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HDTV Tech Talk: I’ve Got The Low-Band DTV Blues (June 2009)

One of the more interesting stories that has developed following D-Day (June 12) is the trouble that viewers are having in several large markets with low-band TV channels – specifically, channel 6, which is now digital in Albany, NY; Philadelphia, PA, New Haven, CT, and five other TV markets.

There have also been reports of difficulty with stations on channel 7, most notably WLS in Chicago and WABC in New York City. The situation there is quite different, but we’ll take a quick look at it at the end of this article.

THE OP-ED SECTION

First off, let it be said that the FCC’s decision to retain channels 2 through 6 in the DTV channel core was ill advised. These are some of the oldest TV channels in existence and used to be the prime spots for a TV station, since they were the lowest channel numbers on tuners.

But the frequencies in which these channels are located – specifically, from 55 MHz to about 88 MHz, give or take several kilohertz – have long been plagued with impulse noise, such as you’d get from noisy fluorescent lamp ballast, brush motors, or any electronic equipment that creates inductive voltage spikes.

To make matters worse, seasonal signal propagation enhancement, caused by sporadic ionization of the ionosphere’s E-layer, can cause signals on these frequencies to hop across the country and create co-channel interference many thousands of miles away. Ham radio operators like myself refer to this summertime phenomenon as “E-skip,” for short.

Here’s another reason why channels 2 through 6 should have been retired: They require very large antennas for efficient reception. A full-wave loop antenna for channel 2 (56 MHz) would measure 5.4 meters in length, or about 17.5 feet! (Contrast that with a full-wave loop for UHF channel 42, which would be about 18 inches around.)

This makes it problematic to design an indoor antenna with any kind of gain, short of adding an internal amplifier. Unless that amplifier’s design is bullet-proof (and for normal Radio Shack prices, it usually isn’t), the antenna system will be overwhelmed with noise and interference from other nearby RF signals, such as FM radio stations.

THE CHANNEL SIX CONUNDRUM

But that’s water under the bridge now, and 40 stations have decided to stay put on this not-so-valuable real estate. As a result, I’m getting quite a few emails about some bizarre low-band VHF reception issues.

My favorite so far is from a television station monitoring service, whose rooftop channel 5 antenna in West Virginia is being routinely wiped out every day by fluorescent lights in the Ace Hardware below, during normal store hours. (Not impossible to fix, but it will take some detective work.)

Getting back to my home market of Philadelphia, there are plenty of problems with reception of WPVI’s digital signal on channel 6. And it became evident pretty quickly that WPVI was having these problems just 24 hours after shutting down their analog signal on channel 6.

Subsequently, WPVI and CBS affiliate WRGB in Schenectady, NY (also on channel 6, and also experiencing reception issues) applied to the FCC for an emergency authorization to go to higher power.

According to  a news story in the June 22 issue of Broadcasting and Cable magazine, “…The FCC granted the station (WPVI) a special temporary authority (STA) to boost its transmission power on Ch. 6 from the relatively low 7.5 kilowatts (kW) to 30.6 kW, the maximum power for the northeastern “Zone 1” region of the U.S.”

Figure 1. WPVI’s DTV signal on VHF channel 6, seen at 1:00 PM on June 12. Each of the sharp, rounded signals to its immediate right are FM radio stations.

WPVI’s original digital signal on June 12 at 1 PM, as seen in Figure 1, wasn’t too shabby to begin with, and I could receive it quite easily on both my rooftop and attic antenna systems. It also came in nicely near the southwest wall of my house, on both floors, while using Eviant’s T7 Card portable digital TV set.

But there are always devils in the details, and you can see them quite clearly immediately to the right of WPVI’s flat-topped 8VSB carrier. Those numerous rounded peaks are FM broadcast stations, the closest of which is on 88.5 MHz (WXPN). Almost immediately adjacent is WRTI’s FM operation on 90.1, followed by WHYY on 90.9, etc.

So, what’s the problem? Those FM stations are co-located at the Roxborough TV tower farm, NW of Center City. And they present very strong signals that can slip through the filters in NITA converter boxes, resulting in interference to the channel 6 signal. What’s more, FM and TV signals mixing in converter box receivers will produce sum and difference frequencies that wind up right in a portion of the channel 6 spectrum.

So what’s likely happening is that closer-in TV viewers, who probably don’t have really long rabbit ears (a full-wave loop @ 85 MHz measures 3.53 meters, or 11.6 feet) are trying to pull in a signal that’s competing with strong, adjacent-channel signals from FM  broadcasters. Toss in the usual elevated noise floor from arc lamps, power transformers, air conditioning compressors, and refrigerator motors, and you have a sticky wicket indeed!

Figure 2. WPVI’s “boosted” DTV signal, as seen at 9:45 AM on June 22. It’s about 6 dB stronger than before.

Figure 3. This wide view of the TV spectrum from channel 2 to channel 13 shows how strong WPVI’s new signal is, compared to WBPH-9 and WHYY-12 (far right).

WPVI’s Special Temporary Authorization (STA) from the FCC definitely resulted in a stronger signal, as seen in Figure 2. And Figure 3, which shows a wider view of all low-band and high-band VHF channels, plus the FM band, reveals that WPVI’s broadcast is now the strongest TV signal coming out of Philadelphia. (Notice the comparatively weaker signal from WHYY-12, the 8VSB carrier to the far right.) But is WPVI even strong enough now?

In both of my spectrum analyzer screen grabs, you may notice that the FM radio station carriers get progressively weaker as the frequency increases. That’s because I’m using an FM trap to try and attenuate them. But that filter simply isn’t sharp enough to subdue WXPN, WRTY, and WHYY without also affecting the strength of WPVI’s signal.

Only precision signal filters with multiple poles and what we call “Hi-Q” sharp filter skirts can solve this problem. Except that filters like that are VERY expensive to manufacture, and not something you’d put into a $59 converter box or a $500 TV set.

The adjacent channel overload problem is compounded by the use of circular signal polarization from FM stations. This is done among other reasons so that their broadcast signals remain moderately stable in as your drive around in your car. But that’s no help to the home TV viewer, who may try to no avail to weaken the FM signals by positioning their TV antenna horizontally or vertically.

Figure 4. A spectral view of WRGB-6 in Schenectady, NY, also “up against it” with multiple strong FM stations in close proximity.

In case you think this is just a “big city” problem, look at Figure 4, which shows the FM carrier immediately upstream from WRGB-6 in Schenectady. Same problem – multiple strong FM stations that can play havoc with converter boxes and integrated TV sets are located immediately adjacent to WRGB’s 8VSB carrier. And similar complaints about lost reception are coming into the chief engineer’s office up there.

