Friday, September 14, 2007

Playstation 3 as a media hub - how good is it? Part III -- DVD/BD related settings and DVD upscaling capability on firmware v1.9x Part 1


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So this is my 3rd post on Playstation 3 as a media hub topic. Since firmware 1.80, SONY adds dvd and PS1, PS2 game upscaling capability. This is a huge update to further extends the capability of PS3. This review will be more focus on explaining the limitation of using component cable output @1080i I had mentioned earlier on that Fifth Elment BD post. There will be two parts in this review, first half of posing images on various settings related to DVD/BD output, video/audio output; second half of posting images on scaling functionality. There will be tons of pictures for illustration, since I believe visual aids are better approach than words.

So the first picture is my user screen, the overlay image is my Samsung monitor showing information about current resolution, this is the most accurate way of determining whether I get upscaling or NOT (upsacling should show 1080i, no upscaling should show 480p, it's that easyHot). 

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This is the initial video settings, here you can setup video output, advanced RGB color space (I suppose it's for HDMI 1.3 deep color space) , super white to archieve whiter than white (WTW) and blacker than black (BTB) (I have very limited understanding of this...Don't tell anyone)

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Going into the Video Output Settings, you'll get the following image showing all outputs PS3 supports. If you set wrong here or your TV/monitor does NOT support that particular setting, you'll only get black screen. To reset, turn off PS3, then push the power button for 5 sec, PS3 will default output to AV MULTI, the lowest setting. I have to choose Component here, since I have no luck with HDMI.

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Next screen is resolution, pick the ones your TV/monitor, PS3 will default the resolution to the highest resolution you chose. My monitor only accepts 480p and 1080i, so PS3 defaults the resolution @1080i, when 1080i is NOT avaliable like in some games or copyrighted DVDs, PS3 outputs @480p which is the next lower resolution I have.

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Oops, a blurry image using an image stablization enabled camera... This is a summary of the output settings.

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This is a warning about the shortcome on component output I have mentioned again and again. So if you're dying for the upscaling function yet only old TV set with component input, you're out of luck to get most of the upscaling part, unless you use DVD-R to backup all your DVD collections either shrink or split in order to fit on D5 capacityBroken heart...

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Two other important settings on HDMI side, but you need a good HDMI 1.3 equipped TV to support this advanced function...

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Some people have report losing whiter than white (WTW), blacker than black (BTB) function on certain TV after upgrading to firmware 1.8 or later...

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Move on to the Audio Output Settings, it's very similar to Video Output. What a blurry picture...

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Good pictures on output jacks for those NOT too tech savvy people. Use HDMI if you have a TV with HDMI inputs, but you'll only get 2 channels and crappy sound from tiny TV speakers; or connects to an HDMI equipped AVR, but the AVR must able to accept HDMI audio streams, if you get an earlier generation with switching only, save your cable and connects to TV directly... HDMI gives you the ultimate bandwidth to handle multi-channel stream decoded by PS3 or those uncompressed LCPM from BDs. Digital Out is used if you have an older AVR, it's good for games and DVD movies, but lack support for uncompressed LPCM, multi-channels lossless stream (Dolby True HD and DTS HD), and SACD due to bandwidth and copyright issue... I am currently using Digital Out since my Harman Kardon AVR is an older one. (just how irony I bought it last year, and thought that opictal/coxial are the ultimate inputs, well this year I'm already behind technology, sighSad...) AV MULTI is only good for 2 channels, no comment for it.

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After picking the outputs, choose the format, I wish I have an AAC decoder on my AVR, but that will only be on products in Japan or Korea, too bad... I also picked Linear PCM 2 Ch. 88.2 kHz for upsampling on CDs.

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Here is another warning is your AVR doesn't support that particular frequency (88.2, 176.4), your speakers will be damaged... My AVR supports 24bit/96 kHz.

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After all done, finally comes the summary page.

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The following squences of images are for DVD/BD functionality on video and audio playback.

Lots of options for menu, language, subtitle stuff...

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Towards the bottom are advanced features.

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Cinema conversion is an option for how the PS3 will process the video frame type, whethe process as video or as film. Automatic is default, let the machine to analyze, video is always process as video no matter what, no good for 23.97 film material.

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DVD Wide Display, a typical setting also seen on standard definition DVD players. Letterbox is the typical choice for widescreen TVs.

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Next comes the exciting feature -- the upscaling settings. You can turn off, Double Scale (does NOT work on 720p output, outputs about 10% smaller than Normal), Normal (this option is default, it provides auto aspect ratio correction! It suprises me since it's the first DVD player I've ever purchased having this function, only the softwares on PC provide this kind of functionality. I do appreciate the convience it brings since I no longer have to see a distorted image for 4:3 material on a 16:9 screen without manually switching 16:9 or 4:3 back and forth.), Full Screen (Disable the auto aspect ratio correction while still supports upsacling, don't know why you want to do this, maybe for proctection on those older plasmas with burn-in problem...)

