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Editor-in-Chief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Harry Pearson
Executive Editor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sallie Reynolds
Senior Editors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Greg Rogers, Video
Thomas O. Miiller, Audio
Greg Sandow, Music & Multimedia
Technical Editor, Audio . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert Harley
Assistant Editor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Bob Gendron

Technical Consultant, Audio . . . . . . .Richard Marsh

Phone (888) 475-5991 (USA) or (973) 627-5162 (outside USA). The
Perfect Vision Subscription Services, Box 3000, Denville, New Jersey 07834. Six issues: In the USA, $32, Canada $36 (GST included); outside North America, $65 (includes airmail). Payments must
be by credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) or USA
funds drawn on a USA bank, with checks payable to Absolute
Multimedia, Inc.
Address letter to: The Editor, The Perfect Vision, Box 235, Sea Cliff,
New York 11579, or by e-mail to Address
all other editorial matters to: The Executive Editor , The Perfect
Vision, Box 141, Cool, California 95614, fax (530) 823-0156, email:
Contact Anne Hart at the address below or e-mail: or contact Mike Grellman at (925) 327-1304, fax (925)
327-1429 or e-mail:

Contributing Writers . . . . . . . .Alice Artzt, Bill Cruce,
Thom Duffy, Neil Gader, Bob Gendron,
Robert Harley, Alen Koebel, Bruce Lawton,
Tom Martin, Andrew Quint,
Barry Rawlinson, Paul Seydor,
Jonathan Valin, Heidi Waleson
Art Director . . . . .Nancy Josephson for Design Farm
Proofreader . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Aubin Parrish
Artists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Gary Oliver, Illustrations
David Omer, Cover Photography
Steve Friedman, Benigni Photos
Absolute Multimedia, Inc.
Chairman and CEO . . . . . . .Thomas B. Martin, Jr.
Publisher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Mark Fisher

Please use the form in the back of the issue.

Finance & Adminstration . . . . . . . . . .Trish Kunz

Contact Eastern News Distributors, Inc., at 250 West 55th Street,
New York, New York 10019, phone (800) 221-3148.
Contact Mark Fisher at the address below or e-mail:
COPYRIGHT Absolute Multimedia, Inc., Issue 26, September/October 1999.
The Perfect Vision (ISSN #0895-4143) is published bi-monthly, $32 per year for US. residents, Absolute
Multimedia, Inc., 7035 Bee Caves Road, Suite 203, Austin, Texas 78746. Application to mail at Periodical Postage rates is pending at Austin, Texas, and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send
address changes to The Perfect Vision, Subscription Services, Box 3000, Denville, New Jersey 07834.
Printed in the USA.

Accounting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Scott Pettit
Advertising Representatives . . . . . . .Anne Hart,
Mike Grellman
Circulation Manager . . . . . . . . . .Steven Wayner
Legal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Jim Robinson
Advisors . . . . . . . . . . . . .Vito Colaprico (printing),
Richard Sabella (HP’s business),
Howard Arber (HP’s legal affairs)

Absolute Multimedia, Inc. · 7035 Bee Caves Road, Suite 203 · Austin, Texas 78746
(512) 306-8780 · Fax (512) 328-7528 ·




Iss ue 26 , Se p te mbe r /Oc to ber 19 9 9
his was a hard issue. Our third time out and maybe three’s a jinx, maybe
we got a little cocky. In any case, nothing jelled for the longest time. Then,
because TPV has Twinkle-Dust Factor, something finally clicked, and the
topic rose to the surface: We were questing for the Mythical Beast. The elusive, the magical and mysterious. The thing you want – It – ever and teasingly just beyond reach.
The experience of “art” is a mystery, after all, and requires that willing suspension
of disbelief. Furthermore, we want this shimmering thing in our homes – so quotidian,
the antithesis of the magic carpet. If It can ever happen at home at all, the process
requires an extraordinary blend of multi-sensual cues with true artistic vision – more
than ever we needed in strange, dark caves.
Paul Seydor tells you how film editors strive for It. Alen Koebel haunted INFOCOMM looking for It. Alice Artzt says she found It in Roberto Benigni. For Tom Miiller,
It turned his “perfect” room into a Tiger. Greg Rogers says you might be able to find
perfect color – but not without real know-how. Greg Sandow digs at the very heart of
the experience before he finds a little of It.
HP points out that while Special Editions are supposed to have It, suppositions by
nature create unassuageable desires. Jonathan Valin takes on the vision of the great
Imago himself, Ingmar Bergman, in the hope that some spells work forever.
Why, you say, I might have It in my hands right this minute! But drat, you can’t get
the system to work – you keep punching buttons and get picture but no sound, sound
but no video. Where are those simple, hunky knobs of yore that clicked so cleanly
from off to on and let you know when you’d got there? For some of us, It might just be
sound and vision at the same time – every time.
Still, we have good, solid stuff here: Controllers (maybe they’re that great old knob
in new skin, if we can figure out how to use them). DVDs. Projectors, line doublers.
Even whole systems (Part 1, of course. This is still a quest. And we are yet ourselves.)
Highlights: Sandow in Cuba at the Buena Vista Social Club; Seydor on the Cutting
Room Floor; Rogers on Color; Rogers on Runco & Sony; Miiller in the War Room with
Revel; Rawlinson with the Alchemist of Linn. Valin with Queen Elizabeth (he’d rather
be with Mrs. Brown). And HP with Kubrick and the Space Monsters.


6 Editorial
7 Editorial Notes
Can All That Counts Be Counted? A Forum Begins…
Janet’s Index (A footnote to “Keeping It Real:
Producing Classical Music Videos,” Issue 25)





I Want My DVD! Major Labels’ Plans for
Classical Music on DVD – Heidi Waleson


Upscale Pop (on DVD) – Thom Duffy

9 Letters
The Problem with DVD: Digital Artifacts…Targeting
14-Year-Old Boys?…Down the Primrose Path…What
Not To See on DVD…Electronic Cinema


Made for DVD: Puccini’s Turandot – Greg Sandow


A (Classical) DVD Sampler – Greg Sandow



Surrounded! Roger Reynolds’ Watershed (created
for DVD) – Greg Sandow & Barry Rawlinson


Pop with a Twist – Bob Gendron


Multimedia: A Close Encounter (Voices of Light
& The Passion of Joan of Arc) – Andrew Quint

13 Audio: Death to Convention – Tom Miiller
15 Video: We’ve Got What it Takes for Home
Theater – Greg Rogers
16 Music & Multimedia: The Vexed Question of
Multimedia – Greg Sandow
17 Out of the Box: Video Travels – Tom Martin
19 Design Concepts: The Human Interface
– Barry Rawlinson


Industry News
INFOCOMM ’99: An Insider’s View – Alen Koebel
Exploring Film
Trims, Clips, and Selects: Notes from the Cutting
Room Floor – Paul Seydor



Video Insights: An Introduction to Digital
Video 2: Video Color Concepts – Greg Rogers
87 Sony VPH-G90U Multiscan Projector
– Greg Rogers
90 Runco DTV-930 Multiscan Projector
– Greg Rogers
Measurements – Greg Rogers
94 IEV Turboscan 1500 Line Doubler – Bill Cruce
96 Pioneer Elite DVL-91 Combination
CD/LD/DVD Player – Bill Cruce
Measurements – Greg Rogers


Featured Product
Lexicon MC-1 Controller: Sonic Flavors To Slake
Every Thirst – Robert Harley

35 Department
What You Should Know…About Controllers
– Robert Harley
41 Revel Ultima Speaker System Episode One:
The Ancient Enemy – Tom Miiller
48 Linn-AV5100 Tukan Multi-Channel System:
In Search of the Mythical Beast I
– Barry Rawlinson
51 NAD T770 Audio-Video Receiver: Just the
Basics, Done Well – Neil Gader

99 Further Thoughts: DVDO iScan Plus Line
Doubler – Greg Rogers




Roberto Benigni – Alice Artzt & Bruce Lawton
HP’s Movieola
Special Editions (DVDs): Kubrick & Alien box
sets…Worth a Look: Weir’s Gallipoli; Ward’s
What Dreams May Come; Vadim’s Barbarella


Second Run
110 BioPics: Elizabeth; Mrs. Brown;
Gods & Monsters (DVDs) – Jonathan Valin
Comments by HP


Current Attractions
Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut – HP
Film Forum
Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (DVD)
– Jonathan Valin

Manufacturers’ Corner


“Do not keep anything…that
you do not know to be useful
or believe to be beautiful.”
– William Morris




For the Reader
Information about TPV

Prognostications: Our staff predicts the future
Front Cover: Sony VPH-G90U Multiscan Projector

E D I T O R I A L

Follies & Frolics
Let it be said, at this the half-way point of summer
(as of the writing), the neighborhood multiplexes
find themselves wishing they could either get rid of
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace or at least move
a surviving copy of it to one of their lesser screens.
Most of you probably know the terms that George
Lucas stuck the exhibitors with: (a) a 12-week minimum run and (b) on their biggest screens. It is even said that
Lucasfilm is demanding 90 percent of the box-office gross for
the entire 12 weeks. Unheard of terms. And not soon likely to
be repeated.
Instead of being a Titanic-buster, as the marshmallowcloud prognosticators foresaw, the fourth Star Wars installment looks a bit more like Dennis the Menace in its measuring up to the Cameron box-office juggernaut. And so we have
the lovely irony wherein the biggest venues in the local plex
may be less than half full, while across the hall, in a smaller
theater, folks are getting turned away from the likes of Wild,
Wild West, Austin Powers, Big Daddy, and other such intellectually stimulating and spiritually instructive treats. Me, I’m
just glad that Lucas hasn’t cornered the popcorn concession,
demanding a cut there as well.
I had hoped to have a few “real” films under Current
Attractions in this issue and was prepared to review one foreign flick no longer much about (The Dream Life of Angels)
and even an artistic failure with plenty of meat on the bones
(Mike Figgis’ The Loss of Sexual Innocence). Eyes Wide Shut
opened just in time for me to squeeze in a few observations.
But I was able to catch Run, Lola, Run, which is an exhilarating film, as full of energy as any dozen others and perhaps
a significator of where film is going at the end of the century.
When I walked out of the theater, mind abuzz with the images
I had just encountered, I felt almost a guilty pleasure, knowing that Lola marks the end of film as we know it. Well, maybe
that’s an exaggeration; but still, for some time movies have
been abandoning traditional narrative formats for the hypedup visual experience and Lola takes that hyped-up energy to
the edge. And when you metaphorically peer over that edge
into the abyss, you’ll have to ask yourself, “Just where do the
movies go from here?” Will they all become machine-gun fire
multi-media collages, going even further than Lola, which is a
multi-media treat (animation, live action, stupendously wellemployed Dolby Digital, wall-to-wall-papered rock)?
I can’t imagine this German import not becoming one of
the most successful foreign/art-house films ever. Yes, it has
subtitles (oh horrors!), but you hardly need them to keep up
with the action, which has the virtue of being pure movement
(cinema’s forte) once Lola sets out on her run, repeated three
times over with a different outcome each time. At issue is saving her dope-dealing boyfriend’s life, which means she has to
come up with $100,000 (Deutsche Marks) within 20 minutes
or else. There is a cast of characters whose paths she crosses
(or doesn’t) during each run, and as the camera pauses to contemplate each, you see a rat-a-tat barrage of still photographs
of each’s future, which changes according to the circum-

stances of the encounter with Lola. There are, additionally,
two beautifully done bridge passages after the first and second runs, which show, slyly, why she gets another chance at
changing the outcome. There is a surprising amount of heft,
emotional meat on the bones, in this seemingly slight virtuoso
exercise in the craft of film, and buried within its telegraphed
shorthand staccato outbursts, a reservoir of deep feeling. And
such mordant, dry, macabre humor to keep the tone ironic
and post-modern. All this is in vivid, day-glo color, filmed in
almost every medium one can think of, but done in such a way
that it all coheres and makes perfect artistic sense (unlike,
say, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, where Stone is
showboating with technique, failing to relate it to content).
Like I said, it may well make you feel as high as a kite, but
what in the world do you do for an encore?

Barco Vision Watch
In the first chapter of our adventure, Projector Installation:
The Real Menace, I took a shot at Barco’s official Long Island
installation folks at Gavi. That was written on deadline.
Between then and the time the folks at Gavi saw the unfavorable mention in the last issue, the company sent its men back
again and again in an effort to get the 708 data-grade projector working at the level I needed in order to make solid and
sound judgments about everything from laserdiscs and DVDs,
enhanced and non, to HDTV when it finally arrives at the Sea
Cliff studios.
Part of the problem the first time out was that Gavi’s folk
did not remount the Barco so that it was correctly distanced
from the 8-foot Stewart screen. Instead, they used the ceilingmounted plate Sony had installed for their projector. Thus, I
couldn’t get an accurately sized 4:3 picture, which meant I
couldn’t watch full-screen discs (this means anything before
l954 and Latter Day stuff either made for TV or not – IMAX,
e.g.). Then on a subsequent visit, I found the team had put in
an anamorphic widescreen setting without supplying another
for standard widescreen discs. So non-anamorphic DVDs and
laserdiscs looked really weird, being squeezed as they were
into aspects that ranged up to 3:1 for a 2:35.1 disc. There have
been more visits and now I am waiting for Gavi to get its color
analyzer back (it’s in California) so that we can check the
grayscale and color temperature. I’m not satisfied with the
colors as rendered – for one thing, the whites aren’t as pure as
I’d like, and either some transfers (mostly of foreign films) are
a bit “pink” or the set isn’t fully dialed in just yet.
Meaning? The installation of a front projector is tricky
business, especially with the advent of anamorphically
enhanced DVDs and of HDTV. And we shall be addressing the
topic in detail sufficient unto the day.


E D I T O R I A L
I: Can All That Counts Be Counted?
A Forum Begins
We are running Charles Hansen’s response to Issue 24 as the
beginning of a forum in which we explore how we will blend
the observational and the empirical (tests and measurement
programs) in our video and audio sections. Our aim is not to
overwhelm the reader with our expertise at the test bench or
with our skill in the obfuscatory use of High End jargon – but
to produce the clearest, most comprehensible and useful
examination of the hardware we review and the concepts
behind that hardware. Every reader should understand every
line of text and every graph, no matter which he uses most to
help him make his own judgments. If one serious reader does
not understand, we believe we must simply learn to explain
better. Over time, we will.
The editors will respond next issue.
Congratulations on the rebirth of The Perfect Vision, a superb
new beginning to an intriguing journal. As I was reading the
first issue, I was struck by at least one marked similarity to The
Absolute Sound, namely the satisfying richness of content that
requires multiple readings to digest fully.
One thing that also struck me was the dichotomy between
the methods used to review the video and audio performance
of a component:
1) Objective observational methods are the only acceptable means to review audio equipment, whereas laboratory measurements must be relied upon to judge video
2) Long-term listening tests are much more sensitive in
discerning meaningful differences in audio equipment,
while instantaneous A/B switching is favored for comparing video equipment.
3) Any sort of signal manipulation has been traditionally frowned upon in the realm of High End audio, but in
video “clever electronic prestidigitation” is able to create “unprecedented picture quality.”
This last point is particularly interesting, as it appears to
contradict item one. If I read the review of the Pioneer DV09 correctly, the measurements performed were unable to
identify the source of the sharpness enhancement, instead
requiring the use of objective observational methods. (By
the way, the service guide for the Pioneer player describes
the sharpness enhancement feature as selectively modifying
the luminance signal with a non-linear gain element. A similar technique used in an audio component would be unacceptable to the High End community.)
As I consider these two different reviewing approaches for
audio and video components, three distinct possibilities come
to mind on the reasons for their need:
a) The human brain processes audio and video information in completely different ways, and therefore different methods must be used to evaluate audio and video
equipment; or,
b) While analog audio has always had arbitrarily highresolution capability, video has had format-prescribed
resolution limits. This limited resolution may require different evaluation methods; or,
c) In this early stage of video equipment, there are gross
differences (and defects) in measurable performance
parameters, just as in audio equipment of the 1950s. As
these measurable defects are corrected (thanks to the
feedback provided by the measurement capabilities of

Convergence Labs), meaningful differences in the
observed performance of video equipment may or may
not still exist.
At this point, I lean toward the last possibility as most
likely. This view would seem to be supported by
Jonathan Valin’s comments on the Theta Voyager [Issue
24], in which he noted improvements in the following
areas: video noise and grain; gradations of the gray
scale; sharpness of image; focus of background subjects; depth of field.

Can all of these observed improvements in image quality be
correlated with improved performance on the test bench? It
seems unlikely, although I suppose we will have a partial
answer in the next issue, when the Voyager is placed under the
scrutiny of Convergence Labs’ battery of tests [see Issue 25]. (I
say “partial answer” because the correlative results from one
unit do not necessarily apply to all models.)
I look forward to future issues, as these and other topics
are explored in depth.

II: Janet’s Index
And now a footnote to our interview last issue with Phillip Byrd
and Janet Shapiro, producers of classical music television
broadcasts. Janet talked about a terrific show she’d just finished, called Can’t Stop Singing, a documentary about the 60th
annual convention and contests of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in
America, held this year in Atlanta, at the Georgia Dome. A few
days ago, she sent me some statistics she’d prepared for the
organization’s board, to show them what goes into her work. I
asked her if she’d share them here, and she agreed, provided I
let her say the following:
“Although the show is a documentary, it contains a lot of
straight performance as well. It exists in two forms: an
81-minute version for pledge time on PBS stations,
which airs nationwide on PBS beginning August 11, and
also in a slightly longer version that will air at an unspecified time after August without pledge breaks. [It’s an
honor, she’d explained, for a pledge show to be picked
for national distribution outside those special weeks.]
“There will be a home video version. My role in the
production was Producer and Editor, and I’ve poured
my heart and soul into this show. I want people to
watch it!!!”
Which they should – it’s engaging from beginning to end
and the quartets look and sound pretty fabulous.
Janet’s stats, for her 87-minute show:
• Number of field crews: 4 (each with its own producer,
shooter, audio tech, and PA)
• Number of field tapes: 86 30-minute tapes
• Amount of time needed to log and transcribe said field
tapes: 2 months
• Number of pages of logs and transcriptions: 591
• Number of cameras at the Georgia Dome: 5
• Number of contest tapes: 67 90-minute tapes
• Amount of time to edit finished program: 2 1/2 months
• Number of video edits in finished program: 662
• Number of audio edits in finished program: 361
• Number of e-mails in my Barbershop folder when I last
looked: 202

L E T T E R S

The Problem with DVD:
Digital Artifacts
I have subscribed to your revival of
The Perfect Vision, and not being familiar with the original, I can only say you
seem to be off to a strong start. Your
style feels more academically, intellectually driven than some of your competition, and I welcome this.
I’d like to address one point that
Mr. Pearson makes in his Viewpoints
editorial. “And we shall push, push, push
for the highest quality images, either
from an ‘enhanced’ DVD...” How hard
are you willing to push? Are you satisfied with DVD now?
I find the digital motion artifacts of
DVD too severe for a serious High End
format. DVD’s 10Mbps data rate is just
not enough to carry a component digital
standard definition video signal! With
only few exceptions, every DVD I watch,
on a wide variety of systems, is plagued
by large-area low luminance chroma
macroblocking. Also, pre-compression
noise reduction removes much of the
film grain within the image. Film grain is
an integral part of an image; the type of
film stock and its grain structure are
often aesthetic choices made by directors of photography. How can reduction
or removal of this element be aesthetically acceptable?
The popular press, and even some
higher end journals, are head over heels
over DVD. I will admit that it offers
some true benefits such as component
color space, progressive output capability, anamorphic presentation, and
extended luminance/chroma channel
bandwidth. But the digital artifacts are
bad, they are visible, and they are unacceptable. But I hear no other voices to
the contrary. This saddens me.
If The Perfect Vision is to “push,
push, push,” then I implore your magazine to [convince] manufacturers that
our future digital formats must use
milder data reduction methods. I fear for
the future “enhanced DVD” format. Will
we be saddled with a digital output
channel that will max out at the low 19

Mbps data rate specified by the ATSC for
1080i transmission? Wouldn’t it be better
to output a wideband RGB or Y/R-Y/B-Y
analog signal to feed our monitors?
Within the home, we should shoot
for performance above the ATSC/Grand
Alliance system and stay free of injurious
motion artifacts caused by high datareduction schemes. Please use your platform to strive for the finest images we
can get – we are counting on you!

Greg Rogers: I applaud your desire for
high-quality video, but I can’t agree with
your sweeping generalization of DVD.
You haven’t provided a single example
of a disc or player for which “digital artifacts are bad, they are visible, and they
are unacceptable.” That certainly is not
the case with the vast majority of DVDs
I buy or the players I use today. Early on
there were some quite poor DVDs
rushed to market to make a quick buck
and some DVD players that were questionable in terms of MPEG artifacts and
D/A converter output stages. Your characterization would have applied to
them. But MPEG encoding on major studio releases is generally quite good
today and MPEG decoding and signal
processing in players is excellent. That
said, there are still plenty of video quality problems on DVD, but I think you are
barking up the wrong tree. I would spare
you the usual advice to make certain
your displays are calibrated, but I have
no other explanation for what you see.
I believe if we want real improvements in DVD quality, we must have better transfers using high-definition downconversion, no edge-enhancement artifacts, and use the 16.9 enhanced format
for all widescreen movies. And stop
recycling old transfers done on inferior
telecine equipment or stored on D-2
composite video VTRs.
I’m not sure how much film-grain
you have been able to see through dirty
film transfers and the video noise of previous formats like laserdisc, and forgive
me, VHS tape. But you are correct that

pre-processing to remove noise is an
important part of the MPEG compression process. But if that means cleaning
up dirt on film, and using better telecine
equipment with less noise, then I think
it’s a pretty good tradeoff.
When it comes to future high-definition DVD formats I’m not as worried
about the ATSC bit-rates as I was a year
ago. From what I’ve seen of pre-recorded HDTV, multiple-pass MP@HL MPEG
encoding is working well and encoders
will be even better by the time 720p gets
to DVD. The jury is still out on real-time
high-definition MPEG encoding.

Targeting 14-Year-Old
I’ve just skimmed through Issue 24,
and already TPV is better than just about
anything else out there. A few weeks ago
a friend and I were discussing the lamentable state of Home Theater magazine, which apparently has decided that
its target audience is 14-year-old boys.
…I’m now using one of the Panansonic DVD players, which does a pretty
good job. My monitor is the Toshiba 35inch direct view, and I heard that the
Sony DVD player looks a little soft when
not in 16.9 enhanced mode (although
that appears not to be a problem with
the S7700). I’d be tempted to spring for a
Theta Voyager if I had 6 grand to spare!
I’ve seen all the films in your “Best
of 1998” list except Central Station,
Gods and Monsters, Elizabeth, and The
Object of My Affection. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that the library of
DVD films isn’t entirely made up of
blockbusters. I had never seen Picnic at
Hanging Rock before and was knocked
for a loop by it. What an incredible,
haunting film! I’ve also been picking up
a goodly number of laserdiscs at giveaway prices. Speaking of which, is DTS
a consumer failure? I see that Ken
Crane’s is dumping its DTS laserdiscs,
which can’t be a good sign.

Down the
Primrose Path
Toward Perfect
Vision Forever?
I’ve been with TPV since the first issue,
and was thankful, even delighted, when
you covered the remaining issues on my
subscription from five years back. That’s
perfect honesty. Now that you know my
credentials, here’s my wish list, which I
hope will help you keep your focus on
the perfect vision:
1. Reviews must be brutal in their
criticism of any company whose
film transfer falls short of DVD’s
promise. It wouldn’t hurt to take
up a page or two with three ongoing lists: (near) perfect transfers,
adequate transfers, and lousy
transfers, arranged alphabetically
by company.
If magazines like this have any
goal in life at least one has to be to
speak truth to power and put
more pressure on the industry to
do what’s right instead of extending its rip-offs further into every
new technology.
2. In keeping with that goal, editors
must not allow a DVD review to
get longer and longer because its
author is rehashing plot-lines or
attempting to create a “think”
piece about the film’s story content, idea content, the director’s
oeuvre – or lack thereof. I know,
everyone wants to strut his
insights. But there are other magazines for doing that. Your bimonthly shouldn’t eat up precious
space that way. We’re after the
perfect movie vision, not the perfect movie insight. In the
July/August issue it took 14 pages
(about 14,000 words) to cover a
mere 18 DVDs because of such
noodling on. At that rate, you’ll
cover not much more than 100
DVDs per year. The list sure won’t
grow fast at that rate. More important, the story content of most
DVDs isn’t strong enough to begin
to justify buying all the expensive
equipment that TPV reviews.
Everyone should re-read Morrell’s
thoughts about what constitutes
the viewing experience under various conditions.
3. If there’s anyone to supply them,
add more think pieces that illuminate the problems and weaknesses of the medium. Morrell’s “Theory of Relativity” is a good example.

My favorite would be a discussion
of whatever technical factors
cause some TV sets/monitors to
have that wonderful 3-D windowon-reality look while others don’t
even come close.
I’ve seen cheap TVs in motels
have that “see through” look and
super-expensive units that did not –
at all. So it doesn’t take HDTV or
DVD to get there. But what causes it
and why don’t all sets have it? Whatever the answer is goes to the heart
of attaining the perfect vision.
4. Please, don’t go back totally to the
“good old days” of TPV. Avoid
space eaters such as long, long
rambling interviews and general
articles about the history of film,
TV, Technicolor, formats, etc.,
unless the discussion is directly
and explicitly relevant to illuminating specific problems with
attaining the perfect vision in current media.
An example of relevance would
be the parts of Allen Daviau’s interview where he reveals how slovenly movie houses can be. Since the
goal is to “recreate” the theater
experience in the home, it’s relevant to know what the theater
“standard” really is. For those interested in film as film, there are other
magazines. An example of irrelevance would be his own favorite
film scenes. How does that help
achieve the perfect vision?
5. As we go once more down the
primrose path toward another
technological bait and switch, TPV
can’t be too critical when any
manufacturer violates DVD’s implied promise of perfect (or near
perfect) vision at low cost. That
would include manufacturers who
reportedly “cripple” the DVD player’s video high-frequency output,
supposedly because viewers don’t
know enough to turn down their
set’s sharpness (edge) control.
Why not have three lists for front
end equipment, too?
After more than a decade of CD
hype, aren’t we all more than a little disgusted when no reasonably
priced hardware can completely
reproduce the content of the best
software, forcing the consumer to
fulfill the promise by buying more
and more expensive equipment to
more “perfectly” decode the damn
thing? From a marketing perspective, it’s a perverse inversion of the

standard “give them the razor and
sell them the blades” tactic. Here,
even when the blades are great,
must all the reasonably priced
handles be so designed that you
can’t avoid cutting yourself?
6. Finally, a modest proposal for all
readers looking down that primrose path. Given the increasingly
high cost of recreating a good
movie theater and the difficulty of
choosing compatible equipment,
and assuming your video purchases have nothing to do with showing a profit, wouldn’t it be wiser to
buy the small movie theater your
town isn’t using any more? Several audio/videophiles could even go
into this together.
The owners’ families would reserve the best seats. You could let
everyone else in for a buck and
pay the mortgage and film rental
costs with income from something
that has nothing to do with any
kind of vision but that is nevertheless endlessly popular – popcorn.
It’s just a thought.
Best wishes for great cash flow in
the future.

HP: So your credentials consist solely
of “perfect honesty?” I might add that
you write well and make your points
cogently. And as you probably suspect ed when pen you first picked up, I am
far from being in agreement with the
bulk of your thinking, to the point of
saying perhaps the letter should have
best been addressed to some other mag azine (Widescreen Review perhaps?).
1. Agreed. I’ve been, since the reinstallation of a big home-theater
projection system, sorting the
DVDs in my collection into quite
distinct categories. You’ll be read ing about this in an upcoming
issue. My biggest problem to date?
Drawing the line between the A+,
A, and A- categories of excellence.
2. If there were other magazines
capable of strutting their “insights” on film better than I can
muster as editor of this one, I will
cease. But I don’t believe that.
Content is at the heart of the mag azine. I quite agree that the
assessment of movies should
never be routine or mere assess ments of the plot line. That said,
I’ll note that the magazine is in

transition (I’ve said this before)
and the film section is far from
its final form. There will be a
“mix” of reviews, short to long,
with more material being cov ered, but I’m not running a cata log of quickie impressions. Other
magazines, as you so helpfully
noted, do that.
3. No problem here. We will talk at
some length about the differences.
(Another reason why the percep tion of movies ought to be taken
into account in our reviews, thus
adding to their length.)
4. I remain unrepentant. We shall
continue to cover film technology
because it is at the heart of the
experience of cinema in the
home. The “old” TPV had it right.
5. Agreed.
6. Not unless we’re recreating a Cin erama equipped local theater. Oh,
Paul Allen, the nation looks to you.

What Not To See on DVD
The Perfect Vision exceeds all my
expectations in terms of its control of the
subject and originality. I predict it will be
a great success. I found “Outtakes” especially useful [Issue 25]. DVDs vary enormously in quality and are bought blindly.
Alerting buyers is thus a great service.
My candidates for disappointments are
Fox Lorber films. For a few, such as
Tampopo, they got the original print
used for transfer to video. But in most
cases – e.g., L’Enfer, Ran, Nostalgia,
Swept Away – they just dumped video
(with its 200? lines) onto DVD.

heartbreaker. Of course, I always welcome think pieces on the differences
between theater viewing and home-theater viewing, though this issue’s article on
the topic reminded me that TPV had run a
similarly provocative piece back in the
day. Did you see Walter Murch’s article in
The New York Times a month or so back
about the implications of a digital cinema?
Greg Rogers remains nothing if not
exhaustive in both knowledge and temperament. Good to see him handling his
end of things – he’ll keep the hardware
guys on their toes. (I saw him beat a
Sony rep into submission at CES over
the lack of blacker-than-black display on
the DVP-S7700.)
Speaking of hardware, saw Texas
Instruments’ DLP Cinema in action over
last weekend in Secaucus [the digitized
Star Wars]; was impressed. Particularly
stunning was the richness of color and
the eye-blinding brightness of whites on
the screen. The line structure was occasionally visible, however, and the darkest scenes looked murky, with little in
the way of shadow detail. I suspect that
movies that don’t have Star Wars in the
title might not lend themselves quite
this well to digital projection.
Of course, we’re showing this off
to a generation of filmgoers whose standards have been systematically lowered
by a lack of even a token effort at 70mm
exhibition and poor quality 35mm theatrical prints. It’s no wonder that, with
no 70mm blow-ups for comparison’s
sake, lots of folks think this system
looks “better” than 35mm film. It’s comparable to a clean 35mm print, and it’s
not much else. Any thoughts?


Digital Cinema: The Good
& the Bad of It
…It was… a surprise to see TPV on
the shelf of my local Borders. Somehow
I guess I hadn’t really expected you to
hew to the publication schedule right
out of the gate. Guess this means you’re
really back.
Once again, an outstanding read –
probably even more so than the first
“new” issue, although I have to admit that
I skipped the more technical articles on
first pass in favor of the letters page,
movie reviews, and Allen Daviau interview. Daviau’s story about the $130 projector lenses at local multiplexes is a

Bryant Frazer is a film critic (and pen
pal of HP’s) whose website, Deep Focus,
contains his intelligent and stimulat ing writing about movies. HP considers
him one of the best young film critics in
the country. Vide, his review of David
Cronenberg’s Videodrome for starters.

John Eargle: Lossy Data
Compression & DVD
I want to thank The Perfect Vision
for the excellent coverage of surround
sound by Robert Harley and Tom Miiller
in your May/June issue. I hadn’t intended to discuss lossy data compression as
such, but the subject did come up
obliquely in TOM’s DVD reviews. I’d like

to make the following
additional comments:
I consider the major
lossy data compression
systems (AC-3, DTS, and
MPEG2) to be virtually on a par with
each other. If I had felt that AC-3, for
example, was not up to the job required
of it in producing the Delos DVDs, then
the DVDs would not have been issued
at all. As it is, I have A/B’d the 1812
Overture surround sound mix via all
three of the above-mentioned lossy systems, and they all sound, to a first
approximation, like the uncompressed
My remark about future media and
the prospects of not “worrying about
any lossy data compression” reflects
not so much a current problem with
those systems, but rather the simple
fact that future systems will not require
them. I think everyone would be in
agreement that, all else being equal,
lossless is better than lossy.

Have received two issues of TPV.
Both have remained in the plastic wrap.
I am no fan of TV. I believe that analog
recordings on vinyl are all that is needed
to satisfy the needs of music lovers. Digital recordings and TV are not part of my
life, and will not become a part.

HP: Do you think I care? The point of
The Perfect Vision is film and the con tent of other media we experience via
television. This is not an either/or
proposition and I think you are being
bone-headed, but it’s your life to live as
narrowly as you choose.
RAB: Sir: I did not ask for TPV. La
Strada is Film. I do not think Film is the
content of the Digital Age. Film is an
analog experience from the get go to the
end of the optic nerve. The Digital experience does not accomplish that which
is Film. I was at Hi Fi ’97, my first and
only. Digital-ready speakers and subspeakers to demo wall of noise with special visual effects is not Film. I am a
character in the film Clean Slate, you
can use my outhouse anytime – yes I
concur with a narrow path through the
woods – much better than a crowded
four-lane highway.

A U D I O

Death to Convention
When we embarked upon the re-launch of The Perfect Rather than teaching us the law, our professors taught us
how to think about the law. There are too many “rules” for
Vision, I envisioned the experience as a great
any student to sit down and absorb them all – just as there
adventure – an opportunity to explore uncharted
are too many audio products for any reviewer to cover. And,
territory in home entertainment. Everywhere I looked and
like the law, the results obtained from an audio product are,
listened, there were new experiences, as the emergence of
to a degree, fact specific. What is needed is a broader perdigital technology shattered the old notions of what is posspective in approaching each product.
sible in home audio.
In law school, they taught us to read cases and discover
I didn’t expect that the most challenging adventure
for ourselves the issues within those cases. Only then could
would be developing an editorial approach that would do
we begin to comprehend the use of rules in the law. Similarjustice to the topic. As I planned the audio section for each
ly, it is the issues presented by each product and each sysissue before me and the ones beyond, I came face to face
tem that must be our starting point in understanding multiwith a harsh reality – there weren’t enough pages to cover
channel audio. If we reviewers can understand and share
the subject using conventional techniques. Indeed, our subthe larger issues with you readers, you won’t need a review
ject matter is so rich that using the conventional approach
of every product to guide you. You will be better equipped to
of reviewing consumer equipment one product at a time
guide yourselves. And an informed marketplace produces
would yield superficial coverage of the available products at
better products through economic force.
best, while we were forced to ignore many of the fascinating
And how do we fuse the structure of DS9 and approach
issues that underlie those products.
of law school in the audio review section? Crudely, at first, I
We needed a new way.
suspect. There isn’t a manual that tells us how to do this. So
For inspiration, I turned to two wildly different sources:
like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re going to
Star Trek and law school. By way of analogy, most audio
make it up as we go along.
reviewing today is similar to the episodic structure of a TV
In this issue, you can read the first installments of two
series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation. Each
serial system reviews – one by Barry Rawlinson and the
episode is a whole story, with a beginning and an ending.
other by me. Rawlinson, with his design background, will
And next week the crew is off on another adventure that
approach the Linn system he is reviewing from a different
typically has nothing to do with last week’s. In contrast, Star
and invaluable perspective. Meanwhile, I’m off on a journey
Trek: Deep Space Nine is serial in structure. While elements
to confront humankind’s ancient enemy as I review an evolvof each show are episode specific, there is a dominant plot
ing system based on Revel loudspeakers.
structure running from week to week that makes DS9 seriI envision an audio section that will provide more conal. That’s what we need in TPV’s audio section: a review
text and insight than is possible with a conventional review
structure that is open enough to feature products while
structure. There are limitations with this approach, of
using those same products to explore the larger plot that is
course. The most significant is that we will be covering a
our quest to accurately recreate the sound of the original
smaller number of products than if we just limited our
event, be it music or movie.
reviews to 1,500 words and grabbed every product we
You may well wonder what law school has to do with any
could get (worse yet would be writing 3,000 word
of this. Even lawyers who love the law will tell you that
reviews that cared not for the larger issues –
law school was a nightmarish experience. One of our
think about it). Because of this limitation, we
principle objectives at TPV is to provide guidance to the
must be highly selective in choosing the products
intelligent reader who is interested in home entertainwe review. We want products of high performance
ment. This objective flies square in the face of the reality
that have something to teach us.
that even if you read every publication available on conThis then is our manifesto of freedom from
sumer electronics, you could not read a review of every
the old conventions of audio reviewing.
product you might be interested in.
But what did you expect? TPV is not a
Faced with this limitation, I found myself in
conventional magazine!
a situation not unlike my first year of law.

V I D E O

We’ve Got What It Takes for Home Theater
tuned, but it won’t be long before DirecTV and the Dish NetIVX Dead! Enough said. Too much was written about
work will be delivering HDTV via their satellite systems.
it when it was alive, so we don’t need to talk more
Unity Motion will have to find some sort of niche to make
about a company that just didn’t get it.
another run at it. How about an all HDTV sports network?
Video at The Perfect Vision is about Home Theater, and
to me that means a large screen picture. Sorry, but a 32” TV
just can’t be home theater, can it? I’m not talking just about
Movie Trivia
picture quality; I’ve spent endless hours looking at the best
So much for my career in trivia games. When last we met, I
picture quality available, on 13” and 19” professional broaddropped the names of a couple of sci-fi film characters into
cast monitors. No, it’s the emotional experience of a large
Video Insights and the Unity Motion review (Issue 25). I forscreen that fills our field of vision with images of a different
got there were really two characters from different movies
reality. That’s the reaction we get at the cinema and what we
in the Unity review. One was trivial, Scotty from pick your
need to experience home theater. So unless you can sit close
favorite Trek film, but the other was a bit more difficult.
to a RPTV, home theater means a front projector with at
Unfortunately, I asked for just two movie titles instead of
least a six foot wide, 16.9 or 1.85 screen.
three. The first person to identify Prof. Barnhardt from The
In this issue I review front projectors from Sony and
Day the Earth Stood Still and Scotty, was Neil Bulk from
Runco that will really make your home-theater experience
New Jersey. He wins the AVIA Guide to Home Theater DVD.
happen. But you can’t have large screens without HDTV or
But Rick Connolly came through a day later and also identiupconverters, unless you want to stare at scan lines. And
fied the “Toys for Ellie” clue as Jody Foster’s character in
that doesn’t quite capture the cinema experience, either. So
Contact. So Rick also got a copy of AVIA courtesy of its
Bill Cruce looks at the IEV Turboscan line doubler with lots
authors at Ovation Software ( Now
of features at a budget price. And I take another look at the
remind me not to try this again!
DVDO line doubler, with almost no features, but a sensational price at $700.
16.9 DVDs Gaining Momentum
Bill also reviews another DVD/LD combi player. I supParamount followed up The 10 Commandments and Star
pose its time to admit that laserdisc is dead, but some of us
Trek Insurrection with 16.9 enhanced transfers of A Simple
have an awful lot of laserdiscs lying around that we may
Plan, Varsity Blues, and Barbarella (review, this issue). I
never see on DVD. How about Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,
was feeling really good about Paramount until I heard that
with Max Parrish, Sean Young, and Timothy Leary? Not like“King of World” Cameron’s chick-flick was going to be
ly to make it to DVD, but it’s a great LD title.
released in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but without a 16.9
Finally, there’s something missing from the video coverenhanced transfer! Is that any way to treat the biggest
age in this issue. Part 2 of Christy Warren’s review of the
money maker of all time? Well, I was one of the four people
Runco 5800 HD-ready RPTV. It’s hard to evaluate high-definon the planet that found the movie boring, so I doubt that
ition picture quality without an HD source. We didn’t solve
they’ll miss my $30.
that problem until right before our editorial deadline. So
Fox finally joined the party with a spectacular boxed-set
rather than rushing something with little time for evaluation,
of the four Alien films (review this issue), all in the higher-reswe postponed that report until next time.
olution 16.9 DVD format. And Criterion has announced their
Speaking of HDTV: As we went to print with the
intention to use 16.9 whenever possible on future releasUnity Motion review in the last issue, they were closes. Their first 16.9 enhanced title is July’s release of
ing their doors in St. Louis. Now as this is written,
Insomnia. Criterion pioneered widescreen and speUnity Motion, under a new management team, is
cial editions on laserdisc, so it’s great to see them
officially trying to refinance, restructure, and return
commit to the highest-quality DVD format.
to business. As I wrote in the review, they delivered
It must be getting lonely over at the Mouse.
some excellent hardware but needed programming
First DIVX dies and now Mickey may be the last
for success. The key was HBO, and Unity Motion
company to switch to 16.9 enhanced DVDs. Oh,
just couldn’t seem to get together with them
sorry! I wasn’t going to talk about DIVX or
and make something happen. We’ll stay
companies that just don’t get it.

M U S I C



The Vexed Question of Multimedia…
fun to look at, and Wenders simply left them out, a pardon…is it just a random mesh of sight and sound, or does someable decision cinematographically, but not an accurate picthing really new emerge? This gets another look in this issue
ture of what he surely saw.
from Andrew Quint, who saw a performance in New York that
But the wonder of the Buena Vista film, apart from the
made him think the much-hyped phenomenon might be real.
sheer delight of watching it, is how it changed my hearing of
And I, along with anyone else who’s seen the Wim Wenthe music. (I should note that it’s shot in grainy video, but
ders film Buena Vista Social Club, now better understand
since Wenders is an artist, the grainy video becomes an
something simpler, but still important: How an extra visual
artistic element. It helps convey the otherworldliness of
dimension can help us understand music.
Havana, a city literally crumbling, but jumping with life. The
This is Wenders’ latest film, and its title ought to ring a
colors are intentionally distorted, too, for an extra distancbell with people interested in Latin music, world music, or
ing effect.) I knew, for instance, that the musicians weren’t
just plain good music, thanks to the Nonesuch Records CD
young. But to see them – genial old coots in their seventies,
also called Buena Vista Social Club. It’s a Ry Cooder project
eighties, and even nineties – makes them come alive.
(another of his explorations of cross-cultural musical
We hear them tell their stories, too, and we realize somestyles), recorded in Cuba and featuring older Cuban musithing else. These aren’t just musicians. They’re top entertainers
cians who hadn’t performed for quite a while. I’d had the CD
from another time, who know their business cold, even if they
for some time, along with others spun off from it, including
haven’t practiced it in quite a while. So for them, the Buena
something credited to the Afro-Cuban All-Stars (featuring
Vista Social Club recording isn’t just a job. It’s recognition.
some of the same people), and a recent solo album spotEven more, it’s a kind of unexpected personal gravy. Never did
lighting Ibrahim Ferrer, a Cuban singer with a tenderness,
they think they’d play again, least of all with international attensly wit, and radiant sense of rhythm that mark him, for me,
tion. But they’re prepared. The old shticks – pianist Rubén
as an exceptional treasure.
González plays a solo moving up the keyboard, and when he
Wenders’ movie might be called a high-class “making of,”
passes the highest note, keeps on playing in the air – work just
and it helped me understand something about the musical proas well in Carnegie Hall as they did in old Havana nightclubs.
ject I hadn’t quite grasped. Ferrer apart, my first reaction to the
A trip to New York for a Carnegie performance is the cliCDs was to think the music was nice, but a little sloppy and
max of the film, and for the musicians, we sense, the climax
informal, traits I normally don’t mind (I love rock & roll, and
of their careers. “Que linda, linda, linda, linda!” cries one of
how could I, if I didn’t like sloppy and informal?), but which
them, walking up Broadway. “How gorgeous, gorgeous, gorstruck me here as odd, maybe because I thought Cuban music
geous, gorgeous!” They all go to the observation deck near
should be hot and tight. Adding to my puzzlement was a recent
the top of the Empire State Building, and here – with Wentrip to Cuba, where I spent a week tracking down Cuban clasders scoring a coup for both delight and honesty, by filming
sical music for two articles I wrote for the Wall Street Journal,
his stars exactly as they are – we see them searching for the
and which appeared there in May. It’s not that I heard any of
Statue of Liberty, even though none of them knows where it
the Buena Vista musicians (my loss), or even any musicians
is or what it looks like, not even the one who swears he vislike them (again my loss). But I got a shot of Cuba in my blood,
ited it, many, many years ago.
heard a lot of other Cuban things on CD, and even spoke to a
Of course I wanted to love their music. And I learned to
Cuban musicologist, who – maybe I took this out of context –
hear it differently. What was sloppy once (though I should
suggested that the Buena Vista recordings aren’t all that
stress that not all of it is), is now adorable, in the spirit of the
remarkable to anyone who knows Cuban music well.
search for the Statue. What was lively gets promoted to
And then I saw the Wenders film. I’ll tease Wenders
completely irresistible, and what’s most important, most of
about one exaggeration, harmless but misleading – his many
the players and the singers gain individual voices. They had
shots of old American cars. These, it’s true, are a famous
them all along, of course, but once I saw the movie, their
sight in Cuba, especially Havana, and for good reason. When
individuality was magnified. “That’s the one who prays to
the Castro revolution hit in 1959, Cuba was economically
Santeria gods…those are the guys who can’t stop playing
and politically close to the United States (it was virtually an
dominoes…he’s the one who’s 90, and can’t stop grinning.
American colony, with Havana essentially controlled by the
He says he’s working on his sixth child!”
Mafia). American cars were naturally what people drove.
Not that all of this, in some metaphysical subliminal
When the US broke relations with the Castro government,
form, wasn’t in the music anyway (and of course was part of
American car imports stopped, and Cubans for a while had
the reason so many people hear these CDs with such
neither money nor the chance to buy anything else. They
delight). But the movie brought it out for me in implicit
kept driving their old Chevys and Oldsmobiles, and still
stereo, 3D, surround, and holographic hypertrue reality.
drive them, holding them together with spit and ingenuity.
Go see the movie if it’s playing at an art house near you.
These ancient vehicles are a famous sight on just about
And get the CDs, all on Nonesuch: Buena Vista Social Club,
any Havana street. But they’re not the most common sight.
Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer, and “A
Most cars in Havana are creaky Russian ones, boxy and canToda Cuba le Gusta,” credited to the Afrotankerous, imported during the years when
the Soviet Union was Cuba’s ally. They’re no
G R E G S A N D O W Cuban All-Stars.

O U T




Video Travels


certain fascination tags along with any complex technology
when it penetrates a new area of our lives. This is true in part
because we get to see familiar things in unfamiliar places. And
in part because of the sheer amazement that these new forms of technology work at all. Making a technology portable frequently triggers
this sense of awe. I recall when Sony introduced its first portable CD
player, not long after the introduction of CDs to the market, and it was
only slightly larger than a jewel case. While this seems trivial now that
you can purchase such a machine in a blister pack at Walgreens, at the
time it seemed miraculous. Similarly, when a technology can be delivered remotely, it seems quite special. In the mid-Sixties, my father
took me to his office to see a new accessory attached to the corporate
mainframe computer: the facsimile machine. It wasn’t just surprising;
it seemed almost impossible.

ViaTV VC 105 Videophone
At about the same time, during the
1963-64 New York World’s Fair, AT&T
demonstrated videophones to the general public. In the early years of the
space age, you couldn’t help but feel
that videophones were right around the
corner. Yet somehow this dream never
materialized, even as the PC era progressed. In the mid-90s videophones
re-emerged, but were rather expensive
(over $2,000/pair). This has changed
with agreement on the H.324 protocol
and the advent of consumer videophone adapters such as the ViaTV VC
105 from 8x8 Corporation.
Using low-cost video compression
and modem chips, the VC 105 brings
the cost of a pair (obviously you need
two to make the video element work)
of videophones under $500. The VC 105
is a small box containing a video camera as well as the compression and
communications electronics needed to
make video work over conventional
phone lines. Operation is straightforward: You connect the VC 105 to your
TV and a phone, dial an owner of another H.324-compatible device (which
could be a PC-based system or a set-up
like the VC 105), and press a button to
start the video call. After about 30 seconds, an image of the scene at the location you’ve called shows up. You talk

through the phone and listen through
the phone and TV speakers.
Every time I used the VC 105, I had
the feeling of using a technology one
generation away from being really useful. At this stage, the technology is
okay, but every session involves a set of
distracting compromises. First of all,
you have to choose between moderate
resolution and the ability to follow
motion. Most of the time, you’ll probably set up the VC 105 so that the picture
is relatively clear and live with an
update of the picture every few seconds (sort of like sending still pictures
regularly). Second, no matter what you
do, the picture is pretty fuzzy (maximum 352x288 pixels, but in practice
more often 176x144). This might seem
like a minor factor, but it decreases the
sense of “thereness” in the interaction.
Third, and maybe the biggest factor
in my experience, the effort needed to
set up a call is a problem. The steps
don’t seem that cumbersome on paper,
but in practice you have to make at least
two phone calls to get a video call going.
Even with these limitations, I found
that the VC105 significantly lengthened
calls (we would stay on the line longer).
As I’ve said before, discussing downloadable music: Higher bandwidth
communications (whether xDSL or


cable) should make a huge difference
to this technology.

Panasonic DVD-L50D
With the advent of DVD, truly portable
video solutions suddenly abound. I’ve
been using a notebook computer with
built in DVD for about a year, and have
found it very useful for watching movies
when traveling. At the roughly 24” viewing distance that feels comfortable with
a computer, my 14.1” screen is actually
quite large (and the latest 15” screens
are even better). At this distance, I estimate that a notebook-based video system is equivalent in viewing angle to an
84” wide front-projection system.
If you don’t have a notebook computer, or think a notebook is too large
to carry where you are going, Panasonic has a solution. The DVD-L50D is a
DVD drive with a footprint slightly larger than typical portable CD players. It is
a bit thicker than these CD players are,
too, because it has a 16.9, 5” TFT LCD
display and a pair of speakers above
the disc lid. But at around 1/3 the size of
a notebook computer, it is still quite
I found that the DVD-L50D worked
well. The picture was bright and clear,
though on occasion the LCD produced
edge artifacts (because LCDs are relatively slow). The headphone sound was
solid, and even through the mini-speakers, was usable (my kids and I watched
a DVD one night on vacation and the
sound was adequate for a three-listener
situation). The screen size might seem
tiny, but with a normal viewing distance, my calculation is that it is equivalent to a 20” screen. Maybe not home
theater, but completely usable. And, the
DVD-L50D can play CDs (like all DVD
players). It has a full set of audio and SVideo outputs so that you can use it as
a conventional DVD player, whether
you are at home or in a hotel room.
Sometimes new technologies just
work right from the beginning.