OK, SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

Unfortunately, there isn’t any “one size fits all” fix to this problem. But there are some things that may work.

Inline signal attenuators: First of all, ATSC signals will come through at very low carrier-to-noise ratios, where analog NTSC signals won’t. It stands to reason that viewers close to the TV antenna farms have more than enough signal to begin with, so the counter-intuitive approach is to add attenuators inline with the antenna leads.

This will result in a weaker signal on channel 6, but will also drag down the levels of FM stations, too. Toss in an inexpensive FM notch filter, and at some point the TV receiver or converter box may be able to make better sense of the differences between the FM and channel 6 8VSB signals.

Of course, for this to work correctly, the attenuator should only be in the VHF antenna line, because it’s also going to clip signals from every TV station upstream from the filter, including high-band VHF and UHF. The VHF antenna should also be horizontally polarized, and not vertically polarized. That means flattening out those rabbit ears, or using a bar antenna or folded dipole on the roof, or in the attic.

Eliminating noise: Another possible problem is broadband noise, as I mentioned earlier. It’s worth checking out DTV reception problems with as many of your home appliances and lights disconnected as possible, to see if some “hash” isn’t getting into your system and creating interference problems.

Such interference would manifest itself on the FM band (Surprise! FM isn’t completely noise-free) as well. Any offending appliances should be replaced or repaired, because they’re likely creating bigger interference problems with other electronic devices in and nearby your home.

Using the wrong antenna: Of course, in more than a few cases, the problem seems to be one of trying to receive VHF channel 6 with a UHF antenna, which of course is akin to trolling for marlin with a Pocket Fisherman.

Many folks don’t realize that WPVI is now relocated a long ways away from its former position on UHF channel 64 (about 771 MHz), and that the small UHF loop antenna that used to work so well to pick up Jim Gardner and Action News is little more than a piece of decorative aluminum when it comes to watching VHF TV channels.

So what’s needed is a pair of longer rabbit ears, or even better yet, a folded dipole antenna that can be mounted on the side of a house, or in the attic – or even on the roof. The size would be ½ the length of a full-wave loop, or about 5 feet 9 inches. (5 feet is close enough for government work.)

This folded loop can be made out of copper tape, aluminum, or stiff wire – anything conductive. Even refrigerator drain hose (also copper) also works. Simply solder the leads of a 300-ohm coaxial balun to the open ends of the loop and run a piece of RG-6 to it, and you’re in business. Here’s a link to a simple folded dipole design, made from TV ribbon wire (twin lead). It’s scalable to any VHF channel.

Of course, you can also try a pair of conventional rabbit ears, but if you’re close in to the TV station (10 miles or less), stay away from amplified designs. They’ll only make the problem worse. On the other hand, WRGB’s chief engineer reported at least one viewer had complained about losing the signal on his rabbit ears antenna…30+ miles away. In that case, the amplifier is a good idea, but a rooftop or attic antenna is a lot more sensible.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH…

The problems that have been reported with reception of VHF channel 7 in New York City and Chicago appear to be arising from either improper antenna selection, or elevated noise floors, a common problem in cities. VHF signals have a tough time penetrating tall buildings, a task that UHF signal seem to handle with more aplomb.

But once again, a UHF antenna is not even close to resonance at 180 MHz (Channel 7). That’s about 1.67 meters, or 5.5 feet for a full-wave loop antenna. The good news is, everyday rabbit ears will usually do the trick here, but you’ll need to experiment with their polarization to see what works best. Fortunately, there aren’t any pesky FM radio station carriers lurking nearby.

What there IS, however, is lots of broadband noise. Figure 5 shows a spectral view of analog channels 7 through 13 in New York City, about 3.5 miles northeast of the Empire State Building, inside a 3rd-floor apartment where I’ve been researching an indoor TV antenna design.

Figure 5. Here’s a view of the TV spectrum from channel 7 through 13, as seen from the upper reaches of Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Figure 6. Whoops! Adding a preamplifier didn’t make matters better; it made them worse by elevating the noise floor.

So far, so good! But I wanted a little bit more separation between TV carriers and noise for more reliable DTV reception and to feed multiple TVs. So, I tested an inline preamplifier – with disastrous results. Figure 6 shows that the amplifier boosted channels 7 through 13 by almost 20 dB, but also kicked up the noise floor by the same amount – basically accomplishing nothing.

Lesson learned? I’ll have to come up with most of the gain in the antenna system, and try with different combinations of attenuators and preamps to see how I can add some “active” gain to the system without adding more noise and creating a new set of headaches.

I’ll be conducting more tests on channel 6 reception and also high-band VHF stations during the summer to see what practical solutions myself and others can come up with. Look for more coverage of this issue later in the summer. In the meantime, email any questions and observations you may have about “difficult” DTV stations, so we can share them with other readers.

Product Review: Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD Blu-Ray Player (May 2009)

Back at CES, Pioneer unveiled their latest optical disc player masterpiece, the BDP-09FD. This player has all the bells and whistles a home theater buff could hope for, from dual HDMI outputs to 7.1 discrete analog audio connections, 4 GB of internal flash memory, and 16-bit video processing, not to mention eight Wolfson digital-to-analog (DAC) converters to drive the audio outputs.

Of course, that all comes at a cost – about $2,200 at full retail. And the BDP-09FD isn’t for everyone. The question is, does the player’s performance justify the price tag?

Figure 1. Pioneer’s BDP-09FD is a solid, no-nonsense Blu-ray player with stealth design.

OUT OF THE BOX

This is not everyman’s BD player. It’s quite large, measuring 16.5” W x 14.4” D x 5.7” H, and tips the scales at 31.5 lbs. (You read that last part correctly, almost 32 pounds!) What you gain is a rock-steady chassis with a more precise drive mechanism – a slight bump against the player won’t cause the optical reader to skip tracks.

The exterior housing is finished in a glass black – very high-tech – while the alphanumeric display uses orange-yellow LEDs. Directly below the display (and separated by a blue power-on LED) is the disc drawer. An oversized power button on the lower left is complemented by an equally oversized “play” button on the lower right front of the player.

There aren’t a lot of controls besides those, aside from two small buttons marker “Pure Audio” and “Resolution” to the left of the display, and the drawer open/close, chapter advance/reverse, pause, and stop buttons to the right. Two small red indicators show when the Pure Audio mode is switched on, and when the HDMI output is active.

