American Sniper - movie review

Firstly war is a difficult thing to stomach and the act of killing someone is not something that is pleasant.
If one uses a missile, or engages in air to air combat, the act of killing is quite different from killing someone up close and personal. On the other hand, using a high powered rifle, with the aid of a scope, the act of killing is both distant, and yet up close and personal. You have a second or even more from firing to impact, and life comes to a standstill during these seconds. The sheer act of breathing becomes a loud noise that can drown out even the largest canons, and you can literally see the effect of your shot.

Having fired everything from a 5.56 to a 7.62 to LAWs, 88mm RR and even a 105mm, each one is quite different. The 5.56 has little kick, and yet does a lot of damage from a rifled barrel. Small wound in, a terribly huge exit wound. The 7.62 can kick like a horse, and that is one aspect in which Bradley Cooper doesn't quite get it right, as he is unable to contain the kickback and it is unlikely that he hit the target, unlike the person he was portraying.

So is the American Sniper a hero? That's the question you will ask yourself after watching this gripping tale of a true life sniper who had more than 160 kills, and left his mark on the Iraq war. Perhaps even more so, was the impact the war had on him as he got better at what he did, and yet suffered the consequences of his efforts.

So is this the Oscar winning effort that some have touted, well, that's debatable, and honestly it's no Saving Private Ryan, but I found it as gripping if not more so than Hurt Locker. Given that it was based on a true story, it made the show a little more palatable, despite the flaws and the "fake baby" fiasco was a mere distraction and it didn't bother me.

The highlight was of course the protagonist, who was well played by Bradley Cooper, and he really put on the kilos to look like the person he was portraying. Pity about his gun handling skills, and I wonder why he had no spotter, and his idea of cover and concealment was a little less than meticulous. However it's truly impressive to shoot and hit someone at 2000 yards, and that Tac 338 rifle can do some serious damage. The furthest shot with a 7.62mm I have done is about 450m, and the shot went through the brick wall like a heated knife through cheese.

As for the surround engineering, well, I think Hurt Locker was better, but there is plenty of action and usage of surrounds, and like Des, I think it's a nice disc to keep, Black Friday 2015 perhaps?

For war movie aficionados, it's a solid show, and signals the continuation of the shift from the portrayal of war as a totally ugly thing to allowing for some bravado, and judging from the reception thus far, American audiences no longer feel a need to subscribe to those movies where can only be shown to be nasty. There's no chest thumping here, but it does go some way to showcasing the quiet hero that Chris Kyle was.

Again, war is not nice, killing someone whether from the front or back is something I hope I never have to do, and it changes one significantly. RIP Chief Kyle.


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

Buying A New AV Amp / Processor in 2015

I decided to start a thread on this as I am looking at a new AV receiver / processor and in the course of of my buying process, I received messages, talked to other members and also got very helpful advice from pros.

So I want to share my thought process, so others can learn and also benefit from my journey.

I sold my Denon 4520 last year, and have been awaiting the arrival of the new 3D sound formats since I got wind of this. At that time, there was scant information, only that Atmos, and Auro may arrive, and now we have these two formats as well as DTS X on the near horizon.

In addition, I managed to add the four speakers required for Atmos: Top Fronts + Rears, and also a VOG : Voice Of God. I also retained my original Front Heights which will come in handy for Auro.

With this in mind, I held back initially when the first wave of Atmos amps hit the market, and I soon realised that you have to really go in with your eyes and ears open.

The main caveats:

- none of the current amps are HDCP 2.2 compliant fully, only Onkyo is partly compliant.
- only Denon and Marantz have the fully Audyssey XT 32 implementation which includes HT Sub EQ, which is very useful in sorting those difficult subwoofer placement and equalisation issues.
- Pioneer and Yamaha amps don't use Audyssey at all and rely on their own forms of auto-EQ.

How about processors?

Well currently, you have Onkyo, and Marantz options, and again subject to the same issues as the amps.

So since a AV amp is essentially a processor with built in amps, that's not a bad thing, and if I wanted to listen critically, I can use my stereo amp.

Another thing to bear in mind is how many amps do you possess?

A full 3D surround experience will have 11 or even 13 channels, and that will required a lot of amps. Most amps have a max of 9 built in amps, and that means you need at least an external amp with two or more channels.

Note that only the Denon 7200 allows the same freedom of amp assignment as the older 4520, where you can assign the internal amps freely.

So now in Jan 2015 with the picture a little clearer, what can a member looking to get a 3 D surround experience hope to get?

Well you can get an amp with both Atmos, and Auro, via a firmware upgrade, that currently costs USD 199, and AFAIK, isn't available in Asia-Pac right now.

DTS X is coming too, but no one will promise that the current first gen amps can get an upgrade.

