Hi Fi Shootout May 2010

Hi Fi Shootout May 2010


The gathering at Francis’ home was more of a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones, share info and tips and finally listen to speakers which we normally won’t be able to do so in showrooms. Kudos again to Francis, who is the forum’s all round gentleman and friendly bro, for opening up his home to us.


And also to all the bros who brought food, and more importantly their speakers and for wizard for his “human remote” thankless job!


Now a few thoughts on the speakers I heard during the demo:


The thumpers:



This is a tower of power, and offers a sonic experience not unlike a gale force. Truly this speaker was built for the big moments in music and especially for HT, with a bass that makes you ponder if a subwoofer is still needed.  Much like a V8 muscle car, it does best in showing off the powerful moments, but subtlety and finesse are not its strong point.


Monitor Audio RS 6 –

Another tower of power, but with a more musical slant. It gives up bass extension and sonic impact to gain a little more finesse. Even so the 60Hz bass hump attracts certain listeners and the bright treble has polarised listeners into those who like that and those who find it grating. There is still a lot of bass, but it tries to give you more detail. Buyers of this speaker need to audition and partner it well.


The home made brew:


Synthesis was kind enough to bring along two of his creations, and he shows that he is the master of cabinetry in our forum. The handiwork is so refined, that you will never suspect this was a home made speaker with custom components. The results are telling. His creations excel in mids and vocals, and show that you can make fine speakers with less money if you are handy with your tools. Kudos to the master of the DIY.


Junior’s D'Appolito speaker design brew was another demonstration of how good DIY products can be. At $500, it held its own with smooth vocals and a clean mid. It was not as detailed as the best on show, but it was certainly excellent value for money.



The vocalists:



Amphion Helium-


A new speaker which I understand was brand new and hence not run it yet. It just did not gel and the sound was somehow disjointed. I was not sure what was really wrong, but it sounded out of timing and did not impress. Perhaps, some running in will help.


Dynaudio Audience 42


IMHO, this was the perfect small speaker of the day. It had a good presentation of vocals and a sweet treble, which was detailed without being grating. There was minimal bass from the small cone, but it had good timing and the imaging was impressive.




The online company is following in the footsteps of Outlaw, SVS and Hsu in proving good VFM, and this d'appolito speaker design was another one with a good balance of mids and highs. Again size does not allow it to plunge the depths like the PSB, but whatever bass it offered was attractive and the sound was close to the Dynaudio, despite costing significantly less.




Prince of Persia and The Sands of Time (POPATSOT)



There are few people who can be as closely associated with the word “blockbuster” as Jerry Bruckheimer (JB), who has been responsible for producing more summer popcorn hits than almost anyone around. His collaborations with director Michael Bay are the stuff which gets long queues snaking round the block and from Beverly Hills Cop all the way to the Pirates trilogy, Jerry has amassed a wonderful repertoire of summer hits which have enthralled audiences around the world. JB aka "Mr. Blockbuster", has made more than 13 billion in movies and continues to impress with Prince of Persia.


JB has the art of the summer blockbuster down to a pat. POPATSOT will never win any Oscars, and delivers a fun-filled rollercoaster ride which seeks to thrill, humor, and excite young and old all around the world with a simple almost flaky storyline, of a street urchin who is adopted by the king of Persia and is raised as a prince and he sprinkles the obligatory deceit, murder, hot babe, action sequence with a little time travel thrown in and he managed to mix it all up with a little side dish of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction thrown in too.


JB knows how to please the crowds. The plot is simple and not hard for even the kids in the audience to follow. The basic themes of betrayal do not require Macbeth-like thespian skills, and instead rely on the chemistry of Gemma Aterton and Jake Gyllenhaal to keep the guys and gals in the audience interested, and Gemma is red hot, doing well here after a limited role in James Bond and much better than her role in Titans. Jake is good-looking but in a boyish and roguish manner and they do hit it off well enough to pull the whole scroundral with a good heart type prince and the mystical maiden with a mission tag team well enough. There is decent humor, and whatever holes there are in the plot are forgivable.


