Blu Ray Title: Digital Video Essentials – HD Basics
Rated: Not Rated
Screen format: Contains a variety of clips at multiple resolutions for test purposes, including 1080p24, 720p24 and 720p60
Studio: DVD International / Joe Kane Productions
First theatrical release: N/A
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple releases on DVD and HD DVD, first BD format release
Director: Joe Kane
Starring: Joe Kane, Sam Dalton, Christopher DeLisle (if IMDB is correct, all are uncredited)
Sound Formats: Dolby TrueHD
Length: N/A, contains a 97 minute overview of HD though
Continuing his trend of releasing a reference level calibration tool for each major disk format, Joe Kane Productions latest version of the venerable Digital Video Essentials is retitled HD Basics and is finally available on Blu Ray. While this series is acclaimed for its technical brilliance and exacting quality, prior versions have been plagued with obtuse command structures and difficult to use menus and a general lack of overall user friendliness. While much of this has been cleared up through a much improved menu system, The menus themselves are a bit problematic too, as they refused to scale back to the correct screen ratio on my projector, tho this could be local to my PS3/PJ setup and not any fault of the disk, however it has never happened on any other title, tho this is my first HD calibration disk. Especially notable is the jettisoning the use of title buttons and other esoteric choices.
For HD newbies though there is a new bunch of material outside of the actual calibration tools, including a 97 minute overview of what HD is all about and how it should be ideally set up. There’s also a ‘quick start’ option that runs them through an exhaustive set up. For those wishing to get down to the absolute nittii-grittiest of settings there are calibration tools used to evaluate every conceivable video specification, and enough audio checks to enable those equipped with a sound pressure level meter able to dial in to perfection. While all available tests are menu selectable at will, it just seemed like that there still remains a bit of a gap in where moderately experienced users can go to quickly run through the most critical of calibration checks all at once, but this is a minor gripe. If I have one real complaint it is that there are no options for selecting among any other audio tracks than the one Dolby True HD track that is used for everything. There are no DTS or stereo tracks to check how those formats are handled, and this is a big miss for the format that can support them all.
This version also adds a few new commentary tracks by both Joe and cinematographer Allen Daviau, however I chose to skip those and would suspect that they might be of interest only to those who are truly hardcore about their setup.
Also included is the requisite Tri-color optical filter, which is necessary for many of the video calibration tests. As I noted when first using the original version these may be a bit difficult for those of us to use who are color blind (I’m both red-green and blue-brown afflicted), but still quite useful and I was able to get results I was happy with and none of my guests have ever noted any faults, even when asked repeatedly, so I personally must have done a pretty good job with it.
Ultimately, while you might be able to eyeball (and earball?) some of these settings and get to a moderately pleasing state, there is no substitute for a truly objective reference, and you might just be surprised at how big a difference one really makes. In my opinion, nobody who is serious about their home theater should be without some form of calibration tool, and at an MSRP of under $30 and available online for almost half of that, DV Essentials – HD Basics is a no brainer. The bottom line is that HD Basics makes having audio-visual near-perfection easily affordable and easily attainable.
Sound Quality: 3.5/5
As excellent as the video qualities of the disk are, somehow it seems that attention to sound just doesn’t reach their lofty level. The enclosed demo material’s sound tracks are a bit bland, though the original compositions by Nick Lane are fine. There’s not a whole lot of low end to be found on this disk, not a single explosion or gunshot that I can recall, tho there are a few plane flybys and a virtual roller coaster are featured. Perhaps the most interesting demo material is footage from a US Space Shuttle liftoff, and while the view is magnificent it’s quite boring aurally, although again the musical accompaniment is ok.
One complaint I really have to mention is that one demo clip is used to show the accuracy of surround sound, which works great, but the video content is focused on a couple talking in the middle of a restaurant. However, the conversation from the couple is completely not there! I found this quite confusing and was scratching my head trying to figure out if I had my system miss-configured (which I did have when trying to listen to Ratatouille! And thanks to HTFers for having helped me get that fixed!) or if this was simply a bizarre clip.
Visual Quality: 5/5
Outside of the calibration tools, there are a number of reference quality video clips enclosed that are simply gorgeous, featuring lush and detailed scenes including the aforementioned shuttle launch, restaurant scene, a local main street and other vignettes. All will push your system to show what it is capable of, and as a bonus they are selectable from a number of different encoding schemes which allows you to see your systems up and down rezzing capabilities quite nicely.
Extra Features: 0.5/5
There’s nothing that I can find outside of two ‘commentaries’ by Kane and Daviau which have already been mentioned.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average) - (Recommended)
Overall this disk remains the industry standard and while many might wish for even more refinement to the menus or even broader selection of audio tracks and included demo material, it gets the job done better than any other disk I’ve tried and there is no denying its technical accuracy or the qualifications of its creators. I definitely consider this a ‘Recommended’ disk but note that it is far from perfection, there are many facets that can bear improvement. Two things I truly hope are included in the next version include multiple compressed and uncompressed audio choices and something a bit more exciting on the low frequency effects end of the spectrum, as gunfire and explosions and such should surely be included among the demo material as these are among the best uses of this technology outside of their musical capabilities.