They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.
-James Earl Jones "Field of Dreams"
and don't go mistaking paradise for that home across the road
-Bob Dylan "Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Happy Birthday to me
I got a Blu-Ray player for my birthday yesterday. I did a lot of research and picked the Panasonic DMP-BD35K. It is a platform 2.0 player, which means it has BD-Live, picture in picture and a few other things. It got a good review on CNET, which convinced me to pick it over the equivalent Sony. Among other things, the Sony needed a firmware upgrade for platform 2.0, and this one was already there. So far I am very impressed with it.
I had some issues in setting it up, but that is half the fun. Things have progressed a lot since the days when you would hook your antenna or cable up to your VCR, run another cable to your TV, tune your TV to channel 3 or 4 and there was your system.
After hooking it to the TV with an HDMI cable, it worked right out of the box. The audio at this point was coming through the TV. I had also attached a network cable, and when I did the connection test it passed, and showed my the IP address that it had obtained. When I hooked up the optical digital audio cable connected to the receiver I got no sound. I screwed around with this for a half hour or so, trying different settings, etc. The issue with audio is that it can output the latest audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD) to receivers that can decode them if you are sending data to your receiver with HDMI. My receiver is a couple of years old and lacks both HDMI input and the ability to decode those formats. The manual implied that it would send old style Dolby Digital and DTS along in that situation but I was getting nothing. Finally I checked out the cable and saw no red light emitting from the end that would connect to the receiver. That meant it wasn't passing data. I found another cable and tried it and it worked! I have no idea why the cable went bad, as it had been working in another hookup last week. Ironically the bad cable was a Monster and the replacement was a cheaper Radio Shack cable. The lesson here was that the default setting worked.
On to video. My TV is a two year old 720p Pioneer plasma. It came out just when 1080p started making its appearance. It had the unique offering of accepting both 1080p input and 24p input. Film cameras work at 24 frames per second but most video is 60 images per second. Blu-Ray videos can be 24p which makes for smoother more realistic images. My TV can handle and properly process both 1080p input and 24p input, which is not the norm for a 720p monitor. Anyway I wanted to get the setting such that would allow these things. I was looking at something and pushed the button that made the monitor tell me what it was displaying and it said 1080i. The setting for resolution was set to Auto which means let the player figure out what the monitor can handle. Figuring that this was wrong, I switched it to 1080p. It warned me that that might not be a good idea and that I would have to hold down a couple of buttons for 5 seconds if things did not work out. The screen went black. Holding down those buttons yielded an error message that suggested I had a bad HDMI cable. I had to hook up a composite video cable to again see the screen to get out of the mess. Once again able to see the screen I set it back to Auto. I then messed with settings for a while. At one point it was only outputting 480p. Eventually I set things back to the default. Then I tried to play a movie and checked the monitor and it was in fact 1080p. I turned on 24p on the Blu-Ray player and that worked too. The lesson here is that the player, at least with the Auto setting, puts out either 1080i or 1080p depending upon the content, and that the default settings worked for me.
The remote also provides some issues. I have a Panasonic DVD Recorder/VCR. It has a nearly identical remote. So the remote turns on both players, etc. The solution is to change the "control code" on one of the units, which defaults to "1", to "2" or "3". That works just fine but the Harmony software only seems to understand code 1.
Finally, I am underwhelmed with BD-Live, at least with the one disk that I have looked at, Wall-E. I should start by saying that the internet connectivity works fine and I was able to update the firmware from version 1.1 to version 1.5 fairly effortlessly. It is set to automatically watch for updates. When loading the disk you get a message that says something like Network Connection Started. The first time I started Wall-E, I got another message saying that it needed to update my system (!?) in order to do BD-Live on the disk. I answered OK and it displayed a progress bar for about 10 minutes. The next time I started the disk the same thing happened, but the firmware update was in between and it has not done it again. Still it was painful. Whatever updates it is making must be things stored on the SD card, which is required for BD Live. I got a 4GB card for $9.99 at Fry's. So then after some time spent loading it asks you to log in, directing you to a Disney website to get one. After doing that you learn that there is a verification process via return email AND that your screenname will be approved at a later date. (They rejected "pbenjamin" for some reason, by the way.) Finally armed with an account I logged in. The interface to type in userid and password is cumbersome AND it fails to remember you the next time. After about 30 minutes of work I finally gained entrance. This disk provided 4 options. Two were mail and chat with other people who have managed to register, sounds about as promising as Twitter turned out to be. A third was games, which seemed like a good thing except that the private games had yet to be implemented and the public game that was offered would start in 15 minutes. The final option involved redeeming points (obtained by registering Disney Blu-Rays) for valuable gifts. Wall-E (the movie itself) is highly recommended.
The player itself is wonderful. The picture quality is on par with the best HD that I've gotten from cable, better than most of it given the trend towards broadcast subchannels and compression by the cable companies. So far I own 4 disks: Goodfellas and American Gangster, which I got as birthday presents, and From Russia With Love and Thunderball, which I bought for myself. Wall-E came from Netflix, as will Hancock (which is a BD-Live disk -- second try) tomorrow.