Like National Treasure, the lightweight nature of the plot does not aggravate or annoy, whilst allowing the action sequences to take the breath of the audience away. I must take my hat off to the stunt crew who obviously took the jumps, dives and leaps for Jake and made the action stunning and yet realistic, despite a liberal dose of CGI to recreate Persia in the middle of Morocco. The deserts of Morocco look beautiful and the costumes crew were meticulous in fashioning clothes which look exotic and yet believable.


But the real bacon and sausages of any summer blockbuster is the action, and it comes in the usual JB way: lots of it, hit fast, hit fast and hit outrageously. Although you can see some of the action sequences being aided by CGI and will be destined for the next Disneyland ride, it is still highly enjoyable. The surround is immersive, and this will definitely be another demo disc, with deep bass, surround effects enveloping the listener and plenty of knives, arrows and other things flying from the front to the back, all in a well constructed sound field. This show is the equal of Star Trek in its quality and intensity.




Plot 3/5

Action 4.5/5

Surround 4.5/5


And what about the chick factor?

Well ever since Gemma Aterton hit the silver screen, things have gotten hotter and she can make the temperature in the room go up by 10 degrees just by sitting in it and if she speaks in the clipped British accent or simply smiles, then you are likely to have smoke or blood emitting from your nose and eyes.. 4/5


I am also grateful JB did not resort to milking the 3D cash cow, and with all the action, fun and humor, he did not really need to stoop so low. Another hit for Mr Blockbuster I reckon.



Should you rent, buy or ignore this?

I am putting in a pre-order for the video once it is released, enough said.





Wiener Philharmoniker/New Year's Concert 2009 [Blu-ray] [2009]



After one too many movies with just bass, explosions and lots of killing, a change was needed. Something to show off the finer qualities of the home theatre system, and its musical qualities. I chanced across this disc whilst getting a few more of the usual action fare off Amazon UK. This was a blind buy after reading some reviews.


The Vienna New Year Concert is an annual affair and this comes in the Blu Ray format, and is recorded in lossless DTS-MA 5.1 or stereo LPCM. The 5.1 is more immersive and you won’t find your subwoofer going to sleep either. The sound quality is truly fabulous and you can feel part of the audience, and yet you have no difficulty picking out individual instruments but the soundscape is immersive and smooth.


The picture quality is equally breath-taking, even though it is 1080i “only”. Check out the grain on the instrument stands and the floor boards. The colours are vibrant and you will also test the full range of colours of your display. It is only focussed on the performers in the wonderful opera house, you may feel bored, but the well filmed video also includes views of the Austrian landscape and you really want to hop on board a plane right away and fly there. The 16:9 presentation fills your display nicely.


But the icing on the cake is in the bonus section. There is a segment, almost 25 minutes long, called Linz 2009. Linz is one of the 3 big cities in Austria and there is a segment which showcases the city with music from Hayden. The picture quality is even better than the main show and the beauty of the city and its surroundings is really solid! But around the 10th min, there is the icing on the cake. The percussion section of the Vienna Orchestra perform in a steel mill and this is truly stunning. It starts first with a fireworks display which will give your surrounds and subwoofer a serious workout and goes right into a performance quite unlike what you think of most Philharmonic Orchestras and the surround demonstration is on par if not better than the typical Eagles “Hotel California” demo.


This disc comes highly recommended.


PQ: 4.5/5


SQ 4.5/5


A worthy buy.

My Girlfriend is an Agent - movie review

Korea has come up with some interesting shows which have been trailer-blazers that have lit up the movie world and have led to sequels, copycats both domestically and remakes by Hollywood.

One of their most successful was a show called "My Sassy Girl", a show which appealed to both men and women. It had some romance, albeit in an awkward way where the man was often subject to physical violence by a woman, who was a stranger and somehow love grew out of this. This show was the top grossing movie before the current one came about.

