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HD Talk
Unbiased Coverage Of All Things HD: HD-DVD, Blu-Ray and Beyond

HDMI 1.3 And You
HDMI 1.3 And You

There's been a lot of buzz in the home theater world about HDMI 1.3. With brand new lossless audio codecs, two new disc-based high definition formats, and a host of HDTV's coming out with all kinds of new features, it's more important than ever to know what you're getting into before you buy. HDMI makes home theater hookup immeasurably more simple by providing a single digital cable that can transfer both picture and sound. But now there's a new version, HDMI 1.3, which touts several new features that companies are already marketing in their products, and often hiking the prices accordingly. What you need to know is that you may not need these features in your media hardware, and especially not at the high prices you'll be charged.

Perhaps a little explanation of HDMI cables would help before we delve deeply into what 1.3 means. HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It's a single cable that can pass video signals ranging from 480i to 1080p, as well as up to 8 channels of audio, ranging from compressed sources such as Dolby Digital and DVD-Audio to uncompressed PCM, used in the new HD formats and Super Audio CD. The cable was introduced in 2003 in coordination with HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection), a form of copy protection that has become a standard on HDTV's and PC's alike. The advantages of HDMI are manifold, as not only do they reduce the amount of cables needed for high quality picture and sound (previously you would need three component cables and either an optical cable or a set of analog cables), but they also offer remote control capabilities, whereby you can control the media hardware hooked up via HDMI cable without using a universal remote. Furthermore, HDMI can be upgraded by increasing the capabilities of the ports without requiring buying new cables. To date, there have been several upgrades to the HDMI spec, the latest being 1.3. The most trumpeted new feature of HDMI 1.3 is the ability to pass the new lossless audio codecs, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, directly from a player to a receiver without the player having to decode the audio first. This is all find and dandy except that this feature is actually optional for hardware that has a 1.3 port, and currently no hardware on the market supports it (including the Playstation 3). It's also a little redundant, because any player with this option would more than likely offer in-player decoding of the lossless audio, and can translate it into a PCM stream that can be sent over current versions of HDMI or analog outs. Of course, I'm sure more players will support this feature in the future, but if you can't splurge for a new HDMI 1.3 enabled receiver, these other solutions will get you lossless sound that is identical to what you would get with 1.3.


The Toshiba HD-A35, debuting in October.

The other major benefit of HDMI 1.3 is its ability to support Deep Color, which is a new colorspace made available by the new display technologies replacing color tubes. In layman's terms, this means that HDMI can be used to display billions of colors, far more than it could before. There is one problem with this, though. Specifically, neither HD DVD or Blu-ray can actually use Deep Color, as it's not in their specs. As for DVD? Forget it. And I highly doubt cable will start using it anytime soon. So while Deep Color is certainly an excellent idea, it's not something that we can implement any time soon, and it is most certainly not a reason to pay extra money for a device that advertises it.

Interestingly, Toshiba has just announced a new HD DVD player, the A35, that is capable of sending lossless audio as a bitstream, while also advertising Deep Color capabilities. Considering it will come with built-in Dolby TrueHD decoding and analog outs, the first seems a little useless. If it's capable of sending encoded DTS-HD MA data via bitstream, then it might be a little more useful, except that I don't know of any HD DVDs encoded with DTS-HD MA. As for its claims of Deep Color, don't think twice about it. There's no content that an HD DVD player can read that offers Deep Color, so its inclusion in the A35 is nothing but a marketing gimmick designed to attract those who want the latest and the greatest without even knowing what it is.


The Onkyo TX-SR605, outfitted with HDMI 1.3.

In order to use the lossless audio capabilities of HDMI 1.3, you will also need a receiver with an HDMI 1.3 port. At the moment, the most notable receivers with 1.3 ports are being made by Onkyo. I myself have personally purchased the Onkyo TX-SR605, which features HDMI 1.3 and decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA, and have been quite pleased with it. However, other owners have complained of a popping noise heard during playback, so your mileage may vary. But keep in mind that any receiver with an HDMI port that is capable of separating the sound from the video stream will be able to play lossless audio if the player can decode it. And if your receiver doesn't even have HDMI, chances are it's got analog audio inputs that you can also use to get lossless from your player.

In the end, you want to get what's right for you. Not everyone has the latest in home theater technology, so you very well may not need HDMI 1.3 enabled devices, especially if the only reason you want to upgrade is for lossless audio. Hopefully this article will help people understand exactly what HDMI 1.3 entails, and whether or not they need it for their own homes.

-Daniel Hirshleifer


High Definition News

There have been lots of exciting announcements from both formats recently. On the player front, Toshiba has announced its third generation players, due out in October. This line includes the A35 mentioned in the above article. Onkyo has also announced it will be releasing an HD DVD player, while Denon has announced support for Blu-ray.


The new Denon Blu-ray player.

From the studio end, Razor IMAX and Questar, two independent studios, have both announced Blu-ray support. The Weinstein Company is also planning to become format neutral. Universal, responding to rumors of an upcoming neutrality announcement, have restated their exclusive support for HD DVD. Disney has begun a nation-wide Blu-ray tour, setting up kiosks in malls to display the advantages the format has to offer. The tour dates are listed below. I've heard many excellent reports from the road shows Toshiba and Microsoft did for HD DVD, so hopefully this Disney tour will be of similar quality.