D E S I G N


The Human Interface


recall as a seven-year-old switching
on the system that my father had
designed, made, and housed in a
meticulously crafted and veneered cabinet. One satisfyingly large circular knob
served as on/off switch and volume control, another selected between radio
(wireless!) wavebands, and a third tuned
the radio. All immediately obvious to me
and everybody else in the household,
and as a result, the radiogram received
constant use. A similar state of affairs
existed at school, where from my earliest days our teachers’ efforts were complemented daily by BBC schools broadcasts. What concerns me here is the
immediate accessibility of programming
– to anyone with the wit to turn a knob.
Now let us travel forward in time to
the advent of remote control of these
same functions, and let me give you an
example of the problems we have
I know an intelligent woman who
holds a degree from a solid university;
she has a good position with a large
company; she is responsible for a number of subordinate employees and several large accounts whose annual
billings run into several millions. And
yet on several occasions she has been
unable to receive the television program
of her choice because of the perceived
complexity of her system. This television is connected to a cable feed and a
VCR with their own separate controls,
both remote and otherwise – fewer
inputs than my father’s radiogram. And
yet she tells me that sometimes a week
has passed before she could coax picture and sound from the thing.
This is clearly bad design. For good
design by its very nature is all encompassing, while bad design is exclusionary. If you cannot see the emperor’s
new clothes, the fault does not lie in
you. Some manufacturers have tried to
address this problem by using analog
reproductions of those vintage controls
on their remote control handsets, but
even those suffer from a cognitive disconnection.
When we communicate with each
other, we unconsciously use the teaching model – we say what we’re going to
say, then we say it, then we say what

we’ve said. We do this using implicit
languages; if we can see each other, we
use body language and timbre of voice
to confirm reception; when we cannot
see each other we use semantic redundancy – “Did I tell you I spoke to Larry?
He said he’s doing well – he sounded
well – did he speak to you? Did you
think he sounded well?”
And so we find that our better communication channels contain 100 percent redundancy. Writing may contain
only 80 percent redundancy, or less – a
good example is the use of irony. When
Swift proposed that the problem of
famine in Ireland might best be solved by
urging the populace to eat their babies,
he relied upon the contextual cognitive
disconnection between his public position as a vehemently pro-Irish representative to the English Parliament, together
with his reputation as a humanitarian, to
provide a key with which to decode the
real message: that we are all one; therefore allowing harm to come to another is
to visit violence upon ourselves – all this
reliant upon context, a questionable
assumption founded upon the premise of
a common culture.
This may explain why irony is
emerging today in American culture to
the degree it has long been apparent in
the older, more homogenous European
Now, if you are not sure of the context within which your recipient will
receive the message, you can build into
the message another layer of redundancy geared to the recipient’s reception.
This is called mirroring by psychologists; the rest of us know it from “When
in Rome, do as Rome does.” It is perhaps
the greatest politeness to adopt the
mores of your recipient, even if you consider those mores abhorrent, because
the common context thus formed will
lead to better communication.
And that’s my agenda for remote
control. When I first use the equipment,
I want to use a large rotary switch with
an audible “click” to turn it on, and I
want both the remote and the system to
confirm that command to my senses –
without having to turn on a separate
display, which will simply introduce


another variable to the equation. I want
next to be informed of the signal chain
I have invoked – and I’m quite happy to
have system memory reinstate whatever I was using when I switched the system off – anything rather than a baffling
lack of activity.
Next I may wish to select a different source; again I’ll choose a large
rotary control that satisfyingly clicks as
it moves between clearly labeled, illuminated positions. And now I may wish
to connect other monitors, video or
audio, in various ways dependent on
the source programming format and, of
course, my whim.
You can see that by allowing the
on/off knob to also control volume, I’ve
arrived back at my father’s radiogram
control panel: three rotary switches
scaled for human hands, with back-lit
labels illuminated as the knobs are
By now you may have decided that
I’m a reactionary Luddite, and you may
infer that I can’t cope with the microprocessor age. You would be partially
correct, but only in the first assumption.
My point is to make the experience as
comfortingly familiar as Linus’ blanket.
So where do we go from here? No,
I’m not suggesting that we should all have
remotes styled after 1950s illuminated
fascia panels. I suggest that we are missing the tactile interface with these complex devices, the subconscious feedback
that adds to the richness of our environment. Although it may seem grandiose, I
am going to draw a parallel between this
feedback and body language, which conveys a surprisingly high proportion of our
communications and adds to the redundancy that is so vital to consistent communication. This is the missing element
from our connection to the machine, and
no box of M&Ms can supply it.
I don’t know the solution: That’s
going to take a serious investigation to
define. But I know this problem is being
vigorously addressed elsewhere – have
you noticed the eagerness of the voice
that greets AOL users? And the resigned
tone of its “Goodbye”? Or that the GUI
(graphic user interface) of current computers includes a satisfying snick every
time you click the mouse?…








When most people hear “Orlando,
Florida” they think of Disneyworld, Universal Studios, palm
trees, and flamingos. They don’t
usually think of darkened, carpeted convention halls filled
with flashy images projected
onto huge screens. But that’s
almost all I saw in Orlando when
I visited last June to attend INFOCOMM International 1999. This annual trade show, sponsored by
the International Communications Industries Association (ICIA), is the most important event of
its kind for vendors of presentation products. An estimated 25,000 people attended the show this
year – most of them “information and communications” professionals but some consumers as
well. More than 450 exhibitors were on hand, many to introduce new products. The most exciting such products were displays – cutting-edge projectors and direct-view monitors. While most
of these are designed for the needs of audio-visual professionals – and priced accordingly high,
the same technologies will soon find their way into more-affordable consumer products, the kind
you and I can buy in a retail store. No matter how you look at it, the show is an important event

in the world of displays.
As with many trade shows, the city hosting Infocomm
changes each year. But the general organization of the show
remains much the same wherever it occurs. This year it was the
huge halls of the Orange County Convention Center that were
filled with manufacturer’s exhibits. The largest booths, some
threatening to scrape the ceiling, were those of the projector manufacturers. Many of these contained screens
of nearly theater proportions displaying high-definition
material, much of it from recent blockbuster movies,
projected by the brightest projectors available. Surrounding these were the smaller booths of manufacturers with more humble space requirements. Line the aisles
between with plush carpet and your picture of this trade show
is almost complete. (Did I mention the indigestible food?)

ideo upconverters have become important prod ucts for home theater. A large number of these
were introduced this year at INFOCOMM, almost
all of them scalers. Unlike simpler line doublers or quadruplers – which output progressive signals with either double
or quadruple the number of
lines in each original interlaced video field – scalers
offer a range of progressive
output formats and scan
rates to better match the
characteristics of a given display device. The new products this year at the show included Analog Way’s Trans-Scaler, Communications Specialties’
Deuce Pro, Extron’s DVS 100, Faroudja’s DVP3000 and
DVP3000U, Focus Enhancement’s QuadScan, Inline’s
IN1402, IN1403, and IN1404, RGB Spectrum’s DTQ and VLI
200, and YEM’s DVS-1000. Space prohibits describing all of
these products, so I focus here on only a few of the most
Communications Specialties’ Deuce Pro, with a suggested list price of $4,995, is a much-improved version of
its popular Deuce video scaler. The product adds a compo nent/RGB input, VGA pass-through, stereo audio switching,
RS-232, and an internal power supply. Compatible with
NTSC and PAL signals, it outputs RGB in ten different formats up to 1365 x 1024, at three selectable refresh rates.
Performance improvements include a two-line comb filter,
noise reduction, and a sharpness control. Extron’s DVS
100, with a list price of $2,325, includes a component input
and a three-line adaptive Y/C separator. It can decode
NTSC, PAL, and SECAM and provides a total of 17 RGB
output formats, including 480p, 720p, and 1080p. Faroudja’s DVP3000, with a suggested list price of $19,995, converts 480i (NTSC) to one of eight output formats, including
720p, 1080i, and 1080p HDTV. In addition to Faroudja’s
renowned film-mode deinterlacing, the DVP3000 includes
“Directional Correlation Deinterlacing” to eliminate motion
artifacts from video-originated material. Another significant
feature is the ability to upconvert 480p signals from future
progressive-scan DVD players. A component output is also
included for connecting to HDTVs. The DVP3000U
($21,995) adds 580i (PAL) and 580p input compatibility and
the ability to output at 100Hz.
A total of 11 upconverters were entered into the Projection Shoot-Out this year, including several of the new
products described above. The upconverter Shoot-Out was
divided into two categories - 31.5 kHz output and 64 kHz
output. Each product was fed identical input signals and
the output was projected onto identical side-by-side
screens – using 8” CRT projectors in the 31.5 kHz categor y
and 9” CRT projectors in the 64 kHz category. Video material consisted of colorbar and multiburst test patterns, color
and black-and-white movie scenes, and VCR playback of
video-originated scenes, including fast-forward and reverse
previews, as well as paused frames. These images permitted only a limited e valuation of performance (scaling quality
with other output formats was not tested, for example).
Accordingly, I ranked products simply as “good,” “adequate,” or “poor” based strictly on the test images shown.
In the 31.5 kHz category, I rated two products “good:” the
Astro Systems SC-2025A line doubler and the Chromatek
Biraster 3428 line doubler. Both displayed the test patterns
competently, had few objectionable deinterlacing artifacts,
and handled VCR playback well. I rated the Communication
Specialties Deuce as merely “adequate” because of its relatively poor high-frequency luma response and smeary



This year’s Inf ocomm present ed over 9 0 project ors in
it s annual Shoot Out , as well
as a handf ul of direct -view
Separated from the main exhibit halls was the ICIA Projection Shoot-Out. This event-within-an-event is a showcase
of Infocomm. It is also quite misunderstood: It was created to
allow potential buyers of display equipment – potential
because nothing can be bought at the show – to compare the
performance of products from different manufacturers under
identical conditions. No one actually wins the Shoot-Out, and
there are no prizes – in fact, participants are strictly prohibited from declaring themselves winners. Nevertheless, it’s an
important event for manufacturers and buyers alike because
it is rare to see similar display products together in one place.
This year, over 90 projectors were presented, as well as a
handful of direct-view CRT monitors and plasma-display panels. Products were divided into multiple categories according
to image resolution and display application. Projectors in a
given category were fed identical signals for display on identical side-by-side low-gain screens. For the first time, the
Shoot-Out included a high-definition “HDTV Demo” category
whose entries consisted, for the most part, of high-brightness,
large-venue projectors (the screens were large - 27 x 15 feet).
The Shoot-Out also included categories for scan converters
and video upconverters. (See the sidebar.)
Since I work as an engineer for Electrohome Projection
Systems, an exhibitor at the show, my view of Infocomm is
that of an industry insider, an advantageous perspective from
which to report the event. Of course, it carries with it the danger that I could be perceived as biased toward my company’s
products or against those of its competitors. To set this aside,
let me assure the reader that, apart from supplying a relatively low volume of OEM projectors for the very High End of
home theater, Electrohome does not make products that
directly compete in the categories of most interest to this

Significant New Products and Trends

Among the multitude of new display products introduced at
Infocomm, I have selected a handful as “significant” because
they demonstrate the most important trends taking place in
the display industry. They also turn out to
be the most relevant to those attempting

continued on page 23

to recreate the theater experience in the home.
The dominant display technology today for home-theater
screens larger than 40” diagonal is CRT (Cathode Ray Tube)
projection. It is used in almost every rear-projection TV and
most HDTVs just recently introduced. But it is an old technology near its limit and its days are numbered. The display
industry, driven by the desire of business professionals to
make presentations in fully lit rooms, has been hard at work
replacing CRT projection with brighter and friendlier alternatives. These alternatives are Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projection and Digital Light Processing (DLP), the latter invented
by Texas Instruments. Both of these technologies use discrete
pixels to form images and both use a lamp as the source of the
light projected on the screen. These considerations have
made it possible to design small, portable projectors with
much higher light output than a CRT projector – just the thing
for the mobile presenter. Most of the projectors at Infocomm
were of this type. One of the standouts in light output per unit
weight was the U2-1080 from PLUS Corp. Based on DLP technology, this small, ultra-portable projector weighs less than 6

Project ors in a given cat egory were f ed ident ical signals
f or display on ident ical sidepounds yet puts out 800 ANSI lumens of light - three to five
times as much as a CRT projector can provide. (I will explain
the meaning of “ANSI” below.) The native resolution of the
image is also relatively high – 1024 x 768 (XGA format). Unfortunately, there are trade-offs for the small size of ultraportable projectors. Input connection options and features
are usually more limited than with larger models. Also, in
some cases performance may have been compromised to
minimize the projector’s size and weight.
Although light-output ratings for small LCD and DLP pro-

jectors are usually much higher than for CRT projectors, they
do not always appear as bright as you might think from the
numbers. When displaying video images, which typically have
a much lower average picture level (APL) than graphics
images, a CRT projector can put more of its energy into highlights of the image – an ability indicated by its “peak lumen”
rating. This makes the image appear brighter than you would
expect from the projector’s ANSI lumen number, which represents the brightness achievable with a full-white image.
Nevertheless, an LCD or DLP projector rated at 1000 ANSI
lumens – a number that is now quite common – looks brighter
on video images than a typical 9” CRT projector.
One area where CRT projectors still have the edge is
black level. Despite years of steady improvement, neither
LCD nor DLP has yet managed to achieve, on small screens,
the deep blacks achievable with CRT. That is reason enough
for some to choose a CRT projector for their home theater. A
promising new choice introduced at the show was the HD
2000 from Chromalux. Like DWIN’s HDP-500, this 7” CRT projector has no fans – the projector’s metal chassis serves as a
heat-sink. Designed by Arthur R. Tucker – one of the pioneers
of the projection industry – it includes a built-in line doubler.
Chromalux claims peak and ANSI light outputs of 1100 and
800 lumens, respectively. Since the projector was not shown
operating, I could not confirm these numbers. Eight hundred
ANSI lumens would be an astounding output from any CRT
projector, much less one using 7” tubes. In a bid to improve
domestic harmony, the projector’s plastic cover is available in
custom colors to match any décor.
Despite late arrivals like the HD 2000, it is clear that the
total replacement of CRT-projection by LCD and DLP, even
for home theater, is close at hand. The quality of images from
LCD and DLP projectors at the show this year was dramatically better than last year. Colors were more saturated, whites
were more accurate, blacks were deeper (although not yet
quite good enough), and overall uniformity was improved.
The final nail in the projection-CRT coffin may be this: Texas
Instruments showed a prototype of a rear-projection HDTV

Notable New Display Products at INFOCOMM ‘99

Model No.



Light Output
(ANSI lumens)

Pixel Format
(H x V)



(w/o lens)

LCD projection


1280 x 1024


HD 2000


7” CRT projection


Not applicable


DL X10


DLP projection


1024 x 768


PowerLite 9000i


LCD projection


1280 x 1024

JVC Professional


$20,000 est.

LCD projection


1365 x 1024




16.9, 50” diagonal


1365 x 768

PLUS Corp.



DLP projection


1024 x 768




CRT, 30” diagonal


Not applicable



$17,000 est.

16.9, 42” diagonal


848 x 480




LCD projection


1280 x 1024




LCD projection


1024 x 768

based on DLP with a native resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels
(16.9). Hitachi and Mitsubishi have signed agreements to
develop consumer HDTVs based on this technology for sale in
late 2000. The image quality of the prototype was, to my eyes,
excellent. If the consumer versions can match it, and do so

For t he f irst t ime, t he Shoot Out
included a high-def init ion
affordably, we may not have reason to mourn the passing of
CRT for long.
Given the arrival of HDTV and the ramp-up of HDTV programming over the next few years, there is little reason to
consider buying an LCD or DLP projector today with less than
XGA resolution. The gain in detail on high-definition images
with XGA is, in my opinion, well worth the typical 30 percent
price increase over comparably equipped SVGA models. If the
price can be justified, SXGA (1280 x 1024) projectors are, of
course, much better, but are currently available only with
LCD technology. Several notable models of LCD projectors
with SXGA resolution were introduced at the show, including
Sanyo’s PLC-EF10N and Barco’s BarcoReality 6300DLC.
While neither would be my first choice for a home theater,
they are significant in one respect: They both include a form
of digital video connection. Such a connection bypasses the
traditional conversion steps between analog and digital most
video signals must take between the video source and the display. A digital connection provides the cleanest possible way
to send the signal and, as importantly, eliminates a lot of the
fussy set-up issues involved with getting an image to look
good. The Sanyo projector provides a digital connection
called “PanelLink,” which is becoming a standard way to connect computers to flat-panel monitors. The Barco product
provides an optional FireWire connection. FireWire (IEEE
1394) is the standard that will very likely be used to connect
consumer DTV products together, from HDTVs to digital
VCRs to surround processors. The important point is this:
What is available on these professional projectors now will
become available on consumer projectors, in one form or
another, soon.
The trend to digital connectivity is not just restricted to
projectors. Plasma display panels (PDPs) are getting in on
the act, too. A prime example introduced at the show is the
Revox E-542. Advertised as the world’s thinnest PDP, at a 2inch depth, it consigns all user-connections to an external
box that sends digital video signals and power to the display
over a single cable up to 40’ long. The control box has a slot
to accept a FireWire interface card to be developed later
this summer.
Speaking of PDPs, they were definitely one of the hot
technologies at the show. They are being increasingly considered for use in corporate boardrooms and for point-of-sale
displays. In the consumer world, more and more people are
considering them worthy alternatives to large direct-view
CRT monitors and rear-projection units for home theater.
The more affordable panels are those with “standard” resolution – 852 x 480 at 16.9 aspect ratio. The most recent of these
at the show had better contrast ratios, higher brightness, and
more accurate colors than last year’s models. Nevertheless,
they weren’t turning heads the way their high-definition sib-

chroma transitions. Barco’s VSE-20 line doubler, Extron’s
DVS-100 scaler, and RGB Spectrum’s DTQ scaler all earned
a “poor” rating, mostly because of their inability to cleanly
handle VCR playback (particularly in the case of the DTQ).
If VCR playback is discounted, they each earn a rating of
“adequate.” In the 64 kHz category, I considered only one
product “good,” the Communication Specialties Deuce Pro.
I rated Analog Way’s Smart Cut II scaler “adequate”
because of some instability during VCR preview modes
and because of relatively poor high-frequency luma
response. Extron’s Sentosaxi earned a “poor” rating
because of a considerable number of obvious deinterlacing
artifacts. I likewise rated Focus Enhancement’s QuadScan
“poor,” in this case mostly because of its unstable
response to VCR playback – the image was not steady
even during regular play. If this is ignored, its overall performance is adequate. Lastly, Barco’s VSE-40 also earned a
rating of “poor” because of its relatively poor high-frequency luma response combined with an excessively noisy picture.
This comparison of upconverters should be taken with
caution because the source material and conditions
imposed by the Shoot-Out were too limited to evaluate the
performance of the products thoroughly. If you’re in the
market for an upconverter, try to audition the products yourself using test material and sources you are intimately
familiar with.

lings were. Last year, only one high-definition PDP was introduced at the show. This year, five were introduced, which is
a good indication of the way this technology may be maturing. NEC’s PlasmaSync 5000W was the standout. This 50”
diagonal 16.9 panel, with a resolution of 1365 x 768, had the
best looking image I’ve seen yet from a PDP.
While PDPs are unquestionably getting better, they still
have problems. One of the more notable is a tendency to produce noise in dark areas of the image. The only panel I saw
not showing this noise – the Revox E-542 – had obvious contouring (discrete steps in the grayscale) in the dark regions of
the picture, leading me to suspect that the noise may be an
intentional trade-off to reduce the visibility of contouring.
PDPs also tend to show rather obvious deinterlacing and
resizing artifacts, although this may simply be a function of
the image processing electronics rather than a property of
PDP technology itself.

An Ideal Cinema?
This report wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a landmark event at this year’s show. Hughes-JVC and Miramax
Films teamed up to give show attendees a “digital sneak preview” of Miramax’s An Ideal Husband before its release on
film. Shown in its entirety, the movie was projected onto a
theater-sized screen by a Hughes-JVC ILA-12K projector.
“ILA” stands for Image Light Amplification and is HughesJVC’s answer to the problem of projecting a high resolution
electronic image with extremely high brightness. Digital
Light Processing (DLP) is the competing answer from Texas
Instruments. While the image I saw from the Hughes-JVC projector was not perfect, the resolution, color saturation, and
contrast were all good enough to give me confidence that
electronic projection – whether based on ILA or DLP technology – will be equal to the task when digital cinema
becomes an every-day reality. When that day arrives, the
technologies exhibited each year at Infocomm will have
found their ultimate expression.








What d o e s a f i l m e d i t o r d o ?
A nd w hat e f f e c t d o e s t hi s hav e o n t he f i nal v e r s i o n


gives it shape and rhythm. The screenplay has a structure, as
ometimes I think that every position on a
does each scene; and in most of the scenes, the director has
moviemaking crew comes with its special privibuilt tempo or range of tempos. But these things have no real
leges, its perks, as it were. If you’re the script supercinematic existence until they leave the editor’s bench. One of
visor, you stand right next to the director as the film
the most continually exciting and personally rewarding
is shot, noting which takes are to be printed and any
aspects of an always interesting job is that first time I run a
remarks the director may have about them. From
scene after I’ve cut it. Suddenly, as if by magic, I’m looking at
this position you watch the script come to life
a real movie where there was none before, or at least the
before the camera. If you’re the director of photography or
beginnings of a movie.
the production designer, you play large, determining roles in
Outsiders are sometimes surprised to learn that most
how the film will look. The actors literally give a flesh and
movies are shot out of sequence and that editing begins the
blood reality to characters whose only previous existence is
moment there is a complete scene to cut, which is to say with
on paper. The writer, of course, has written the screenplay; if
the first day of shooting. It makes no sense to wait – you can
it’s an original screenplay, then he has invented the story. The
cut just one scene at a time anyhow. And it would be bad ecomost important position of all, it goes without saying, is that
nomics to let the interest on the loans increase while the
of the director, who realizes the story before the cameras and
footage just piles up. What directors want and need is to have
oversees every aspect of preproduction, production, and posta first cut finished as soon as possible after the completion of
principal photography. As it usually takes longer to edit a
It is the special privilege of the editor that he or she is the
scene than it does to film it, cutting must begin immediately.
person who first gets to see the movie as a movie. Before it
Editing as you go along gives everyone involved the
passes through his hands, it is only a collection of long takes
opportunity to assess how the project is shaping up – are the
from various angles, of various sizes, without dramatic shape
performances working, as the scenes
or rhythm. Having said that, I wouldn’t
accumulate do they tell a story, does
want to suggest that the editor alone

there appear to be a movie here at all? Sometimes technical
problems develop – shots go out of focus, the director loses
the light at the end of the day and doesn’t get some angles he
fears he needs, the negative gets damaged in the lab. When
this sort of thing happens, it is imperative that the director see
the scene cut together as soon as possible so he can determine if additional shots are needed or, perish the thought, the
entire scene needs to be rescheduled.
I’m often struck by the number of people, including those
in the movie industry itself, who have little or no idea what a
film editor actually does. “Oh, you cut out all the bad parts,”
is the usual salvo when I’m introduced as a film editor. Almost
as frequent and worse: “Oh, they say an editor can make or
break a film.” The one conceives the job more or less as glorified bean counting, the other invests it with far more power
than it actually has. When I tell people that I usually do my
work on my own, as first cut is done while shooting is going
on, which means the director is filming while I’m editing,
they’re often taken back. Doesn’t that almost mean that
you’re directing the film, not the director? Of course not. An
editor’s power to radically alter a scene is much less than people often think. For one thing, you want to keep your job, so
you’d have to be egotistic to the point of professional suicide
even to try to cut a scene much differently from the more or
less clear intent with which it was shot, at least on first cut or
without discussing your ideas in advance with the director.
For another, you’re limited by the material itself. A
well-placed reaction shot can make a character appear more
or less sympathetic; if you’re given a fairly wide range of readings (not usual, but not atypical either), you can pitch a performance higher or bring it down by your selection of takes;
you have the option of playing dialog on or off camera. But it’s
the really unusual film that would allow the editing as such to
transform the direction into something else entirely.
I’ve had directors tell me many times that I’ve “saved” a
scene. This is always flattering, but also a little puzzling, and I
usually reply that I didn’t shoot any new footage, so whatever
I did was there to be found in the material. For one of the
most valuable things a good editor can contribute is a fresh
perspective. That, of course, and his basic talent for storytelling, his taste and sensitivity in shaping performances, and
his imagination in how the shots can be most effectively combined. Sometimes colleagues tell me they like to hang around
the set to soak up the feel of the movie, but I’ve never found
them convincing. Anyone who has spent any time on a film set
soon finds out there is little “feel” for the story to be
picked up there – not with production assistants,
camera crews, sound recordists, costumers,
assistant directors, service people, and the
countless other crew members necessary
to the making of a movie milling about.
And if the editor is hanging out
there, he plainly isn’t editing the film,
which is what he should be doing. I
prefer to approach the raw footage
with as little knowledge as possible of
what went into getting it. It doesn’t
matter if the star was sick and not on
best behavior; it does me no good to
know that certain essential setups were
never filmed owing to inclement weather
or a camera breakdown. All that makes for
interesting dinner conversation or frustrated
venting over a drink, but is of no consequence

one way or another when it comes to working with
the footage.
Every film is in fact three films: the film that
is written, the film that is directed, and the film
that is edited. Sometimes they’re all the same
film, sometimes they’re not, and I can’t
think of any necessary correlation in quality between when they are and when
they aren’t. I do know that the only film
you finally have is the raw footage
that has been developed and is waiting to be cut. Everything else is
Early in my career I was on a
job interview; present were the
director, the producer, and the two writers who were also associate producers. One
of the writers asked me who I thought should
get the right to final cut. Talk about being on the
spot. I replied that insofar as it devolves to a single person, I believe it must be the director. (Whatever problems I have with the auteur theory, I nevertheless
believe that the director is the overall “author” of
a film, because a screenplay is not a final anything – it awaits realization on film, for
which the director is responsible.) But I
went on to say that my experience suggests it is the film itself that determines the final cut, the film itself
that soon becomes the last, best
arbiter. A movie that is good
or has a chance of becoming any good eventually
develops a life of its
own. And every director and every editor
who are good keep
themselves alert to
this process and bend
their egos to helping
this emergent organism
assume the shape it desires,
to letting it, in a word, live.
The director with the greatest editorial imagination of them all, Sam Peckinpah, used to
say that he knew what he saw in
the material, he wanted to
see what others saw in
it. Of one of his
Robert Wolfe, Sam
once told me, “Bob
will come back with
20 ideas. I might hate ten of
them, but that still leaves ten that I’d
never have thought of that’ll make my
movie better.”
Different directors work differently. Some give you copious notes at dailies, right
down to which specific line
readings they want and
how they’d like the shots
used. I’ve been lucky, I

Bef or e

i t passes

t hr ough t he edi -

t or ’ s hands, a f i l m
i s a col l ect i on of
l ong t akes f r om
var ious

guess, in working
with this kind of director only once. Most of the
time I get few, if any, notes, and the
directors seem to trust me to use my
abilities to select the takes and structure the sequence of
shots. (On at least two projects I had put the films into first
cut before I ever met the directors in person.) This makes the
job more difficult because more challenging, but also more
rewarding because more creative.
Different editors also work differently. Perhaps because
when I first started editing in 1982, the editors I worked with
– Roger Spottiswoode and John Bloome – cut on a movieola,
I continued to use one right up until I switched to the Avid
computer in 1995, the way most films are cut these days. I like
the Avid for the same reason I liked the movieola, as opposed
to the KEM or flatbed: the quick access to all the footage.1 I’ve
never been one of these editors who watch the dailies and
take notes on the so-called “best” takes or readings, then build
or have their assistants build a “selects” reel and cut from
that. For one thing, typically you watch dailies at the end of
what has been a long day of editing (if you’re the editor) or
shooting (if you’re the director). Hardly the best conditions
under which to be making editing selections. For another, I’m
never really certain where I want something to be played until
I reach that point in the scene. It’s all very well to feel that a
reading of this or that line was much better in the medium
shot than in either the close-up or the master shot, but what if
the medium shot is emotionally or psychologically the wrong
place to be at that point in the scene? Perhaps the isolation of
a close-up is what’s called for or the tie-in of the over-theshoulder or the distance of the master. Then you’ve got to
search through the other takes and find a reading that works
or alter the cut accordingly. I like to have the fastest possible
access to all the footage at whatever point I am in the scene.
As important as individual moments are – in my opinion, they
are the very lifeblood of truly vital movie-making – scenes are
more important, and you usually have to sacrifice the incidental to the overall.
Editing is a curious process of the intuitive and the intellectual, the instinctive and the ratiocinative. For every decision you make has both immediate and long-range implications. There’s an old saw – one that, dull though it has
become, is alas still in too much use – that goes, once you go
in, stay in. This refers to the classic way of editing a scene,
where you begin with the masters, then move to the medium
shots, the over-the-shoulder angles, going progressively
tighter until you conclude with the close-ups. And
when you get close in, stay close in. You see a
lot of cutting like this, especially in older
movies and quite a bit of television. It’s
certainly a serviceable way to edit

it works,
and it’s not
likely to get you
into any trouble.
But it doesn’t necessarily make for terribly exciting
or dynamic moviemaking,
nor does it allow you to avail
yourself of anything like the full
expressive use of the filmic language at your disposal. One of
the most valuable lessons I learned from studying Peckinpah,
for example, is how dropping back to the master shot or even
an establishing shot in the middle of scene can let it breathe,
or alternately can give it a beat that will then invest your
close-ups with even greater force and intensity.
Some editors and directors don’t like what are called
jump-ins and jump-outs, that is, going from one size to another without an angle change or a cutaway. Yet this is one of my
favorite procedures. These are, admittedly, difficult cuts to
make work, but when they do work, you gain an expressiveness that you don’t otherwise have. In the movie I’m currently doing, for example, Ron Shelton’s Play It to the Bone, Lolita Davidovich has a scene in which her character is talking
about the things she enjoys. Ron covered the passage pretty
thoroughly, as he usually does. But there were two takes in
particular, a loose over-the-shoulder looking at Lolita past
Woody Harrelson and an isolating close-up, both from the
same angle, that contained readings that are especially effective. Lolita sustained the speech through both readings and
either take could have been dropped in with hardly a second
thought. If I had to choose one or the other, I would have
selected the looser angle because she is responding to something Woody’s character has asked her and it felt wrong to me
to play the whole speech in the isolation of the close-up. Yet I
also felt that the end of the speech is slightly more effective in
the tighter angle and I wanted to play the whole speech on
her, without cutting to a reaction and back again. So I simply
cut from the looser to the tighter angle at an unobtrusive spot.
The performance plays as seamlessly as if in one, but the shift
to the close-up gives the last part of the speech just the right
subtle emphasis, drawing us closer to the character and her
dreams, than would have been the case had I been doctrinaire
about jump-ins or, for that matter, had I worked with selects,
which would have forced me to choose one or the other take
before the cutting part of process began.
Do editors have styles of their own? I suppose they
must, but I don’t imagine they can be very well
defined ones, otherwise they’d be terribly
limited. As I think about my own, I can
state a few – preferences I’d rather
call them, as they’re nothing so hard
and fast as principles. I prefer my
cuts to be as seamless, even as
invisible as possible. I generally
like to knit the scenes internally,
which means that I prefer to have


edi t or shoot s no

1 Takes are stored individually for a
movieola (i.e., an upright viewing -machine);
they are stored in 1,0 00-foot reels for
flatbed viewing. The former obviously allows
for much faster access to a given piece of

new f oot age; w hat ev-

er he does w as i n t he
f i l m al l al ong.

the emotion, the mood, the action, the transformation lead the cut, rather than the other way
around. I don’t like to let picture cuts fall on
hard consonants, as that emphasizes a cut.
I enjoy prelaps to pull the narrative
along – that is, starting an incoming
line of dialog over an outgoing
scene – provided it doesn’t become
a mannerism. I generally detest
what I call the never-let-a-modulation-die-out-before-you-cutaway school of editing, which
in our attention-deficit age
is becoming more and
more common.
When most people are
impressed by editing they usually
sequences, but the real art of editing
lies in working with performances
and in concealment. What I care
about most is achieving a theatrical sense of performance but
with filmic means. By theatrical, I don’t mean
ostentatious “acting”;
rather, I am referring
to the continuity you
get from a performance on stage, the
building up and
releasing of tension
and emotion in an
unbroken arc of
time and space.
This can be
achieved on film,
but it is more
difficult because
films are made in
pieces and over
time. Usually the
master shots are done first. In a long scene,
allowing for camera setups, lighting, and rigging, the director may not get around to
the close-ups until the end of the day
or the next day. Yet the shots have to
cut together. Sometimes one
actor will have his close-ups
before lunch, the other after
lunch; and emotionally, psychologically, even physiologically they’re
in completely difference places. Yet
the shots have to cut together. When scenes
involve several characters, each actor has his or her different way of working; they reach emotional peaks or
descend into emotional valleys at different times. Yet
the shots have to cut together. More often than not,
one actor will nail the scene in the first few
takes and setups (meaning the master),
another will not hit his stride until the
medium shots and over-the-shoulders,
and a third finally comes up to
speed in the close-ups. Yet still the

shots have to cut together.
It’s a funny thing about matching in editing. Most lay
moviegoers who pay attention to editing admire the elegance
of the shot matching; most editors brag about the mismatches they manage to get away with. What experienced editors
care most about matching is the mood and emotion of the performance from one shot to the next. (Even a volatile performance that swings between extremes must have the integrity
of its changes.) Neophytes usually worry about quite trivial
matters – how much of the cigarette was burned away in this
shot as opposed to the previous one. The second scene I ever
had to cut was in a movie called The Best of Times. Kurt Rus-

The scr eenpl ay has a

st r uct ur e. Each scene has a

st r uct ur e – a r ange of t empos.

But t hese t hi ngs have no r eal ci nemat i c exi st ence unt il t hey
leave t he edi t or ’ s
sell and Robin Williams are at a bar drinking beer out of bottles. The scene was covered from every conceivable angle and
size except that there were no singles – that is, a shot that contains only one character. Every shot was some variety of a
two-shot, which means not only that both actors were plainly
visible, but so were their beer bottles. What a learning experience! Every time I wanted to make a cut, one bottle or the
other got in the way. Soon enough I discovered what every
editor discovers – the hell with matching. You cut for mood,
emotion, for the feeling of the moment, and then later correct
any mismatches you can’t live with.
In the scene I just described, the only cut I don’t like is the
one I absolutely had to make for the match alone: after one of
the actors delivered his line, I had to wait for him to raise the
bottle to his lips because that is where it was in the incoming
take that was best for the next line. I’d have rather cut away
sooner, but there was no other way without leaving a mismatch so grotesque as to throw any moviegoer right out of the
moment. When I ran this scene for Garth Craven, one of my
mentors, he remarked, “Never give an actor a prop.”
Garth did not, I must add, say this to the detriment of the
actor; it was just commiseration between editors. The takes in
question were made hours apart; no actor can be expected to
turn in a good performance at the same time as he’s trying to
keep precise track of what are supposed to be casual swigs of
beer during a long scene in a neighborhood bar. That’s one of
the things editors are for.
There was a time when studio previews served an
admirable and necessary function, or complex of functions.
They let you observe how your movie played in front of an

audience for the first time. There are always surprises. Things
you worried were unclear the audience tracked perfectly;
things you never imagined would be a problem turn out to
require a lot more thought and work. Previews were useful for
studios, too, helping them determine the kind of movie they
had, the more effectively to market it.
But in our marketing-obsessed age, where high among the
Monday morning headlines, even in Podunk, USA, are the
weekend grosses of the latest movies, the principal function
of previews now is to let the marketing people tell the filmmakers how to “fix” their movies to make them easier to market. One of my favorite minor spectacles of our time is watching rich, powerful studio executives and movie producers
hang on the every word of teenagers in focus groups for some
scrap of a clue as to anything objectionable that might make
the movie under discussion unpalatable to the 16-25 age
group. They pay slavish attention to witless comments built
around words like “rad,” “awesome,” or “icky” as they bring
the common denominator lower and lower.
The studios don’t care about older moviegoers any more,
and you have only to look at the latest products – this is being
written as the summer approaches – to see where their sights
are set. Previews have become a degraded and degrading
process that only the most powerful or committed of directors can withstand and prevail against. It’s the only part of the
editing process that I actively hate, and every editor and director I know feels exactly the same way.
Most movies are now cut on computers, rather than on film
itself, and only assembled as films relatively late in the process.
Does this affect the way movies are edited? I suppose it must,
but when I look at my work before and after Avid, I don’t see
any differences that I can attribute to the technology alone.
When Avids first appeared, you did see a great many more dissolves because, unlike film, the computer lets you see the dissolve immediately.2 A far bigger influence than the tools themselves is the whole home-video market.
Fifty years ago, Jack Warner used to say that the life of a
movie was basically three months, which may explain why
the studios were so careless in handling and storing the master negatives once movies had their theatrical runs. But the
video market has not just given theatrical movies a whole
new lease on life, it has practically become their life. Most
people now see movies on video, whether via cable or
through rentals. (The best single thing about the advent of
DVD is the hope among many of us that it will supplant
videotape as the preferred viewing medium, so that home
viewers will have decent picture and sonic reproduction.)
This cannot help but affect the way movies are made. I
can’t recall that I’ve ever cut with anything other than theatrical viewing in mind, but just the other day something
happened that gave me pause. I wanted to end a particularly
intimate scene by dropping back to an extreme long shot
that Ron Shelton had filmed. I use big screen (30”) monitors,
but when I cut in the long shot, I realized I couldn’t even see
the two actors. For all I or anyone else knew, I was cutting
to a different scene or I was doing a time cut. The actors
completely disappeared, and I thought that when the movie
shows on television this is exactly what will happen there as
well. And because the medium I was using to cut the film is
video, it was driven home to me more forcibly than before. I
2 In computerized editing, the movie is only edited in the video/computer domain; the final product is still film, which is assembled from a
cut-list generated by the computer with numbers corresponding to each
piece of negative.

made the cut anyway, because I knew it would
be effective in the theater, and we continue to
make movies for viewing in the theater.
Peckinpah, old theater man that he was,
always believed that one of the most
important aspects of moviegoing was
leaving your house, joining other people, and seeing the movie as part of a
large audience: in other words, the
communal aspect of the experience, and also, of course, the
giving of your full attention to
the movie that being in a theater demands. But this is not the
way most movies are watched
these days, and it is sobering to think
through the implications of this from the
editorial point of view. Do most people who
watch movies at home actually set aside time
and watch the movie? Do they turn off the telephone or at least silence it? Do they watch the
movie as an integral, unbroken experience? Or
do they, as I suspect, treat it as a social occasion? In Understanding Media, McCluhan
argued, correctly, I think, that a television in the home becomes rather like
another person in the house, its
content less important than its
presence as an electronic
device with sounds and
images of its own that it
brings to the party. People talk, go to the
refrigerator, pause
the movie for any
number of valid
and invalid reasons. This is the
reality of what the
movie experience
has become after a
hundred years during
which it was hailed as the great art form of the
Twentieth Century.
Why, then, in making a movie do we
continue to lavish such care on pace, on
tempo, on rhythm, on timing, on continuity of performance, story
through-line, narrative clarity, and
all the rest? If through the medium of
television, a movie becomes just
another member of the household,
merely one of the party, with no more
claims to our attention than anyone or anything else, what becomes of the art of film or, indeed, of the
film experience itself?
I haven’t any brilliant answers right at hand. But when
I contemplate the future of movies as the technology
of home video becomes ever more sophisticated
and widely available, I do find myself feeling
rather like Dorothy after the tornado has carried her far, far from home. Whatever else,
Toto, this really doesn’t seem to be
Kansas any more.

A U D I O



Lexicon MC-1 Controller
Sonic Flavors To Slake Every Thirst
DACs and analog circuitry (which increased the signal-toexicon is unique among companies building multi-channoise ratio from 98 dB to 110 dB), a “broadcast spec” video
nel digital controllers (see “What You Should Know
board, and the unit will receive and decode 24-bit/96-kHz
About Controllers,” which follows this review). Rather
input signals.
than approach the product category after designing two-chanThe MC-1 is an eight-channel device, with line-level outnel analog preamplifiers, Lexicon enters the multi-channel
puts for the usual left, center, right, surround left, surround
arena with a decades-long history of creating professional digright, and subwoofer signals, plus additional outputs for rear
ital-signal-processing gear.
left and right signals. In its optimum configuration, the 7.1Lexicon introduced the world’s first digital-delay line in
channel MC-1 will drive seven power amplifiers and seven
1971, the Precambrian era in digital audio. Lexicon’s chief
loudspeakers (plus any number of subwoofers).
technologist, Dr. David Griesinger, has spent his career studyThree RCA jacks marked “Expansion Ports” accept stereo
ing surround sound, reverberation, human hearing, and the
PCM signals at up to 96kHz sampling and 24-bit word length.
relationship between the physical properties of sound and our
Expansion Port A feeds the left and right channels, Port B
perception of them. In the academic audio community,
feeds the center and subwoofer channels, and Port C drives
Griesinger is considered one of the leading authorities on the
the left and right surround channels. These inputs bypass the
perception of acoustic environments.
DSP in the MC-1, including the bass management functions.
It’s no wonder, then, that Lexicon’s new flagship MC-1
The idea is to provide an input for high-resolution multi-chanMusic and Cinema Processor is packed with an extensive array
nel digital sources. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that DVDof multi-channel surround-sound modes. Moreover, many of
Audio and SACD players will provide unencrypted high-resothese surround modes are designed for music listening, not
lution digital output on RCA jacks. Still, you can use one
just multi-channel film-sound. With 7.1 channels and signal
expansion port to connect those DVD players that can output
processing that is unique among surround-sound controllers,
24/96, realizing a simpler signal path than is available through
the MC-1 raises some interesting questions about multi-chanthe MC-1’s conventional digital inputs.
nel music reproduction.
Bass management in the MC-1 is a little more flexible than
For those of you familiar with Lexicon’s DC-1 and DC-2
usual, offering three crossover frequencies
controllers, the MC-1 is a significant redesign. The MC-1 has more inputs, better
R O B E R T H A R L E Y (40 Hz, 80 Hz, 120 Hz), but no slope adjust-

ment. A “Bass Split” feature takes bass information filtered from the center channel
(assuming you have a small center speaker)
and directs it to the left and right channels.
Inside, the MC-1 uses AD converters and
DACs from a company called AKM. Both are delta-sigma
devices that are supposedly better performing than the converters used in most controllers. Note that both are always in
the signal path, meaning that all analog signals are converted
to digital upon entering the MC-1 and then converted back to
analog at the output. If you have a High End turntable or digital source (I used a Krell KPS-25s and a Mark Levinson
No.31.5 transport and No.360s processor), the MC-1’s digital
conversions will degrade the sound quality. There’s no
“bypass” mode that directs an analog signal to the output
unaltered. This is, in my view, a serious shortcoming.
I’ve used many controller and A/V receiver remotes;
this is one of the best. The MC-1 needs a good remote
because the machine is extremely complex. There are four
layers of menus incorporating 17 submenus. This operational complexity goes with the territory on a controller
with as many features as the MC-1. No fewer than 24
effects are provided, including simulated acoustic spaces
(Concert Hall, Night Club), various film-soundtrack modes
(Dolby Digital, THX 5.1, DTS), Lexicon’s Logic 7 processing, and music surround.

Logic 7 Digital Signal Processing for
Movies and Music
Logic 7 is Lexicon’s proprietary technique for generating multichannel playback from two-channel sources. Logic 7 processing
can also “enhance” existing 5.1-channel programs such as Dolby
Digital and DTS for seven-channel reproduction. Lexicon promotes Logic 7 as a universal format for distributing multi-channel music over two-channel formats such as CD and television or
radio broadcasts. These programs can be Logic 7 encoded to
achieve the full surround-sound effect, or unencoded (such as on
existing CDs) and still create surround-sound playback.
When reproducing 5.1-channel sources (Dolby Digital and
DTS) with Logic 7 and seven loudspeakers, the MC-1 sends
the right surround signal to the right side and right rear speakers, and the left surround signal to the left side and left rear
speakers. This is identical to wiring two surround speakers to
each surround channel. But as sound effects pan toward the
rear, the Logic 7 algorithm uses equalization to “steer” surround signals between the two side and two rear speakers.
Specifically, effects moving from the left to rear pan smoothly from the left front loudspeaker to the left side, then from
the left side to both left and right rear speakers. When effects
are moving toward the rear, Logic 7 adds a 3dB treble cut
(shelf filter) to the side speaker. As the sound further pans to
the rear, the frequency at which the shelf filter begins attenuating is lowered, further reducing the treble sent to the side
speaker. When the sound is fully to the rear, a 6dB per octave,
400Hz low-pass filter is applied to the side speakers. The
result is an apparent separation between the side and rear
channels that heightens the feeling of envelopment, and of
sounds in motion.

Lexicon’s Music Surround Modes
The music-surround modes are as innovative as Logic 7. The
music modes are divided into two categories, ambiance

extraction and ambiance generation. In the latter modes, the
MC-1 generates new signals (reverberation) that drive the
side and rear speakers. In the extraction modes, the MC-1
simply recovers ambiance information from the existing signal for reproduction by the side and rear speakers. The
extraction modes are much more subtle, and, in my view,
more musically appropriate. Nonetheless, the ambiance-generation modes driving seven loudspeakers can produce some
startling results.
The music modes use a variety of processes to increase
the sense of spaciousness and create a feeling of being
enveloped in an acoustic larger than that of your listening
room. Some of the MC-1’s modes use a crosstalk-cancellation
trick to widen the soundstage. Crosstalk occurs when sound
from the left speaker reaches the right ear, and vice versa.
Lexicon’s booklet that accompanies the MC-1 explains
crosstalk cancellation: “Imagine there is a sound coming from
the left channel only. This sound will travel to the left ear of
the listener, then diffract around the listener’s head and be
heard by the right ear. If we take the left-channel sound, delay
it just the right amount, invert it in phase and feed it to the
right speaker, it will arrive at the right ear just in time to cancel the crosstalk from the left speaker.”
Although crosstalk cancellation has been used in other
products (where it has been called a variety of trade names),
the MC-1’s implementation is considerably more sophisticated. The simple technique described above can introduce colorations because the cancellation signal becomes audible.
Lexicon uses a multi-order cancellation technique in which
the cancellation signal is itself canceled by a second signal,
and that signal canceled by a third, and so on. Reducing this
“inter-aural crosstalk” by adding cancellation signals can
make the sonic presentation appear wider.
These are just a few of the processes, used individually or
in combination, by which the MC-1 creates multi-channel surround playback from two-channel sources. Other equally
interesting techniques are also employed that space restrictions prevent me from describing.

Listening to Movies
For starters, the MC-1 in straight decoding mode (Dolby Pro
Logic, Dolby Digital, and DTS), or those formats with THX
processing, was superb sounding. The MC-1 had outstanding
dialog clarity and intelligibility, even with the center-channel
level perfectly matched to the other channels. With lesser
products, I find myself increasing the center-channel level a
couple of decibels to make the dialog easier to hear. The MC1’s good resolving power and image solidity seemed to
anchor the dialog right on the screen (it helps to have a
superlative center-channel speaker like the Revel Voice).
This impression of tight center-channel focus and clarity
was particularly impressive with matrixed Dolby Surround
sources, which often lack the image specificity and clarity of
discrete multi-channel sources. The MC-1’s Pro Logic
decoding made matrixed sources sound more like discrete
soundtracks, with greater apparent channel separation,
smoother pans, and increased clarity compared with other
Pro Logic decoders.
Even without any additional processing, the impression of
envelopment from the surround channels was exceptional. The
MC-1 seemed to create a spaciousness behind me, along with a
smooth transition between the front and rear speakers. More-

over, detail resolution in the surround channels was excellent.
Moving next to Logic 7, Lexicon’s process for deriving 7
channels from 2-channel or 5.1-channel sources, I found the
effect worked remarkably well on film soundtracks. (Logic
7 enhancements can be combined with some THX processing on discrete 5.1-channel sources such as Dolby Digital
and DTS.) The addition of rear speakers driven with Logic 7
produced a more vivid feeling of sound effects moving
behind me rather than simply stopping near the listening
position. I had a greater impression of the wall behind the
listening seat disappearing. This effect was enhanced by
Logic 7’s other salient attribute, the perception that the
soundstage was continuous from front to rear. That is, pans
were seamless along the room’s side walls, rather than presented as a discrete jump from the front channels to the
rear channels. In addition, Logic 7 processing widened the
soundstage and created a more expansive feeling. Try the
chase scene in Toy Story (chapters 28 and 29 on the DTS
laserdisc) in which the toy car speeds through traffic; the
“real” cars whiz by as pans from front to rear, an effect vastly more effective with Logic 7 than either straight DTS or
DTS/THX decoding. In addition to these benefits, seven
loudspeakers are, I believe, fundamentally better than five
for film-sound reproduction.
An interesting way to judge Logic 7’s effectiveness is to
compare a full 5.1-channel discrete source with that source
downmixed to two channels, then played back with Logic 7.
Here’s how you do it: Record a section of a film soundtrack
on a VHS machine (or cassette deck) using the MC-1’s “AC3 2-Channel” mode. This mode downmixes the discrete 5.1channel soundtrack into two channels for recording on a
two-channel medium. Then play back the two channels with
Logic 7 decoding and compare it to the discrete 5.1-channel
source. I did this with the scene in Dragonheart in which
the dragon flies 360 degrees around Dennis Quaid. The
sound of its wings beating, accompanied by Sean Connery’s
voice, moves from speaker to speaker around the room several times, making it an ideal test of Logic 7 decoding.
If someone hadn’t heard the discrete version, they’d
never think that they were hearing a matrixed format. Logic
7 is that effective in creating the impression of wide channel separation. Indeed, I found it hard to believe I was listening to two channels decoded into seven. The channel
separation in the DTS original was better, generating a
stronger illusion of movement, but it was a much closer call
than I would have thought possible.
Overall, Logic 7 provided an impressive enhancement to
film soundtracks. The processing did, however, seem to
make the soundtrack less intimate, as though I were sitting
farther away from the action. The upside of this impression
is that my 14.5 by 21 by 9-foot listening room seemed larger.
I evaluated the MC-1’s DAC quality by feeding it a digital
signal from a Mark Levinson No.31.5 CD transport, then
connected the MC-1’s main outputs to an Audio Research
Reference One preamp. The No.31.5 also drove a Mark
Levinson No.360S digital-to-analog converter, which also
fed the ARC preamp. (Power amplifiers were Audio
Research Reference 600s.) I could thus switch inputs on the
Reference One and compare the No.360S to the MC-1.
Granted, a $5,995 multi-channel processor should be no
match for a $7,995 two-channel DAC, but the comparison
put the MC-1’s performance into perspective.

The MC-1’s sound quality in this evaluation was only fair. The MC-1 overlaid the
music with a grainy texture, with a darkening
of the upper midrange that resulted in a less
palpable rendering. The MC-1’s treble was a
bit hashy, and the soundstage was somewhat flat and
closed-in. These characteristics became apparent when listening critically to two-channel music sources through a
reference-quality playback system; when listening to film
soundtracks, the MC-1’s sonic shortcomings didn’t intrude
on the experience. I would rank the MC-1’s DAC stage as on
the level of a $500 CD player. (That’s not bad considering
the $5,995 MC-1 has eight DACs and analog line stages, plus
everything else that goes into a sophisticated multi-channel
The $6,500 Classé SSP-50 controller provides an interesting contrast with the MC-1. The Classé was significantly
better sounding when reproducing music. If the MC-1’s
DACs were comparable to those in a $500 CD player, the
SSP-50 sounded more like a $2,000 outboard converter. The
Classé benefits from an audiophile-quality signal path and a
superb multi-bit DAC stage. That superior two-channel performance is, however, offset by the MC-1’s more sophisticated surround processing, 7.1-channel capability, THX processing, vastly better remote and user interface, and proprietary Lexicon film-soundtrack enhancements. But that’s the
beauty of diverse design goals: You can choose the product
that best matches your priorities.
If you are uncompromising on both film and music reproduction, you can still enjoy the MC-1’s terrific surround performance without shortchanging High End music playback:
run the MC-1’s left and right outputs through a two-channel
analog preamp on the way to the left and right power amplifiers. (The Krell KPS-25S has a “Theater Throughput” mode
just for this purpose. Theater Throughput sets the preamp’s
gain at a set level so you maintain your individual channellevel calibration when switching back to multi-channel.) Analog source signals that you will listen to in two-channel feed
the analog preamp and never go though the MC-1’s A/D and
D/A stages. Note that adding an analog preamp works only if
you have full-range left and right speakers that don’t require
the MC-1’s front-channel crossover.

