Dennis Burger Tag

A Guide to Luxury Source Components

A Guide to Luxury Source Components
What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

Continuing our series on the basic building blocks of a luxury entertainment system, it’s time for us to discuss some of the less sexy decisions you need to make. That’s right, we’ve come to the electronics, and we’ll be breaking this broad category into two separate posts to make it a little easier to digest.

 

First up, we’ll be tackling source components, with sound processing and amplification covered in a future update. If you’re not familiar with the term “source components,” it basically covers all of the little black (or sometimes white) boxes you plug

into your home entertainment system to provide audio and video entertainment. Your satellite receiver is a source component. Your disc player is, too, if you’re still clinging to those things (which you may well be if you live in a remote area with unreliable network access or already have a gigantic collection of silver platters).

 

But if you’re building a modern luxury home-entertainment system in a reasonably well-connected locale, chances are good neither of those old standbys will find its way into your system. One source you’ll definitely want to add, though, is a good media streamer. And this is true even if you’ve decided on a TV that has smart streaming apps built in, because dedicated streamers do make a difference when it comes to video quality.

 

If you already have a preferred media-streaming platform of choice, you can, of course, opt for that one. Just know that not all of the various options are interchangeable, so it’s a good idea to decide which streaming apps you use the most and get the media streamer that best supports them. Want to watch Netflix with Dolby Atmos sound? Apple TV can do it; Chromecast can’t. Do you already have a pretty significant library of films in the Vudu app? Roku and Apple TV have an app for that; Amazon Fire TV doesn’t. Looking forward to the new Disney+ streaming service? You’ll be able to watch it via any dedicated media streamer or gaming console—except for Amazon Fire TV.

 

Of course, there are any number of reasons why you don’t want to rely on a media streamer as your sole source of video content. For one thing, only a handful of streaming 

apps out there at the moment—Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon, just to name a few of the few—deliver truly fantastic audio and video quality. Far too many streaming providers, though, are still stuck in 2016 when it comes to their delivery methods and their quality. And then, of course, there’s the fact that even a rock-solid and reliable internet connection can be counted on to occasionally drop out at the least convenient time.

That’s why you’ll also want to have a reference-quality video server in your system. Something like the Kaleidescape movie player (shown at the top of the page) will not only give you a truly reference-quality viewing and listening experience, since its collection of downloadable films and TV shows is much less compressed than what you’ll get from streaming (and sometimes even less compressed than what you’ll get from discs); your collection is also there for the viewing anytime you want, since your internet connection is only used for the initial download. In other words, your entertainment is stored locally, on rock-solid, monitored hardware.

 

The other big benefit of the Kaleidescape ecosystem is its elegant user interface. And if you think that’s not a big deal, try something for me: Fire up Netflix or Vudu or Amazon or any of the otherwise great streaming services, and try to find something worth watching. It can be a bit frustrating, can’t it? Kaleidescape not only offers curated collections that help you hone your purchasing decisions, but it also offers a couple different ways to navigate the content you already own. If you know, for example, that you want to watch Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, you can simply peruse your library in alphabetical order, and there it is, right near the top.

 

If, on the other hand, you know you’re in the mood for something a little more classic, but you’re not quite sure what, you might prefer to browse your library by cover art instead. Taking this route is almost like scanning your shelves for a disc, assuming you could find a magical shelf that would rearrange your disc collection every time your 

eyes rested on one particular title for more than a few seconds. Gravitate to Lawrence of Arabia, for example, and your library will rearrange to surround it with titles like The Bridge on the River Kwai.

 

For movies and TV shows, that’s really all you need: A good media streamer for day-to-day viewing and a Kaleidescape for those treasured favorites that you return to time and again, and for anything you want to view in the best quality possible. If you’re a gamer, you’ll probably want to add a PlayStation 4 Pro, an Xbox One, or a Nintendo Switch—or perhaps all three. And if you’re an old-school audiophile or new-school analog audio enthusiast, you might also add a good turntable to this mix. If, on the other hand, you’re more of a hi-res digital hi-fi aficionado, you might want a Roon server.

 

But those are personal choices, of course. If we’re just talking the basics, two good sources are all you really need.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The Chef Show

The Chef Show

The Chef Show is pretty much definitive proof that Netflix’ recommendation algorithms can’t quite figure me out. I’ll watch pretty much any food show the service slings in my direction, no matter the sub-genre. Food as culture? Gimme. Food as process? I’m taking notes. Food as an excuse to travel? Love every minute of it. Food as social glue? That may well be my favorite food sub-genre of all.

