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Home Entertainment: Blu ray and home theater demystified

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Home Entertainment: Blu ray and home theater demystified

30:14 /

Is now the time to go Blu-ray? What are the key features to look for in an AV receiver? CNET's John Falcone answers all your questions about home audio and video.

[ Music ] ^M00:00:05 >>And it's time once again for Editor's Office Hours NYC edition. That's the show where I wrangle a different CNET editor every time make them sit down for 30 minutes and answer your questions live unedited. Who have we trapped today? We've got John Falcone who's certainly been here a lot longer than I have. John what are we gonna be talking about today? >>John: Well first of all I want to point out that I am indeed wrangled here. I have leg irons on. They're not visible. >>That's right. We dragged you in kickin and screamin. >>John: The topic today is Blu-ray and home theatre. >>Ok, audio stuff, video stuff, players, speakers? >>John: Audio, video, pretty much everything except TV's which obviously >>We've covered in great depth already. Ok so this show is all about you guys asking questions. There are a couple different ways to do that. We've got a chat box right down here if you're watching us live. You can chat with other people also watching the show. And there should be a big white box right next to John, if you're watching us live and then you can type in a question and we will try to get to it. To type in a question you do have to be a CNET member but it's really easy to sign up right from the box. [Background talking] You just need an email address and a password. So get those questions coming in. We're going to answer as many as we can in the next 30 minutes. Let's take a look. I'm gonna start off really simple for you. Nice, soft ball right up the middle. What is the best Blu-ray player to buy right now? >>John: Really great question. We kept recommending the PlayStation 3 pretty much since it came out because it was the best value in a Blu-ray player even if you were never gonna play a game. Obviously if you were also a gamer then its value even skyrocketed from there. So the problem was we weren't seeing a lot of players below the $400 level to begin with which is why the PS3 was always the best bet. Just in the past couple months that's changed quite a bit. A lot of the older profile 1.0, 1.1 players, which I'll get into in a minute, are actually discounted to $300 and below as low as $250 or $220 and we're starting to see some brand new players that are fully up to spec in terms of what you'd want from Blu-ray player which is Profile 2.0 or BD-Live which is able to access the online features in some of the newest discs. >>Now does anybody actually like those BD-Live features? I hear they're kind of a pain in the ass. >>John: They are kind of a big pain. Nobody really likes them yet but if you're gonna buy one of these players you might as well have the option because of course if you buy one without that then in 6 or 12 months from now something cool will come out and you'll feel like you got ripped off. >>So you turn that off by default so your movies don't phone home every time you put them in the player. >>John: Yea, it's definitely not a great experience so far but again if you're gonna buy a new player you might as well get one that's fully up to date. >>One that has the BD-Live. >>John: Another thing the new players have that a lot of old ones didn't is the ability to access all the latest soundtracks. So Blu-ray has an extra level of soundtrack available beyond what we had in standard DVD's which was just Dolby digital and DTS. They have Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio we can get into that in more detail a little later as well. But they're basically even higher resolution soundtracks that go beyond what was on a regular DVD. A lot of the first gen Blu-ray players couldn't do those high res sound tracks. >>They could only just do the old style. >>John: Right so you still get sound out of the player but you couldn't access the highest resolution that was available on some of those discs. So with those extra features now one of our favorites is the Panasonic DMP BB35. That has profile 2.0, all the sound tracks for it, great video quality and its $299. >>$299 >>John: So that's $100 less than the PS3 >>Than the cheapest PS3. >>John: Yes. So that's a great deal for anybody who's looking for a great Blu-ray player that delivers everything you want now plus the stuff you want in the future. >>And you don't want to play games. >>John: And you don't want to play games. So that's only $299. It wouldn't shock me to see that even cheaper as we approach the holidays. Another real promising player, we haven't done the full review yet but we do have the sample over here actually is the Samsung