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More Odds and Ends

December 3, 2006

The Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Disc player reached stores about five days ago; I saw one on display at my local Best Buy. It was playing, but had not been set up properly so I can't say much about its performance except that consumers should not judge either TV nor high-definition disc performance by what you see in big box electronics stores.

There should be several good reviews on the internet by the end of the week.

We were not so lucky to have Sony inject HDMI 1.3 into the player, unfortunately. We'll have to wait a little longer.

The Sony player does output 1080p and supports MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC and VC1. It also has analog outputs that will do 1080i. It upscales standard DVD to 1080p via the HDMI output.

The BDP-S1 will also output movies at their native 24 frames per second; your TV will have to convert that to whatever frame-rate it is capable of displaying. Mostly that would be 60 Hz, although beginning in 2007 a new crop of displays reportedly will be able to display native 24 fps material at even multiples of that rate, most likely 72 Hz. That capability will eliminate the need for 3:2 pulldown and improve picture quality.

The Sony BD player will output uncompressed multi-channel linear PCM digital audio via HDMI, but not decode the new lossless audio codecs.

The move to 1080p and full-spec HD (1920 x 1080) continues to gain momentum; it should dominate the Consumer Electronics Show next month. Even plasma makers are hearing the call, although they are well behind the ball and may never catch up. If plasma can't make the switch to full-spec HD by 2008, it will be wiped out by SED.

Part of the problem with 720p (1280 x 720 pixels), besides having less than half the detail of 1080, is that most "720p" displays are actually 1366 x 768 and therefore incapable of displaying 720p source programming in its native resolution, pixel for pixel. Scaling is required--not a good thing.

The people at Fox (who chose to go with 720p broadcasts years ago) are becoming defensive about full-spec HD, saying 720p is still better for sports with its native 60 fps program recording.

But do people who watch sports never watch anything else? Consider that movies are sourced at 24 fps; 60 fps broadcasts won't make that action any faster. And video processors are becoming adept at smoothing motion artifacts in 1080 material. Time will tell.

Satellite provider Echostar is continuing its little spat with broadcasters. Echostar's Dish Network has long been beaming down "out-of-market" network programming (typically from New York or Los Angeles stations) to customers across the county who aren't happy with their local stations' fare.

I would be a little unhappy too if my local stations had not gotten around to installing HD-capable equipment and were only making available downconverted standard-definition programming. The local stations like to enforce their local monopoly.

Anyway, the National Association of Broadcasters obtained a court order telling Echostar to stop the out-of-market signals to over 800,000 of its subscribers. December 1 was the deadline.

Echostar is still fighting, and winning friends in Congress to change the law so that the out-of-market transmissions could continue. Would be nice.

Rival DirecTV is owned by broadcast network Fox, and has been offering Dish Network customers $150 and other freebies to switch. Getting nasty, are we?

Stay tuned. This is big business.

Blue laser diodes. What?

Those go in the little pickup heads that read the data pits in HD-DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Red ones for CD and DVD.

There's a shortage of them, due in no small part to the huge numbers of PlayStation 3s being sold.

A company called Nichia has been making them (some QC issues limiting output), and then Sony started making them so that it could feed the PS3 need. And now Sharp is making them.

Sharp will need them for their own Blu-ray player, due out sometime around May 2007. It's the first Blu-ray player scheduled to come out with HDMI 1.3 (we've yet to see if Pioneer has added that to its delayed player, and there is still the possibility that Sony or Samsung, etc. may have 2nd generation players before then).

Sharp's DV-BP1 "AQUOS High-Definition Player" will output 1080p, of course. It will also decode DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby TrueHD.

This old photo of a prototype is pretty plain, but the photo below that shows a European version of the Sharp player with distinctive styling. Expect a more definitive report from CES 2007. A flurry of product announcements should start flying the first week of January.