Listening To Music Surround
My experience with surround-sound modes on A/V receivers
has left me contemptuous of the concept. The modes sound
gimmicky, often destroy the musicality of the front signals,
and their presence is purely marketing driven. That is, the
receiver must sport a huge list of surround modes for it to be
competitive on the sales floor, whether or not those surround
modes are well thought out or even musically appropriate.
But after living with the MC-1 and reading the superb booklet explaining the theory behind the MC-1’s surround modes,
I’ve taken a somewhat different view. The MC-1’s modes,
designed by Dr. David Griesinger, are all based on solid
research that relates the physical properties of concert-hall
acoustics with our perception of sound. The MC-1’s effects are
far from marketing gimmicks.
The MC-1 is without question the most sophisticated music
processor available today. But do two-channel recordings benefit from this processing, or is a pure, unadulterated signal path
more musically engaging? Before tackling that question, I

should mention that my loudspeaker array is
less than ideal for assessing Lexicon’s surround
modes. The side loudspeakers are bi-polar (the
Revel Embrace set to bi-pole for music surround, di-pole for films), and the rear speakers
were the point-source Mirage Reference Monitors. Lexicon recommends seven timbre-matched loudspeakers in an acoustically absorbent room. Nonetheless, I got a good impression of
what each surround mode was doing. (I’ve also heard these
modes in Lexicon’s listening room.)
The subtlest of the music processing modes is called Music
Surround, which sends the left and right signals to the left and
right loudspeakers unaltered. The MC-1 in this mode creates a
low-level center-channel signal, along with side and rear signals
(with seven-channel playback). The side and rear speakers
receive ambient information extracted from the recording.
Delay and steering are used on the side and rear channels.
Music Surround produces a gentle expansion of the soundstage
that takes the presentation out of the front speakers. In Music
Surround, I was never consciously aware of sound arriving
from the sides or rear. Instead, my listening room walls seemed
to disappear aurally, replaced by a larger acoustic. Switching
back to two-channel mode caused the soundstage to collapse
into the front loudspeakers. About 30 percent of the music I
tried in Music Surround benefited from the processing.
Smaller, more intimate music was best reproduced without any processing. The classic Bill Evans recording Sunday
at the Village Vanguard (a superb transfer on JVC XRCD) was
more immediate and direct in two-channel mode, even though
the “Nightclub” surround mode created an amazingly realistic
impression of a club acoustic. In surround, I felt a sonic and
emotional distance from Evans’ introspective expression.
One of the most spectacular examples of two-channel
playback conveying a sense of the recorded acoustic is Keith
Johnson’s stunning recording of Rutter’s Requiem on the Reference Recordings label. When played back with HDCD
decoding on a superlative two-channel system, Requiem is
transcendent. Could this maximally optimized recording be
improved upon with surround processing?
Requiem didn’t benefit from any of the MC-1’s processing, in
my view. The processing did expand the acoustic, but at the
expense of reduced image specificity. Just for fun, I ran Requiem
through the decidedly unsubtle Cathedral ambiance-generation
mode. Although this was a gross distortion of the recording, the
feeling of being transported to a large acoustic was stunning.
Twenty minutes in the listening chair with the lights off and I was
awestruck at how convincing the illusion was.
I also evaluated the ambiance-generation modes by playing the Denon Anechoic Orchestral Music Recording CD
[Denon PG-6006], an orchestral recording made in an anechoic chamber (a reflection-free room). This recording doesn’t just seem dry; the sound is totally distorted in a way we
never hear in real life. The complete absence of reverberation
allowed me to add effects with the MC-1 and hear exactly the
effect’s contribution to this unique recording. The MC-1’s
reverberation generation was exceptionally clean and
smooth, producing an almost convincing impression the
recording was made in a real hall.
Overall, the MC-1’s music surround modes were more successful on some types of music than on others. Most of the
time I preferred two-channel reproduction. Nonetheless, I
found some music discs more involving and engaging in sur-

round sound. That’s a big step for a confirmed two-channel
purist – and a testament to the careful thought that went into
the MC-1’s music-surround processing.

The Lexicon MC-1’s unparalleled array of sophisticated signalprocessing modes represent the state-of-the-art in consumer
multi-channel controllers. For those who listen primarily to
film soundtracks or surround-sound music, the MC-1 provides
exceptional surround performance, unique signal processing,
and a terrific remote and user interface. The thought that
went into the music surround modes and the effectiveness of
Logic 7 were particularly impressive.
If you’re a two-channel music purist looking for a hometheater controller, the MC-1 may not be for you. The lack of a
two-channel bypass mode that circumvents the MC-1’s A/D
and D/A converters limits the musical performance possible
from your system. It does little good to own a High End digital processor or turntable if its analog output is digitized by
the MC-1. This shortcoming was exacerbated by the only fair
sound quality of the MC-1’s D/A stage.
If you want the ultimate performance from both film and
music sources, you can always add an analog preamplifier. It’s
a bit of a hassle and adds to the system cost, but the MC-1’s
outstanding film-soundtrack and multi-channel music performance make it worth the effort.



3 Oak Park
Bedford, Massachusetts 01730-1441
Phone: (781) 280-0300; fax: (781) 280-0490
Source: Manufacturer loan
Price: $5,995



See text.

Manufacturer’s Response
We would like to thank The Perfect Vision and Robert Harley
for the comprehensive review of the MC-1. One of our primary
goals in the MC-1 and DC-2 was to improve upon the earlier DC1’s audio performance. We procured samples of the latest Digital to Analog and Analog to Digital converters from our vendors
and began a series of objective and subjective tests. During this
process we came across a prototype DAC from AKM. The performance of the AKM exceeded that of every other DAC we
tested, and handily exceeded the performance of the DC-1’s
DACs, which Mr. Harley noted in his review.
We used several analog and digital sources to compare the
ADC/DACs to ensure that even the purists would be satisfied
with the results. It was no contest. The AKM converters easily
won the subjective listening tests with comments like: “completely neutral,” “dead quiet,” and “extremely dynamic.”
We stand by our decision and feel that the MC-1 and DC-2
shatter the myth that digital audio products are “grainy” compared to analog designs. The performance of digital audio products has reached the point where the ceiling is now being dictated by the limitations of analog.

nel musical experience. Other controllers can be considered
No product better exemplifies the fundamental shift in
true High End preamplifiers that also offer surround-sound
home-entertainment technology than the controller. Also
decoding and video switching. This diversity of products on
known as a surround-sound processor or audio-video prethe market lets you choose a controller that
amplifier, the controller is an entirely new
parallels your priorities. The movie buff will
product category that combines many
have very different requirements from the
diverse functions in a single chassis. To
music listener who wants a little surround
understand what a controller is and does is to
sound when he occasionally watches a
understand the technologies that are transmovie.
forming the way we reproduce sound in our
A modern controller replaces as many as
Inputs, Outputs, and Source
four separate components in your music and
home-theater system: the source-switching
Let’s start with the controller’s most basic
functions of a preamplifier, a surround-sound
function, selecting the source you listen to or
decoder, six (or eight) channels of digital-towatch. The controller accepts audio or A/V
analog conversion, and an electronic
(audio and video) signals from all your
crossover to split up the frequency spectrum.
source components and lets you select which
Moreover, the rapidly increasing computer horsepower in
source signal is sent to the power amplifiers and video montoday’s controllers points to a future in which they will
itor. A basic controller will offer two analog-audio inputs
incorporate even more func(for a tuner and CD player, for
tions and capabilities, such as
perhaps four
A modern controller replaces audio-videoand(A/V)
digital signal processing for
inputs. In
as many as four components addition to the main outputs
loudspeaker and room correction. While power ampthat drive your TV and power
in your music and home-the- amplifiers,
lifiers and loudspeakers
two record outputs
change relatively little over
are often provided to drive
ater system: the sourcetime, the controller repretwo VCRs or a VCR and an
switching functions of a pre- analog
sents a radical new path to
tape recorder.
the future.
When choosing a conamplifier, a surround-sound
Despite the power and
troller, make sure its array of
decoder, six (or eight) chan- inputs matches or exceeds the
sophistication of some of
today’s controllers, they are
nels of digital-to-analog con- number of source comporemarkably inexpensive and
nents in your system. Your
version, and an electronic
relatively easy to use. While
system is likely to expand in
none of us would call a $5,000
the future, so look for a concrossover to split up the
audio product cheap, the price
troller with at least two more
frequency spectrum.
of a High End controller is reainputs than you need right
sonable considering all the
functions it performs. In addition, it seamlessly merges a
All controllers have inputs for digital audio signals as
diverse array of sophisticated processing and controls to prowell as for analog. These inputs receive the digital-audio
vide nearly transparent inter-operability to the user. Still,
output of a DVD player, laserdisc machine, DSS receiver, or
designers need to focus on improving the user interface so
CD transport. The signals carried on these digital connecthat anyone can operate even the most sophisticated system.
tions include Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Surround, and twoAs controllers replace two-channel analog preamplichannel PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) signals, such as from
fiers, many of us music purists are concerned that two-chana CD transport.
nel music reproduction may be compromised in the rush to
If you’re an old hand at home theater, you probaadd features. Some controllers are designed with an emphably own a laserdisc player with Dolby Digital output. Fursis on multi-channel film-soundtrack reprother, you know that to get Dolby Digital
duction, with little regard for the two-chan(once called AC-3) onto a laserdisc, the sig-


nal had to be encoded as a radio frequency (RF).
If you don’t want to immediately replace your
cherished laserdisc collection with DVDs, you’ll
probably need a controller that can decode
those RF-encoded Dolby Digital discs. If your
controller doesn’t have an RF digital input (typically labeled “AC-3 RF”), you’ll need an external RF demodulator box. This device converts
RF Dolby Digital to bitstream Dolby Digital, which
can then be fed to one of the controller’s standard digital
Don’t forget the controller’s responsibility for handling
the video signal. Look for S-Video input jacks on all A/V
inputs and outputs. Most controllers offer both composite
video (on RCA connectors) and S-Video jacks. Controllers
can degrade video quality and some have better quality
video processing than others.

Two-Channel Bypass Mode
For the music lover shopping for a controller that will also
serve as a two-channel preamplifier for his system, one of
the most significant considerations is its performance with
two-channel analog sources (especially if you have an
extensive vinyl collection). In that case, you’ll want a controller that has analog bypass. Without a bypass mode, the
analog signal will be converted to digital and back as it passes through the controller. Digital conversion is far from
transparent, so the sound will suffer.
There are two catches to look out for regarding the
bypass mode. First, the controller must have an analog volume control such as that used in the Proceed AVP. Most modern controllers adjust the volume digitally in their DSP chips
(which don’t sound as good as an old-fashioned potentiometer). Second, whenever you engage bass management, even a
controller with a bypass mode will convert the analog signal
to digital because bass management is performed by the DSP
chips. If you have a subwoofer with satellite speakers and use
the controller’s crossover to divide the frequency spectrum,
the bypass mode won’t remove the A/D and D/A conversions
from the signal path. This is a serious limitation for music
lovers who demand the ultimate in sound quality.

Surround Decoding and Digital Signal
Processing (DSP)
The availability of powerful Digital Signal Processing
(DSP) chips has revolutionized controllers in the past few
years. DSP chips are the heart and brain of the controller,
performing surround-sound decoding, signal processing
(equalization, crossovers), and THX post-processing (if
the controller is THX certified). Today’s advanced controllers boast the computing power of a late 1980s mainframe computer.
The first job of the DSP chip is decoding; that is, converting a stream of digital data into separate digital signals
that can be converted to analog audio. Virtually all controllers today decode the three major surround-sound formats: Dolby Digital, Digital Theater Systems (DTS), and
Dolby Surround. Dolby Digital is by far the most common
format on DVD and laserdisc, and has been chosen as the

surround-sound format for HDTV.
Even inexpensive A/V receivers sport DSP
chips, although they have vastly less computing power than those in High End controllers.
Consequently, High End controllers offer better implementations of surround-sound decoding, more flexible features, and higher sound
quality (more powerful DSP chips allow greater
precision in the mathematical computations performed on the audio signal).
A DSP chip is a number cruncher that operates on specific instructions (the software) controlling it. When decoding a Dolby Digital source, for example, the software tells
the DSP how to decode Dolby Digital. When decoding DTS,
the same DSP operates under the instructions for decoding
the DTS bitstream. A DSP chip is only as good as the software it is running. That’s why some High End companies
write all their own software in-house rather than rely on
stock software that performs a given task. As DSP chips
grow increasingly more powerful and less expensive, controller capabilities increase proportionately.
Beyond decoding digital data signals, DSP chips are
used to perform advanced signal processing that creates the
artificial acoustic environments such as “stadium” or “concert hall.” Those artificial environments are the parlor tricks
of DSP. Much more importantly, DSP can be used to perform
equalization and room correction. That is, DSP at the highest level can be used to alter the signal so that it compensates for the intrinsic sound of your room, smoothing out
the room’s resonant characteristics and allowing you to better hear the music and the sound of the recording venue.
On a practical level, DSP makes it possible to execute
the crossover for the subwoofer in the digital domain. Someday, DSP chips may be the standard method for providing
crossovers in speakers.
If the trend toward more powerful, less expensive DSP
continues – and it will – controllers will incorporate more
and more sophisticated signal processing. Digital crossovers
for the subwoofer will become more flexible (see, for example, the Theta Casanova crossover options). Surround
decoding will be executed with greater precision. The
potential for DSP in audio is only now starting to be realized. Much more is yet to come.

DSP and the Future-Proof Controller
Because of this software control, some controllers can be
updated simply by downloading new software into the
machine. As new technologies arrive, or refinements in
existing systems are discovered, you simply install new
instructions for the DSP chips. Such “software-based” controllers can be thought of as general-purpose DSP devices
that happen to be running the software for Dolby Digital,
DTS, and Dolby Surround decoding.
The Proceed AVP is a good example of a software-updatable controller. The unit has an RJ-11 port (a telephone jack)
on the rear panel that connects to a computer’s RS-232 port.
A Proceed dealer can download the latest software from the
Internet, connect his computer to your AVP (either in your
home or his shop), and update the AVP’s flash memory. The

process takes about eight minutes, can be performed with the AVP installed in your system,
and doesn’t erase your set-up and configuration
New software can add capabilities such as
DTS or MPEG decoding (by changing the DSP
code), refine the user interface (by updating
the operating system), or configure the unit to
accept formats not available when the product
was designed (by changing the input-receiver software).
The AVP’s Proceed input receiver (the chip that receives,
identifies, and decodes the incoming bitstream) is custom
made, which allows the AVP to work with future formats
whose interface protocols have not yet been established.
Updating software in this way reduces the likelihood of
needing expensive hardware changes.
Another method of heading off controller obsoles-

cence is “modular” construction. A modular
controller is built like a PC, with a motherboard and smaller circuitboards that fit into
slots on the motherboard. If a new technology
comes along or better digital-to-analog converters become available, as examples, you
simply swap out a circuitboard to bring your
controller up to date. Some controllers combine the ability to update software with modular
construction for the ultimate in upgrade flexibility.

Bass Management
An important controller function performed by the DSP
chips is bass management, the subsystem that lets you
selectively direct bass information in the soundtrack to the
main loudspeakers or to the subwoofer. Bass management
allows a controller to work correctly with a wide variety of

THX-Certified Controllers
ome controllers are “THX Certified,” meaning they incorporate
Lucasfilm signal processing – a
technology that Lucasfilm believes better
translates film soundtracks created for
theater playback into the home. THX-certified controllers must also meet a set of
technical performance criteria established
by Lucasfilm. If the product correctly
implements the THX technologies and
meets the performance criteria, the unit
can be branded “THX Certified.” The manufacturer then pays a license fee to
Lucasfilm on every unit sold.
The goal of Home THX is to re-create
as closely as possible in a home-theater
system the sound that the mixing engineers heard on the film-dubbing stage.
THX-certified controllers employ four
processes that Lucasfilm has found to
improve the home-theater experience:
surround decorrelation, timbre matching,
re-equalization, and the subwoofer
crossover. Let’s look at each of these.
Surround decorrelation makes the
monaural surround signal slightly different
in the left and right surround channels by
varying the time and/or phase of those
signals. This technique prevents the “in
the head” localization of surround signals,
and “smears” the surround signal so that
we feel a greater sense of envelopment
in the film soundtrack. With the advent of
5.1-channel formats with separate left and
right surround channels, THX surround
decorrelation has taken a new twist,
called “adaptive de-correlation.” Adaptive
de-correlation turns off the de-correlation
circuit when the two surround channels
carry different information, but smoothly
turns it on when the surround channels
are identical. Most 5.1 soundtracks still
have mono surrounds most of the time,
so this is a useful feature. (See the side-


bar to the Denon AVR-5700 review in
Issue 25 for more on surround decorrelation.)
Timbre matching makes it possible
for sounds arriving from the sides to have
the same perceived timbre as sounds
arriving from the front. This makes pans
(movements of sounds) from front to rear
more realistic, because the perceived
timbre doesn’t change with movement.
You can easily demonstrate for yourself
how perceived timbre changes with direction: Snap your fingers in front of your face,
and again to the side of your head. The
sound is “sharper” to the side. THX timbre
matching compensates for this difference
with signal processing in the controller.
Re-equalization is a treble cut applied
on playback to make soundtracks mixed
for movie theaters sound natural when
played in the home. Mixers intentionally
make soundtracks bright for several reasons. Theaters are usually full of absorbent
seats, drapes, and people, all of which roll
off high frequencies to a greater degree
than midrange and bass frequencies. In
addition, the long distance between the
audience and loudspeakers tends to selectively attenuate treble. Consequently, the
soundtrack has a natural tonal balance in
the theater, but excessive brightness on a
home-theater system. The answer is to
equalize the soundtrack during playback so
it sounds correct in the home.
But how much treble cut is correct?
And what should the equalization curve
look like? To find out the correct THX reequalization curve, THX’s inventor, Tomlinson Holman (THX stands for Tom Holman’s eXperiment), asked a series of toplevel film-sound mixers to listen to their
films on a home-theater system. The
mixer had an equalizer in front of him, and
was asked to adjust the equalizer until the

soundtrack sounded “right” on the hometheater system. Holman averaged the
equalization curves created by the mixing
engineers (which were remarkably close)
to generate the patented THX re-equalization curve.
To save money, some budget controllers license only the re-equalization
part of THX processing, not the entire signal-processing suite. Other controllers
not licensed by Lucasfilm may employ a
selectable treble cut, often carrying a
name such as “Cinema EQ.”
Finally, the THX subwoofer crossover
standardizes the crossover characteristics
(cut-off frequency and slopes) that split the
frequency spectrum into bass for the subwoofer and midrange/treble frequencies
for the main speakers. The THX crossover
frequency is 80 Hz, with fourth-order lowpass and second-order high-pass slopes.
The subwoofer-out jack on a THX-certified
controller thus carries a precisely defined
signal. When decoding 5.1-channel Dolby
Digital or DTS (so-called THX 5.1 mode),
the subwoofer output carries the Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channel, plus the
bass from any number of the other five
channels. When decoding Dolby Surround,
the THX subwoofer output is a mix of the
front three channels’ bass below 80 Hz,
assuming that the front speakers are small
satellite types.
You may have recently seen the designations “THX Select” and THX Ultra”
replace plain old THX. THX Select products
have relaxed performance standards, and
are designed to allow products suitable for
smaller rooms to benefit from THX processing. The more rigorous Ultra performance level corresponds to what used to
be simply called “THX” and is built on the
assumption that the room involved may be
3,000 cubic feet or larger.

Keeping low bass out of smaller loudspeakspeaker systems. For example, if you have five
ers confers large advantages in the speaker’s
small loudspeakers and a subwoofer, you tell
power handling, dynamic range, midrange clarithe controller to filter bass from each of the
ty, and sense of ease. When the woofer doesn’t
five channels, and to direct it, in sum, to the
have to move back and forth a long distance trysubwoofer. When watching a Dolby Digital or
ing to reproduce low bass, the midrange sounds
DTS movie, the bass from the LCR and surcleaner and the speaker can reproduce louder
round channels is mixed with the Low Frepeaks without distortion.
quency Effects channel to drive the subwoofer.
The bass management in most controllers lets you
direct the full frequency range to the left and right channels
High-Resolution Digital Audio
(including the LFE channel), but filter bass from the center
and surround channels.
Many controllers today feature the ability to accept digital
A feature in the most advanced controllers is the ability
input signals with a sampling frequency of 96 kHz and word
to specify the crossover frequency and slopes between the
lengths of up to 24 bits. This allows them to decode high-ressubwoofer and main speakers. The crossover is implementolution digital audio output from a DVD player that can
ed in the digital domain with DSP. Splitting the frequency
deliver 24/96 digital signals (the Pioneer DV-09 is an examspectrum into bass and treble in the controller is a vastly
ple). The selection of 24/96 discs is slim, and until a digital
better approach than subjectinterface with a copy-protecing the analog audio signal to
tion system is in place, don’t
…the controller represents
the capacitors, resistors, and
expect many DVD players to
a radical new path to
inductors found in the crossprovide access to the 24/96
overs built into subwoofers.
the future…
Other controllers let you
A more useful feature for
specify the crossover frequency (40 Hz, 80 Hz, 120 Hz, for
taking advantage of the high-resolution multi-channel forexample), but not the slope or phase characteristics. The
mats about to come on the market (DVD-Audio and Super
greater the flexibility in this function, the greater the likeliAudio CD – SACD) is a six-channel analog input on the conhood that you can achieve the best results with your speaktroller. Until the digital-interface issue is resolved (which
ers and room.
may take a long time because it is inextricably linked to the

copy-protection problem), DVD-Audio and
SACD players will have six analog outputs for
reproducing multi-channel music discs. Unless
your controller has a discrete six-channel analog input, you won’t be able to play high-resolution multi-channel music through your system until the copy-protection dust has settled.
The six-channel analog input approach has its
drawbacks: You’re paying for six DACs in the DVDA or SACD player and for six DACs in the controller. It
would obviously be better and more cost effective if multichannel DVD-A or SACD was provided to the controller in a
single digital data stream. Until then, the most important
thing to look for is that the analog bypass is available for the
DVD-A and SACD signals. Adding extra layers of conversion
will only degrade the sound. The issue becomes more complicated when you add bass management to the mix, since
bass management is done in the digital domain.

After DSP – Digital to Analog
Every 5.1-channel controller has six digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and six analog output stages built into it. The
DACs convert the digital data for each channel into analog
signals. The quality of these DACs and the subsequent analog output stage (which drives the power amplifier through
interconnects) is crucial to realizing good sound quality.
DACs vary greatly in their sound, and a poor-sounding DAC
(or a poor implementation of a good one) can ruin an otherwise excellent controller. More expensive controllers use
higher quality parts and design techniques, including metalfilm resistors, polystyrene capacitors, four-layer circuitboards, and exotic circuit board material. Also look for analog stages made from discrete transistors instead of inexpensive operational-amplifier chips. Some High End companies now have considerable expertise in designing cuttingedge digital converters, expertise they can apply to building
multi-channel digital controllers.
Don’t be swayed by marketing hype that touts the DACs as
“24-bit.” Although the DAC may have 24 resistor “rungs” on its
“ladder,” that doesn’t mean it has 24-bit resolution. The last
four bits often contain just noise, not real information.
Because real-world DAC technology is limited to 20-bits, those
last four bits are known in the industry as “marketing bits.”
The best minds working today in digital conversion cite

the historical “two bits per decade” rule of converter advancement. Assuming this rate continues, consider this: 24-bit digital audio has a theoretical noise floor of –144 dBV, but the thermal
noise produced by a single 1,000 ohm resistor
(generated by random movement of electrons)
at room temperature is –125 dBV, a noise floor
19 dB higher than a 24-bit converter’s theoretical
limit. I doubt that converter technology will
advance beyond 21 bits without a fundamental breakthrough employing new DAC architectures.

(Inter)Facing the User
Most of this article has been concerned with the path of a signal from input to output and the wide variety of turns
between. But how the user operates a controller with all
these features is just as important as the raw technology that
makes the magic. A controller can be easy to set up initially
and a joy to use on a daily basis. Or it can be a confusing
nightmare that makes you feel lucky to get any sound at all
from your speakers – never mind fine-tuning the controller
for the best performance. Which of these scenarios comes to
pass is determined by the controller’s user interface, a term
that encompasses the front-panel controls and display, the
remote control, and the on-screen display. Some products are
easy and intuitive to use; others are frustrating and complex.
Before buying a controller, ask the salesman to run through
the system set-up; if he has a hard time, watch out. Second,
play with the unit yourself in the store; you’ll not only get a feel
for how it works, you can ask questions before you take the
controller home. Third, take a close look at the remote; if it is
covered by a sea of identically sized, shaped, and colored buttons, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the user interface. The
buttons should be color coded, grouped by function, and feature different sizes according to their frequency of use or function. And it’s all to the better if they light up in the dark.
Do not underestimate the importance of a well-designed
user interface. It could make the difference between loving
and hating the component that is the heart and brain of your
multi-channel system.
For more information about controllers and other home
theater topics, check out Robert Harley’s book Home Theater for Everyone. For information, or to order a copy, call
800-848-5099. Website:

Component-Video Switching
ne feature lacking on even some
High End controllers is component video input and output jacks.
Component video, carried on three separate cables, offers vastly improved picture
quality over composite video, and is even
better than S-Video. As more and more
products with composite-video connections become available (DVD players,
HDTV set-top boxes, video monitors),
component-video switching becomes an
increasingly important feature. Most con -


trollers with component-video switching,
however, have no on-screen display from
the component-video output.
If you have a single component-video
source (a DVD player, for example) and a
video monitor with component-video
input, you can simply run the componentvideo cables directly from the DVD player to your video monitor, bypassing the
controller’s video-switching function. This
technique requires that you switch inputs
on your video monitor to watch a DVD.

Even if your controller has componentvideo switching, however, none available
today offer cross-format conversion (i.e.,
S-Video input to component-video output), meaning you still must switch
inputs on your video monitor when
watching a component-video source.
Although component-video switch- ing will
become increasingly common, multiple
RCA jacks take up valuable rear-panel real
estate. Some products just don’t have
the room.


Revel Ultima Speakers – From 2 to 7.1 Channels
Episode One: The Ancient Enemy
t is a conflict as old as good vs. evil. It is the war that came
before wars between peoples. It is the battle between
humankind and its environment and it is being fought to
this day in your house.
While not so noble as a life and death struggle between a
Jack London hero and the elements, your battle to extract
good sound from the room in which you listen to
music and watch movies is as challenging. Your
victory is not to be measured by survival,
but satisfaction. And when the tools
of war cost many thousands of dollars, satisfaction is survival.
Know thine enemy: The
Room. Do not think of it as a helpful collaborator or even an innocent bystander. It, more than anything else, will determine the
overall quality of sound you
extract from your system. A bad
room will put a foot on the throat
of your speakers, choking off
their musical life.
From hard experience I have
learned these lessons. I built a
room – from scratch. And I vowed
it would be a great room, unlike
any other. In my hubris, I thought
this was truly possible and that I
would do it. Now my comfort
comes from knowing that humility brings education and, with education, satisfaction is, indeed,
This article and the ones that
follow trace my experiences
installing the Revel Ultima speakers
and Proceed electronics multi-channel system into this enemy mine. We begin here with the
Revel Salon loudspeaker and the Revel Sub-15/LE-1 subwoofer system. Future episodes will include the Revel Voice,
Embrace, and Gem models. Other players in this first episode
include the RPG Room Optimizer software and, briefly, the
Cambridge Signal Technologies T1100 Room Correction System. Each of these companies has faced the enemy with their
products, offering hope that victory can be had.


Meet My Enemy
Now that you have a blank sheet of paper,
what’s next? Choosing the dimensions. Start

with the realization that no set of dimensions is perfect. The
perfect room does not exist. Revisit Robert Greene’s “What
You Should Know About Bass” in Issue 24. Every room has
modes that arise from its dimensions. The most obvious – and
the most significant – are the axial modes. These are the fundamental acoustic resonant modes (and their harmonics) that
are created between two opposing surfaces, such as front
wall and back wall, side to side and floor to ceiling. In addition to axial modes there are tangential and oblique
modes. Tangential modes arise from four surfaces (e.g.,
the side, front, and back walls) and oblique modes arise

The Revel Ultima Salon
loudspeaker and
Sub-15/LE-1 subwoofer
system face an implacable
enemy of sound, with
some help from the RPG
Room Optimizer software
and, at the last moment,
the SigTech T1100 Room
Correction System.
from all six surfaces. Your room’s modes will create
audible gaps within (nulls) and boosting of (nodes)
the sound at different frequencies, destroying the
tonal uniformity that is necessary for uncolored
music reproduction. The best you can hope for is to
avoid modes piling up on top of one another, since
that will greatly exacerbate the non-uniformity of the sound.
Programs now exist into which you can input the dimensions of your room and calculate the room’s modal characteristics. A “simple” Excel spreadsheet, properly configured, will
do the trick. It’s nothing more than math. But don’t let that
deceive you into thinking it’s simple. Such programs assume
accurate dimensions that form a uniform lossless rectangle –
that is a perfectly rigid room. But building a rigid, uniform room
doesn’t solve your problems; it only helps make them more predictable. There is even some thought that a rigid room isn’t
preferable because it actually intensifies the low-frequency
modes because none of the bass can be attenuated by leakage through walls that flex.


Now that your head is swimming, choose
your dimensions. The actual dimensions you
select based on a ratio such as those listed
below will determine the exact frequencies at
which the modes will develop. Jim Thiel, the
engineering brain behind Thiel speakers, calculated the following set of ratios:

by 1.6
by 1.14
by 1.6
by 1.3
by 1.5

by 1
by 1
by 1
by 1
by 1

2.18 by 1.6 by 1
1.54 by 1.14 by 1
1.9 by 1.4 by 1
2.1 by 1.6 by 1
1.59 by 1.26 by 1

I chose to build a room that measured 33’3” long by 22’9”
wide by 8’9” high. That’s 3.8 by 2.6 by 1. At the time, I thought
it was permissible to double any of the numbers (it isn’t). I

place the speakers. Perhaps the best known is the Rule of
Thirds (put the speakers at the one-third points away from the
side walls and back wall). The Rule of Thirds is derived from a
superficial understanding of modal room characteristics. This
approach, which seems to work with dipole loudspeakers, is
less than optimal for dynamic coil designs.
There is no predictable location that works optimally for
all speakers and all rooms; the variables are too numerous.
Indeed, finding the absolute best location for a certain speaker in a certain room is extraordinarily difficult (unlikely, but
not impossible). Now, though, there is a useful tool to credibly attack the location issue: Room Optimizer software ($99 a
copy) from RPG Diffuser Systems, Inc. You quickly learn,
when using Room Optimizer, that what is optimal depends on
where you sit, on the geometry of the speakers, and their location. Fortunately, Room Optimizer will consider all those variables for you.

Diagram 1: Room Mode Calculator
by Allan Devantier

doubled two of them in the 1.9 by 1.3 by 1 ratio. Plug these
numbers into our Excel spreadsheet and the resulting plot of
modes looks something like Diagram 1.
Despite my mistake, the room ended up with a good
spread of modes (save for a pile-up at 50 Hz). Being somewhat
skewed myself, I chose not to build a perfectly rectangular
room (see Diagram 3, page 46) although I built it fairly rigidly
with studs that were on 12-inch centers and two layers of drywall (the floor is concrete). I wanted an equipment room I
could walk into to change components and cables, and I wanted an opening from that room into the media room. I also
decided not to wall off the entrance to my office at the end of
the media room, leaving a floor-to-ceiling opening. Finally, I
have always suspected that rooms with bay windows or similar broken angles behind the speakers sound better. So I
framed in three-foot facets where the side walls meet the
front wall. If I ever get the chance to do it again, I would do it
a little differently – but that’s another story.

Deploying the Troops –
RPG Room Optimizer Software
Nothing is more important to good sound than where you
choose to place your speakers. Over the years there have been
numerous attempts at simple empirical formulae to help you

Room Optimizer, in simple terms, does the math for you.
It combines a modal analysis with a Speaker Boundary Interference Response (SBIR) analysis based on the legendary
work of Roy Allison. It is the combination of these two
approaches that makes Room Optimizer unique and useful.
Balancing the modal and SBIR analysis, Room Optimizer
searches out locations within your room for your speakers
and your listening location that will meet a certain threshold
frequency uniformity. See Diagram Two for a graphic representation of a solution that Room Optimizer found for the
Salons in my room.
I will eschew a detailed technical explanation of how
Room Optimizer works and concentrate more on how well it
works and its limitations. Know this about it: It will “do the
math” on many thousands of locations, relentlessly honing in
on the optimal location within parameters set by the user.
Room Optimizer randomly selects a starting spot within userdefined boundaries. This random starting point influences
Room Optimizer’s search for the optimal location. Once it has
a starting spot, it works around that location gradually refining the search. Different starting locations lead to different
final solutions. For this reason, it can and usually does come
up with different solutions when fed identical parameters.
Thus, it is worthwhile to spend some time at the computer,

letting Room Optimizer search out different solutions (just hit
“start” and go get a beer, or two).
Room Optimizer is concerned only with the low-frequency
characteristics of your room. Its search is based upon the frequencies from 20 Hz to 300 Hz. It is possible to set the high and
low points within that 20-300 Hz range. Thus, you may seek an
optimal location for a full-range speaker or a main speaker that
will be crossed over to a subwoofer. Similarly, you can set the
upper limit so that search is concerned only with the frequencies that will be covered by a subwoofer (e.g., 20-80 Hz). It is
not possible to set the upper limit below 80 Hz, if, for example,
you wanted to cross over your subwoofer at 40 Hz (the
crossover point I prefer when using full range main speakers).
Another limitation of Room Optimizer is that it assumes a
fairly rigid symmetrical room. Its formula includes an absorption coefficient for the surfaces that is comparable to the
amount of flex in the walls of my room. According to RPG’s
president Peter D’Antonio, at low frequencies most rooms are
essentially rectangular, so the assumption of a rectangular
room might not be as limiting as it first seems. If you don’t
take Room Optimizer’s results as gospel – how can you when
the same problem usually yields different results? – it can be
remarkably useful in finding a good (and close) starting spot
for placing full-range speakers.
I used Room Optimizer to find initial locations for the
Thiel MCS-1, Thiel CS 7.2, and Revel Salon loudspeakers in
two-channel configurations. In each instance, Room Optimizer got me within several inches on each axis of an excellent
location. From the suggested location, I used a variety of program material as I moved the speakers to and fro, listening to
the extension and smoothness of the bass as well as its blend
with higher frequencies. As I will discuss later in this series,

matching the performance of the two channels
as closely as possible is instrumental in attaining outstanding soundstaging performance.
Thus, symmetrical location within the room is
highly desirable. Room Optimizer automatically sets the speakers up in symmetrical locations.
When Room Optimizer generates a solution, it also identifies suggested locations on your walls and ceiling for diffusive
and absorptive materials. These are materials that RPG will
be more than happy to sell you, and the suggested locations
are rational and not just a clever cross-promotion for RPG
Here we set Room Optimizer aside, but do not leave it
behind. It will return in our discussions of subwoofer set-up
and, more importantly, surround speaker set-up. Beware: You
cannot use the software as a means of totally avoiding empirical experimentation in your speaker set-up. But if used to
substantially narrow your empirical search, Room Optimizer
is remarkably useful.

Revel Ultima Salon – Noble Warrior
At first blush, it isn’t apparent why any loudspeaker could be
thought of as a warrior in the battle against The Room. Rather,
it may seem more like a casualty of war. And yet the $14,200
Revel Ultima Salon is not only equipped to do battle, it is well
suited to the task.
The Salon is, in every sense of the word, a full-range loudspeaker. It can plumb the lower depths (way below 30 Hz)
with ease and reach dizzying heights of amplitude without
strain. Revel rates the Salon’s “in room response” (their measurement) as plus or minus 1 dB from 25 Hz to 18 kHz. I realize that response seems limited in the treble, but it is well

Diagram 2: Room Optimizer Frequency Responses

established now that dead flat 20 kHz treble
response in your room is an unpleasant experience. I’m not sure if that’s because 20 kHz flat
is just too much treble or too much distorted
treble. I find that treble distortions are the
most pernicious throughout the entire chain from recordings
to speakers. The Salon’s treble seems well balanced as a part
of the musical whole. I do, though, hear slight treble limitations within the highest harmonic structures of instruments.
But I wouldn’t want more treble extension if it meant that
I had to sacrifice even one other positive characteristic of the
Salon. The Salon seems almost uniquely well crafted to reproduce musical timbres. It has the best balance of tonality and
character of any speaker I have ever used. In this regard, it is
our noble warrior against the ancient enemy.
The Salon is a four-way design with crossover points at
125 Hz, 450 Hz, and 2.2 kHz. All crossovers are fourth order
Linkwitz-Riley. Three 8-inch mica/carbon-filled polymer dome
woofers handle the range below 125 Hz. These woofers are
said to extend the Salon’s bass response to a minus 10dB
point at 17 Hz. The midbass driver, which actually handles the
upper bass through lower midrange, is a 6.5-inch driver of the
same composition as the woofers. The midrange driver is a 4inch titanium dome. The Salon has two tweeters. One, which
is more robustly built of an aluminum alloy, fires forward
while the other fires back, to provide ambient fill in the higher frequencies. Except for the tweeters, the Salon drivers are
designed and made within the Harman International house
(likewise for the 15-inch woofer in the Sub-15).
The design brief for the drivers included the ability to handle high peak amplitudes without compression. This was necessary to achieve the Revel design team’s (led by Kevin
Voecks) objectives, since they wanted a speaker that would
not change tonal character on dynamic peaks.
Nearly every aspect of the Salon’s design and performance can be related to Revel’s primary objective – to produce a speaker as timbrally accurate in the listening room as
it is in the lab. To that end, Revel embarked on an extensive
research effort to quantify in-room speaker behavior and
incorporate its findings in its speaker designs. The typical listening room undermines many speaker designs, which boast
nonpareil frequency response when measured anechoically.
Typically, the upper bass and lower midrange are suppressed,
exaggerating the upper midrange and lower treble content. To
combat this, Revel developed a model of what a typical listening room does to a loudspeaker’s frequency response.
It is ironic how so many of the virtues we prize in sound –
midrange openness, soundstage depth, and detail resolution –
are exaggerated by the colorations created by the room-loudspeaker interface. Many might regard these characteristics as
indicators of “transparency,” since they artificially open up
the soundstage and highlight the transient details of images.
In this context, the Salon can come as a bit of a shock. It
sounds fuller than many other loudspeakers. Further, its
sound is more up front spatially (not timbrally) and it doesn’t
seem, at first listen, to resolve as much information. It doesn’t
take long, though, to realize that the Salon is telling a higher
truth. In contrast with most other speakers, it is capable of
rendering timbres that are more fully saturated. That is,
instrumental timbres sound more authoritative and more
complex. There is a legitimate weight to the sound of instruments through the Salon that is natural sounding and intoxi-

cating. Consider, for example, the ride cymbal front and center at the start of the Conspiracy Theory soundtrack [TVT
8130-2]. Through the Salons, it is possible to hear the sustained fundamental in the instrument’s metal while the sizzle
rides cleanly in the overtones. There is richness here that is
often missing, and yet the textural aspect of the instrument’s
timbre is not lost (as it would be with another rich sounding
type of component – the single-ended triode amplifier). I suspect that the Revel’s ability to project power into the room in
the lower midrange through upper bass is directly related to
its wonderful way with timbres. Don’t forget that this is the
region where most fundamentals reside. Reduce the strength
of the fundamentals and lower harmonics in a note and the
result will be washed out timbre.
There are a number of loudspeakers based on the legacy
of Allison’s work in room acoustics that reproduce timbre
much like the Revel. While I haven’t heard all of these, my
impression is that the Revel distinguishes itself by maintaining its tonal balance more evenly at all loudness levels. During major dynamic peaks, the Salons don’t compress nearly as
much as most speakers I have heard. Thus, their tonality
doesn’t change. Moreover, the treble distortion is truly minimal during such peaks – movie lovers will drop to their knees
to thank Revel.
Actually, mentioning the single-ended triode amplifier
makes me wonder – did music lovers turn to that flawed
device in an effort to restore the timbral richness that was
lost in their rooms by many loudspeakers? If so, the solidstate amplifier is going to experience a perception makeover
when paired with the Salon, because listeners will be able to
enjoy solid-state control with timbral accuracy. I have, with
a wide variety of solid-state amps (the BEL 1001 Mk IV, the
Proceed HPA 3, and the Conrad-Johnson Design MF-5600).
You will want to use a sizable solid-state amp with the Salon.
Its sensitivity is moderate at 86 dB with 2.83 volts input and
its minimum impedance is 3 ohms (nominal: 6 ohms). This
isn’t a hideous load, but a robustly designed solid-state
amplifier with low output impedance will pay dividends. Do
not assume, though, that the Salon is imposing a pleasantsounding distortion through the lower midrange that makes
these different amplifiers all sound alike – the Salon can differentiate the sound of amplifiers and source components
quite easily. In this respect it is a reviewer’s dream – revealing sound that is also a delight to hear.
When optimally set up, the Salons easily reached into
the 20 Hz region, producing clean bass information that I
could feel in my chest. It clearly delineated the plethora of
big instruments on Conspiracy Theory. The Salon sports a
bass control that allows the listener to reduce or boost the
bass in the region around 50 Hz. This proved helpful in my
room, as I was able to reduce the effect of the 50 Hz node
(take that! cursed Room).
Although the Salon’s balance through the lower and
middle frequencies seems to bring images forward, it still
produces a remarkable soundstage with stunning resolution
in the field of depth. This soundstaging performance is
unique among the direct-radiating dynamic-coil designs I
have experienced. Many direct radiators produce pinpoint
images within a smaller, sharply defined soundstage. In contrast, the presentation of dipole radiators is more open.
Dipole images, depending on the design, can range from
well-focused (though typically not as tightly focused as a

direct radiator) to bloated. The Salon’s soundstage combines the best attributes of both types. It has better image
specificity than most dipoles, though it doesn’t render pinpoint images. There is a natural sense of size and weight to
images generated by the Salon. The soundstage itself seems
huge and encompassing on material such as that recorded
by Keith Johnson for Reference Recordings.
While the Salon doesn’t produce that phony see-into-it
transparency, you can easily distinguish between instruments
in space – if you want to. But the separation isn’t tossed in your
face. Indeed, this is true of all aspects of this speaker. It’s all
there and you can listen to it, if you want to. But you’ll probably be too busy listening to the music.
What more could I want from
the Salon? For now, it doesn’t
resolve the pulsation you
hear from live instruments. I
say for now because I haven’t
yet had an opportunity to
apply basic acoustic treatments to the first-reflection
points in the room. The sensation I am discussing is subtle
and could easily be lost within
the ambient wash of an overly
live room. Because of room
issues not yet addressed, I suspect that I have only heard a fraction of this speaker’s potential. Nevertheless, it is already obvious that the Revel
Salon is the finest speaker I have ever used and
one of the best available at any price.

Revel Ultima Sub-15/LE-1
Subwoofer System – Bring ing in Reinforcements
If the Salon is so wonderful all alone, why
add the Sub-15 subwoofer (much less four of
them)? How ’bout: size matters. I used to
despise subwoofers, but home theater has infused
the old beasts with new vitality. More research has
been devoted to subwoofer design in the last few years than
in the preceding decades. As a High End kind of guy, I wouldn’t much care about all this subwoofer research if digital signal processing in controllers hadn’t made subwoofer
crossovers so much less audible and so much more flexible.
So, why add subwoofers to a state-of-the-art full-range
speaker? Removing the bottom octave from the Salon’s
duties frees up a good deal of power from the main amplifier. Deep bass sucks up more power than anything else does.
By shifting the bass load to the LE-1 power amplifier, the
main power amplifier can perform at a higher level. Likewise
for the Salon woofers. It all adds up to more dynamic range
without compression that distorts the sound. Finally, it is
possible to place subwoofers in other locations that will
smooth out the bass response of the whole system. With four
subwoofers, it should be possible to do an even better job of
balancing the bass. Using multiple subs also results in lower
distortion because each sub doesn’t have to output as much
sound as one alone would.
My description of the Salon might lead you to think that
the bass in my room was seamless and free of resonance. I

wish. Using a wide variety of recordings, I can
draw a map of the disaster area called the bottom three octaves. Don’t forget – this is war. I
mentioned the pronounced bump around 50
Hz. Listening to the bass guitar tracks on
Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach’s Painted From Memory
[Mercury 314538002-2] was like riding a roller coaster. All
bumps and dips and the bumps were ugly. Similarly, trying to
follow the bass synthesizer lines in Celine Dion’s “My Heart
Will Go On” from the Titanic soundtrack [Sony SK 63213], a
worthwhile test disc for bass performance, was an exercise
in frustration. Some notes overpowered the arrangement
while others were nearly inaudible. But I know you know
what I’m talking about because this condition exists in every
room. I don’t care how much you move your speakers around; the modes will get you every time. Over
time, you will probably accept all but the most pronounced perturbations in tonal uniformity.
I worked well nigh a month trying to find the best
location for those four subs. I started by using the
Room Optimizer and quickly discovered that its value
dropped with the frequency. The charts reflected the
problems I kept bouncing into, but the program didn’t
offer me any real solutions (possibly a user limitation –
I need more time to work with the program). The main
problem was that I could get deep bass and midbass
bloat, or a good midbass blend and no low bass. Ultimately, the four subwoofers ended up flanking
the Salons – one to each side of
both. This provided
the smoothest
blend with the
best extension,
but the response
below 30 Hz was
weak. Alert: This
was solely a room
It is worth working
this hard to get the bass right,
because if the lower octaves are
excessive, the midrange is clouded
by the bass resonances and perception of
the highest treble is warped. It can actually sound as if the treble is reduced in level, though that is not the case. Changing the
perceived tonal balance of a system this severely has a direct
correlation with the accuracy of timbre. Timbre for each instrument is created by a finely balanced group of unique frequencies
and is easily disturbed by the gross irregularities arising from
poor bass reproduction, whether it is the fault of the speaker or
the room.
Bass has a profound effect on our perception of the temporal aspects of music. I will acknowledge that a hi-fi cannot
change the beat of the music. But I just as steadfastly maintain that a system can alter our perception of the music’s
rhythms. Precision down through the bottom octave is essential to accurately define the beginning of a note. Smear that
moment and our perception of the moment and when it
occurs can change. Worse, if bass resonances get in the way
of the proper bloom and decay of a note, the transition from
one note to the next is smudged. Again, the points of reference in the music’s time are less clearly defined. Finally, musi-

cians often use emphasis in the intensity of
notes to build rhythmic structures within the
measures of the music – it’s one of the things
that separates artists from technicians. Bass
that won’t get out of the way (and other
distortions) mars the fine artistic emphasis applied by
the musician, denying us access to the performance’s
inner architecture.
Finally, the presence of deep bass, accurately reproduced,
informs our perception of the music’s physical presence. It not
only adds weight, but it defines the environment of the performance. Orchestral music, for example, is performed in
large venues that have observable modal characteristics only
at very low frequencies. These low modes allow us to hear the
size and volume of the space. It is an essential part of trying to
generate a realistic illusion of a live performance.
The $2,500 Revel Ultima Sub-15 is a stupendous subwoofer, when it is well integrated with your main speakers.
Each Sub-15 features a robust 15-inch driver in a compact cabinet that blends into your room easily. It offers very low distortion, with no audible doubling. If it is barnstorming in the

basement, it does so cleanly. Ultimately, I could play “The
Vikings” from Pomp and Pipes [Reference Recordings
RR–58CD] at lifelike volumes (94 dB peaks) without a hint of
strain in the Sub-15s. And the Sub-15 is clean enough to blend
seamlessly with the Salons, which means it should blend just
as well with any other speaker you choose, unless their characters are radically different.
Driving the Sub-15 was Revel’s $6,000 LE-1 amplifier/
crossover. Used with one Sub-15, the LE-1 will pump out 700
watts; with two Sub-15s the LE-1 will deliver 1,200 watts total.
I used two LE-1s with the four Sub-15s. But I didn’t use their
internal analog crossovers, having previously played with the
crossover and having not cared much for its effect on the highpass signal. Instead, I relied on the digital crossovers in the
Proceed AVP and Theta Casanova controllers. While I was
playing with subwoofer placement, the LE-1’s phase adjustment feature was invaluable. The blend with the Salons was
more transparent when the phase was adjusted just so and the
perception of the music’s timing improved. Both phase and
level can be adjusted by remote control from the comfort of
your chair.

Diagram 3: Tom Miiller’s All-Media Room

I have one minor sonic criticism of the Sub-15. Until the volume is advanced to higher levels, it doesn’t resolve the sensation of air moving in the recording venue. This is a sensation
that exists in the concert hall and I have heard it reproduced by
the Audio Artistry dipole subwoofers. The Sub-15 gets the
pitch, timbre, and timing of the music right, but the environment in which the music takes place is a shade to the dry side.
Consequently, it is more difficult to perceive the acoustic volume of the recording site. It will be interesting to explore how
room acoustic treatments effect this characteristic.

to prevail. How would the design prowess of
Revel fare outside the traditional realm of twochannels and could the SigTech triumph over a
fully activated room?
To Be Continued
Heartfelt appreciation to Robert E. Greene for his technical
contributions to this article. He is a gentleman and a schol ar, as generous with his knowledge as he is passionate about
the science of audio.

Battle Summary – Stand-off
I don’t pretend that all the work described above resulted in a
convincing victory over The Room. At this point, though, I was
close to a draw. The spectral balance of the room was delightful, even though I had minimal damping material on the walls
(just a 12 by 9-foot cotton canvas sheet over the area for the
video screen and a little more propped up in the rear corners).
Despite the great overall spectral balance, an excessive amount
of ambient splash remained in the room, limiting the loudness
levels that could be cleanly attained and smearing images and
information in the soundstage. The bass was better, especially
when listening to classical program material. But popular
music, especially Painted From Memory, wouldn’t let me forget that the fight for the lowlands was far from over.
I have two major offenses planned: acoustic treatment of
the first reflection points on the sidewalls and ceiling and the
use of advanced technology to address room-induced distortions. The former is to come first from Acoustic Innovations
and, later, from RPG. The latter arrived from Cambridge Signal Technologies just in time for a sneak peak.
The SigTech T1100 is one of the most important audio
products to reproduced sound since the introduction of electricity. The T1100 is a dedicated computer whose sole task is
to analyze the sound of your room in three domains (frequency, phase, and time). It then develops adaptive filters that
modify the signal and applies those filters to pre-correct the
signal to counteract room distortions. This is an extraordinarily advanced and sophisticated use of digital technology that
promises to mitigate room problems that were previously
As much as I had hoped for from the T1100, I was unprepared for the fundamental way it reshaped my aural experiences. First, using the T1100, the subwoofers blended seamlessly with the Salons and reached 20 Hz flat. The performance I extracted from the Salons and Sub-15, which is
described above, was fully attainable only with the SigTech.
Not that I would change a word about the Revels. The SigTech
confirmed the excellence of the Revels.
You will have to wait until Episode Two for a full report on
the T1100, but I will share this now: The changes it wrought
improved not just the tonality of the music, but the dynamics
and space as well. If you want to know more right now, dig
out your old copies of The Absolute Sound (Issues 113 and
109) and read Robert E. Greene’s comments on the SigTech.

Episode Two – A War On Two Fronts
With the arrival of the SigTech T1100, The Room was thrown
back on its heels. There was reason to hope for a convincing
victory. Before the day could be won, though, the war expanded to another front – the center (Revel Voice) and rear channels (Revel Embrace) – giving The Room more opportunities



8500 Balboa Boulevard
Northridge, California 91329
Phone: (818) 830-8777
Source: Manufacturer loan
Price: Salon – $14,200 ($15,500 as tested with high gloss
finish and rosewood panels); Sub-15 – $2,500;
LE-1 – $6,000
651-C Commerce Drive
Upper Malboro, Maryland 20774
Fax: (301) 249-3912
Price: Room Optimizer software program – $99
95 Fulkerson Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141
Phone: (617) 491-8890

Manufacturer’s Response
We thank Tom for his tremendous effort and vigilance in working to create a listening room that allows more meaningful critical listening . We are pleased that he found Room Optimizer
and our approach to its utilization to be useful. Through its use,
it becomes evident how inadequate simplistic dimensional
ratios are in the quest for optimum room design.
A couple of clarifications of points Tom made in the review
might be useful to the reader:
Dynamic compression does much more than rob the
music of dynamics during high-level peaks. We have found
that many High End speakers change in sound quality at perfectly normal loudness levels. The problem is greatly exacerbated by the use of first-order filter networks, smallish voice
coils, or less than optimum crossover points. We believe that
our efforts to combat dynamic compression pay off in
improved neutrality and realism. The lack of dynamic compression is an essential factor in achieving the even tonal bal ance to which Tom refers.
Tom’s listening room currently has bare, untreated walls.
A normally furnished or acoustically treated room yields very
different sound at high frequencies. Since Tom is planning to
treat his room, we look forward to his further comments
after he has installed room treatment in the next episode of
his saga.