EDT 2550. That one is $399 and what's special about that one is that it's Profile 2.0 and it also has access to Netflix Watch Instantly and Pandora too, actually. >>Like that Netflix stand alone box. >>John: Exactly >>They're going to have that in the Xbox Live update as well. >>John: They are going to have that in the Xbox Live update middle of November I think. But again if you're not a gamer and you're looking for a Blu-ray player what's cool about that is you can get all your Blu-ray's, all your DVD's and if you're a Netflix subscriber for as little as $9.99 a month you get unlimited access to their library. >>Online library >>John: Online streaming which is >>Which is not great but it's got a lot of interesting stuff. >>John: It's better now than it was a few months ago because they added >>A lot of TV stuff that's really good? >>John: Yea, and they added CBS stuff which full disclosure is our parent company but their current season episode so if you missed last week's episode you can watch NCIS and Unit and CSI and stuff like that. >>Heroes up on there and seasons of 3D Rock and shows like that. >>John: Exactly and they also cut a deal with Stars and Disney and so they have a lot of actually really good movies people wanna watch now like No Country for Old Men and a lot of Disney animated classics and Pixar and stuff. >>And how much is that stand-alone? There's a roku box that acts as stand-alone Netflix player. Now how much is that? >>John: That is $99 >>Ok, so the $299 base model Blu-ray player costs $100 bucks so you have a $399 box and that's why that one. Now you have a couple of those right here, right? >>John: I do indeed. >>Let's take a look. >>John: These are just black boxes however. >>Yea, these are just cardboard boxes. >>John: This is the Samsung >>Ok that's the Samsung and this is the $399 one that plays the Netflix movies. >>John: What's interesting is it doesn't even have the Netflix or Pandora logo on here because they actually added all of this with a firmer update just last week. So this has been available for about 46 weeks at Best Buy and then firmware update, free download and now has a lot more features than it did when we first bought it. >>Ok and what's the $299 one. >>John: That again is the Panasonic DMP BD35 >>Ok, ok. They should invest a little bit more in the naming of these guys. That's an ongoing problem in every part of new technology. This says BD-Live right there, ok. That's got all the standard connectors on the back, HDMI component. >>John: Yea. What's interesting about this actually the Samsung also has 7.1 analog out. So if you have an older AV receiver that doesn't have all the latest HDMI features that might be a good option, again if you want to access the highest resolution soundtracks available. Although the Samsung does not have the highest res DTS master audio decoding built in. You'd need a separate HDMI receiver to get that. >>Speaking of sound on these things, I have another question here. Somebody wants to know what's up with the new Blu-ray Dolby and DTS formats. Now we just talked about that briefly but maybe this gives us a chance to take it back a step and just explain very briefly what do you mean when you say Dolby? What do you mean when you say DTS? People throw these terms around. I don't even know what they mean. >>John: When DVD first came around one of the great things about that was that it gave one wire access to digital surround sound. So you bought your DVD player, you got an AV receiver with a coaxial or optical digital input and ran that one wire instead of six analog ones and you'd play the movie. It would pop up and say Dolby Digital or DTS and you'd get full 5.1 surround from your audio system. So it was kind of plug and play surround sound which prior to that point was a much bigger pain to get up and running. The problem is with Blu-ray they've kind of gone backwards a little bit and made them much harder to access and get to. So the Blu-ray soundtracks theoretically are even better, more detailed, higher bandwidth basically. >>Like HD sound? >>John: HD sound, exactly. >>Like those super audio CD's they tried to sell or HD radio? Don't mention HD radio [Laughter] >>John: It can I believe get up to Lossless and uncompressed sound. There's at least so much bandwidth there they can do a lot with it. The problem was they came out with these Blu-rays and HD DVD's originally and the receivers had to catch up with the Blu-rays so you needed a receiver that could decode Dolby true HD or DTS HD master audio. That's another thing, there's like 3 or 4 levels of all these things. Dolby Digital plus is the minor step up from the old DVD Dolby Digital then above that is Dolby True HD which is lossless audio. On the DTS side there's DTS HD high resolution and then above that is DTS HD master audio. >>Now ballpark figure what do I need to spend on my speakers to be