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Old 11-27-07, 02:53 PM   #1
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Default An HDMI 1.3 MEGAreview!

Ok, so this review focuses on two important features which came to fruition around the time of HDMI 1.3 - 1080p24 (which does not need HDMI 1.3) and bitstreamed nextgen audio codecs (which does need HDMI 1.3). Therefore this review of these two techs will be split in two seperate sections.

First off, equipment used:
Display: Sony 60" KDS-60A3000 (HDMI 1.3/1080p24/120hz/LCOS HDTV)
HD DVD Player: Toshiba HD-A35 (HDMI 1.3/1080p24)
Pre/Pro: Integra DTC-9.8 (HDMI 1.3/TrueHD/DTS-HDMA)
Power Amp: Parasound HCA-2205A (300x5 @ 4ohms/ 220x5 @ 8ohms)
Speakers: PSB Stratus Goldi, PSB C6i, PSB Image S50, Velodyne SPL-1200R

Moving on,

The holy grail of video formats, the fabled 1080p24. This format allows the HD DVD player to transmit to your screen the original 24fps of film with no processing to your display. If you have a display that both accepts 1080p24 and also has a refresh rate that is a multiple of 24 - such as the 120hz TV above - then you will get perfect 1080p24 with no 3:2 judder as seen on standard 1080p sets. Note that simply accepting 1080p24 alone is not enough, as a display with a 60hz refresh will still demonstrate 3:2 judder even with 1080p24 input.

So in theory we agree that 1080p24 output into a TV with 1080p24 input with a refreshrate of 120hz results in the perfect cinema experience. But how does it fair in practice to standard 1080i? Remember, theoretically also 1080i should be able to match 1080p24 in quality and smoothness if the TV does inverse telecine properly. Read on.

In order to truly test the metal of 1080p24 vs 1080i60, a variety of material was watched but in particular I paid close attention to the Mission Impossible 3 HD DVD Vatican stairs scene (chapter 8 of the HD DVD). This pan down the very detailed stairs can bring some TVs to their knees.

For the 1080p24 tests the HD DVD player was set to output 1080p24 and the TV's cinemotion processing was disabled for optimal preservation of the 1080p24 signal; it was confirmed via the TVs display that it was displaying at 1080p24. For the 1080i60 tests the HD DVD player was set to output 1080i and the TV's cinemotion processing was set to Auto2 to enable processing of 1080i to 1080p24 via inverse telecine builtin to the Sony. The Sony's Motion Enhancer was disabled because it artificially interpolates between frames and we are not looking for that result here.

After careful examination between the HD DVD player in 1080i and 1080p24 mode I came to two conclusions. First off, when fast forwarding and rewinding in 1080i mode the HD-A35 displays interlacing artifacts a lot and this is not seen in 1080p24 mode. However and much more importantly, during actual film playback 1080i output mode was indistinguishable from 1080p24 output mode on the Sony KDS-60A3000. I watched the vatican stairs scene of MI3 time and time again to look for a hint of additional moire or twitter in the 1080i signal that was not there in the 1080p24 signal but there was none to be found. Looking at overall motion it appears that Cinemotion Auto2 did its job as there was no 3:2 judder to be found. Checked out Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift to see some of the pans and they looked beautifully smooth both in 1080i and 1080p24.

SO, you ask, why in the hell would you even bother doing the 1080i vs. 1080p24 mode test? To frustrate a BD supporter hellbent on proving the necessity of 1080p transmission? Well, the real reason is that there is actually a functional disadvantage to locking the player in at 1080p24. That disadvantage is that not all HD material is 1080p24!! Some 30fps material I ran into on HD DVD includes: Dreaming Arizona, Dreaming Nevada, Galapagos, Nature's Journey, Nine Inch Nails: Beside You in Time, as well as most of the HDScape and Living Landscapes titles. I'd wager most of the other concert titles and HDnet titles are 30fps as well, though I can't confirm that. So what happens when you view these 30fps titles when the player is locked in at 1080p24? Well, ugly stuttering is what happens. But that is not where the complications end. The PiP features (IME/U-Control) of HD DVD are also often recorded at 30fps and those too can stutter while the movie itself is playing back smoothly; one could always cope with this since its only PiP but it still looks nicer to have smooth video in PiP. The only way to fix this is to go into the player's setup menu and switch to 1080i for 30fps material to avoid the stutter. The Cinemotion Auto2 mode intelligently is able to discern 24fps from 30fps material so that no matter what you get smooth output via 1080i, however if the player is locked 1080p24 you are out of luck getting smooth output on 30fps material.

With the Sony appearing to resolve full detail and properly do inverse telecine on 1080i signals to 1080p24, I saw no reason to leave my HD DVD player set to 1080p24. Sure, it felt warm and fuzzy to be getting the native frames off the disc, but that warm and fuzziness was shattered with the functional annoyance of having to switch out of 1080p24 mode to watch 30fps material and PiP extras without stuttering. Generally only AFTER watching the material stutter along for the first minute and realize you now have to stop the movie, change the settings, and restart it for 1080i... No need for me to do that with my setup.

