A/V Veteran

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Thomas J. Norton  |  Jul 22, 2014  |  0 comments
A few months back I wrote about the hazards of assuming that any Ultra HD set you might buy today will be future proof. At the risk of repeating myself, some of the points I made there are worth going over again in a different, shorter form—not least of all because new readers are unlikely to devour a long, two month old blog!
Thomas J. Norton  |  Jul 08, 2014  |  2 comments
Planet of the Apes is perhaps the longest running science fiction film franchise in history (unless you consider James Bond sci-fi—and Star Trek originated as TV series that didn’t arrive as a theatrical film until 1979). The original Planet of the Apes movie, based on a novel by French author Pierre Boulle, produced by 20th Century Fox, and co-written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, was followed by four sequels. The budgets for these sequels were tight (miniscule by today’s standards) and the results progressively cheesier. But despite its special effects and makeup, state of the art for the time though primitive now, the original still holds up today. There were also two relatively unsuccessful TV series in the ‘70s, plus books, comic books, and other spin-offs.
Thomas J. Norton  |  Jun 24, 2014  |  10 comments
The center channel speaker doesn’t often get the respect it deserves. To keep it slim enough to fit on a shelf, many manufacturers simply offer two-way center designs, laid out in a horizontal woofer-tweeter-woofer arrangement. Every experienced speaker engineer knows that this is the worst way to design any speaker, but cost cutters, marketing departments, and consumers who don’t know better (or don’t care) demand them.
Thomas J. Norton  |  Jun 10, 2014  |  3 comments
Rummaging through my piles of lost papers the other day, I came across the following pearls of wisdom. Nothing on the paper indicated where it came from, or to whom it should be attributed. It has the ironic angle of the late Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt, but may well have come from elsewhere. In any case, here it is for your delectation. I’ll add my own comments in a future blog entry, but leave this to speak for itself for now:
Thomas J. Norton  |  May 27, 2014  |  4 comments
Some months back I ran across a region-free Blu-ray of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra’s 2014 New Year’s Concert (Sony Classical). I already owned the 2012 edition (it’s an annual event, as you might have guessed!), which I hadn’t yet watched. The price was right for this 2014 version, so I added it to my collection. That is, I added it to my shelf of as yet unseen Blu-ray discs (I suspect all serious collectors have such a shelf). It waited there patiently until I felt the need to pull out a few potentially good sounding concert Blu-rays. This one seemed like a good candidate, so I popped it into my Oppo player.
Thomas J. Norton  |  May 13, 2014  |  3 comments
Ultra HD has been around for a couple of years now, but prices have now dropped to the point that acquiring an Ultra HD set can be a serious consideration for folks in the market for a new TV, particularly early-adopters. TV makers hope that the next Big Thing in video will be Ultra HD, or as it is widely (and imprecisely) called, 4K. They also hope that Ultra HD has the legs that home 3D (now in its, “Hello, I must be going” phase) lacked.

Ultra HD can be much more than simply 4K resolution (more precisely, 3840 x 2160 in the consumer arena—4K in the pro world , including digital cinema projection, is 4096 x 2160). It also has the potential to offer a wider color gamut, an increased color bit depth, and less aggressive color subsampling. If that string of technobabble sounds intimidating, it simply means that in addition to more pixels, Ultra HD could provide a wider and richer color palette than does our current HD standard.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Apr 22, 2014  |  1 comments
Last week Meridian Audio held a reception in Los Angeles, one of many across the country for the U.S. launch of its new special edition, digital loudspeakers, the DSP 5200SE, DSP7200SE, and DSP8000SE (For others yet to be held, go to meridian.com.)

This year is the 25th anniversary of Meridian’s first digital loudspeaker, so it’s no surprise that all three of these designs are powered by their own internal amplifiers and accept only digital inputs. In most installations such inputs will come from Meridian’s own electronics, but other digital sources, such as a music server, may also be used to feed the speakers’ inputs.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Apr 08, 2014  |  0 comments
Late last month I visited the Harman research facility to compare three Revel floor-standing speakers: the Performa3 F208 ($5000/pair), the Performa3 F206 ($3500/pair), and the more upscale Ultima2 Studio2 ($15,000/pair). The venue was Harman's Multichannel Listening Lab, or MLL.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Mar 31, 2014  |  0 comments
From a recent article in the Los Angeles Times:

“A South Korean Company aiming to transform the way Americans experience movies at the multiplex is bringing its ‘4-D’ technology to Los Angeles.”