The rear panel is loaded with connectors. In addition to a standard HDMI 1.3 output, there’s a second HDMI connection, plus YPbPr BNC jacks for analog HD playback. You’ll also find optical and coaxial SPDIF audio connectors for 5.1 channel playback.

Pioneer has also provided eight discrete RCA jacks for multi-channel analog audio output directly to your 5.1 or 7.1 AV receiver. This is handy if your receiver doesn’t decode the latest HDMI audio formats, such as Dolby True HD, DTS Master Audio, and DTS High Resolution Audio.

Now, I have to pause here and point out one absurdity of Pioneer’s thinking. Packed within the shipping carton of this $2,200 Blu-ray player are two cables. One is an Ethernet cable for connecting the BDP-09FD BD-Live function, along with getting firmware updates for the player. It’s a nice thought, but too short at six feet – my house has a wireless router in the basement, and I’d need at least a 50-footer to hook things up.

As for the other cable, take a guess. How about a six-foot HDMI cable? (Nope.) A three-foot HDMI cable? (Wrong!) OK, how about a six-foot component video cable? (Not even close.)

No, the extra cable that Pioneer has so graciously included with your $2,200 Blu-ray player is a composite video cable with analog stereo audio…the old, familiar “AV” cable, colored red, white, and yellow.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!! Who the heck is going to use a composite video connection with a Blu-ray player? Would it kill Pioneer to toss in a nice HDMI cable? (6’ is OK; 12’ is better) Or, just leave out the composite video cable altogether – it’s almost a slap in the face. Someone really dropped the ball on this at the factory.

Figure 2. The rear panel has every AV connection you’ll need, and then some!

MENUS AND FEATURES

This player is loaded for bear. You name it; the function is in there someplace.  The latest firmware version is 2.46, which lets the player convert the DTS-HD format to linear PCM output through the HDMI connector, or to 7.1 channels of analog audio. In addition, the player supports Dolby TrueHD, Digital and Digital Plus, DTS Master Audio, MPEG2 AAC, and Linear PCM formats.

As far as video is concerned, the BDP-09FD is compliant with HDMI v1.3 and can play back Deep Color content at 1080p/60 frame rates. According to the owner’s manual, you should use a High Speed HDMI cable when outputting video in this mode.

Presumably, High Speed HDMI cables have lower tilt or waveform distortion than regular cables, but I don’t see that you’d have much of a problem either way if your cable runs are short – say, less than six to eight feet. Both the Main and Sub HDMI jacks can be enabled for high-speed operation.

Initial setup goes quickly with this player. The HDMI connection automatically communicates with your TV, monitor, or projector’s EDID (Electronic Display Interface Data) to determine the optimum output resolution and frame rate, which will usually be 1080p/60 or 1080p/24.

You can also manually set the resolution and frame rate. Just make sure you use the main HDMI output – the “sub” HDMI jack only carries 2-channel linear PCM audio. I should also mention that the KURO Link function for control of all devices through HDMI interconnects only works through the Main jack.

If your AV receiver is not quite up-to-date, you’ll want to have the BDP-09FD do the Dolby/DTS decoding and pass the audio as analog signals to the rear panel. This can be selected quickly in the Setup menu. Note that digital audio output through the HDMI and SPDIF connectors is disabled in this mode.

Other selections you’ll need to make are the output resolution and aspect ratio (default setting is 16:9). The player can output video at 480i, 4880p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p resolutions, but only Blu-ray discs will work with all of them. Red laser DVDs will most likely limit your choices to 480i or 480p output, thanks to copy protection bits encoded on the DVD.

The Ethernet interface is conventional, with an option to have your wireless router or hub assign an IP address using Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP). I suggest using this option unless you are fairly IP-savvy and can assign all of the required addresses, including the DNS addresses of your Internet service provider.

If you are facing a cable connection logistics problem (as I did), you may want to investigate using a wireless bridge – these gadgets emulate an Ethernet port tied to a wireless adapter, and are popular for hooking up printers to wireless networks. You’ll need to connect the bridge directly to your router or hub to configure it. Once that’s done, the BDP-09FD can sit anywhere in your house and still remain connected to the Internet.

IN OPERATION

I took the BDP-09FD for a test drive using both my Mitsubishi HC6000 3LCD 1080p front projector and a Pioneer PRO-111FD 50-inch Kuro plasma TV. Test DVDs included Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and BBC’s Planet Earth.

Let me mention once again the silky-smooth operation of the disc tray. It glides in and out effortlessly with no wobble, which would indicate the presence of quite a few ball bearings in its tracks. It takes the player about 30 seconds to boot up before it’s ready for a disc, and another 15 to 17 seconds before that disc is ready to play. (This holds true even for red laser DVDs.)

Since my AV receiver (Denon’s AVR-788) wouldn’t support the advanced Dolby and DTS BD audio formats, I opted to use the player’s analog audio outputs and let Pioneer do the decoding. It’s a great way to go, although my home system only supports 5.1-channel playback at present.

Picture quality from all three discs was as good as anything I’ve seen from my Reon-equipped Samsung BD-P1200 (the HC6000 also has Reon processing onboard) – excellent detail and dynamic range, with no evidence of false contouring. Unfortunately, the BD standard only calls for 8-bit video, and you can see the result in scenes that show deep blue skies – visible contour lines.

The BDP-09FD took care of that nicely, particularly in Iron Man where Tony Stark first attacks the terrorists in what’s supposed to be Afghanistan. Watch as he sails through the skies, pursued by a pair of F-22 Raptors. The blue sky gradient changes frequently from scene to scene, but you shouldn’t see any contouring along the way.

The Dark Knight shows off the player’s ability to pull out shadow detail in dark scenes, of which there are plenty in this film. I looked carefully for low-level noise and didn’t see much of it, especially around objects with green and blue coloring.

To top things off, I spun up Ice Worlds from Planet Earth. If you don’t own this boxed set on Blu-ray, go out right now and buy a copy – these are reference-grade HD discs. Ice Worlds has lots of high-contrast subject matter, along with the aforementioned deep blue sky gradients and underwater photography. All of it showed up beautifully, free of noise and other digital artifacts that I’ve seen on lower-cost players.

As for the audio, it came through with plenty of dynamic range, and no audible sampling artifacts. (Both Iron Man and The Dark Knight have plenty of explosions that task even the best audio systems.) The sound playback was as good as I’ve experienced in the best movie theaters, with great presence and spatial separation in the surround channels. (Dang, now I have to go find two more speakers and upgrade to 7.1 playback!)