For those who know Korean culture, this is quite removed from reality, as men dominate Korean society and you will see women walking a few steps behind or men simply walking to the head of a queue and the women quietly accepting this. My colleague had her butt pinched on a subway train over there too. I guess watching a movie where women wear the pants appeals since it is something the Koreans, and the women in particular can only fantasize about.

So this show begins with a strong female protagonist, who is beautiful, smart, and kicks butt big time as a spy, and managed to look good whilst chasing after criminals wearing a wedding dress on a jet ski. The man in her life on the other hand is a real bumbling oaf and is portrayed as a weak, easily distressed chap who cannot handle the various white lies that she conjures up whilst trying to maintain her cover as a travel agent and erstwhile girlfriend. So he leaves her for Canada for studies, or so it seems….

So what ensues borrows bits from True Lies, My Sassy Girl, My Wife is a Gangster, and many other movies. Yet there is enough originality, and it is packed with action, humor and just the right amount of romance to make this work. Add a super gorgeous and yet demure girl who kicks butts for breakfast then looks lovingly at you. They also chose the right idiotic Korean hapless chap and with good chemistry between the actors, this show works. It comes as no surprise that this show was no 1 in Korea, with the keen pacing, twists and good humor to keep it going well. You do get a glimpse of how corporate world in Korea works and its hierarchy, amidst the fun and action, but since it is keep superficial it gets its point across without being too heavy.

Although it may prove only to be in the movies, I think many guys may quietly craved for a hot sexy lady who is capable, intelligent, crazy for you and yet subservient and supremely competent domestically. Yes everything in the movie minus the hot temper and volcanic eruptions. Yet, that may remain the preserve of movies, which is what makes shows like this popular within Korean and internationally. And for the Korean women, the chance to see one of their own go beyond the boundaries of merely toeing tradition and succumbing to society’s pressures of what makes a demure lady who is made up with layers of cosmetics even when going to the market is enticing. And for those not familiar with their culture, this movie makes for an interesting watch.

in Korean, beautiful actresses have a life span of only a few years, and some get forced into doing sordid things, and only a few actors last longer, so we may not see this pairing last longer than snow on a hot summer day, but whilst it lasts, it was a funny, yet memorable hit, and will be good for both sexes to watch together.

Plot: usual lady isn't what she seems to be, spy / travel agent girlfriend, but watch for the twists etc 4/5

Action: plenty to satisfy the action buffs and it should be a fine workout on video for your HT system 4/5

Chick factor : A1 with plenty of eye candy, although I am not sur eif everyone wants their GF to be like her... 4/5

So yes, buy or at least rent this..

I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

The 3D craze - how not to fall flat on our faces

3-dimensional (3D) entertainment, either in the form of video or even print has hit Singapore and the rest of the world in a big way this year. You see ads for 3D movies and for new 3DTVs vying for your attention in electronic stores. However before we surrender our hard-earned money and follow the hordes, only to be disappointed with the results back home, we should take a long hard look at the current state of 3D.


Manufacturers, and movie productions thrive on new technology. It helps to sell TVs, movie tickets and software. This generates revenue for the companies since the newer the technology, the more justification for higher profit margins. However there are some issues with this. Firstly, 3D movies do not always look good. Some animations like Avatar with a high quality computer graphics animation unit, have showcased what the best 3D can look like. Others employ some hurried post-production alterations to cash in on this phenomenon, and look similar if not worse than their 2D counterparts. Take the recent “Clash of the Titans” where the only thing which really looked 3D was the subtitled right smack in the middle of the screen.


Despite the aggressive sales promotions, 3DTV has also not caught on in mainstream media yet, be it DVDs or the higher definition Blu Ray, there are less than a handful of movies for owners of new 3DTVs to purchase. There are also not many plans to create shows natively in 3D and older movies may not fair well in the kind of conversion which resulted in the awful “Titans”. How many times can we watch the same show?


