A/V VETERAN

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jul 21, 2015 10 comments
While many of you can’t recall when the VCR shook up the TV landscape, I remember the transition to color television. It was an exciting time, but those new sets were very expensive relative to the average middle class income. They were also seldom larger than 21-inches—about the size of many of today’s computer monitors.

Understandably, many consumers waited years for color television to come down in price. I still remember relatives and family friends claiming that they were waiting for them to be perfected. If by “perfected” they meant that they wanted to see the technology stabilize, they’re waiting!

Technology is never stable. While the Ian Malcolm character in Jurassic Park may have said, “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should,” (truly an odd statement coming from a scientist—oh wait, it came from a screenwriter) there’s always something new and enticing just over the next hill.

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jul 07, 2015 2 comments
If you asked me if my passion for things audio and video began with music or movies, I'd have a hard time answering. But one of the things that attract me to movies is their music. Movie scores (instrumental, not the string of pop tunes that often passes for a soundtrack) are certainly far down the list of the most popular music genres, but their importance to the success of a film can't be denied. Most film critics mention the score only if it's prominent enough to annoy them. But for me a great score can turn a middling movie into to good one. It can also (though less often) turn a good film into a great one.

The art of film scoring attracts a wide range of talents, but we recently lost one of the best. James Horner died late last month when the private plane he was piloting crashed in a California forest.

I first discovered Horner's work in 1982...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jun 16, 2015 4 comments
Last time around I wrote about my experience in viewing Dolby Vision projection, part of Dolby’s Digital Cinema initiative. It features a laser projector from Christie Digital designed specifically to offer higher dynamic range in a theatrical venue. The result was spectacular, but there was an additional reason for my trip back to California. The annual Orange county Hi-Fi show was held on the last weekend in May, and I spent three days there.

The OC show is more properly known as T.H.E. Show (The Home Entertainment Show) Newport Beach (though it was actually in Irvine). “Home Entertainment” is really too broad a term to describe its emphasis. It was, with only one or two exceptions, an exclusively two-channel audio show. There are a number of similar shows in the U.S. and Canada each year—far more than as little as three years ago. The reason for the growth of these shows is the shrinking number of dedicated audio dealers. Yes, the Best Buys, Targets, Costcos, and Walmarts of the world sell their share of audio-only gear. But with rare exceptions (most prominently the Magnolia shops located in or near a select number of Best Buys), the type of audio gear you’ll find in such stores rarely interests audiophiles.

In wide swaths of the country serious audio products simply cannot be auditioned anywhere...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jun 02, 2015 0 comments
A couple of blogs back I addressed the subject of Dolby Cinema, a combination of technologies, both audio and video, being promoted by Dolby as a dramatic improvement in theatrical presentations. They’re right. It most certainly is.

But first a little background. I stated in that other blog that Dolby Vision (which promotes a wider color gamut and high dynamic range, or HDR) was primarily developed for flat screen sets, which can produce greater brightness (practically speaking, up to around 300 foot-lamberts in an affordable consumer display—though Dolby’s pro display can do much better at considerable cost). For commercial film presentations, Christie Digital has developed, in cooperation with Dolby, a new, laser-lit projector capable of 30 ft-L (in 2D and, of course, depending on screen size and gain).

If that doesn’t sound like a patch on 300 ft-L, keep in mind that most theatrical projectors are lucky to hit 15-16 ft-L (again in 2D, and far lower in 3D)...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: May 19, 2015 2 comments
A bit of an eclectic mix this time around with two topics, the first somewhat controversial, the second a useful (I hope) tip.

Elsewhere on this site, and in our June Q&A column, we recommended using the same amplifier power for the front, surround and height speakers in an Atmos setup. I don’t entirely agree, though my personal experience with Atmos is limited so far to trade demos and theatrical presentations. Most Atmos-ready AVRs will, of course, have matched power—that’s just the nature of the beasts. But if you have a pre-pro and, say, 200Wpc amps driving the front speakers, do you really need 200Wpc on the other six (for 5.1.4 Atmos) “full range” surround and height channels?

One consideration here is the sensitivity of the surround and height speakers...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: May 05, 2015 3 comments
The history of audio and video, both in the movie theater and at home, has been a back and forth tug of war for decades. Stereo, for example, started in the theater and was only adapted to the home much later (a couple of decades later if you count Disney’s Fantasia as the multichannel theatrical milestone. But a small bump in the road they called World War II delayed the widespread theatrical adoption of multichannel audio, and therefore the impetus for home stereo, for years).