What’s 4-D? The technology is actually called 4DX, and instead of just picture and sound it adds, as needed, moving and vibrating seats, wind, strobe lights, fog, rain, and scents, all of them supporting what’s happening on the screen.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Mar 21, 2014  |  0 comments
Some time back I was in the South Bay area of Los Angeles to pick up some gear at our California headquarters in El Segundo, some 30 miles from my home in the Valley (that’s the San Fernando Valley, the pre- and near post- WWII home to hundreds of western movie shoots and, more recently, to freeways, mega suburbia, and Valley Girls). Even Angelinos may not be aware that El Segundo got its name from being the site of the second Standard Oil refinery built on the West Coast. As far as I know there’s no town immortalizing El Primero or El Tercero.

But I digress.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Feb 26, 2014  |  2 comments
Ultra HD Blues…and Reds, and Greens I recently completed a review of Sony’s new VPL-VW600ES Ultra HD (4K) projector. This isn’t a sneak peak—that would cannibalize our coverage. The review will appear in the May 2014 issue of Sound & Vision. But for those who can’t wait, I’ll just say here that while the 600ES isn’t the champ in all respects, it’s still, overall, the best-looking projector I’ve yet had in my home theater.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Feb 11, 2014  |  12 comments
I recently completed a review of The Right Stuff on Blu-ray, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Sound & Vision as well as on this website. Since space is limited in my print review, I've decided to dedicate this blog to how I evaluated the 96kHz audio offered on the disc.

Last year, Dolby announced a new variation on its TrueHD audio codec for Blu-ray, a process that uses 96kHz upsampling of the. Its purpose is to eliminate some common digital artifacts (see Geoff Morrison's article for a more detailed explanation of how this works).

The process has only been used to date, however, on a few releases. The Right Stuff, originally released on Blu-ray in November 2013, was supposed to be one them. Through a mastering error, however, the process was not engaged. Now, two months later, Warner Brothers has re-released the film with the 96kHz upsampled soundtrack.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Jan 16, 2014  |  3 comments
The International CES for 2014 is history. But don’t call it the Consumer Electronics Show any longer. Just CES will do. The CEA, which runs the show (I guess it’s still OK to call the CEA the Consumer Electronics Association) wants to drop the long form, probably so we can now call it the CES show without being redundant.

In any case, a consumer electronics show by any other name is still a consumer electronics show. And it continues to be the biggest game in Las Vegas every January. Over the years it has outgrown its roots as an audio/video show to encompass all manner of electronic detritus. Computers and gadgets of all sorts now deck the halls. After the show I heard something about a Bluetooth toothbrush, but I missed out on seeing it. My life is now without meaning.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Dec 23, 2013  |  0 comments
If you’re a fan of science fiction and haven’t heard of the TV series Farscape (1999-2003) you don’t get out much. If you’re not a sci-fi fan, this series might just make you one. It offers more compelling characters, action, humor, drama, weird plot twists, sudden mood shifts, poignancy, and stunning performances than any other dozen TV shows you might name.

It all begins when astronaut John Crichton encounters a wormhole on an experimental mission. He’s flung to a distant quadrant of the galaxy, encounters a gigantic vessel nearby, and docks with it. It turns out to be a living ship, know to the locals a leviathan, operated by a bonded pilot. The ship’s occupants are alien prisoners escaping from their captors. The latter, the Mr. Bigs in this area of space, call themselves the Peacekeepers, and from all appearances (externally at least) appear indistinguishable from humans.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Nov 29, 2013  |  3 comments
Lasers, or Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, have been with us for half a century. A laser produces a highly focused (spatially coherent) beam of light having a very specific wavelength, the latter depending on the design and application. They’re used in medicine, industry, laser printing, barcode scanners, CD, DVD, and Blu-ray players, laser light shows, and innumerable other applications.

Lasers can also be used as a light source for digital projection. While this is still under development, we’re likely to see it first in movie theaters. Lasers can not only produce a much brighter image—which can help overcome the dimness of 3D presentations—but also offer cost benefits to theater owners. Conventional xenon lamps are expensive to replace, and have a useful life of perhaps 1000 hours (some theaters try to stretch this as much as possible, often with negative effects on picture quality). A laser light source can stretch this by at least twenty-fold or even more. While replacement lasers will likely be significantly more expensive to early on, they’ll still be cheaper per hour of use. Another possible cost saving might come from using a centralized “light farm,” with the light from a single remotely located bank of lasers routed to multiple projectors via fiber optics.