Sony G90 Users Manual

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$5.95 US • $7.95 CAN
Sony G90
Size D o e s M a t t e r !
New Products From Runco, Revel, NAD, Pioneer, Linn & Lexicon
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
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.
Chair man and CEO . . . . . . .Thomas B. Martin, Jr.
Publisher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Mark Fisher
Finance & Adminst ration . . . . . . . . . .Trish Kunz
Accoun ting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Scott Pettit
Advertising Represen t ati ves . . . . . . .Anne Hart,
Mike Grellman
Circulation Manager . . . . . . . . . .Steven Wa y n e r
Legal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Jim Robinson
Advisors . . . . . . . . . . . . .Vito Colaprico (printing),
Richard Sabella (HP’s business),
Howard Arber (HP’s legal affairs)
Phone (888) 475-5991 (USA) or (973) 627-5162 (outside USA). T h e
Perfect Vi s i o n Subscription Services, Box 3000, Denville, New Jer-
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ed); outside North America, $65 (includes airmail). Payments must
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funds drawn on a USA bank, with checks payable to Absolute
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Address letter to: The Editor, The Perfect Vision, Box 235, Sea Cliff,
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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: ahart@theper- or contact Mike Grellman at (925) 327-1304, fax (925)
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Contact Mark Fisher at the address below or e-mail: mfisher@thep-
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
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his was a hard issue. Our third time out and maybe threes 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 elu-
sive, the magical and mysterious. The thing you want – It – ever and teas-
ingly 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 INFO-
COMM looking for It. Alice Artzt says she found It in Roberto Benigni. For Tom Miiller,
It turned his “perfect” room into a Ti g e r. 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.
W h y, 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 q u e s t. 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.
I s s u e 2 6 , S e p t e m b e r /O c t o b e r 19 9 9
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)
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
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
20 Industry News
INFOCOMM ’99: An Insider’s View – Alen Koebel
24 Exploring Film
Trims, Clips, and Selects: Notes from the Cutting
Room Floor – Paul Seydor
31 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 Reviews
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
53 Manufacturers’ Corner
55 I Want My DVD! Major Labels’ Plans for
Classical Music on DVD – Heidi Waleson
57 Upscale Pop (on DVD) – Thom Duffy
59 Made for DVD: Puccinis Tu r a n d o t Greg Sandow
63 A (Classical) DVD Sampler – Greg Sandow
67 Surrounded! Roger Reynolds’ Wa t e r s h e d (created
for DVD) – Greg Sandow & Barry Rawlinson
71 Pop with a Twist – Bob Gendron
77 Multimedia: A Close Encounter (Voices of Light
&The Passion of Joan of Arc) – Andrew Quint
81 Department
Video Insights: An Introduction to Digital
Video 2: Video Color Concepts – Greg Rogers
87 Reviews
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
99 Further Thoughts: DVDO iScan Plus Line
Doubler – Greg Rogers
101 Personalities
Roberto Benigni – Alice Artzt & Bruce Lawton
105 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
110 Second Run
110 BioPics: Elizabeth; Mrs. Brown;
Gods & Monsters (DVDs) – Jonathan Valin
Comments by HP
114 Current Attractions
Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut – HP
115 Film Forum
Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (DVD)
Jonathan Valin
118 For the Reader
Information about TPV
120 VisionWatch
Prognostications: Our staff predicts the future
Front Cover: Sony VPH-G90U Multiscan Projector
“Do not keep anything…that
you do not know to be useful
or believe to be beautiful.”
– William Morris
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 min-
imum 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 marshmallow-
cloud prognosticators foresaw, the fourth Star Wars install-
ment looks a bit more like Dennis the Menace in its measur-
ing 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 intel-
lectually 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 for-
eign 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 exhil-
arating 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, know-
ing 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 hyped-
up 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 well-
employed 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 sav-
ing 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 con-
template 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 sec-
ond 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’sNatural 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 unfavor-
able mention in the last issue, the company sent its men back
again and again in an effort to get the 708 data-grade projec-
tor 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 ceiling-
mounted 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.
Follies & Frolics
. . . . . . . . . .
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
b e t t e r. Over time, we will.
The editors will respond next issue.
E d i t o r :
Congratulations on the rebirth of The Perfect Vi s i o n, 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 T h e
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 accept-
able means to review audio equipment, whereas labora-
tory measurements must be relied upon to judge video
e q u i p m e n t .
2) Long-term listening tests are much more sensitive in
discerning meaningful differences in audio equipment,
while instantaneous A/B switching is favored for com-
paring video equipment.
3) Any sort of signal manipulation has been traditional-
ly frowned upon in the realm of High End audio, but in
video “clever electronic prestidigitationis able to cre-
ate “unprecedented picture quality. ”
This last point is particularly interesting, as it appears to
contradict item one. If I read the review of the Pioneer DV-
09 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 simi-
lar technique used in an audio component would be unac-
ceptable 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 informa-
tion in completely different ways, and therefore differ-
ent methods must be used to evaluate audio and video
equipment; or,
b) While analog audio has always had arbitrarily high-
resolution capability, video has had format-prescribed
resolution limits. This limited resolution may require dif-
ferent 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
l i k e l y. This view would seem to be supported by
Jonathan Va l i n ’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 sub-
jects; 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. CHARLES HANSEN
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 fin-
ished, called C a n ’t Stop Singing, a documentary about the 60th
annual convention and contests of the Society for the Preser-
vation 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
o r g a n i z a t i o n ’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 unspec-
ified time after August without pledge breaks. [It’s an
h o n o r, 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.
J a n e t ’s stats, for her 87-minute show:
• Number of field crews: 4 (each with its own producer,
s h o o t e r, 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 GREG SANDOW
The Problem with DVD:
Digital Artifacts
E d i t o r :
I have subscribed to your revival of
The Perfect Vi s i o n, and not being famil-
iar with the original, I can only say you
seem to be off to a strong start. Yo u r
style feels more academically, intellectu-
ally driven than some of your competi-
tion, and I welcome this.
I’d like to address one point that
M r. Pearson makes in his Vi e w p o i n t s
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 satis-
fied 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! Wi t h
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 direc-
tors of photography. How can reduction
or removal of this element be aestheti-
cally 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 capabil-
i t y, anamorphic presentation, and
extended luminance/chroma channel
bandwidth. But the digital artifacts are
bad, they are visible, and they are unac-
ceptable. But I hear no other voices to
the contrary. This saddens me.
If The Perfect Vi s i o n is topush,
push, push,” then I implore your maga-
zine to [convince] manufacturers that
our future digital formats must use
milder data reduction methods. I fear for
the future “enhanced DVD” format. Wi l l
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? Wo u l d n ’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 AT S C / G r a n d
Alliance system and stay free of injurious
motion artifacts caused by high data-
reduction schemes. Please use your plat-
form 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 arti-
facts 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 ques-
tionable in terms of MPEG artifacts and
D/A converter output stages. Your char-
acterization would have applied to
them. But MPEG encoding on major stu-
dio releases is generally quite good
today and MPEG decoding and signal
processing in players is excellent. That
said, there are still plenty of video quali-
ty 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 improve-
ments in DVD quality, we must have bet-
ter transfers using high-definition down-
conversion, no edge-enhancement arti-
facts, 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 pre-
vious 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 compres-
sion process. But if that means cleaning
up dirt on film, and using better telecine
equipment with less noise, then I think
i t ’s a pretty good tradeoff.
When it comes to future high-defin-
ition 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-record-
ed 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 lam-
entable state of Home Theater m a g a -
zine, which apparently has decided that
its target audience is 14-year-old boys.
…I’m now using one of the Panan-
sonic DVD players, which does a pretty
good job. My monitor is the Toshiba 35-
inch 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 T h e
Object of My Affection. I’ve been pleas-
antly 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 give-
away prices. Speaking of which, is DTS
a consumer failure? I see that Ken
C r a n e ’s is dumping its DTS laserdiscs,
which can’t be a good sign.
Down the
Primrose Path
Toward Perfect
Vision Forever?