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This 1080p/24Hz is a deal breaker for lots of people on AVSforum, outputs @ the original frame rate can elaminate the motion jutterness during a large scene change. The older generation blu-ray players are NOT capable doing this... Automatic lets the device to choose, Off is of course no 24Hz... On is alway enforcing 24Hz output (this is a new feature since firmware 1.90)

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Move on to audios...

If you choose HDMI as audio output earlier, you can choose which decoding method to use here. Bitstream outputs raw audio stream without any processing, currently PS3 is NOT able to output DolbyTrue HD and DTS Master Audio yet. So in order to hear those sound tracks, you have to choose the second option - Linear PCM which lets PS3 decoding internally, then output as LPCM (PS3 CANNOT decode DTS Master Audio yet)...

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If you choose Optical Output as audio output earlier, you can choose Bitstream or Linear PCM here. Bitstream gives you multi-channel audio streams such as Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS, Linear PCM will only do 2 channel due to limited bandwidth...

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Upon choosing Bitstream, PS3 gives yet another warning. What it means is that if your BD offers Dolby True HD or DTS HD/Master audio, you will only get the core lossy information from these lossless formats, still they should be on par with or better than any Dolby or DTS tracks standard def DVD offers. It's a compromised solution if you want to wait for the BD final spec to settle down and bitstream on DTS HD/MA are possbile on output (PS3 or other BD player) and input (AVRs that accepts bitstream)...

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This is the end of part 1, which pretty much explains all the settings related to video and aduio outputs/settings. Part 2 will be the hands on on upscaling DVD-Rs vs non upscaling DVD-ROMs...


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Playstation 3 as a media hub - how good is it? Part II -- my first Blu-ray disc movie experience FIFTH ELEMENT REMASTERED edition review


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Now move on to part II, get hands on the blu-ray experience. First is the HD-DVD offers 5 free discs, then this summer SONY allies with buena vista to have a 5 free Blu-ray discs offer. Needless to say, there are not really interesting movies among the selections... Since the offer is mail-in one, still days ahead to wait buena vista's rebate processing center to approve and mail out the discs, so I think it maybe a good idea to buy an inexpensive (my standard for inexpensive is anything below $15 for BD...) yet reference-like blu-ray disc to get started. Therefore I chose this one - the Fifth Element. It's a new 07-17-2007 release which uses AVC encoding and features a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. It is on tier-1 list from AVSforum. My review is much more picture driven and focus on exploring the functionality of blu-ray paticularly PS3 as a blu-ray player rather than PQ and AQ... If you ever want to know those thing, dvdtalk has all the professional reviews, HERE is their review for this particular b) disc.

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This is a one disc package, comes with the disc with an art cover (some members on the AVSforum are shocked when they see that there is a dedicated/unique cover from the movie on the disc rather than all standard blu-ray style... The latter in China would be called 和谐/河蟹, meaning harmony) and a broche introducing the Blu-ray technology and some titles. All the blu-ray disc comes with an easter egg (彩蛋) for calibration purpose, to enter it you need to punch in code 7669 in the title menu.

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Forgot to take the back side of the package, here is a partial image from dvdtalk. The remastered one comes with a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack which the old one does NOT have...

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Here are I believe all the calibration test pattern from this disc, again enter 7669 in the title menu...

1. Color bars for RGB calibration, notice the cut offs(white on left and blue on right) on my screen is huge, which is a clear indication that it's only showing the native resolution 1440*900, the rest of the pixels (1920*1080-1440*900=480 on sides, 180 on top and bottom) are out of bound...

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2. The geometry, position test pattern... I have to confess that my 19in monitor is 16:10 and CANNOT be pixel matched to a 16:9 ratio. All the pictures I took here are being corrected by image editing software...

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3. Contrast ratio pattern...

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4. Convergence test pattern...

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I think there's a time limit between each pattern that you can calibrate on, didn't look into this too much since I just have never got into the calibration business...