MALL TOUR DATES AND LOCATIONS:

-Westfield Topanga, Canoga Park, Calif.
Aug. 17-19

-South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Aug. 24-26

-Westfield North County, Escondido, Calif.
Aug. 31-Sept. 2

-Westfield San Francisco, San Francisco
Sept. 7-9

-Washington Square, Portland, Ore.
Sept. 14-16

-Westfield South Center, Seattle
Sept. 21- 23

-Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn.
Sept. 28-30

-Orland Square, Orland Park, Ill.
Oct. 5-7

-Westfield West County, St. Louis
Oct. 12-14

-Tysons Corner Center, McLean, Va.
Oct. 19-21

-Roosevelt Field, Garden City, N.Y.
Oct. 26-28

-Burlington Mall, Burlington, Mass.
Nov. 9-11

-King of Prussia, King of Prussia, Pa.
Nov. 16-18

-Circle Centre, Indianapolis
Nov. 23-25

-Lenox Square, Atlanta
Nov. 30-Dec. 2

-The Galleria, Houston
Dec. 7-9

-Barton Creek Square, Austin
Dec. 14-16

-Chandler Fashion Center, Chandler, Ariz.
Dec. 21-23


High Definition Upcoming Releases

While they're not immediately upcoming, there are a few releases of note worth mentioning.

First is the Spider-Man trilogy on Blu-ray. Released by Sony, this set debuts on October 30th and features all three films, including the theatrical and 2.1 cuts of Spider-Man 2. The first two films will not have their DVD special features ported over, but Spider-Man 3 will be a full 2-disc special edition.

But that's nothing compared to the glut of films Warner Bros. is preparing for the 4th quarter. They will be releasing the Kubrick Collection on BD and HD, which includes 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. The version of Full Metal Jacket is a new edition and not the currently released disc, which had image problems. All the movies are said to have Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks. As if that weren't enough, Warner is also preparing three separate Blade Runner releases for both formats, and the top of the line edition has every cut of the film ever made, including the infamous Workprint, and all in HD. And for dessert, a box set of the first five Harry Potter films is in the cards for HD and Blu-ray, all with TrueHD tracks and at least two of the discs featuring Warner's IME supplement (and hopefully by the time of release Warner will figure out how to get IME working on Blu-ray).


HD DVD and Blu-ray Reviews

  • 300 (Blu-ray) by Daniel Hirshleifer. Highly Recommended. - "300 is a chest-beating tale of bravery and valor set in Ancient Greece. Zack Snyder took special care to bring Frank Miller's beloved graphic novel to the screen, and his enthusiasm for the material is infectious. The image is just as the director intended it, and the sound is so good that it alone makes this disc worth purchasing. And while this Blu-ray disc has all of the supplements from the DVD edition, most of them in HD, they are missing several major interactive features found only on the HD DVD version. It's only their exclusion that prevents this disc from getting the coveted DVD Talk Collector's Series rating. Still, for anyone who only owns a Blu-ray player, the purchase of 300 is a no-brainer."

  • Hot Fuzz (HD DVD) by Daniel Hirshleifer. DVD Talk Collector Series. - "Hot Fuzz is one of the best films of 2007. It seamlessly blends humor with action to create one of the funniest and most riveting movies I've seen in a long time. This HD DVD is a must-have, with reference quality picture and sound, and so many extras it'll make your head spin. In fact, it's got way more extras than the standard DVD version, making it the ultimate edition. Watch out, here come the Fuzz!"

  • The Fifth Element - Remastered Edition (Blu-ray) by Joshua Zyber. Highly Recommended. - "Better late than never. As a Fifth Element fan, I say that without sarcasm. As disappointing as the original Blu-ray release of the film was, the remastered edition is a huge improvement that finally gives the movie its proper due in High Definition. And with Sony offering to exchange old copies for free, who can complain? The remastered Fifth Element is of course highly recommended."

  • The Host (HD DVD) by Adam Tyner. Rent It. - "I really wanted to like The Host. It's a monster movie that's much more ambitious and far more willing to buck convention than most, but as teeming as The Host is with clever ideas, they don't quite gel together. My mixed reaction to The Host leaves me recommending this disc more enthusiastically as a rental, but regardless of your reaction to the movie itself, there's no overlooking the strength of its technical presentation and the expansive selection of extras. Hesitantly recommended, but I'll err on the side of caution and say rent it."

  • Disturbia (Blu-ray) by John Sinnott. Rent It. - "This movie has a lot of problems, but even so it was fun to watch. Just don't think about it too much afterwards or you'll find more and more wrong with the script. There was a good amount of suspense and the actors did a fine job. Though this Blu-ray disc looks a little over processed the image is still very good and the soundtrack is excellent. It doesn't have a lot of replay value, but it's worth checking out. Make this a rental."

  • Streets of Fire (HD DVD) by Adam Tyner. Recommended. - "Walter Hill's ham-fisted rock and roll fable is probably too campy for most tastes -- if you haven't seen the movie before, you might want to give it a rental first -- but the cult following that Streets of Fire has earned over the past twenty years should find this HD DVD to be well worth the modest asking price. It's not something to yank off shelf to show off your home theater, no, but the disc offers a strong high definition presentation of a movie that's always looked dismal on home video, and the multichannel remix is much more effective than I went in expecting. An unconventional but appreciated selection from Universal's back catalog."

  • Shooter (Blu-ray) by Matthew Hinkley. Highly Recommended. - "Shooter is a modern version of some of the best 80's action films, and is an awesome watch. It flows extremely well and the action will not disappoint. Mark Wahlberg is awesome, and keeps us wanting more. The video is incredible, and the audio is good...I can easily highly recommend this one. "

  • The Bourne Identity (HD DVD) by Joshua Zyber. Highly Recommended. - "While its bonus features may emphasize quantity over quality, The Bourne Identity HD DVD delivers the type of excellent picture and sound that home theater was invented for. And of course the movie itself is pretty great too."

Index of All HD DVD Reviews
Index of All Blu-ray Reviews

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