E d i t o r :
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. Thats
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 ongo-
ing 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 extend-
ing 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 con-
tent, idea content, the director’s
o e u v r e or lack thereof. I know,
everyone wants to strut his
insights. But there are other maga-
zines for doing that. Your bi-
monthly shouldn’t eat up precious
space that way. We’re after the
perfect movie vision, not the per-
fect 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 impor-
tant, 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 var-
ious conditions.
3. If there’s anyone to supply them,
add more think pieces that illumi-
nate the problems and weakness-
es of the medium. Morrells “Theo-
ry 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 window-
on-reality look while others don’t
even come close.
I’ve seen cheap TVs in motels
have that “see through” look and
s u p e r-expensive units that did not –
at all. So it doesn’t take HDTV or
DVD to get there. But what causes it
and why dont all sets have it? What-
ever 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. Av o i d
space eaters such as long, long
rambling interviews and general
articles about the history of film,
T V, Te c h n i c o l o r, formats, etc.,
unless the discussion is directly
and explicitly relevant to illumi-
nating specific problems with
attaining the perfect vision in cur-
rent media.
An example of relevance would
be the parts of Allen Daviaus inter-
view where he reveals how sloven-
ly movie houses can be. Since the
goal is to “recreate” the theater
experience in the home, it’s rele-
vant to know what the theater
standard really is. For those inter-
ested in film as film, there are other
magazines. An example of irrele-
vance 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
c a n ’t be too critical when any
manufacturer violates DVD’s im-
plied promise of perfect (or near
perfect) vision at low cost. That
would include manufacturers who
reportedly “cripple” the DVD play-
e r ’s video high-frequency output,
supposedly because viewers don’t
know enough to turn down their
s e t ’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 lit-
tle 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 perspec-
tive, 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
c a n ’t avoid cutting yourself?
6. Finally, a modest proposal for all
readers looking down that prim-
rose path. Given the increasingly
high cost of recreating a good
movie theater and the difficulty of
choosing compatible equipment,
and assuming your video purchas-
es have nothing to do with show-
ing a profit, wouldn’t it be wiser to
buy the small movie theater your
town isn’t using any more? Sever-
al audio/videophiles could even go
into this together.
The owners’ families would re-
serve 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 neverthe-
less endlessly popular popcorn.
I t ’s just a thought.
Best wishes for great cash flow in
the future. MIKE ROBBINS
M R O B B I N S @ P O L E S H I F T. O R G
H P : So your credentials consist solely
of “perfect honesty?” I might add that
you write well and make your points
c o g e n t l y. 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 p e r h a p s ? ) .
1. Agreed. I’ve been, since the re-
installation 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 “in-
sightson 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 Vi s i o n 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” espe-
cially useful [Issue 25]. DVDs vary enor-
mously 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
Ta m p o p o, they got the original print
used for transfer to video. But in most
cases e.g., L’ E n f e r, Ran, Nostalgia,
Swept Aw a y they just dumped video
(with its 200? lines) onto DVD.
Digital Cinema: The Good
& the Bad of It
E d i t o r :
…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 inter-
v i e w. Daviaus story about the $130 pro-
jector lenses at local multiplexes is a
h e a r t b r e a k e r. Of course, I always wel-
come think pieces on the differences
between theater viewing and home-the-
ater viewing, though this issues article on
the topic reminded me that TPV had run a
similarly provocative piece back in the
d a y. Did you see Walter Murchs article in
The New York Ti m e s a month or so back
about the implications of a digital cinema?
Greg Rogers remains nothing if not
exhaustive in both knowledge and tem-
perament. 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 Te x a s
Instruments’ DLP Cinema in action over
last weekend in Secaucus [the digitized
Star Wa r s ]; was impressed. Particularly
stunning was the richness of color and
the eye-blinding brightness of whites on
the screen. The line structure was occa-
sionally visible, however, and the dark-
est 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 stan-
dards have been systematically lowered
by a lack of even a token effort at 70mm
exhibition and poor quality 35mm the-
atrical 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 com-
parable to a clean 35mm print, and it’s
not much else. Any thoughts?
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. Vi d e , his review of David
C r o n e n b e r g ’s Vi d e o d r o m e for starters.
John Eargle: Lossy Data
Compression & DVD
E d i t o r :
I want to thank The Perfect Vi s i o n
for the excellent coverage of surround
sound by Robert Harley and Tom Miiller
in your May/June issue. I hadn’t intend-
ed to discuss lossy data compression as
such, but the subject did come up
obliquely in TOMs 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 sys-
tems, 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. Dig-
ital recordings and TV are not part of my
life, and will not become a part.
H P : Do you think I care? The point of
The Perfect Vi s i o n 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 its your life to live as
narrowly as you choose.
RAB: Sir: I did not ask for TPV. L a
S t r a d a 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 expe-
rience does not accomplish that which
is Film. I was at Hi Fi ’97, my first and
o n l y. Digital-ready speakers and subs-
peakers to demo wall of noise with spe-
cial visual effects is not Film. I am a
character in the film C l e a n S l a t e, you
can use my outhouse anytime – yes I
concur with a narrow path through the
woods much better than a crowded
f o u r-lane highway.
When we embarked upon the re-launch of The Perfect
Vision, I envisioned the experience as a great
adventure – an opportunity to explore uncharted
territory in home entertainment. Everywhere I looked and
listened, there were new experiences, as the emergence of
digital technology shattered the old notions of what is pos-
sible in home audio.
I didn’t expect that the most challenging adventure
would be developing an editorial approach that would do
justice to the topic. As I planned the audio section for each
issue before me and the ones beyond, I came face to face
with a harsh reality – there weren’t enough pages to cover
the subject using conventional techniques. Indeed, our sub-
ject matter is so rich that using the conventional approach
of reviewing consumer equipment one product at a time
would yield superficial coverage of the available products at
best, while we were forced to ignore many of the fascinating
issues that underlie those products.
We needed a new way.
For inspiration, I turned to two wildly different sources:
Star Trek and law school. By way of analogy, most audio
reviewing today is similar to the episodic structure of a TV
series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation. Each
episode is a whole story, with a beginning and an ending.
And next week the crew is off on another adventure that
typically has nothing to do with last week’s. In contrast, Star
Trek: Deep Space Nine is serial in structure. While elements
of each show are episode specific, there is a dominant plot
structure running from week to week that makes DS9 seri-
al. That’s what we need in TPV’s audio section: a review
structure that is open enough to feature products while
using those same products to explore the larger plot that is
our quest to accurately recreate the sound of the original
event, be it music or movie.
You may well wonder what law school has to do with any
of this. Even lawyers who love the law will tell you that
law school was a nightmarish experience. One of our
principle objectives at TPV is to provide guidance to the
intelligent reader who is interested in home entertain-
ment. This objective flies square in the face of the reality
that even if you read every publication available on con-
sumer electronics, you could not read a review of every
product you might be interested in.
Faced with this limitation, I found myself in
a situation not unlike my first year of law.
Rather than teaching us the law, our professors taught us
how to think about the law. There are too many “rules” for
any student to sit down and absorb them all – just as there
are too many audio products for any reviewer to cover. And,
like the law, the results obtained from an audio product are,
to a degree, fact specific. What is needed is a broader per-
spective in approaching each product.
In law school, they taught us to read cases and discover
for ourselves the issues within those cases. Only then could
we begin to comprehend the use of rules in the law. Similar-
ly, it is the issues presented by each product and each sys-
tem that must be our starting point in understanding multi-
channel audio. If we reviewers can understand and share
the larger issues with you readers, you won’t need a review
of every product to guide you. You will be better equipped to
guide yourselves. And an informed marketplace produces
better products through economic force.
And how do we fuse the structure of DS9 and approach
of law school in the audio review section? Crudely, at first, I
suspect. There isn’t a manual that tells us how to do this. So
like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re going to
make it up as we go along.
