A degree in picture management

Only recently, I took the plunge and bought myself my first Blu-ray Disc player, a Sony BDP-S350. I waited specifically for this model, for two reasons. One, I wanted the player to be BD-Live (or Profile 2.0) compliant, meaning that it is equiped with a network-connector allowing certain BD titles to access the Internet and enhance the movie playback with online content. And second, I wanted my Blu-ray player to be a Sony, because as the main supporter of the Blu-ray Disc format, I expect Sony to provide the best support in terms of firmware updates, making my investment as future proof as possible.

I hooked up the player to my Philips Full HD LCD television, which is about one year old. Much to my surprise, the picture quality of a Blu-ray title (in this case the magnificant documentary “Earth”) did not overwelm me in the way I expected. Specifically, the picture contained, in my opinion, a lot of musquito noise in darker areas, and also the movement was a little jittery. When trying a DVD, I noticed some of the same effects: noise and lack of sharpness, and not perfect motion. Of course this qualification might be due to me being over sensitive to video quality, however I was pretty sure that both the TV and this generally well reviewed player should be capable of delivering more. Especially since the picture quality of my relatively cheap 1080p upscaling DVD player was free from these effects when used with my TV. So I was determined to finetune the new player and the TV to get the results I expected.

So I started wading trough the endless menus full of picture “enhancement” settings and options that both the player and the TV offer. I was really, really amazed at the endless rows of choices to choose from. Next to the various sliders for sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and such, the TV also offers me the option to set “Perfect Pixel Engine HD” on or of, set “HD Natural Motion” to off, minimum or maximum, choose whether or not to use “100 Hz Clear LCD”, and furthermore has settings for things like “dynamic contrast”, noise reduction, MPEG artefact reduction, colour optimization and “Active Control”. And this is just the TV! On to the Sony Blu-ray player. After selecting the relatively obvious output port and desired resolution settins, I can set the colour output method for the HDMI port to “YCbCr 4:2:2”, “YCbCr 4:4:4”, “RGB 16-235” and “RGB 0-255”, I can turn “x.v colour output” on or off, and I can set “frame noise reduction”, “block noise reduction” and “musquito noise reduction” on or off. And then I probably forget to mention some settings as well.

Needless to say, the number of possible combinations of all these settings runs into several dozens. I was unable to get the image results that I was hoping for, and this got me thinking. The player and the TV are connected via HDMI, which is a digital interface. Why didn’t someone at the engineering task force that defined the HDMI specification figure out that a TV could easily communicate its features and capabilities to the player, which then could take appropriate measures and provide the best settings. Why am I, as a consumer, expected to get a degree in “picture management” just to get my equipment to do what I want it to do? Sure, there are some initiatives to offer some form of communcation between various consumer electronics equipment, but these are generally vendor-specific, and even then the results widely vary between the age and version of these communication protocols.

For now, I am just leaving things between my player and my TV as they are, silently hoping that a future firmware update to either the player or the TV will improve things. And yes, I am aware that hoping for a software fix to get my home electronics to work as they are supposed to do has definitly moved us into a new era.

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