LINN-AV5103 AKTIV Multi-Channel System
In Search of the Mythical Beast: I
he gleaming white livery of the Fed-X truck splintered
the morning calm with a fusillade of gravel against the
stone griffins sternly guarding the massive oak front
door. Upon the FedEx man’s announcement: “Two items,” the
door opened to reveal a man who might well be a stone Griffin himself, his face bearing a stern and raptor-like stare.
“What do they weigh?”
Looking down at his clipboard, the Fed-X man replied:
“800 pounds.”
“But that’s a third of a ton!”
The next morning saw the arrival of the Bull, who swiftly
moved the boxes to the music room.
Then on the third day came the Alchemist from Linn Products to spread layers of thick black cables, cardboard boxes,
black metal boxes, and wooden speaker boxes. This formed
an ultimate hi-fi horizon layer two feet deep over the entire 25’
by 18’ floor, but the tide had again receded by sunset that
evening. The first level of alchemy left the room pristine and
newly decorated with a four-foot tall rack of black metal
boxes and a perimeter of cherry veneered cabinets. The Linn
AV speakers were arranged variously on black metal stands
(the four principal channels served by the AKTIV Tukan), on
a television monitor (the Aktiv AV5120 center channel), and
on the floor (the AV5150 sub).
The cabinets of the Tukan speakers are a foot tall, a little
more than half as wide and deep. They sit upon open black
metal stands that raise the top of the loudspeakers to a height

high, 9.5 inches deep). The AV5150 subwoofer (26 inches high,
18.5 inches wide and deep), sits between the television and
one of the Tukans. A Quadraspire rack contains the five
AV5105 power amplifiers, the AV5103 system controller, and
on the top two shelves, the Linn Karik CD player and Numerik
digital-to-analog converter. The shelves are finished in cherry
veneer to match the loudspeaker cabinets.
The price of systems based around the 5103 controller
starts at $18,815; the system I am testing costs $27,170. This
reflects the 11 channels of amplification provided to separately
power each driver or pair of drivers, in the case of the center
speaker and subwoofer. With the addition of better Linn components, it is possible to drive the system cost to $145,680.
The fourth day was set aside for musical refinement. The
Alchemist was pushing buttons on a remote control, watching
as messages appeared on the control unit and simultaneously
on the monitor. He listened to the hiss (pink noise) emitted by
each loudspeaker in turn, measuring the distance between
each loudspeaker and the listening position, adjusting the loudspeaker stands, moving them a half inch at a time. At one point,
he added a cellular telephone to his juggling, speaking rapidly
into the mouthpiece as he set white words to flash across the
screens and listened to the loudspeakers hiss as he moved
them to and fro.
In the middle of the fourth day, music appeared whole and
viscerally present, as first the Alchemist then I sat on a chair
placed at the focus of the equipment. The cherry cabinets with

of three feet. At the front of the room, a television monitor is
centrally placed between the two loudspeakers on stands, and
it is surmounted by the Aktiv AV5120 center loudspeaker (2 feet wide, 7 inches

their eyes one above the other gazed upon us as frantic messages in computeiform script scrolled over the blank displays.
A new cycle began. After much
searching and deep consideration, a disc


was withdrawn from its shell and consigned to its whirring
drawer mechanism. Messages darted again over the screens,
followed by music that materialized throughout the room, a
large gentle beast trembling the wooden floor, stalking along
the walls, palpating the window panes.

In the Company of the Beast
I am listening as I write this to the latest release on the Water
Lily Acoustics label, entitled Fascinoma, a virtuoso vehicle
for trumpeter Jon Hassell in collaboration with Ry Cooder,
Ronu Majumdar on flute, and Jacky Terrasson on piano. A
point of special interest is that before developing his Fourth
World style, Hassel worked with Stockhausen and thereby
acquired the technique and aesthetics of electro-acoustic
composition. He now routinely incorporates loops and samples into his music as an accompanying ground bass.
On track 3, the entry of the synthesized percussion loops
explodes into the room with the intensity of a seismic tremor
over which Hassel floats the gossamer threads of his muted
trumpet tone like an impressionistic Milky Way serenely arching over a landscape in turmoil. The bass energy in this
recording is remarkable, but it demands a great deal of the
system to faithfully reproduce this together with the accompanying delicate and discrete strands of musical information.
If the system can cope, the assembled illuminati weave a
tapestry of surpassing richness within the ample acoustic of the
stone chapel in Santa Barbara, California, in which Kavi
Alexander has made so many remarkable recordings. So wide
is the dynamic range of this recording that the demand for the
system not to sound strained at climaxes becomes paramount.
The recording chain used by this label is unsurpassed in
rendering instrumental timbres naturally, and this will require
commensurate performance from the reproduction chain. If
there is any tonal imbalance in the system, this recording will
quickly expose it. With the Linn system, there was no such
problem, and the cavernous acoustic was rendered with tactile presence while the music was woven in its supportive
embrace. But this degree of performance did not materialize
overnight, and before we achieved this resolution we were to
undertake the voyage of discovery that I have set down here.
Because there are so many aspects to the installation of
such a comprehensive surround-sound system, this review
will extend into the next issue, wherein we shall evaluate the
performance in other respects, most notably film sound.

The Quest Begins
Characterizing Linn’s advance man as the Alchemist is more
than just a writer’s device. Linn is an atypical audio company
that will purposely not regale you with design parameters and
specifications. Their typical response when asked about any
aspect of their products’ performance is “enough.” They will
perform the magic that brings the mythical beast of entertainment to your home. That is not your concern. The Linn dealer
will play the role of Alchemist for every purchaser of a Linn
system. You need only sit back and be awed.
In keeping with that company philosophy, the Linn
AV5103/Tukan system delivered to me came without manuals
that would disclose its innermost workings. Linn did not feel
that I needed to know how this particular trick was performed or how that rabbit got in the hat. But magazine writers (and editors) are compelled to pull back the curtain of
magic and witness the act itself. For this article, we will sit

back and watch the show. In the next issue,
though, we want to work the controls.
The sound of the Linn system has mutated
through three distinct phases to date: When
first set up, the sound was, in my room, a blizzard of razor blades – a room problem, for my walls are plastered. There is very little diffusion, and a handclap produces
a ring at the top of the room, near the ceiling. This has not prevented the room from working well with most speakers, especially the Quad 63s with their tightly focussed treble radiation
patterns. The Linn tweeters are, I suspect, more generous in
the breadth of their polar dispersion patterns.
Purists of sound arcana always begin by aligning sound
radiators to achieve a solid mono image within the room,
and so did we. This process was aided in great part by “party
mode” – a multiple mono mode invoked by the surround
options button. Switching then into stereo mode revealed a
surprisingly deep stage. The bass frequencies, though, were
too much of a good thing, even when the controller
crossover sending the main signal to the Tukans was configured as “small,” resulting in a low-frequency roll off beginning at 60 Hz. This bass heaviness had a rubbery quality, a
looseness or slight slowness of response that added a dragging beat to the music.
I suspect that this first set-up had located the drivers
within existing room modes. The AV5103 controller, for its
high price, has a limited bass-management system, but it
may be possible for Linn to add more options for tailoring
this range within the installer menus, which are normally
invisible to the user. It appears that the only bass management provided is the turnover point for the main speakers, a
selection between ”small” and “large.” This is not a major
limitation in a closed system such as the Linn. Bear in mind
also that the system had at this point been working for only
one day, and all the speaker suspensions were unused!
Our next step was to tilt the cabinets slightly backward.
Now transients acquired substance as the midrange frequencies aligned better with the treble. Next the speakers were
turned out to fire parallel along the long axis of the room,
then toed in toward the center just enough to attenuate the
side-wall reflections. In this position, the room ceased to
negatively dominate the treble presentation, and now it was
possible to relax into the sound. The predominant characteristic of the sound at this second stage was clarity, reflecting correct time alignment of the principal stereo pair within the room acoustic.
Integration of the subwoofer was impeded by the heavy
bass response, which may at this stage have resulted from a
low-frequency mode of the room. Whatever the cause, the sub
had to be integrated with this anomaly, resulting in a dragging
bass with a slow decay.
At this point the Alchemist felt the results were more
than acceptable for running in the system before his second
visit a month later. There’s more to this saga, but that must
wait until the third phase, set-up for film sound, which
brought about a new level of performance with both music
and film recordings.
For now, the sound had acquired a clear and muscular
characteristic. Everything was imbued with a dynamic sound;
orchestras filled the room with massive wavefronts, while
Massive Attack turned the room into a massive vibrator at low
frequencies. Piano benefited especially, reminding me yet

again that this instrument was the first attempt
at a full-range home music center, a range
rarely captured or replicated by electronic
devices today.
All systems are biased in some way, and
the three principal biases are toward time coherence, phase
coherence, or tonal production. It is not possible to have all
three unless you also factor in the room, which acts as a filter
affecting all three. This Tukan-configured system seems to me
biased toward temporal alignment, as a result of which its
dynamic capabilities are enhanced. I would like to hear more
of the subtler textures of the tonal range, and so would you, if
you’d spent 15 years listening to Quads and BBC monitors.
For voice intelligibility, this dynamic bias has much to recommend it; I was able to follow unfamiliar Sullivan (The Rose of
Persia) with surgical precision.
Controlling the dynamic qualities of this system requires
discretion, but this is encouraged by the system’s ability to
disentangle and relax the sound sources across the full width
of the stage when so adjusted. The soundfield projected is
also surprisingly stable when heard at some distance from the
focal point of the loudspeaker array, a very refreshing change
for those who dislike being confined to the sweet spot.

Working the Environment
It seems to me that the THX concept is good for the rooms in
which we listen to films, for it mandates an observational frequency response at the listening position. In other words, the
response of the system at the listening position is measured
and guaranteed to meet specifications laid down and used for
mixing guidelines on sound stages, ensuring that the mix heard
in the cinema or your room will bear some resemblance to
what the mix engineer intended! This is something that no supplier of music reproduction equipment has dared to offer in the
past. This, however, merely addresses tonality. To arrive at the
best solution, we must also have control of time and phase.
These factors are routinely addressed in live, amplified
concerts, following pioneering efforts spurred by the giant
concerts of the Seventies, which necessitated time alignment
of their public-address towers to achieve a single pulse
response over the full audience area. That technology is now
used to improve the acoustic performance of sound stages
and recording studios, where at least a smooth response is a
Now it’s time to take that mature technology and apply it to
the domestic environment. Our controllers already include digital-signal processing to achieve stadium effects; the next ingredient is the processing algorithm that optimizes the response
from the loudspeaker-room interface. The hot contender here
is SigTech T1100, which, to date, is the only device that corrects
for non-uniformity in tonality, time, and phase (see the Revel
review, this issue). In a perfect world, its proprietary algorithms
would become a de facto system licensed to other manufacturers. Regardless of who does it first, all controller brands will be
galvanized into action by the first one to use a microphone to
optimize the signal for any room.
The Linn AV5103 controller incorporates a PC port on the
rear panel, and I assume this will be used to update the host
software. The larger point is that the system uses a separate
channel of amplification for each driver, and its dynamic
capabilities reflect that. It is implicit in such a system that
there is a crossover filter upstream of each amplifier. For

now, the crossover functions (except for the bass management) are performed in plug-in modules that are installed in
the AV5105 amplifiers. It would be much better to move the
crossovers even further upstream, to the DSP engine where it
can be performed elegantly in the digital domain.
This system cries out for a finer control of the tonal qualities of the room response. Absent DSP correction, we will
see how these qualities can be further optimized by moving
the acoustic sources within the room in the next article,
wherein we devote ourselves to extracting maximum temporal synchronization from the system.

The Remote Interface
I’ll look at two levels of the interface, the customer’s and the
installer’s. First, the customer interface is kept simple by linking video and audio bus switching to the source controls, so
all the customer has to remember is to switch the system on
from standby, and then hit a source button if the system is
addressed to the wrong source.
The remote control itself is built upon a cast metal chassis resembling a footprint in plan, a rather weighty slab that
tapers from three inches in width to two and a quarter inches
to provide a hand grip. The area of the control pad is divided
into four zones, one at front left for controlling the Linn 5103,
another at front right for the source transport controls
invoked by the source selector zone keys, which occupy the
center of the remote. There is also a number pad zone on the
heel of the remote. Altogether a very good piece of industrial
design modeling after the Brancusi school, though perhaps
not the best choice for those with small or arthritic hands.
One quirk the user must get used to is the slight delay built
into the response of the 5103 processor before visual feedback confirms receipt of the signal. Perhaps this is where
some more instant feedback might be given, even something
as simple as a repeater LED within the display area. This
would also encourage use of the system without video monitoring for those of such disposition. The manual makes a good
case for this delay; it enables a short-press option for controlling sources other than those currently selected without disturbing the video and audio images you are currently following. In other words, if you tap the relevant keys quickly, you
can cue up a CD and route it to a CDR and make a recording
without having to stop following the currently selected program. But sans audible or visual feedback, I was more likely
to start repeatedly pressing the source key until the confirming caption appeared.
Switching on the system from standby compounds this
problem. Unless your video display is on, you know that the
system has received the command only via a rearrangement
of the typography of the Linn 5103 caption, from one line of
type to two, on the display, which is rather dimly lit to start
with. If you have been successful in switching the system on,
you can confirm this by pressing a source key, but there’s a
slight delay.
The remote worked well as a universal remote, soaking
up all the functions of the other remotes with the notable
exception of the one that operates the cable television box –
surely one of the most commonly found remote-control systems in America?
The interface itself needs a little more memory to allow
tagging of soundfield settings to sources. This happens with
AC3 decoding, as confirmed by the caption “As mix” that

appears on the displays when the “surround” button is
pressed while playing an AC3-encoded source. Also useful
would be a last-source-selected memory. Now if you play a
disc and adjust one of the speaker level controls, then hit
“Play” to start the track again, you will discover you have to
press the relevant source button before regaining use of the
transport controls.

Summing Up
The Linn system offers advantages insofar as it is a turnkey
system, and anybody who buys one will be able to leave to the
dealer all the tedious installation details of running cable,
positioning loudspeakers, finding a home for the components,
and initializing the system controller to accept the source
components and direct their signals through the appropriate
processing functions to the related amplifiers and thence to
the speakers.
Linn also is known to have built its reputation on playing
the tune. This refers to its superimposition of one cardinal
rule upon all the flashing lights that surround audio: The
music comes first, and it don’t mean a thing if it don’t play the
tune. If your toes ain’t tapping and your hands ain’t clapping,
if your head ain’t bobbing and your guitar ain’t throbbing –
well, what’s the point?
This strikes at a schism between tonal quality and imaging
that divided the field of home music reproduction following
the advent of stereo. When you put two loudspeakers into a
room, you set up comb-filter effects that add and subtract
from the recorded sound in unpredictable ways. When you
put, as in this case, six sound sources into a room, you are far
better placed to control the room modes that render most
stereo a weak sister to mono – provided you are given the
tools for the job!
I hope Linn acquires a digital equalizer interface to refine
the tonal consequences of all that power (1,200 watts total),

power that should be even more nimbly
applied using the new generation of Linn
amplifiers as these incorporate switching
power supplies.
I asked Linn to supply a system of minimal
bulk, as I suspect this will be the choice of most people contemplating the addition of such a system to a room of modest
dimensions that will probably have to serve multiple uses. As
a consequence, the smallest loudspeakers in the range, the
Tukans, were supplied. They did not betray any power handling problems despite the use of live piano recital levels.
In the next installment, we’ll experience the full power of
the Linn illusion, applied to music and movies. And we’ll take
a much closer look at how it all works.



4540 Southside Boulevard, Suite 402
Jacksonville, Florida 32216
Tel: (904) 645-5242
Source: Manufacturer loan
5103 System Controller: $8,495
5150 Bass Reinforcement Loudspeaker:
$4,195 ($4,395 in cherry)
5105 amplifier for front left and right: $3,590 each
5105 amplifier for center: $3,590
5105 amplifier for rear left and right: $3,590 each
Aktiv 5120 Tukan loudspeaker: $2,490 each;
$2,590 each in cherry
Aktiv 5120: $1,220 ($1,440 in cherry)
Karik CD Player: $3,595
Numerik D-A Converter: $2,595

NAD T770 Audio-Video Receiver
Just the Basics, Done Well
n 1976 the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier hit the North
American shores and changed performance expectations
for less expensive audio forever. While competitors
stretched the limits of inanity with bells and whistles, NAD
(New Acoustic Dimension) concentrated on the basics of
clean sound: short signal paths; bulletproof power supplies
and conservative power ratings. NAD succeeded by appealing
to what audiophiles like most – less. Though nearly 25 years
have passed since that first NAD arrived, the new $1,700 T770
Audio-Video Receiver hasn’t turned its back on its roots.
If you are looking for adrenaline-pumped features like
Cinema EQ or compression levels or 1,001 surround modes
from the Sistine Chapel to Abbey Road Studios, then you’ll be
missing the point of the T770. NAD’s philosophy is to give you
what you need to listen to music or watch movies by providing the best engineering and components
at the price point. Features that they


believe will not contribute to this experience or might subtract from performance are canned. Like the High End audio
market, NAD is taking the purist approach. Here’s an example: Many AVRs automatically take a stereo analog signal and
process it through an inferior analog-to-digital converter and
back out through a D-to-A. NAD leaves the signal undisturbed
in the analog domain. The simpler and purer path.
The Model T770 is a five-channel, 70 watts per channel
into 8 ohms surround sound receiver that incorporates an
integrated Dolby Digital decoder. It provides a 5.1 input for
the addition of an external decoder, allowing the user to
expand to another surround sound format such as DTS. For
two-channel listening with surround enhancements, the T770
provides EARS (Enhanced Ambient Recovery System). Three
digital inputs are provided, including RCA coaxial, TosLink
optical and an input with an integrated
RF demodulator for laserdisc players


that are DD compatible. There are preamp
outs for all five channels. Build quality in general seems up to NAD’s usual fine standards.
Also included are the NAD Link jacks, which
allow other NAD components (with NAD Link)
that are not remote controlled to be driven via the T770’s controller. Very clever if one intends to stay within the NAD family. But since the remote is not of the learning variety, the user
is penalized if he chooses to consider a competitor’s offerings.
Once I managed to hook up the Sound Dynamics RTS-3
Surround Speaker system and my Pioneer 414 DVD player,
making friends with the T770’s remote control was the next
important step. It is well organized and allows thicker fingers
some room to negotiate the keypad. And the infrared end is
angled slightly so users know how to orient the remote when
they grasp it in the dark. (A lighted keypad would have been
better.) The OSD has the requisite multiple layers. Its graphics
are concise and the critical surround set-up mode is easy to
access. The T770 circuitry will adjust the delay characteristics
of the surround system based upon the distances of the five
speakers. Then with an SPL meter (not included), it’s easy to
calibrate 5.1 speaker levels via the T770’s test tone.
For apartment dwellers, the “Late Night” feature is especially welcome for those soundtracks with lease-busting explosive effects. Since it’s a compressor, it limits the dynamic range
of the audio portion. That is, the extremes of loudness will be
drawn closer together. Explosions will not be as loud, while
soft dialog will not be as quiet. This allows the user to turn the
overall volume down and still not miss important moments – a
boon for some elderly videophiles as well.
Bass management is downright basic. With a Dolby Digital source, the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) option in the
OSD’s (On Screen Display) level calibration menu permits an
attenuation of 10 dB; take it or leave it. Using this in conjunction with the Late Night feature, you can listen at reasonable
overall levels. Still, it does not have the flexibility of a THX
crossover, which allows you the option of mixing sub-80 Hz
bass information with the LFE and redirecting it to the subwoofer – an effective way to reduce the work load and open
up dynamics on smaller speakers.

The Sound
At 70 watts into five channels, the T770 is not a real
stump puller and speaker matching should be carefully
evaluated for sensitivity and impedance. But that said,
running the T770 as a two-channel integrated amplifier
into either the Joseph Audio RM-22 or the slightly larger
Meadowlark Shearwater loudspeakers 2 reveals a pleasing, smooth sonic character. The T770 understands the
all-important midrange. It’s not aggressive in the highs
and that area in the upper mids between 2-3 kHz is full. In
my book, the midrange is the sweetspot and the NAD
really connects. Vocals, male and female, are rich and
continuous. Soundstaging is wide and fairly deep, but
imaging is not as precise as some dedicated two-channel
rigs I’ve heard. The image specificity on tracks like Roy
Gaines’ “Stormy Monday” [I’ve Got the T-Bone Wa l k e r
B l u e s; Groove Note, GRV-2002-2] is a little swimmy. It
1 NAD points out that EARS is left-minus-right channel ambient processing, incorporating no re verb.
2 86 dB & 88 dB sensitive respectively.

just doesn’t have the snappy focus that this cut can have.
Pitted against the 150wpc Plinius 8150, my reference integrated amplifier, the T770 sounds slightly dry. Bass is not
quite as rich and extended. But neither is it muddy or illdefined. It’s just a little rolled off.
The heart of the T770 is its competence in decoding Dolby
Digital soundtracks. Intelligibility of dialog is paramount not
only to understanding but to conveying nuance and atmosphere. One of the easiest ways to test for this is to find soundtracks where narration occurs. The Tennessee Mountain narration of actor Jeff Jeffcoat in the charming and overlooked
film The Education of Little Tree [Richard Friedenberg, director; Paramount Home Video LV336143] is a prime example of
how a few well-chosen words can whisk the movie-goer into
a different time and place. The warm, non-aggressive
midrange character of this voice sounded remarkably similar
to the theatrical presentation I attended at the state of the art
Academy Theater in Los Angeles. And when you listen to the
West Virginia drawl of Levon Helm from The Right Stuff
[Philip Kaufman, director; Warner Bros. 20027] through the
T770, you not only catch every inflection with clarity and
smoothness, you can almost smell that stick of Beemans gum
he just started chewing.
The sound design of the film Elizabeth gave the NAD’s
decoder a thorough workout in retrieving ambience via – of
all things – footsteps! The movie’s interiors are set primarily
in medieval castles and churches. These large vaulted expanses have huge reverberant fields with delay characteristics bordering on echo chamber. Throughout the movie, characters
are shown in medium and long shots walking through these
cavernous spaces, sometimes from above, other times at eye
level. The NAD demonstrated exemplary steering combined
with fast transient attack by not only localizing approaching
and departing footfalls from LCRs into the surrounds then
back again, but by taking those footfalls and their accompanying reverberations and shifting them spatially to another
combination of speakers as the camera set-up shifted. Each
camera position yields a similar but distinctive spatial perspective. A thunderstorm sequence during chapter eight
reveals the T770’s ability to place powerful cues deep in the
background, an auditory illusion that appeared to be occurring well behind the LCR speakers.
For spatial resolution I use the “Raindrops Keep Falling
on my Head” Test. In this case directly overhead. The DVD of
Das Boot, The Director’s Cut [Wolfgang Peterson, director;
Columbia-Tristar 22219] has some of the finest, most immersive sound effects I’ve experienced in a movie soundtrack –
the metallic clatter of the diesel engines in the background,
the occasional groan of the boat’s hull as it descends deeper
than it was ever engineered to go. The sound designers
implanted a living, breathing soul within the vessel and her
fate is very nearly as poignant as that of the submariners she
carries. You can close your eyes and almost smell the mildew
hanging in the stale air. And feel the panic as claustrophobia
takes hold. The “Raindrops” test occurs late in the film, with
the U-boat crippled on the sea floor near the Straits of Gibraltar. Pipes have burst from the pressure on the bulkheads and
the sounds of discrete leaks are plopping in all channels.
These sounds were clean and startlingly lifelike. But there is
one specific leak that consistently dropped right down my
back, courtesy of the NAD T770 system. And it appeared to be
coming from my ceiling! This immediacy was not accom-

plished with gain biasing to the surround channels, either. I
set up the speakers fair and square. But clearly, the T770’s
steering in DD mode is precise and smooth.
Finally users are going to have to decide for themselves
which features they can and can’t live without. At its suggested
list price, the T770 faces some stiff competition from AVRs with
higher stated power ratings and prodigious features. Now I’m
not a big bells and whistles fan. If I want to drive fast, give me
direct input of a gated manual five speed from any era Ferrari,
not the “fly by wire” computer electronics of a clutchless Tiptronic. The same goes for audio and video. I want to see and hear
the unadulterated material reproduced as intended. A great
many poseurs impress with their sizzle. But as single-chassis
designs go, the NAD T770 is all steak.

Manufactu rer


6 Merchant St.
Sharon, Massachusetts 02067
Tel: (781) 784-8586; fax: (781) 784-8386
Source: Manufacturer loan
Price: $1,699

Manufacturer’s Response
NAD would like to thank Neil Gader for his
thoughtful review of the T770 receiver.
One point I would like to elaborate on is his
assertion that speaker sensitivity and impedance should be
carefully evaluated for compatibility with the T770’s 70-watt x
5 power rating. While he is correct in the absolute sense, the
T770 incorporates an exclusive NAD amplifier design, impedance-sensing circuitry, which endows the NAD with the ability
to properly drive 4-ohm speakers by maintaining the correct
relationship between voltage and current irrespective of the
loudspeaker being driven. This is accomplished automatically,
requiring no adjustments from the listener. The T770 is stable
even at 2 ohms!
As Neil mentions in his opening paragraph, we rate our power
for A-V products the same way we rate our stereo amplifiers,
that is, all channels driven simultaneously, 10 Hz – 20 kHz, at
0.08 percent THD. Most manufacturers would have rated the
T770 at 100 x 2, 20 Hz – 20 kHz at 0.08 percent THD and 100 x
5 at 1 kHz. We believe our conservative approach is more in
keeping with our “music first” approach to A-V products.

Manufacturer’s Corner
e are grateful to manufacturers
for correcting any errors of fact
in our reviews. When we can,
we also include the manufacturer’s com ments following a review. But sometimes
space does not allow us to do that and
this section gives us the opportunity to
include a cogent comment while the sub ject is ripe, rather than holding it over for
inclusion in another issue.


RPG Diffuser Systems,
Inc., Room Optimizer
I’d like to commend Tom Miiller for tackling a very challenging task (“Revel Ultima Speaker System Episode One: The
Ancient Enemy,” this issue). Episode
One is a wonderful attempt to raise the
awareness of our community to the
acoustical distortions a room can introduce. RPG has been conducting room
acoustics research for 16 years, sharing
our results with the acoustical and entertainment industries through peer review
publications, seminars at CEDIA, NSCA,
the Audio Engineering Society, and the
Acoustical Society of America. Over
time, it became apparent that despite
the progress we have made in roomacoustic design, sound diffusion, and
absorption technology, recording studios
and residential hi-fi and home-theater
communities were still at the mercy of
the location of the loudspeakers and the
listener. In researching existing programs to assist in these two areas, we

found that the solution lay in a new
approach that simultaneously addressed
modal coupling and speaker-boundary
interference response (SBIR), the two
causes of low-frequency acoustic distortion. A technical description of this new
algorithm was presented at the AES and
a copy can be down-loaded from our
website (www. One can
address this problem using wave
acoustics, called the frequency-overlap
method, or by geometrical acoustics,
using the image model. Both approaches
are difficult to apply. The rectangular
room offers a unique case in which both
resolve into simple and identical solutions. The image model, however, is the
default solution, since it is time-based
and can be windowed to provide the
SBIR and modal responses. The issues
are how to deal with the SBIR and modal
coupling simultaneously and how to
search the millions of possible solutions
for the best one. Simultaneous treatment of SBIR and modal coupling was
easily addressed by using the weighted
smoothness (standard deviation) of both
responses, and an intelligent search
engine (downhill simplex, in this version)
was used to search through error space
for the best answer. One thing to keep in
mind is that this type of problem
requires optimization of many variables
at one time. This type of problem contains the possibility of false solutions.
The goal is to find the global minimum.

The starting point always affects the
solutions, so the program allows for the
evaluation of many random sta r t i n g
points. Each solution is valid and users
should choose the solution that has the
smallest error and the best ergonomic
placement. Once loudspeaker and listener positions are established, the program indicates optimum positions on
walls and ceiling for absorptive and diffusive materials to control the mid-high
frequency portion of spectrum. It is
important, though, to remember that the
objective is envelopment in the A-V
experience, and this cannot be accomplished by sound absorption alone. The
acoustical palette consists of absorption,
reflection, and diffusion. The best room
can be achieved by an appropriate combination of these. Deader is not better!
While users are generally astonished
at the difference proper placement can
provide, some tweak the positions the
program generates. The program will find
the locations that generate the best room
response within its stated assumptions.
While a flat room response may be mathematically preferable, listeners have different hearing acuit y, musical tastes, and
musical training. So let the Room Optimizer get you close, then tweak to taste.
We are committed to expanding and
improving the Room Optimizer, and
users’ comments are welcome.

M U S I C



I Want My DVD!
Major Labels’ Plans for Classical Music on DVD

f you’re looking for DVD movies at the Lincoln Center Tower Records in New York, there’s no problem: Just head down the escalator
and there they are – banks and banks
of them. Classical music video on
DVD is something else. Those are
buried deep in the classical department upstairs, in their own small
rack in the opera room. Small is the
operative word. On a recent visit,
there were only 23 titles available.
DVD may be the fastest adopted new medium to come down the
pike. Just ask the folks who are promoting it: Statistics from the DVD Video
Group, an industry nonprofit aimed at



getting consumers to sign on to the
format, tells us that two years after
the introduction of the VCR, there
were 877,000 of them
out there. Now, two
years after the introduction of the DVD
player, there are two
million, to say nothing of the 16 million
DVD drives that are
supposed to be in
home computers by
the end of the year.
But if you like watching
classical concerts and operas

in a home theater, don’t toss that VCR or
laserdisc player just yet. Ken Crane’s, a DVD
consumer sales website address, a subsidiary
of Image Entertainment, and one of the medium’s distributors and licensees, lists 3,759
titles (everything from pornography to operas from Milan’s
La Scala opera house) and climbing. Of the 325 music titles,
41 are classical music, 21 more are opera. DVD Express,
another dedicated internet site, offers 55 titles under “Classical Music”; some of the titles listed on both sites are not
yet available (though scheduled to be released in the next
few months). Nominally (read: dubiously) classical events
such as “The Three Tenors” and performances by Andrea
Boccelli were, naturally, the first to appear. But what
about the opportunity to have some fabulous opera productions with DVD’s high definition image? Pickings are
still slim. “Opera tends to be a year behind – that’s how it
was for VHS,” says Paul Gruber, author of The Metropoli tan Opera Guide to Opera on Video and executive director for program development at the Metropolitan Opera
Guild, which sells such products through the Met By Mail.
No one disputes the usefulness of the format for classical programs – the ability to choose tracks without the
constant rewinding and fast-forwarding of video is only
one of the more practical advantages. Still, most of the
major classical labels are hedging their bets. Universal
Classics, the company formerly known as Polygram, comprising the classical labels London (Decca), Philips, and
Deutsche Grammophon, has nothing yet to say about how
much or how little of their vast back catalog of opera and
concert video will make it into DVD in the US. (Polygram
Japan, however, has released a 25-opera set on DVD – subtitled in Japanese and the original language, so probably
not destined for the US market.) EMI Classics has nothing
to say yet either.
Pioneer, which put out laserdisc versions of a number of
the Metropolitan Opera productions, did leap into the fray
with two DVDs of popular operas from the Met – a 1982 La
Bohème and a 1985 Tosca plus the 1983 Centennial Gala. The
Met, however, found some flaws, and all three titles have been
recalled for audio remixing. Over at Lincoln Center, caution
now prevails. One other Met opera, a little-known work by
Zandonai, Francesca da Rimini, a particularly lavish production, is out on Pioneer in DVD, and two more are in the
pipeline. Choices available so far from other houses are not
exactly greatest hits: for example, Verdi’s early work Attila
(see review) from La Scala; Janàcek’s
The Cunning Little
Vixen from Chatelet.
Some major labels do admit to be grappling with the question. Sony Classical has brought out six titles; five more,
including one new program, a teenage wundersinger from
England, Charlotte Church: Voice of an Angel in Concert, are
in the plans. Most of the Sony titles are old Herbert von Karajan performances – the Great Stone Face conductor (see
review) up close and personal. Only one, planned for next
spring, is an opera – Karajan conducting a 1987 Vienna performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Samuel Ramey.
Leslie C. Cohen, vice president, business development at
Sony Music, is decidedly bullish on the potential of DVD and
is jubilant at the demise of Circuit City’s DIVX competitor.
“Sony Music supports DVD. Each of our labels [Columbia,
Epic, etc.] has had it from the beginning, and there are now 34

music titles out,” she says. “With three to five titles a year,
Sony Classical has done slightly less than some of the other
labels, but is keeping pace proportionately with the number of
releases. We’re also working toward simultaneous release of
VHS and DVD programs.”

There are two million DVD
players in our homes today.
But if you like watching
classical concerts and operas
on home theater, don’t toss
your VCR and laserdisc players
just yet.
It’s not surprising that Sony, with its hardware division, supports the new format. Cohen also cites its wider
entertainment potential. “There’s an entire market of DVDROM players to be satisfied,” she says. “There are only a
handful of titles available. People are traveling with their
computers, and the DVD gives them flexibility. We can also
do web links with DVD – with a new title from an artist, we
could add a link to their web site, so that fans can keep
current.” (It would also naturally give the company the
opportunity to sell fans its other recordings by that artist.)
All new Sony projects are being evaluated as to their VHS
and DVD potential. Will the day come when DVD replaces
VHS? “Not in the immediate future,” says Cohen. “But DVD
has been adopted more quickly than either VHS or CD. If it
keeps going, the whole market may change.”
An added feature of the Sony DVDs with Karajan is the
addition of surround sound, familiar to moviegoers – that
airplane taking off from the back of the theater and flying
over your head – but new to classical video. According to
David Kawakami, a director in Sony Corporate strategy
and a developer of DVD, the medium can support surround sound in the compressed audio formats of Dolby
AC-3 (Dolby Digital), as well as newer formats, DTS (Digital Theater Sound) and SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital
Sound). “They all allow 5.1 channels of audio, compressed
so they can fit on the disc with the video,” Kawakami
says. “The quality is good, though below the quality of CD.
Psychoacoustically, we are able to elicit perceptually
good quality, though if you turn off the picture and concentrate on the sound, people have commented that the
audio falls short of what we’re used to hearing.”
Richard King, engineer on the Karajan discs, agrees.
“No one is super-happy with the audio on the DVD. When
you compress it, you don’t get everything back.” He says
that Sony is working on the new Super-Audio CD technolo g y, which, when combined with compressed video,
should give a better result. There is room to combine
uncompressed stereo with DVD, but the 5.1 channels for
surround sound take up too much space.
By adding surround sound in a music program, the producer’s goal is “to recreate the ambiance of the actual hall,”

Kawakami says. “The greater number of
channels is useful in directing that enveloping ambient sound.” Kawakami says that
producers are more conservative with the
surround sound on classical than they are
with pop. “Few orchestras or classical producers want to
take liberties – they’re not going to have the instruments
coming from behind you. They’re trying to recreate the feeling of sitting in the hall, in the best possible seat, with a
wide and deep soundstage, with the instruments placed
accurately. Coming from behind would be reflections of
sound, and sounds from the audience, so it feels like a hall.”
Steven Epstein, who produced the DVD Karajan recordings, went back to the original multi-track recordings. “The
1987 New Year’s Concert had pick-up mikes hanging in the
audience,” he says. “We fed that information to the rear
channels, added a little reverb to glue the perspective from
front to rear, and added a slight delay to get more of a sense
of distance from the front to the rear, which enabled us to
achieve a realistic surround sound. The Beethoven Ninth
was recorded without ambient mikes, so we used information from the main mikes as well as the spot mikes in the
orchestra. First we remixed the stereo, and brought it into a
more present-day natural sound. Then we took information
from the two main mikes and brought it to the rear ones,
but we had to process it, to recreate the sense of depth. We
used delay, some additional reverb, and equalized the sound
to get a believable result.” (See review of three Karajan
DVDs, this issue.) Producers working on popular concerts
sometimes get fancier. “You can put a guitar solo or a drum
solo front and center, tailoring the audio to feature what’s
on the video at that moment,” Cohen says.
Back to the numbers, however. Classical has its own
peculiarities, particularly within major labels. When sales of
5,000 have been considered typical – indeed, good – for a
single audio title, labels have to think carefully before com-

On a recent visit to Manhattan’s major Tower store, there
were just 23 classical DVDs
mitting resources to a project. After the industry downturn
in the 1990s, which saw a major reduction in the number
and kinds of classical audio releases put onto the market, it
is not surprising that these companies are taking a relatively conservative approach to the new format, which adds big
bucks to the production costs. Classical video isn’t exactly
a mass-market seller anyway. Paul Gruber points out that
many of the classical VHS titles are going out of print. “The
audience just isn’t big enough for the big companies now,”
he says.
The one major label to come out ahead of the pack with
new product is BMG Classics, which several months ago
released its DVD version of Puccini’s Turandot, as lavishly
performed last September in the Forbidden City of Beijing.
Why this one? David Kuehn, VP marketing and A&R director

Upscale Pop
VD is having a profound impact on how pop record
companies look at music videos for the home market.
“It’s almost reinvented the business, now that we
have a system that delivers a high-quality picture and highquality audio,” says John Beug, senior VP, film/video production and marketing for Warner Bros. Records. “Not to cast
aspersions on VHS, but the audio quality stinks and the picture
quality depends on who is duplicating it.”
Music video programs on DVD are now released routinely by pop labels and are available from scores of acts, from the
Allman Brothers to Yes. But record companies still are selective in choosing acts for DVD treatment, given additional production costs of $10,000 to $30,000 per title. “It certainly
appears as though the slightly older, slightly upper-demographic artists are selling better,” says Beug.
A recent ranking by of its best-selling music
video releases on DVD included titles from Eric Clapton, B.B.
King, Neil Diamond, Earth Wind & Fire, and Sarah McLachlan.
But also in the Top Ten were Michael Jackson and Madonna,
acts with a younger appeal.
“DVD was originally skewing toward older fans and classic releases,” agrees Leslie Cohen, VP of business development for Sony Music. “But now with DVDs from groups like
Oasis and Savage Garden and Pearl Jam, we’re obviously
reaching out to younger listeners, and also trying to capitalize
on the existence of a fairly large CD-ROM population, which is
completely underserved.” The thinking here, says Cohen, is
customers won’t watch DVD films on small computer screens
but they will play music programs on their PCs.
Pop music fans, like their classical counterparts, are drawn
to the consistently high sound quality of DVD titles, whether
provided through Dolby AC-3 [Dolby Digital], Dolby 5.1, PCM
Digital Stereo, or the Digital Theater Systems (DTS) alternative, which requires a decoder-equipped DVD player.
While the quality of DVD audio and video is relatively consistent, interactive content is not. Pop record companies differ
in their approach to DVD programming. Pop music DVDs may
include biographies, discographies, song lyrics, interviews,
and more. James Taylor Live at the Beacon, a made-for-DVD
release with several interactive elements, has outsold its VHS
counterpart 2-to-1, says Cohen at Sony Music, which is exploring web-links and gaming elements in future music DVD titles.
Metallica’s Cunning Stunts concert DVD offers multiple camera angles, interviews, and a photo gallery of nearly 2,000
shots. (See review, TPV 25.)
“I appreciate all those bells and whistles but I tend to be
pretty traditional and I’m really focused on the audio and picture quality,” says John Beug at Warner Bros., which has
released straightforward music programs on DVD from Clapton, R.E.M., Prince, Frank Sinatra, Fleetwood Mac, Alanis
Morissette, and others.
As classical and pop fans embrace DVD, record company
executives now wonder if the format will work in other genres. “How much more will the business ‘sectionalize’ itself?”
asks Beug. “We know the classical stuff works. Will this work
for country?”
How about a Garth Brooks concert on DVD with an interactive choice of hats?



Thom Duffy is International Deputy Editor of Billboard

for classical music at BMG, explains, “We decided to do it because the format had become standard, and projected volume of hardware for last
Fall was so high. This was an elaborate joint
venture between various Bertlesmann companies. We were shooting it in high definition, with multiple
cameras, and a documentary was going to be made. It was an
opportunity to put a product on the market that we felt would
have the highest level-capability of features for the format.”
Turandot has all available bells and whistles, including a
behind-the-scenes documentary, camera angle changes, separate audio track, multiple languages for titles, to say nothing
of the standard indexing programs. “It really shows the capability of DVD, and what everyone should be thinking abut
when making decisions about doing it in future,” Kuehn says.
(See review, this issue.)
So far, BMG reports that the title is selling well – several
thousand copies – though it is moving more through internet
sales than conventional retail. Also helpful was the June PBS
broadcast, after which sales made a 40 percent jump. Kuehn
doesn’t think it’s necessarily selling to the people who plan to
play it on their computers, however. “My guess is this is more
of a dedicated DVD player audience. It’s a big, colorful spectacle. Still, the market is going in the direction that will see
computer and TV combined.”
BMG Classics will be doing more DVDs. “Eventually,”
says Kuehn. “It more than doubles the production budget
from video, because the authoring costs are high. If we took
videos from the catalog and reissued them, we would have
to give them something special, such as interviews, documentary footage, opera libretti in three languages. The labor
that goes into that is expensive. We’ve earmarked some
items as good candidates. We could just take the four or five
best-selling operas or videos, do a master transfer, and rush
them out to take advantage of the fall buying season. But if
we want to be able to market them properly, we have to give
the consumer something different. Just the higher definition is not enough – and most of them have been on
For new programs, Kuehn says, “our strategy is to reserve
DVD to those projects with the biggest commercial potential,
say, an event with a TV broadcast. We’re also doing more new
recordings now with future DVD audio in mind as well. Since
the format standard isn’t completely agreed upon, it’s a little
risky to release it now. Then in ten years, if we want to come
back and exploit the catalog, we won’t have to go back and
The Atlantic Warner classical labels – Teldec, Erato, and
Nonesuch – are also going slowly, according to Arthur Moorhead, VP, Associated labels. The company is planning two or
possibly three titles for the fall. One will definitely be the
exotic Matthew Bourne Swan Lake – that’s the one with male
swans. Two documentaries Richter: The Enigma (about Sviatoslav Richter, the late Soviet pianist; review, The Absolute
Sound, Issue 115, page 144) and The Art of Singing (in which
households names in opera talk about vocal technnique and
performance) are also under consideration. “We’re still conquering technology issues,” Moorhead says. “Most of our
repertoire is from Europe, and it’s expensive to remaster it to

the US/Japanese standard. If these do well, we’ll do more. We
have a great video catalog.”
It doesn’t look as though Atlantic is going to be rushing to
market with classical concert videos, however. “It’s the ageold conflict. Things intended for the stage, like theater, ballet,
and opera, are immediately interesting from a marketing
standpoint. Videos of people performing sonatas – that’s for a
special kind of consumer. It’s a struggle we had with VHS and
laserdisc, and it won’t change.”
Small, independent video labels are being careful, too. VAI
(Video Artists International) which has a large library of historical classical video, is not even entering the market yet.
“The compressing and authoring costs to create a DVD are
not justifiable for our type of product,” says Ed Cardona, the
company’s general manager. “As with CD, the pricing will
have to come down to where it becomes reasonable, and we
can generate a profit after conversion. But now, with the number of units we typically move on a historical classical release,
which can be a few thousand to perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 over
the life of the program, it’s too high a number. We didn’t do
laserdisc for the same reason, and now we’re glad we didn’t
spend the money on it. It’s better to allow the majors and
mass-market merchandisers to set the format definitively.
Once it’s being done on a mass-market basis to a high degree,
that usually drives prices down low enough so that it becomes
reasonable to invest.”
Kultur, a New Jersey-based producer of opera and other
classical videos with 1,200 performing arts titles now on the
market, thinks differently. Dennis Hedlund, chairman of the
company, reports, “We’ve been watching for two years, and
we’ve decided to go ahead this fall with 20 DVD titles,” he
says. Initial titles will focus on star names, such as Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Callas, Domingo, Pavarotti, and Leonard
Bernstein. “The profit margins have eroded even before we
got started, with some companies putting out product at
$14.95 and $19.95,” he says. “Our minimum price will have
to be $24.95 or $34.95, depending on if it’s one disc or two.
But we survived Beta and laserdisc. And because of the
compatibility with the computer, DVD is the future of the
world. I see Best Buy going to 50 percent DVD, 50 percent
VHS – the handwriting is on the wall. And since some customers already have our whole collection, we’re honor
bound to make the product different, with additional
footage, bios, possibly adding an additional language. Some
titles we’re now acquiring might go straight to DVD – perhaps some of our visual art titles, which have more application for the search-and-find capability. We’ll see what happens to the first titles between now and the end of the year.”
By that time, some of the fence-sitters may have decided
that the whole medium is too much fun to miss. For
starters, how about the outrageous Peter Sellars productions of Mozart operas (in unlikely modern settings) with
the addition of commentary from the director, as has been
done for films? Maybe then we’ll know what he was really
Heidi Waleson writes about opera for The Wall Street Journal, and used to be a classical music columnist for Billboard.

Made for DVD
Puccini: Turandot (at the Forbidden City of Beijing). RCA
Victor Red Seal 74321-60917-2.
’m inclined to be kind to the lavish RCA Turandot, and not
just because – as I sample a smorgasbord of available bigname classical DVDs, in this and a succeeding review – it’s
the only one seriously crafted for the medium. In fact, let’s give
it full credit. It’s the first major-label classical video planned
from the start as a DVD release, which means it’s full of DVD
candy: angles, audio, and subtitles in six languages, plus a
“making of” movie. No surround sound, but that, if you ask me,
means that RCA is being honest. There wasn’t surround sound
in the original, so they’re not going to fake it for DVD.
Still, none of this guarantees a worthwhile product. Somebody, after all, had to be the first to release a serious classical
DVD, and now that it’s here, the most important question has
to be, “How good is it?” And here, I admit, I was skeptical.
Turandot is one of those operas for huge voices, like Verdi’s
Aïda, that don’t fare well in the current operatic climate.
What we handle easily these days are ensemble operas,
operas that require intelligent, educated singers who contribute small fragments to a mosaic. But we struggle with
works that fail unless the cast (educated, thoughtful or not,
who cares?) floors its collective accelerator, vocally speaking,
and sings with the force of a top-of-the-line Corvette in heat. I
wrote about a cast like that in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino in
the first issue of this restored magazine. But that performance


The first release of a serious
classical DVD, and the most
important question has to be:
“How good is it?”
was filmed in 1957. Now it’s 1999, and the Beijing Turandot
doesn’t even feature the modern world’s most famous opera
stars. God, was I skeptical.
And my first look at the thing only fueled my doubts. I gave
myself a taste of the beginning, letting the opera play for 15
minutes or so. It’s a beautiful, distinctive, unusually artistic production (no surprise, considering it’s directed by Zhang Yimou,
China’s leading film director, auteur of The Story of Qiu Ju, To
Live, and Shanghai Triad), but what was clear from the start
was that the most telling artistry comes from the staging, along
with costumes and Chinese dancers, all of which make a compelling, even thoughtful frame for the opera, but don’t deliver
the heart of the performance. The singers
seemed blah; careful, reasonably sonorous,

Zhang Yimou

but not possessed. At times I wouldn’t have sworn that they
even cared much about their work.
The hero of the opera, Calaf, an impetuous wandering
prince (with, ideally, a heroic tenor voice), has just encountered his blind exiled father, Timur, on a crowded street in the
Forbidden City of Beijing (Turandot, of course, is an Italian setting of a Chinese story, and the shtick of this production is that
it’s staged more or less exactly where the story is supposed to
take place). Timur, blind and helpless, has been rescued and all
but adopted by Liú, one of those old-fashioned opera characters with a personality profile that can make a modern person
shiver with dismay; she’s a slave girl of unbounded, abject loyalty. Upon hearing all this, Calaf, the prince, is seized with gratitude, and tells Liú she’s blessed. But on screen, unfortunately,
we see not a real prince, or even a reasonable simulacrum, but
instead a boyish Russian tenor named Sergej (on the DVD box)
or Sergeij (on the DVD itself) Larin, and none of his fairytale
get-up (not even his long black barbarian’s ponytail) could stop
me from noticing that he sang his line with all the enthusiasm
of a man saying, “Yes, thanks for helping my dad, but now I’ve
got to watch the stock market report.”
Taking advantage of DVD technology, I
paged quickly forward to the opera’s most


dramatic confrontation, in the second scene of Act Two.
Princess Turandot of China suffers from an icy heart, and a
jones toward men. Any male of royal blood may woo her, but
must answer three riddles. If his answers are correct, she
marries him; if they’re wrong, you guessed it: He dies. Every
prince who’s tried up to now has contributed his severed head
to Turandot’s collection; the Chinese nation, ruled by an
ancient, weary emperor, is caught up in the drama, with people either turning cynical, or lusting for more blood.
Calaf, it won’t surprise any reader to learn, is the prince
who answers the riddles and melts Turandot’s heart. But first
she must defy him, explaining with frigid passion that the
whole scheme is designed to avenge a female ancestor who’d
been horribly violated, and then flinging a threat at the prince,
the kind of utterance that only makes sense in the unreal world
of fantasy (or opera): “The riddles are three, but death is one!”
She sings this, of course, in a phrase that rises to a high
note. “The riddles are three,” replies our game hero, taking the
musical arc even higher, “but life is one!” And then both of

of Act Three. His worst are those that absolutely
demand interaction, like his blessing of poor Liú
(will anyone, by the way, be surprised to learn
that, in the end, she sacrifices her life to save
Calaf?), and his defiance of Turandot. So when
the moment for the highest high note comes, here’s what we
see. Both singers take a careful breath; then, with equal care,
they sing their lines. No drama, no music, no atheleticism; just
abstract performance, as if the two had been bred in a tank of
nutrients and trained to accomplish this task, with no idea that
anything raw and human was involved.
The Liú, soprano Barbara Frittoli, was miles better, a singer
fully equal to the human, vocal, and musical challenge of her
role, the one member of this cast who wouldn’t have been out
of place in the long-gone golden age (though, to be honest,
those years were only golden when the good singers sang; there
were more bad ones than there are now, and when they got on
stage, you’d want to run for the hills). But in the first act, at
least, Frittoli seemed to publish her music, rather than sing it.

them hurl their lines at each other, both singing at once, taking the music to the highest note yet. I would have thought
nobody, not even Richard Nixon, could have sung that music
without shameless excitement, if only because the high notes
won’t come out without some physical oomph behind them,
and because exuberance would be anyone’s natural reaction
after surging through them successfully. Like many other
great operatic moments, this one isn’t just music and drama,
but also an athletic feat.
So what happened in the Forbidden City? The Turandot,
soprano Giovanna Casolla, has a voice a size or two too small
for her forbidding role, so she has to work a bit too noticeably
to project her formidable music. I’ve already noted Mr. Larin’s
lack of conviction, though I later found that I’d been unfair to
him. He can sing passionately, but he doesn’t get involved with
anyone else on stage. His best moments are those that are his
alone, especially his famous aria, “Nessun dorma,” at the start

It seemed far too premeditated. “Yes, this is how I sing Liú,” she
might have advertised. “I always do it just like this.” Perhaps
she wasn’t helped by the traditional Beijing Opera poses director Zhang Yimou prescribed for her, a tricky hurdle for opera
singers, and maybe Zhang’s only miscalculation; she executed
them well enough, but not with any spontaneity.
When I sat down to watch the whole thing through, then,
I wasn’t surprised that the first two acts were a chore, vocally. Casolla has a notable wobble in her voice, and, maybe
worst of all, looks matronly. Here, of course, we’re on tricky
territory, because this is opera. If you’re casting the role of a
drop-dead gorgeous princess in a movie, you start by eliminating everyone who doesn’t look right. In an opera, you eliminate everyone who doesn’t sound right, which means the
looks are secondary.1 Still, a matronly Turandot is a big problem, at least in close-ups. Why, after all, does Calaf take up her
challenge, risking his life and allowing the sacrifice of hapless
Liú? This really is a question we shouldn’t ask too strongly,
because the odds are that Puccini himself didn’t know. The
way I’ve spun the story – China, a kingdom in distress, itself
needing liberation from Turandot – is only hinted at in the
opera, carelessly, so we can’t really say that Calaf wants to
free the Chinese people. Instead, he seems besotted by Turan-

1 In fact, to digress briefly, it’s even worse than that. For some very diffi cult roles, the bottom line is to find someone who doesn’t sound absolutely
horrible; the parts are so hard to cast, in other words, that sounding good
might not even be a requirement. For what’s arguably the hardest opera
role of all, Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring, opera companies will even settle for
the lowest standard of all – someone who can hack his way through the
music without breaking down, e ven if he sounds raw and ugly.

dot’s looks. Maybe, on a deeper level, he senses
her own need to shed her obsession, but all we
hear from him is that she’s beautiful. Maybe in
the 1920s, when Puccini composed the piece, a
preoccupation like that made more sense, but
now it sounds silly. “Jeez, Cal! I know you like bimbos, but
stay away from this one!” Still, this is all we have to go on, and
when the singer in the title role is dowdy, without even the
star-power that can override mere looks, Turandot as drama
falls apart.
What did grip me, though, was the production. I would
have said, up to now, that there’s nothing really Chinese about
Turandot. And why would there be? Yes, Puccini conscientiously used Chinese folk songs in his score, but what did he
really know about China? What did any Westerner, besides a
few scholars and unusually open-minded travelers, really
know? China, in this opera, serves (or so I used to think)
merely as an exotic locale for a pre-Hollywood spectacular,
much as Egypt serves in Verdi’s Aïda, or, reaching heights of
grand absurdity, the American frontier, complete with Indians, did in an earlier Puccini work, La fanciulla del west
(“The Girl of the Golden West”).
But now I’m not so sure. This production, first of all, is
grand enough to suit the opera, whose music – a direct ancestor, I’d think, of Hollywood scores for epic films – proclaims
its size, and gilded (if not precisely golden) glitter. Conductor
Zubin Mehta even jokes, in the “making of,” that the opera
tucks into a tiny corner of the staging. Hordes of Chinese
extras come on stage, along with dancers, and the Western
singers in the leading roles are costumed with unheard-of
sumptuousness. Even Liú, who has crossed deserts and
begged for coins in the street, is wearing clothes lavish
enough to bankrupt a small city; her nails flash with manicured splendor. Somehow, instead of making the work seem
silly, all this helps it make sense. “It’s only a fable,” the production seems to tell us, with surprising gentleness, considering its size. Some of the Chinese effects are brilliant, even
touching. In the first scene, there’s a chorus about the rising
moon; onstage we see a corps of Chinese dancers, wearing
long white sculpted robes that shiver in the midnight wind.
Touches like these even give the opera depth it wouldn’t normally have, perhaps because the visual imagery takes the
grand suggestions in the music to a higher and more truthful
plane. Whether Puccini’s vision was surprisingly Chinese, or
whether Zhang Yimou picked Chinese imagery that would
complement the music, I don’t know. (And don’t look to the
“making of” for him to tell us; nothing there goes even half an
inch below the surface.) But the whole thing adds up to much
more than I would have expected.
And in the third act, even the operatic performance starts
to be good. I’m not quite sure what makes that happen. Zubin
Mehta gets some credit. He’s a conductor somewhat reviled
these days by critics, ever since his hollow tenure in the Eighties with the New York Philharmonic. But there’s no way to
fault him here. His Turandot (he conducts the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra from Italy) is spacious, lyrical, and
suitably grand. And Barbara Frittoli helps to bring the act to
life. She’s the one principal, remember, who can really sing
her part, and here, given her biggest scene (her sacrifice), she
loses all her caution, and wakes the drama up.
But Sergeij Larin gets a medal, too, for his “Nessun
dorma.” He doesn’t interact much, I’ve said, but here he does

not have to; the aria is sung alone on stage, for what seems to
be his favorite dramatic partner, himself. And his voice rings
out. I have to admit that I’m suspicious of that ringing sound,
because the entire sound of the performance is artificial. It
had to be; the event took place outdoors, in a huge open
space. Obviously, the singers are miked, and the “making of”
shows us exactly how, as well as revealing, for those who
catch a fleeting moment when Larin tests a mike, that his
singing is beefed up with some reverb. “Beefing up” might not
be the intention; the idea might simply be to give the sound
some ambience. But there’s nothing like reverb to make a
rough voice a little smoother, and a small voice a little bigger.
Larin doesn’t have the trumpet sound a Calaf really needs;
worse, when we hear him in a practice studio in the “making
of,” he’s rougher than he sounds in the performance. Give him
the benefit of every doubt; grant that he’s just rehearsing, that
he could have been hoarse, or just generally having a bad day.
But still I think that amplification helped him. Maybe, knowing it was there, he sang more lightly than he would have, not
pushing his voice, but letting it blossom naturally. If then he’s
not loud enough, there’s a simple solution: Turn up the volume, which would have been simplicity itself to do. In the
“making of,” we see a giant mixing console, with separate
channels, clearly marked, for every singer.
And yet in the end, I was moved (even though Puccini died
before finishing the opera, and someone else had to write the
final scene, someone who couldn’t find the right, convincing
sound for Turandot’s crucial transformation). And so, I find I
recommend this DVD – though if you’ve never heard the opera,
you might supplement it with either of two classic audio-only
recordings, the RCA with Jussi Björling as Calaf, or the EMI
with Franco Corelli; both have Birgit Nilsson, spectacularly the
right kind of voice, as Turandot. (Avoid the set with Pavarotti
and Joan Sutherland, spectacularly the wrong sort of voices.
Pavarotti sings “Nessun dorma” nicely, but he’s far too light and
lyrical for this heroic role; don’t be fooled.)
About the goodies: I’ve already said the “making of” won’t
tell you anything deep; I trust you’re not surprised. The synopsis, read out loud against snapshots from the performance,
is pompous in English, much more friendly in the other languages; it’s adequate, and not a word too long. There’s a PCM
audio-only track, again with snapshots, if you want that. What
the package badly needs, but doesn’t have, is a complete
libretto of the opera, on screen or in a booklet, so listeners
can prep themselves and then watch without subtitles. The
whole package needed much more careful editing. I’ve mentioned the two spellings of the tenor’s name, but there are
odd, no doubt accidental omissions. We’re correctly told, for
instance, that Zhang Yimou is a distinguished film director,
but we don’t learn the names of any of his films.
The box contains a booklet, with the kind of random
scholarly essay on the opera’s origins that might be found
with any new recording. We didn’t need that; we needed what
I said was missing from the “making of,” some comment from
Zhang or from a Chinese scholar on how Chinese the opera
seems, how it feels to be a Chinese person working with it.
The musical performance, with its strengths and obvious
weaknesses, is what it is. But if someone had worked onefourth as carefully on the DVD package as Zhang (and his
choreographer and costumer) worked on the staging, this first
big-time classical DVD – welcome as it is in many ways –
could have been better.

