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Unapix Entertainment presents
DVD ReviewIf you own a DVD player and are even remotely interested in improving your home theater setup, chances are you've probably heard the endless internet arguments about how to calibrate your system. The current "standards" for home calibration of video/audio are typically associated with the Video Essentials and Avia's Guide To Home Theatre discs. I've heard endless debates over which is better, and frankly, having used both, the differences are virtually insignificant in my opinion. One thing about both those discs that always bothered me, though, was the lack of any decent demonstrational content. Sure, you've calibrated your system to proper levels, but now you have to hunt through your DVD collection for great demo sequences to impress your friends with and, wouldn't you know it, most of them don't even start on chapter stops (my personal fave is the helicopter attack sequence from Apocalypse Now). Well, there's a new kid on the block named Ultimate DVD Platinum who'll change all that. Even if you've just got a very basic system, this 2-disc set will still show you how to get great quality from your setup.
Platinum is the latest in A-Pix's Ultimate DVD series designed to show off your DVD player and sound system with outstanding demos of all forms of DVD sound and video. The major difference between previous installments and this one, however, is the presence of a second disc containing calibration material for audio and video. The 2-disc set has a few rough edges, but, overall, is a fine way to get your home theater into top condition and has the added advantage of costing about $10-15 less on average than the Avia or Video Essentials kits.
The Calibrations Disc
The audio and video tests found on the "home theater enhancement" disc, are the basic, general types of calibration material you'd expect to find, plus a few extra diagnostic tests that go beyond what I've seen in other, similar packages.
The audio portion contains the standard sound level and balance tests. It is also designed for almost every kind of home system, from PCM-based stereo systems, ordinary stereo, Dolby 2.0, Pro-Logic 4.0, 5.1 to DTS. If you don't know what the heck I'm talking about, the disc explains that a bit too. Adjusting your sound system pretty much requires the use of a Sound Pressure Level meter, so you'll need to pick one of those up (Radio Shack sells good ones for between $15-25). Beyond the normal tests for proper phasing and hookup of your speakers, there are a few nice extra tests. For example, a "rattle" test that pumps your subwoofer with a heavy sine wave so you can determine if anything in your TV room might vibrate or disturb you while watching a loud movie. I calibrated my Dolby Digital 5.1 system using the tests (or at least, the tests that mattered), and noticed no difference between using this disc and my copy of Avia. This is neither bad or good, but really just means the quality of this disc is up to high standards. There are a few flaws to the tests, however. The strange, complex architecture of the disc made load times for tests VERY long. The pink noise loops for channel balance are also extremely short, in the range of about 6-8 seconds. While you're trying to adjust settings and fiddle with your DVD player, it's annoying that the pink noise tone interrupts every 6 seconds to rewind and replay. Another problem is that all the detailed, technical explanations of the tests are entirely done with a voiceover. The text equivalent is totally inadequate. While a disc like Avia uses narration to explain this initially, there is always a text document explaining things in a decent amount of detail. I will say I liked the simplistic LFE channel adjustments on this disc, rather than the more complex ones I've seen elsewhere.
The video adjustments portion provides an assortment of test patterns for properly setting your TV. The most important settings for any TV are black level, white level, and color. Many other tests are provided to examine things like image geometry and distortion balance, but on most television sets (the direct view, tube kind) these things can't be changed without complex retooling and sometimes, not at all. Strangely, the package only comes with a blue gel (which is used for adjusting color balance), but not a red or green gel, which one would need for color balance if they owned a rear-projection or HD system.
The disc provides a few A/V demo materials to play around with once you're done with your calibrations. There are a handful of sound effect tracks—for example: a Harley Davidson motorcycle driving around the room; a jet flyby, and the crowd at a NASCAR race. These effects suffer the long load time problem I mentioned. They are all very impressive and very entertaining to use—in fact, while I was playing the jet flyby effect, a real jet passed overhead (I live on a flight path) and I could NOT tell the difference between the two. I was pretty impressed. There's also some video material that shows off the video and audio together. The footage is mainly taken from IMAX movies, music videos, and documentary material.
The Demo disc
The real meat of the package is found on the Platinum disc, which contains video and audio material that showcases just about every feature of DVD available. Navigation is a little awkward in some sections, but you get used to it. This disc is broken down into sections.
The "Screen Formats" section features a short clip from the movie Six Ways To Sunday. The clip can be watched as full-frame, letterbox widescreen, or anamorphically enhanced widescreen. If anything, this allows you to test to make sure your DVD player is correctly showing anamorphic video in an undistorted state.
