Monsters and High Definition

I’ve previously mentioned the Quick Hitts podcast a couple of times. Dave Hitt has a superbly professional manner and tone in his podcasts on his wide ranging, but generally fairly libertarian subjects. I find a great deal to agree with in his podcasts.

There was one I just listened to this evening, though, to which I think I must take exception. It wasn’t the podcast proper, but more the letter he read out, and his evident agreement, regarding the pointlessness of high definition video, and a slightly over-the-top dismissal of Monster Cable. Download podcast ‘Unintended Consequences’ from this page. Actually, download them all because they make great listening.

First, though, I learned from this podcast that Monster really has been guilty of some horrible behaviour, suing people most aggressively over claimed trademark infringement in a way I think is quite disgusting, and taking a quote from a negative review and reproducing it out of context in its advertising to make it seem positive.

I have my own issues with overpriced cables, and I always recommend against them, including Monster’s products, unless the money is clearly a trivial matter to the would-be purchaser.

Having said all that, back in the early 1980s the company did a valuable surface: it raised public awareness of an issue well-known to audio enthusiasts. That is, that most ‘speaker cable’ was crap. It was all incredibly thin in those days, and if you had for whatever reason a long run, you could easily chew up several per cent of the output power of your amplifier just in the resistance in the cable. Even before that, of course, audio enthusiasts didn’t use ‘speaker cable’. They tended to use twin core power cable, which had much lower resistance.

Since then, a valuable early idea has been perverted, both by Monster itself (with interconnects, which are nowhere near as important to sound quality, and digital cables), and even more so by other so-called audiophile cable makers. As I keep saying, for analogue interconnects, look for something in the $20 range, with good moulded plugs and gold plating (to resist corrosion, and for no other reason), and thickish wires (which indicate proper shielding). For speaker cables I buy the stuff from Dick Smith that sells for about $5 a metre. It’s very thick and very low in resistance.

As to general audio quality, one of the remarks on Dave’s podcast was to the effect that someone’s computer speakers sounded fine. And that’s fine for that person. I have nothing against it, even though I personally prefer more accurate reproduction of the sound, including all its elements. Somehow I doubt that a typical computer system will generate the 16 hertz fundamental of Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor when played on a mighty pipe organ.

As for HD, there was some mention of programs not being worth watching if one can spare the attention to notice the smaller details. But what if those smaller details are part of the story? See, for example, John Travolta’s face in the Blu-ray version of Pulp Fiction, compared to the DVD version:

Is the ‘door room’ scene of Monsters, Inc. (somehow, this seemed an appropriate title to compare, seeing as how Monster Cable tried to sue over the title) pleasant to look at on DVD when all the detail mushes up into confusion?

DVDs were great when we had 30 inch CRT TVs. Now we have 50 inch plasmas or LCD TVs, or even 85 or 100 inch front projection screens, Blu-ray and HDTV make the difference between an enjoyable experience, and one in which your eyes are being made tired by either a soft, out of focus image, or one with ugly artefacts of edge enhancement technology.

When HDTV was being introduced into Australia about eight years ago, a prominent commentator launched a campaign against it on the basis that real HDTVs were going to cost $20,000. And he was right … at the time. But as with every technology that achieves mass acceptance, prices fell.

The other day I reviewed a 50 inch Panasonic plasma TV. Full HD. 3DTV support. Glorious picture quality — the best yet, I think. Multimedia playback from USB, SD and DLNA network. Internet portal through to YouTube videos and Picasa photos, plus a number of Web gizmos and room for expansion. Four star energy rating (which I confirmed). Pretty much the best plasma that the best plasma company has to offer: $3,300.

And this time next year, that will seem expensive.

I didn’t try to talk people into buying HDTV and Blu-ray if players when full HD was available only from a $40,000 front projector, or when Blu-ray players were $2,200. But now, in part thanks to the early adopters and enthusiasts, I do. Because the improvement isn’t a subtle imaginary thing, but blindingly obvious on a larger screen.

Australian residents who have persisted this far: I have Luc Besson’s 1988 movie, The Big Blue, available on Blu-ray. No box, no slick, but the real thing. Disc has both the 168 minute Director’s Cut, and the 137 minute Theatrical version, plus a 97 minute SD documentary. First to ask for it in comments gets it.