A (Classical) DVD Sampler
Verdi: Attila (La Scala production), Image Entertainment ID4360PUDVD.
Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur (La Scala production), Image
Entertainment ID4362PUDVD.
Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” (Herbert von Karajan conducting), Sony Classical SVD 48421.
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Herbert von Karajan conducting), Sony Classical SVD 46380.
New Year’s Concert, Vienna 1987 (Herbert von Karajan
conducting), Sony Classical SVD 45985.
erewith the rest of my classical DVD smorgasbord –
the appetizers, if you like, the desserts, the smaller
items (compared to the oversized Beijing
Turandot), all involving big classicalmusic names, but chosen with no
attempt to be complete or comprehensive. Consider them a sampler, a taste of
what’s available.
I’ll examine them under two headings
– as DVDs (looking at the DVD-ness of the
products, how well they use the DVD format, its resources, and its interface) and as
How well do these items use the DVD
format? The overall answer: Not very well.
Neither the Karajan nor the Scala series offers
a 16.9 image, for instance. (Both series include more
releases, the Scala many more.) The Scala DVDs
offer nothing but an opera performance; no commentary, no plot synopsis (well, there’s one on the
box the disc comes in), nothing. There’s no libretto,
either, as there isn’t for the BMG Turandot, so you
can’t take your time to prep yourself, and then
watch the opera without subtitles. But wait – you
can’t turn the subtitles off, so that isn’t an option
anyway. Nor can you get them in any language but
The chapter menu shows itself with a touch
of operatic cuteness; a red curtain parts, to the
sound of applause. How quickly will you get sick of that? At
least the selection bar, which shows you which scene you’ll
chose by hitting “select,” is elegant, an image of one line of a
musical manuscript. But now we come to
something really weird. For Verdi’s Attila

(yes, Verdi really wrote an opera about the rampaging Hun;
more on that below), the chapters don’t correspond with the
start of scenes. Just imagine a CD that worked this way. The
soprano (a warrior woman Attila admires) finishes her aria,
and goes offstage. Now the baritone arrives; he’s an ambassador from imperial Rome, and he’s here for formal colloquies with Attila, the bass.
But the new CD track wouldn’t begin with his entrance. No,
it starts only when the baritone and bass begin the melodic part
of their duet! If you want to hear their recitative, or in other
words if you want to start the scene from the baritone’s
entrance, its natural beginning, you’re out of luck. Nobody
would accept that on CD, but that’s how this DVD is planned.
The chapters take you from one musical highlight to another;
they don’t let you page through the opera scene by scene. If you
want the baritone’s entrance, you have to find the soprano’s
aria and fast forward, or find the Attila/ambassador duet, and
hit rewind. This frustrated me to no end; there are parts of
the opera that are quite literally inaccessible, unless you
scan forward or back from one of the official landmarks.
Adriana Lecouvreur works better, but has yet another oddity. Each act begins with the white-haired conductor, Gianandrea Gavazenni, whom the audience
adores, entering the orchestra pit. If you don’t want to
see that, you’re in luck, because the chapter on the
DVD begins a moment later, when the music starts.
But we hear the music too abruptly; the chapter all
but coincides with the first note, which, no matter
how many times I tried to get used to it, came as an
uneasy shock. I make my own CDs at home, and I’ve
learned to leave a breath between the start of each
new track and the beginning of the music.
For exactly the same reasons, I wished that
I could start each act with Gavazenni, but I
The Karajan discs are a little more elaborate. They offer program notes and bios.
But what the point is, I’m not quite sure,
because these are simple, undecorated
texts, which to me at least would be much
easier to read in a booklet than on my TV
screen. (The program note for The Four Sea sons, I might add, amounts to little more than
just another biography of Karajan, with
almost nothing about the work or the soloist.
But that’s a separate complaint.) Each time
you want to read them, by the way, you have to choose your
language, English, Deutsch, or Français. This gets annoying,
and while it’s a separate software issue
(there isn’t any DVD standard for choos-


ing the language of written text), it seems to violate the spirit of the DVD interface to provide no
way to pick a language once, and stick with it.
The Karajan discs also let you choose surround or standard audio. But I’m not impressed
with the sound either way, or with the sound of the Scala
discs, which also offer 5.1 surround, but (and this applies to
Karajan, as well), not convincingly. Yes, it surrounded me, and
provided a momentary high. (“Look, ma! More sound!”) But
the effect wasn’t in the least realistic. We know that it was
faked, not to mince words, in the Karajan releases (see Heidi
Waleson’s piece, in this issue, for Sony Music’s acknowledgement of that), and when I listened, I found I’d choose the
merely “stereo” option to get something even vaguely like the
real spatial layout of an orchestra. The Scala discs – like the
Karajan, transfers from VHS – also have an engineered surround effect, and with no way to turn it off, I had to mute the
rear speakers before I could hear where the singers were on
stage. The surround sound, on both series, was richer, more
full of pomp and circumstance, but much less lifelike.
The Performances:
Not, though, that we’re talking about sound that’s all that
lifelike in the first place. The two Scala discs, especially Adri ana (which has refreshing clarity), aren’t all that bad, but the
Karajans are awful. Or let me qualify that. The Karajans, I’m
sure, sound just the way the great conductor wanted them to.
At this late stage of his career, he favored a rich, undifferentiated, beefy orchestral sound, and clearly reveled in every artificial way to make it even more that way on his recordings.
There’s certainly something impressive about the result, but

not in any way that reminds me of real music. There are wonderful, pop-production sonic moments, one involving a bass
drum on the Vienna disc that made me feel that I’d descended
to the roots of all the earth. But a bass drum would never
sound that shivery and intimate in a live concert. If you have
any taste for live orchestral music, the sound of these DVDs
will be, at best, severely puzzling.
I might say as much for Karajan’s performances. By one
standard, they’re wonderful. On the Vivaldi disc, he leads the
Berlin Philharmonic; on the others, it’s the Vienna orchestra.
Both orchestras reach the highest levels of achievement, or at
least they do if all you care about is pure technique; their
sound, in a detached, not quite human way, is ravishing. The
performances, for that matter, do everything performances of
these pieces are supposed to do, except maybe touch the
heart. There’s something contrived, almost undifferentiated
about them, as if Karajan looked at all music as some kind of
abstract challenge, and even if he didn’t sacrifice the most
basic musical values, worked to make them sound like him,
ˇ or Vivaldi.
not like Dvorák
ˇ is the best of the three, because
In one way, the Dvorák
the music ends up speaking for itself, once you get used to
Karajan’s trademark sheen. There aren’t issues of Baroque
style (which might stop a purist from enjoying the Vivaldi), or
Viennese frivolity. But then, from another point of view, the
New Year’s Concert is the best, because it raises no deep
musical issues, and the sheer virtuosity of the orchestral playing can stand on its own. I’d rank it lowest, though, because
this virtuosity seems almost unhinged, torn away from any
real contact with human life.

w w w. t h e p e r f e c t v i s i o n . c o m

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for heart-stopping moments. There are a few of
Paging through the chapters is an eerie experience. At the
these in this opera, most of them familiar
start of each one, there’s Karajan on screen, his face
excerpts, like the soprano’s two arias, “Io son l’uinscrutable, a mask of – what? He projects, at best, a statuemile ancella” and “Poveri fiori,” or the tenor’s
like institutional persona, “Herr Music Director of All
two. Everything else is empty boilerplate, and
Europe,” as he used to be sarcastically called, in charge not of
one principal character, the vengeful mezzo-soprano princess,
music, necessarily, but of musical institutions. Flip from one
has no real musical existence at all. The plot of the opera posichapter to the next, and he looks the same. No New Year’s
tively creaks, and should have been turned into a French farce.
froth for him; whatever’s at stake here, it seems deadly seriThe Princess, at one crucial point, is hidden in a back room, not
ous, and I’m not the only one to find this unsettling. Two
knowing that everybody knows she’s there; it’s meanwhile
friends, both seasoned musical professionals, found it
essential that everyone onstage should have a different notion
strange, as well, and one of them even told me that Karajan –
of who she is. One intelligent question from anybody, and the
his unmoving, not quite human face – disturbed her children.
whole tired house of cards would collapse.
The operas are happier experiences. Verdi’s Attila is far
So why perform this nonsense? Because it gives a soprano
from his greatest work; it was the product of a rushed time
diva a commanding role, and this rendition features two divas
when he was building his career, a period he later called his
at once, Mirelli Freni in the title part, and Fiorenza Cossotto as
“years in the galleys.” There are moments when you know his
the Princess. And they’re not just divas; they’re aging divas,
heart isn’t quite in the music that he’s writing, maybe because
whose combined experience and charisma gives the perforat times he was too rushed to write music that he really liked.
mance a kind of stature, much loved
When I’ve seen it on stage, the
in opera, that lies halfway between
work comes off like an animated
star appeal and utter camp. There
poster, broad and bold but never
How well do these items are
some problems, though. One of
subtle, though it has wonderful
them is Cossotto’s character, an
moments, like most of the last act,
use the DVD format?
older woman who, if she can’t have
where there’s a tenor aria that
the younger man she loves, would
ranks with Verdi’s best, and a trio
that’s simply ravishing.
A question of another hue. launch nuclear missiles, if only
they’d been invented, to destroy the
This performance is broad and
world. This all is so absurd that, as I watched Cossotto, I almost
bold, but never quite involving. For a start, I’d blame Samuel
had to look at the calendar to make sure it wasn’t Halloween.
Ramey, the Attila, and the reason for many of the opera’s more
Another problem is Freni’s voice, originally a lyric soprano,
recent revivals; not many works provide such a juicy title role
and too light for this role, even though it’s been strengthened by
for a bass, and Ramey’s huge and oaken voice is perfect for it.
age and artifice; it still negotiates (rather than simply conquer(So is his bare chest, as almost any woman who saw him in the
ing) music that’s too low for it. And the final problem, I’m
part will tell you.) His problem is that he doesn’t give us any
afraid, is Freni’s age. I can enjoy a battle of the matron-divas,
notion of the person behind the music. Attila, as a dramatic
but the whole point of the confrontation in this story is that
character, doesn’t go very deep, but he’s more than a cartoon,
Freni’s character is young and beautiful, and therefore gets the
depicted, in fact, as the only honest human being on stage, the
guy Cossotto can’t keep. We even hear about her age right near
only one who isn’t plotting against anybody, the only one who
the start, when a devoted older man falls in love with her.
rejects cowardice and rewards courage, whether shown by
Worse yet, Freni’s one moment of real dramatic truth is only
friend or enemy. Ramey can’t show us any of that, and plays
bearable if she’s young. Her character is supposed to be a
the role mostly as a force of nature, powerful but blank.
famous actress, and when she first comes on stage, she’s worCheryl Studer, as the Italian warrior woman Attila falls heavried about a passage in a role she’s about to play. “I’m just a
ily for (and who ultimately kills him) is another strong-voiced
humble handmaiden of art,” she tells us, and those sentiments
blank, completely unable to convey either her character’s
from the lips of an older woman would be disastrously selfstrength, her anger, her conflict, or her swirling, lost love for the
involved, too disingenuous to take seriously, even for a
tenor, to say nothing of all of these together. The tenor, Kaludi
moment. From a woman of about 22, they’ll pass, but Freni has
Kaludov, is far better, a manly persona with a ringing sound (it
not seen 22 for quite a while.
helps, too, that he gets much of Verdi’s best music); his only
Beyond this, there’s not much to say. The tenor, Peter
problem, as video so mercilessly shows us, is that he looks SlavDvorsky, playing a character whose irresistible manly charms
ic, hardly his fault, since he’s Bulgarian. But he’s supposed to be
provoke everything, sensible or silly, in the story, sings in a
Italian, and, unfortunately for him and us, this matters here,
manly fashion, while looking like a stable, proper bourgeois.
because the most convincing of the principals, baritone Giorgio
The many minor characters are fine, except the scheming little
Zancanaro, looks, with his fine, chiseled Italian face, exactly like
Abbott, tenor Ernesto Gavazzi, who has a sharp, clear voice,
what he’s supposed to be, an ambassador from Rome. “Bring the
but mugs relentlessly, underlining every utterance with a simRoman envoy to me,” Ramey sings to a servant, and when Zanper or a pose. I wanted to swat him like a fly. I can’t finish,
canaro comes on stage, reality, for one brief moment, settles
though, without a cheer for Maestro Gavazenni, whose alert,
into place, because a Roman is precisely what Zancanaro looks
rapt, and passionate conducting deserves every drop of the
like. Nor is his solid baritone voice a disappointment. This is the
audience’s adulation. Gavazenni was music director of La Scala
one moment of dramatic truth in this performance; everything
in a bygone era; Riccardo Muti, who conducts the Attila, is
else, even Riccardo Muti’s conducting – strong but blank, like
music director now. The difference between them – one man’s
his two leading singers – falls short by comparison.
art has character, the other is a flashy empty suit – tells a sad
Adriana is another kind of stew. Cilea was a minor comstory about what’s become of opera in our modern age.
poser of Puccini’s era, the early Twentieth Century, with a gift

Roger Reynolds: Watershed (Mode 70, DVD)

ere we have a first that needs
attention – “the first music DVD
[the package says] designed to
totally utilize the medium’s full 5-channel
I just wish it were better, and less pretentious. The composer, Roger Reynolds,
is (as he probably won’t forgive me for
saying) one of the earnest, gray modernists of a past generation, a specialist in electronic music
who teaches at the University of California in San Diego.
One problem with modernist composers is (I’m tempted to
say “was,” but they’re still with us, even if their influence
has waned) that they over-intellectualize. They tend to overvalue things in music that can objectively be analyzed, and
then they turn around and insist that

everything in music can or should be analyzable. One mistake they make is to
think that music is a language – not
metaphorically (as when someone tells
us “music is the universal language”), but
literally. They think musical sounds are
or should be connected by grammatical
rules, like words in a sentence. That’s an
academic preoccupation, if anything is.
On this DVD are extensive conversations with Reynolds, with Steven Schick, a
percussionist who plays the longest piece on the disc, and
with Peter Otto, a computer sound specialist who’s responsible for (jargon alert) the “spatialization” of sounds in one of
Reynolds’ works. Now, we could argue over whether there’s
too much conversation, and whether it ought to be sandwiched around the actual compositions, as it is on the DVD,
or placed in its separate section, for


Experiment in a New Medium
Because I’ve been exposed to far too much featureless mod ernistic music, and might be jaded coming anywhere near
what looked to be new example of it, I thought I’d ask Barry
Rawlinson to listen to this, too. A non-professional ear’s
reaction would be worthwhile, I thought, especially since
music like this shouldn’t just appeal to specialists. Maybe
Barry would hear something in it that I didn’t. We heard and
watched the DVD together, both of us for the first time. We
didn’t discuss our reactions. Here are his, refreshingly more
evocative than mine. GS

the visual image in favor of the hemisphere of sound projected
far beyond the walls, stretching into the distance all around –

The performance you experience
will be defined by which sounds
you choose to listen to, and your
choice can vary from moment to
moment, implying that you can
never experience the same
performance twice…

first played Watershed IV, in which the listener is placed at
the center of a circle of percussion instruments. I found
the “Raindrops” section a particularly engrossing piece as
the surrounding forest of percussion is chaotically stimulated
to reveal an imaginary landscape radiating outward into far
full immersion. The larger drums seem to ripple the floor as
darkness. I soon discovered that a mild elevation of rear-chanpercussive wave fronts pass, smaller
nel levels centered this sonic landscape
sources hang in space around you,
in my room, at which point I ignored


reasonably elementary sort – you know, like saying, “Hey,
attention only if you care to give it some. I admit I’m skeptiwow, Kenny dies in every South Park episode.” Anyone can
cal about the need for so much commentary. Shouldn’t the
understand that this might give the show some continuity;
music speak for itself? But then maybe the techniques really
nobody claims it’s any kind of South Park syntax.
are so new that we all need orientation.
To me, the comments by Reynolds and his colleagues
Still, I knew we were in trouble when Reynolds tells us,
are badly sunk in jargon. “Instantiation” (meaning the way a
with all the emotion of a librarian reading the phone book,
sound begins), and “sense modalities” (meaning ways that
that “meaning” will “arise” in his music from his “syntactiwe perceive things) are two examples. When Schick, the
cal” use of space. There it is, that old fallacy of music as a
sober, well-meaning (and certainly skilled and sensitive)
language, with not just grammar, but syntax (a collection of
percussionist referred to his “practicioning,” I was ready to
rules that can turn languages into well-developed logical
throw the DVD out the window. “In the course of my pracsystems). Reynolds’ statement – I’m not going to be shy
ticioning,” he said, “I’ve found…”
here – is utter, total bilge. For one
(or words to that effect). What he
thing, notice that we don’t talk
about painting as a language. We The first music DVD with means is not much more than
“When I play my percussion gigs,”
don’t look for “syntactical” relations between green and orange full 5-channel capability: or, to stretch things as far as possplotches in Jackson Pollock, or The composer is a special- sible in his favor, maybe “When I
play a wide variety of percussion
between the breasts of dancing
ist in electronic music. A gigs.” The benefit of all this jargon
women in Matisse.
is all too clear. It serves, conIn music, talk like this arises
pairing made in a
sciously or not, to inflate the
only because (and forgive me for
importance of Reynolds’ music.
getting technical) harmony –
virtual heaven, or…?
And by distancing the conversachords and chord progressions –
tion from everyday life (and, in
can be talked about as if it folfact, from any kind of human emotion), it enables all conlowed rules. From a music theorist’s point of view, what I’ve
cerned to sidestep what seems quite plain to me, the unrejust written is a laughably simplistic statement, but these
markable mediocrity of Reynolds’ work.
theorists, if they have even the lightest mist of compassion
There are four works on this DVD. The first, Eclipse, a
in their blood, will forgive me for sparing you the full com1980 piece for computer-generated sound, originally “spaplexities of their theories. What readers should understand,
tialized” on seven channels, is a collaboration with video
though, is that Reynolds is way too impressed with the
artist Ed Emshwiller, and it’s his contribution that makes
mathematical explorations of music common among acadethe time spent watching it worthwhile. Reynolds, ever the
mic modernists, and has forgotten something very basic.
conscientious modernist, evades direct comprehension of
Yes, theorists can find all sorts of relationships among
his meaning by swirling shards of poetry around us in surchords, but any attempt to find something similar in other
round-sound space. His processing of human voices leads
areas of music – rhythm, loudness, and tone color, for
to wonderful moments, especially when the voices blend
instance – has essentially been laughed away with the acadtogether in an unexpected chord. But these are only
emic equivalent of a Bronx cheer.
moments. To me, at least, the whole thing feels old-fashSo when Reynolds says he can create “syntactical” relaioned, stiff, and, to use the word again, too conscientious.
tionships from the spatial placement of sound, he’s whistling
Emshwiller, meanwhile, unfolds images that range from
in the dark. All he means is that he can create patterns of a

gongs and cymbals shimmer from the depths beyond.
Within the piece Eclipse is a poem comprised of multiple
Female voice :
On the night of the quiet moon
He would be awakened
By the fleeting train music
Of thunder dawns
That brought on ruinous floods
And left a desolation of tattered gowns
Of dead brides
On the branches of the almond trees
Of the quiet moon
At the former Dutch lunatic asylum!

voices that move in time and space to form shifting patterns of
Male voice:
Her luminary reflection
Her constancy under all her phases
Rising and setting by her appointed times
Waxing and waning
Her power to enamour
To mortify
To invest with beauty
To render insane
The tranquillity
Of her visage
Her omens of tempest
And of calm

Male voice : The admonition of her craters,
her arid Seas, her silence silence

can print out large sections of the Watershed score.)
wandering, questing wiggles to a pulsing, stylized sun, all
The other items aren’t as striking, and to judge from the
choreographed to the music, but far more gripping. (Imagblurbs on the back of the DVD package, which don’t menine a dance with choreography more interesting than the
tion them, are essentially there to fill out the disc. First we
musical score.)
get an excerpt from The Red Act Arias, commissioned by
The largest, longest work we’re given is a 1996 compothe BBC and premiered in 1997. The piece was originally for
sition with the name Watershed IV, and it’s a tour de force
live performers and 8-channel tape; we get just a little of the
for Schick’s percussion. He stands in the middle of a circle
tape segment, mixed down to five channels. I liked it,
of percussion gear, some familiar, some not, and at first I
maybe because it was short enough to be enjoyable just as
hoped the surround sound would simply let us hear what he
sound, without wearing out its welcome or making unjustihears, which would have been especially appropriate since
fied artistic claims.
the conversation about the lengthy piece stressed its strucAnd then came the best item on the DVD, a surprise not
tural use of percussion sounds, drum sounds in one place,
mentioned on the box, in the booklet, or in the spoken commaybe, succeeded by metallic effects.
mentary. This is called An Odd Dream, and is a two-minute
What we get, however, is Peter Otto’s “spatialization,” or
excerpt from Watershed, with the visuals slowed down and
in other words his processing of the sound to shift it around
the sound processed to sound vague
in space, and sometimes in time as
and distant. The track is set to
well, to make the spatial effects
Shouldn’t the music
repeat infinitely, and creates a unimore noticeable. To put it differentverse of its own. I kept waiting for it
ly, he’s now applying his own kind of
speak for itself?
to end; I imagined changes that
choreography, in this case a useful
weren’t really there, like the sound
metaphor, because he makes the
getting more and more vague. That’s how the piece played
sounds move around in what might be some faint reminiswith my expectations. I myself became a participant, and I
cence of what dancers do. The only problem is that the piece
think any listener would. Here, for once, we had something
itself is unremarkable and in fact close to stultifying.
that lived up to the high artistic claims made for Eclipse and
One obvious difficulty is its lack of any real rhythm,
Watershed, something that really did change my percepastonishing in a work for percussion alone, and even more
so in a work this long. Why there’s no rhythm is suggested
This, in a word, was art. The rest of the DVD is acadeby an excerpt from Reynolds’ written score, reprinted in the
mic timidity, though I’ll grant that the spatial journeys of
DVD’s long, detailed (too detailed?) booklet. In what we’re
the sounds were interesting, and that 5.1 surround has
shown there, the percussionist is asked to play freely withsonic potential that, outside of the obvious movie effects,
in given spans of time, sometimes faster, sometimes slower,
has only begun to be tapped. Reynolds, in the end, did me
but in rhythms he himself creates. In practice, these, to
one favor. He made me want to hear more music that uses
judge from what we hear, tend to be remarkably uneventful,
the full 360-degree rotation of real life – as long as we
essentially patterns of even notes. That creates a lulling
understand that the spatial placement is just another kind
effect, not conducive to sustained listening. I could also say
of color, another kind of narrative effect, similar to orchesthat, while Otto is allegedly creating syntax by moving
tration (playing music first on a violin, then on a clarinet),
sound in space, the most elementary kinds of rhythmic synor to the imaginative stereo mixes we already get on some
tax are completely missing. Odd. I couldn’t stay with Water pop recordings. It’s not a new development in musical lanshed at all. (Those with computer DVD-ROM drives can
check my theory; one added feature of this DVD is that they

I have transcribed this; it will give you a better idea of the
experience of listening to this piece. Both poems exist independently, but taken together they convey a third.
Of course, the performance you experience will be defined
by which sounds you choose to listen to, and of course your
choice can vary from moment to moment, implying that you
subjectively can never experience the same performance twice
– a point that Roger Reynolds later pursues more blatantly in
“An Odd Dream,” which by repeating the same two-minute performance creates a mantra that becomes a meditation and then
the ever-changing concentric reflections within a mandala.
Mr. Reynolds is playing games, as he tells us in the accompanying interviews, and these are games played with our perceptions of reality as distorted by time and space and the other
tricks in his sorceror’s cabinet.
As his percussionist Steven Schick tells us, at some point,
this stops being music and becomes ritual.
But we know the effect of endless repetition from centuries of experience of ritual, so while the point is valid and

proven by this hidden bonus track, it is hardly novel. What is
novel is the use of new technology to “spatialize” the image,
and here Reynolds is in danger of becoming intoxicated by the
I think the composer has realized that one of the principal
advantages of this format lies in the improved control of the
room acoustic and he has used this to create a compellingly
robust sonic hologram.
This gives rise to a heightened realism that can be both
graphic and unnatural, and is carefully crafted by Reynolds. I
found the subtler, more “realistic” sounds beguiled my ear
more than those deliberately distorted by “spatialization,” and
by manipulations of the dynamic envelope. I should like to
hear this solidity of image achieved with no engineering, other
than the highest quality recording.
However, I think this a worthy experiment in a new medium
with some worthwhile results. And I did particularly savor the
utter tangibility of the imaging, even if each voice pops out of the
background like the illuminated red nose of a clown…

Pop With a Twist
Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare.
Rhino 74469. $19.99 (DVD).
alvador Dali saw his
paintings come alive in it.
Groucho Marx said it was
great vaudeville and the last
chance that burlesque had of
surviving. Disney designed its
costumes. It combined elements of A Clockwork Orange,
What Ever Happened to Baby
Jane, Dracula, James Bond,
and Zorro. When it closed, the
likes of Elton John, Michael
Jackson, Kiss, and David
Bowie borrowed its concepts.
No, it is not Cats. It is 1975’s
Welcome to My Nightmare , rock’s very first full-scale theatrical tour, complete with dancing, illusions, movies, melodrama, and monsters.
Conceived by Alice Cooper and record producer Bob
Ezrin, Nightmare was a huge gamble, costing over $600,000 to
design and hundreds of thousands more to compensate the
tour’s cast and crew. Such amounts may seem small in comparison to the mammoth pop productions we’ve witnessed
since then (U2’s four-story high TV screen on their 1997-98
Popmart Tour springs to mind), but conditions were considerably different in 1975. Remind yourself that no rock artist
had ever staged a theatrical tour before. Cooper and Ezrin
paid for the entire venture with money from their own pockets. Nightmare was so bizarre that it had two strikes against
it from the start. There was an enormous risk of failure; if the
tour bombed, Cooper’s career might have been over. Some of
the same uncertainties still exist now, but today Nightmare
would at least be underwritten by corporate sponsors and
Cooper’s record label. And don’t forget that the biggest gamble of all is removed – theatrical rock tours have existed now
for 24 years, a parade that began with Cooper’s original vision.
The performance we see on DVD begins with a film
(another rock concert first) that depicts Cooper waking up
and rising from his bed in a cemetery. Dressed in pajamas, he
plays the role of a little boy who realizes he is interactively
immersed in an unshakable nightmare. From the moment the
concert begins, we experience the dream’s dementia and its
humor via Cooper’s lyrics and encounters, all of which are
scored to music, combining Cooper songs specifically written
for the staged presentation, and older, classic Cooper hits.
To fully appreciate how intense the
film is, consider that all its characters

and creatures – a legion of them – are played by an extremely
talented ensemble of only six people. With no pauses or intermissions, the cast is forced to change costumes quickly, costumes that range from a one-eyed Cyclops ensemble to silver
lamé space suits. The 18-year old woman who dances as a DayGlo skeleton, crawls as a Black Widow spider, and awakens as
the necrotic lover “Cold Ethyl,” to name but a few of her roles,
met Cooper during the Nightmare tryouts, dated him during
the tour, and is Cooper’s wife to this day.
Does Nightmare still work now? If we ask whether or not
it is fun to watch, the answer is resoundingly yes. Some of the
props and effects are outdated, but that adds to the charm.
What is most striking, though, is that two of Cooper’s stage
innovations seem as fresh today as they did in 1975: a movie
screen that erupts from the floor, and a giant spider web,

which also rises from the floor and spans the width of the set.
The way Cooper uses the movie screen has never been duplicated. A performance of the song “Escape” begins, and we see
what is presumably a celluloid Cooper
in a cemetery on the screen. Four alien


creatures surround him, place him in a wooden
coffin, but suddenly, to our surprise, he bursts
out, runs through the screen, and lands on
stage, while the dancing spacemen remain in
the film. Soon, the aliens locate Cooper, and one
by one they smoothly jump from their places on film to the
stage. Before “Escape” concludes, Cooper and his pursuing
predators jump back into the film and onto the stage once
more, and the spacemen seize Cooper on stage. They carry
him off into the screen, where, on film, we see him taken over
the horizon, probably to his death. It is a scene that demands
perfect timing and careful choreography.
The performance on the Welcome to My Nightmare DVD
was filmed at London’s Wembley Arena in 1975. Sadly, even
though the original film was restored and its sound remixed,
the DVD still looks and sounds like a grainy B movie. It lacks
resolution, sharpness, and even cohesive audio. The sound
fades in and out, obnoxiously, as does the loudness of particular instruments. That Cooper was an alcoholic, and drunk at
Wembley (as he himself has said), doesn’t help either. He sporadically undershoots high notes and garbles lyrics, turning in
a below-average vocal performance.
If the quality of DVD is poor, why bother with it? Well, it’s
just too much fun to pass up. And despite its flaws, it comes
with an exclusive and highly informative 25-minute interview
in which Cooper explains his musical influences, superstitions, and film heroes (Bette Davis, James Bond), as well as
the reasons why a male rock singer would invent a character
named Alice Cooper, and play that role onstage. There is
also an alternate version of Nightmare with a running
commentary by Cooper himself; as we watch, it seems
as though Cooper sits beside us while he describes the
film. He even mocks himself at times, saying that if he
could do Nightmare today, alcohol free, his vocals
would be better. Besides, Nightmare is a starting point
for those interested in the development of exotic fantasy at rock concerts. And, I confess, the crude look of the
film gives Nightmare a certain cult-like feel. To put the
options on this DVD in context, I’d watch them in the
following order: The Cooper interview, Nightmare by
itself, and finally the version with Cooper’s commentary.
I can’t resist mentioning The Life and Crimes of
Alice Cooper [75680], Rhino’s new four-CD box set,
which makes a wonderful supplement to the Nightmare DVD.
The CDs arrange Cooper’s 32 years of music in chronological
order. If we listen in sequential fashion, we trace Cooper’s
rise, pinnacle, fall, and slight rebound. Discs one and two,
which span a period of 11 years (from 1966 to 1976), are
essential, and document Cooper’s most creative work.
From 1976 to 1985, Cooper battled drinking, spent time in
treatment, and recorded several forgettable concept albums
with which only he seemed to relate. Having lost most of his
original band to solo careers, Cooper chose to work with session players rather than assemble a new group. In what may
have been an effort to lure the public, whose tastes lay with
disco at the time, Cooper embraced a disco-like sound, and
layers of excessive keyboards supersede his usual shrill, edgeslicing guitars. He also drops his familiar diabolical snarl in
favor of a warm purr, a transformation that strips his music of
its adventurous edge. The team who assembled the box set
seem to recognize this; they included just 12 songs from the
six albums (all of them out of print in the US) that Cooper

released during these years,.
After alienating many of his fans, Cooper enjoyed a comeback with 1989’s slick, hook-heavy Trash (which profited
from the last stages of the late Eighties hard-rock boom),
before sinking to an all-time low with 1991’s moronic Hey
Stoopid. Once fantastically original, Cooper’s lyrics and music
now became pathetic clichés. Several tracks on his later
albums, including songs from Trash and 1994’s The Last
Temptation, remarkably reveal Cooper to be a proficient
mainstream pop writer, a facet that, thankfully for his hardcore fans, didn’t surface in his earlier works. The main reason
you’d buy this box is for the first two CDs and the comprehensive booklet inside.
I’m compelled to close with a wonderful quote from an
affectionate essay, specifically written for the box set by none
other than John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols
fame): “There’s originality and then there’s always ten cheap
versions, and it’s a shame that it’s those versions people pay
attention to. They don’t want to find out the history of how
things emerged, and that’s too bad, because without any historical perspective, nothing can make any sense…I love originality, and there’s nothing like Alice Cooper…before or since,
really. Alice Cooper…whatta man.” Indeed.

Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy. Grant Gee (director).
Capitol. $19.99 (DVD; VHS).
The title is a sarcastic jab at music
journalists, hangers-on, and overzealous fans. The film, subtitled
“A Movie About Radiohead,” is a
chronological documentary that
traces the group’s 1997-98 tour
from its beginning to its conclusion. Meeting does not glorify
Radiohead’s live performances (as
R.E.M.’s Roadshow does) or rock
star lifestyles (like Marilyn Manson’s Dead to the World). Nope,
this is exactly the opposite – if
there ever was any true-to-life film
made about the emptiness of
being a successful rock band, this is it.
Meeting is made from what seems to be a callous and
uninviting point of view. After watching it, we sense that
Radiohead was uncomfortable with its new fame after releasing OK Computer, an album that not only won a Best Alternative Record Grammy in 1997, but also received critical
acclaim all over the world, landing on nearly every critic’s top
ten list. The film gives us a first-hand look at life through the
band’s eyes. We are placed in hotel rooms where our privacy
is invaded, swept onstage where no matter what we do, the
audience still wants more, and dumped in the band’s
car/bus/train/Lear jet (the film’s point seems to be that, it’s all
the same after a while), where everything is uncontrollably
moving around us. All these frantic experiences, and more,
constantly accompany Radiohead on their tour.
Personally, I find it difficult to empathize with rock stars,
but Meeting confronts my beliefs that famous rock celebrities are luckier than everyday people. I lost count of the critics hounding the band, the profusion of printed record

reviews scrolling across the screen,
and the many images of endless pavement, tunnels, and indistinct automobile headlights vaguely glowing from
neon-lit gridlock. Much rock journalism might as well be printed in a
tabloid, because of its sensational pursuit of rumor and hype. This film
exposes the soap-opera mentality of
writing like that, with segments in
which sound check footage drowns
out interviews (the music audibly suffocates the press to symbolize the
insignificance of the media) and with a
revealing scene where lead singer
Thom Yorke’s reluctant, wiry body
contorts under the onslaught of merciless flashing cameras. By the end of
the film, you will ask yourself, “Why?,”
the same question Radiohead probably
ponders as well.
Several scenes demonstrate the
g r o u p ’s occasional lassitude (an
expected side-effect of touring), but
none more so than the bored look on
Yorke’s face when he’s performing
“Creep” in Philadelphia. As the audience chants the song’s verse, Yorke
apathetically stands like a cardboard
cutout, holding his mic towards the
crowd. He finally turns it inward with
apparent disgust, as if he imagines it
to be a painkilling dagger, and tellingly slurs the tune’s climactic line,“What
the hell am I doing here?” We can
barely hear Yorke against the din of
the band; all we clearly make out are
cries from the audience, “We love you,
Thom!” Still, compared to the exasperating
encounters in every town (and who,
among other offenses, ceaselessly fire
redundant questions and arrive at
interviews unprepared), the fans and
their blind lust for the band seem easy
to cope with.
Meeting is Capitol Records’ first
venture into the DVD market, and
strangely, the Radiohead DVD’s cover
art is obtuse, to the point where you
almost can’t see the band’s name. The
DVD has no chapters, which may
annoy those accustomed to selecting
particular slices of the movie for
repeated viewing. But the constant
alternation of black and white with
color footage, and slightly grainy film
with more vibrant stock, combines
with multi-perspective angles (many
shot with a minicam) in creating a
stimulating A/V presentation that
DVD, with its digitally clear resolution

and seamless flow, best
allows. Sonically, the
DVD has 5.1-channel
and AC-3 surround
sound that serves us
well. Since Meeting does not focus on
concert footage, but is instead a collage of events and experiences, it’s
appropriate that the sound wraps us
in a cocoon, and lathers us with ambient electronic pulses, squealing fans,
and the echoes of interviews. In
scenes where we’re surrounded by the
crowd, the band, and the acoustic ricochet of a concert hall, and simultaneously see strobe lights dance off the
band members onstage, the DVD
delivers a menacing, and almost claustrophobic, feeling.
Whether or not you like or know
Radiohead’s music is beside the point.
Tour documentaries have existed for
years, but Meeting assails your senses
and then dares you to think. You’ll
come away feeling as if you’ve been
through the grind yourself, and it’s that
realism, however unnerving, that
makes the film worth owning. Consider
it an introduction to media studies:
Meeting demonstrates how the media
manipulates and harasses rock stars in
an effort to glamorize rock stardom for
all it’s ($) worth.

Fugazi: Instrument. Jem Cohen
(director). Dischord 80. $18.00
(VHS only).
Fugazi is difficult to describe – the
band escapes classification. Even when
I state that Fugazi is a band, I fail to
provide the whole picture, because
Fugazi is more than a band; it’s an ideal,
a political concept, a paradox. I’ve had
an easier time explaining The Grateful
Dead’s 30-minute “space jams,” full of
guitar feedback, to people who wanted
to understand what that group was
attempting (if wasn’t just pure obfuscation, which sometimes it was). In
Fugazi we have a band that distributes
its own records, books its own shows,
has never taped a music video, works
exclusively with independent promoters, hawks no merchandise (not even Tshirts), and charges only $5 for a concert ticket. Think about it. Today, $5
wouldn’t even buy you a Rolling Stones
bumper sticker. Does all this sound like
what some artists are doing on the
Internet? Yes, indeed, but Fugazi was

practicing its independent philosophy before
“Internet” was even part of our vocabulary.
By remaining true to its standards, Fugazi is,
without question, in a league by itself. Champions of free speech, free thought, the homeless,
minorities, AIDS research, and the elderly, the group rejects
violence, racism, homophobia, war, alcohol, drugs, and slam
dancing. Not only does it charge a mere $5 for its cathartic
live performances, many of which are benefit shows, it managed to price its albums at only $8 until 1997, when for End
Hits it raised the price to $10.
How is all of this possible? It helps that Fugazi’s founder
and leader, Ian MacKaye, also co-founded Dischord Records,
the now legendary Washington, D.C., punk label. MacKaye is
one of the last active members of the original D.C. “straitedge” (read: no drugs or alcohol) hardcore scene of the early
Eighties. By setting up networks of fans, print rags, and homegrown record labels across the country, the D.C. scene thrived
without the help of the record industry. Among the D.C. bands
that took things into their own hands were MacKaye’s Teen
Idles and Minor Threat, both of which expressed their rage
and frustration at the Reagan era through one-minute punk
blasts. In 1987, MacKaye formed Fugazi with cohorts Guy Picciotto on guitar and vocals, Joe Lally on bass, and Brendan
Canty on drums and bells; MacKaye named the band Fugazi
after coming across the word in a dictionary that defined it as
a messed-up situation in Vietnam. Fugazi has released six fulllength albums, and a few EPs, and now the group has made its
first ever home video, Instrument, which started out as a private documentary and evolved, 12 years later, into a visual
history for the public.
The spirit of the film is pure Fugazi. Most of Instrument
was shot using Super 8 and 16mm film (the director’s preference), with more recent footage captured on video.
Videophiles may turn their noses up at the hardly high-tech
formats, but expensive professional filming would be out of

place for a band like this; the director notes that the two-hour
Instrument cost less to make than most three-minute videos
on MTV. And just like recent engrossing, low-budget independent films (Gods and Monsters, Cookie’s Fortune) that
oppose the omnipresent cross-corporate digital monstrosities
(Godzilla, Armageddon), Instrument is better than the
majority of the “here today, gone tomorrow” videos flooding
the market. Instrument is about a band, its fans, music, and
mission; there’s no place for premeditated hype and sensationalism.
With scenes shown in non-chronological order, Instru ment gives us a seething mix of images. MacKaye erupts into
the microphone like a shark expanding its jaws before it
devours its prey; Picciotto plows his right hand into the guitar’s scuffed body as if he were punching a hole through a
plaster wall; Lally plugs his bass as he staunchly stands like a
marine waiting for his superior officer to inspect him; and
Canty whacks the old-fashioned school bell that shares space
with the cymbals on his drum set, as if he were speaking to
the band in Morse code. A haze of distorted melody fills the
stage, drum beats resonate, and the resulting sound is perfect
– so natural that it seems to be unamplified. Meanwhile, as we
watch the video, we are up on stage with the band, close
enough to see that MacKaye’s worn black canvas loafers are
indeed without a brand name.
With interviews, recording sessions, and performance
footage, Instrument proves that like The Grateful Dead,
Fugazi functions as a “group mind,” able to improvise and to
stretch songs into long, cohesive jams without a predetermined scheme. Other artists, such as Elvis, performed without a set list, but they called out the names of songs they were
about to sing, to cue their bands. Nobody in Fugazi does this.
Rather, in order to segue from one song to another, Fugazi
relies on instrumental cues, hand signals, tempo shifts,
glances, and nonverbal follow-the-leader communication (the
leader being whoever first initiates the beginning of the next
song). To triumphantly pull this jazz-like feat
off, the band relinquishes any selfishness in the
name of a one-for-all mentality. Fugazi has stated that music will become powerless if it isn’t
unsettling, and a force for political change. The
record industry and all serious new artists of
today should take heed – Fugazi is in it for life
and wants long-term change. Its work isn’t finished just because it plays one benefit show; it
seems to recognize that social change doesn’t
happen so simply. This band may never change
the world, but what matters is that it will never
give up.
Of course, in order for a group to thrive in
such an alternative universe, it needs a two-way
relationship with its fans, one that is based partly on trust, but more on respect. Fugazi has a
cardinal rule of thumb when it plays live: It
wants an audience of whole human beings, not
simple idlers or consumers. That’s why it plays
with such unnerving energy. While it’s true that
such an audience does not always exist,
Fugazi’s anti-marketing stance, low prices,
word-of-mouth promotion, and broad-minded
concert rules all help eliminate the coattail riders and drunks commonly found at the average

most are dressed down, some gussied up in
rock show. Furthermore, Fugazi’s principled way of being a
business suits. And when you look at their
rock band doesn’t tend to appeal to the kind of people (i.e.
scarred faces, dim eyes, spiked hair, and pierced
frat boys, wanna-be’s, rednecks) who attend rock concerts in
lips, you may be quick to label them as punks,
order to get high or smashed or both.
delinquents, or losers, because they fit these
One thing Instrument does not provide is a sense of
stereotypes. But really, this audience embodies diversity. It’s a
Fugazi’s musical evolution. And so I urge you to listen to the
slice of ragged Americana, an assortment of folk not imaginband, sans video accompaniment. The quartet’s first two
able at most rock (or classical or jazz) concerts, which autorecords, 13 Songs and Repeater, have brisk, abrasive
matically exclude poorer, younger fans because ticket prices
melodies and bracing stop-start rhythms; they are a perfect
are so absurdly high.
hybrid of punk and straight-ahead rock. Straightforward, driAt one performance, we see the front row of an audiven by an intense urgency readily identifiable in MacKaye’s
ence being crushed into a guardrail by the push of hundreds
voice and Canty’s thwacking percussion, these records
of swarming bodies. Seeing the crowd veering out of conbesiege a listener, challenging our concept of what rock
trol, Fugazi abruptly stops playing. MacKaye announces
should communicate. These are two of the most solid indethat someone’s head has split open and that the vicious
pendent albums ever released.
elbowing needs to cease. Video
With 1991’s In on the Kill scans of the crowd reveal six
taker, Fugazi branches out. GalWith scenes shown in non- angry, drunk, insensitive
vanized distortion merges with
teenagers near the front row.
extended guitar hooks, and tenchronological order, Instru - After
issuing his warning,
sion and suspense swell during
moments of complete silence. ment gives us a seething mix MacKaye leads the band back
into the music. Moments later,
Despite its occasional surrender
of images. MacKaye erupts the band’s misgiving comes
to generic racket, Killtaker manages to add complex rhythms to
into the microphone like a true. Something flies onto the
stage and hits MacKaye, who
the combustion and cavalryshark expanding its jaws
immediately signals the band to
charge energy of Fugazi’s earlier
halt. MacKaye, aided by two
work. 1995’s Red Medicine fuses
before it devours its prey;
enormous security assistants,
delicate piano and brass motifs
that crudely coexist with uptem- Picciotto plows his right hand struggles to pull a young guy
out of the swaying audience.
po punk. Certain songs are surinto the guitar’s scuffed body Finally
successful, MacKaye
gically precise while others,
with sounds of distracting laugh- as if he were punching a hole grabs the teen, holds him in a
headlock, drags him to the
ter and talking, are coarse and
through a plaster wall.
microphone, and demands a
broken. Unfortunately, Fugazi
public apology; the kid, apparattempts too many rhythmic
ently, had spit at him. MacKaye asks the fan to make
variations and seems unfocused. The group’s usual thick and
amends twice more, but the guy cannot manage to utter
jagged approach gives way to a soft, unrehearsed perforanything discernible. MacKaye then picks the offender up,
mance, and for the first time, the music doesn’t flow or
informs the audience the youth is getting removed, and carbreathe.
ries him to security personnel backstage. The crowd erupts
1997’s End Hits is less fragmented, but even though it
in applause. Wow – of the hundreds of rock concerts I’ve
sounds milder, Fugazi’s social criticism still gives the music
attended, never have I seen an artist give any offender even
bite, revealing the band to be more comfortable with its new
one chance, let alone three, to redeem himself and remain
approach. 1999’s Instrument is a soundtrack to the film bearin the audience. Fugazi’s patience must be unwavering. As
ing the same title, and a set of acute songs and instrumental
the band walks off stage after playing its encore, the same
demos from 1989 to 1997. On all these records you will hear
kids spit at them again.
the kind of striking depth and dogged precision you would
When I was jolted by the seemingly frightening faces in
normally associate with the most scrupulous classical ensemshots of the people in line to buy tickets, I became troubled,
bles. Although Red and End aren’t as good as they might be,
even though I have been at concerts with people of the
they only seem below average in comparison to Fugazi’s best
same sort. Wanting to know why, I searched my soul and
work, because the band sets such extremely high standards.
thought of Fugazi’s fans as an antidote to inner fears and
Which raises a question: If Fugazi’s later albums aren’t as
prejudiced mindsets. We cannot allow our minds to vegegood as its first three, is that because the group failed to live
tate so much that we openly embrace narrow-minded views.
up to its principles, or weakened them? I firmly believe that
If the only thing Instrument does is rattle our preconcepthe band’s comparative decline was a by-product of evolving,
tions about youth or punk, I believe it’s done enough, and
and experimenting with new sounds. Every great artist makes
perhaps we’ll be happier and more tolerant because of it.
at least one mediocre record. Most bands would consider End
This film and all Fugazi albums can be ordered, postagea masterpiece, while for Fugazi, the album is a sign that the
paid, directly from Dischord Records, 3819 Beecher Street
group is back on track, even if the music is still a tad below
NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. Phone: 703-351-7491. Website:
the almost unachievable standards Fugazi set earlier. Most titles are also available at repI’ll end by describing some unforgettable scenes from
utable record stores and on the Internet, but at slightly highInstrument. Cohen films people in line for tickets. Some are
er prices.
young, some old, some white, some black, some brown –

A Close Encounter
Voices of Light/The Passion of Joan of Arc

rom the moment of its rebirth two issues ago, The Per fect Vision has addressed itself squarely to the difficult
concept of “multimedia.” Essays from Greg Sandow
and HP in Issue 24 sought to define what multimedia is and is
not, and to imagine its possibilities. Sandow, in a piece that
touched on unfolding technical developments, offered the
computer game Myst as a “domesticated case of true multimedia.” A bona fide specimen, perhaps, but not one that aims
very high. HP noted the limitations of currently available software that present the marriage of music and images. He considered DVDs of an opera “gala,” a classical concert video, a
Sondheim musical, a pop music video – and found them all to
have shortcomings. He also described two potential multimedia experiences he had in the concert hall, both involving
music by minimalist Philip Glass: the opera Einstein on the
Beach and Glass’ score for the film
Koyaanisqatsi. These were, I’m sure,

intensely sensuous experiences. Still, for many listeners, the
repetitive nature of much of Glass’ cleverly constructed music
doesn’t demand attention on a moment-to-moment basis and
can induce a nearly physiologic contemplative state that, I
think, allows a listener to focus more keenly on whatever else
is before him, on the stage or screen. If this seems hard on
Glass, I don’t mean to be. It would just help if our early models for multimedia transcended issues of musical and narrative style.
A useful prototype could be what visual artists call “mixed
media” – an oil painting with collage elements like fabric,
paper, or “found objects” incorporated into the canvas, for
example. The different materials have their own textures,
requirements for manipulation, and associations with both
artistic tradition and the real world. The challenge is to maintain their individual characteristics
at the same time, integrate them.