This movie is BDMV title as indicated by PS3 here. Apparently there are two authoring modes offered in blu-ray disc, BDMV (menus+movies, no advanced features) and BD-J (the full capability blu-ray technology offers, there are very few titles currently, one example would be Pirates of the Caribbean) (also a 3rd mode called BDAV which is movie only, for detailed home blu-ray disc burning experience, check THIS out.) Note on the right side there are only three options here since it's a copyrighted/xx-ROM dics, if you manage to get a DVD-R or BD-R, there will be a fourth item "information", only good to show how many titles there are in the disc though... But it's a vital indication for non copyrighted/non-ROM discs, which if you are using a component cablle for 1080i as I do and if you ever want to get the upconversion on standard def DVD, this fourth information is very important since component cable only carrys analog signal, for copyrighted issues, copyrighted/ROMs will only show at its native resolution (In PS3, if output thru component @1080i AND wants to see upconversion on standard def, you are pretty much limited to DVD-R, since DVD+R/DVD+R DL when you burn them for compatibility purpose the booktype bitsets o ROM) I will try to address this issue with pictures in later media hub parts... Long word for short, HDMI for SD DVD upconversion is a must on Playstation 3, go get a big screen HDCP enabled TV if you have budget...

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So next is the title menu. Playstation 3 starts out blu-ray disc really fast, I'm very satisfied here.

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Using SIXAXIS or BT remote, pressing the TRIANGLE(option) key can call up the icons for all the blu-ray navigation, here is the icons.

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Scene selection page, nothing fancy here...

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Totally disappointed features, the fact track is ported from the DVD version (Last year I tried to do a fact track on one of my own DVD, which takes a very long time to do, but I very much enjoyed it, and the outcome is pretty goodOpen-mouthed). Besides the movie, there are only two previews in the disc...

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Forgot to take pictures on the subtitle and language page... Good news is that all the blu-ray discs seems come with Chinese subtitle, which is great news for my dad!

So here starts the movie, using the display key on the BT remote (select on SIXAXIS), you can call up the information. The top left shows the title number, the top right has the AUDIO codec info and resolution/bitrate (here my sound output is only optical, no enough bandwidth to send out as multi-channel LPCM, therefore I chose to send as Dolby core only via bitstream which is at 640 kbps, still better than regualr Dolby digital 5.1 tracks on regular DVDs...), and VIDEO codec info and a bitrate detector which updates every second(on this particular second, it shows 29.8 Mbps, the peak I've seen is about 37 Mbps). The bottom is the timeline....

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So during the movie, if you use SIXAXIS, you'll have to call up the icons for operation. This is how disturbance goes... Advertisement: for better movie viewing experiences, go get a BT remote controlHot...(BTW, this picture is an earlier scene than the above picture...)

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Here is some next-gen stuff, the long waited POP-UP menu, about the same as the title menu, just one extra quit(x) on the left bottom, and the above scene selection lacks a preview of each chapter...

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I didn't forget to take a picture on language page here, rumors that uncompressed LPCM 5.1 soundtracks will be replaced by Dolby TrueHD lossless tracks soon...

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Here is the only feature for the movie, the fact track (my favorite fact track is the one on spiderman 1, very very comic looking, blends with the movie very well; the one on spiderman 2 is pretty dismal though)...

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So that's all the pictures I've taken for Playstaion 3's blu-ray disc playback functions (just realize that all the pictures are taken from one scene, how lazy I am...). As far as the picture quality is concerned, I CANNOT comment too much on it since my monitor is only 19in... It does look better than OTA(over the air) HD programs I've seen starting from August last year. The picture's colors are vibrant, not too much noises (have to stand up close to see them, don't know how it looks if blowed up to a 40in or larger...) The irony is that tonight after watch this movie again, I finally opened up the Hulk special edition DVD, poped in my beloved harman kardon DVD, the picture quality is also very amazing... Details are NOT on par with this blu-ray disc, but overall could be on par or even better than those OTA HD programs... (but strangely, the Hulk only gets 3.5 star out of 5 from DVDtalk's professional review, don't know why, maybe my eyes are NOT good trained to judge the image quality...) The sound quality, as my father has claimed that the surround effects are better than the ones on DVDs, he loves it. The bass, I only turned half way up on my 100w subwoofer, it's as good as some newer dolby digital tracks (the one on casino royale is really amazing at the ending climate which the buildings crash down, as my mom shouts out:"Too loud, the house is crashing down (房子要坍忒叻!)" as I pointed to the picture and replied:"Sure, the building is crashing down...(是的呀,房子是坍忒叻。。。)") and DTS tracks on DVDs... And as on movie ifself, I don't like it very much, it certainly is entertaining in some way, but I think rewatchablity is pretty low, it doesn't go deep with those SI-FI elements. My favorite Luc Besson movie is  Léon (The Professional) as I first saw it when I was 13, about the same age as Mathilda (Natalie Portman). Last notes, the lacking of features is also a disadvantage on current blu-ray discs compared to the HD-DVDs, hope after the finalization of BD spec, more BD 1.1, 2.0 players coming out, there will be more discs featuring BD-J on the market, definitely hoping for PIP viewing...