This entry was posted in Blu-ray, Giveaway, HDTV, Rant, Value. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Monsters and High Definition

  1. Shane A says:

    It’s funny. When HD first arrived I wasn’t that keen on it either. Very expensive and not that impressive I thought. Bought a Grundig Lenaro widescreen CRT and was happy with that for years until the Pioneer 5000EX came out and (even though it was still out of my price range) made me think twice about HD. When the Kuro range was announced, I ended up being one of the first in line paying a little over 6 grand (bargain back then) for a LX508.

    It’s pleasing to know that when the Pio does eventually crap out, a replacement will be just as good and significantly cheaper.

    I just imported another one of Besson’s excellent films (Leon) on BD, but haven’t seen The Big Blue since VHS days, and I’d love to see it in HD if I could. :)

  2. Stephen Dawson says:

    HD is really all about size. The bigger the screen, the more detail and clarity required in the signal to look good.

    I’ll stick the disc in the mail, Shane.

  3. Simon Reidy says:

    You mean there’s still people doubting the benefits of high definition? Seems absurd given even a sub $500 display from Big W has 1366×768 resolution, and 42″ has more or less become the standard display size for your average household. Why should we use signals that don’t maximise the potential of our displays? That’s like buying a top end tube based 2 channel system then claiming that mp3s are good enough.

    To me Blu-Ray represents the first time I can watch films without being distracted by aliasing, macro-blocking, edge enhancement, pixelation, lack of detail and a choice between inaccurate audio from 4% speed-up (@50hz) up or inaccurate motion from 3:2 pull-down (@60hz).

    Your examples above are also excellent ones. Detail is everything, and I find that a good scene brimming with background detail draws me into the picture 100x more than one that is fuzzy and lacking fine detail. I watched Up for the first time on Blu-Ray last night and some of the texture detail (along with a wonderful story) was so profound that it brought tears to my eyes. It was really a case of “wow.. look how far digital animation has come”.

    I can only assume that the “prominent commentator” you refer to is non other than Mr body builder himself, Alex Encel. I was one of the people battling it off in the forums with Mr Encel back in the late 90s, as the man was clearly acting out of self interest to protect his then SD only Loewe TV business (I owned a 32″ Loewe btw) and also out of sheer ignorance and lack of vision for the future. I actually blame that man for single-handedly destroying Australia’s DVB-T system, leaving us with the mess we have today. At the time Senator Alston, for all his faults, was gunning for an “HD only” system, just like they have in the US. What this would have meant is that rather than having a system where bandwidth is wasted on multi-casting a SD channel alongside an HD one, we would have had one primary HD only channel per network, then the set top box would have down-converted this for people without HD displays. It would have also meant a standardised set top box system where all STBs had to decode 1080i, 720p and 576i. Instead we have a confusing system with separate SD only boxes and it’s only been since the revised Freeview system introduction that boxes are actually standardised to support all signals. Unfortunately it’s too late and as a result we have a market flooded with 576i only boxes and low bit-rate HD squeezed alongside low bit-rate SD broadcasts of the SAME content. Alex Encel made everyone believe that if we had an “HD only” system everyone would need $20,000 TVs to watch digital TV at all, when in reality if just would have meant slightly more expensive set top boxes capable of decoding all formats and down-converting HD signals to SD for those people without HDTVs. This is exactly how it works in America which is why they have so much more HD content than we do (and an average HD broadcast in the US is in the range of 16mbps-18mbps, not the 11mbps crap we get here).

    It’s pretty funny given that now Alex Encel’s stores sell nothing but high definition TVs.

    As for Monster cable they are pure evil. I’ve stood in Harvey Norman looking at $300 1.8m HDMI cables. The cable delivers a DIGITAL signal. Over a short run there is absolutely no difference whatsoever between a $300 monster HDMI 1.3 cable and the $20 HDMI 1.3 cable I bought from my local electronics store. It’s all marketing BS. They even have a Monster printer cable that promises a faster connection!! Their business practices are disgusting and I refuse to buy their overpriced garbage purely out of principle.

    Ok I’m done ranting now :)

  4. Rsaeire says:

    I’m really thankful that PAL speedup, interlacing (for the most part) and analogue connection are in the past when looking to watch the best available movie content. While I have a big collection of DVDs, I can’t help but feel relieved that progressive scan HD content via a digital connection is so prevalent. Also, I never understood the people who say “DVD is good enough,” “I don’t see the point in HD” or “why would I want to watch Friends in HD?” These people clearly miss the point and haven’t, or don’t want to, see(n) the benefit of not only HD video, but HD audio too. It’s not simply resolution that is improved, but the more efficient codecs used too that help bring HD to a completely different level that just isn’t possible with DVD.

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