Is this achievable with multimedia involving
music? Can the whole be greater than the sum
of its parts?
On a Monday evening in May, I attended a
production that was certainly a close approach,
one that suggests interesting prospects for multimedia’s
future. The occasion was a performance of Richard Einhorn’s
Voices of Light, along with a screening of the silent film masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc at Avery Fisher Hall in
Lincoln Center. Details concerning the musical work and an
interview with the composer can be found in an article I wrote
for The Absolute Sound (Issue 115), but the background can
be laid out briefly. Einhorn is a New York-based musician
who, a decade ago, discovered the 1928 film, directed for a
French studio by Carl Dreyer. Cinema authorities routinely
cite The Passion of Joan of Arc as one of the most perfectly
realized and influential movies ever made. The unusual camera angles, frame-filling close-ups, naturalistic acting, and the
manner in which the film is edited will impress even a casual
viewer as remarkably “modern.” The work derives much of its
power from Dreyer’s casting of Maria Falconetti, a stage actor
recruited from the Comédie Française, in the title role. So
truthful is her portrayal of Joan’s ordeal that the performance
can become almost difficult to watch. The actress reportedly
suffered a psychological collapse during the shooting.
Richard Einhorn used Dreyer’s film as the inspiration for
an oratorio on the subject of Joan of Arc’s final days – her
imprisonment, trial, and fiery death. The piece is written in an
accessible, but distinctive, musical language, largely tonal,
with dissonances applied sparingly. There are elements of

minimalism, but these are subtle components of the musical
texture, and the work has a fairly conventional dramatic
shape with a strong sense of forward impetus. Einhorn captures well the relentlessly claustrophobic quality of the movie
(all but the very end is filmed indoors), Joan’s vulnerability
and spiritual core, and the viciousness of her inquisitors.
Voices of Light has had an excellent Sony recording [SK
62006]. That CD features, as the voice of Joan, the four
women of Anonymous 4, a quartet that specializes in Medieval
polyphony and has achieved, by classical music standards,
something like star status. The work has also been successful
in concert, with dozens of public renderings since its premiere in 1994. The composer invited HP, my wife, and me to a
special presentation of Voices of Light/The Passion of Joan of
Arc celebrating the 15th season of Marin Alsop’s Concordia
Orchestra. Alsop, who is also music director of the Colorado
Symphony and who has recently been named principal guest
conductor for several European orchestras, is known as a
tireless advocate for American music. She knows the Einhorn
piece well, and the participation of Anonymous 4 promised a
definitive performance. The auditorium was full and the
atmosphere expectant as the lights dimmed.
Technically and musically, the evening went splendidly.
The Dreyer film was projected on a large screen suspended
over the musicians, and the quality of the image was excellent. Orchestral and choral execution were unassailable. But
although I knew Einhorn’s work very well from the CD and I’d
watched the movie on video several times, I was not prepared
for the emotional impact of the event. Somehow, I’d expected
the film and oratorio to be presented sequentially. Richard

Einhorn has emphasized that Voices of Light is not a film
score for The Passion of Joan of Arc, and he feels that any
attempt to compose one would be folly. As he told me a few
weeks after the Avery Fisher performance, “There have been
some 30 scores written for the film. This figure comes from an
article I’ve read; I’ve been able to document about 17. All of
them, according to my informants, are awful. The reason is
obvious. The movie is about as complete as it can be. The
rhythms of the film contradict any typical film score approach
– trying to Mickey Mouse the action, underscore the emotion,
etc.” But to present the two works
back to back would make for a very
long evening and would also be, the
composer noted, “a bit didactic,
like having everyone gather to read
Nietzsche after a performance of
[Richard Strauss’] Also sprach
Zarathustra.” So, the hall went
dark and, with Anonymous 4
singing the Old Testament passage
that opens Voices of Light, the film
The movie and the music finished virtually simultaneously, and
along the way were many striking
correspondences. For example, a
section in the oratorio called “The
Jailers” began just as Joan, on
screen, is being abused by leering
guards. The texts at this point are
drawn from Thirteenth Century
misogynist verse (“When it comes
to women, men, hold your tongue! On the outside she’s religious, on the inside keen and venomous...”). This, and many
other instances, were not merely happy coincidences, nor
was the music meant to “accompany” the action. Rather, they
quite naturally fell out of Einhorn’s effort to follow the struc ture of Dreyer’s film in devising his own work. The result is
that The Passion of Joan of Arc and Voices of Light illuminate
each other. Seen together, they seemed inseparable; yet I
knew from experience that each was entirely self-contained.
This is new territory, and I found that some of my own
personal rules didn’t necessarily hold anymore. Walking into
Avery Fisher, I was disconcerted to see a large mixing console
halfway back in the hall. Every singer was miked, along with
the chorus and orchestra. But once the concert began, it was
apparent that this decision did not deserve the scorn earned
by much of the “sound reinforcement” heard in Broadway
musicals these days. True, I missed the nuanced delicacy of
Anonymous 4’s singing, as I’ve heard it in a Philadelphia
church. But the four vocalists, singing softly for most of
Joan’s music, would never have been heard in the large auditorium. In addition, Einhorn likes the aural sensation that
electronic enhancement engenders. “The sound of amplified
instruments is different from non-amplified. Not worse: simply different. If, say, a violin has a pickup attached and is
amplified so that it is far larger than life, it has an amazing
sound for me. It’s the aural analogy to the ‘magic realism’ of
South American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”
Although the composer doesn’t insist upon amplification for
all performances of Voices of Light, it was certainly his original intention. “It gave the music a hallucinatory quality that I

thought was entirely appropriate for a representation of Joan of Arc. It was also a sounding analog to the visual displacements that are a hallmark of the visual style of Dreyer’s film.” So, the
nature of one medium informed the technical
realization of another.1
Was anything lost at the performance that night? One possible casualty, it occurred to me, were the words Einhorn had
chosen to set to music in Voices of Light. The texts are a rich
composite drawn from biblical sources, medieval female mystics, and Joan of Arc’s own letters.
They are sung in the original languages: Latin, Italian, and Old and
Middle French. Needless to say,
translations are necessary and they
were provided in the program at the
concert, as they are with the Sony
recording. But in the darkened hall,
it wasn’t possible to follow along.
Would Einhorn consider projection
of the texts in some fashion – as
supertitles, or on something like the
LED screens that are installed on
the backs of seats at the Metropolitan Opera House? “We have not
tried this yet and I would like to,”
said the composer. “It would change
the piece dramatically, but not necessarily for the worse. By projecting
my texts, the balance of image,
music, and word would be shifted
to the word and to the tension
between the linear narrative of Joan’s trial in the film and the
non-linear organization of the music texts. I would love to find
out what that feels like!”
In fact, Einhorn was far less worried than I was about the
audience missing something. “The notion that the experience
of a piece of music begins and ends when the music begins
and ends is an odd one to me. If we are moved, we carry that
emotional experience with us for quite a while. In the case of
Voices of Light, I quite consciously wanted to provide an audience with more information than they could apprehend at one
performance. Why? Because that’s what makes art fun and
different from simply entertainment. You come back to it, to
experience something that you haven’t grasped before.”
The feeling, then, that there was more going on in the hall
that night than I could take in – this despite familiarity beforehand with the component parts – may have been the best indication that I was in the presence of something different,
something we might truly call “multimedia.” I have a growing
understanding that it can be exceptionally demanding, can
mean abandoning some old ideas about how we should perceive art, and that it can be very, very wonderful.
Andrew Quint has written on musical subjects and
reviewed classical recordings for The Absolute Sound. He
lives in Philadelphia.

1 Einhorn reports that re verb was added to the amplified signal. He’s not
certain if there was any compression or equalization, but said he wouldn’t
be surprised if there were; it’s a common practice with amplified music.

V I D E O



An Introduction to Digital Video
Part 2: Video Color Concepts
olor is critical to the performance of any home theater. Most of us instantly recognize the problem with
our neighbor’s TV, orange faces that look painted for
Halloween or dull washed-out colors in a parade. We may
not have problems like that in our equipment, but even subtle errors in color accuracy will produce unnatural fleshtones or destroy the carefully painted vision of a master cinematographer. So I want to discuss some basics of color
that apply to video – the factors that are required for a display to achieve accurate color and how we measure and
present color accuracy to you.

1. The Physics of Color
The subject of color science could easily fill this book. But
all we need to know is that color is a characteristic of light
defined by its spectral content, i.e., the distribution of energy at different wavelengths. The visible wavelengths of light
are roughly from about 380 nm (nanometers) to 780 nm. An
example of one color of light is shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1

2. Human Color Perception
In the human eye, light enters through the pupil and forms
an image on the retina, which has photoreceptors that convert light into signals that are processed by the eye’s neural
circuits, which then transmit information to the brain.

Two conditions are necessary
to achieve perfect display
color accuracy. The grayscale
must maintain a perfect D65
color temperature across the
entire brightness range of
the display, and the CRT
phosphors must match the
SMPTE C standards…For this
reason, the blue-filter
method [of calibration] must
be considered an approximation for consumer monitors.
Vision in normal lighting depends on photoreceptors called
cones. (Our vision at night depends on photoreceptors
called rods that have no color-discrimination capability, so
we are all colorblind in dim light.)
There are three types of cones with different spectral
responses that are sensitive to long, medium, and short
wavelengths of light. They roughly match the spectral distributions of the colors red, green, and blue. Their responses are shown in Figure 2. These response plots have been


normalized in the diagram. We are actually about 20 percent more sensitive to
the green curve than the red, and about 40 times less sensitive to the blue curve.
As the wavelength of light varies, the probability that a
cone will absorb that light depends on its spectral response,
but all light absorbed by the same cone contributes equally
to its response regardless of wavelength. The relative
amounts of light collected by the three cone types, our tristimulus response, determines how we perceive a particular

can create a wide gamut of visible colors.
To be a primary color, it is only necessary
that no primary can be created by a combination of other
primaries. It is also important to our video system that
adding the three primaries in some portions will create a
reference white color.
In video projectors, the three light sources are mixed by
overlaying them on the projection screen. In direct-view
monitors, phosphor dots or stripes of the primary colors
are arranged so closely together that the eye perceives the
light coming from a single location. The eye’s visual acuity
(ability to see detail) to color is related to the separation of
the cones on the retina.

Luminance is a measure of our sensation of brightness. It
depends on the spectral sensitivity of human vision. Colors
closer to the center of the visible wavelength range (yellowgreen at 550 nm) are perceived as brighter, and therefore
have higher luminance than other colors with the same

Hue and Saturation

Fig. 2
color. This makes human color perception trichromatic
(three-color). The sum of the three responses determines
our perception of brightness, while the ratio between the
three responses determines our perception of hue and saturation, the chromatic properties of light.
Interestingly, different spectral distributions can be perceived as the same color if they provide the same tristimulus response. Also notice that there are areas at the
extremes of the visible range where only a single type of
cone has any response. That means colors in those areas
will be perceived the same, since there is a response from
only one type of cone.

About 0.003 percent of people can’t see color at all. About 8
percent of males and 0.5 percent of females are color blind,
which means they don’t see color the way most of us do.
About 2.5 percent of males see reds and greens as the same
color. The other 5.5 percent of colorblind males match colors differently than the rest of us and differentiate small
color differences less well. This hasn’t much to do with
video, but it was too interesting to leave out.

3. Color Concepts for Video

Hue is what we commonly refer to as red, green, yellow,
greenish-yellow, and so forth. It is related to the dominant
wavelength of a color.
Saturation is the purity of the color, what might be
described as its vividness or depth of color. The more pale
the color, as a pastel, the less saturated it is. A color can be
desaturated by adding white. If a color is formed by adding
portions of three primaries, some portion of white that consumes one primary can also be formed. That portion of
white can be thought of as desaturating the color formed by
the remaining portions of the other two primaries.

The Color of White
It may seem that the color of white is unique, a black and
white matter. But of course there are many colors of white.
Compare the pages of this book, writing paper, or anything
else you normally define as white. They all have a distinctive hue. In video systems, the color of a reference white is
crucial to generating all other colors. So it is critical to have
a precise method to specify the color of white required. The
physicist Max Planck determined that carbon heated to
extreme temperatures emitted light with broad spectral distributions (i.e., shades of white) determined by their temperature. In physics these are called blackbody radiators.
Standard illuminants are defined by the temperature of a
blackbody radiator that most closely matches their color.
This is called the correlated color temperature, which is
measured in absolute degrees Kelvin (K). So the color of
white can be specified by a temperature. All of our current
video systems use a standard illuminant called D65, at a
correlated color temperature of 6500 K.

Additive Color
All video display systems create colors by adding together
three primary colors of light, which is equivalent to adding
together their spectral distributions. Red, green, and blue
are used by video systems as primary colors because they

4. The CIE Color System
It is far too complex in practical applications like video to
specify colors by their spectral distributions. The CIE
(Commission Internationale de L’éclairage - International


Commission on Lighting) was created in
1927, and in 1931 established a colorimetry system to describe colors using a simple system of
numerical coordinates. I won’t delve into the details behind
that system other than to say it is based on the tristimulus
response principles discussed earlier and experiments that
were done with human observers. A result of their work
was the creation of a two-dimensional (x,y) chart called the
CIE Chromaticity Diagram. (Figure 3)

created by mixing two other colors will
lie on a straight line connecting them.
The distance along the line where the new color appears is
inversely related to the proportions of the two colors. Since
all single-wavelength visible colors lie on the Spectral
Locus, all visible colors must be inside the locus. Furthermore, it follows that all colors made from a combination of
three primary colors must lie inside a triangle formed by the
three colors. Colors outside the triangle cannot be reproduced because that would require negative amounts of light
from one or two primaries.
The red, green, and blue primaries of video systems are
chosen to enclose a reasonably large triangle that determines the entire gamut of colors that can be displayed. If
two displays have slightly different sets of red, green, and
blue primaries, the overlapping color triangles demonstrate
that the two displays cannot produce exactly the same
gamut of colors. (Figure 4)

Fig. 3

The CIE Chromaticity Diagram
The horseshoe-shaped curve in the diagram is called the
Spectral Locus, and consists of all colors with only a single
wavelength. The lowest wavelength color, ultraviolet at 380
nm, is located at the bottom left of the horseshoe, and the
wavelengths increase moving around the Spectral Locus to
infra-red, at 780 nm, on the far right. The Line of Purples
connecting the ends of the locus represents colors that cannot be created with any single wavelength.
The line shown in the middle is the called the Plankton
Locus, or blackbody radiation curve. The color temperature
is infinite at the left end and drops to several thousand
degrees as the Plankton Locus converges with Spectral
Locus in the reds. The important D65 white reference, at a
correlated color temperature of 6500K, is at (0.3127, 0.329)
expressed as CIE (x,y) coordinates. It is a “correlated” color
temperature because it lies just off the Plankton Locus.
Brightness is not shown on the diagram, only saturation
and hue. The hue of totally pure colors is determined by
their position on the Spectral Locus, or Line of Purples. The
saturation is determined by how far the color lies from the
reference white point near the center of the diagram. The
pastel colors lie close to the center and the pure, fully saturated colors lie on the horseshoe.

5. Display Color Accuracy
RGB Primaries – The Color Triangle
One of the properties of the CIE diagram is that any color

Fig. 4
Equally important, since the primaries are at different
locations, mixing the primaries with the same proportions
of light will generate different colors. Hence we see that to
reproduce the colors specified by video signals, it is critical
that the primaries be matched to the video system standards.
The NTSC primaries were specified in 1953 based on
phosphors available at that time. But over the years, TV display manufacturers continually used newer phosphors that
provided higher light output than the original NTSC phosphors. This created serious color errors. Finally, in 1971 a
new set of primary phosphors, called the SMPTE “C” phosphors were selected. (The SMPTE C phosphor specification
has been revised since then with very slight changes.)
These are the phosphors used in all professional broadcast
monitors. Unfortunately, consumer CRTs are still using
slightly different phosphors, and different phosphors from
one product to another. (The SMPTE C phosphor values are
given in Table 1.)
The obvious result of not using the standard phosphors

Table 1

SMPTE C Color Bars
























is that colors created by following the video signal’s “recipe”
for mixing light from the red, green, and blue primaries will
result in wrong colors. Hence, the colors from consumer
monitors must be wrong! How wrong is a function of their
deviation from the standard, and I’ll look at how to measure
it below. But that isn’t the only error that plagues color accuracy for consumer monitors and projectors. Another error is
usually much larger when consumer TVs are purchased.

White Reference Color Temperature
It is necessary, but not sufficient, that the chromaticity
coordinates of the primaries match the SMPTE C standard
to accurately reproduce color. It is also necessary that the
relative brightness of light from the three primaries be calibrated to produce the standard D65 white reference color,
otherwise the contribution of light from each primary will
not be correct when creating any other colors. White is
defined to be the color represented by equal red, green, and
blue values of an RGB signal. The color produced by any
other combination of signal values depends on the initial
calibration of the relative primary light outputs for the
white signal values. But what brightness of white should be
used when calibrating the color temperature?

dards, and no one has ever built a display that can be calibrated for perfect grayscale tracking. It is interesting to note
that direct-view CRT monitors can usually be calibrated for
significantly better grayscale tracking than CRT projectors,
but CRT projectors can have primary colors that more closely match the standard because each primary color is generated by a separate CRT. This allows more specialization of
phosphor selection and possible color filtering of the light
output from the CRTs.
Now that we know that no consumer display will be perfect, let’s discuss what sort of technique we can use to measure color accuracy.

6. Color Measurement
Color Bars
It is helpful to have some standard video test signals that
can be used to calibrate a display, or to measure the accuracy of the display’s color performance. The easiest signals
to generate are the common color bars that almost everyone has seen at one point or another. (Figure 5)

Grayscale Color Temperature
The answer is that all brightness levels of white should produce the same standard D65 color temperature. That means
the relative light outputs from the three primaries must
track together as the total brightness changes. As a result,
any color generated by another mix of the primaries will
also stay at the same CIE (x,y) location regardless of the
brightness of the color. Grayscale is the term used to
describe the color temperature of the reference white over
the range from dark gray to peak white. The closer the
grayscale color temperature can be held to D65, the more
accurate the colors will be at all brightness levels within the
picture. For instance, if the color temperature increases to
the more blue-white of 7500K in the middle of the brightness
range, then colors will be seen with a bluer hue than desired
when they appear at that brightness level.
So we have seen that two conditions are necessary to
achieve perfect display color accuracy. The grayscale must
maintain a perfect D65 color temperature across the entire
brightness range of the display, and the CRT phosphors
must match the SMPTE C standards. It’s just that simple.
Unfortunately, we can’t seem to get any consumer products
that exactly match the SMPTE phosphor chromaticity stan-

Fig. 5
Color bar signals are generated by creating all possible
combinations of the three primary colors with each of the
RGB signals set to the same value. The resulting colors are
red, green, and blue, their complementary colors, cyan
(blue + green), yellow (green + red) and magenta (red +
blue), and white, which is always defined as equal RGB signal levels. The most common color bars are those that use
75 percent of the maximum signal value. We rather obviously refer to those as 75 percent bars, but 100 percent bars


are used in some circumstances.
Remember that although the signal levels are the same, the actual brightness of light from each
primary is not the same, that is determined by calibrating
the reference white color to D65.
Changing the signal levels of all primary colors
together does not change the CIE (x,y) chromaticity of a
color. Color bars with 50 percent signal amplitudes would
have the same (x,y) coordinates as color bars with 75 percent signal amplitudes. The difference is that the brightness of the color bars will change with amplitude, but
brightness information is not included in the CIE Chromaticity Diagram.
Notice that a complementary color lies on the extension of a line connecting its missing primary and the reference white point. This follows from the fact that adding
equal signal levels of a primary and its complementary
color must create the reference white, and the rule that any
color lies on a line between the two colors creating it. That
latter rule also means that the complementary color lies on
the line connecting its two primary components. Hence the
intersection of these two lines geometrically locates the
(x,y) position of the complimentary colors. (See Figure 6)
The (x,y) coordinates can also be calculated using a
mathematical analysis based on the coordinates of the
phosphors and white point. The (x,y) coordinates for each
color in the color bars based on the SMPTE C phosphors
and the D65 white point is shown in Table 1.
We can measure the (x,y) coordinates for each color in

the test pattern directly from a display
using a sophisticated electro-optical
instrument known as a color analyzer (or a spectroradiometer) and plot the results along with the SMPTE C
standard colors to display the errors.

Fig. 6
At this point you might realize that the color accuracy
for a display being driven by RGB signals is pretty cut and
dry. Once the primary colors are determined and the white
point set, the color accuracy
is determined. The variable
for any display is its variation
in grayscale color temperature, which means the white
point’s (x,y) coordinates
change with brightness level.
If the white point moves
around, we can see from the
simple geometric analysis
that the complementary colors will move on the edges of
the display’s RGB triangle. Of
course, the (x,y) point for
other color signals will also
move around proportionally
inside the color triangle creating errors.
Some of you may wonder
if it isn’t possible to convert
the RGB video signals from
the SMPTE standard to
match a non-standard set of
display primaries, thereby
avoiding color errors. The
answer is yes, within the limits of the display’s color
gamut, but it is more complex
than one might expect
because the RGB signals are
non-linear. Why they are non-


linear will be discussed at another
time, but with the availability of digital signal processing, such transformations are practical, but expensive.
Some approximate corrections can
be made more simply on consumer

7. Color and Hue
I have shown that color accuracy is a
function of grayscale and phosphor
accuracy when a monitor is driven by
RGB signals. However, no video
sources produce RGB signals directly. Instead we have composite, SVideo, or YPbPr component video
from our sources. These signal formats must always be converted to
RGB signals to drive the display
device, either in a TV monitor or perhaps externally in a line doubler, or
other upconverter, to drive a projector. This introduces another source
of color errors. Hue and Color controls are usually provided to calibrate
the conversion from the source signal format to the RGB signals.
Color bars are used to adjust
Color and Hue because we know
that the three RGB signal values
should be the same everywhere
they are used in the color-bar pattern. Therefore, with proper calibration, the same brightness of blue
light should come from each color
that contains blue (blue, white,
cyan, and magenta). The same is
true for red or green. Remember
that the brightness of red, blue, or
green is different and that was set
by adjusting the white color temperature. But the brightness of any
one primary should be the same
everywhere it is used in the pattern,
including white.
Using this principle, calibration
DVDs like Video Essentials and the
AVIA Guide to Home Theater provide filters (blue in Video Essentials
and red, blue, and green in AVIA) so
that the light from only one primary
can be viewed at a time. Most CRT
projectors provide a means to turn
on one primary at a time (or you can
cover the lenses), so filters are
unnecessary. The Color saturation
control adjusts the signal levels of

the primaries without changing their
levels for the white color. It is
adjusted until the signal levels of
each primary alone matches its signal level, and therefore brightness,
in white. The Hue control varies the
relative signal levels of the primaries
to each other, except in white, so
that the brightness of any one primary is the same in two complementary colors. For instance, the brightness of green should be the same in
yellow as it is in cyan. When the signal format conversion to RGB is correctly calibrated, the brightness of
any one primary will appear the
same everywhere it is used in the
color bars.
On many consumer monitors, it
is not possible to adjust the Color
and Hue controls for the proper
results. This means that the conversion circuits are not capable of being
accurately calibrated to generate the
correct RGB signals. This can be an
intentional decision by the manufacturer who believes that the resulting
colors, although inaccurate, are
more likely to attract purchasers.
Conversely, Sony now includes additional service level adjustments in
its top-end products to improve the
conversion and color accuracy.
However, it should now be apparent that even if the color decoding is
adjusted correctly, the colors will still
not be accurate unless the grayscale
is properly adjusted and the phosphors match the SMPTE standards.
The blue-filter method works perfectly for professional broadcast monitors be-cause the latter condition is
satisfied. In consumer monitors, this
method will produce colors only as
accurate as the phosphors and conversion circuits allow. A highly
knowledgeable calibrator, who
understands all the concepts we’ve
discussed, can use a color analyzer to
adjust all parameters and achieve
better color accuracy. For this reason, the blue filter method must be
considered an approximation for
consumer monitors. The AVIA DVD
provides an additional test pattern
that can aid in fine tuning the Hue
and Color adjustments, but that is the
best a user can do without expensive


Sony VPH-G90U Multiscan Projector

he ultimate in home-theater
display devices are the 9” CRT
projectors. Size matters in CRT
projectors because it enables higher
resolution and brighter images.
Sony’s new VPH-G90U has entered
this elite market at an attractive
$35,000 price to do battle with existing products from home-theater specialists Runco and Vidikron, priced as
much as 50 percent higher. The new
Sony may not be everyone’s Sony, but
home-theater enthusiasts who dream
of 9” CRTs may have come a little
closer to reality.

The G90 has a huge physical presence, not
unlike other 9” CRT projectors. At over 240 pounds, it is
one of the heaviest projectors I’ve encountered. It was delivered in a Styrofoam-padded cardboard box screwed to a
wooden pallet. It is also several handfuls, at nearly 30 inches
wide and 42 inches long. Fortunately it is only a bit more than
15 inches high, which improves handling somewhat. It is actually easier to carry and maneuver than many lighter projectors because Sony has cleverly designed eight convenient and
sturdy handles into the perimeter of its case, each pair looking a bit like bicycle handlebars. They pull outward from each
side of the projector and lock in place for use, then retract
back into the case, out of the way, when not needed. This
made it easy for four men to carry the projector up a flight of
stairs, and for two men to lift it into place on a sturdy table.
Although its case isn’t aerodynamically designed and
painted a bright racing color, it is sculptured to look quite
handsome in two-tone gray for ceiling or “tabletop” mounting.
For this review, I mounted it on a table below a ceiling-mounted Runco IDP-980 Ultra. So I can’t relate to you the experience of lifting and attaching it to a ceiling, but I’m certain
those handles would have played a critical role.
The front panel of the projector contains
only an IR remote control sensor. Above that

the huge 9-inch lens assemblies
protrude several inches in front of
the angled bezel, proudly proclaiming that this is one serious
projector. Just behind the lenses, the top panel swings open to
allow an installer to make
mechanical focus and one-time
aiming adjustments of the CRTlens assemblies. This is particularly nice since the main cover of
the case remains closed, protecting the electronics. The user
should never need to access or
repeat any of the mechanical
adjustments. All of the inputs,
power receptacles, switches, and
status indicators are located on the rear
panel. There are also two slots in the rear panel
for optional video input/output boards.
The top cover has a sliding door that conceals a complete
duplicate of the external remote control, only fixed permanently in place and running off the projector’s power. This
makes it convenient, especially in a tabletop installation, to
use this panel for set-up. It also ensures that the user will have
complete access to all projector controls should you temporarily misplace the remote.
The external remote is an almost square panel, about six
inches on a side, but quite thin for easy holding. A button on
the top edge turns on backlighting for all of the panel labels.
All of the controls are nicely grouped and logically laid out.
Two rows of calibration keys at the bottom can be covered by
a sliding plastic panel. They are also disabled unless unlocked
by a sequence of key pushes so that curious fingers can’t accidentally disturb their settings. On-screen displays provide
numeric feedback for all the variable settings and status messages. What I like most about this remote is that all calibration
and normal usage functions have dedicated keys. On-screen
menus are provided for functions that are seldom used, such
as setting up the sync signal selections, or for obtaining status
displays of incoming signals. We so often criticize remote controls that I want to acknowledge when one is
done this well.


The G90 comes with two manuals. One is an
operator’s manual that describes the basic user
controls and the other an installation manual.
The manuals are reasonably good but they could
have done a bit better job explaining the basic
memory system concepts. The service manual
also left out a key point, failing to note that the status mode
must be on before a specified series of keystrokes will enable
the service mode. I began setting the G90 up on a Saturday
and was stymied by this omission. Fortunately, a quick query
to an Internet newsgroup brought several correct solutions.
Many thanks to those who responded.

I/O Connections
The G90 includes the usual composite, S-Video, and RGB
inputs. It also includes YPbPr component video inputs for
standard-definition and high-definition sources with both bilevel and tri-level sync capabilities. This means it will be compatible with virtually any video source existing or announced.
There are also two slots on the rear panel for additional I/O
modules, so it can be upgraded for any digital video interfaces
in the future.
The rear panel has an RS-232/422 interface. I put this to
use during my evaluation. The projector I was sent arrived
with version 1.02 firmware, which was missing a grayscale
calibration feature. I received the latest firmware version
(1.11) by email from Sony and downloaded it to the G90 in
less than 30 minutes.

Scan Rates
The G90 is compatible with just about any video format that
exists, including the most advanced scalers and upconverters. The horizontal scan frequency range is 15-150 kHz, and
the vertical scan range is 38-150 Hz. This also accommodates
a wide range of computer graphic resolutions. The RGB
bandwidth is 135 MHz for displaying the highest resolution

Installation and Set-up
I always recommend that ceiling mounting and initial projector set-up be done by professional installers and calibrators. There are serious safety issues when mounting heavy
objects overhead on ceilings, and lethal voltages are
found inside projectors and remain stored there even after
they have been unplugged for long periods.
So never open a projector case for any reason.
In addition to safety reasons, projectors should be professionally installed because positioning distances and
angles are critical to getting the best performance, indeed
even proper functioning. In ceiling-mounted installations,
it really pays to get it right the first time. It is also essential that the grayscale color temperature be correctly
adjusted. It’s ludicrous to spend a large sum on a projector
and then try to save a few hundred dollars by avoiding this
critical calibration step. It is pure fantasy to do this adjustment without a sophisticated color analyzer, so be sure
your installer or calibrator has the proper electronic test
Your installer will be able to make many mechanical and
electronic calibration adjustments to optimize the picture.
Beyond the standard CRT-Lens alignment and focus adjustments, Scheimpflug adjustments are included for each CRT.

These mechanical adjustments alter the horizontal and vertical tilt of the CRTs to alter the focal plane with respect to
the lens assemblies. This provides optimum focus at all
edges of the picture. After all of the mechanical focusing is
complete, an extensive array of electronic magnetic-focus
adjustments are made from the remote control for nine separate screen areas. Sony’s new hexapole focus adjustments
produce the small spot size and round shape that are so crucial to the ultra high-resolution performance of the G90.
A complete professional calibration should be done at
the time of installation. That way you know that everything
involved in the installation process has been done correctly
and you are getting the best picture possible from your projector. Most current projectors provide picture geometry
and convergence adjustments using a remote control. It will
reward owners to learn how to make those remote control
adjustments to keep the picture in optimum shape, since
some drift is inevitable over time, particularly during the
first year of any projector’s life.
Some High End projectors are available with small
cameras that provide automatic adjustments, but manual
controls must generally be used to fine-tune the results.
The Sony G90 has no automatic adjustment capability, but
its geometry and convergence controls are among the easiest to use and provide a versatile array of capabilities to
get near-perfect results. All the necessary test patterns are
built in, and skew, bow, size, linearity, pincushion, and
keystone adjustments are available for each color and for
different areas of the screen. Then each color can be finetweaked for horizontal and vertical registration at 25 different locations on the display using the Zone adjustment.
The variety of controls, their effectiveness, and ease of use
are exemplary.

Operating Functions
The memory model for accessing different sources and display formats on the G90 can be a bit confusing at first
glance. The projector has 150 input memories, each storing
identification and calibration information for a particular
type of input signal. An input signal memory is selected
based on the signal scan-rate, signal type (S-Video, RGB,
YPbPr, etc.) and the input signal port. All signals from a line
quadrupler use one input memory, S-Video signals another,
and so forth. Separate geometry, convergence, and grayscale
information is stored for each input signal type. Then 10
video memories store specific aspect ratio and picture control information (brightness, contrast, color, etc). When a
signal is input to the projector, the appropriate input memory is selected automatically. The user then selects one of the
10 video memories for the aspect ratio desired. The 10 video
memories are selected with numbered keys on the remote,
but can be named for on-screen identification with up to 18
characters each. Memories can then be selected by name
using the on-screen menu.
I set up a variety of input memories, including standard
NTSC through the S-Video input, and line-doubled and HDTV
signals through RGB and YPbPr inputs. I created video memories for 4:3, 4:3 letterboxed, and 16.9 enhanced aspect ratio
Other features include a picture-orbiting function to
help prevent CRT burns, which can be disabled if desired.
The user can also select between a 3-line-adaptive comb fil-

ter or a motion-adaptive 3-D comb filter when using the
composite input.

My overwhelming first impression of the Sony G90 was its
razor-sharp image clarity. The 9-inch CRT technology reveals
the resolution limits of projectors with smaller CRTs. I suppose it was even more impressive that the first things I looked
at were HDTV pictures. But the differences in detail between
the Sony G90 and the excellent but smaller CRTs of the Runco
IDP-980 Ultra, were also noticeable on DVD. Edges were a tad
sharper and areas of fine structure appeared to have additional depth and contrast.
The G90 has an outstanding ability to differentiate subtle
levels of dark gray just above black. Plus there is virtually no
shift in black level with changes in average picture level
(APL). I confirmed this using the various PLUGE test patterns
provided by the Video Essentials DVD in title 17, chapters 2,
3, 5, and 7. The Video Montage sequence from this same DVD
showed how effectively the G90 held black levels constant to
increase contrast-ratio and reveal shadow details.
I was able to adjust the grayscale color temperature to
exceptional accuracy, 6500K +300/-50K at 7.75 ft-L measured
at the plane of my 1.3 gain screen, which equates to about 10
ft-L for on-axis viewing. The G90 provides a gamma adjustment for individual CRTs that is found on few other projectors. It enables better tracking of the three CRTs and a flatter
grayscale response. I believe I could have improved the
grayscale even further had I had more time. Without even recalibrating, I cranked up the light output at the screen plane
to over 14 ft-L and the color temperature only dropped to
6100K. So the projector is capable of much higher light output
than I used for comparison tests.
Despite the excellent grayscale results, I was less
pleased with the color accuracy. The primary reason (pun
intended) was the chromaticity of the green phosphor. It is
somewhat more yellow than the SMPTE C standard green.
(See measurements.) This eliminated the deepest green hues
from the color gamut, slightly desaturated the blue-greens
(cyan), and shifted the purple hues (magenta) toward blue.
The yellower-green can be seen in landscapes and fields
where greener pastures are expected. Skin-tones appeared
slightly pale or colder than normal. If the color temperature
is calibrated slightly more red than normal, the skin-tones
will be corrected and magenta much improved. I found that
a more pleasing picture.
The green phosphor may have been a deliberate choice to
maximize the light output of the projector. The G90 is rated at
1300 peak lumens and 350 ANSI lumens, impressive specs for
a CRT projector. In my testing, the G90 luminance dropped
only 2 percent when going from a small white window to a full
screen of peak white. That is amazing performance and
reflects its superior full-white rating of 500 lumens. The picture simply won’t dim on the brightest scenes. The white field
uniformity was also exceptional with very little variance in
brightness or color over the screen.
Fan noise on the G90 wasn’t nearly as loud as might be
expected from a projector drawing 1050 watts. I measured 51
dB “C” weighted, at three feet from the unit. The fan noise is
not high-pitched, but has a rushing-air sound that is often
masked by the music and dialog in a movie. It may be acceptable in a ceiling-mount application without additional attenu-

ation, but I wasn’t able to experience that.
The Sony G90 includes a built-in video
upconverter that converts NTSC formats from
480i (active lines) to 960i interlaced video. Sony
calls its process Digital Reality Creation, or DRC.
It uses pattern matching in look-up tables to do
the conversion. Conventional line doublers or quadruplers
use entirely different processes to create 480p and 960p progressive video. I used the DRC to watch live basketball games
and DVD movies. Video-camera sources, like the basketball
game, will create some artifacts on any type of upconverter. I
found the artifacts on Sony’s unique DRC system to look more
artificial, dare I say digital, than other techniques. Artifacts
sometimes have a pixellated appearance. It comes down to
matter of preference, but I’m more accustomed and comfortable with the twitter artifacts of conventional line-doublers
and quadruplers. On movies the DRC did a better job but
couldn’t match the complete absence of deinterlacing artifacts from upconverters that use inverse-telecine processing.
But the DRC feature is included standard with the G90 and a
high-quality quadrupler will approach $20,000.
I used PBS broadcasts to evaluate HDTV on the G90. This
was where it really excelled. Projectors without 9-inch CRTs
simply don’t have enough resolution to fully display the horizontal and static vertical resolution of 1080i signals. The G90
has what it takes. HDTV on 7- and 8-inch CRT projectors like
the Runco DTV-930 can look wonderful, but on the G90 the
picture achieves an astonishing clarity. PBS has many airborne sequences flying across agricultural and urban landscapes that are so clear that you will feel like you are actually skimming the tree tops and peering into office building windows. A ride in a raft down the mighty Colorado river may
convince you that it might be better to watch on the G90 than
to actual participate. After sitting glued to my chair watching
this HDTV demo material several times for more than hour, I
can sing praises about the HDTV format and the incredible
resolution and 3-dimensionality of the G90 picture. It rivals
the best film presentations that I have seen at a well-maintained cinema. Sadly, few people will actually get to enjoy this

The Sony VPH-G90U will produce stunning picture resolution,
surpassing the definition, contrast, and image depth of 8” or
smaller CRT projectors. It is one of the very few CRT projectors, or display devices of any kind, capable of producing
HDTV’s available resolution. Audition it when you are selecting from among the ultimate home-theater projectors.



Sony Electronics Inc
1 Sony Drive
Park Ridge, New Jersey 07656
Phone: (201) 930-1000
Source: Manufacturer Loan
S/N: 2000039
Price: $35,000

Runco DTV-930 Multiscan Projector
for the higher resolution computer
graphic display capabilities of the IDP980 Ultra. It doesn’t affect video performance, where the highest bandwidth
requirement is a flat response to 30 MHz
for HDTV. The only other change from
the IDP-980 Ultra is the deletion of a
scan-line dithering board, a feature I
never used anyway.
Curiously, the DTV-930 is listed as an
8-inch CRT projector, which Runco
quickly volunteers really uses liquidcooled, 7-inch electromagnetic focus
(EMF) CRTs. The decision to list it as an
8-inch CRT projector dates back to the
introduction of the IDP-980, apparently
as a way to differentiate it from inferior

ne of the more exciting announcements at the last
Consumer Electronics Show was the introduction of
the Runco DTV-930, which significantly altered the
price-performance curve for CRT projectors. The DTV-930
was cloned from one of Runco’s most successful products,
the widely acclaimed IDP-980 Ultra. Conservatively built and
highly reliable, the IDP-980 Ultra has been a favorite in premium home-theaters for its excellent picture quality and easy
to use features. A year ago, it was priced at $23,000. The DTV930 with point convergence option is now $16,195. To sweeten the deal even further, Runco offers a DTV-933 package that
adds an external line-tripler for another four large. I haven’t
evaluated the tripler yet, but I’ll review it separately in a
future issue.
You are probably asking what you give up, other than
cash, for nearly a 30 percent reduction in price. The answer is
very little for home-theater applications.

The DTV-930 was created by limiting the maximum horizontal
scan-rate of the IDP-980 Ultra from 100 kHz to 50 kHz. This
positions the DTV-930 to handle nearly all video applications,
but leaves a little room at the top-end for Runco’s higher
priced CRT projectors. The DTV-930 is fully compatible with
line doublers, triplers, and any of the ATSC HDTV standards
including 1080i or 720p. Its 50 kHz scan rate will accept a
maximum computer display resolution of 1024x768 at 60 Hz.
The DTV-930 has a bandwidth of 80 MHz, while the IDP980 Ultra bandwidth was specified as 100
MHz, but this difference was only significant

projectors that used 7-inch electrostatic focus (ESF) CRTs.
Runco says they intend to revise their specifications in the
future. Electromagnetic focus CRTs mean smaller spot size
and higher resolution, so they hope this distinction will be
understood by buyers comparing projectors by CRT size
The DTV-930 uses the same (USPL HD-144) color-corrected, air-coupled lens assemblies that have been used for several years on the IDP-980 Ultra. (Runco’s webpage is outdated
on this point.) Light output is specified as 1100 Lumens peak
and 225 ANSI Lumens. The former spec is more descriptive of
video performance, which has relatively low average luminance levels, while the latter better describes computer
graphic display capabilities.

The DTV-930 is available in black or white, 24 inches wide and
30 inches long, weighing about 124 pounds.
The case is about 12 inches high at the front


to accommodate the three lens assemblies and input connectors, and then slopes gently downward toward the rear. There
are no handles or other means for lifting the projector so it
can be quite awkward when lifting to a ceiling mount position.
The three lens assemblies are recessed into the case with
just their rims exposed on the front bezel. The entire top
cover is hinged at the rear and swings open to mechanically
aim and focus the CRT-lens assemblies. All input connectors,
the power switch and line-cord receptacle reside on the front
panel, slightly recessed from the lens bezel. When the projector is ceiling mounted all of the connectors are above the lenses, which keeps cables out of the way. A remote control jack
is provided that can be used with one of two supplied cords
(13’ and 52’) to save batteries during long calibration sessions.
Two IR remotes are provided, one for installation and
another for user operation. The installation remote contains
dedicated keys for almost all calibration functions to avoid
going through the on-screen menus. The remote is backlit for
working in the dark. The smaller user remote runs only on
batteries and is not backlit.
The rear panel contains status lights, a two-digit diagnostic display, and a small collection of keys for navigating the
on-screen menus. The latter need never be used since set-up
and operation is more easily done from the remote control.

BNC connectors are provided for RGB and sync inputs. Composite or separate H and V sync, as well as sync-on-green can
be used. Composite and S-Video inputs are provided using an
unusual 15-pin D-connector. A short breakout cable is included to provide a standard mini-DIN jack for the S-Video and a
BNC jack for composite video. These inputs are compatible
with NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. Curtain control switching is
provided via DC voltages on another D-connector.
There are no YPbPr component video inputs. Line doublers and other video upconverters provide RGB outputs. But
some HDTV set-top boxes provide only YPbPr outputs (Panasonic, Pioneer), while others provide RGB outputs (Sony,
RCA) or both. This is a common limitation of a large installed
based of projectors, so hopefully future set-top boxes will be
designed with both RGB and YPbPr outputs to maximize their
market opportunities.

Installation and Set-up
A professional installer should always be used for mounting
projectors on ceilings. Projectors are heavy, and proper
mounting is a safety and performance issue. Furthermore, a
professional calibrator must be used to do the initial
set-up. This requires mechanical adjustments inside the projector where there are lethal voltages that remain present
even when the projector is unplugged, which again is both
a safety and performance issue.
The projector used for this review was mounted on the
ceiling and an 89-inch wide, 1.85:1 Stewart Filmscreen was
used for display. As with all CRT projectors, the correct distance and height relative to the screen must be set correctly.
The distance from the screen to the lens for the DTV-930 must
be 1.33 times the screen width when using multi-aspect-ratio
widescreens. Runco has superb technical phone support and
should be consulted to find out the exact height and distance
dimensions you would need for any screen size and one of
their projectors. A professional installer should mount the

projector and do the mechanical adjustments,
which consist of setting two knobs on each lens
assembly for the correct projection angle and
screen size, aiming the CRT-lens assemblies to
converge at center screen, and adjusting focus
rings for best center and edge focus for each
CRT. From that point, all other calibration is performed electronically using the remote control.
The grayscale color-temperature must always be calibrated
by a professional using a color analyzer. Don’t avoid this step,
and make certain your calibrator has a color analyzer. The
color accuracy of this projector is excellent, but it depends, like
all display devices, on an accurate grayscale adjustment that
can only be done using sophisticated test equipment. The professional calibrator should also ensure that all set-up adjustments are individually optimized for multiple aspect ratios and
different sources. This projector is remarkably stable and
touch-ups are required infrequently after an initial burn-in and
calibration period of six months or so.
Built-in test patterns consist of cross-hair, focus, whitewindow, and multiple cross-hatch and dot patterns. When a
projector has electronic remote-control adjustments for geometry, convergence and focus, as this one does, I encourage
enthusiasts to learn to do these adjustments. Part of the fun of
projector ownership can be tweaking the picture to optimize
the image quality. But don’t alter the grayscale adjustments or
you will need a professional to put it right again.
An excellent array of adjustments is provided to optimize
geometry and convergence. Each CRT has tilt, skew, amplitude, linearity, pin-cushion, and keystone adjustments for
both vertical and horizontal axis with separate control over
the top, bottom, left and right picture edges as required. Electronic focus is included for each CRT with adjustments for
center, top, bottom, left and right sides. But the user should
not readjust the blue focus, which will alter the color balance.
In addition there are astigmatism controls with two-pole
adjustments for 8 different areas of the screen. It is time consuming, but with effort you will be rewarded with a fine spot
size uniformly over the entire screen.
I found all the adjustments easy to make and logically
organized. There is also a contextual help button on the
remote control that brings up one or more text screens
describing the function and usage of the current adjustment.
I think many users will be quite comfortable in tweaking these
adjustments to keep the alignment in pristine condition.
There is even a function that automatically guides a novice
user through the calibration adjustments in order, a step at a
time. Once all parameters are adjusted for best performance
the point convergence option is remarkably quick and easy to
use. By moving a cursor on a 16x13 grid you can adjust for virtually perfect convergence over the entire screen, which is
always critical for the best picture, but crucial for HDTV. Be
sure you get the point convergence option.

Operating Functions
This is one of the easiest projectors to use. There are 100
video memories that store individual picture formats including the input source and all display parameters. Each memory includes the source scan-rate, display aspect-ratio, and a
complete set of calibration values for that picture format.
Each memory can be individually named by the user, such as
“16.9 DVD” with up to eight characters. The first 10 picture

formats can be selected directly from the remote
control. The entire 100 picture formats can be
selected by an on-screen menu that shows the
memory number, name, video source and date
created. When a memory is selected the source
is switched and the display is setup with all of
the individualized calibration settings for that picture. The
memories can be copied, moved, deleted and renamed for
selection convenience or to expedite creating new entries.
Although 100 memory set-ups may seem like overkill, 1020 wouldn’t be enough for me. You will need separate memories for 4:3, 4:3 letterboxed, and 16.9 enhanced aspect ratios,
and I have special set-ups for 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 movies. Most
of these are duplicated again for a doubler, tripler, quad, composite video, S-Video, and my 3Dfusion progressive-scan DVD

player that has a 72 frame-per-second output. Then add 720p
and 1080i for HDTV and several set-ups for computer displays. Finally I have some special picture formats for watching 4:3 sports presentations cropped and expanded to fill the
entire 1.85 screen. You may also want to keep a duplicate set
of everything just in case you accidentally mess something up
while tweaking.
Each memory has a counter and a timer to keep track of
how many times it is used and for how many hours. This is
convenient for knowing how much time you’ve used the CRTs
for watching 4:3 pictures or widescreen pictures. Two sets of
timers, one that can be reset by the user, are also included for
total CRT and projector hours.
Color temperature can be selected from 3200K, 5400K,
6500K, 7500K, and 9500K for special applications. Incoming

Convergence Labs Test Report Greg Rogers
ccurate color reproduction depends on how well the
projector’s red, green, and blue primary colors match
the SMPTE C standard phosphors, combined with the
accuracy of the white-point color temperature. The projector’s
white point has been calibrated to match the D65 standard
white-point at 75 IRE. The projector’s primary and complimentary (yellow, magenta, cyan) colors (circles) are compared to
the SMPTE C standard colors (squares) on the CIE diagram.
Changes in the grayscale color temperature will shift the position of the complimentary colors and the color accuracy.


The Runco DTV-930 RGB color triangle almost completely
overlaps the SMPTE triangle so nearly all colors in the video
signal can be reproduced. The blue and green primary colors
are close to the SMPTE standard phosphors and the red primary is shifted to the right. The resulting color accuracy is
The green primary of the Sony VPH-G90U is shifted toward
yellow. This results in a gap of non-reproducible colors
between its RGB color triangle and the SMPTE C triangle. The
cyan color is desaturated (shifted toward white) and magenta
is shifted toward blue.
If the VPH-G90U color temperature is lowered by moving

the white point slightly toward red during calibration, the
resulting color accuracy will be significantly improved with better skin-tones and more accurate purples. The eye is more sensitive to errors in blues and purples than it is to equal distance
errors in yellow or cyan on the CIE diagram.

horizontal and vertical scan frequencies and other source
information can be displayed at any time. A phosphor saver
function is provided to periodically shift the horizontal and
vertical image position on screen to avoid a CRT burn. This
function can be turned off if desired, although I believe it is a
worthwhile function to use. If a very slight overscan is added
to the picture the effect of this screen saver function will not
be noticed.

I used a Runco IDP-980 Ultra for this evaluation. Its video performance is identical to the DTV-930 with the point convergence option, for everything discussed in this review.
Color accuracy is primarily dependent on two factors,
grayscale accuracy and how well the red, green, and blue primary colors match the SMPTE standard. The latter is fixed for
each model of projector based on its CRT phosphors and any
additional filtering in the lens-CRT assemblies. The grayscale
accuracy must be calibrated and will degrade if the projector
is asked to supply too much light because the blue CRT phosphors will begin to saturate at high output levels. To achieve
the best grayscale accuracy, and therefore good color accuracy, the screen size and image brightness must be appropriate
for the projector. Generally, the larger the CRTs the more light
output they can provide while operating in a linear grayscale
For this projector I used an 89” wide screen and set the
contrast for 7.75 ft-L measured at the screen plane, which
equates to about 10 ft-L on axis for the 1.3 gain screen. This
combination is about the reasonable limit to achieve an
acceptable grayscale and good color accuracy. If you want a
larger display you can select a higher gain screen, but you will
probably find hot-spotting and color variations across the
screen unacceptable if you have a critical eye. The projector
is also capable of much higher light output levels but the color
accuracy will suffer as a result.
Using this set-up I adjusted the grayscale for the SMPTE
standard color temperature of 6500K, +/- 400K over the range
of 20 IRE to 100 IRE. These adjustments were made while
using a Faroudja VP250 line doubler. Since the scan lines
don’t overlap with a doubler, a tripler would provide even flatter grayscale results since the blue CRT will provide more output before the onset of phosphor saturation. The colorimetry
of the green and blue phosphors is quite close to the SMPTE
standard and the red phosphor is a slightly deeper red. The
result is near perfect color-bar patterns and excellent color
accuracy on movies. Skin tones look exceptionally accurate
while full color-saturation is maintained elsewhere in the picture. With good DVD transfers there is no need to reduce the
line doubler’s color control to prevent overly red faces that
would desaturate (washout) other portions of the picture.
(See measurements.)
Other key performance characteristics of any video display are its ability to provide a geometrically stable picture
and constant black levels as picture luminance levels change.
The latter can render black-levels gray and dynamically
reduce the contrast ratio of the picture. These attributes are a
function of good high-voltage power supplies for the CRTs.
Some products, particularly RPTVs and direct-view monitors,
suffer size or geometry changes as the average picture level
(APL) varies. Examples include static changes when a bright
object enters a dark scene, or momentary effects during

bright flashes. On this projector the high voltage system holds picture size and geometry
rock solid regardless of steady state or transient changes in APL. The new Alien DVD is
an excellent test of these capabilities with its
dimly lit interiors that are punctuated by
bright flashing strobe lights in one scene. Black level is also
well maintained with APL changes.
Spot size and focus uniformity across screen is exceptional for CRTs of this size. I compared resolution and picture
definition on some of the best DVDs to the performance of the
Sony G90’s 9-inch CRTs. Alien and The Fifth Element are two
movies that have some of the best detail. The G90 provides a
modest increase in the sharpness of fine details in direct A/B
comparisons. Both projectors are capable of performance
beyond the resolution limits of the DVD format.
A line doubler will work well with this projector when
viewing 16.9 enhanced and 4:3 DVDs on a widescreen from
about 4 PH (picture heights), but scan-line structure will be
visible on 4:3 letterboxed DVDs. If you are sensitive to scanline visibility, then a line tripler would be better for non-16.9
enhanced letterboxed sources and it will allow you to move
up to the “ideal” 3.3 PH if you desire a wider field-of-view.
It’s well established that 9” CRT projectors are required to
reproduce the full resolution of 1080i HDTV. But does that
mean HDTV looks blurry or unimpressive on this projector?
Definitely not! HDTV broadcasts look breathtaking and clearly distance themselves from the best DVDs. I used PBS broadcasts as my HDTV source. It was no contest with any of the
rear projection HDTVs on which I’ve viewed the same material. Picture clarity and definition on the Runco is far superior.
The gap between the Runco and the Sony G90 is not as wide,
but the G90 really does capture that sense of looking through
an open window. Perhaps the Runco is more like looking
through a double-pane window. The G90’s detail and sense of
depth is significantly better in direct comparisons, but unless
you’ve already acquired a trained eye for HDTV on a 9” CRT
projector you’d better sit down, because the Runco DTV-930
will knock you off your feet.

