an 8' wide image in 16:9 aspect ratio, so I'm quite pleased with the picture quality. The problem is I'm having a hard time finding a center channel speaker. They all sound good at the store, but I'm looking for a good match for my 201s. Do you have any suggestions without spending more than $300?
A It is unfortunate that you have a budget constraint on the center channel, as that is the most important one. So, I would suggest waiting until you can afford a good one. Something like the B&W CC-6 would be nice. It is one of the best centers we have ever tested. The Mirage is also excellent, but a little more expensive. In any case, you should get one that has a natural sound to voices (no chestiness).
Q My center channel manual states that I can either use the bi-wire or passive bi-amp mode for my speaker. I know of the advantages of bi-wiring, but if I use passive bi-amping, then I have to get a another set of wire. Could you please tell me whether passive bi-amping is better than bi-wiring in terms of sound produced?
A The only case where bi-wiring might give a better sound, in my opinion, is where the single cable is too small. Adding a second cable might work in this case. Bi-amping might not improve the sound either. It would depend on the quality of the single amp vs. two of them. What I prefer to do is use a single high quality amplifier. This is for passive bi-amping. For active bi-amping, where you have an electronic crossover between the preamp and power amp, I can see how this would be advantageous for fine tuning a speaker system. But for the passive condition, I would say don't bother bi-wiring or bi-amping, as long as you have good cable and a good amplifier.
Q I have in mind to purchase XX speakers (full set) for home theatre and also for listening to orchestral music. The ads in the magazines indicated this is one of the best available (correct me if I am wrong). If so, what is the best integrated amps that can fully match the speakers for my both settings?
A As far as I know, most ads will tell you that their equipment is the best available. That is the nature of marketing. For speakers, the timbre varies widely, not so much because of the quality, but because of the tastes of the designer. So, it is important to listen before you buy. With amplifiers, the timbre is pretty neutral on all of them. What you should look for is an amplifier that will match the sensitivity and impedance of your speakers. For low sensitivity speakers (< 88 dB/w/m), you will need 100 watts or more, per channel. For 4 Ohm speakers, you will need an amplifier that is rated into 4 Ohms, and even better, into 2 Ohms. Speakers of 8 Ohms nominal impedance and high sensitivity (90 dB/w/m and above) are easy to drive with just about any amplifier, and they make the best choice for use with mass market receivers.
Q 1. Which is the preferred cable, Toslink or Coaxial, when connecting a DVD player for Dolby Digital/DTS? 2. I have read that speakers, receivers/amps have a "break-in" period. How can one tell when that period is reached, how long should it take, and should volume levels be kept moderate during this period?
A I used to prefer coaxial for the DVD player, but now I like Toslink because it eliminates one more opportunity for ground loop hum, and also eliminates any impedance matching problems. But, if you have a good coaxial cable, they both sound pretty much the same. Equipment does have a break-in period that varies, but around 20 hours should do it for most products. Volume levels don't seem to be an issue, except that the initial listening with the tweeter can be very harsh. Try turning the speakers around to face the wall, but not too close, and moderate volume with full orchestral music. Let it play all day long for a few days.
Q On paper, SACD seems to outperform DVD-Audio. However, to upgrade to SACD will be expensive and maybe just a niche group (at least for a couple of years) Then, for the real world, DVD audio will be the way to go in my opinion. Q1. I own several DVDs from Chesky Records (96-24), and they sound pretty nice. Will the sound from DVD-A outperform the Chesky titles? Q2. There are a few DVD players capable to pass through the digital 96-24 data, so would it be possible to play the next generation of DVD-A discs on these players and decode the bit stream on an external DAC DVD audio decoder (similar to a DTS or DD decoders)? Q3. Are there any A/V tube preamp with 5.1 input? Based on my HT gear, I wish to get more "warm" sound on music without sacrificing dynamics on movies. Could you suggest some gear? Q4. On the way to improving the sound in a dedicated HT room, is there software for a PC to analyze the room response (resonance, peaks, valleys, cancellations, etc)? Q5. A couple of months ago on your Q&A section, you mentioned the possibility of home theater via a PC system, and a special Secret’s article on this subject on the way. When will that be published? Q6. Is it possible to integrate and automate HT gear through a PC system based on voice commands?
A SACD and DVD-A are basically competing systems, although the initial SACD players and software will be two-channel rather than 5.1. DVD-A uses PCM technology, while SACD uses a 1-bit technology. Both give very high quality sound. DVD-A has 24/96 as one of its options, and should sound just like the Chesky discs, when it is a two-channel format. DVD-A also offers 24/192 as two-channel, and 24/48 as 5.1 channel. However, you will need a new player to handle the 24/96 DVD-A software. These discs will not play on current DVD players, even though they have 24/96 DACs. There are a few surround sound processors that use tubes in the output stage. Balanced Audio Technology is coming out with one in the next few months. Golden Theater also has one.
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