In this issue, you can read the first installments of two
serial system reviews – one by Barry Rawlinson and the
other by me. Rawlinson, with his design background, will
approach the Linn system he is reviewing from a different
and invaluable perspective. Meanwhile, I’m off on a journey
to confront humankind’s ancient enemy as I review an evolv-
ing system based on Revel loudspeakers.
I envision an audio section that will provide more con-
text and insight than is possible with a conventional review
structure. There are limitations with this approach, of
course. The most significant is that we will be covering a
smaller number of products than if we just limited our
reviews to 1,500 words and grabbed every product we
could get (worse yet would be writing 3,000 word
reviews that cared not for the larger issues –
think about it). Because of this limitation, we
must be highly selective in choosing the products
we review. We want products of high performance
that have something to teach us.
This then is our manifesto of freedom from
the old conventions of audio reviewing.
But what did you expect? TPV is not a
conventional magazine!
Death to Convention
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
IVX Dead! Enough said. Too much was written about
it when it was alive, so we don’t need to talk more
about a company that just didn’t get it.
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
picture quality; I’ve spent endless hours looking at the best
picture quality available, on 13” and 19” professional broad-
cast monitors. No, it’s the emotional experience of a large
screen that fills our field of vision with images of a different
reality. That’s the reaction we get at the cinema and what we
need to experience home theater. So unless you can sit close
to a RPTV, home theater means a front projector with at
least a six foot wide, 16.9 or 1.85 screen.
In this issue I review front projectors from Sony and
Runco that will really make your home-theater experience
happen. But you can’t have large screens without HDTV or
upconverters, unless you want to stare at scan lines. And
that doesn’t quite capture the cinema experience, either. So
Bill Cruce looks at the IEV Turboscan line doubler with lots
of features at a budget price. And I take another look at the
DVDO line doubler, with almost no features, but a sensa-
tional price at $700.
Bill also reviews another DVD/LD combi player. I sup-
pose its time to admit that laserdisc is dead, but some of us
have an awful lot of laserdiscs lying around that we may
never see on DVD. How about Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,
with Max Parrish, Sean Young, and Timothy Leary? Not like-
ly to make it to DVD, but it’s a great LD title.
Finally, there’s something missing from the video cover-
age in this issue. Part 2 of Christy Warren’s review of the
Runco 5800 HD-ready RPTV. It’s hard to evaluate high-defin-
ition picture quality without an HD source. We didn’t solve
that problem until right before our editorial deadline. So
rather than rushing something with little time for evaluation,
we postponed that report until next time.
Speaking of HDTV: As we went to print with the
Unity Motion review in the last issue, they were clos-
ing their doors in St. Louis. Now as this is written,
Unity Motion, under a new management team, is
officially trying to refinance, restructure, and return
to business. As I wrote in the review, they delivered
some excellent hardware but needed programming
for success. The key was HBO, and Unity Motion
just couldn’t seem to get together with them
and make something happen. We’ll stay
tuned, but it won’t be long before DirecTV and the Dish Net-
work will be delivering HDTV via their satellite systems.
Unity Motion will have to find some sort of niche to make
another run at it. How about an all HDTV sports network?
Movie Trivia
So much for my career in trivia games. When last we met, I
dropped the names of a couple of sci-fi film characters into
Video Insights and the Unity Motion review (Issue 25). I for-
got there were really two characters from different movies
in the Unity review. One was trivial, Scotty from pick your
favorite Trek film, but the other was a bit more difficult.
Unfortunately, I asked for just two movie titles instead of
three. The first person to identify Prof. Barnhardt from The
Day the Earth Stood Still and Scotty, was Neil Bulk from
New Jersey. He wins the AVIA Guide to Home Theater DVD.
But Rick Connolly came through a day later and also identi-
fied the “Toys for Ellie” clue as Jody Foster’s character in
Contact. So Rick also got a copy of AVIA courtesy of its
authors at Ovation Software ( Now
remind me not to try this again!
16.9 DVDs Gaining Momentum
Paramount followed up The 10 Commandments and S t a r
Trek Insurrection with 16.9 enhanced transfers of A Simple
Plan, Varsity Blues, a n d B a r b a r e l l a ( r e v i e w, this issue). I
was feeling really good about Paramount until I heard that
“King of World” Cameron’s chick-flick was going to be
released in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but without a 16.9
enhanced transfer! Is that any way to treat the biggest
money maker of all time? Well, I was one of the four people
on the planet that found the movie boring, so I doubt that
they’ll miss my $30.
Fox finally joined the party with a spectacular boxed-set
of the four A l i e n films (review this issue), all in the higher- r e s -
olution 16.9 DVD format. And Criterion has announced their
intention to use 16.9 whenever possible on future releas-
es. Their first 16.9 enhanced title is July’s release of
I n s o m n i a. Criterion pioneered widescreen and spe-
cial editions on laserdisc, so it’s great to see them
commit to the highest-quality DVD format.
It must be getting lonely over at the Mouse.
First DIVX dies and now Mickey may be the last
company to switch to 16.9 enhanced DVDs. Oh,
sorry! I wasn’t going to talk about DIVX or
companies that just don’t get it.
We’ve Got What It Takes for Home Theater
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
…is it just a random mesh of sight and sound, or does some-
thing really new emerge? T h i s gets another look in this issue
from Andrew Quint, who saw a performance in New York that
made him think the much-hyped phenomenon might be real.
And I, along with anyone else who’s seen the Wim Wen-
ders film Buena Vista Social Club, now better understand
something simpler, but still important: How an extra visual
dimension can help us understand music.
This is Wenders’ latest film, and its title ought to ring a
bell with people interested in Latin music, world music, or
just plain good music, thanks to the Nonesuch Records CD
also called Buena Vista Social Club. It’s a Ry Cooder project
(another of his explorations of cross-cultural musical
styles), recorded in Cuba and featuring older Cuban musi-
cians who hadn’t performed for quite a while. I’d had the CD
for some time, along with others spun off from it, including
something credited to the Afro-Cuban All-Stars (featuring
some of the same people), and a recent solo album spot-
lighting Ibrahim Ferrer, a Cuban singer with a tenderness,
sly wit, and radiant sense of rhythm that mark him, for me,
as an exceptional treasure.
Wendersmovie might be called a high-class “making of,”
and it helped me understand something about the musical pro-
ject I hadn’t quite grasped. Ferrer apart, my first reaction to the
CDs was to think the music was nice, but a little sloppy and
informal, traits I normally don’t mind (I love rock & roll, and
how could I, if I didnt like sloppy and informal?), but which
struck me here as odd, maybe because I thought Cuban music
should be hot and tight. Adding to my puzzlement was a recent
trip to Cuba, where I spent a week tracking down Cuban clas-
sical music for two articles I wrote for the Wall Street Journal,
and which appeared there in May. I t ’s not that I heard any of
the Buena Vista musicians (my loss), or even any musicians
like them (again my loss). But I got a shot of Cuba in my blood,
heard a lot of other Cuban things on CD, and even spoke to a
Cuban musicologist, who – maybe I took this out of context
suggested that the Buena Vista recordings aren’t all that
remarkable to anyone who knows Cuban music well.
And then I saw the Wenders film. I’ll tease Wenders
about one exaggeration, harmless but misleading – his many
shots of old American cars. These, it’s true, are a famous
sight in Cuba, especially Havana, and for good reason. When
the Castro revolution hit in 1959, Cuba was economically
and politically close to the United States (it was virtually an
American colony, with Havana essentially controlled by the
Mafia). American cars were naturally what people drove.
When the US broke relations with the Castro government,
American car imports stopped, and Cubans for a while had
neither money nor the chance to buy anything else. They
kept driving their old Chevys and Oldsmobiles, and still
drive them, holding them together with spit and ingenuity.
These ancient vehicles are a famous sight on just about
any Havana street. But they’re not the most common sight.
Most cars in Havana are creaky Russian ones, boxy and can-
tankerous, imported during the years when
the Soviet Union was Cuba’s ally. They’re no
fun to look at, and Wenders simply left them out, a pardon-
able decision cinematographically, but not an accurate pic-
ture of what he surely saw.