So with my $435 player that outputs true 1080p24, it is now set to output at the same 1080i that the HD-A3 outputs. Hey, at least I got the nifty ABT1018 scaler chip though, eh? Note that some TVs may not have the same quality inverse telecine that the Sony KDS-60A3000 has, and in that case 1080p24 output may be useful. In my case though, it really did more harm than good.

So we move onto the next section, where I REALLY got my money's worth on the HD-A35, bitstream highdef audio.

Nextgen Audio Bitstreamed
For this next portion of the test, I listened to a variety of material with the player both set to bitstream mode with decoding done in player and PCM mode with decoding being done in player. However, I chose one title to focus in close on and this time the title was the first 10 minutes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day HD DVD (UK Edition). The title has a nice DTS-HD Master Audio track and I was able to directly compare the lossy core vs. the lossless MA track.

Results? Well, I'd have to say that after intense comparison of the first 10 minutes of the film, they sounded mostly identical. I did know exactly what I was looking for as I am familiar with lossy compression techniques and I was able to hone in on a 5-second period of time where the MA track had more detail than the lossy track - prior to the first T1000 we see crushing a human skull, there are some ambient background noises; there is one particular tone of very high frequency that is reproduced for 5 seconds with slightly more detail on the MA track. However, since it is a weird ambient background noise there is no way anyone would tell the difference unless doing this specific type of A/B comparison, especially since you need to crank it to hear the difference on this 5-second passage. The music, dialogue, lasers, sound effects, etc, all sounded the same for the most part on both versions.

So, was this section created to agitate "lossless or bust" audio fans? I mean, why would you be even comparing this if you can do the nextgen codecs bitstreamed. Because, like locked 1080p24 there is a functional disadvantage here, too, and it is far worse. When bitstreamed audio is enabled you lose all sound from PiP extras. You also lose all button sounds from menus (some may actually like this). Since the internal mixer of the player is bypassed, you dont get to actually hear any of the nextgen extras with bitstream audio enabled and that sucks. PiP commentaries become wholly useless without any acutal audible commentary.

If I get minimal improvement in audio quality via bitstream, why would I want to gimp the PiP extra features on virtually all the HD DVDs that have them? That makes no sense. So again, the warm fuzzies of "direct digital bitstream!!" get torn down its real world functionality and lack of significant improvement in quality. All I can say is forget bitstream!

So, again, my $435 HD DVD player gets set to the same PCM5.1 player-decoded output that the $199 HD-A3 would be set to... Normally I'd be pissed if I'd spent $1699 on a new preamp looking for bitstream audio and ended up not using it but in this case I needed to upgrade anyway as my Parasound lacked HDMI entirely and had bass management problems plus decoder issues due to the chipset being so darn old.

So, in my case, what was the true reason that made it worth spending an extra $250 on the HD-A35 over the HD-A3?

The HD-A35's true strength over HD-A3: Light up front panel HD DVD logo.
(and in all fairness, better DVD upscaling chip)

Well that about does it folks. Now that I have my HD-A35 setup essentially setup like an HD-A3 I think I can say that a lot of this HDMI 1.3 crap is simply a gimmick to get people to buy more gear. While I can see the fun in tinkering with it, functionally having the TV doing the deinterlacing and the player doing the decoding simply seems to work best with HD DVD and quality does not seem adversely affected. You can take my MEGAreview or leave it, but on the whole the cutting-edge technologies here seem more gimmicky than useful. Realize of course that not all gear is built equal, and some TVs will deinterlace poorly while some receivers may have bass management issues with PCM 5.1. My specific equipment however did not have these issues.

In parting I will say that the three new HDMI 1.3 units I purchased and used in this review - Sony KDS-60A3000, Toshiba HD-A35, and Integra DTC-9.8 - are all top notch awesome performing units. I would highly recommend all of them to anyone, and I think they were all worth the money... Although I must admit if the HD-A3 was substituted for the A35 it probably wouldn't look or sound any different aside from on upscaled DVDs where the A35's scaler chip might excel. It just so happens that the best configuration is not necessarily the latest technologies in this case. Just worry about getting a TV that can do good inverse telecine and supports true 24fps output/refresh rate paired with an HDMI receiver that accepts PCM5.1 and you should be fine. Also to be clear, 120hz is definitely worth the money! I recommend Sony's 120hz LCD/LCOS and Pioneer's 72hz Plasma HDTV sets because I know that both of them do proper inverse telecine - not sure how mitsu/samsung 120hz fairs here.

Hopefully this review was enlightening and saved people a few bucks, too!
We're all in it together.

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