CONCLUSION

If you really want a superlative Blu-ray player, the BDP-09FD is for you. It oozes high quality all around and delivers excellent image and audio quality. My guess is, it will hold up for a long time, probably longer than your flatscreen TV. The video quality wasn’t substantially better than lower-cost players with high-end video processing, but the build quality is.

Where you’ll really notice the difference is in the internal audio processing, particularly if you opt to go analog to your existing receiver. The improvement in dynamic range over conventional SPDIF connections, even with 5.1 movies, is one you can hear – there’s just more audio to play with, from the subtlest sounds to swelling music and explosive special effects.

Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD Blu-ray Player
MSRP: $2,199

Specifications:
Dimensions: 16.5” (W) x 5.6” (H) x 14.2” (D)
Weight: 31 pounds

Analog video output formats: composite, S-video, BNC YPbPr (480i/29.97, 480p/59.94, 720p/59.94, 1080i/29.97)
Digital video output formats: 2x HDMI 1.3 (480p/59.94, 720p/59.94, 1080i/29.97, 1080p/59.94, 1080p/23.97)
Analog audio output: 1x RCA (Stereo)
Digital audio output: Toslink, HDMI (bitstream or PCM), Optical/Coaxial SPDIF
Supported playback formats: BD-ROM, BD-RE, BD-R, DVD VIDEO, AUDIO CD, DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD+R/RW, CD-R, CD-RW, CD ROM

Supported audio formats: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital/Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD HR Audio, DTS Digital Surround, MPEG, MPEG2 AAC, Linear PCM

LAN Interface: 100BaseT Ethernet

Pioneer Electronics USA
2265 E. 220th Street
Long Beach, CA 90810
(213) 746-6337

 

http://tinyurl.com/ophcl5

Quick Pick Review: DVDO Edge HD Video Processor (March 2009)

DVDO is a brand well known to home theater enthusiasts. In 1999, they shocked the home theater world (not to mention Faroudja) with the iScan, a $899 interlaced-to-progressive video processor that worked as well as any line doubler then on the market – most of which sold for as much as ten times the price of the iScan.

Over the years, DVDO (since acquired by Anchor Bay Technologies) has come out with a variety of video scalers and deinterlacers, first based on the iScan line and then moving to the VP-series processors. Along the way, ABT also rolled out its own custom ASICs that wound up in more than a few projectors and even one of Toshiba’s last HD DVD players.

Figure 1. Not much going on with the front of the Edge, is there? (Can you see the hidden HDMI input?)

Times have changed, and video processing ASICs have gotten a lot more powerful while their per-unit process have dropped. It’s not unusual to get a high level of image processing even in a $3,000 1080p home theater projector these days, and CRT displays are pretty much gone from the market. Is there still a need (and a market) for stand-alone video processors?

The answer is – yes, if you have an older projector or have multiple analog and digital video sources to switch in and out of your system. For $800, the Edge is reasonably priced to function as an AV “hub” and you get a lot of functionality for your money. It uses the VRS ABT2010 processor, earlier limited to top-line VP-series ABT scalers.

OUT OF THE BOX

You’ll notice the unusual wedge-shaped design of the Edge right away. All of the connectors and the AC power jack are located on the rear panel, while the front panel (if you actually can call it a “front panel”) slopes downward and consists of an IR sensor, plus a pop-down HDMI input jack.

Believe it or not, that’s one of six HDMI 1.3 inputs (yep, you read that right) on the Edge. The other five are located on the rear panel. All six inputs pass video and bitstream digital audio, which is important for more than the obvious reasons of switching input sources.

Analog video hasn’t been neglected. DVDO gives you two racks of component YPbPr video input jacks. These double as RGBHV inputs for computer sources, with additional H and V/composite sync RCA jacks located nearby. The obligatory composite and S-video inputs are also present. (Hey, each of us is still born with an appendix, and we don’t use that, either!)

Figure 2. If the Edge doesn’t have your input connector, then you don’t need that connector!

For audio switching, you’ll find one stereo analog audio input, a single coaxial SPDIF digital audio jack, and three Toslink digital audio ports. That complement might be short one coaxial input in my thinking, but with six HDMI ports, you’re probably OK on digital hookups.

For outputs, you’ll have two HDMI 1.3 options. One passes both switched/processed video and audio, while the other passes audio only. That’s real handy for projector installations where video and audio part ways and travel in very different directions early on in the signal chain. DVDO has also provided a single Toslink digital audio output connector.

The balance of connectors includes a Mini USB service jack and a 1/8” mini jack for IR control. Oddly enough, there’s no RS232 control port. (For that matter, an Ethernet connection could have been included too, for remote control and Internet software updates.)

Figure 3. The supplied remote can control up to seven additional AV components – and it’s backlit, too.

The supplied remote is a “universal” design, and can handle up to seven other AV components. (It’s even labeled for a Blu-ray player!) The design is nice because (a) all of the buttons are clearly labeled, and (b) they’re large enough to operate even in a darkened room.

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

I won’t go into great detail about each of the menu tweaks found in the Edge – it would take a month to do so. Suffice it to say that you’ll be able to do the following.

(1)   Assign priorities to any active inputs, analog or digital

(2)   Switch audio normally associated with that input, or assign separate combinations of audio and video and then memorize them

(3)   Choose between 14 different video output formats, based on both PC and video displays (these include 24Hz, 25Hz, 50Hz, and 60Hz refresh rates)

(4)   Or, let Edge determine the optimum output display rate, based on the exchange of Electronic Display Identification Data (EDID) with your HDTV or projector through the processor’s HDMI output connector

(5)   Select numerous aspect ratio options and memorize them for specific input signals

(6)   Advance or delay digital audio to correct for latency errors (the range is from –56 to +200 milliseconds)

(7)   Adjust and save picture settings like brightness, contrast, color saturation, hue, and sharpness for each input

(8)   Apply analog and digital noise reduction as needed to different signals

(9)   Zoom in or out of source signals, or shift them horizontally and vertically to get rid of sync or masking problems

It should be noted again that every setting and assignment you make will be saved in memory. So if you REALLY want to use stereo analog audio from your Blu-ray player, Edge will memorize that combination and use it when the player’s HDMI output is selected. (Don’t worry; Edge won’t tell you to have your head examined for doing this. However, I will…)

All of these adjustments appear as cleverly designed fade-in and fade-out overlay menus that are intuitive to navigate. Once you make your settings, they’re saved until you alter them again. So feel free to jump from one input to the next  – Edge will remember your preferences and match everything up as best it can to your projector or TV (Within reason, of course –don’t expect VHS tapes to look all that good on a 50-inch 1080p plasma!)