able to even hear the difference? I'm pretty sure my $399 Sony Dream system isn't really gonna count. >>John: Another great point. First of all to be perfectly honest a lot of people aren't gonna hear the difference. >>Like 720D versus 1080D >>John: Exactly. But again, if you're buying this new stuff from the ground up I think it's at least good to maybe wait a little bit, wait until you can get all those upgrades essentially built in for free without paying extra. And they're there so at least a day or two down the road of 2, 3, 5 years from now you do get a better audio system, better receiver you can just plug in and it's there to access. I'd say you'd need at least a speaker system that's probably in the $1,000 range. Just for the speakers and maybe like a $500 receiver in addition to the Blu-ray player and the DVD. >>So not really great for New York apartment living. >>John: Not great for New York apartment living. >>Unless you were very old and deaf. >>John: Although there are a few home theatres in a box systems that have Blu-ray built in as well. So far we don't really recommend them again because they don't have all the features built in. They don't have all the decoding. They don't have Profile 2.0 and so forth. But there's one coming up from Sony by the end of the year that I believe is only $1,000 that looked pretty promising. >>It's got the Blu-ray player and it's got 5.1 speakers in the box. >>John: Exactly, in the box and also the interesting thing about this one is that it had HD inputs so you could then hook up your PS3, your Xbox 360, your cable box and use that to switch at least for HDMI all your audio and video. >>We're all getting to the point where we need an HDMI switcher. That's a telling development. >>John: Although if you do need just an HDMI switch you can get them for as cheap as $50. >>Ah, ok. Good to know, good to know. So speaking about speakers let's talk another couple of questions out here from the audience. Is it worth upgrading from 5.1 to 7.1? >>John: I would say for the overwhelming majority of people, no. >>I like a good no. >>John: If you're a super audio file and you're really into it, you know, fine, go for it. But it's, so 5.1 would be 2 in the front, 1 center and then 2 rears basically plus the subwoofer. 7.1 in addition to those 5 is then 2 rear surround behind you as well like kind of in addition to the side >>Right 2 on the side and 2 in the back. >>John: And there's also a 6.1 which is just one in the back, basically. >>Ok >>John: But I don't think that's really adding a lot to the equation only if the most modern movie is basically encoded in 7.1. So, you know, if you look at the overwhelming majority of DVD's anyway they're not all going to be 7.1 friendly to begin with. Blu-ray's maybe more of those are 7.1 then 5.1. But again if movie has been made in the last 10 years basically you're probably not even going to have a lot. >>I don't know where people put all these speakers. I barely have room for five. >>John: Yea, will speakers, wires, the whole thing. >>And that leads into another excellent question. Now I've seen a few of these the single speaker boxes that kind of do fake surround sound. So do single speaker audio systems really provide surround sound that's comparable in any way to regular 5.1? >>John: Again the >>The guys who write the press releases would have you believe yes. >>John: The flat answer is, not really. You're not going to get, unless they're superb basically, anything behind you. Because a lot of time's they're using these kind of psycho acoustic tricks which is kind of tricking your ear and your brain into thinking you're hearing something behind you or around you and a lot of them mostly use reflectivity off the walls and other things in the room. So some of those work and some of those work even really well but if you're room isn't the right size or kind of perfectly reflected, you know. If you have bookshelves or your plants or something >>Sure that's going to mess up the whole thing. >>John: that's interrupting the flow of all these audio waves it's gonna mess things up. >>You usually have to be sitting just right in the sweet spot. Like maybe they work good for one person but not for everybody else in the room. >>John: Another great point. You can have three people on the sofa and maybe the person in the center is really getting it. >>Will be ear trickery effectively. >>John: Even if you're just 3 feet away altogether you're hearing things that are off. That said some are a lot better than others and for people who don't wanna deal with wires >>Wires, speakers, installation, maybe a very small space. >>John: Exactly. Some of them are really quite good. >>Now do you think just one speaker or like one speaker and a subwoofer? >>John: A lot of them you should still have the subwoofer because depending how big the base drivers are the mid range