The following article originally appeared in Wide Screen Review (WSR) magazine and is being republished courtesy of the author, Terry Paullin.
............ and other matters
No, I haven't invented yet another "New Math". I think there are many examples in life where Less is More. This time I'm talking about one relatively new case that's close to our home (theatre) - or, at least half of our home, the audio half.
I was thinking lately about how Audio has been getting a short shrift in recent H.T. print. A scan of contemporary periodicals dedicated to Home Theatre reveals more inch/columns aimed at; "4K", "streaming video", "edge lit", Big Screen", "black levels", "2.35 aspect ratio" ...... all video fair.
So why the Aural snub?
Some of it, I think, has to do with the delivery system. If you think about what's happened in recent years to video displays and the technologies embraced therein, the venerable loud speaker pales by comparison. Aesthetics and marketing hype aside, many argue that there has been no new news with speakers in five decades (speaker execs are drafting e-mails as we speak). Limited by the immutable laws of physics (analog signal excites voice coil, voice coil moves cone, cone moves air, air modulates pressure to our auditory system), not much to write about there, right?
Hold on naysayers.
Turns out if we peel the onion another layer, we can trace innovation on the audio side to the WAY we process the sound (not unlike video) BEFORE we send it to the 'ole speaker box.
Yes, we have seen a steady progression of channels from 1 (monaural) to 2 (stereo) to 4 (early surround) through 6,7,9 and now 11, with discussions ad infinitum for the next step. All these, attempts to literally surround us with point sources to better emulate the real world experience. A few months back I raved about Dolby's ATMOS system for commercial theatres, a here and now prime example of how effective the "encircle" strategy can be.
But now comes yet another strategy from the folks at Dolby Labs for improving the audio experience PRE-delivery system - Dolby TrueHD with advanced 96K up sampling.
In the video world, we calibrators talk about our mission to eliminate "artifacts" - that is, anything that wasn't there in the original material - in a word, subtraction. Similarly, in the audio world there are "artifacts" that creep in POST original analog capture. One of the most egregious of these is something called "preringing" that happens during content creation when the signal is digitized. This artifact presents itself as unnatural edginess or harshness to the delivered material. It's caused by something the Industry calls "brickwall filters", employed to limit signal frequencies to something lower than the "Nyquist Frequency" ( ... a whole different graduate course). Industry standard brickwall filters roll off at 44.1khz and 48khz for CDs and DVDs respectively.
Besides upsampling native 48k content to 96k, Dolby TrueHD with advanced 96K upsampling effectively eliminates preringing by employing something called an "apodizing filter, developed by Meridian Audio and first deployed in their Signature Reference 808.2 CD player ($18K). The net is, it identifies and temporally shifts the preringing artifacts to the postringing side of the signal where they are masked and rendered inaudible.
What WE need to understand about this process is that it takes place during encoding for Blu-ray movies. That means it sails through all AV receivers and Blu-ray players. Introducing content encoded with 96k sampling further optimizes performance in Devices that support 96K (most current product offerings)
A few months ago, I was privileged to be part of a group of journalists who experienced a demonstration of various audio selections both WITH and WITHOUT the advanced 96K upsampling. We listened to both music and movie soundtracks previously encoded at 48k. While the degree of improvement as fed back from the assembled audience varied from subtle to substantial, I (naturally skeptical from birth) was one of the most impressed. NOT ONE attendee failed to hear a difference. This is the real deal folks. To my ear, a level of smoothness and crisper high frequency detail was evident with slightly longer reverb trails and a more natural ambience. You can hear the magic yourself by looking for the "Advanced 96K Upsampling" designation on specially encoded Dolby TrueHD Blu-ray content.
So like the video analogy, subtraction of artifacts yields the addition of more pure original performance.
For those who want to dig deeper, white papers are available from Dolby. Contact Craig Eggers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now for the other matters.
As I write this on Black Friday, by the time you read it, it may be too late to serve its purpose - that is, as a heads-up warning/reminder for those shopping Christmas TVs.
Clearly the trend is toward larger screens. 80-90 inchers are front and center at Best Buy. Avid movie watchers think bigger is better and I agree. (insert your favorite 'size matters' joke here). But as you scan Flat Panel Row at Tommy's TV Barn, keep the following in mind.
Interpreting the marketing nonsense is harder than ever this season. Manufacturers insist on categorizing "LED TVs" as being something fundamentally different than "LCD TVs". They are not. They are ALL LCD display technology. The only difference is in the way they are backlit. "Old fashion" (read, cheaper now) LCDs still use CCFL (cold cathode florescent lamps) as backlights and the newer breed are backlit with LEDs - but BEWARE! There are edge lit LED panels and there are those which have the LEDs where they are supposed to be ... behind the LCD crystals. When they are not (edge lit LCD TVs) you get poorer white field uniformity and poorer black levels (no opportunity for local area dimming).
Here's the crib notes:
If you want the least expensive flat panel, buy an LCD TV.
If you want a razor thin, sexy looking panel on the wall, buy an edge lit "LED TV"
If you want a still thin, but better looking panel, buy an "LED TV" that has local area dimming.
If you want the best images available, buy a Plasma TV
If you want the best movie and TV experience possible, send Aunt Martha to "the home" and convert her room to a dedicated Theatre, replete with front projector and screen.
................ and have a Merry Christmas!
Posted by Terry Paullin, January 28, 2013 7:08 AM
About Terry PaullinAfter 25+ years as a Silicon Valley Executive, most recently as President and C.O.O. of Crosscheck, Mr. Paullin decided to follow his passion to the emerging Home Theatre industry. In 1994 he formed Front Row Cinema to design, build and calibrate Home Theaters for private residences. Nearly 600 theaters later, he remains engaged in the Industry in the following ways.
Builds dedicated (single purpose) Home Theaters and "Theatre Environments" (rooms used for other purposes as well).
Teaches Imaging Science and other courses for the Imaging Science Foundation. Mr. Paullin has taught CEDIA accredited classes to the installation community at both AVAD and ADI.
Consults to Industry on the topic of Imaging Science (Pioneer, Optima, In-Focus and several others under non-disclosure). Mr. Paullin has served on the Board of two companies and the Advisory committee of two others.
Has written articles/product reviews for major industry publications, including Widescreen Review, The Perfect Vision, The Ultimate Guide to A/V, WIRED magazine and CEPro and has maintained a monthly column (One Installer's Opinion) in Widescreen Review for the past eight years.
Mr. Paullin has a B.S.E.E. degree from Long Beach State University and performs ISF monitor calibrations for private individuals.
Mr. Paullin also maintains 3 theaters in his home for testing, comparison, performance verification, and reference viewing.