Digital projection also appeared first in the movie theater, followed soon afterword by affordable digital displays for the home. But as each trickle down from theater to home enhanced the home experience and therefore threatened the viability of movie houses, theaters and studios moved to counteract the threat. That gave us today’s enhanced (or at least louder!) multichannel surround theater sound, vibrating seats, widescreen films, high resolution digital projection, and last but least, 3D.

The best movie theaters are now equipped with every trick in the AV book...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Apr 21, 2015 7 comments
Moving is never fun, and my move from southern California to northwest Florida was particularly challenging. The packing and unpacking were chores I don’t wish on anyone, though the actual transportation from point A to (a distant) point B was, thankfully, relatively uneventful. Some of you may be faced with a similar situation, as spring is invariably the busiest moving season. For the AV fan, with a likely collection of valued components and program software, it can be particularly traumatic.
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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Apr 07, 2015 3 comments
Last week Samsung held a launch party for its new SUHD Ultra HDTVs (forgive the redundancy!) in New York City. They kindly flew me from my new digs in northwest Florida to attend. New York based S&&V Editor Rob Sabin was there also, along with most of the consumer electronics press.

Two of the new Samsung SUHD LCD sets are the first consumer sets to support the new high dynamic range (HDR) technology that, along with a wider color gamut, a deeper color bit depth, and (of course) 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) are all central to a complete picture of what Ultra HD is all about...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Mar 24, 2015 9 comments
A recent article in the trade publication CE Pro surveyed several industry experts on the material they recommended to check out your subwoofer. I’ve now lost the article in preparing for my cross-country move—almost complete except for the small detail about getting the household furniture and goods delivered! But I do have some ideas of my own which may or may not overlap with that now missing article. I’ll concentrate here on movie soundtracks, in which the benefits of a subwoofer will be most obvious even with the largest main L/R speakers most listeners are likely to be using.
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Tom Norton Posted: Mar 12, 2015 Published: Mar 10, 2015 3 comments
Mark Fleischmann’s recent blog on ways to improve your system’s audio inspired me to do something similar for video. Of course you, the loyal readers of Sound & Vision already know much of this. But for those who don’t, or for (welcome) newbies, those who are helping friends avoid common mistakes, it’s useful to periodically emphasize that there’s more to getting you money’s worth from a flat screen set than merely plunking it down in what may at first appear to be the best location and turning it on. Getting your HDTV to sing is serious business. Here, of course, I’m referring primarily to flat screen sets; a projector with a screen is, in many ways, a different topic.
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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Feb 26, 2015 1 comments
I lived in the Los Angeles area on two occasions prior to the most recent 14.5 years, each time long enough for me to recognize the superiority of its best movie houses. When I moved from Los Angeles to Santa Fe in 1990 to work for Stereophile, I often vacationed back in LA just to see movies there. Santa Fe’s theaters at the time were depressing at best, and nearby Albuquerque wasn’t much better. In a week in LA I might see 7-8 movies (on one occasion I recall seeing 10!), enough to satisfy my appetite for at least a few months.

These trips continued, and even escalated to twice a year after I began supplementing my writing for Stereophile with major work on the Stereophile Guide to Home Theater...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Feb 17, 2015 3 comments
The communication advancements of the past few years have made it possible to do some types of work—such as evaluating AV gear and writing about it—from almost anywhere. So I’ve picked up stakes and moved from sunny Southern California to a far less crowded burgh along the Florida panhandle’s Gulf coast.

It wasn’t an easy decision, and a major move after 14 years in one place is worse than having major dental surgery (and far more costly!).

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jan 27, 2015 1 comments
The 2015 International CES is over, but the melody lingers on. The big news in video, of course, is that Ultra HD is coming to us like a great singer who is pushed out on stage knowing the tune but not the lyrics. The result might be a stirring vocalization of “Over the Rainbow,” but the only words the singer can think of are the lyrics to “Does Your Chewing Gum Loose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight.”

In short, most (but not all) of the sets launched at the show still feature only one of the important features of Ultra HD: 4K resolution...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Dec 23, 2014 4 comments
(Mildly revised)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Papa was puzzled, but he didn’t grouse.

The toys weren’t assembled, the hour was late And Ma was exhausted, her patience not great.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds While visions of video games danced in their heads.
And with Ma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap We were far from enjoying a long winter's nap.

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Dec 09, 2014 0 comments
Somewhere in the dim past I wrote a blog on whether or not you might want to work with a custom installer in designing and building setting up your home theater or media room. In a random search through my computer files (as messy as any physical file system on the planet!) on a different subject I came across it again. It appears to have been written for one of the newsletter in the now defunct Stereophile Guide to Home Theater/Ultimate AV. In the hope that it might be as pertinent now as it was then (given a significant update), here it is again...

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