drivers, you may be able to get away with that. But if you want good base you still pretty much need a subwoofer. And to date probably the best ones we've seen so far are the Yamaha sound speakers like YSP2000, 4000, 3050 >>And what do those run? >>John: The smallest ones can be as little as $600 or $700, $900. The high end ones go I believe all the way up to $2,000. >>So not really any cheaper than just buying a 5.1 set. >>John: Right. That said some of them are really sort of home theatre in a box systems because they also do video switching and video op conversion and stuff like that. So you could really just have that one speaker below your flat screen TV and then like your DVD player, your game system and cable box and you're done. So again that's the attraction to use this is your making a compromise and getting a much more >>Streamline product so you don't have the same >>John: Cord friendly >>More easier to install. A lot of good speaker talk. We're gonna take a little break right now and take a look at a video about one of the products we've been talking about. John what is that video? >>John: That is Senior Associate Editor Matthew Moscoviak telling us about the Panasonic DMP DV35 Blu-ray player. >>Ok, let's take a look at that. We'll be right back. [ Music ] >>Hi I'm Matthew Moscoviak, Senior Associate Editor at CNET.com and this is the Panasonic DMP BD35. This is one of the first Blu-ray players we've seen that has almost all the essential features of the PS3 and it costs significantly less. From the outside it looks pretty standard. It looks basically like a DVD player. But one thing we did like is that it's a little bit slimmer than some of the other Blu-ray players on the market. The BD35 is a profile 2.0 player which is the latest Blu-ray specification. That means that it's capable of playing back some internet enabled Blu-ray features available on some discs. Now another exciting part of this player is that it has both onboard Dolby-True HD and DTS HD master audio decoding on board. If you'll flip back around back you'll notice that it only has stereo analog outputs. You can however step up to the Panasonic DMP BD55 which has analog 7.1 outs. You'll see there's an HDMI output. There's also a Ethernet port which can be used for firmware updates and as we said before Profile 2.0 content. There's a component video output. There's also a single digital audio output which is limited to just an optical output. In terms of performance the BD35 was excellent. We paired it up against the PS3, which is our reference Blu-ray player and it performed just as well on film based Blu-ray discs and video based Blu-ray discs. We were also happy to see that the BD35 did well with standard DVD's. All together this is the best stand-alone Blu-ray player we've seen for the money. It costs significantly less than the PS3 while maintaining all the critical features that we look for which is why it's the first stand-alone Blu-ray player that we've awarded the editor's choice. I'm Matthew Moscoviak from CNET.com and this is the Panasonic DMP BD35. [ Music ] >>And we are back with Editor's Office Hours NYC edition. I'm Dan Ackerman here with Johnny cakes John Falcone answering your questions about all kinds of home theatre stuff especially audio stuff, Blu-ray players, things like that. Get your questions in. We've got a few more minutes. Here's a very specific kind of question I think a lot of people are asking. From Winston he wants to know should I get a cheap Blu-ray player possibly, you know, the cheapest around. Two hundred dollar, you know, barn door burner's special or wait to get a more expensive one and if I get a more expensive one will I be able to update it with an Ethernet port once there's like new firmware and stuff? >>John: Yea, this is kind of what I was saying earlier in the show about there's a lot of bargain Blu-ray deals out there but they tend to be last years models or the ones that came out in the spring. >>The older kind of outdated models. >>John: Yea, I would say absolutely wait. There's no real rush to get a Blu-ray player especially because there's only like I don't even know if there's more than 1500 movies out yet on Blu-ray. They look great if you have a TV that's 40 to 52 inches. That's where you can start seeing the difference versus DVD but for me I didn't get a Blu-ray player until a couple of months ago which was when I finally got a PS3 basically. >>Welcome to the club. >>John: Thank you. I also have an Xbox 360. >>Playing both sides right up the middle. Not playing favorites. Very important to note. >>John: But I would say wait for the cheaper prices on the current Blu-ray players to kinda come to you. Like we just said that Panasonic there is a great choice for $299. It would not shock me if by Black Friday this year we might see I'm not saying that model specifically but that type of model could be more