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Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics

DVD International // Unrated // March 25, 2008
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted April 15, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Disc:

An accurately calibrated display is essential to getting the best out of your home theater system. Just about all television sets are incorrectly set up, even when they are fresh out of the box. Leaving the factory, the image brightness is often boosted to make the set look more impressive on a salesroom floor. While it might make the set stand out when in a row of 30 sets, the image will be too bright and details will be lost. A simple and easy way of getting the most out of your HD set is by investing a small fraction of the cost of the display in a high quality calibration disc such as Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics. This easy to understand and use disc is filled with very good illustrations of how proper and improperly adjusted sets will look while displaying images. Not only does this disc cover calibrating a display, but there are also test tones for getting the most out of a home theater's sound system.

The disc is divided into several sections. A beginner at display adjustment will do well to start at the beginning and work their way through. The video sections aren't long and in under an hour you'll become much more versed in what can and can't be adjusted on your set.

Introduction to HD: A 22-minute overview of High Definition including how the HD standards are based on a CRT monitors and how film is digitized into an HD signal. This gives a nice background though I imagine most people spending the time and money adjusting their sets with this disc will already know most of the material presented.

HD in Detail: This section starts to get into the some of the situations that might crop up when adjusting a system. The size, shape, and even the color of the walls in a room can affect how a Blu-ray disc looks and sounds and these various parameters are discussed. From the placement of the monitor and speakers to the amount of ambient light and its effect on viewing many different situations that may be encountered are mentioned. This section doesn't work on solving all of these problems, rather the time is spend illustrating how and why these are areas to think about. The various color standards are mentioned, as well as some of the most common problems encountered such as the clipping of whites and blacks, pixel mapping, and gamma corrections. Some of the information is repeated, but it never gets monotonous.

Setting up My HD: Here's the meat of the disc. Projectors, LCDs, and Plasma sets as well as CRTs are covered. This section presents a series of test patterns with instructions on how to use them to calibrate your display. The introduction to each test pattern gives examples of what the pattern should look like when a set is accurately adjusted as well as what an improper pattern looks like. When the test pattern itself is displayed, a pause symbol is put on the screen, notifying the viewer to pause and take as long as he or she needs to correct that particular parameter. This section has patterns and instructions for setting the brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness, as well as determining the display resolution and if display geometry is correct.

Users can also access the basic test patterns discussing in the previous section in the Basic Video Setup Patterns section. There are a myriad of both 1080p and 720p test patterns to further fine tune a display in the Advanced Video Test Patterns section. There's also a selection of demonstration material, in both 1080p and 720p, to show off your system once it's been calibrated.

The image is only half the experience in watching a film however. This disc also includes a full battery of test-tones and audio signals to make sure speakers are correctly positioned and calibrated, including a 15Hz to 22 KHz frequency sweep that will let show just how high and low a system can go. Note that these audio tests require a sound pressure level meter, which is not included. They are available at Radio Shack for around $45 and well worth the investment.

This is a very useful set of calibration tools for any HD display. The creators did a good job making this disc informative and easy to use for the novice as well as useful for the more advanced user. There was a lot of attention paid to details too. The video clips used in the examples were shot on 35mm film and then digitized at 4K resolution (4,096 X 2,302 pixels resolution) which was then down converted to 1080p, and they look great. (There's even a section where viewers can compare a straight 1080p digitization with the 4K down-rezed results.

There are a couple of minor problems with the disc however. Many manufacturers have different names for some of the adjustable parameters, and this disc doesn't always give synonyms. Sony, for example, always calls contrast "Picture", but they didn't mention that. In the Setting up My HD section where the test patterns are explained, they give users time to pause the pattern and adjust their set, but after a brief moment the pattern fades to black. If a user is a little slow on the pause the image could be frozen on a dimmer, partially faded test pattern, which would give incorrect results especially when adjusting the brightness and contrast. Because of that it would have been better for the patterns to abruptly cut to black, even if it isn't as cinematically pleasing.

Finally, the creators realized that many users will just jump to the one section that they're interested in without necessarily understanding what they're doing. Because of this they repeated a lot of the information which can be a bit monotonous at times.

Final Thoughts:

This is a great disc that no home theater enthusiast should be without. For the price of a Blu-ray movie you can make sure that all your viewing is done under optimal conditions. When many people are spending a couple thousand dollars on their new televisions, it only makes sense to invest just a little bit more to make sure it looks as good as it can. This disc is straight forward and easy to use, and it not only gives a wide range of test patterns but explains why you want to use them. Highly Recommended.

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.

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Highly Recommended

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