But the wonder of the Buena Vista film, apart from the
sheer delight of watching it, is how it changed my hearing of
the music. (I should note that it’s shot in grainy video, but
since Wenders is an artist, the grainy video becomes an
artistic element. It helps convey the otherworldliness of
Havana, a city literally crumbling, but jumping with life. The
colors are intentionally distorted, too, for an extra distanc-
ing effect.) I knew, for instance, that the musicians weren’t
young. But to see them – genial old coots in their seventies,
eighties, and even nineties – makes them come alive.
We hear them tell their stories, too, and we realize some-
thing else. These aren’t just musicians. They’re top entertainers
from another time, who know their business cold, even if they
h a v e n ’ t practiced it in quite a while. So for them, the B u e n a
Vista Social Club recording isn’t just a job. Its recognition.
Even more, its a kind of unexpected personal gravy. Never did
they think they’d play again, least of all with international atten-
tion. But they’re prepared. The old shticks pianist Run
González plays a solo moving up the keyboard, and when he
passes the highest note, keeps on playing in the airwork just
as well in Carnegie Hall as they did in old Havana nightclubs.
A trip to New York for a Carnegie performance is the cli-
max of the film, and for the musicians, we sense, the climax
of their careers. “Que linda, linda, linda, linda!” cries one of
them, walking up Broadway. “How gorgeous, gorgeous, gor-
geous, gorgeous!” They all go to the observation deck near
the top of the Empire State Building, and here – with Wen-
ders scoring a coup for both delight and honesty, by filming
his stars exactly as they are – we see them searching for the
Statue of Liberty, even though none of them knows where it
is or what it looks like, not even the one who swears he vis-
ited it, many, many years ago.
Of course I wanted to love their music. And I learned to
hear it differently. What was sloppy once (though I should
stress that not all of it is), is now adorable, in the spirit of the
search for the Statue. What was lively gets promoted to
completely irresistible, and what’s most important, most of
the players and the singers gain individual voices. They had
them all along, of course, but once I saw the movie, their
individuality was magnified. “That’s the one who prays to
Santeria gods…those are the guys who can’t stop playing
dominoes…he’s the one who’s 90, and can’t stop grinning.
He says he’s working on his sixth child!”
Not that all of this, in some metaphysical subliminal
form, wasn’t in the music anyway (and of course was part of
the reason so many people hear these CDs with such
delight). But the movie brought it out for me in implicit
stereo, 3D, surround, and holographic hypertrue reality.
Go see the movie if it’s playing at an art house near you.
And get the CDs, all on Nonesuch: Buena Vista Social Club,
Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer,and “A
Toda Cuba le Gusta,” credited to the Afro-
Cuban All-Stars.
The Vexed Question of Multimedia…
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
ViaTV VC 105 Vi d e o p h o n e
At about the same time, during the
1963-64 New York World’s Fair, AT&T
demonstrated videophones to the gen-
eral 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 pro-
gressed. 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 video-
phone 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 cam-
era as well as the compression and
communications electronics needed to
make video work over conventional
phone lines. Operation is straightfor-
ward: You connect the VC 105 to your
TV and a phone, dial an owner of anoth-
er 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 sec-
onds, an image of the scene at the loca-
tion 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 use-
ful. 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 proba-
bly set up the VC 105 so that the picture
is relatively clear and live with an
update of the picture every few sec-
onds (sort of like sending still pictures
regularly). Second, no matter what you
do, the picture is pretty fuzzy (maxi-
mum 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
d o n ’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 down-
loadable 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” view-
ing 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 esti-
mate that a notebook-based video sys-
tem is equivalent in viewing angle to an
84” wide front-projection system.
If you don’t have a notebook com-
puter, or think a notebook is too large
to carry where you are going, Panason-
ic has a solution. The DVD-L50D is a
DVD drive with a footprint slightly larg-
er 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 rela-
tively slow). The headphone sound was
solid, and even through the mini-speak-
ers, 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 dis-
tance, my calculation is that it is equiv-
alent 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 S-
Video 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.
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 tech-
nology 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 deliv-
ered 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.
recall as a seven-year-old switching
on the system that my father had
designed, made, and housed in a
meticulously crafted and veneered cabi-
net. One satisfyingly large circular knob
served as on/off switch and volume con-
trol, 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 earli-
est days our teachersefforts were com-
plemented daily by BBC schools broad-
casts. 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 num-
ber of subordinate employees and sev-
eral 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 televi-
sion 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 pic-
ture and sound from the thing.
This is clearly bad design. For good
design by its very nature is all encom-
passing, while bad design is exclusion-
ary. 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 dis-
When we communicate with each
other, we unconsciously use the teach-
ing 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 redun-
dancy – “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 com-
munication channels contain 100 per-
cent 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 posi-
tion as a vehemently pro-Irish represen-
tative 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; there-
fore 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
N o w, if you are not sure of the con-
text within which your recipient will
receive the message, you can build into
the message another layer of redundan-
cy geared to the recipients reception.
This is called m i r r o r i n g by psycholo-
gists; 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 con-
sider 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
d i s p l a y, 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 whatev-
er I was using when I switched the sys-
tem off – anything rather than a baffling
lack of activity.
Next I may wish to select a differ-
ent source; again I’ll choose a large
rotary control that satisfyingly clicks as
it moves between clearly labeled, illu-
minated 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 micro-
processor 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 miss-
ing the tactile interface with these com-
plex devices, the subconscious feedback
that adds to the richness of our environ-
ment. Although it may seem grandiose, I
am going to draw a parallel between this
feedback and body language, which con-
veys a surprisingly high proportion of our
communications and adds to the redun-
dancy that is so vital to consistent com-
munication. 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 com-
puters includes a satisfying snick every
time you click the mouse?…
The Human Interface
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
When most people hear “Orlando,
Florida” they think of Disney-
world, Universal Studios, palm
trees, and flamingos. They don’t
usually think of darkened, car-
peted 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 excit-
ing 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 manufacturers exhibits. The largest booths, some
threatening to scrape the ceiling, were those of the pro-
jector 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. Sur-
rounding these were the smaller booths of manufactur-
ers 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?)
Separated from the main exhibit halls was the ICIA Pro-
jection 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 prohibit-
ed 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 pan-
els. 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 iden-
tical 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 dan-
ger 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 relative-
ly 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
This years Infocomm pre-
sent ed over 90 project ors in
its annual Shoot Out , as well
as a handful of direct -view
Video 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 quadru-
plers – which output progressive signals with either double
or quadruple the number of
lines in each original inter-
laced video field – scalers
offer a range of progressive
output formats and scan
rates to better match the
characteristics of a given dis-
play device. The new products this year at the show includ-
ed Analog Way’sTrans-Scaler, Communications Specialties
Deuce Pro, Extrons DVS 100, Faroudja’s DVP3000 and
DVP3000U, Focus Enhancement’s QuadScan, Inlines
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 sug-
gested 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 for-
mats up to 1365 x 1024, at three selectable refresh rates.
Performance improvements include a two-line comb filter,
noise reduction, and a sharpness control. Extrons DVS
100, with a list price of $2,325, includes a component input
and a three-line adaptiveY/C separator. It can decode
NTSC, PAL, and SECAM and provides a total of 17 RGB
output formats, including 480p, 720p, and 1080p. Faroud-
ja’s DVP3000, with a suggested list price of $19,995, con-
verts 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 Pro-
jection 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 category
and 9” CRT projectors in the 64 kHz category. Video mater-
ial 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 permit-
ted only a limited evaluation of performance (scaling quality
with other output formats was not tested, for example).