If there is anything in home theater priced a few DVDs over
$16,000 that can be considered a bargain, it is the Runco
DTV-930 with Ultra option. If you are in the market for anything less than a 9” CRT projector, you owe it to yourself to
see this projector optimally set-up and calibrated. But you’d
better hurry. The chassis used for the DTV-930 was a last
time buy for Runco, and when they are gone, they are gone
for good.



2463 Tripaldi Way
Hayward, California 94545
Phone: (510) 293-9154
Source: Reviewer purchase
Price: DTV-930 $14,995;
DTV-930 w/point convergence $16,195

IEV Turboscan 1500 Line Doubler
Any home theater that uses a CRT front projector capable of graphics- or data-grade resolution needs a way
to reduce the visibility of scan lines and remove interlace artifacts, which become painfully unpleasant on a big
screen. Until recently the devices (line doublers) for doing
this with credible quality have cost over $7,500. For my own
modest home theater, with a 7-inch CRT front projector and 6foot wide screen, this price was beyond budget. My first priority was to find a way to convert the YPbPr component video
outputs of my DVD player to work with the RGB inputs of my
projector. I also needed input switching for my laserdisc and
VCR viewing.
The least expensive YPbPr-RGB converter, without line
doubling, is about $900 from Extron. I was about to buy one
of these when I discovered the $2,495 IEV Turboscan 1500 line
doubler. This unassuming black box performs the conversion
I needed, has switching functions, and does line doubling.
This remarkable device also includes separate adjustment of
video parameters (brightness, contrast, color, tint, and sharp ness) for each input, and overall adjustment for red, green,
and blue gain and offset levels. The former is important to me
for matching the slightly different output levels of my
laserdisc player to those of my DVD player. The latter is useful for fine control of color temperature, especially for a projector like mine that doesn’t have digital controls for this function. Imagine my delight to find all of these features in a box I
could afford!

The back panel of the Turboscan sports an on/off switch (normally left on), a power plug input, and a large array of video
input/output connectors. The composite and S-Video inputs
include buffered loop-through outputs. There is also an RJ-11
connector for a remote infrared control (IEV can supply this
or you can buy from a third party) and an RS-232 connector
for computer control of the unit (RS-232 programming commands are in the manual).
My only complaint is that the VGA input connector
should be female, not male. All the readily available connector cables, including VGA to 5-conductor BNC, or computer to VGA monitor, terminate in a male VGA connector.
To use these on the Turboscan you have to use a female-tofemale adapter, creating a potentially unstable connection.
For an RGB input, the Turboscan can automatically
detect whether it is already progressive (as all computer
VGA outputs are) or whether it is interlaced; it can also be
forced into one or the other state. Thus I set up the Turboscan to accept a computer signal on the VGA input connector (which also includes my 3Dfusion progressive DVD
player) and pass that through without doubling. For laserdisc, I use the S-Video input

and for cable TV (via a VCR tuner) I use the composite
The front panel of the Turboscan is clean, showing only
a small LCD panel and a touch panel control with left-rightup-down arrows. The menu commands, displayed on the
LCD panel or on a simple onscreen block, are logically
linked in a circle, all accessible by the left-right arrows on
the front panel or the remote.

Remote Control
The Turboscan 1500 has many features beyond its line doubling capability, most of which I have already mentioned. As
supplied by IEV, it comes with the excellent Home Theater
Master SL-8000 universal remote that includes the control
codes for over 500 devices (audio, satellite, TV, VCR, cable,
CD, DVD, and auxiliary). My Turboscan, along with my Electrohome projector, came from Hi Rez Projections, Inc., of
Boston (, which include Home Theater Master’s better remote, the SL-9000 with learning capabilities. Both these units are wonderful, exceeded only by
remotes costing several hundred dollars.

Line Doubling = Deinterlacing
The name “line doubler” is misleading. These devices don’t
increase the total number of scan lines per video frame.
They deinterlace conventional NTSC video by replacing
each interlaced video field, which alternately displays only
the odd or even half of the frame’s scan lines, with a progressive video frame containing all of the scan lines. Deinterlacing is a complex process because the fields from a
video camera represent the image at different moments in
time. Simply merging fields together would create double
images of objects in motion, while interpolating new lines
between existing lines of each field produces a softer image.
Deinterlacing video sources is where most line doublers fall
down, the IEV included. That is not to say that it does a bad
job, though.
Film sources are converted to video by a telecine device
that repeats video fields at regular intervals, to convert the
24-frame-per-second film to 60-field-per-second video. This
is called 3-2 pulldown and creates an opportunity for a line
doubler to detect this pattern and reverse the process to
generate progressive video. For many years, only Faroudja
had special patented circuits to detect film sources with 3-2
pulldown and perform an inverse-telecine process to ideally
deinterlace them. (See Issue 24 for details of the inversetelecine process.) The Turboscan does not have inversetelecine deinterlacing and must process both video and film
sources using other techniques. The question is, how well do
they match up to the Faroudja standard?
The IEV Turboscan 1500 performs well with


film sources but doesn’t match the quality of inversetelecine deinterlacing.

My primary source for evaluating the IEV was a Sony DVPS7000 DVD player, using its composite, S-Video, and component outputs to test the various Turboscan inputs. I also used
a Pioneer CLD-97 laserdisc player with its composite and SVideo outputs. As a progressive video reference, I used a
3Dfusion PC video card with an Mpact-2 processor decoding
from a DVD-ROM drive to produce RGB output. The 3Dfusion
creates progressive video without deinterlacing artifacts
when playing film source DVDs, equivalent to the result of
Faroudja’s inverse-telecine processing. It is not nearly as
effective at deinterlacing DVD video sources, nor does it
accept any sources other than DVD. (See Issue 24 for a review
of the 3Dfusion and a discussion of its deinterlacing process.)
For display I used an Electrohome ECP-4100 front projector on a 6-foot wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen (16.9 aspect
ratio). For a brief time, I was able to compare the Turboscan
to a Faroudja VP-250 line doubler on a Runco IDP-980 Ultra
front projector. (A line doubler requires a TV with progressive
video inputs and higher than normal scan-rate capabilities,
but these inputs and capabilities are standard with any graphics-grade front projector.)
With real-world material, it was evident that the Turboscan was not doing 3-2 pulldown removal, as the Faroudja
and 3Dfusion do (each in different ways). The Turboscan
sometimes displays line twitter artifacts on moving objects,
and while not nearly so objectionable as the artifacts seen
with non-line doubled sources, they make the Turboscan display slightly inferior to that seen from the Faroudja or 3Dfusion. For example, in the opening scene of The Fifth Element
(chapter 3, absolute time 03:20-23), one can see fine line twitter in the tent ropes and moving “jaggies” on camel backs at
the center of the screen as the camera pans left to follow the
running boy. In chapter 9 (absolute time 28:23-42), twitter artifacts appear as the camera zooms in on the curved top left
edge of the chamber that LeeLoo is kicking to get out of.
The Turboscan has a “motion filter” that appears in the menu

only if you have “Input Setup” turned on. The filter
slightly softens the image, but IEV recommends
that this filter be turned on for video. However,
there are examples where the image looks much
worse with the filter on. The horizontal pan of the
bridge during the video montage segment on Video
Essentials is one. The vertical cables of the bridge break up
badly as they move horizontally with the camera pan. In other
cases the filter reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, some residual artifacts, such as jaggies in the hair of the pink T-shirted girl with the
I used the Video Essentials DVD and the Dolby Labs DVD
(DVD-TEST1) to explore other aspects of the Turboscan performance. The tests on these discs are rigorous and repeatable, even though they are much more demanding than what
you will usually notice on real-world video images.
With its sharpness control set at “0,” the Turboscan had a
significant high-frequency roll off above 4.2 MHz in all input
modes, but at a sharpness setting of +6, it became reasonably
flat to 5 MHz without outlining artifacts. This sharpness control isn’t the equal of Faroudja’s adaptive detail-enhancement
circuit, but it is useful for reducing the nastiness of some
DVDs with overdone edge enhancement; it is also handy for
slightly boosting the sharpness of soft video sources, especially many laserdiscs. You can set this control individually
for each of the three input sources.
The Turboscan showed minor artifacts on color-bar patterns that were not present with either the Faroudja or the
3DFusion. For a component source, there was a faint light
band along the cyan side of the vertical yellow/cyan transition
and along the magenta side of the vertical green/magenta
transition. S-Video and composite sources did not display the
same artifact. Instead they had a black smudge along the two
transition regions characteristic of the lower chroma bandwidth of these video formats. Some luma-chroma delay was
evident on the red vertical stripes against a white background
(title 18, chapter 4 of VE-DVD). There was a thin black line
along the left edge of the white/red transition, just inside the
red bar. On S-Video and composite sources, this artifact was
replaced by a smeared black region on both inside edges of

Key Features: Video Upconverters

Line Doubling
Line Quadrupling
Line Scaling (Other)
Inverse Telecine (Film Mode Deinterlacing)
Video Cal - Color,Tint,Brightness,Contrast
Detail Enhancement
Noise Reduction
Composite Video Inputs
S-Video (Y/C) Inputs
Component Video Inputs
Component Video Pass-thru
Input Loop-thru
Stored User Settings
Other Features

Faroudja VP251

Turboscan 1500

iScan Plus

Adaptive Detail
1 (YPbPr/RGB)
All Inputs
RGB Pass-through Input

Sharpness Only
1 (YPbPr/RGB)
RGB Gain/Offset

Film-Mode LED

the red bar.
At the horizontal edge between the cyan bar
and magenta patch (or the magenta bar and cyan
patch) on the VE disc color bars, there were two
or three dark blue scan lines; these were partially
broken up into rows of jiggling dots above and
below the transitions. There was also some bleeding of the left
magenta block into the white block beneath its left corner. Furthermore the color bars displayed some video noise, especially
in the green. The blue scan lines were evident on the 3Dfusion,
but were not broken up into jiggling dots; nor was there any
bleeding of magenta into white or any obvious video noise.
Fortunately, although the color bar tests can be used to
discriminate between doublers, I didn’t find any glaring evidence that the Turboscan’s artifacts significantly affected performance on real-world film sources.

At first I used the Turboscan for viewing DVDs from the Sony
DVP-7000. Later I discovered the joy of watching line-doubled
laserdiscs from the Pioneer CLD-97. Laserdiscs look very
good through the Turboscan, as long as you don’t have an
anamorphic DVD for comparison. They look softer (owing to

the lower luma bandwidth of LDs) and there is some color
bleed (owing to the lower chroma bandwidth of LDs), but
these are small imperfections, inherent in the laserdisc format. My current reference source is the 16.9 (“anamorphic”)
DVD progressive-scan output of the 3Dfusion; however the
Turboscan is essential for watching my library of laserdiscs,
many of which will either never make it to DVD or which
aren’t worth the expense of duplicating on DVD. In fact, given
the bargain-basement prices for which laserdiscs can now be
found, the frugal movie fanatic should give serious consideration to the viewing of line-doubled laserdiscs.



3855 South 500 West, Suite O
Salt Lake City, Utah 84115
Phone: (800) 438-6161
Source: Reviewer purchase
Serial number: 2134
Price: $2,495

Pioneer Elite DVL-91 Combination CD/LD/DVD Player
There are some things in life that, no matter how well I
understand them, I marvel that they actually work: airplanes for example. Every time I take a flight, I can’t
believe that I’m really in the air, even though I fully understand the physics. Combination CD/LD/DVD players are
another example. They will play just about every home-theater optical media available, automatically adapting for the
size and format and moving the laser into the appropriate
But why would anyone buy a combi player, given the
increased complexity of the mechanical and electronic subsystems? Well, you may have a laserdisc collection or a near-

by rental store that still carries LDs. There are also many
movie titles still available only in that format (Star Wars, for
example). If you want to buy a new laserdisc player, you have
no option; the only ones available are in
combi players (and the only company still

making the player mechanisms is Pioneer). 1
Last issue we looked at the upscale Theta Voyager, based
on the Pioneer 919 combi player. This time we look at Pioneer’s top-of-the-line Elite combi player, the DVL-91, to see
what is the best available from the company that has singlehandedly supported the laserdisc market for many years. This
unit will play CDs and CD-Videos (an MPEG-1 video disc more
popular in Asia than the US), but our primary interest is in its
LD and DVD performance.

Look and Feel
The DVL-91 has that special Pioneer Elite look: high-gloss black
enamel, gold trim, and polished rosewood
side panels. It has the usual assortment of
gold-plated outputs on its rear that you
would expect from a component of its
stature: two analog stereo audio, two coaxial
digital audio (one PCM only, one PCM/AC3/DTS), one optical audio (PCM/AC-3/DTS),
one AC-3 RF (for LD only), two composite
video, two S-Video (Y/C), one set of component video, and an in/out set of connectors
for Pioneer SR control signals. You must
select from the player set-up menus whether
you wish DVD output to be via component or
Y/C-composite; the mode not selected still outputs a luminance
signal (helpful in navigating the menus to switch the type of


1The Faroudja LD1000 laserdisc player mentioned in
Issue 25, based on the Pioneer Elite CLD-99, is no
longer available. The final unit was sold in April 1999.

put). From the setup menus, you also select whether you want
16.9 formatted video output. This is called “wide,” which might
not be self-explanatory but the on-screen graphic makes the
meaning clear.
You can also select whether you want the digital audio output to be 24 bit/48 kHz or 24 bit/96 kHz, the latter available only
on some DVDs. Older outboard DACs and digital preamps or
receivers will not accept 96 kHz bitstreams, so it is important
to pay attention to this. If you select the 48 kHz output in the
set-up menu, then any DVD audio track containing a 96 kHz signal will be downconverted to 48 kHz by the DVL-91 for backwards compatibility with older components. The DVL-91’s
internal DACs are 20 bit/96 kHz devices. The player will also
pass a DTS surround signal through its digital outputs. The setup menus allow you to configure such things as onscreen languages, menu colors, etc. One idiosyncrasy of the DVL-91, like
the Pioneer-based Theta Voyager, is that the set-up menus must

be accessed with a disc inserted, but stopped. The
kind of menu you get depends upon the kind of
disc you put in. The onscreen display, besides
having the usual chapter and time information,
includes a digital bit-rate meter, with both a bar
graph and numerical information. As with the
Theta Voyager, it is an accurate meter, unlike that on the Sony
The front panel of the DVL-91 is sparsely populated with
controls. These include power, play, stop, forward, reverse,
side change (for LDs), display off, and the display itself. There
are also separate eject buttons for CD/DVD and LD. The
remote repeats all of these controls but has no separate eject
buttons, instead responding to what disc is in the machine or
which format was last used. The remote also contains menu
navigation controls, programming and search functions, a
numeric keypad, and a jog dial with shuttle ring. Unfortunate-

Convergence Laboratories Test Report Greg Rogers
Pioneer Elite DVL-91
he Pioneer Elite DVL-91 is compared to the Theta Voyager
reviewed in TPV 25, our Pioneer Elite DV-09 DVD reference player, and the Pioneer Elite CLD-97, one of the best
standalone laserdisc players from a previous generation. The
DVD frequency response differences are insignificant. The DVL91 laserdisc player’s horizontal frequency response, like the Theta
Voyager, is excellent to 4 MHz (320 TV lines per picture height),
but then falls off rapidly at 5 MHz (400 TVL).


Frequency Response (dB, MHz)








Voyager DVD
Voyager LD














The DVL-91’s chroma noise did not equal the CLD-97, the best
of the standalone laserdisc players from a previous generation,
continuing the trend found in combi players. The noise is visible
on test patterns but somewhat less so on movies. Measurements are for maximum chroma noise reduction settings since
no adverse effects were found using that setting and noise
improvements were significant. Chroma noise is far worse on
the composite video output, so use S-Video with laserdiscs.
Signal to Noise
(dB rms)

AM Chroma Noise

100 - 500 KHz
100 Hz - 1 MHz



S-Video (Y/C)
100 Hz - 500 KHz
100 Hz - 1 MHz



PM Chroma Noise












DVD component-video noise performance is excellent.
S-Video noise levels are very good and shouldn’t be visible on
any discs. But YPbPr component video should always be used
to get the best chroma bandwidth and color detail.


Voyager DVD YPbPr
Voyager LD S-Video
CLD-97 LD S-Video
DVL-91 LD S-Video


Signal to Noise
(dB rms)


56.1 49.2
69.9 48.8


77.1 75.8
80.0 77.5









The DVL-91’s luminance noise is excellent for a laserdisc player
and will not be visible above the background noise of most
Signal to Noise (dB rms)

DVL-91 Voyager LD CLD-97

15 kHz-Full
NTC-7 wtd





S-Video (Y/C)
Voyager LD CLD-97


Component-video signal alignment was excellent. A 12 nS
luma to color-difference signal delay is less than 1/6 pixel.
YPbPr Delay (nS)
Voyager DVD

Pb to Y

Pr to Y

Pb to Pr

ly, the remote of the DVL-91, like that of the
Theta Voyager, has no back lighting. Given the
small size of many of the buttons, it is easy to hit
the wrong one in the dark.
Like all of Pioneer’s recent combi players, the
DVL-91 has a small drawer on the front to pick up
CDs or DVDs and a larger drawer for holding LDs. Fascinated by
the whooshes and whirrs of sliding trays and turning gears (reminiscent of Dark City), I opened up the DVL-91 and found an engineering work of art. I love watching the laser carriage move from
front to back and roll over, which it seems to do whenever the
disc drawers open or shut. (Pioneer should really consider releasing a special edition in a transparent case.) A good part of this
machinery is Pioneer’s famed Epsilon-turn mechanism, which
moves the laser head from side A to side B of an LD in 10 seconds,
about half the time of the CLD-97. Part of the turn mechanism is
housed in a small box protruding from the back of the case.

DVD Performance
Now that DVD players have reached their “third generation”
and 10-bit video DACs have become the standard, video performance looks much the same no matter the brand or model,
certainly in the $1,000-and-up range. The exception are DVD
players such as the Pioneer Elite DV-09, with additional video
signal processing to adjust picture parameters like color saturation, or to provide advanced adaptive detail enhancement
and noise reduction. MPEG artifacts are now rarely seen –
untrue of many first-generation players. The DVL-91 produces a
DVD image that is largely indistinguishable from that of my reference player, the Sony DVP-S7000 or the newer Sony DVPS7700 (on either Y/C or component outputs). On tests from the
Video Essentials DVD [DVDI 0711], it appears to have good frequency response to at least 5 MHz; color bars are solid and
without apparent noise. All of this is reflected in good performance on a variety of movies. The DVL-91 can display belowblack levels from a DVD, which not all players can do. This is
important for using test patterns to properly set up black levels
on a video display device.
Two areas in which DVD players still differ in performance are (1) quality of downconversion from 16.9 format
DVDs to 4:3 displays and (2) motion control. These are areas
in which the Sony DVP-S7700 sets the standard and in which
the Pioneer DVL-91, like its cousin the Theta Voyager, falls
short. On a variety of 16.9 format DVDs, the DVL-91 produced

aliasing artifacts while downconverting, most prominently
observable in images with closely spaced horizontal lines, particularly if those images move slowly in a vertical direction. In
the opening scene of Goldeneye [MGM 906035], where an airplane flies low over a dam, the top of the dam has two closely-spaced horizontal lines. On the Pioneer and Theta Voyager,
these lines twitter a little but are sharp; on the Sony they are
stable but with a slightly softer focus. This is a common difference between downconversion algorithms: stability with
softer focus or sharpness with aliasing artifacts. I prefer the
non-aliasing appearance of the Sony; you may disagree. Sometimes the aliasing artifacts can be seen on suit jackets with
fine patterns, as in Contact [Warner 15041] at the beginning of
chapter 5, in Tom Skerrit’s jacket, and at the beginning of
chapter 9, in Jody Foster’s. In both instances, the Pioneer and
Theta produce a slightly sharper detail but with twittering,
whereas the Sony produces a slightly softer focus but with a
steady image.
While the DVL-91 is fine for playing movies, I found it
quite difficult to control many of the special features of DVDs.
Slow motion and still-step must be done via the jog/shuttle
control and use of this is awkward, at best. (Perhaps I would
enjoy it more if the player had a faster response time.) I prefer the simpler button controls of the Pioneer 919, also on the
Theta Voyager, or the even better buttons on the Sony 7000
remote. Homing in on a series of still frames, such as on the
Video Essentials test disc, is not as easy as with the Sony 7000
series. The DVL-91 does not provide smooth slow motion in
reverse, but neither do most other DVD players; Sony still sets
the standard here. The DVL-91 is also noticeably slower than
the Sony to jump to different spots on a disc; there are long
delays when jumping to different parts of feature menus. The
DVL-91 also has a limited ability to function with DVD menus
that have multiple layers. The main place I’ve encountered
this is with test discs such as Video Essentials or AVIA [Ovation Software], so it may not concern those who just want to
watch movies. The presence of a single “menu” button, which
functions for Player Menus, Disc Root Menus, and Disc Title
Menus, may contribute to this awkwardness.

LD Performance
The laserdisc performance of the DVL-91, while acceptable,
like the Theta Voyager does not match Pioneer’s last standalone laserdisc players, the CLD-97 and CLD-99. All of the

Key Features: DVD Players
Pioneer DV-09

Theta Voyager

Pioneer DVL-91

Progressive Video Output
Component Video Output
Advanced Digital Video Processing

Y/C Delay



Video Calibration Adjustments
Below-Black Video Output
96 KHz/24-bit Digital Audio Output
DTS Digital Audio Output
5.1-Channel Audio Priority

S-Video Color, Black Level





Laserdisc Player

Laserdisc Player

players mentioned have a similar flat-frequency response to 4
MHz with a rapid fall-off at 5 MHz (seen as a weak image in
the 5 MHz band on a multiburst test pattern, e.g., on the Video
Essentials laserdisc). There is a strange moiré or rainbow
color in the 5 MHz burst on the DVL-91 that I haven’t seen
before. I couldn’t find any examples of this in real-world
images from laserdisc playback, possibly because few
laserdiscs have any content at this frequency.
The DVL-91, like the Theta Voyager, has its weakest performance in chroma noise. On color bars or full-frame color
displays, the noise is best described as “worms” in the image.
This is most prominent in blue and cyan, but is also present in
red, magenta, green, and yellow. The noise can be significantly reduced by turning the variable digital noise reduction (VDNR) to max, but is still visible, even with that setting. Fortu-

Ma nufacturer


Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc.
2265 East 220th St
Long Beach, California 90810
Phone: 1-800-Pioneer
Source: Manufacturer Loan
Price: $1,800

nately this chroma noise does not often intrude
on laserdisc playback. I noticed it most on older,
noisy laserdiscs. Their inherent noise, added to
that of the DVL-91, created a noisier image than
from the CLD-97/99. The DVL-91 also has an
exaggerated chroma delay: See the Video Essen tials test pattern with two red bars on a yellow background.
There is smear of the red bar to the right, into the yellow
background, and it includes an irregular pattern of red dots.
The awkward controls, which I mentioned above for DVD,
also apply for laserdisc. Pioneer’s earlier CLD-97 and CLD-99
had better controls for still step than does the DVL-91, and
their jog/shuttle controls worked better.

The video performance of the Pioneer DVL-91 is essentially
equivalent to that of the Theta Voyager. It is particularly
impressive as a DVD player, but like the Voyager, doesn’t
equal previous generation state-of-the-art laserdisc players.
However, for $1,800, you get a combination LD and DVD player, which is not a bad deal, especially if you have a collection
of laserdiscs and need a new LD player. There is also the convenience of having just one set of hook-ups and one remote
control for all your home-theater optical disc needs. Of
course, as with any stand-alone DVD or LD player, you also
get a CD player in the bargain.

Further Thoughts:

DVDO iScan Plus Line Doubler
In the last issue, we previewed a prototype of the DVDO
iScan Plus line doubler, a breakthrough product at $699. Its
price and key feature, inverse-telecine processing, threatens
to restructure the line-doubler market. Inverse-telecine is a
process that can convert interlaced video from film sources to
progressive video without creating deinterlacing artifacts.
Until recently it has been protected by patents making it available only on line-doublers and video upconverters more than
10 times the price of the iScan Plus. (The inverse-telecine
process is explained fully in Issue 24.)
I have now received a standard production iScan Plus and
can update our earlier evaluation. The inverse-telecine processing continues to work as flawlessly as before to deinterlace DVD and laserdisc movies, as well as anything shot on
film for broadcast TV. Deinterlacing material shot with video
cameras, where the inverse-telecine process no longer
applies, continues to be rather mediocre. That is actually a
much more difficult technical challenge, so I didn’t expect
anything better for this price.
The complete iScan Plus feature set is implemented on
the production unit, which includes one composite and two
S-Video inputs, but no component video inputs. It is disappointing to give up the higher chroma bandwidth that component video inputs would have provided for DVD. You
also don’t get the conventional video picture adjustments
for contrast, brightness, color, tint, and
sharpness. The black level of the produc-

tion iScan Plus was set too low, but this can be compensated with the projector’s brightness control. I believe the
absence of a color control will be the feature missed the
most. There is very little control over color levels on cable
TV and digital satellite broadcasts, and chroma levels on
laserdiscs and DVDs are sometimes variable, reflecting the
judgement and taste of the telecine colorist.
The performance of the YPbPr and RGB outputs were
essentially the same when connected to a Sony VPH-G90U
front projector. I also didn’t see any of the earlier VCR
Macrovision problems using my Sony SLV-R5 S-VHS deck.
My primary concern with the prototype’s performance was
a significantly softer picture than its more expensive competition. Here DVDO may have overreacted. The production version’s picture appears much sharper, but that has been
achieved by excessively peaking the horizontal frequency
response in the 2.5-3 MHz region. This creates edge-outlining
artifacts, a ghostly white halo adjacent to dark vertical edges
that can most easily be seen against light backgrounds. It isn’t
as bad as the severe edge-enhancement that I have been complaining about on some DVDs, but it is more than I wish to see.
The NTSC decoder in this product has a wide range of horizontal bandwidth settings, so it would be a benefit if DVDO
turned this peaking back down, or somehow provided user
control. A slightly softer picture is preferable to edge-outlining. Otherwise, the iScan Plus would be the
line-doubler deal of the century.


Celebrate Film.

Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival
August 15 – 29, 1999
Edinburgh, Scotland

Empire State Film Fest
September 14 – October 9, 1999
Mohawk, NY

South Bronx Film Festival
September 23 – 25, 1999
Bronx, NY

Montreal World Film Festival
August 26 – September 26, 1999
Montreal, Canada

British Short Film Festival
September 16 – 23, 1999
London, England

Manhattan Short Film Festival
September 24, 1999
New York, NY

Black Filmworks Festival
of Film and Video
September 1 – 3, 1999
Oakland, CA

Mostra Rio
September 16 – 30, 1999
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

New York Film Festival
September 24 – October 10, 1999
New York, NY

Athens International Film Festival
September 17 – September 24, 1999
Athens, Greece

Spokane Film Festival
September 25, 1999
Spokane, WA

Independent Feature Film Market
September 17 – 24, 1999
New York, NY

Screens on the Bay
September 29 – October 1, 1999
Rome, Italy

Bangkok Film Festival
September 17 – 26, 1999
Bangkok, Thailand

Saint Louis International
Film Festival (8th Annual)
October 29 – November 7, 1999
St. Louis, MO

Telluride Film Festival
September 3 – 6, 1999
Telluride, CO
Toronto International Film Fest
September 9 – 18, 1999
Toronto, Ontario
International Broadcasting
September 10 – 14, 1999
London, England
Le Nombre D’or
September 10 – 14, 1999
London, England

Drama Short Film Fest
September 19 – 25, 1999
Drama, Greece
Aspen Film Festival
September 22 – 26, 1999
Aspen, CO

A publ i c ser v i ce of The Per f ect



The Rehoboth Beach Independent
Film Festival
November 11 – 14, 1999
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Cairo International Film Festival
November 25 – December 8, 1999
Cairo, Egypt

F I L M



Classic Comedy’s Second Coming:
Roberto Benigni
o many Americans, Roberto Benigni and his film Life Is
Beautiful materialized out of nowhere. Who was this
odd foreigner who suddenly jumped to the front of the
line and garnered three Oscars: Best Foreign Language Film,
Best Actor (a first for an actor in a foreign subtitled film), and
Best Dramatic Score? Recently, in television interviews and in
print, Benigni has been depicted largely as a crazy but charming buffoon who says he loves everybody and spews mangled
English in long incoherent sentences.

actors whose memory of their field goes no further back than,
say, Monty Python or the original Saturday Night Live, Roberto Benigni has been drawing from the well of the pioneering
masters – particularly the silent ones: Charlie Chaplin, Buster
Keaton, Harold Lloyd. There are also shades of Laurel & Hardy,
the Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati, and Peter Sellers throughout
his work. Fans of silent and classic comedy have been drawn
to him; he appears to be the living embodiment of the traditions
of slapstick and pantomime – rechanneling the magical aura of

Benigni with
Wim Wender
in 1993.

But our ignorance has been our loss, for this masterful
comedian is not a Johnny-Come-Lately, and he is nobody’s
fool. His name is a household word in much of Europe, where
he is respected and adored for his large body of work as
writer, director, and actor. Benigni has been a major figure in
Italian cinema for well over a decade, though making only
occasional appearances in American films. He is so well loved
in Italy that there was an astonishing show of public jubilation
– literally, dancing in the streets – when he
won his Oscars. The Pope himself requested a private viewing of Life Is Beautiful –
apparently only the third film the Pontiff
had ever seen.
Unlike many contemporary comedians and comic

these past greats and reinventing it for audiences today. While
he draws inspiration from these comic geniuses, he steals nothing – for he has a unique persona and a style all his own. His
appearance, stance, walk, voice, and gestures are already
unmistakable and are fast becoming as well known as Chaplin’s
once were. What wonderful gifts this man has to offer! His
warmth, charisma, his lust for life, are infectious – and a bit of
fresh air in these cynical times. What makes him an even more
endearing figure is his warm public and professional relationship with his wife, actress
Nicoletta Braschi (who calls him “a poet”).
Benigni often includes her as his co-star and
leading lady, referring to her as the “lightning” or electricity that animates his work.


Though a number of films in which Benigni
appears have not reached the US, many of his earlier efforts have been available for some time on
home video in this country. As of this writing, none
of his films have been released on DVD (with the
exception of the just released Seeking Asylum – see sidebar).
But while you wait for the soon-to-be released laserdisc of
Life Is Beautiful, consider the following five films on LD and

Down by Law
1986 • 107 minutes
Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch’s starkly photographed black
and white film about three losers – all victims of circumstance
who end up together in a New Orleans jail cell and who subsequently escape – was Benigni’s first American (and Englishspeaking) feature. The film has a decided “watching paint dry”
pace, particularly in the beginning, which shows the malaise
and boredom of the surroundings – while the visuals and narrative keep things interesting. The first half hour is taken up
with one day in the lives of a hot-shot pimp (John Lurie) and a
down-and-out disc jockey (Tom Waits) leading up to the “setups” that put them behind bars. Around the 20-minute mark,
Benigni makes his first appearance – with his back to the camera – appearing like a vision to the drunken Tom Waits. He says,
“It’s a sad and beautiful world,” in a thick Italian accent, to
which Waits replies, “Buzz off.” Rather than taking offense,
Benigni takes note of this new expression (perhaps a greeting?), practices saying it with different inflections and in differ-

ent contexts – “Hello, How are you and buzz off to you, too!”–
writes it in his little black book for future reference, and disappears. Throughout the film, in an effort to improve his fractured
English, he carries around this little notebook and writes down
any phrase he hears, usually having no idea of its real meaning.
When not spouting Italian translations of American poetry and
philosophy, he innocently and happily parrots these phrases in
incongruous situations.
While he’s an unlikely fellow to find wandering around
Louisiana (almost like a friendly alien from another planet),
Roberto (who goes by his real name in this picture) nonetheless becomes the heart of the film. Not long after Lurie and
Waits are jailed, Benigni joins them in their cell. His manner
and demeanor upon entering his new surroundings are not
unlike those of Stan Laurel. Like a child, he is cautious of – yet
curious about – his new “friends.” He studies them, attempts
to make conversation and tries to learn better English from
them. While they are at first reluctant to befriend him, Roberto manages to bring them out of their shells. In doing so, he
serves as the glue that gradually brings these two surly, selfish, brooding American rebel-types together. While they benefit from his ingenuity (it is he who discovers a means of
escape from the prison and keeps them from starving in the
wild), they also benefit from his warm kindness and friendship. They clearly become better people just from knowing
this “good egg.”
Toward the end of the film, the beautiful NicolettaBraschi
(also going by her real name) appears as a lonely café owner
with whom the fugitives find refuge. The highlight is a loving,
sensuous dance between her and Roberto to the Irma Thomas
song “It’s Raining” on the jukebox. There’s a feeling of blissful
irony and cosmic justice that these two warm souls – Italians
in a foreign land – should meet and fall in love. While the ultimate fate of all the characters is left in question, you can’t
help but suspect that Roberto and Nicoletta will go on to a
happy life together.
The film was released years ago on VHS through the Fox
label, Key Video – then disappeared. It was finally remastered
and re-released on VHS in 1996 by Polygram Video ($15),
which led to its first domestic laserdisc release [ID3911PG]
through Image Entertainment in the same year. The disc is
now an out-of-print collectors item.

Johnny Stecchino
1991 • 102 minutes

Benigni with Claudia Cardinale and Blake Edwards in 1993.

Even before Johnny Stecchino (“Johnny Toothpick”), Benigni
had written, directed, and starred in several Italian films (all
of which have yet to be released on video in this country).
However, Stecchino went on to become Italy’s most successful box-office hit until The Monster and Life Is Beautiful, and
thus received a theatrical release here, where American audiences got their first impression of what the multi-talented
Benigni could really do.
Following in the grand film comedy tradition often used
by Peter Sellers, Benigni plays two roles: that of Dante, a freespirited bus driver who yearns for romance and has a propensity for stealing bananas (by sleight of hand from fruit merchants), and that of Johnny Stecchino, a macho mafioso
forced into hiding by a feud with a rival family. While the first
role is one that we’ve come to equate with the warm Benigni

persona, it is the second that gives us a glimpse of his remarkable chameleonic abilities as an actor. While comical, gangster Johnny is also a menacing figure and one to be feared,
even if not taken completely seriously. This basic premise is
not unlike that of the little known Buster Keaton film, The
King of the Champs-Elysée, a 1934 French comedy in which
Keaton plays both a variation of his usual screen character
and a ruthless gangster.
Through a chance meeting with Johnny’s wife, Maria
(played by Braschi), the unknowing Dante is invited to stay
at the Stecchino villa – to be used as a decoy to deflect attention away from the gangster in hiding. Numerous farcical situations ensue, the most hilarious running gag being the innocent Dante’s impression that he’s being dogged by those
around him for banana theft, when really he’s being pursued
by hit men and betrayed mafiosi. Another is his being misled
into believing that cocaine is really a miracle medicine for
diabetes! The film is full of such gags and yet remains a light
and bittersweet piece of sublime entertainment. The jaunty
evocative musical score by Evan Lurie is also a treat.
The film was released on VHS and laserdisc [ID23244LI]
by New Line Home Video in 1993 and is in Italian with English
subtitles. The transfer is quite nice and brings out the rich colors of the Italian locales, although several cropped shots
show that it could have benefited from letterboxing. The retail
price of the laserdisc was recently reduced to $20 (down from
$40), although the disc appears to have just gone out of print.
The VHS, which also retails for $20, is still available.

Night On Earth
1991 • 128 minutes
Jim Jarmusch just couldn’t keep himself from using the great
Benigni in yet another of his quirky films. Night On Earth is a
unique concept film (sporting a lurching Kurt Weillesque Tom
Waits score) that proves that variety is the spice of life. The
gimmick: five taxi cab rides which take place in succession in
different major cities on Earth (Los Angeles, New York, Paris,
Rome, Helsinki). While all five stories are interesting, the New
York and Rome segments are the most piquant. Benigni, of
course, is featured in the Rome episode and gives a tour de
force of hilarity in his characterization of Gino, an eccentric,
whacked-out cabby who picks up a weary priest (played with
beautiful comic restraint by Paolo Bonacelli, who also
appeared to great effect in Johnny Stecchino). Upon picking up
his holy fare, Gino spews a barrage of conversation at the padre
– and then gets a bright idea. Since he hasn’t been to church in
quite a while, he asks the priest to hear his confession.
Undaunted by the priest’s protestations, Gino relates with great
gusto his rather odd string of sexual escapades – starting from
puberty! Only an artist of Benigni’s winning personality and
temperament could pull off such an outrageous routine without

Roberto on the Internet
If you are internet savvy, you can check out Benigni’s up-todate filmography on the popular Internet Movie Database at:,+Roberto.
A delightful “Un-Official Roberto Benigni Fan Site” can be
accessed at:

appearing sleazy. The sequence is a comic gem,
arguably the highlight of the film.
Both New Line Home Video’s VHS and laserdisc
[ID2246LI] releases derive from the same solid
widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that really can’t be faulted, considering how much of this film takes place in dark cabs at
night, lit by the streetlights of the different environments. The
VHS retails for $15 while the laserdisc is one of the most sought
after out-of-print titles around.

Son of the Pink Panther
1993 • 93 minutes
Let’s face it – when the great Peter Sellers died, he took the
key to the Pink Panther series with him. The five “Clouseau”
films that he and comic director Blake Edwards created are
classics of the genre and still constitute the most successful
feature slapstick series ever created. After Sellers’ death,
Edwards and United Artists tried to revive the series with two
companion films produced at the same time. Using many of
the series regulars, he fashioned Trail of the Pink Panther
(1982), which utilized sequences from the previous films as
well as unused ones to tell the story of the “missing” Inspector Clouseau. This was followed by Curse of the Pink Panther
(1983), which attempted to revive the series by introducing
Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass) as the second worst detective in the
world. The mediocrity of these two entries appeared to bring
an end to the Panther.
But then a decade later there appeared a beacon of hope.
Comic sensation Roberto Benigni would be a natural to revive
the series – and what better way to bring him on board than to
fashion a premise where he could play Clouseau’s long hidden
(illegitimate) son – the product of a brief romantic tryst with
Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer’s character in A Shot In The
Dark, now played by Claudia Cardinale, Princess Dala in the

The Only DVD…
Seeking Asylum (Chiedo Asilo)
1979 • 112 minutes
n what is, I hope, only the first of numerous home-video
unearthings of Benigni’s past work, Image Entertainment
has just released Seeking Asylum [ID4771SI] in Italian with
English subtitles on VHS ($20) and on DVD ($25). (The cassette we viewed had a serious glitch for the first few minutes,
which we assume was particular to our copy and not an artifact of Image’s master.) The film stars Benigni as a unorthodox
kindergarten teacher (named Roberto – what else?) whose
anarchic manner with his pupils is not unlike the school scene
in Life Is Beautiful. But as the film goes on, we see that he
regards his charges more as experimental material than anything else. Suspicions of comic ideas and glimpses of the
Benigni to come are in evidence here – not surprising since he
was a co-writer on the film. However, while shot in a spontaneous and improvisational manner, the film is mired in ennui
and ambiguity (and ends on a strange and unexpected mystical note) thanks to its writer/director, the late Marco Ferreri.
Considering Ferreri’s controversial cinematic output, this film
seems to be his most conventional – which is not saying a lot!
If you love Benigni, it’s worth a look, but don’t expect an urge
for multiple viewings.
The transfer appears to be an old one, which, short of letterboxing, could have used some attention in the compositional framing department.


original Pink Panther film – go figure). Sad to say,
though, the film just doesn’t work. The dramatic plot
of international intrigue (the kidnapping of the
Princess of Lugash played by Debrah Farentino) is
murky and uninteresting. The comic plot with which
it is intertwined – that of Commissioner Dreyfus’ (the great Herbert Lom) discovery of a bumbling yet dedicated Gendarme
(Benigni) who causes the return of his familiar paranoia and
accompanying facial tick, is an inspired concept. Naturally,
Benigni is delightful as Jacques Gambrelli-Clouseau, Jr. – and
though there are a number of hilarious moments and bits of business, the direction is stale, and the poorly realized script doesn’t
give Benigni enough to work with. For Benigni fans, it is worth
watching for those fun moments, and it includes Braschi in a
cute cameo – which perhaps hints at a sequel.
MGM/UA Home Video released the film in pan-and-scan on
VHS (which is out of print, but seemingly about to be reissued)
and in widescreen (2.35:1) on laserdisc [ML103044], which originally retailed for $35 but can now be had for $10. The disc also
includes the trailer, which gives the impression of a much better
film. With its scope framing and chapter markers, the disc is a
great way to savor Benigni’s best bits. Oddly, the jacket lists both
the aspect ratio and running time incorrectly.

The Monster (Il Mostro)
1994 • 111 minutes
Produced right before Life Is Beautiful, The Monster is a near
perfect comedy of mistaken identity, making it an obvious

companion piece to Johnny Stecchino. (Like Stecchino, this
film also sports a nifty score by Evan Lurie.) Benigni plays
Loris, a clever fellow who gets by on part-time odd jobs, supplementing his resources through inventive small-time
scams as he manages to stay one step ahead of his creditors
(a character not unlike Chaplin’s Tramp). Through a hilarious risqué incident and subsequent misunderstanding, Loris
is pegged by the local law enforcement as the elusive sexcrazed serial killer they’ve been after. Sure that they have
their man, they put the unknowing Loris under surveillance,
and as they misconstrue every innocent move he makes,
they become progressively more convinced that he is the
murderer. Obsessed with catching Loris red-handed (and
finding out what makes him tick), the police psychologist
(splendid French star Michel Blanc) enlists the assistance of
a policewoman named Jessica (again, the enchanting
Braschi) to go undercover as “bait.” Pretending to look for
an apartment, she ends up rooming with the unsuspecting
Loris, who is mystified at her relentless attempts to be
provocative. The comic situations and developments that
take place under these circumstances are nothing short of
hysterical. The ending (a topper to a running gag) is exquisite and serves as a loving nod to Chaplin. The film is brimming with brilliant gags and bits of slapstick resulting in
farce on a grand scale. That, combined with the vibrant characterizations of the entire cast makes this one of the most
satisfying comedies of all time. This may be just the beginning of what Benigni, along with Braschi, has in store for us.
The film was released in Italian with English subtitles on
VHS through Columbia TriStar Home Video in 1997 and has
just recently come down in price to
the $20 range. The transfer is serviceable although it’s clear throughout
that the film would have greatly benefited from letterboxing. It’s worth noting that the version available here
omits an early four-minute sequence
that, while not essential, is quite funny
and sets up certain adversarial relationships that follow.
Alice Artzt is a professional classical
guitarist who has performed world wide and recorded extensively. She
writes on music for The Absolute
Bruce Lawton is a motion picture and
video specialist, serving for five years
as archival director of New York’s Kil liam Shows, where many silent clas sics are stored. He has produced and
edited documentaries and presenta tions for public and international
television, and has presided over
home video and laserdisc releases for
Republic Pictures Home Video and the
Voyager Company. He writes for
Sound and Vision, and,
and produces “live” film presenta tions (including The Silent Clowns
series) in New York City.

Special Editions:
Kubrick and The Space Monsters
he fanatics among you will know, by the time you
read this, that the long-awaited Stanley Kubrick
boxed set of seven films, released through Warner
Home Video, is a great big disappointment.
I am, at the time of this writing, just experiencing that
first wave of anger and incredulity. The DVD set was
released, officially, on the very day this article had to be
turned in, and I only managed by wit and ingenuity – hardyhar – to scrounge the Kubrick package a few days earlier,
no thanks to Warner’s folks.
And small wonder.
The set consists of Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A
Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The
Shining, and Full Metal Jacket. MGM issued three other and

designed the package and approved its contents. In which
case, double the mystery and double my doubts about certain of Kubrick’s judgments. None of the discs are “anamorphically” enhanced, which is a crying shame. And most of
the transfers have been done at relatively low bit rates,
which results, in too many cases, in soft pictures – even on
a standard monitor.
Lolita, Strangelove, and Barry Lyndon fare best in
terms of picture quality (read: definition), even though the
film stock used in shooting Lolita (as seen in the theater)
wasn’t of consistent quality: Exteriors are sometimes soft in
focus, while the interiors are just jim-dandy. Exactly the
same may be said for Strangelove, which also has more
speckles than you’d ever expect from an element that ought

earlier Kubrick films separately: Killer’s Kiss, The Killing,
and Paths of Glory. Kubrick’s director-for-hire flick, the epic
Spartacus, evidently had been disowned by the man.
I have no idea why the three earlier films weren’t
included in the “official” Stanley-approved set. Maybe, as in
the case of Spartacus, he didn’t consider them equal to his
best. What we were told, by Warner, was that Kubrick

to be in better shape. (But, then, so does The Shining in
places.) Lyndon looks spectacular, better than I’ve seen it
on any transfer. Note particularly the available-light scenes,
shot with only candles for illumination, which are now
sharply defined with much less color saturation and much
more natural skin tones.
2001 is regrettably exactly the same transfer (unen-

hanced) that came from UA/MGM some months ago,
with all the flaws of that release, including the image
“sharpenings” that leave everyone, from man to
apes, outlined by fine miniature halos. The picture is soft
and the colors a bit on the pink side (on both my viewing
devices). I doubt that 2001 should ever be seen on home
video, no matter what the size of the screen. It was best pro-

suggests, Kubrick-approved or no, that the package –
evidently originally intended to accompany Eyes Wide
Shut’s July release – was pretty much thrown together
from existing transfers. We get zilch in the way of special features – save for an interview with Arthur C. Clarke on the
2001 disc and a Vivian Kubrick directed documentary about
the shooting of The Shining on that disc. Otherwise, nada.

jected in Cinerama (the single lens variety) and shown on
a deeply curved screen. Its grandeur disappears and the
architectonics of its set design and special effects are
reduced to the equivalent of a postcard replication of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” – that is to say, with nothing like the impact and awesomeness of the original.
Once, and the first time I saw it, at the long -gone George
Cinerama in Atlanta, I noted during the film’s opening
moments that, as the camera rose upward to reveal the
alignment of the planets deep into the background, I actually had the sinking feeling that I was rising as well. Seeing it on other big screens, but not in a Cinerama installation, I did not find the sort of involvement I felt with the
opening scene, nor did I have the intense rush of adrenaline during the now widely imitated “light show” that was
2001’s penultimate thrill. For that matter, the entire massive scale of the film is shriveled and with it, much of the
awe 2001 could inspire is lost. Instead of the feeling of
great spaciousness that Kubrick manages to work in to
almost every scene, we get a tamed “instant” version of
what was once really a “space” odyssey. On this DVD, we
are not even treated to a picture-book replica of the original, but something, in terms of quality, that approaches the
look of an upscale comic book.
Consistency is not much in evidence in the set. Full
Metal Jacket and The Shining are shown in their full-frame
versions, not in the 1.66:1 aspect that Kubrick evidently preferred – 2001 being Kubrick’s only foray into multi-channel
sound (which he used with indifference to its potential) and
a very wide aspect ratio. Played back, however, on a 16.9
screen, both The Shining and Full Metal Jacket play better.
In The Shining, for instance, such picture cropping covers
the shadow of the helicopter from which the opening
sequence was filmed. I can’t imagine that Kubrick didn’t see
this as he watched the film on video, just as I am puzzled by
the exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel, where no maze is to
be seen – why the incongruity? And the transfer of The Shin ing appears to be identical with the full-frame version
released on 12-inch laserdisc, and not materially better. It

That said, the documentary on the making of The Shin ing is tantalizing and, sad to say, all too brief a look at the
director at work, fleshed out with Jack Nicholson’s on-andoff-set antics and a not very flattering glimpse of some of
Shelley Duval’s diva-like (in the “difficult” sense of divalike) tactics during the filming.
With the exception of Barry Lyndon, which I would
much, much rather have seen in a widescreen “enhanced”
version, these transfers are far from the state of the art. I
despised the look of 2001 and found the “softness” of too
many images in A Clockwork Orange distracting (it may
look better on a direct view, small-screen monitor, but you
won’t want to blow the image up to front-projection size).
Both Clockwork and Full Metal Jacket exhibited pinkish
skin tones on both systems here.*
So what do we have? All of the releases from Lolita
through Barry Lyndon at the correct aspect which, excepting 2001, is basically 1.66:1 All, save 2001, are monophonic Dolby, with the sound on Barry Lyndon overly ripe in the
bottom octave (which plays havoc with the e’er-circulating
Vivaldi theme) and not so good as the laserdisc issue. All
appear to be taken from older transfers. There are few
“goodies” for the avid moviegoer in the way of extras. And,
top it, no enhancement. Bad show.
The other big news in boxed sets was the early June
issue of The Alien Legacy from Fox.
For the four movies therein – Alien, Aliens, Alien3, and
* The direct view Toshiba IDTV set, a 32-incher, was set up by Joe
Kane and has always exhibited a breathtaking color fidelit y, especially on
hard-to-capture reds. The recently installed Barco is promised a color analyzer check out of its grayscale and color temperature. I believe it could
use some fine-tuning of its color balance.
**For those who care, the goodies include, on Alien, an interview with
Ridley Scott, the movie’s storyboard, the original score on its own audio
track, some deleted scenes, one of which surely ought not to have been
deleted, given its importance to the versions that would follow, and this
is the scene where the survivors find the first victims of the alien all bundled up in their gooey cocoons. On Aliens, we have an interview with
James Cameron, some behind-the-scenes footage, and the restored 17
minutes missing from the Dolby Digital laserdisc issued last year. On 3,
we have a “making of” feature, original trailers (but, who cares?), and
so on.

Alien Resurrection – we find each at its correct
aspect, 2.35:1 for all save the James Cameron-directed Aliens, done here at 1.85:1. All are enhanced for
widescreen displays. All are in Dolby 5.1 surround, which,
as we shall soon learn, is not always an unmixed blessing.
And all have value-added features, ranging, at the simplest,
from Resurrection’s making-of featurette, to the chock full
of goodies on the original Alien, now in its “20th Anniversary” edition.**
The bad news? The sound on Alien is stinko. In earlier
laser transfers of the film, the sound is quite remarkable,
especially in terms of low-frequency weight and articulation and in overall dynamics. Considering its l979 origins,
the surround sound was most effectively deployed.***
But on this DVD, there is no low bass to be heard, and little in the way of dynamics. Indeed, if you want a notion of
how far off the sound is, you don’t have to look up the earlier editions; all you have to do is select and play back the
music track itself (one of the nice features of the disc) and
see how vitiated, anemic, and jejune the sound has become.
Castrated is the word that pops to mind, if not to body.
This disc should be recalled, a new attempt made to
squeeze its wideband response into Dolby Digital’s narrow
band of bits.****
Visually, it’s a hard choice. I think my Palme d’Or for visual excellence would go to Aliens (viewed in enhanced fashion), which is up there with the best in my experience. *****
Nearly, maybe just as good is Alien Resurrection, but
what a mess its script is, and its director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
(Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) brings little of his
outrageous visual flare to bear on the proceedings. Given
its box-office reception, nearly as bad as the critical drubbings it took, I doubt there will be another in the series,
although I find the implied prospect of aliens loose on a
futuristic planet earth yummy (maybe they would physically morph into the sleaze-spitting Matt Drudges of the world
to come). Alien3, which repulsed me when I saw it in the
theater, actually plays better on the smaller screens of the
home theater. ******
***I saw a 70mm blow-up of this film in one of Long Island’s best theaters, before United Artists split it into three theaters and finally razed it
to the ground. The sound design helped scare the pants off me and virtually everybody else who was there.
****I intend to undertake a lengthy analysis of the all-too-often crummy AC-3 sound on DVDs. I have tarried for DTS capabilit y, on the thought
that the DTS soundtracks that haven’t been souped up to the high Andes
might provide a useful comparison, provided I can find a DTS disc that
has not been dicked with.
*****I am working on a comparative listing, in terms of visual excellence alone, for an upcoming Super DVD compilation. So far, for those of
you who cannot wait, that list would include Starship Troopers, Crash,
Austin Powers (but not for content - yes, I just don’t get it), Dark City,
Ronin, Elizabeth, and Gods and Monsters, to name but a few.
****** I saw, with Tom Miiller some years ago, the opening day showing of John Carpenter ’s The Thing in a 70mm blow-up, and it left me feeling queasy with stomach over easy, much as did a reading recently of
Thomas Harris’ Hannibal, which cannot, without the dread NC-17 rating
hovering overhead, be translated faithfully to the screen. Those who have
read the ending will know what I mean. When I again saw The Thing, in
the first of its t wo laserdisc editions, I found it fascinating and what had
been repulsive was tamed almost into an objet d’art field day for the gifted Rob Bottin. The home-theater experience seems to f avor feeling over
impact, expanding our ability to identify or “read in” to the emotional
context of a film, while shrinking the film’s ability to overpower, transport, or disgust.