like $249 and whether it's the holidays this year or early next year as they clear out inventory in advance of the 2009 players coming out that's when you can see the really good players that are coming out like that Panasonic, like the Samsung, like some of the newer Sony models will start to go to as low as $299, $249, maybe even $199. But I wouldn't, I'd save my $199 for when you're getting a player that has Profile 2.0 for instance because >>If you have an older player you can't update like that, even with the firmware update. >>John: It depends. Some of the older players don't even have Ethernet plugs on the back so >>No way to do it. Or you could flash drive. >>John: Or you could download something and burn it to disc, flash drive and then install that way. But >>But obviously you're not getting Blu-ray Live if you don't have an Ethernet jack on your Blu-ray player. >>John: That's a minimum requirement. >>Now these things aren't really going to become mass market until they start hitting that $199 though right? >>John: Yeah I mean with the current economic environment there's a lot of things up in the air right now but for a lot of people there's not a huge impetuous to upgrade to Blu-ray. They need more movies, more content and cheaper prices. >>You've got to already have a big screen, you've got to already have the speakers to really make sense. Let's talk about a topic near and dear to your heart. The Apple TV, the media extender box from Apple. Jefferson says Blu-ray media's pricey. Will Apple TV as an alternative ever do 1080P content? >>John: The Apple TV hardware, I believe, can already do 1080P I think, I'm not quite sure on that. The issue with Apple TV and a lot of other digital media things isn't whether they can technically pump out the resolution. It's will the content be there to support it. And somebody at ZDNet wrote a great piece about this where he said it's not the resolution. It's the bit rate. >>Oh, ok. >>John: And that is really important. It's not hard at all to do 720PHD or 1080 PHD but if they, it's kind of like taking a digital photo at 8 megapixel and then dummy it down to 20 kilobytes or something. It starts getting really blocky and look really lousy. >>Yea, over compressed the signal kinda thing. >>John: Exactly, they're over compressing and that's what a lot of these online HD streams are doing. One >>Can't the Apple TV with an Ethernet jet or wireless or can you do both? >>John: You can do both and that actually has you know 211N which is the fastest wireless on board which is really good. >>But you'll need to have an N router for that. >>John: Right. And the other things with these things even if they can technically do it it takes away HD. It takes away the instant streaming capacity because >>You'd let it Queue up for a while >>John: You would have to buffer in first. So Vudu which is an Apple TV competitor actually they introduced this, they had [Inaudible] P before but now they have [Inaudible] P with really good bit rate that they call HDX and its amazing looking. I mean, it really is, it wasn't impossible but it was very hard for us to tell the difference between that and Blu-ray. So it looked fantastic but you kind of had to cue it up in the morning and when you came home from work it was there to watch and it looked great. Until we get better broadband in this country like they have in Korea or Japan >>Good luck with all that. >>John: Yea, its, you're not gonna see that stuff on demand. But it can be delivered online and it wouldn't surprise me if the next iteration of Apple TV and it's competitors stuff, Xbox and stuff like that will begin to rev up the resolution. >>Jason's got some other questions because he's looking for Blu-ray options and other alternatives. Will Slingbox, which I know you're also a big fan of, work with Mac? >>John: Slingbox already works with Mac but they don't have the new 2.0 player out for the Max so you can definitely use a Slingbox to stream live video to your Mac >>Or DVR and video >>John: Or DVR and video to your Mac but >>Including the new HD Slingbox, right? >>John: I believe so. I believe that does work. I mean, it definitely works. I don't know if they can do it at full HD with the Mac. >>Gotcha, gotcha. But coming up in the future there will be streaming kind of online alternatives to Blu-ray in terms of getting that 1080D HD content. >>John: Yea, I think it's >>Not gonna be all disc based anymore. >>John: It's gonna be more about the bandwidth and it's gonna be about, you know everybody, all these guys are like why do we still have discs? Why don't we just move to online? But at least you know a disc when you buy it you've got it and with a lot of this online stuff it can just, depending on how you manage the DRM it could just disappear like, I think at the Wal-mart music store that was a problem. They were threatening to revoke the take the