IMAGE QUALITY

My imaging tests were pretty simple. I connected the 480i component output from an OPPO DV-970H DVD player through the Edge and onto Pioneer’s Elite PRO-111FD 50-inch plasma monitor. Next, I loaded up the red laser Realta HQV DVD and stepped through each of the performance tests.

Needless to say, the Edge sailed through this part of the review. It gave me clean rotating bars in the jaggies tests, a smooth-as-silk waving flag, and locked up within milliseconds on the 3:2 Super Speedway clip. The analog noise reduction processing worked wonders in the nighttime desert clips, cleaning up lots of “sparkle” from the deep blue sky.

The multiple cadence tests didn’t fool Edge, either – it corrected every one of them, and pretty quickly, too. Even the Varispeed 3:2:3:2:2 sequence, which often trips up other video processors, came out cleanly. So did the mixed video titles over 3:2 filmed content – not a “jaggie” to be seen anyplace.

The next test was with the Realta HQV Blu-ray disc. For this sequence, I set the output of an LG BD300 Blu-ray player to 1080i, and stepped through the rotating bars, Video Resolution, and Film Resolution loss tests. Once again, the bars were super-clean (evidently the ABT2010 chip uses some pretty selective adaptive bandpass filtering to soften aliased edges), while the Video Resolution test was stable with no flicker.

The Film Resolution test was also smooth, but with a touch of judder. I didn’t see this when feeding a 1080i signal directly into the Pioneer, which also has a decent interlaced-to-progressive conversion process. Obviously the Edge does a full “weave” on both the odd and even fields in a 1080i frame, and interpolates motion while doing so. So, I’m at a loss to explain the slight juddering motion as the SMPTE test chart moved back and forth.

The digital noise reduction circuits work well, too. Tune in a standard-definition digital cable channel, and you’ll see plenty of macroblocks (MPEG over-compression artifacts) and mosquito noise, particularly around fast-moving objects. Edge will clean up a lot of that schmutz – not completely, but it won’t be quite as obvious. (Turning down edge enhancement also helps a ton when getting rid of MPEG garbage.)

UPDATES

In December of 2008, Anchor Bay released firmware version 1.1. It should be present on all new models, but if you find you’re running the older 1.0 version, it’s easy enough to upgrade, following the instructions at this location – http://www.anchorbaytech.com/dvdo_edge/EDGE_firmware_v1.1.php

Version 1.1 adds such goodies as 35 different test patterns, automatic chroma upsampling error correction, a 1:1 frame rate feature to support both 50Hz and 60Hz sources, and output color space and colorimetry selections. (That’s just scratching the surface.)

CONCLUSIONS

Every once in a while, an AV product comes along that resembles a Swiss Army knife in functionality. It’s been a few years, but DVDO’s Edge fits squarely into that category. (Actually, it’s more like one of those loaded knives that has everything from a magnifying glasses and saw to tweezers and a bottle opener.)

Upconversion, downconversion, image sizing, cropping, image correction, noise reduction, and latency adjustments – they’re all here for just $800, and they all work exceptionally well. That seems like a steal to me. It’s hard to see how the Edge would ever become obsolete – you’re likely to go through a few TVs or projectors before you hit the limits of what it can do. (And if Anchor Bay provides a way to get software updates directly from the Internet, you may never get close!)

DVDO Edge Video Processor

MSRP: $799

 

Specifications:

Dimensions: 16.9” W x 10.3” D x 2.3” H

Weight: 6.2 lbs

Video Inputs: 1x composite, 1x S-video, 2x YPbPr component, 2x RGBHV PC, 6x HDMI 1.3

Video Outputs: 1x HDMI 1.3 video/audio, 1x HDMI audio only

Audio Inputs: 1x RCA stereo, 1x SPDIF coaxial, 3x Toslink, 6x HDMI

Audio Outputs: 1x Toslink, 2x HDMI

Output Formats: VGA-SXGA< 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i/p 24/25/50/60

Available from:

Anchor Bay Technologies, Inc.
300 Orchard City Drive
M/S 131
Campbell, CA 95008

(866) 423-3836

http://www.anchorbaytech.com/dvdo_edge/

Product Review: JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector (March 2009)

For those readers who’ve been following the DLP vs. 3LCD projector controversies over the years, it’s easy to overlook JVC. They don’t have the market clout of Epson, or the strong brand identity of Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing. You won’t see their projectors hanging in an enormous booth at InfoComm or Cedia Expo.

Yet, JVC D-ILA projectors consistently produce some of the best-looking video and cinema images anywhere, and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get that kind of image quality in your own home theater.

JVC’s “secret sauce” is simply an emphasis on photorealistic images with accurate color, tight grayscale tracking, and good visual dynamic range. Toss in an attractive form factor, super-quiet fans, and a minimalist design approach to connectors, remote controls, and bells and whistles, and what you wind up with is a projector that truly “walks the talk.”

JVC’s DLA-HD350 is one of a suite of D-ILA (Digital Image Light Amplifier) projectors that was announced at Cedia Expo 2008, two of which (DLA-HD750 and DLA-RS20) offer THX-certified operating modes. While the lower-priced DLA-HD350 lacks the THX imprimatur found on its more expensive sibling, that’s almost irrelevant – it provides so much control over image parameters that you won’t even notice.

Figure 1. This projector looks good even when it’s not doing anything.

OUT OF THE BOX

Once again, JVC’s put together a sleek, piano-black projector housing with a theme that can best be described as “stealth.” Unlike its predecessors, the DLA-HD350 features an offset motorized 2:1 ratio zoom lens, complete with +/-80% vertical and +/-34% horizontal power lens shift.

In general, longer focal-length lenses provide the best image geometry; free of pincushioning and lens barreling with sharp, square corners. Of course, you’ll need more horsepower from the projection lamp to compensate, depending on the effective lens aperture.

JVC has armed the DLA-HD350 with a 200-watt UHP lamp, and that’s more than sufficient to light up a 92-inch, zero-gain screen with a projection throw of 12 feet. The imaging panels are three .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA devices harnessed to JVC’s unique wire-grid dichroic filter system and a polarizing beam splitter.

Figure 2. There aren’t many video inputs, but with outboard switching, you’ll be covered for any signal source.

The connector complement is, as usual, sparse. Two HDMI 1.3 connectors are accompanied by a single analog component (YPbPr) input, along with the inevitable composite and S-video jacks. There’s also an RS232 port for remote control, and that’s all she wrote – no screen trigger, Ethernet port, etc.