"Multi-Angle" presents a car safety video of a mini-van crashing into a wall with 7 selectable viewing angles. Though there is a menu for these angles, you can actually change them on-the-fly via remote. Interestingly, the booklet with the disc incorrectly states that the multi-angle demo is of a building being demolished.
The "Play & Watch" section is a handful of clips from various sources. Each one features extremely good video and most feature 5.1 audio, though some use Surround 2.0. One short film, entitled Jackpot, is presented in its entirety. These clips are a good mix of stuff to show off video and audio quality.
"Parental Lock" features a clip from John Woo's film Once a Thief (the made-for-TV remake, not his original Chinese version). The violent action scene is parental lock encoded, and automatically edits itself if your DVD player is set to a certain rating. A very good test to see if your player is set up for DVDs that actually use this feature.
"Digital Surround demonstrations" contains 3 film clips and 2 audio clips. Each clip has at least 2 audio tracks, Dolby 5.1 and DTS, and some include Dolby Pro-Logic. While the film clips are so-so, the 2 audio-only tracks (a song by Alan Parsons, and a song by ex-Queensryche members) are outstanding in their Pro-Logic form (when compared to their original stereo format).
The "Multi Lingual" section contains clips from 3 IMAX films. Each clip has multiple audio tracks in many different languages. Each clip also automatically uses English subtitles and features 5.1 audio.
Last, but not least, "Audio Options" presents examples of certain audio formats. The Dolby Digital option provides access to 2 animation clips using 5.1 audio, preceded by the famous Dolby "Rain" trailer. This is, in my opinion, where the heart of the 5.1 demo material lies (even though the Televoid clip is kinda dumb). Of course, anyone can appreciate this stuff since Dolby Digital downcoverts to all formats, assuming you don't own a full 5.1 setup. There is a DTS option that gives access to 2 film clips in DTS, and the original DTS trailer. I am unable to critique this since I don't use a DTS system, but I assume it's up to the same quality standards as the rest of the disc. The PCM Stereo option provides access to 3 song-only music clips. The clips are recorded in normal 16-bit CD audio and in high definition, 96mhz, 24 bit audio. The 24-bit songs are jaw dropping, quality-wise, to say the least. Even people with just stereo TV sets will be able to appreciate these clips. If you close your eyes and crank your system up, you'll swear the band is in your living room.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Image quality in all video clips is up to extremely high standards. The only clip with noticeable grain and pixel problems was Flash Flood, and that was only for a few seconds. Otherwise, everything is virtually flawless. Source video quality varies a little bit, but the transfer is top notch. There are many great demonstrations of color and vibrance that should easily impress anyone not already impressed by DVDs high resolution.
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: Every bit of audio completely uses its format to the max. The 5.1 clips are very well done and don't force audio into surrounds channels just to use them or artificially inflate the track with tons of bass. This is true digital surround sound, engineered to impress. Of course, the really outstanding tracks on the disc are the 24-bit musical pieces (in terms of dynamics), the Dolby Digital trailer, and the Pro-Logic music demos. The sound effect tracks on the calibration disc are wonderful to play around with. Almost every menu screen also features some great 5.1 music as well. The most important standard that seems to have been adhered to was not to make "artificial" sound mixes where bland or ordinary audio tracks were just made louder or something in order to SEEM like really cool audio.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Extras Review: Well, since the whole disc is one big extra, I guess you can't really say much about that. Actually, I guess you could look at the package as a calibration tool, and consider the entire Platinum disc as an extra feature. OR, consider the calibration disc as an extra. Either way, you win. I will complain, however, about the disc's minor problems. The keepcase booklet references material not on either disc (like the demolition footage), and the calibration disc load times are AWFUL. I'm not sure why the demo material and tests were put onto the outermost tracks on the disc, but they were. It also would have been nice if the disc had HDCD specific demo material, seeing as how HDCD decoders are now becoming more popular on DVD players. (HDCD being a new CD audio format that allows for 24-bit audio that will still play back on normal CD players at 18-bit)
The package is contained in an interesting Amaray style case that's the same size a single disc case, but has an extra middle portion for the second disc. Very nice.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsAllow me to say that I'm a firm believer in people enjoying movies regardless of their home systems. I'm not a hardware snob who cares how people choose to enjoy their home theaters, be it a $60,000 setup, or $2,000 one. If it sounds and looks good to you, then it works. Having said that, though, calibration is an almost required place to start. Set up your system to "official" standards, then adjust for your own comfort from there. While I think the Ultimate DVD Platinum calibrations disc is a little awkward to use compared to other test DVDs, it certainly fits the bill. If you've just bought a DVD player, or you've never adjusted your home setup, this package will get you started and give you great demo material to boot. Highly Recommended.
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