Accordingly, I ranked products simply as “good,” “ade-
quate,” 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 rel-
atively poor high-frequency luma response and smeary
ALEN KOEBEL 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 technol-
ogy 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 alterna-
tives. These alternatives are Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) pro-
jection 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 tech-
nology, this small, ultra-portable projector weighs less than 6
pounds 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). Unfor-
tunately, there are trade-offs for the small size of ultra-
portable 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 high-
lights 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 rep-
resents 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 pro-
jector 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 dramati-
cally 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
Manufacturer Model No. Price Technology Light Output Pixel Format
(ANSI lumens) (H x V)
Barco BarcoReality $20,995 LCD projection 2,000 1280 x 1024
6300DLC (w/o lens)
Chromalux HD 2000 N/A 7” CRT projection 800 Not applicable
Davis DL X10 N/A DLP projection 1000 1024 x 768
Epson PowerLite 9000i N/A LCD projection 1,600 1280 x 1024
JVC Professional DLA-G15 $20,000 est. LCD projection 1,500 1365 x 1024
NEC PlasmaSync $22,995 Plasma, N/A 1365 x 768
5000W 16.9, 50” diagonal
PLUS Corp. U2-1080 N/A DLP projection 800 1024 x 768
Princeton AF3.0HD $4,100 CRT, 30” diagonal N/A Not applicable
Revox E-542 $17,000 est. Plasma, N/A 848 x 480
16.9, 42” diagonal
Sanyo PLC-EF10N $23,995 LCD projection 2,300 1280 x 1024
Toshiba TLP-770 $9,995 LCD projection 1,800 1024 x 768
Project ors in a given cat ego-
ry were fed ident ical signals
for display on ident ical side-
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
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 pro-
gramming 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
S a n y o ’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 dis-
play. 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 con-
nect 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 2-
inch 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 con-
sidered 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” resolu-
tion 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-
lings were. Last year, only one high-definition PDP was intro-
duced at the show. This year, five were introduced, which is
a good indication of the way this technology may be matur-
ing. 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 pro-
duce noise in dark areas of the image. The only panel I saw
not showing this noise – the Revox E-542 – had obvious con-
touring (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 land-
mark event at this year’s show. Hughes-JVC and Miramax
Films teamed up to give show attendees a “digital sneak pre-
view” of Miramax’s An Ideal Husband before its release on
film. Shown in its entirety, the movie was projected onto a
t h e a t e r-sized screen by a Hughes-JVC ILA-12K projector.
“ILA” stands for Image Light Amplification and is Hughes-
J V C ’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 Te x a s
Instruments. While the image I saw from the Hughes-JVC pro-
jector 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 tech-
nology 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.
chroma transitions. Barcos VSE-20 line doubler, Extrons
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 perfor-
mance is adequate. Lastly, Barco’s VSE-40 also earned a
rating of “poor” because of its relatively poor high-frequen-
cy luma response combined with an excessively noisy pic-
This comparison of upconverters should be ta ken with
caution because the source material and conditions
imposed by the Shoot-Out were too limited to evaluate the
p e r f ormance of the products thoroughly. If yo u ’re in the
m a r k et for an upconve r t e r, try to audition the products yo u r-
self using test material and sources you are intimately
familiar with. A K
For t he first t ime, t he Shoot -
included a high-definition
ometimes I think that every position on a
moviemaking crew comes with its special privi-
leges, its perks, as it were. If you’re the script super-
visor, you stand right next to the director as the film
is shot, noting which takes are to be printed and any
remarks the director may have about them. From
this position you watch the script come to life
before the camera. If you’re the director of photography or
the production designer, you play large, determining roles in
how the film will look. The actors literally give a flesh and
blood reality to characters whose only previous existence is
on paper. The writer, of course, has written the screenplay; if
it’s an original screenplay, then he has invented the story. The
most important position of all, it goes without saying, is that
of the director, who realizes the story before the cameras and
oversees every aspect of preproduction, production, and post-
It is the special privilege of the editor that he or she is the
person who first gets to see the movie as a movie. Before it
passes through his hands, it is only a collection of long takes
from various angles, of various sizes, without dramatic shape
or rhythm. Having said that, I wouldn’t
want to suggest that the editor alone
gives it shape and rhythm. The screenplay has a structure, as
does each scene; and in most of the scenes, the director has
built tempo or range of tempos. But these things have no real
cinematic existence until they leave the editor’s bench. One of
the most continually exciting and personally rewarding
aspects of an always interesting job is that first time I run a
scene after I’ve cut it. Suddenly, as if by magic, I’m looking at
a real movie where there was none before, or at least the
beginnings of a movie.
Outsiders are sometimes surprised to learn that most
movies are shot out of sequence and that editing begins the
moment there is a complete scene to cut, which is to say with
the first day of shooting. It makes no sense to wait – you can
cut just one scene at a time anyhow. And it would be bad eco-
nomics to let the interest on the loans increase while the
footage just piles up. What directors want and need is to have
a first cut finished as soon as possible after the completion of
principal photography. As it usually takes longer to edit a
scene than it does to film it, cutting must begin immediately.
Editing as you go along gives everyone involved the
opportunity to assess how the project is shaping up – are the
performances working, as the scenes
accumulate do they tell a story, does
Wh at 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 na l v e r s i o n
Bef or e
it passes
t hr ough t he edi-
t or s hands, a f ilm
is a collect ion of
long t akes f r om
var ious
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 deter-
mine 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 glo-
rified 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 peo-
ple 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 read-
ings (not usual, but not atypical either), you can pitch a per-
formance 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 story-
telling, his taste and sensitivity in shaping performances, and
his imagination in how the shots can be most effectively com-
bined. 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 qual-
ity 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 wait-
ing 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 writ-
ers 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 per-
son, I believe it must be the director. (Whatever prob-
lems 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 any-
thing – it awaits realization on film, for
which the director is responsible.) But I
went on to say that my experience sug-
gests it is the film itself that deter-
mines the final cut, the film itself
that soon becomes the last, best
arbiter. A movie that is good
or has a chance of becom-
ing any good eventually
develops a life of its
own. And every direc-
tor 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 imag-
ination 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
favorite editors,
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 dif-
ferently. Some give you copi-
ous 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
edit or shoot s no
new f oot age; w hat ev-
er he does w as in t he
f ilm all along.
1Takes are stored individually for a
movieola (i.e., an upright viewing-machine);
they are stored in 1,000-foot reels for
flatbed viewing.The former obviously allows
for much faster access to a given piece of
guess, in working
with this kind of direc-
tor 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.1I’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-the-
shoulder 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 inci-
dental to the overall.
Editing is a curious process of the intuitive and the intel-
lectual, the instinctive and the ratiocinative. For every deci-
sion you make has both immediate and long-range implica-
tions. 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 necessari-
ly 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 anoth-
er 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 expressive-
ness that you don’t otherwise have. In the movie I’m current-
ly doing, for example, Ron Shelton’s Play It to the Bone, Loli-
ta 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 effec-
tive. 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 some-
thing 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
the emotion, the mood, the action, the transfor-
mation 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-mod-
away school of editing, which
in our attention-deficit age
is becoming more and
more common.
When most people are
impressed by editing they usually
think of elaborate action
sequences, but the real art of editing
lies in working with performances
and in concealment. What I care
about most is achieving a theatri-
cal sense of performance but
with filmic means. By the-
atrical, I don’t mean
ostentatious acting”;
rather, I am referring
to the continuity you
get from a perfor-
mance 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 rig-
ging, 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, psycholog-
ically, 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 dif-
ferent 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 mismatch-
es they manage to get away with. What experienced editors
care most about matching is the mood and emotion of the per-
formance from one shot to the next. (Even a volatile perfor-
mance 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-
sell and Robin Williams are at a bar drinking beer out of bot-
tles. The scene was covered from every conceivable angle and
size except that there were no singles that is, a shot that con-
tains 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 experi-
ence! 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 mis-
match 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
The scr eenplay has a
st r uct ur e. Each scene has a
st r uctur e a r ange of t empos.
But t hese t hings have no r eal cin-
emat ic existence unt il t hey
leave t he edit or s
2 In computerized editing, the movie is only edited in the video/com-
puter 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.