If you want to use your desktop or notebook computer with the DLA-HD350, it will need a DVI-D or an HDMI port, plus the appropriate adapter cable. Compatible PC resolutions include VGA (640×480), SVGA (800×600), XGA (1024×768), WXGA (1280×768), WXGA+ (1440×900), SXGA (1280×1024), WSXGA+ (1680×1050), and WUXGA (1920×1200 with some pixel decimation).

REMOTE AND MENUS

Some people ask why I make such a big deal of the ergonomics of projector remote controls. Well, when you’ve tried as many remotes as I have over the past two decades, you realize just how difficult they can be to use in rooms with low or no light. And that’s a real PITA when trying to make a quick image adjustment or changing inputs. (Hey, not everyone uses RS232 control!)

JVC’s remotes have usually gotten it right, with a limited number of buttons that are spaced sufficiently far apart and are large enough so you can operate most of them by feel. What’s more, many of the functions you use the most frequently are accessible directly from the remote, including basic image adjustments, gamma, color temperature, and aspect ratios.

Figure 3. The supplied remote loses the “silver” look and goes back to basic black.

You can also directly access any of the five factory image presets (Cinema 1 and 2, Natural, Stage, and Dynamic), plus three user-programmable memory slots. The motorized lens functions are accessed by toggling the “Lens” button to go from Focus to Zoom and then to Lens Shift. As you do, different crosshatch patterns will appear on the screen to aid in sizing, positioning, and focusing the image.

Aspect ratio options include 4:3, 16:9, and Zoom. That’s it! The effect varies by signal input, but you’ll be able to show SD (4:3) and HD content correctly sized, stretch anamorphic DVDs, zoom into letterboxed 16:9 and 2.35:1 movies, expand 4:3 to fill the 16:9 image, and show 480i/p, 576i/p, and 720p content mapped 1:1 (window-boxed).

JVC has included variable edge masking in two steps (2.5% and 5%) for HD signal sources, and overscan (2.5% and 5%) for SD video inputs. 1920×1080 content from Blu-ray and other sources is shown with a 1:1 pixel map – if you want to crop it, you’ll have to us the masking control and zoom the image accordingly.

The DLA-HD350 is also equipped for CinemaScope anamorphic lens adapters, using a menu setting called “V-Stretch.” When a ‘Scope film is being shown, switching this feature “on” expands the letterboxed image to fill the frame, top to bottom. Your accessory anamorphic lens adapter then expands the image to restore the correct 2.35:1 image ratio.

Beyond the usual Big 5 image settings, JVC has provided a toolbox full of image tweaks for more advanced calibrations. Those include four factory-preset color temperatures (5800K, 6500, 7500k, and 9300k) that can be saved to three Custom memories. (But wait, there’s more!)

For those of us who are real nitpickers, JVC has also included multi-level gamma correction, using both preset gamma curves (1.8, 2.2, etc.) and user-adjustable red, green, and blue gamma tweaks at 13 different luminance levels, five of which range from black to 20% white.

In order to use this feature correctly, you’ll need a color analyzer that can provide continuous RGB histograms at the desired level of adjustment. I’ve charged ColorFacts 7.5 with this task, and I let it update me on color temperature and RGB levels in real time as I try to keep the mix of RGB consistent at each luminance level. The result, when done correctly, is a steady grayscale track with consistent color temperature from black to white.

If you’re not quite so brave (or crazy) as to try a major gamma overhaul, JVC also gives you three preset gamma calibrations (A, B, and C), but no information on what they correlate to. Based on my measurements, Gamma A is roughly 1.8, Gamma B is 2.0, and Gamma C is 2.2. (Sorry, no 2.4 or deeper film gamma is available.)

Additional tweaks include Sharpness and Detail Enhancement (leave ‘em off with HD sources), analog, mosquito, and MPEG block noise reduction, and three levels of color transient improvement. You can also set the range of HDMI signals (16-235 or 0-255 gray levels), select the correct color space (4:4:4, 4:2:2, or RGB), and enable/disable HDMI CEC (control projector operation through the HDMI port).

Last but not least, JVC has a three-step lens iris, identified as Dark, Medium, and Bright. It’s not a dynamic iris that tracks changes with input level – just a preset iris. My suggestion is to leave it off – the DLA-HD350’s black levels are pretty good, as you’ll see shortly.

ON THE TEST BENCH

I gave the DLA-HD350 a pretty vigorous workout, using an AccuPel HDG4000 to generate all the calibration test patterns in the 1080p/60 format. Additional content came from a pair of Blu-ray players – Samsung’s BD-P1500, and LG’s new BD300. I also watched live broadcast HD feeds from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (CBS 1080i HD) and a few NBC HD programs (The Office and 30 Rock).

After calibration for the best grayscale images and widest dynamic range, I measured projector brightness at 413 ANSI lumens in Cinema 1 mode, with the iris set to position 3 (Bright). That was the low reading, and brightness ranged as high as 5 lumens in Dynamic mode. Additional readings included 445 lumens in Cinema 2 and 483 lumens in Natural mode. Brightness uniformity was very good at 78% to the average corner and 66.5% to the worst corner.

Contrast measurements were also impressive. ANSI (average) contrast clocked in at 350:1 in Cinema 1 mode, with peak contrast measured from the same checkerboard pattern at 707:1. I should repeat that I had the projector’s iris set to Bright mode for all of these tests, resulting in an average black level reading of 3.14 lumens. That’s about the best black level performance I’ve seen from any D-ILA projector, and it’s certainly as good as any current 3LCD model.

Figure 4. Maybe I spent too much time fiddling with the Gamma correction circuit. But look at that beautiful response!

Figure 5. The DLA-HD350 tracks a given color temperature very closely.

White balance uniformity was outstanding, with a maximum shift of 168 Kelvin across a full white test pattern. Not surprisingly, color temperature tracking from 20 to 100 IRE was very tight, with a maximum shift of 237 Kelvin as shown in Figure 4. (Any display that can keep that shift to 250 Kelvin or lower is doing very well in my book!)

The Gamma correction menu has a lot to do with this, although I did find its response a bit erratic at times. More than once, I’d select a given luminance value and color, only to see the value of that color jump by two to six points before I even entered a new value. JVC needs to fix this glitch, which makes back-and-forth tuning across red, green, and blue more of a chore than it should be.

After an hour of playing “ping pong” with the gamma menu, I came up with the track shown in Figure 5. This gamma calculated out to 2.24 and provided the best results for viewing everything from live HD sports to The Dark Night, my current favorite Blu-ray disc for checking out shadow detail and low-level grayscale tracking.