keys. >>Right, cut off the server. >>John: Yea, and then all the music you had bought that with DRN would just kind of go away. >>Exactly. We've got time, let's squeeze in one or two more quick questions and pretty common theme here, basically do you recommend topping the Blu-ray now? Is now the right time to make the jump or if not when is the right time? I'm saying Black Friday is the right time for a lot of people. [Laughter] >>John: I'd say it's close. For me they still haven't quite closed the deal. Like I again would say you need to have the proper infrastructure for Blu-ray. Meaning a really big TV, a really good sound system and >>And the movies you want to watch available. >>John: Exactly >>Well now they have Blu-ray on Netflix at least that's a great option. I turned that on although now they want to charge me an extra dollar for that. >>John: Is it an extra dollar? So it's an extra $12 dollars a year so what you're paying for half a Blu-ray movie you could buy >>Yes, I know >>John: You get as many Blu-ray movies as you can watch. >>But not every movie is in Blu-ray and sometimes the Blu-rays take longer to get and maybe I can swap out and get the DVD instead but I'm still paying my $1. I think they need to work that pricing structure out a little bit more. There's ways for them to start making money, I don't know if the ala carte surcharges [Laughter] are the way to go. Why not, says Dasity,[Assumed spelling] why not just an op converting DVD player since there aren't a lot of Blu-ray's out right now and people have said fantastic things about the upgrading power of some very basic and very inexpensive DVD players. >>John: I think that's a great idea. I mean first of all, all Blu-ray players do up convert your existing DVD collection so some do it better than others, the Panasonic, that I was talking about earlier, actually does a really great job with that. >>PlayStation 3 does that as well. >>John: PlayStation 3 does that as well. Yeah they started out not so good and subsequent firmware updates made it >>I've been watching the wire on my PS3 and much better than watching the stand-alone DVD player >>John: They don't do widescreen. That's the big disappointment there. >>We just started season 5 so don't spoilers, ok people? Alright we're a minute or two over but I don't care. We're gonna toss out another question here because it's things people want to hear about. Fibblebear has a great question, says we're talking about Blu-ray and how we're getting into the Blu-ray industry, we're all moving towards Blu-ray here slowly, when are they gonna stop making DVD's? Is that it? Is the era of the DVD over? I know DVD sales are definitely down not because of Blu-ray really but because people have already kind of replaced their old libraries and bought all the catalog title's they're gonna buy. >>John: That's the really big question with all of us. >>That's been such a profit driver for the industry for so many years. They've just hung everything off DVD sales. >>John: I think Blu-ray has a long and healthy career ahead of it basically becomes it's kind of the basic standard right now. Everybody has a Blu-ray player and if they don't they can get a worthwhile one for $40 bucks. So you know, why release something on Blu-ray to 5 or 10 percent of the market when you can do it on DVD and get it 98 percent of the market. So I don't think DVD is going anywhere at all >>Any time soon. >>John: Any time soon but >>With the audio cassette being knocked out by CD >>John: Yea, whether or not people are actually gonna pay to upgrade their movie collection again really is an open question because that has been a big frustration to people, this is the 12th time I've bought Star Wars, you know what I mean? >>Are there any movies you've had on DVD that you've pre-bought on Blu-ray? >>John: Almost none. I mean, I stopped buying DVD's a couple years ago. I'm like, this is just getting ridiculous. >>Ok, are there any DVD movies you would rebuy on Blu-ray? >>John: The only thing so far I bought, I bought one thing and it was that 5 disc Blade Runner set >>You know what, I have the original Blade Runner DVD. I did get that big Blu-ray boxed set. I would get and I bought this twice on DVD that's what a lame oh I am, I would get Brad the Con on Blu-ray. I got the original DVD and then I got the special edition of the commentary and everything. I'd probably get that on Blu-ray too. >>John: I would or I'd just go to that sight khaaan.com just to see the >>Oh, that's where the guy yells at you. Fantastic. On that nerdy note we're gonna wrap it up for today. I believe you can join us here tomorrow, is that what it is? With our good buddy Josh Goldman is gonna be talking about Camcorders, cameras and all that fun stuff, for John Falcone I'm Dan Ackerman saying see ya next time. ^M00:30:06 [ Music ]

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