It certainly makes more sense. The look that
director David Fincher (Seven) bestowed on it was
radical in several senses and made following its convoluted goings-on, particularly where the monster was concerned, difficult on first viewing. 3 isn’t as bad a movie as I
first thought, though it is not in the same starry pantheon as
the first two movies. Is it heresy to say that Cameron’s only
two good films are the original Terminator and Aliens? If so,
so be it. And the restoration of the 17 minutes he had to cut
to accommodate the marketing powers that be makes sound
emotional sense in the deepening of Ripley’s character,
although I think I could have done without the prolog of
what happened to the colonists. The film works better, I
think, if the way the aliens connected with the people in the
off-world settlement is left a mystery. I find it particularly
objectionable that it is the parents of the one survivor who
first got alienated, so to speak. Too pat. Being pat to the point
of obviousness is one the things I object to most about
Cameron’s work. In Terminator II, he throws away suspense
and the unexpected, unanticipated shock for the gratuitous
special effect. If the morphing villain of II could change himself into anything including the floor, the suspense of where
he’d pop up next ought to be killing, but Cameron doesn’t
once take advantage of this inherent license to scare the
remaining wits (not much these days, judging from what’s
making money at the box office) out of the audience.
These discs are available separately, to be sure. So you
might save a buck or more by cherry-picking the best of the
series. I don’t recommend the Alien disc and won’t short of
a remastering (unlikely, I’d think) to solve its sonic woes.
Aliens is a must. Whether or not you go for the other two
would depend entirely on your compulsiveness about these
things. I think you could pass, but then I didn’t, did I?

Special Editions:
A Few Weird Thoughts
I seem to have developed a kind of journalistically induced
schizopolis when it comes to the “added value” stuffings found
in laserdisc and DVD special editions. I deplored the lack of
these features in the Kubrick set and have wondered what
else, beside the kitchen sink, might be found on the DVD of
What Dreams May Come.
As a general rule, I have no use for the “making of” featurettes on DVDs since they are basically promo stuff that
adds virtually nothing to my understanding of the background
of what I’ve just seen. Exception: The all-too-short film made
during the filming of The Shining. Proving the rule: The film
accompanying the release of Gods and Monsters (“Worlds of
Gods and Monsters: A Journey with James Whale”), which I
expected to further enlighten me about the life of that director.
It didn’t.
Oddly, I think, given my endless fascination with film technology, I really don’t want to know how every special effect has
been done – some things are better left mysteries, as any practicing magician can tell you. And I find some of the blather from
directors self-indulgent to the point of narcissism. I understand, from a standpoint of pure ego, the desire of directors
and stars to leave behind some sort of permanent record that

goes beyond the film itself, since through video we have
come to, essentially, the preservation of film history. But
is, for instance, The Last Starfighter really all that historically significant in the pioneering of digital effects as its
liner notes proclaim, as does an included documentary? Do I
really care, I ask myself, hoping by the asking I can pump up
some enthusiasm for the subject? Nope, not really and truly.
But then again, sometimes I do. I would have loved any
commentary from Stanley Kubrick about his aesthetic sensibility and how he applied it to film. (As noted above, I watched
the documentary on The Shining before I checked out the
quality of the movie’s transfer, and normally a behind-thescenes documentary I could care less about.) I would even
liked to have known how some of the Steadicam shots in that
film were made, and whether the evil smile Jack Nicholson
gives the camera as he throws dishes at it was on purpose. I
would like to know how some of the shots in Wolfen were
made – and how they got an obviously terrified Albert Finney
to go up on the Williamsburg Bridge’s topmost spans. Ditto for
a director’s cut of Wolfen and some commentary about how
he, Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock), used sound to tie the thematic elements of the film together.*
Or what he originally had in mind before the picture was
taken away from him. I wouldn’t even have minded hearing
from John Frankenheimer about the spectacular last car
chase in Ronin: DeNiro looks terrified and he appears to be
doing much of the driving. How did they manage the mechanics of driving two high-speed cars the wrong way on a Paris
freeway (and through a tunnel that looks suspiciously like the
one where Princess Diana met death)? And I’m always interested in seeing the sexy stuff they cut out, e.g., the 65 seconds
of Eyes Wide Shut, which Kubrick fudged on to avert an NC17 rating in America, but which will be shown as shot (private
parts and all) elsewhere in the world. Postscript: Wouldn’t it be
an event, if not one likely in this or any other realm, to have a
commentary about his work from Terence Malick?
Maybe I’m just wondering aloud if I am the only movie collector who could do without the sometimes intimidating array
of bonuses that come increasingly on DVD, even for movies
that are quite ordinary. Too much of what passes for “special”
features on DVD is drivel and only partially treated sludge, creating an illusion of importance and “permanence” for movies
that are quite ephemeral in the sense of having lasting value,
even if such features are therapy for the egos of the
moviemakers, and aromatherapy, in the more odious sense,
for the rest of us.

Worth a Look:
(Relatively) Recent Arrivals
Gallipoli. Peter Weir, director. 1981. 5.1 discrete
surround. 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Enhanced for 16.9.
111 minutes. Paramount.
As it proved with its DVD issue of Days of Heaven, Paramount is no slouch when it comes a startlingly good video
transfer. And of late it seems that Paramount has put itself
* This movie is still available on laserdisc and is a showcase, even in
matrixed form, for the use of surround sound.

solidly back in the camp of those who “enhance” their
transfers for widescreen viewing on a 16.9 sized
screen. (It started out with “enhanced” releases, then
abandoned the practice, now “enhancement” is back on their
recent releases, including, most notably The Ten Command ments.) I believe than fans of this early Peter Weir movie (featuring a baby-faced Mel Gibson) will be in hog heaven with
this release. The movie is exquisitely beautiful in this transfer.
Weir knows how to use the widescreen, and this disc could
well be a demonstration for the virtues of preserving a film’s
original aspect ratio. Pan-and-scan, a phrase that always
reminds me of the early California gold miners, hurts this film,
reducing it to a buddy movie when that is only the superstructure around which Weir has built a picture of the Aussie
and his sensibility, then as now.

What Dreams May Come. Vincent Ward, director. l998.
5.1 AC-3 sound. 2.35:1 aspect. Enhanced for 16.9. 114
minutes. THX. Polygram.
Vincent Ward has made two fascinating films. One is called
The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, the other is Map of the
Human Heart.
The Navigator is a wondrous strange little film, about
some medieval villagers, on a kind of crusade (looking for
a cross) who stumble across time and into contemporary
New Zealand. It is a film full of odd and quite gripping
moments, none finer, to my way of thinking, than their confrontation with a freeway, which they must cross if they are
to succeed in their venture. Map of the Human Heart,
which is available on a laserdisc you must not buy, is a film
that works best and only in its wide aspect ratio. If you see
the pan/scan version, you won’t have the vaguest notion
why us modern-day Romantics find it such a gem of narrative storytelling. (Even the versions shown on satellite’s art
movie venues, usually home to widescreen issues, are
pan/scan.) I don’t know how to explain what happens. But
somehow the heart has gotten cut out of the film.
What Dreams could have been every bit as good as the
two earlier films if only Ward could have had a Tom Hanks
or some latter-day Jimmy Stewart in the lead, instead of a
pompous, smug, condescending Robin Williams, who, I’d
guess, isn’t into the material at all. Lacking that kind of High
Romantic’s sensibility, he would be bound to a kind of confusion about the character he is playing. We have to believe
in a man who loves his wife to the point that he would give
up all hope of Heaven to find and to rot beside her in Hell.
So Williams slaps on a goofy, sweet grin, the one that has
carried him through so many other mushy roles, and tries to
look sincere. He’s as out of place in this fantasy as I’d be at
a militiaman’s convention. And it wrecks the picture. We
can’t believe in him, so we don’t believe in it. By a mile, it
was the worst performance by a major male star last year
(and he still had Patch Adams ahead of him).
Williams dies, in more ways than one, early on in the
picture and goes to a Heaven that seems to consist of his
wife’s paintings, evidently meant to be her idea of heaven,
though it is not quite clear why it should be his. This gives
the special effects “artists” – and in this movie they are that

– opportunity to run riot with the colors and they do.
Dreams has some of the most beautiful visuals you’re
going to see short of the next world and this transfer
does them full, full justice. It is one of those rare instances
where high-tech movie reproduction in the home is fully
justified by the visual content of the film you’re seeing.
Which only makes me the angrier at whoever did the casting (they needed a star for box-office gross; that didn’t save
the investment in this case, just the opposite). It’s too bad
they can’t digitize him out of the film and put Jimmy Stewart in. That way the elaborate structure and plotline of the
movie would have had the solid foundation it needed.
Yes, you should rent. And I guess fairness requires me
to say that the film is developing a cult following; some
folks quite like it. I did not. I squirmed and watched the
clock and picked holes in every illogical loop in the film,
which I wouldn’t have done had I “bought in,” that is,
believed in the ability of the main character to love with
that degree of passion and sacrifice. (Oh yes, the ending is
just as sappy as a maple in Vermont.) What a beautiful,
beautiful looking DVD. Oddly, I don’t remember a thing
about the sound, so engrossed was I in the visual.

Barbarella. Roger Vadim, director. l968. Dolby mono.
2.35:1. 98 minutes. Paramount.
At last, Barbarella done justice. The laserdisc widescreen
transfer was nowhere near so good as the one here and the
mono sound on that issue was shrill and horrid, like some of
the music tracks on an Italian horror film. Not so here –
smooth as could be and given the importance of the
Bacharach-alike score to the film, a genuinely lovely surprise.
Jane Fonda has long since turned her back on sex-kitten
(or even sexy) roles, and so it is easy to forget just exactly
how beautiful she was when she was married to Roger
Vadim. She alone is worth the price of admission and you
certainly would get more than one eyeful. The film’s PG rating gave me pause for thought. It would, with its acres of
revealed skin and suggestive, how is it they say it – “sexual
situations”? – get a sterner rating today.
I like the quality of the transfer. It is just shy of being in
my top ranking (but nevertheless, some thing like an A-) and
has made me try to devise sub-categories for the best DVD
transfers. The differences between the best and those just
below that exalted level are actually quite small. And I’m not
yet sure how to quantify those most minor differences. The
very best transfers have a quality of coherency, almost like
the concept of “continuousness” I devised for audioland edification, about the image, maybe a smooth fluidity and consistency of resolution that makes the picture seem, especially on a big screen, almost seamless.

Noted in Passing
The Last Starfighter. 1984. 5.l Surround. 2.35:1.
Enhanced for 16.9. 101 minutes. Universal.
Fairly simple and sorta sweet story about a guy and his video
game, called “The Last Starfighter.” The object is to shoot

down alien spaceships. What he doesn’t know is that,
upon becoming the highest scorer, he will actually get
a chance to do just that in fact. It’s a recruiting tool.
Lotsa digital effect of the sort Disney pioneered in Tron
(which was the film of genuine historical importance for
these kinds of special effects). Nice widescreen transfer, if
a little soft looking despite a high bit rate, with quite good
sound in terms of bass, dynamics, though with not too
much emphasis on surrounds per se.
On the other hand, the movie’s fairly bland, maybe a
once-a-year sort of thing to entertain undemanding friends.

Silverado. Lawrence Kasdan, director. 1985. 5.1 surround. 1.85:1. Enhanced. 135 minutes. Columbia.
The box says the movie’s aspect is 2.35:1, but ’taint so. Sil verado was originally shot in what they call Super 35, a
process favored by James Cameron, one that I don’t find
Super visually. The idea is to shoot the movie full frame,
while also composing for an aspect of 2.35:1 within the
frame for theatrical release (the full-frame version thus
goes to video, where there is, as some would have it, nearly twice as much picture information). It was a treat in its
wider aspect; much is lost at 1.85 in terms of the film’s look
and architecture. And I think portions of the transfer look a
bit brown and grainy. Not to my liking. Silverado itself,
despite flaws, is a hugely entertaining western. I hope it will
be done “right” one of these days. But this wasn’t that day.

The Ugly. Scott Reynolds, director. l998 (US release
date). 2-channel Dolby. 1.85:1. Not enhanced. Trimark.
This sharp-looking and beautifully edited Down Under horror
film from New Zealand looks like the work of a major new talent. Its first 40 minutes (or so) are as good as anything I’ve seen
lately on the horror circuit. The sleek visuals and high-intensity color schemes add measurably to the pleasure of watching
it. And the sound is surprisingly good, if entirely too heavy on
the subterranean bass (á la the madhouse scene in Silence of
the Lambs) and a bit light on some of the dialog (unfortunately no subtitles to help us over the rough patches). During that
first 40 minutes, before we know which way the writer is going
with the story, the movie is filled with real possibilities of being
a minor classic in the mind-bender school of horror noir.
You begin to wonder if the mad patient in the asylum
hasn’t driven everyone crazy and what a picture it would
have been had this been the way it went. Alas, despite
some wonderful near-psychic touches, which the movie
doesn’t follow through on, things take a predictable turn
toward the conventions of the genre. The use of black
blood for the gore sequences actually struck me as an artful way of distancing us from the slaughter – it is far from
the only imaginative touch, but all to little avail. Shown
unenhanced on the big screen in Room 1, it was a terrific
looking disc. Not all that different from the average
“enhanced” disc. The liner notes on The Ugly say the
movie is for “16 x 9 widescreens” which led me to believe
it had been enhanced, but no, it wasn’t.


Biopics: Three British Royals

Elizabeth. Shekhur Kapur, director. With Cate Blanchett
(Elizabeth), Joseph Fiennes (Leicester), Geoffrey Rush
(Walsingham), Christopher Eccleston (Norfolk), Richard
Attenborough (Cecil). 1.85:1 Widescreen. Dolby 5.1.
Polygram Video. Enhanced for 16.9.

Mrs. Brown. John Madden, director. With Judi Dench
(Queen Victoria), Billy Connolly (Brown), Antony Sher
(Disraeli). 1.85:1 Widescreen. Dolby Four-Channel
Surround. Miramax Classic Widescreen.

Gods and Monsters. Bill Condon, director. With Ian
McKellan (James Whale), Brendan Fraser (Clayton
Boone), Lynn Redgrave (Hanna), Lolita Davidovich
(Betty), David Duke (David Lewis). 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Widescreen. Dolby Digital 5.1. Universal.
Enhanced for 16.9.

own. All things considered, she was considerably better off in
the supporting role.
Not only does this so-called “historical drama” play
fast and loose with the facts, 2 it does so in particularly
unhappy ways.
Lord knows, England was in a “parlous state” when Elizabeth came to the throne, to quote Richard Attenborough’s
weak-kneed Cecil. The wounds of the War of the Roses, only
75 years past, were not yet healed; the cultural, economic, and
religious divisions that would throw all of Great Britain into
Civil War a mere 40 years after Elizabeth’s death were setting
Englishman against Englishman. Yes, there were court
intrigues. Yes, there were plots against Elizabeth’s life and
crown. But to present virtually every major character, from
lovers to conspirators, as curly-eyed, saaaasssy young things
– all of whom look like pirates who were kidnapped by royalty when they were babies, all of whom speak a hilarious quasiElizabethan version of the superheated, crisis-mode dialog
1 Despite the fact that Dench had a total of eight minutes screen time in
the witty but lightweight Shakespeare, she was awarded the Oscar for Best
Supporting Actress of 1998 – a classic example of the Academy’s biennial
“consolation” award, making up for the Best Actress Oscar that Dench
should have won – but didn’t – for her performance as Queen Victoria in
Mrs. Brown.
2 For instance (and, zounds, how many “f’r-instances” there are in this
film!), Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) is portrayed as a doddering
old buffoon, when, in fact, he was a mere 13 years older than Elizabeth and
served her faithfully (and well) for better than 40
years, dying just five years before she did.

ineteen-ninety-eight was another banner year for the Virgin
Queen. As acted by the great Judi Dench, Elizabeth
played a small but memorable part in Shakespeare in
Love. 1 As portrayed by giggly, gimlet-eyed Cate
Blanchett, in Shekhur Kapur’s
gaudy Gothic meller Elizabeth, she got
an entire “coming of age” movie of her

you regularly hear on ER, all of whom act as if they were in a
Tudor version of The Godfather – is to turn high drama into
high kitsch.
Director Kapur’s florid, melodramatic visual style only
makes bad matters worse. Kapur dotes on short, punchy,
MTV-like takes, in which he typically ratchets up the foreboding (the one effect he seems to have mastered) by shooting in very low light from lots of quick, “arty” angles. He
loves setting his actors in frantic, pointless motion and then
tracking them restlessly down dark, column-lined corridors.
He is also far too fond of crosscutting, in hackneyed fashion, between pretty sunlit or candlelit idylls and ominous
shots of horses galloping across moors or armed men striding dark castle halls. When this whole calliope of clichés is
set to David Hirschfelder’s dreadful, pounding, prophetic
score, the saga of Elizabeth’s transformation from princess
to Virgin Queen is turned into Gothic camp. The Castle of
Otranto 90210.
Although the producers of Elizabeth went to great
extent to film in authentic locations (as if keeping faith
with the past were simply a matter of keeping up appearances), their true intentions are clear from the start. The
movie has been written, shot, and cut strictly for the highadrenaline, short-attention-span Gen-X market. There are
flashes of romping-through-the-fields romance and dirty
dancing for the girls; dusky romps in the hay and violent
revenge for the guys; and a cast that was clearly selected,
coifed, and costumed with an eye to what would appeal to
young viewers of each sex. Polygram ordered the old girl
and her courtiers to lively up themselves – and figured
they’d ordered up a hit.
A hit the movie was, although not, as you can tell, in the
Valin household. Cate Blanchett, who is perhaps the only rea son to sit through this kitschy claptrap, looks great and acts
well in a tough part, but even she goes over-the-top on occasion. (Take a look at the scene in which she is forced by Cecil
to accept the Duke of Anjou as a suitor, while simultaneously
trying to deal with her jealous lover, Robert Dudley [1:9, c. 50
minutes]. Blanchett flies about, with Kapur’s camera doing its
usual ring-around-the-rosy, twisting her hands and screwing
up her face like a bad actress in a bad silent film.)
Elizabeth is a very good-looking transfer, with a powerful
Dolby Digital soundtrack and a lot of thunderous low bass – for
what those things are worth, which isn’t much, in my opinion.
If Elizabeth turned out to be a major disappointment, Mrs.
Brown, another film about another great English monarch,
turned out to be a surprising success.
Unlike Shekhur Kapur, director John Madden is a pro with
a straightforward, serviceable visual style that never gets in
the way of the storytelling. As a filmmaker, he has the virtues
of modesty, faith in his actors, and good taste in scripts.
(Shakespeare in Love was his next project.) All of which
means that Mrs. Brown, which starts from a far less promising (and sexy) premise than Elizabeth, holds you for almost
its entire length by the power of its plot-line and the pleasure
of its performances.
As I said, the premise is not promising, though more accurate historically than anything in Elizabeth. After the death of
her beloved consort, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria sank into
a years-long depression. While she sat in Windsor and
mourned, her country was left virtually without a monarch,

giving the crown’s enemies in the House of Commons, Gladstone and the Liberals, room to maneuver and giving her son, Albert, the opportunity to
promote his own regency.
In an attempt to revive her spirits and head off
a constitutional crisis, some of the Queen’s advisors decided to
call on John Brown, a Master of Horse at Balmoral Castle in
Scotland, whom Prince Albert had greatly admired and who
had once saved the Queen’s life after a carriage accident. The
thought was that the rugged, affable Brown could entice Victoria to go riding – and that once out-of-doors, out of Windsor
Castle, her depression might begin to lift and her mourning end.
What none of the Queen’s counselors realized was that
Brown was an extremely independent and headstrong Scot,
with his own firm ideas about how to raise the Queen’s spirits
– and with an absolute devotion to her person. Beginning with
their daily rides, he gradually won Victoria’s trust – and, to
everyone else’s horror, her heart. Before long, he was the
most powerful man in court – able to persuade Victoria to
move her royal family and retinue to Balmoral, in the Highlands, able to control the Queen’s daily regimen and official
schedule, able to head off her son, Albert, whom he treated
with utter disrespect.
The court and Commons began to gossip about Brown and
“Mrs. Brown,” raising the possibility of a monarchy-wrecking
scandal and leading the Queen’s Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (Antony Sher, in a marvelously arch and supple performance) to visit Balmoral and try to negotiate with Brown the
return of the Queen to London – and the public eye.
Nothing sensationally dramatic occurs in the course of
Mrs. Brown – certainly nothing like the bloody intrigues and
hot liaisons of Elizabeth. Queen Victoria and John Brown
don’t even share a kiss. And yet the love that grows between
them – and the way that love transforms the Queen, giving
her the strength to carry on – is enough to keep us highly
Although Billy Connolly does a superior job as burly John
Brown, the faithful servant, his performance grows a bit onenote as he bangs against the limits of the belligerent Scot’s
foursquare character. One gets a bit weary of hearing
Brown/Connolly bray things like, “Woman, why y’no listen to
me?” in that booming brogue. On the other hand, Judi Dench’s
Victoria, which is acted within an even narrower expressive
compass than Connolly’s Brown, is a thing to marvel at.
Given Victoria’s infamous sense of propriety, Dench has to
express the Queen’s love for Brown primarily by indirection –
rather than through words or deeds. The glint of her smile, the
subtle movements of her eyes or hands become barometers of
what her character is thinking and feeling. That a performer
can make such gestures consistently expressive of complex
and shifting emotional states – without hammering them too
hard, without going over-the-top – is acting of the highest order.
In its modesty and restraint, Mrs. Brown may well be the
ultimate Victorian love story, but that does not keep it from
being a moving one – or keep Dench from giving the best performance of 1997.
For the best performance of 1998, you’ll have to turn to another type of British royal – expatriate film director James Whale,
whose life and death are the subjects of Bill Condon’s deeply
affecting biopic, Gods and Monsters.
Whale made his reputation in Thirties Hollywood, direct-

ing a number of successful mainstream films such
as Waterloo Bridge (1930), Showboat (1936), and
The Man in the Iron Mask (1939). But it is his
wildly popular horror films – Frankenstein (1931),
The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man
(1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – for which he
is chiefly (and rightly) remembered. (The title of Gods and
Monsters is taken from a scene in Bride, in which Frankenstein’s assistant, Dr. Praetorius, toasts Frankenstein’s brave
new world of god-like scientists and their creations.)
In the early Forties, Whale fell out of favor with the studios
and the public. Whether because of his sex life (he was openly
gay at a time when gay Hollywood was deeply closeted), or,
more likely, a series of failures at the box office, he retired from
filmmaking into genteel disgrace – living a life of dilettantism
and dalliance that ended when a series of strokes incapacitated him in 1956. In the following year, Whale drowned himself in
his backyard swimming pool, leaving a note for his ex-lover, the
film producer David Lewis (Arch of Triumph, Raintree Coun ty): “The future is just old age and illness and pain.... I must
have peace and this is the only way.”
Director Bill Condon, himself a dabbler in horror films
(Strange Invaders), has taken this cautionary tale of Hollywood excess and managed to fashion it into something a good
deal closer to Death in Venice than Death in Brentwood.
Indeed, the film is a triumph of style, producing, at its wordless
denouement (and in a final wordless scene following its
denouement), an ache of genuine sadness the likes of which I
haven’t experienced from a film in many a year.
How Condon has done this is chiefly a matter of four
notable successes: a hauntingly beautiful score commissioned
from composer/arranger Carter Burwell; an unusually intelligent and inventive script (that Condon himself wrote, based
upon Christopher Bram’s novel, Father of Frankenstein); a
visual style that perfectly matches the intelligence and invention of the script; and, finally, what was and will remain – so
beyond doubt, question, or debate that the voting contingent of
AMPAS ought to have its collective membership revoked – the
finest performance of the year by an actor in a leading role. Sir
Ian McKellen, who is himself openly gay (the first openly gay
Britisher to be knighted), brings this sad, witty, complex man to
the most vivid life imaginable. It is the role of a lifetime and a
career-crowning achievement.
Like Mrs. Brown, Gods and Monsters is about the mysteries of love and friendship, but it is also very much about the
ways art and life grow knotted together, like vines in bark.
Indeed, as in the novel it is based on, the film attempts to understand Whale’s life and death as variations on the very story that
Whale himself made famous on film – Frankenstein.
At times, the parallels to the novel (and Whale’s version of
it) makes this extremely well-crafted film seem somewhat
overwrought, as if Condon were intent on having every shot of
every scene answer to some aspect of the myth. For example,
in his excellent commentary track on the DVD, Condon talks
about how he deliberately photographed Brendan Fraser in bits
and pieces through the opening credit sequence – his feet, his
face, his torso, never his whole body. The point being that Fraser’s character, Clay, is like the monster – inchoate, just parts –
until he meets his “creator” in James Whale, who “reassembles”
him into a “whole” person.
While this sort of thing is tough to see on the screen (even
when you know it’s coming), it says something about the wit

and subtlety with which the film was made. And without doubt,
that wit and subtlety – and, yes, Condon’s overriding metaphor
– pay off emotionally. I have rarely seen a film in recent years
that is so intricately crafted to such powerful effect.
Gods and Monsters begins in 1957, after a series of mild
strokes has already begun to take a heavy toll on Whale physically and mentally. Haunted by bad memories and the nearness
of death, Whale attempts to maintain his spirits and his sanity
by doing what he’s always done – flirting, drawing, trying to
preserve the illusion that his life is as orderly and urbane as it
once was. It is through flirting that he meets Clay, a tall hunk of
a gardener, fresh out of the Marine corps, with a handsome,
square-jawed, high-browed face and huge physique that
reminds Whale (and us, a little) of Frankenstein’s monster.
Whale pretends that he wants to use Clay as a model for his
sketching (although, as we find out late in the film, Whale’s
mind is so disordered that he can no longer sketch). Once he
discovers that Whale is the director of the Frankenstein films
– “Just the first two,” Whale notes, with characteristic asperity.
“The others were done by hacks.” – Clay agrees to pose.
The exceptionally naïve and very straight Clay truly believes
that Whale is interested in him as a subject – as a person – and
is flattered by the attention. To Clay, Whale represents a life, a
level of culture, that he’s seen only in movies. (His own life is an
aimless ruin.) Even after he learns that Whale is gay, he continues to sit for him, although the thought that Whale may be seeing him as a sex object (which Whale innocently denies) clearly
upsets him. It’s as if Whale were a god, and Clay his grateful,
adoring creature – eager to learn, eager for friendship. The parallel with the Frankenstein story is patent.
Whale, who has only been pretending to sketch the boy in
order to get him to take off his shirt and have some fun ogling
him, begins, almost against his will, to talk to him candidly.
Whale explains this sudden candor by saying that there is
“something about your face that brings out the truth,” only it is
not Clay’s face but his trust that makes Whale so helplessly sentimental. That trust reminds Whale of another boy who trusted
him absolutely – a secret from the past which is not told until
late in the film.
Whale as Frankenstein and Clay as his Creature are scarcely the only parallels this film draws between life and art. Condon is intelligent enough to see that Whale was both Frankenstein and the Creature – both a creator of mythic films about
monsters and himself a charming monster, born of wishful confabulation and sheer will power.
Whale’s miserable youth, which he spent a lifetime repressing, is presented in flashback memories during his talks with
Clay. Born of a poor family in northern England, he was, as he
later confesses, like a “giraffe given to a family of farmers. What
could they do but hook the giraffe up to a plow?” Rejected by
his father, who despised his effete manner and artistic ambitions, he was forced out of school and set to work in a factory
while still a boy.
Whale’s experiences in the First World War, also presented
as flashback memories, made him – and destroyed him. As an
officer in the trenches, he adopted the manner of the upper
crust and discovered his talent to direct men. He also had a
homosexual affair with a handsome young adjutant, who
adored him and whose horrible death (and the terrible imprint
it left on Whale) is the guilty secret at the heart of the film.
In Hollywood, Whale the director managed to reinvent his
past, as so many in Hollywood have done. Like Frankenstein

and the Monster in one, he killed off the poor, undereducated
outcast he was born and – using pieces of other lives real or
imagined – reconstituted himself as the sophisticate he always
wanted to be. The only vestiges of the old “Jimmy Whale” are
found in his films, which, like the patchwork monsters they’re
about, turn the bits of horror, loneliness, and alienation that
Whale repressed from his past into an art that was quintessentially about death, loneliness, and the pain of not belonging.
What makes this movie so deeply moving is the way these
long-suppressed truths come to light. It is the film’s conceit that
Whale’s stroke, while not completely debilitating, leaves him
defenseless against images and scenes from his youth and
young manhood; they flood in on him in hallucinations that are
heartbreakingly sad. It is Clay – the least likely (or perhaps, as
a stranger and straight one at that, the most likely) of confidantes – who gives Whale the chance to bring these disowned
memories back into focus – a last chance to confess to another, and to himself, the unvarnished truth.
Empowered by Whale’s friendship and candor, Clay also
finds his way to telling the truth about his own past of grinding
poverty, alienation, and rootlessness. These two men, so completely different in culture, achievement, and sexuality, somehow discover what they share, and that they do share these
things, in spite of the vast gulf between them, is what makes
their unlikely friendship so affecting.
Having used the Frankenstein myth as a metaphor for
Whale’s life and art, Condon goes the final step at the film’s climax, where art becomes life.
Unable to bear the sadness of the past or his growing helplessness in the present, Whale tries to use the bond of affection
that has grown between him and Clay to put an end to his suffering. In a terrible act of desperation, Whale accosts Clay sexually – deliberately turning the younger man’s love into something ugly in the hope that Clay will react with violence and kill
him, as Frankenstein is killed by his monster. Although we
understand the despair that motivates him, Whale’s cruelty has
a devastating effect on Clay, who, as he tearfully says, is not a
monster. It isn’t hard to know at this point in the film who the
real monster is – and Whale, to his credit, realizes this. His apology to Clay – and Clay’s acceptance of it – is a thing of great
grace and pathos.
That night Whale commits suicide. We do not see the act.
Instead, Condon gives us the most remarkable sequence in the
film – a wordless dream-like fantasy, in which Clay (dressed as
the Creature) leads Whale to his rest, to sleep beside his longdead lover in the death-filled trenches of Passchendaele. It is,
the movie suggests, the place in time that Whale never really got
beyond – and it is one of the saddest scenes I’ve seen on film.
There is yet another sequence at the film’s close, long after
Whale’s suicide, that has almost as touching an effect. I will not
spoil it for you, save to say that it caps off this great movie – and
I truly believe that Gods and Monsters is a great movie (high
among the very best of last year, or any year) – perfectly.
I am happy to report that Universal’s DVD transfer is sensationally good, visually and aurally. It and the movie get my
highest recommendation.

HP Comments:
I think His Nitpickingness is being grumpy and hypercritical.
Misappropriating a line from Apocalypse Now, complaining
about inaccuracies in a historical film (or any of today’s “true”
stories) is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.

What makes Elizabeth work, despite the necessary
time compression and factual revisionisms (several
of which are more serious than the example he
cited), is the way it suggests the constant danger
she faced in the early days of her rule, and how she
persevered through enormous force of will, an inner toughness
she used to reshape herself from sweet young thing into iron
maiden. And her performance captures every nuance of the
changes she underwent, from the aflutteredness of a young
woman onward. The mafioso-like plottings of even her inner
circle justifies the Godfather borrowings and help give the
movie an irresistible pulse. (If Valin wants to see real MTV-style
editing, he ought to check out Run, Lola, Run.)
The visual quality of Elizabeth is among the best. But, I
wonder, what is it about British films and pinkish skin tones?
Can’t figure it. The sound is big, bold and dramatic, with considerable bass energy, a definite improvement over that in the
theatre where the dialog was drowned out consistently. Mrs.
Brown is a pretty good transfer, even though it isn’t enhanced why can’t Miramax cut against the Disney corporate grain,
which has decreed, for now, no enhancements, and do its transfers the honor that many so deserve?
Gods and Monsters has the best color rendition of any DVD
I can think of, beautiful 2.35:1 framing – it looks better on this
disc, in terms of color fidelity and saturation, than it did in the
theater. The sound, even though two-channel, is superb, but I
wonder why Universal didn’t go the extra mile, and use the original four discrete tracks instead of their matrixed version?

Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut
yes Wide Shut is one of those films that has the mainstream movie reviewers (I don’t dare use the word critic in this context) in cloud cuckooland, with their
assessments reading more like Rorshachs than having much
to do with Stanley Kubrick’s last film. If you’ve seen the picture, reading the reviews can be a bucket of fun, especially if
you have an idea of what’s really going on in the film.
First of all, Eyes is a horror movie, and has more in common with The Shining than with any other Kubrick opus.
The Shining failed, finally, because Kubrick never successfully connected the ghost story with his hero’s descent into
madness. He is far too literal a director to hurl himself with
abandon into the conventions of a ghost story. And so you
get two-thirds of a great movie that, for all practical purposes, ends when the “ghosts” let Jack Torrance out of the
food-storage room.
What The Shining is really about is the fragility of the
family and its susceptibility to attack. It fails because Kubrick
cannot correlate Jack Torrance’s inner demons with those
that exist independently of him or are functions of his own
subconscious projections. The Overlook Hotel represents the
ghosts of the past, and the ghost in Torrance’s past is the bottle, which, of course, the ghosts are quick to provide (in the
form of Jack Daniel’s). The drinks, we may assume, are not
real, but the alcoholism – or its root cause – is, since it
unleashes his inner demons.
In Eyes, the family is once again under attack. And the
trigger is, once again, an external one – the wife (Kidman),
whose confession of a passing crush unleashes her
foursquare (doctor, played by Cruise) husband’s demons of
sexual jealousy and sends him on an Odyssey through New
York’s sexual underworld – a demimonde depicted in cool,
stylized, and, at its core, highly ritualized fashion. His predatory curiosities, once evoked, threaten both him and his family. Kubrick once again fails, and by a wider margin than he
did in The Shining, to correlate his mythic hero’s journey into
the underworld of the subconscious with the externals of his
life as we are shown them.
Making the connection with The Shining explicit,
Kubrick films a party sequence near the opening in much the
same fashion (and exactly the same colors) as he did the
haunted Ballroom sequences of the Overlook; he even plays
some of the same music. The party’s host is Sidney Pollack,
playing a corrupt Manhattan patient of Cruise; Pollack’s avuncular manner notwithstanding, he serves the function of
Charon in Cruise’s journey to the far shores of Hades. And it
is he who, toward the film’s end, will try to explain away much
of what has threatened Cruise as a “charade.”
The film’s central tableaux is a ceremonial sexual rite

(set in a mansion in Glen Cove, Long Island, which drew
huge laughs at the local theater) and it is more frightening
than anything in The Shining – with the possible exception
of the baseball bat sequence. All of the guests – Cruise
being the party crasher who is about to be exposed – are
dressed in cloaks and masks and resemble nothing less
than an army of commendatori from Amadeus. The music,
the chanting, the sepulchral spaces, and the mechanical,
stylized sexual couplings all suggest sexuality run rampant,
that is, sexuality without feeling. (One has to look no further than the S&M community for insight on how the trappings of sex become a substitute for love.) And sexuality
without love, that is, outside the family, Kubrick views with
p.c. heterosexual suspicion.
This sequence surely wasn’t meant to be pornographic or
sexy; it strips bare the intellectual threadbareness of the
MPAA and its consummate white-bread (and childish) fear of
sex. What Kubrick suggests, I would argue, is that this form of
sex is a form of death and that is why it was without animation – there was no need to cover up the soft-core behavior of
the mannequins. What the scene reveals is both the character’s and the director’s fear of death, as represented by the
death of love. Indeed, what could be more explicit than the
offer of a young woman to stand in Cruise’s place once he is
discovered and about to be sentenced to death? She saves
him, and the next day he learns that she is really dead. Cruise,
of course, is way out of his depth here. He is surrounded by
vampires and he’s incapable, Top Gun-style, of showing the
slightest bit of fear (the horror of a big shot looking weak!).
Nor can he suggest layers of depth within the repressed doctor, much less the presence of lusty subconscious urges; he
flirts more with a gay hotel clerk – a wonderful bit by Alan
Cumming of Cabaret – than with anyone else in the film, probably because he can be playful in this scene, freed from the
darker depths Kubrick may have wanted him to explore.
The ending is particularly unsatisfying. In a long, badly
played, clumsily staged scene, the Pollack character tries to
explain away the happenings of the evening before and the
threats on Cruise’s life as part of the stylized goings-on.
Instead of being ambiguously disturbing, it is just a mess, leaving the audience to wonder. (Certain disturbing things are left
unaccounted for, including an explanation of how the mask
Cruise wore to the ball turns up on the pillow next to his
sleeping wife.) Whether the goings-on where real or a dream
– and they are played straight – the final word of the film,
uttered by Kidman, suggests the solution for the couple is to
go home and “fuck.”

From Art to Cult
The Seventh Seal. Ingmar Bergman, director. 1957.
B&W; 96 minutes; 1.33:1; Dolby Digital Monaural.
Criterion DVD.
he Seventh Seal was the film that made Ingmar
Bergman internationally famous. After The Seventh
Seal (and Wild Strawberries, which appeared later that
same year, 1957), Bergman the brooding Swede was an international succès d’estime, instantly elevated to the top tier of
the art-house pantheon alongside Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa, Truffaut, Ray, and Buñuel. Marxists, existentialists,
avant-gardists, humanists of every sect claimed him as their
own. And the truth is that there are aspects of The Seventh
Seal that justify all of these claims. And yet, 42 years along,
with the post-war Age of Anxiety behind us (or fitfully so), the
consensus seems to be that The Seventh Seal is not really a
very good motion picture, after all.
Robin Wood, than whom none can be more prescient (or
dogmatic), puts his finger squarely on the problem in his fine
book on Bergman’s films.1 When we think of The Seventh Seal
we think of individual images – chalk-faced Death spreading
his cloak like a raven’s wing to engulf Max Von Sydow’s
knight; the game of chess on the beach, so artfully lit by
Bergman’s cinematographer Gunnar Fischer that the contestants glow as if reflecting the fires of Apocalypse; the ghastly
parade of flagellants, dragging that great cross through the
dust like Christ on the road to Calvary; the burning of the
witch in the dark woods, with its conscious homage to Dreyer; par excellence, Jof’s vision of the final Dance of Death
across that distant hillside beneath that lowering sky. Wood’s
point is that a series of still pictures, no matter how memorable, is no substitute for narrative movement, “not just phys ical movement from image to image but the inner movement
of thought and feeling it embodies.”2 The Seventh Seal lacks
that narrative movement. It is a cold,
showy, supremely well-crafted photo

album that coheres as a gallery of effects rather than as a narrative whole and, even at that, is never as disturbing as
Bergman meant it to be. This is hard, but not altogether unfair.
The Seventh Seal is an episodic film, built up of groupings and
tableaux, like church art or tapestry. It does move us more by
the power of its imagery (and often by the poetry of its language) than by the unity of its story line or our emotional
engagement with its characters. Yet, in spite of this, I find
myself wanting to defend it as an extraordinary work of cinematic art. While I don’t see The Seventh Seal as a substantially different kind of film than Wood does, I do see more “inner
necessity” – and less commercial exigency – in it than Wood
is willing to allow. This does not make The Seventh Seal into
the kind of wrenching character-based drama that, say, Win ter Light is. But it does add a moving personal subtext to the
film’s play of “important and impressive” ideas.
It is time to come to terms with the fact that The Seventh
Seal is an allegory of man’s fate in a Godforsaken universe –
and every bit as serious as that sounds. As such it reflects the
personal spiritual crisis that Bergman was going through at
that moment in his life. It also, quite obviously, reflects the
larger public crises in post-war Europe, where the horrors of
the Second World War and the new horrors of the Nuclear Age
were casting dark shadows backward and forward in time.
Set in the holocaust of the Fourteenth Century, when
bubonic plague was killing off that portion of Europe that had
not already been killed by war or famine, The Seventh Seal is
clearly meant to apply to our own age of holocausts – or to
any time when God seems most distant from suffering
mankind. Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a knight who has
returned to Sweden from the carnage of the Crusades, is one
of the film’s protagonists; his squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) another. The idealistic knight still yearns for a God in


1 Robin Wood, Ingmar Bergman (Praeger,
1970). [Hereafter, Wood.]
2 Wood, p. 87.

whose existence he can no longer quite believe;
the cynical squire has learned to take life as it
comes, without the prop of divinity. Together they
are Everyman (and Bergman), and together they
face the questions that vexed and haunted the
Fourteenth Century and our own: In a world beset by evil, in
a world that God has seemingly deserted, in the face of certain annihilation, how does one live one’s life with value, and,
without the goodness of God, whence does that value come?
The film’s opening montage thrusts us immediately – and
nearly wordlessly – into the heart of the matter. A gorgeous
shot of a sea eagle, floating aloof, predatory, and majestic in a
storm sky; a picturesque cusp of mountainous beach; a brief
voice-over quotation from the Book of Revelations about the
silence in heaven following the Lamb’s opening of the Seventh
Seal; and then the shingle where the knight and his squire lie
sleeping among the rocks, looking as if they’ve been tossed
up, half-dead, from the sea. Their horses lap at the surf. A
chess set sits on the stones by the knight’s kit. The knight tries
to pray, perhaps for his safe deliverance and return, but cannot complete his prayer. Getting to his
feet, he awakens his squire who grouses at
him mockingly, and out of nowhere there
is chalk-faced Death (Bengt Ekerot) in his
black cassock come to claim what is finally and always his.
As in the Church emblems that
Bergman daydreamed over when he was a
boy, where Death and a Knight (representing Mankind) confront each other over a
chessboard, the knight seeks to delay his
doom by challenging Death to a game of
chess. Although the knight doesn’t fear
Death, he fears a death without meaning,
without the judgment of a God he can’t
quite believe in or forsake. He plays for
time – to do one last meaningful thing, and
continue his search for grace. The film is
ostensibly about this quest to do good –
about the very possibility of good in an evil
world where all but death is uncertain.
In other films that attempt allegorical effects, the symbolic values of characters and events are meanings derived from
the action as it unfolds – not essences from which we start.
Bergman simply presents us with Types – Death, Spirit, Reason – as if we were watching a latter-day Mystery play, and
only later goes on to give them human dimensions. Even
those who appreciate the film’s ambitiousness may find the
opening allegory rather too portentous, and wonder whether
such blatant symbolism can sustain an entire movie.
Not content to present us with an allegory of the eternal
contest between Death and Man, Bergman quickly tries something that is in some ways even more delicate and dangerous
– and potentially just as prone to travesty. He gives us Innocence in the form of a family of itinerant players, also journeying through Sweden: a father called Jof or Joseph (Nils
Poppe), a mother called Mia or Mary (Bibi Andersson), and
their infant child. This grouping is clearly meant to suggest
the Holy Family (or the “holiness of the human spirit,” as
Bergman has it). But the literalness of the allegory begins to
break down here, and something more personal to make its
way in.

To begin with, Jof is scarcely a holy personage. He is an
acrobat, a singer, a performer – albeit a bad one – a charming
and persistent liar, a writer of sweet quasi-religious love
songs, a bit of a thief, a childlike braggart, and a self-professed
seer blessed with second sight (although no one else truly
believes in his visions). In short, he is in show business. His
innocence, though sweet and real enough, is not the Innocence of the Lamb of God, but the innocence of the artist,
whose childlike imagination isolates him from the hurly-burly
of the world of the knight and the squire – but, just as importantly and vitally, reflects the world of the knight and the
squire back to them, turning its terrors and wonders into play.
While the mask of Death that Skat, the “director” of the small
troupe of actors, wears and then hangs from a tree limb is a
symbolic reminder that death is everywhere present in the
brutal world of this film, it is also a reminder that not even
this fearsome mystery is beyond the ken of imagination.
Indeed, the entire film is an illustration of this.
Jof and Mia reflect something else that troubled Bergman
throughout his life and in this period particularly: his intellectual’s isolation from other people. Of
all the characters in The Seventh Seal,
Jof and Mia are the only two who
express love for one another, the only
two who make a family. Everyone
else is alone; after ten years’ separation, even the knight and his wife,
when they finally meet again, are
strangers to each other. Although
there is something infantile about
Jof’s love for Mia – closer to the love
of a child for his mother than an erotic attachment – it is an attachment (or
an acceptance) that Bergman explicitly says he hungered for.
Allegory has an inner movement
of its own, dictated by the dialectic of
its ideas. It can work itself out like a
straightforward argument, as in Pil grim’s Progress, or it can cloak its
meanings in mystery, like The Pearl.
The Seventh Seal is somewhere between. Bergman has clearly invested his symbolic characters with fundamental aspects
of his own personality. But he has set them on a broad public
highway that leads past tableaux of the downfall of civilization and culture, through a wasteland of medieval horrors that
have very modern parallels. The ghastly fascistic parade of
flagellants, which interrupts the players’ whimsical play about
death and suffering with the terrible reality of death and suffering, the senseless burning of the girl witch, who after torture can only, and rightly, see the devil right beside us, are in
the film because they must be in the film – the allegory of
good and evil demands it. Bergman does all he can to make
these scenes memorable, including the superb lighting and
photography and the marvelous set design. But there remains
a formality in them that sets them off as separate episodes,
like frames in a diorama, without the naturalistic probability
of realistic narrative. This is not a complaint, but an observation. Allegory is the route Bergman chose, and episode is how
allegory works itself out.
Robin Wood notwithstanding, there are many scenes in
The Seventh Seal where the strength of Bergman’s personal

feelings breaks through the allegory with moving power. The
great set piece on the hillside, where the knight and the squire
share “communion” – here a bowl of milk and a plate of strawberries – with Jof and Mia has a beauty of spirit and gorgeousness of language that are as deeply moving as Bergman
intends the scene to be. In spite of a few false notes (the
Plog/Lisa/Skat subplot, the knight’s “confession” to Death), a
good many of the tableaux are equally touching or horrifying.
And Jof’s final vision, and the biblical language that accompanies it, is unforgettable.
And then there is the salvation scene, which has its own
special resonance. In choosing to spare Jof and Mia – and
what suspense there is in the film involves their salvation –
Bergman is saying two things, one overt and “public,” one, I
think, covert and personal. The overt and public meaning is
dictated by the allegory: Innocence is magically saved. But
what Bergman is not quite openly saying – or saying in a way
cloaked by this other meaning – is that, for him, the answer to
the riddle of death, to the quandary of faith, to the isolation of
pure reason is also bound up with the childlike imagination of
the artist and the bond of love. These are the meaningful
things worth saving, even if they can’t ultimately save the
artist’s life. The sentiment is so personal – and perhaps more
dear for that – that it is presented half-disguised by the “Innocence” metaphor that the allegory requires. But it is there
amidst the obvious symbolism, like a secret wish.
There is another artist in The Seventh Seal, the church
painter (Gunnar Olsson) whom the squire encounters painting the very terrors that Bergman used to ponder in his youth.

By means of the painter, Bergman says:
I present my own artistic conviction. [The
painter] insists he is in show business. To survive in this business, it’s important to avoid
making people too mad. 3
To believe Bergman’s witticism just a little bit is to see
how he went about wrestling with his tangle of personal conflicts and violent historical realities by representing them
through signs and symbols, and, finally, to see him put his
faith not in the “important and impressive” ideas of God or
Reason but in the play of art and the acceptance of love. No
matter that these solutions would soon seem jejune to the
Bergman of Winter Light and other films. At the time he passionately cultivated his themes to their fullest, and The Sev enth Seal remains, in Bergman’s words, “one of the few [of my
own films] really close to my heart.”4
Criterion’s new digital transfer of The Seventh Seal is
superb, far superior to their earlier excellent laser transfer
or to any other print or transfer of this film I have seen. (Criterion actually gives you side-by-side examples of the laser
transfer and the new digital one in a special feature included on the disc. You’ll be astonished at the improvements in
clarity, contrast, and noise on the DVD.) All in all, a disc well
worth owning.
3 Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life In Film (Arcade, 1994), p. 238. [Hereafter, Bergman.]
4 Bergman, p. 235.

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Aerial Acoustics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 2

Meridian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Cover IV

Alphasound & Vision . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 76

Nordost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 54

Audio Products International . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 60

Nuts About Hi-Fi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 78
Outlaw Audio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Cover III . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 113

Rotel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 12

BTS (Revox) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 66

Runco . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 26

CEDIA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 80

Soliloquy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 38

Conrad-Johnson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 18
Cool Audio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Cover II & page 1

The Academy Advancing High
Performance Audio and Video . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 73

Faroudja . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 14

Thiel Audio Products . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 30

Goldmund . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 40

Tice Audio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 86

Laserland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 104

Yamaha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 8

Loewe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Page 4 & 5





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First consumer Dolby EX products go on sale

Q4 1999

Q4 1999

Q4 1999


High-resolution, multi-channel digital audio output
on DVD-A and SACD players (IEEE1394 or Universal I2S)
C: Important to achieving formats’ sonic potential.

Q4 2000

Q4 2000

Q1 2001


Electronic cinema (digital video projection in theaters) exhibited in ten cities

Q2 2003

Q2 2000

Q4 2002


Digital download kiosks appear in music-retail stores
C: Any kiosk can download any title at any time; no more out-of-print
music, no more out-of-stock stores.

Q1 2000

Q1 2000

Q3 1999


Hardware to receive HDTV satellite broadcasts nationally available
A: Already happened with Unity Motion; what’s important is when someone
will start broadcasting continuous HD movies like HBO. That will also
happen this year by DirecTV.

Q3 1999

Q4 1999

Q4 1999


Availability of 20 HDTV channels broadcasting continuously
B: But will there be anything to watch?

Q4 2001

Q1 2001

Q2 2002


Plasma displays available below $10,000
A: It will be important when they fall below $3000.

Q3 2000

Q1 2000

Q1 2000


Multi-channel DVD-A and SACD titles available (>20 titles)
B: Don’t think we’ll ever see multi-channel SACD; Q2 2000 for
DVD-A (Expert C disagrees).
C: Multi-channel editing infrastructure not yet in place; two-channel SACD
set for September 1999 launch with 50 - 60 titles.

Q3 2000

Q2 2000

Q4 2000


Universal (DVD-V, DVD-Audio, CD, SACD) players available
B: Important for the ultimate market success of high-quality
multi-channel music recordings.
C: Matsushita (Panasonic) will launch two Universal players this fall,
probably without SACD playback.

Q4 2000

Q4 1999

Q4 1999


Controllers and receivers with IEEE1394 or Universal I2S input go on sale

Q4 2003

Q4 2000

Q4 2001






Stand-alone consumer-recordable DVD available
A: Most important thing on list. This will begin the replacement of
VHS tape.
C: Copyright issues could delay introduction.

Q4 2000

Q4 2000

Q1 2002


Portable music players using removable memory-card technology available

Q3 2001

Q4 1999

Q2 2000


Digital HD VHS available
B: Provided recordable DVD makes it to market, VHS’ days are numbered.

Q4 1999

Q4 2000

Q4 2000


IEEE1394 connections become available for HDTV

Q3 2000

Q2 2001

Q2 2001


Ten million DVD players sold in North America
C: The benchmark level at which a format is considered “mass-market”;
a fait accompli.

Q1 2001

Q4 2001

Q1 2001


Next generation (beyond Dolby Digital) audio
A: DD and DTS are available today, and that is all that is used on film.
I don’t expect to see SDDS or 6-channel DD on DVD ever.
B: One of the most important things on the list; high fidelity for film.
C: Would require a format revolution such as HD DVD.

1 = Minor
5 = Major


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