Figure 6. Now, that’s what I call a WIDE color gamut…

As for color reproduction, the DLA-HD350 excels in this area. The projector’s available color gamut, shown in Figure 6, is very wide – wide enough, in fact, to show the digital cinema P3 (minimum) gamut. You’ve got lots of real estate to work with here; enough to handle all standard digital TV color spaces and perhaps even some that haven’t been invented yet.

More importantly, the projector’s RGB and CMY coordinates are very close to ideal for the REC.709 HDTV standard. All that’s needed is a way to dial back color saturation to precisely hit those targets when viewing DTV content, something JVC ought to add as a switchable menu option.

IMAGE QUALITY

I’ve noticed that, out of all the available imaging technologies; images created with liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) panels most closely resemble those of motion picture film. The pixel structure of 1920×1080 LCoS panels is fine and indistinct, thanks to a very high fill factor. But image sharpness isn’t compromised. And I prefer real-time RGB color mixing to sequential (scanning) color with its rainbow artifacts.

The DLA-HD350 has a Silicon Optix Reon-VX image processor tucked inside, and it handled every interlaced SD and HD source from the red and blue laser versions of the HQV Realta tests with equal aplomb. Both the Video Resolution and Film Resolution tests from the Blu-ray disc were smooth as silk, with no judder and flicker. The rotating bars were also smooth, with just the tiniest suggestion of aliasing.

To appreciate just how good this projector can look, spin up The Dark Knight on Blu-ray in the 1080p/24 format, and give close scrutiny to pastel shades and flesh tones, particularly in nighttime scenes or under fluorescent lighting.  The Joker’s first encounter with the Gotham City mob is an excellent place to start, as the assembled gang has a wide range of skin tones from light to dark – contrasting, of course, with Heath Ledger’s white pancake makeup, purple suit, and cherry-red lipstick.

For a test drive of dynamic range, watch the IMAX high-speed chase sequence underneath Gotham, and you’ll see that deep shadows hold up quite well, even with bright headlights and brilliant explosions dominating the frame. Finish things off with the climatic ferry scene and the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker, high atop the unfinished skyscraper. You’ll still see plenty of detail, even with the intentionally poor lighting.

Another great test of dynamic range is the BBC’s Planet Earth series, also on Blu-ray. Check out From Pole to Pole and you’ll be surprised just how many shades of subtle color and gray you can see in icebergs and snow packs. The footage in this series comes from a variety of sources, including 35mm film and 1080p/24 HD camcorders. No matter, it all looks amazing, in particular the views from outer space.

With this projector, you’ll clearly see the difference in exposure and gamma/color correction for TV sitcoms and dramas when compared to feature films. I noticed a much wider range of exposures during The Office and 30 Rock, and while both shows were certainly enjoyable on my 92-inch Da-Lite JKP Affinity screen, they didn’t quite have the contrast punch of the Blu-ray material.

CONCLUSIONS

I’ll make it short and sweet. For $5,999, you get one heckuva home theater projector that’s absolutely up to the challenge of showing BD and other HD content to its full potential. Excellent color, stable gamma and grayscale tracks, wide dynamic range with plenty of contrast – it’s all here.

For that matter, the DLA-HD350 is good enough in my opinion to use as an evaluation monitor in a color correction and exposure-timing post-production suite. All JVC needs to do is fix that cranky gamma correction circuit and allow even deeper gamma correction, down to 2.6. Toss in advanced color management and an optional HD-SDI input, and they’d REALLY have something!

JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector

MSRP: $5,999

Specifications:

Dimensions: 14.4W” x 6.6H” x 18.9D”
Weight: 24.3 lbs
Imaging device: 3x .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA (LCOS)
Lamp: 200W UHP
Resolution: 1920×1080
Lens: 21.3 – 42.6 mm (2:1) power zoom/focus with motorized H/V lens shift
Inputs: 1 composite, 1 S-video, 1 component YPbPr, 2x HDMI 1.3, RS232C
Analog compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50

PC compatibility (through HDMI): VGA-SXGA, WXGA, WXGA+, WUXGA
Digital compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50, 1080 24p/60p/50p, Speakers: None

JVC America / Professional
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
(800) 582-5825

http://tinyurl.com/cq9l37

Product Review: OPPO BDP-83 Blu-Ray Disc Player (August 2009)

Considering how well their upscaling red laser DVD players work, it’s amazing more people don’t know about OPPO Digital. But then again, you can’t just walk into Best Buy or Wal-Mart and pick one up off a shelf.

No, OPPO prefers to conduct its sales mostly through the Internet, with retail giant Amazon.com as good a place to find them as anywhere. And that will hold true with the BDP-83, OPPO’s first foray into BD-land.

But don’t kid yourself. This is no bargain basement BD player, like the Magnavox models Wal-Mart had on sale last holiday season. Au contraire! The BDP-83 has more in common with Pioneer’s top-of-the-line BDP-09FD, reviewed here.

Figure 1. OPPO’s BDP-83 is a sharp-looking player for the money – and it’s no lightweight with performance, either.

OUT OF THE BOX

This player has high quality written all over it, from the brushed metal front panel to the solid housing that is actually more substantial than other name-brand Blu-ray players I’ve tested. It’s not particularly light at 11.2 pounds, but it does feel solid and stable.

That same front panel has a very subtle design, with small, “stealth” buttons for power and drawer open/close buttons. A mouse disk about the size of a half-dollar provides navigation and is located to the right of the panel. At the far right, you’ll find a covered USB 2.0 slot for playback of music and movie files and JPEG still images. A fluorescent display sits below the disc drawer and is very easy to read. It can also be dimmed in a projection theater.

The rear panel connections are sufficient for any home theater system. One HDMI 1.3 output is provided for connection to an AV receiver or HDTV set, and there’s also an analog component (YPbPr) output via RCA jacks.

Note that the only way to get upscaled video from regular DVDs will usually be through the HDMI connection – depending on the level of copy protection encoded on the DVD, you may only see 480i or 480p playback through the component video ports.

There are several ways to get audio out of the player. The first is through the HDMI connection, which is the only direct digital interface for high-resolution audio formats, including 7.1 channel PCM, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD.  The Toslink and coaxial SPDIF connections can handle Dolby Digital 5.1 formats, while 7.1 and 5.1 direct analog connections to appropriate receivers are handled by a separate bank of eight RCA jacks on the left rear panel.