3D currently also needs the user to wear glasses, which can be passive (like those in the cinemas) or active ones that are used for 3DTVs domestically. The active ones are expensive, they decrease contrast and require good vision in both eyes. That means people who have lazy eyes, or lack stereo vision will not be able to enjoy 3D. furthermore, in a population where more than half the younger ones wear spectacles, these 3D add-ons are cumbersome and not designed for the spectacle wear in mind and are quite uncomfortable.


Ads have a way of making new technology appear enticing, but we should scrutinize 3D properly before we all fall flat on our faces.




Life is a journey...

Delayed gratification can mean that we take the more scenic route, but it does not mean we lose faith in attaining what we want, instead we take time to experience life, smell the roses, feel the prick of the thorns and finally all the gifts He bestows upon us.
If we fuss about hurrying along to the destination, ultimately we sometimes forget its all the same destination, wise or foolish, happy or sad, rich or poor.
So why not take time to enjoy the ride?

The trouble with 3D - what you should know before you buy

The trouble with 3D - what you should know before you buy

3D is a new fangled thing which seems to be going almost viral.

Each new movie wants to go 3D just to make a few more bucks, and the same goes with almost all the mainstream home theatre companies, both source and display makers as they see it as an easy way to make the extra profit. 3D involves buying new equipment and the makers are salivating at the prospect of owners digging deeper into their pockets to buy into this new technology.

Well actually it has been around in some form or other since the 1950s. The concept has not changed that much, with the idea of creating three-dimensional images out of flat video. The technology behind this varies, both active and passive methods exist and you can find out much on the net.

But before we all get caught up in the rush to buy the latest and greatest gadgets to feed this frenzy, I found this article by the renowned critic Robert Egbert quite useful and another from a HT website also good:




When you look at a 2-D movie, it's already in 3-D as far as your mind is concerned. When you see Lawrence of Arabia growing from a speck as he rides toward you across the desert, are you thinking, "Look how slowly he grows against the horizon" or "I wish this were 3D?"

Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.


Recall the greatest moviegoing experiences of your lifetime. Did they "need" 3-D? A great film completely engages our imaginations. What would Fargogain in 3-D? Precious? Casablanca?


Some 3-D consists of only separating the visual planes, so that some objects float above others, but everything is still in 2-D. We notice this. We shouldn't. In 2-D, directors have often used a difference in focus to call attention to the foreground or the background. In 3-D the technology itself seems to suggest that the whole depth of field be in sharp focus. I don't believe this is necessary, and it deprives directors of a tool to guide our focus.


AS 3-D TV sets were being introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Reuters interviewed two leading ophthalmologists. "There are a lot of people walking around with very minor eye problems—for example, a muscle imbalance—which under normal circumstances the brain deals with naturally," said Dr. Michael Rosenberg, a professor at Northwestern University. 3-D provides an unfamiliar visual experience, and "that translates into greater mental effort, making it easier to get a headache." Dr. Deborah Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said that in normal vision, each eye sees things at a slightly different angle. "When that gets processed in the brain, that creates the perception of depth. The illusions that you see in three dimensions in the movies is not calibrated the same way that your eyes and your brain are." In a just-published article, Consumer Reports says about 15 percent of the moviegoing audience experiences headache and eyestrain during 3-D movies.


Lenny Lipton is known as the father of the electronic stereoscopic-display industry. He knows how films made with his systems should look. Current digital projectors, he writes, are "intrinsically inefficient. Half the light goes to one eye and half to the other, which immediately results in a 50 percent reduction in illumination." Then the glasses themselves absorb light. The vast majority of theaters show 3-D at between three and six foot-lamberts (fLs). Film projection provides about 15fLs. The original IMAX format threw 22fLs at the screen. If you don't know what a foot-lambert is, join the crowd. (In short: it's the level of light thrown on the screen from a projector with no film in it.) And don't mistake a standard film for an IMAX film, or "fake IMAX" for original IMAX. What's the difference? IMAX is building new theaters that have larger screens, which are quite nice, but are not the huge IMAX screens and do not use IMAX film technology. But since all their theaters are called IMAX anyway, this is confusing.