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 film-
makers how to “fix” their movies to make them easier to mar-
ket. One of my favorite minor spectacles of our time is watch-
ing 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 direc-
tors can withstand and prevail against. It’s the only part of the
editing process that I actively hate, and every editor and direc-
tor 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 dis-
solves because, unlike film, the computer lets you see the dis-
solve immediately.2A far bigger influence than the tools them-
selves 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 mas-
ter 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 b e c o m e 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
c a n ’t recall that I’ve ever cut with anything other than the-
atrical 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
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 peo-
ple, and seeing the movie as part of a
large audience: in other words, the
communal aspect of the experi-
ence, and also, of course, the
giving of your full attention to
the movie that being in a the-
ater 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 tele-
phone 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 occa-
sion? In Understanding Media, M c C l u h a n
argued, correctly, I think, that a televi-
sion 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. Peo-
ple talk, go to the
r e f r i g e r a t o r, pause
the movie for any
number of valid
and invalid rea-
sons. 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.
W h y, then, in making a movie do we
continue to lavish such care on pace, on
tempo, on rhythm, on timing, on conti-
nuity of performance, story
t h r o u g h-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 any-
thing 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 car-
ried her far, far from home. Whatever else,
Toto, this really doesn’t seem to be
Kansas any more.
exicon is unique among companies building multi-chan-
nel digital controllers (see “What You Should Know
About Controllers,” which follows this review). Rather
than approach the product category after designing two-chan-
nel analog preamplifiers, Lexicon enters the multi-channel
arena with a decades-long history of creating professional dig-
ital-signal-processing gear.
Lexicon introduced the world’s first digital-delay line in
1971, the Precambrian era in digital audio. Lexicon’s chief
technologist, Dr. David Griesinger, has spent his career study-
ing surround sound, reverberation, human hearing, and the
relationship between the physical properties of sound and our
perception of them. In the academic audio community,
Griesinger is considered one of the leading authorities on the
perception of acoustic environments.
I t ’s no wonder, then, that Lexicon’s new flagship MC-1
Music and Cinema Processor is packed with an extensive array
of multi-channel surround-sound modes. Moreover, many of
these surround modes are designed for music listening, not
just multi-channel film-sound. With 7.1 channels and signal
processing that is unique among surround-sound controllers,
the MC-1 raises some interesting questions about multi-chan-
nel music reproduction.
For those of you familiar with Lexicon’s DC-1 and DC-2
controllers, the MC-1 is a significant re-
design. The MC-1 has more inputs, better
DACs and analog circuitry (which increased the signal-to-
noise ratio from 98 dB to 110 dB), a “broadcast spec” video
board, and the unit will receive and decode 24-bit/96-kHz
input signals.
The MC-1 is an eight-channel device, with line-level out-
puts for the usual left, center, right, surround left, surround
right, and subwoofer signals, plus additional outputs for rear
left and right signals. In its optimum configuration, the 7.1-
channel MC-1 will drive seven power amplifiers and seven
loudspeakers (plus any number of subwoofers).
Three RCA jacks marked “Expansion Ports” accept stereo
PCM signals at up to 96kHz sampling and 24-bit word length.
Expansion Port A feeds the left and right channels, Port B
feeds the center and subwoofer channels, and Port C drives
the left and right surround channels. These inputs bypass the
DSP in the MC-1, including the bass management functions.
The idea is to provide an input for high-resolution multi-chan-
nel digital sources. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that DVD-
Audio and SACD players will provide unencrypted high-reso-
lution digital output on RCA jacks. Still, you can use one
expansion port to connect those DVD players that can output
24/96, realizing a simpler signal path than is available through
the MC-1’s conventional digital inputs.
Bass management in the MC-1 is a little more flexible than
usual, offering three crossover frequencies
(40 Hz, 80 Hz, 120 Hz), but no slope adjust-
Lexicon MC-1 Controller
Sonic Flavors To Slake Every Thirst
. . . . . . . . .
ment. A “Bass Split” feature takes bass infor-
mation 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 con-
verters 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 dig-
ital 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 opera-
tional 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), Lexicons Logic 7 process-
ing, and music surround.
Logic 7 Digital Signal Processing for
Movies and Music
Logic 7 is Lexicon’s proprietary technique for generating multi-
channel 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 pro-
motes Logic 7 as a universal format for distributing multi-chan-
nel 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 speak-
ers, 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” sur-
round signals between the two side and two rear speakers.
Specifically, effects moving from the left to rear pan smooth-
ly 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 attenu-
ating 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 sig-
nal 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-gen-
eration 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.
L e x i c o n ’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 can-
cel 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 sophisticat-
ed. The simple technique described above can introduce col-
orations 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 sur-
round playback from two-channel sources. Other equally
interesting techniques are also employed that space restric-
tions 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- c h a n n e l
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 MC-
1 ’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 Vo i c e ) .
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-
o v e r, 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 process-
ing 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 pre-
sented 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 vast-
ly 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 7s effectiveness is to
compare a full 5.1-channel discrete source with that source
downmixed to two channels, then played back with Logic 7.
H e r e ’s how you do it: Record a section of a film soundtrack
on a VHS machine (or cassette deck) using the MC-1s “AC-
3 2-Channel” mode. This mode downmixes the discrete 5.1-
channel 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 D r a g o n h e a r t 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 sev-
eral 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 chan-
nel separation. Indeed, I found it hard to believe I was lis-
tening 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-1s sound quality in this evalua-
tion 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-1s treble was a
bit hashy, and the soundstage was somewhat flat and
closed-in. These characteristics became apparent when lis-
tening critically to two-channel music sources through a
reference-quality playback system; when listening to film
soundtracks, the MC-1s 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
c o n t r o l l e r. )
The $6,500 Classé SSP-50 controller provides an inter-
esting 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 per-
formance is, however, offset by the MC-1’s more sophisti-
cated surround processing, 7.1-channel capability, THX pro-
cessing, vastly better remote and user interface, and propri-
etary Lexicon film-soundtrack enhancements. But thats 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 repro-
duction, you can still enjoy the MC-1’s terrific surround per-
formance 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 ampli-
fiers. (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 channel-
level calibration when switching back to multi-channel.) Ana-
log 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 book-
let explaining the theory behind the MC-1s surround modes,
I’ve taken a somewhat different view. The MC-1s 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 ben-
efit 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 sur-
round, di-pole for films), and the rear speakers
were the point-source Mirage Reference Monitors. Lexicon rec-
ommends seven timbre-matched loudspeakers in an acousti-
cally 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 with-
out 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 Ref-
erence 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?
R e q u i e md i d n ’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 R e q u i e m
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 play-
ing the Denon Anechoic Orchestral Music Recording CD
[Denon PG-6006], an orchestral recording made in an ane-
choic chamber (a reflection-free room). This recording does-
n’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 suc-
cessful 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 signal-
processing 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 home-
theater 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 digi-
tal 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 perfor-
mance 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.
M a n u f a c t u r e r I n f o r m a t i o n
A s s o c i a t e d E q u i p m e n t
M a n u f a c t u r e rs Response
We would like to thank The Pe r fect Vi s i o n and Robert Harley
for the comprehensive rev i ew of the MC-1. One of our primary
goals in the MC-1 and DC-2 was to improve upon the earlier DC-
1 ’s audio performance. We procured samples of the latest Dig-
i tal to Analog and Analog to Digital converters from our ve n d o r s
and began a series of objective and subjective tests. During this
process we came across a prototype DAC from AKM. The per-
formance of the AKM exceeded that of eve ry other DAC we
tested, and handily exceeded the performance of the DC-1’s
DACs, which Mr. Harley noted in his rev i ew.
We used several analog and digital sources to compare the
A D C / D ACs 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: “ c o m -
pletely neutral,” “dead quiet,” and “extremely dynamic.
We stand by our decision and feel that the MC-1 and DC-2
s h a tter the myth that digital audio products are “ g r a i ny” com-
pared to analog designs. The performance of digital audio prod-
ucts has reached the point where the ceiling is now being dic-
tated by the limitations of analog. T H E C O N S U M E R P RO D U C T ST E A M
L E X I C O N,I N C.