So after all, I would do a hasty conclusion that PS3 as a blu-ray disc player is pretty good. Just can't wait for those 5 discs to come in and check out further.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Canon A560 test -- Self-made sandwich

Don't know too much about the digital cameras, but I do seriously need to change my old Canon A75. It has been working fine until recently it starts to drain the battery really fast and refuse to power up with rechargeable batteries (low voltage 1.2V as opposed to alkalines' 1.5V). Last night whlie I was taking pictures on  my monitor, I had 4 fresh alkalines (2 SONY+2 Energizer), the camera only yields 44 shots without flashes before it refuses to start up... I'm desperately to need the pictures for my Playstation 3 review project, that's why I finally made a purchase... Turns out the new A560 (on sale after a $30 price break this week) does take rechargeable batteries, I've taken 10 shots so far.
Here is a spec sheet for it:
Format Compact
Price (street) US$179
Also known as
Release Status
Click for help Max resolution 3072 x 2304
Click for help Low resolution 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480
Click for help Image ratio w:h 4:3, 3:2
Click for help Effective pixels 7.1 million
Click for help Sensor photo detectors 7.1 million
Click for help Sensor size 1/2.5 "
Click for help Sensor type CCD
Click for help Colour filter array RGB
Click for help Sensor manufacturer Unknown
Click for help ISO rating Auto, 80 ,100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
Click for help Zoom wide (W) 35 mm
Click for help Zoom tele (T) 140 mm (4 x)
Click for help Digital zoom Yes, 4x
Click for help Image stabilization No
Click for help Auto Focus Yes
Click for help Manual Focus Yes
Click for help Auto focus type AiAF TTL 9-point or center
Click for help Normal focus range 45 cm
Click for help Macro focus range 5 cm
Click for help White balance override 5 positions plus manual
Click for help Aperture range F2.6 - F5.5
Click for help Min shutter 15 sec
Click for help Max shutter 1/2000 sec
Built-in Flash Yes
Flash guide no. 2.2 m (7.2 ft) 2 m
External flash No
Flash modes Auto, On, Off, Manual (Red Eye, Slow Sync)
Click for help Exposure compensation -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Click for help Metering Evaluative, Center Weighted, Spot
Click for help Aperture priority No
Click for help Shutter priority No
Click for help Focal length multiplier
Lens thread No
Click for help Continuous Drive Yes, 1.7 fps, unlimited
Movie Clips Yes, 640 x 480 @ 30/15 fps, 320 x 240 @ 60/30/15 fps
Remote control No
Self-timer 2 or 10 sec
Click for help Timelapse recording No
Orientation sensor Yes
Click for help Storage types SD/SDHC card
Click for help Storage included 16 MB SD card
Click for help Uncompressed format No
Click for help Compressed format JPEG (EXIF 2.2)
Click for help Quality Levels Super-Fine, Fine, Normal
Click for help Viewfinder Optical
Click for help LCD 2.5 "
Click for help LCD Pixels 115,000
Click for help Video out Yes
Click for help USB Yes, 2.0
Click for help Firewire (IEEE 1394) No
Click for help Battery / Charger No
Click for help Battery AA (2) batteries (NiMH recommended)
Weight (inc. batteries) 205 g (7.2 oz)
Dimensions 91 x 64 x 43 mm (3.6 x 2.5 x 1.7 in)
Resolution Chart
Here's my short review:
The body:
The upgrade from a 1.5 in LCD to a 2.5 in is huge, and the 2.5in LCD is a lot brighter. The camera only uses 2 batteries these days which is a lot lighter than the A75 using 4 batteries. The battery and the memory compartment have been moved together, I think it's a bad design for those who use a card reader. The tripod mount hole has been moved to the left whereas the A75 is right in the middle. The connectors have been moved up to the middle on the left side of the body so that the external power connector can be together with the USB and AV connector.
The function:
Menus are about the same, but since it's a 7.1MP camera, it takes less pictures on a high setting... The cool thing is the image stablization, I have intentionally shaked my hands while taking a picture, but the picture comes out not very blurry like the A75.
The picture:
Color is vivid, pictures seem to have less noise than the A75. No other observations so far...
So here are my sample pictures with everything auto... My overcooked self-made sandwich...
First picture with flash on
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Second with flash off and hand shaking...
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Speaking of the sandwich, it takes about 15min to make, and I have pretty much enjoying making and thus eating it. The ingrediants are wheat bread, roast beef, american cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, jalapeño, the sauses are Mustard and Mayonnaise. The proceduare is putting the non vegatable altogether first, sent to the oven @350°F for about 8 min(I overcooked it for more than 2min today while playing with the camera...) After heating, put all the vegatables in, that's it.