These projectors are not selling themselves. There was initial opposition from exhibitors to the huge cost of new equipment and infighting about whether studios would help share these expenses. Some studios, concerned with tarnishing the 3-D myth, have told exhibitors that if they don't show a movie in 3-D, they can't have it in 2-D. Although there's room in most projection booths for both kinds of projectors, theaters are encouraged to remove analog projectors as soon as they can. Why so much haste to get rid of them? Are exhibitors being encouraged to burn their bridges by insecure digital manufacturers?


Yet when you see a 2-D film in a 3-D-ready theater, the 3-D projectors are also outfitted for 2-D films: it uses the same projector but doesn't charge extra. See the Catch-22? Are surcharges here to stay, or will they be dropped after the projectors are paid off? What do you think? I think 3-D is a form of extortion for parents whose children are tutored by advertising and product placement to "want" 3-D. In my review of Clash of the Titans, I added a footnote: "Explain to your kids that the movie was not filmed in 3-D and is only being shown in 3-D in order to charge you an extra $5 a ticket. I saw it in 2-D, and let me tell you, it looked terrific." And it did. The "3-D" was hastily added in postproduction to ride on the coattails of Avatar. The fake-3-D Titans even got bad reviews from 3-D cheerleaders. Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose DreamWorks has moved wholeheartedly into 3-D, called it "cheeseball," adding: "You just snookered the movie audience." He told Variety he was afraid quickie, fake-3-D conversions would kill the goose that was being counted on for golden eggs.


Neither can directors. Having shot Dial M for Murder in 3-D, Alfred Hitchcock was so displeased by the result that he released it in 2-D at its New York opening. The medium seems suited for children's films, animation, and films such as James Cameron's Avatar, which are largely made on computers. Cameron's film is, of course, the elephant in the room: a splendid film, great-looking on a traditional IMAX screen, which is how I saw it, and the highest-grossing film in history. It's used as the poster child for 3-D, but might it have done as well in 2-D (not taking the surcharge into account)? The second-highest all-time grosser is Cameron's Titanic, which of course was in 2-D. Still, Avatar used 3-D very effectively. I loved it. Cameron is a technical genius who planned his film for 3-D from the ground up and spent $250 million getting it right. He is a master of cinematography and editing. Other directors are forced to use 3-D by marketing executives. The elephant in that room is the desire to add a surcharge.

Consider Tim Burton, who was forced by marketing executives to create a faux-3-D film that was then sold as Alice in Wonderland: An IMAX 3D Experience (although remember that the new IMAX theaters are not true IMAX). Yes, it had huge grosses. But its 3-D effects were minimal and unnecessary; a scam to justify the surcharge.

Even Cameron plans to rerelease Titanic in 3-D, and it's worth recalling his 3-D documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss, which he personally photographed from the grave of the Titanic. Titanic 3-D will not be true 3-D, but Cameron is likely to do "fake 3-D" better than others have. My argument would nevertheless be: Titanic is wonderful just as it stands, so why add a distraction? Obviously, to return to the No. 2 cash cow in movie history and squeeze out more milk.

I once said I might become reconciled to 3-D if a director like Martin Scorsese ever used the format. I thought I was safe. Then Scorsese announced that his 2011 film The Invention of Hugo Cabret, about an orphan and a robot, will be in 3-D. Well, Scorsese knows film, and he has a voluptuous love of its possibilities. I expect he will adapt 3-D to his needs. And my hero, Werner Herzog, is using 3-D to film prehistoric cave paintings in France, to better show off the concavities of the ancient caves. He told me that nothing will "approach" the audience, and his film will stay behind the plane of the screen. In other words, nothing will hurtle at the audience, and 3-D will allow us the illusion of being able to occupy the space with the paintings and look into them, experiencing them as a prehistoric artist standing in the cavern might have.


In marketing terms, this means offering an experience that can't be had at home. With the advent of Blu-ray discs, HD cable, and home digital projectors, the gap between the theater and home experiences has been narrowed. 3-D widened it again. Now home 3-D TV sets may narrow that gap as well.