No product better exemplifies the fundamental shift in
home-entertainment technology than the controller. Also
known as a surround-sound processor or audio-video pre-
amplifier, the controller is an entirely new
product category that combines many
diverse functions in a single chassis. To
understand what a controller is and does is to
understand the technologies that are trans-
forming the way we reproduce sound in our
A modern controller replaces as many as
four separate components in your music and
home-theater system: the source-switching
functions of a preamplifier, a surround-sound
decoder, six (or eight) channels of digital-to-
analog conversion, and an electronic
crossover to split up the frequency spectrum.
Moreover, the rapidly increasing computer horsepower in
today’s controllers points to a future in which they will
incorporate even more func-
tions and capabilities, such as
digital signal processing for
loudspeaker and room cor-
rection. While power amp-
lifiers and loudspeakers
change relatively little over
time, the controller repre-
sents a radical new path to
the future.
Despite the power and
sophistication of some of
t o d a y ’s controllers, they are
remarkably inexpensive and
relatively easy to use. While
none of us would call a $5,000
audio product cheap, the price
of a High End controller is rea-
sonable considering all the
functions it performs. In addition, it seamlessly merges a
diverse array of sophisticated processing and controls to pro-
vide nearly transparent inter-operability to the user. Still,
designers need to focus on improving the user interface so
that anyone can operate even the most sophisticated system.
As controllers replace two-channel analog preampli-
fiers, many of us music purists are concerned that two-chan-
nel music reproduction may be compromised in the rush to
add features. Some controllers are designed with an empha-
sis on multi-channel film-soundtrack repro-
duction, with little regard for the two-chan-
nel musical experience. Other controllers can be considered
true High End preamplifiers that also offer surround-sound
decoding and video switching. This diversity of products on
the market lets you choose a controller that
parallels your priorities. The movie buff will
have very different requirements from the
music listener who wants a little surround
sound when he occasionally watches a
Inputs, Outputs, and Source
Let’s start with the controller’s most basic
function, selecting the source you listen to or
watch. The controller accepts audio or A/V
(audio and video) signals from all your
source components and lets you select which
source signal is sent to the power amplifiers and video mon-
itor. A basic controller will offer two analog-audio inputs
(for a tuner and CD player, for
example) and perhaps four
audio-video (A/V) inputs. In
addition to the main outputs
that drive your TV and power
amplifiers, two record outputs
are often provided to drive
two VCRs or a VCR and an
analog tape recorder.
When choosing a con-
troller, make sure its array of
inputs matches or exceeds the
number of source compo-
nents in your system. Yo u r
system is likely to expand in
the future, so look for a con-
troller with at least two more
inputs than you need right
All controllers have inputs for digital audio signals as
well as for analog. These inputs receive the digital-audio
output of a DVD player, laserdisc machine, DSS receiver, or
CD transport. The signals carried on these digital connec-
tions include Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Surround, and two-
channel PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) signals, such as from
a CD transport.
If you’re an old hand at home theater, you proba-
bly own a laserdisc player with Dolby Digital output. Fur-
ther, you know that to get Dolby Digital
(once called AC-3) onto a laserdisc, the sig-
. . . . . . . . .
A modern controller replaces
as many as four components
in your music and home-the-
ater system: the source-
switching functions of a pre-
amplifier, a surround-sound
decoder, six (or eight) chan-
nels of digital-to-analog con-
version, and an electronic
crossover to split up the
frequency spectrum.
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 (typ-
ically labeled “AC-3 RF”), you’ll need an exter-
nal 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 con-
troller that has analog bypass. Without a bypass mode, the
analog signal will be converted to digital and back as it pass-
es 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 vol-
ume control such as that used in the Proceed AV P. Most mod-
ern controllers adjust the volume digitally in their DSP chips
(which don’t sound as good as an old-fashioned potentiome-
ter). 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). To d a y ’s advanced con-
trollers boast the computing power of a late 1980s main-
frame computer.
The first job of the DSP chip is decoding; that is, con-
verting a stream of digital data into separate digital signals
that can be converted to analog audio. Virtually all con-
trollers today decode the three major surround-sound for-
mats: 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 comput-
ing power than those in High End controllers.
Consequently, High End controllers offer bet-
ter implementations of surround-sound decod-
ing, more flexible features, and higher sound
quality (more powerful DSP chips allow greater
precision in the mathematical computations per-
formed on the audio signal).
A DSP chip is a number cruncher that operates on spe-
cific instructions (the software) controlling it. When decod-
ing 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 soft-
ware 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, con-
troller 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 “con-
cert 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 high-
est level can be used to alter the signal so that it compen-
sates for the intrinsic sound of your room, smoothing out
the room’s resonant characteristics and allowing you to bet-
ter 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. Some-
day, 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 exam-
ple, 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 real-
ized. 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” con-
trollers 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-updat-
able 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 per-
formed 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 AV P ’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 mother-
board and smaller circuitboards that fit into
slots on the motherboard. If a new technology
comes along or better digital-to-analog con-
verters become available, as examples, you
simply swap out a circuitboard to bring your
controller up to date. Some controllers com-
bine 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
Some controllers are “THX Certi-
f i e d , meaning they incorporate
Lucasfilm signal processing – a
technology that Lucasfilm believes better
translates film soundtracks created for
theater playback into the home. THX-cer-
tified controllers must also meet a set of
technical performance criteria established
by Lucasfilm. If the product corr e c t l y
implements the THX technologies and
meets the performance criteria, the unit
can be branded “THX Certified.The man-
u fa c turer 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 engi-
neers heard on the film-dubbing stage.
THX-certified controllers employ fo u r
processes that Lucasfilm has found to
i m p r ove the home-theater ex p e r i e n c e :
surround decorrelation, timbre matching,
re-equalization, and the subwo o fe r
crossover. Let’s look at each of these.
S u rround decorr e l a t i o n m a kes 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
d e c o rrelation has ta ken a new tw i s t ,
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 decorrela-
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 perceive d
timbre doesnt change with movement.
You can easily demonstrate for yo u r s e l f
h ow perceived timbre changes with direc-
tion: Snap your fingers in front of your fa c e ,
and again to the side of your head. Th e
sound is “sharper” to the side. THX timbre
m a t ching compensates for this diffe r e n c e
with signal processing in the controller.
Re - e q u a l i z a t i o n is a treble cut applied
on play b a ck to make soundtracks mixe d
for movie theaters sound natural when
p l a yed in the home. Mixers intentionally
m a ke soundtracks bright for several rea-
sons. Theaters are usually full of absorbent
seats, drapes, and people, all of which roll
o ff high frequencies to a greater degree
than midrange and bass frequencies. In
addition, the long distance between the
audience and loudspeakers tends to selec-
t i v ely attenuate treble. Consequently, the
s o u n d t r a ck has a natural tonal balance in
the theater, but exc e s s i v e brightness on a
home-theater system. The answer is to
e q u a l i z e the soundtrack during play b a ck 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 re-
equalization curve, THX’s inventor,Tomlin-
son Holman (THX stands for Tom Hol-
mans eXperiment), asked a series of top-
level film-sound mixers to listen to their
films on a home-theater system. Th e
mixer had an equalizer in front of him, and
was asked to adjust the equalizer until the
soundtrack sounded “right” on the home-
theater system. Holman averaged the
equalization curves created by the mixing
engineers (which were remarkably close)
to generate the patented THX re-equaliza-
tion curve.
To save money, some budget con-
trollers license only the re-equalization
part of THX processing, not the entire sig-
nal-processing suite. Other controllers
not licensed by Lucasfilm may employ a
selectable treble cut, often carrying a
name such as “Cinema EQ.
F i n a l l y, the THX s u b wo o fer crossove r
s ta n d a r d i z es the crossover ch a r a c t e r i s t i c s
( c u t - o ff frequency and slopes) that split the
frequency spectrum into bass for the sub-
wo o fer and midrange/treble frequencies
for the main speakers. The THX crossove r
frequency is 80 Hz, with fourth-order low-
pass and second-order high-pass slopes.