Other connections include a second USB 2.0 jack for external audio, video, and image files, IR loop-through ports for controlling other compatible AV devices through the player, and a RJ45 Ethernet jack for Internet connections, required to enable and use the BD-Live function. (You can also use a wireless bridge with this port.) There’s also a RS232C jack option for an additional $89, for remote control in an integrated home theater system,

Figure 2. Here’s a look at the rear panel connections. Note the second USB 2.0 input (the other is on the front panel).

REMOTE AND MENUS

The supplied remote is very different from older OPPO designs. In fact, it also resembles more of a Pioneer product in size and shape. All of the buttons are large and backlit, making operation in a darkened room a snap – altogether, much more user-friendly and substantial (there’s that word again!).

OPPO has built quite a few neat tricks into this player. Of course, it supports 1080p/24 playback, and that’s the recommended mode when connecting to the latest generation of flat panel LCD and plasma HDTVs, as well as front projectors. You can easily toggle the 24p output from the player’s menu. This mode may also be activated automatically during the HDMI “handshake” between the BDP-83 and your display.

Now, this is cool: You can switch output resolutions on the fly while a disc is still playing, instead of having to stop the disc and make the change. It works very quickly and you get a visual confirmation of the selected resolution on the front panel display. Feeding an external video processor/seamless switcher? Select the player’s Source Direct mode, and it will send raw, unprocessed video from the disc directly to the HDMI output connector.

If you elect to process video onboard, you’re not giving up anything. The BDP-83 uses Anchor Bay’s VRS technology for deinterlacing, 3:2 and other cadence correction, and multi-axis motion interpolation. This is the same chipset used in the DVDO Edge processor, and it works exceptionally well.

Other menu options include aspect ratio settings (4:3 letterbox and pan/scan, plus 16:9 wide and auto) and image zoom modes, of which there are numerous options. Some of the more useful options include the correct vertical stretch for showing 2.35:1 movies on 2.35 screens, and several letterbox zoom modes to handle older DVDs that do not use anamorphic expansion to show widescreen movies.

The BDP-83 supports other legacy audio formats like conventional CDs, DVD Audio, and SACD. Using the Pure Audio menu or remote function, video playback is disabled through the HDMI output (only video black is transmitted) to your AV receiver. Ostensibly, this function is used to minimize any crosstalk between digital audio and video.

Going deeper into the menu, you can play back red laser DVDs at a 24p frame rate with 1080p upconversion. (This is not available through the analog HD outputs.) Your TV or projector must support native 24-frame playback for this to work correctly, and the choice of whether to output 24p or not can be left up to the Auto setting, plus a successful HDMI handshake with your display.

The VRS processor adds multiple levels of choices, including five different deinterlacing modes (Auto, Film, Video, 2:2 Even Field, and 2:2 Odd Field), two chroma upsampling error correction modes, four different color space setup modes (RGB Video, RGB PC, YCbCr 4:2:2, and YCbCr 4:4:4), and HDMI Deep Color modes (30-bit and 36-bit). An audio delay mode (lip sync correction) is also included.

The audio menu is also deep. For the initial setup, you’ll choose between linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM) and Bitstream modes, the first being used when the HDTV or AV receiver is unable to handle advanced Dolby and DTS formats. For compatible receivers, select Bitstream mode and let the receiver do the heavy lifting. You can, of course, go straight from the rear panel analog audio connections, if need be.

There are numerous digital audio output configurations that are detailed in the owner’s manual, so I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that the BDP-83 will support whatever standard or advanced multichannel audio formats you’re likely to encounter. Just make sure your AV receiver is as up to date!

IN OPERATION

In my review of the Pioneer BDP-09FD, I mentioned the precise, smooth operation of the disc tray and drive motor. While the BDP-83 doesn’t quite have that “Swiss watch” feel, it’s a lot closer to the Pioneer than to competing players from Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and LG.

OPPO makes a big deal of the fast load and play times on the BDP-83. I measured them with a stopwatch, and it took just 11 seconds from powering up until the OPPO logo appeared, and I was prompted to load a disc. 12 seconds after I loaded a disc, the first video image or menu on that disc appeared. That’s REAL fast! Of course, disc loading times also depend on whether the studio added BD-Live content that will boot up at the same time, or needs to be accessed separately.

I ran the BDP-83 through my Denon AVR-788 receiver and used it to watch a 5.1 channel mix from Ice Worlds from the BBC’s Planet Earth BD collection (buy this one, it’s a keeper!). This series features one of the better DD 5.1 channel mixes around, particularly the dubbed-in and location sounds of nature. It’s immersive, to say the least.

The audio playback was smooth with no “hits” or dropouts and had plenty of dynamic range. The 1080p video, which went through my Mitsubishi HC6000 3LCD projector, had excellent contrast, color, and detail – although with a VRS processor on one end and a HQV Reon on the other, it would be hard to screw things up.

Just for kicks, I took the BDP-83 upstairs to my office and connected it to a Westinghouse Digital L2410NM WUXGA (1920×1200) LCD computer monitor, which has zero video processing. Here’s where you can really see the VRS chipset shine, spinning up the Realta Blu-ray test patterns perfectly and giving me gorgeous 1080p playback of Iron Man (in thrilling two-channel stereo, of course).

CONCLUSIONS

For $500, this is one sturdy, precision Blu-ray player. If you want to go high-end, it would be hard to justify paying a lot more for what the BDP-83 already delivers. As OPPO has demonstrated more than once in the past, you usually do as well (if not better) with their upscaling red laser DVD models, and it looks like OPPO’s unique combination of engineering and value has successfully migrated to Blu-ray platform. Grab one for yourself!

OPPO Digital BDP-83
Blu-ray Disc Player

MSRP: $499.00

 

Specifications:

Compatible disc types: BD-Video, DVD-Video, AVCHD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE

BD Profile: BD-ROM Version 2, Profile 2 (also compatible with Profile 1, Version 1.0 and 1.1)

Internal Storage: 1GB (Actual available storage varies due to system usage)
Analog audio output: Stereo, 5.1ch, 7.1ch (RCA)
Digital audio output: Coaxial, Optical, HDMI 1.3
Analog video output: Composite, Component (480i/p only)
Digital video output: HDMI (NTSC 480p/720p/1080i/1080p, PAL 576p/720p/1080i/1080p)
Other interfaces: 2x USB 2.0, 2x IR (1/8” Mini plug)

Optional interfaces: RS232C

LAN Interface: RJ45-type jack
Dimensions: 16.9” W x 13.3” D x 3” H

Weight: 11.2 lbs.
BD firmware updates: Through Internet connection

OPPO Digital, Inc.
2629 Terminal Blvd. Suite B
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 961-1118
www.oppodigital.com