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Digital Video Essentials (HD DVD)
DVD International / 2006 / Unrated
Street Date: April 24, 2007
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- List Price: $34.95
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Monday, April 30, 2007
(8/16/2007) It was announced today that Joe Kane would release a new edition of 'Digital Video Essentials' on HD DVD, dubbed "HD Basics." As of this writing, that new edition is planned for release on October 30, 2007 (more info here). DVD International says that registered owners of this previously-released HD DVD edition of DVE will be offered a special upgrade price on 'DVE: HD Basics.'
If you have been a home theater enthusiast at all over the past two decades, you're probably familiar with Joe Kane. And if you are brand-new to the hobby, his is a name you should now memorize. Kane is truly the industry's top A/V guru and resident rock star -- think Elvis, only belting out bits and bytes instead of rock tunes. And that's really not hyperbole, because from his early days as Chairman of SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers), through the founding of the Imaging Science Foundation, to his ongoing work as a presentational speaker, Kane has probably done more to encourage consumer awareness and maintain quality standards for home theater than any one person.
But out of all of his accomplishments, Kane is probably best known in A/V circles for 'Digital Video Essentials,' his pioneering home theater calibration tool. Flashback to 1982, a year when most of us were still trying to figure out how to program our VCRs, and fiddling with the "Tint" knob on our Trinitron 12" television sets: Kane was already thinking far ahead when he founded Joe Kane Productions, the first organization ever to push for the establishment of standardization in home video media. Eventually in 1988, the company would make good on those ideals with 'A Video Standard,' the first title ever released that would allow the average consumer to tweak their equipment to achieve the finest video and audio quality possible. It was a landmark release, one that threw down the gauntlet for the industry and served as a de facto "Quality Bill of Rights" for consumers.
That was followed by a re-worked laserdisc version in 1996, dubbed 'Video Essentials,' which again immediately became the reference standard. Over the years, Kane continued to tweak the product for new formats, and then finally, in 2003, came the latest iteration, a DVD version given the new moniker 'Digital Video Essentials.' Though the disc had its problems -- namely some pretty lousy disc menu navigation -- it remains the reference calibration tool home theater enthusiasts have turned to when setting up their gear. No small feat, considering that many competitive discs have also been released in the intervening years (including Avia's similar 'Guide to Home Theater' DVD calibration disc).
Now, finally the long-awaited high-def version of 'DVE' is here. Kane has chosen the HD DVD format for his next-gen debut (although apparently a Blu-ray edition is also planned), and at last we have updated video and audio test patterns optimized for the ultimate in home theater.
A few notes on the structure of this review: since 'Digital Video Essentials' is a series of test patterns (and is not designed to be presented as "content" as we usually define it here at High-Def Digest), I will deviate from our usual review procedure and instead offer an overview of the disc's components and features, using our familiar sections of Movie Itself, Video, Audio and Supplements as dividers. Note that I haven't provided star ratings for the individual components, as they're not applicable, but as usual I have provided an overall rating representing the overall value the disc provides for the money.
Since 'Digital Video Essentials' is hardly your normal next-gen release, don't expect a linear experience. After you pop the disc in the player and are greeted by the usual FBI Warning and other preliminary screens, you'll encounter Program Guide menu.
Thankfully, Joe Kane and the team as DVD International have greatly improved the navigation system used on the previous standard-def version of 'DVE,' which, quite frankly, was a mess. On the DVD version, the clunky static menus were almost torture to navigate. Here, thanks to the wonders of HD DVD's HDi authoring environment, the test patterns and other tools are easily categorized under "Video" and "Audio," with HDi's real-time scrolling allowinf you to simply zoom up and down the list of options quickly and seamlessly.
Having said that, the guide and disc navigation are still likely be intimidating for those new to home theater. 'DVE' is really a tool with two levels of difficulty: there are basic test patterns and troubleshooting tools that just about anyone can use, and then there are much more complex utilities that require the use of high-end equipment (such as color analyzers, oscilloscopes, etc.). Unfortunately, the various patterns on the disc aren't always arranged in a way that concretely identifies which are for the pros (and which aren't). But while 'DVE' doesn't offer any video tutorials, or even a glossary of terms used, the disc does often direct users to the Video Essentials website, which offers more extensive text support for the more complex concepts that should prove both rewarding and educational for first-time user.