But today, there is news of the premier model: The Denon 7200. This sits at the top of the food chain in the Denon and promises to have all three, but you get only Atmos in the box.
HDCP 2.2 requires you to send it in for an upgrade via a new HDMI board.
Auro is upgraded via a USD 199 firmware upgrade, and in USA, you can get DTS X free, but again, it's unclear what is the SOP in Asia.

Remember that the free Airplay offered in the older Denon 4311 didn't happen in Asia.

Plus, the MSRP of a new 7200 is around twice of a 5200 or Marantz SR 7009 / AV 7702.

So the question is do you want to pay that much for these, and have all three formats on board?

Also, for those switching between Auro and Atmos, Auro makes use of the Subwoofer 2 output for the VOG channel, and you will need to re-calibrate Audyssey again when using Auro.

So you will need to re-load a saved configuration file to use Auro and switch between the two. That will take 15 mins or so.

Plus there is scant software of any kind on the ground for all the formats. You can still use the upscaling function to enjoy pseudo-3D sound with older discs.

As for the HDCP 2.2 issue, well you can either get the new Denon 7200, or Marantz AV 8802, and get a new HDMI board when it comes out, or hope a dual HDMI 4k Blu Ray play comes out and allows you to bypass the HDCP 2.2 issue.

There's no guarantee this will work, despite what you may read in AVS, simply because no one has tried it yet.

As for 4k, there is also very little commercially available software to buy, and it may be 2016 before it becomes pervasive.

So the options:

- if you are like me, and are in the market soon for a new amp, you can get something with Atmos for < $2000.

Your options are available from Onkyo, Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, Pioneer etc. If you want HDCP 2.2, then there's only Onkyo.

But note the issues I posted before.

If you want Audyssey, then only D & M have it and Atmos.

- if you can wait, it is likely that as technology progresses, Atmos, Auro and even DTS X will trickle down to the lower end amps in 2015 or 2016. And if you can wait until 2016, then the fight between these three formats will probably end by then allowing a winner/s to emerge and you can bank on the winning format.

It's heady times, and for some, embracing new technology is fun in itself, but for the less daring or those who don't like to on the cutting edge, then masterly inactivity is in order.

However for those who enter the 3D game early, you gain the fun of enjoying sound coming from around you, not only the sides, but also the top. Is this a big deal? Well as always, Your Mileage May Vary or YMMV :)

It's not life altering with Atmos, and you can certainly live with less. In fact most HT owners are only using 5.1 and there's nothing wrong with that.

So 2015 promises to be very interesting, and for me, I will decide soon, as the picture has become a little clearer and CES will only make it clearer :)
 I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

The Four - movie trilogy review

Some movies make you laugh, cry and others allow you to sit back and enjoy the action. For others you need to suspend the disbelief and enjoy the surround sound, even if the plot is rather stupid.

And sadly "The Four" trilogy doesn't even qualify for the latter group. No doubt the sound engineers had a field day, and again Chinese money gave the three shows really serious production values beyond what Hong Kong studios can offer, but it's not enough to save these movies.

The plot borrows a lot from a variety of sources, including X Men, where a group of individuals with special powers gather to fight evil. It then uses Justice Bao and the treasure trove of stories on corrupt officials, weak emperors and their cronies to formulate a story. But despite a liberal use of CGI and a rather stellar ensemble cast, the stories lack depth, and even if you suspend, burn or totally eliminate disbelief, it's still hard to swallow the talking tree which revives the evil official's son, and the chameleon like skills of the sorceress, and many other people with special powers.

Of course if you like to see nubile ladies, the chick factor is pretty high, and the show is littered with B or C grade starlets which give the shows plenty of eye candy.

If you want real kungfu, look elsewhere, as you don't get much in terms of that. And even the CGI falters under the scrutiny of Blu Ray and a Hi Def display.

The surround sound is awesome, with plenty of use of the surround channels and the bass is used for both explosions and impact, but it's hard to appreciate this when the plot is less than paper thin.

I guess if you are a fan of the ensemble actors, and don't have much to do, the surround experience plus the eye candy makes this a possible rental, but I would advise against owning them unless they come on sale at Black Friday.

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

Adding Ceiling Mounted Speakers II

I think the advent of Atmos / Auro has led many to consider adding ceiling speakers.

As previously discussed (, the ceiling can be a concrete one, and so there's cutting involved, or a false ceiling.

If it's the latter, then one must really ensure that the ceiling can bear the weight.

Most false ceilings in domestic settings were built by contractors to hold the weight of some light fixtures, with cables inside and nothing much more. They usually use aluminum struts the situation is worse if one has a central false ceiling that is a single monolithic structure which is lightweight and quite flimsy.

Eg, I got this from :

And to add anything more than 3 kilos (multiplied by 4 speakers) will need reinforcement or a complete tear down of the ceiling.

So some planning is needed before trying to add any speaker that one may already posses. Otherwise during a serious session where the subwoofer is employed and you may find the ceiling in your lap.

Not just another Sydney trip - food and more

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