The subwo o fe r-out jack on a T H X - c e r t i f i e d
controller thus carries a precisely defined
signal. When decoding 5.1- channel Dolby
D i g i tal or DTS (so-called THX 5.1 mode),
the subwo o fer output carries the Low Fr e-
quency Effects (LFE) channel, plus the
bass from any number of the other five
channels. When decoding Dolby Surr o u n d ,
the THX subwo o fer output is a mix of the
front three ch a n n e l s bass below 80 Hz,
assuming that the front speakers are small
satellite ty p e s .
You may have recently seen the desig-
nations “THX Select” and THX Ultra”
replace plain old THX. THX Select products
h a ve relaxed performance standards, and
are designed to allow products suitable fo r
smaller rooms to benefit from THX pro-
c e s s i n g. The more rigorous Ultra perfo r-
mance level corresponds to what used to
be simply called “THX” and is built on the
assumption that the room invo l ved may be
3 , 000 cubic feet or larger. R H
THX-Certified Controllers
speaker systems. For example, if you have five
small loudspeakers and a subwoofer, you tell
the controller to filter bass from each of the
five channels, and to direct it, in sum, to the
subwoofer. When watching a Dolby Digital or
DTS movie, the bass from the LCR and sur-
round channels is mixed with the Low Fre-
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
(including the LFE channel), but filter bass from the center
and surround channels.
A feature in the most advanced controllers is the ability
to specify the crossover frequency and slopes between the
subwoofer and main speakers. The crossover is implement-
ed in the digital domain with DSP. Splitting the frequency
spectrum into bass and treble in the controller is a vastly
better approach than subject-
ing the analog audio signal to
the capacitors, resistors, and
inductors found in the cross-
overs built into subwoofers.
Other controllers let you
specify the crossover frequency (40 Hz, 80 Hz, 120 Hz, for
example), but not the slope or phase characteristics. The
greater the flexibility in this function, the greater the likeli-
hood that you can achieve the best results with your speak-
ers and room.
Keeping low bass out of smaller loudspeak-
ers confers large advantages in the speaker’s
power handling, dynamic range, midrange clari-
ty, and sense of ease. When the woofer doesn’t
have to move back and forth a long distance try-
ing to reproduce low bass, the midrange sounds
cleaner and the speaker can reproduce louder
peaks without distortion.
High-Resolution Digital Audio
Many controllers today feature the ability to accept digital
input signals with a sampling frequency of 96 kHz and word
lengths of up to 24 bits. This allows them to decode high-res-
olution digital audio output from a DVD player that can
deliver 24/96 digital signals (the Pioneer DV-09 is an exam-
ple). The selection of 24/96 discs is slim, and until a digital
interface with a copy-protec-
tion system is in place, don’t
expect many DVD players to
provide access to the 24/96
A more useful feature for
taking advantage of the high-resolution multi-channel for-
mats about to come on the market (DVD-Audio and Super
Audio CD – SACD) is a six-channel analog input on the con-
troller. Until the digital-interface issue is resolved (which
may take a long time because it is inextricably linked to the
…the controller represents
a radical new path to
the future…
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 ana-
log input, you won’t be able to play high-reso-
lution multi-channel music through your sys-
tem until the copy-protection dust has settled.
The six-channel analog input approach has its
drawbacks: You’re paying for six DACs in the DVD-
A or SACD player and for six DACs in the controller. It
would obviously be better and more cost effective if multi-
channel 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 com-
plicated 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 con-
verters (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 ana-
log 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 other-
wise excellent controller. More expensive controllers use
higher quality parts and design techniques, including metal-
film resistors, polystyrene capacitors, four-layer circuit-
boards, and exotic circuit board material. Also look for ana-
log stages made from discrete transistors instead of inex-
pensive operational-amplifier chips. Some High End compa-
nies now have considerable expertise in designing cutting-
edge digital converters, expertise they can apply to building
multi-channel digital controllers.
D o n ’ t be swayed by marketing hype that touts the DACs as
“24-bit.” Although the DAC may have 24 resistor “rungs” on its
“ l a d d e r,” 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 con-
verter advancement. Assuming this rate contin-
ues, consider this: 24-bit digital audio has a the-
oretical 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 break-
through employing new DAC architectures.
(Inter)Facing the User
Most of this article has been concerned with the path of a sig-
nal 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 but-
tons, it doesnt bode well for the rest of the user interface. The
buttons should be color coded, grouped by function, and fea-
ture different sizes according to their frequency of use or func-
tion. And its 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 The-
ater for Everyone. For information, or to order a copy, call
800-848-5099. Website:
One feature lacking on even some
High End controllers is compo-
nent video input and output jacks.
Component video, carried on three sepa-
rate cables, offers vastly improved picture
quality over composite video, and is even
better than S-Video. As more and more
products with composite-video connec-
tions become available (DVD playe r s ,
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 playe r, for example) and a
video monitor with component-video
input, you can simply run the component-
video cables directly from the DVD play-
er to your video monitor, bypassing the
c o n t r o l l e rs video-switching function. Th i s
t e chnique requires that you switch inputs
on your video monitor to wa t ch a DV D.
E ven if your controller has component-
video switch i n g, howeve r, none ava i l a b l e
t o d ay offer cross-format conversion (i.e.,
S - Video input to component-video out-
put), meaning you still must switch
inputs on your video monitor when
wa t ching a component-video s o u r c e .
Although component-video switch - ing will
become increasingly common, multiple
RCA jacks ta ke up valuable rear-panel real
e s tate. Some products just don’t have
the room. R H
Component-Video Switching
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 dol-
lars, satisfaction is survival.
Know thine enemy: T h e
Room. Do not think of it as a help-
ful collaborator or even an inno-
cent bystander. It, more than any-
thing 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 humili-
ty brings education and, with edu-
cation, satisfaction is, indeed,
This article and the ones that
follow trace my experiences
installing the Revel Ultima speakers
and Proceed electronics multi-channel sys-
tem into this enemy mine. We begin here with the
Revel Salon loudspeaker and the Revel Sub-15/LE-1 sub-
woofer 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 Sys-
tem. 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 fun-
damental 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 addi-
tion 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
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 dimen-
sions of your room and calculate the room’s modal character-
istics. 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
d o e s n ’t solve your problems; it only helps make them more pre-
dictable. 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 atten-
uated by leakage through walls that flex.
Revel Ultima Speakers – From 2 to 7.1 Channels
Episode One: The Ancient Enemy
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.
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 fol-
lowing set of ratios:
2.5 by 1.6 by 1 2.18 by 1.6 by 1
1.39 by 1.14 by 1 1.54 by 1.14 by 1
2.33 by 1.6 by 1 1.9 by 1.4 by 1
1.9 by 1.3 by 1 2.1 by 1.6 by 1
2.5 by 1.5 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
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 dry-
wall (the floor is concrete). I wanted an equipment room I
could walk into to change components and cables, and I want-
ed 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 simi-
lar 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
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 speak-
er in a certain room is extraordinarily difficult (unlikely, but
not impossible). Now, though, there is a useful tool to credi-
bly 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 loca-
tion. Fortunately, Room Optimizer will consider all those vari-
ables for you.
Room Optimizer, in simple terms, does the math for you.
It combines a modal analysis with a Speaker Boundary Inter-
ference 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 repre-
sentation 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 user-
defined 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 refin-
ing 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,
Diagram 1: Room Mode Calculator
by Allan Devantier
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 fre-
quencies 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 frequen-
cies 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 absorp-
tion 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 Optimiz-
er got me within several inches on each axis of an excellent
location. From the suggested location, I used a variety of pro-
gram 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 attain-
ing outstanding soundstaging performance.
Thus, symmetrical location within the room is
highly desirable. Room Optimizer automatical-
ly sets the speakers up in symmetrical locations.
When Room Optimizer generates a solution, it also identi-
fies 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 empir-
ical 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 isnt 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 loud-
speaker. 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 mea-
surement) as plus or minus 1 dB from 25 Hz to 18 kHz. I real-
ize 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 expe-
rience. 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 limita-
tions 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 repro-
duce 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 4-
inch 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 high-
er 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 han-
dle high peak amplitudes without compression. This was nec-
essary 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 perfor-
mance can be related to Revel’s primary objective – to pro-
duce 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 a