Jumping into the content itself, the "Video" material is divided into four basic sections: basic calibration, troubleshooting, advanced calibration and miscellaneous video system details. Certainly, all of the basic parameters are here to get a great picture out of your set, without having to call in a calibrationist (although if you can afford the fee, they are highly recommended).
Among the basic calibration tools are your standard color bars, gray and color scales, a very handy overscan chart, patterns to gauge your set's geometry and convergence, and resolution tests to see if your monitor is really squeezing every last scan line out of your software. The disc also includes standard SMPTE charts. Things then get a bit more intimidating as we move into more complex options such as luma and chroma steps, video response sweep patterns, and zone plates. How extensively you want to tweak your monitor on your own with these tools (vs simply turning things over to a professional) is up to you.
Note that all of the above patterns have been encoded on the disc in both native 1080p and 720p, for those with monitors of either resolution. All the video material has been encoded with VC-1. And in a great new addition to the HD DVD version of 'DVE,' there is a 1080i de-interlacing test, to see just how firm that handshake between your player and monitor really is.
After all the test patterns, the Video tools conclude with the 13-minute Demonstration Material reel. Fans of the previous DVD version of 'Digital Video Essentials' will be familiar with this footage, as it is the same program, only now in full 1080p video. Although some of the material appears to have been culled from other sources, a good portion was shot by legendary cinematographer Allen Daviau. Even though it's a bit dated (watch for a couple of shots featuring the World Trade Center in the distant background), the footage still looks quite fantastic. If nothing else, the Demonstration Material is reference-quality video as good as any I've seen on a next-gen release.
Though a bit less copious than the Video calibration tests, the suite of Audio tools on 'Digital Video Essentials' is no less thorough.
Audiphiles will be excited to learn that this HD DVD edition of 'DVE' offers one notable upgrade over the previous DVD version -- all of the audio test tones and other tools are encoded in Dolby TrueHD. Note, however, that the disc packaging is a little bit confusing, as it indicates both TrueHD and Dolby Digital-Plus encoding. In fact, all of the test tones are in TrueHD only, while the Demonstration Material is limited to Dolby Digital-Plus. A bit odd, but there you go.
Anyway, the Audio content is arranged in much the same manner as the Video (note that the option for Demonstration Material takes you to the same 13-minute reel as before). Basic features include the usual test tones, for speaker configurations up to 7.1 channels. There are also pink noise tests, a pair of level and balance controls, and a subwoofer phase checker. And quite helpful is an audio sync tool, especially considering the sync problems that have plagued some recent HD DVD hardware models.
One concern with the Audio controls, however, is that it's impossible to use most of them to their full potential without a sound level meter, a tool that most average home theater enthusiasts don't own. As a result, without the subsequent investment in a sound level meter, or a visit from a professional calibrationist, you may find the benefit on the audio side of the equation considerably less than the improvements you can get from 'DVE' on the video.
As already mentioned, 'Digital Video Essentials' is hardly a title that lends itself to supplements in the traditional sense. However, in addition to its video and audio calibration content, the physical package also includes a couple of helpful add-ons.
First up, there's a small booklet that provides some very basic info on the materials contained on the disc. It's far from an in-depth primer, and I still have to lament the absence of any real video-based tutorials on the set, but it is a nice place to start before diving head-first into the more detailed materials on the 'DVE' website.
Also included are a pair of basic color filters, which are required to correctly use the color bar screens and other test patterns on the disc.
Again, our usual rules in evaluating supplementary material exclusive to a next-gen release don't apply to 'Digital Video Essentials.' However, it is worth noting that while disc boasts full 1080p video and TrueHD for the first time ever, there's no new HD-specific "content" included in this HD DVD release. Perhaps on future editions of this seminal release, Mr. Kane will consider adding a few more HD-exclusives, perhaps a side-by-side HD-to-standard-def video demo, or some fresher demo material? Each would be welcome additions to an already invaluable release.
No easter eggs reported for 'Digital Video Essentials' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
'Digital Video Essentials' has remained the premiere calibration tool for home theater enthusiasts over the past two decades for good reason. It is simply a must-own if you care about achieving the optimal quality from your gear. Even better, this newly-retooled HD DVD version eliminates most of the navigational hassles that plagued previous editions. With the average high-def-equipped home theater now costing in the thousands to put together, how can you not spend another $30 bucks to ensure that your investment achieves its full potential? This is one release that most home theater enthusiasts truly cannot live without.
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