What Hollywood needs is a "premium" experience that is obviously, dramatically better than anything at home, suitable for films aimed at all ages, and worth a surcharge. For years I've been praising a process invented by Dean Goodhill called MaxiVision48, which uses existing film technology but shoots at 48 frames per second and provides smooth projection that is absolutely jiggle-free. Modern film is projected at 24 frames per second (fps) because that is the lowest speed that would carry analog sound in the first days of the talkies. Analog sound has largely been replaced by digital sound. MaxiVision48 projects at 48fps, which doubles image quality. The result is dramatically better than existing 2-D. In terms of standard measurements used in the industry, it's 400 percent better. That is not a misprint. Those who haven't seen it have no idea how good it is. I've seen it, and also a system of some years ago, Douglas Trumbull's Showscan. These systems are so good that the screen functions like a window into three dimensions. If moviegoers could see it, they would simply forget about 3-D.

I'm not opposed to 3-D as an option. I'm opposed to it as a way of life for Hollywood, where it seems to be skewing major studio output away from the kinds of films we think of as Oscar-worthy. Scorsese and Herzog make films for grown-ups. Hollywood is racing headlong toward the kiddie market. Disney recently announced it will make no more traditional films at all, focusing entirely on animation, franchises, and superheroes. I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality that generations of executives possessed. It's all about the marketing. Hollywood needs a projection system that is suitable for all kinds of films—every film—and is hands-down better than anything audiences have ever seen. The marketing executives are right that audiences will come to see a premium viewing experience they can't get at home. But they're betting on the wrong experience.

Virtually all 3DTVs now coming to market use active-shutter glasses, in which the left and right lenses alternately open and close in sync with the TV, which displays the left-eye image when the left lens is open and the right-eye image when the right lens is open. By contrast, most commercial 3D theaters use passive glasses—the right and left images are projected simultaneously, and the glasses filter the light so that only the left image reaches the left eye and only the right image reaches the right eye.

Aside from consumers' disdain for having to wear glasses at all, there are a few other drawbacks that could seriously impede the adoption of 3D in the home. First, there's the expense—active-shutter glasses cost $100 to $150 per pair! In some cases, one or two pairs might be included with a new 3DTV, but what if you have a family of three, four, or more? What if you want to host a Super Bowl party? Are you going to spend hundreds of dollars for extra glasses after dropping several thousand on the TV?

Passive glasses are much less expensive, which is why they are used in public settings, but they have other drawbacks in the home. For example, with direct-view TVs such as LCD and plasma, using passive glasses cuts the horizontal or vertical resolution available for each eye in half. Can a resolution of 1920x540 or 960x1080 rightly be called high def?

Another problem with 3D glasses of all types is that they dramatically reduce the amount of light reaching your eyes. As it turns out, active-shutter glasses lose much more light than passive glasses because both lenses in active glasses must be closed during part of each cycle to prevent crosstalk (the left image getting into the right eye and vice versa). As a result, the display must pump out much more light than it does in 2D, which could shorten its life, especially plasmas. Even so, the perceived image is much dimmer than watching 2D.

Then there's the issue of cross-compatibility between manufacturers—or, more specifically, the lack thereof. That's right, the glasses for a Panasonic 3DTV won't work with a Samsung model and vice versa. Why? The TV emits an infrared signal that the glasses use to synchronize with the alternating images. You might think that the manufacturers would have agreed on a standardized IR signal to perform this function, but no—each company uses its own proprietary signal. How stupid is that? Really stupid if you ask me.

As for movies at the cinemas, looking at the recent "Titans" where the whole 3D experience was rushed post production to cash in on unsuspecting movie goers, this really leaves a bitter after taste.


I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

Not just another Sydney trip - food and more

So who has not been to Oz and in particular Sydney? Blue mountains? Harbor bridge? Koalas? I think most of us have seen them all .. How a...