 

When you get right down to it, The Chef Show is all of those things in some sense, but it’s not really any of them at its heart. But getting to the gooey center of what this series actually is proves to be difficult. Which may be why Netflix didn’t shove it

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down my throat from the time it dropped back in June of this year, despite the fact that I’m its prime audience. 

 

To get to the sense of what I mean, consider a scene in the first episode, in which Gwyneth Paltrow, sort of befuddled, it seems, by what’s going on, asks, “What is this TV show for?” To which its hosts, Jon Favreau and Roy Choi sort of shrug and say, “We don’t know. Nobody knows. We just started filming.”

 

Favreau and Choi, of course, worked together on the 2014 indie film Chef, and The Chef Show at times feels like an excuse for the duo to recreate the magic of that amazing 

film without making a pointless sequel. Instead, they simply hang out with their friends and cook and chat. And since their friends happen to be people like Paltrow, Robert Rodriguez, and Robert Downey, Jr., you’ll see a good number of celebrity faces. But that’s not the point. This isn’t a celebrity showcase.

 

But there I go again, trying to define The Chef Show by telling you what it’s not, rather than what it is. I think the reason for that is that the series never really figures out for itself what it wants to be. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it refuses 

to be forced into some preconceived box, and instead just does its own thing. There’s no template, no real structure, no actual recurring elements aside from the cute stop-motion animated interstitials that serve to segue between segments.

 

You kind of get the sense the footage that comprises the show—which was captured over the course of three years and not even pitched to Netflix until a season’s worth of shows had 

The Chef Show

been assembled from it—could have just as easily been dropped on YouTube five or 10 or 30 minutes at a time, a fact reflected in the lack of HDR, despite the 4K presentation.

 

That may sound like a diss on my part, but nothing could be further from the truth. The freeform, unstructured, internet-y nature of the show is what I love about it most. Ultimately, it’s something of a metaphor for Favreau and Choi’s approach to cooking. One phrase that pops up time and time again when the two are hashing out new dishes is, “Sure, why not?” There’s no real recipe, just an understanding of what makes food tastes good, and a desire to mix things up and see what works.

 

At any rate, the result of all this experimentation is that, on the one hand, The Chef Show is probably the most food-like food show of any I’ve seen. And on the other hand, it’s not really about food at all. One gets the sense that if Favreau and Choi shared a love of cars, this would be a car show. If they had bonded over sailing, it would be a sailing show. In the end, their love for one another is really the glue that holds this little experiment together, and I think that gives them the liberty to break some rules.

The Chef Show

To give you one example of the rules they break: Early in the series the duo attempts to make beignets from a box of Cafe Du Monde mix, only to fail spectacularly and realize after the fact that they’ve used an expired mix. In most food shows, that would have been left on the cutting-room floor. In The Chef Show, it’s kind of the point, because that shared experience is so much more important than the results of their efforts.

 

I’m reminded of the big Sunday dinners my meemaw (for you Yankees in the audience, that’s southern for “grandmother”) used to make when I was a kid. The entire family would come together after church and stuff our faces on some of the best country cooking to ever cross my palate, then unbutton our pants and talk about the week for a few hours before going home for a nap.

 

It wasn’t until I was much older and my meemaw had died that I realized something: As much as those gigantic weekly meals were the superficial excuse for our Sunday gatherings, and as much as we still sit around and reminisce about her mashed potatoes and fried chicken livers and purple-hull peas, the food was never the point. For as much as she slaved over a stove every Sunday to feed 10 to 15 people, all of that cooking was really just an excuse to bring together the people she loved most in the world.

 

The Chef Show is pretty much exactly that. The delicious-looking dishes are just the pretense. The process is just a necessity, no matter how much love and mindfulness they pour into it. The real magic of this show is in the conversations—the ones that revolve around art and filmmaking and family as much as the ones that revolve around food—and if there were the faintest whiff of inauthenticity to any of it, it just wouldn’t work on any level.

 

But work it does. Brilliantly so. So much so that another “volume” of episodes is slated to drop in mid-September, barely three months after the first batch of eight. And I can say this for certain: I won’t be late to the party this time. I’m looking forward to Volume Two with a level of anticipation normally reserved for Star Wars movies and new episodes of Critical Role.

 

If anything, though, it makes me wonder what other little gems exist in the Netflix catalog, just sitting there waiting to be my new favorite thing, but failing to pop up on my radar because they don’t necessarily fit into the service’s A.I.-driven algorithm, designed to hack my viewing habits into component parts that can be used to predict what formula will appeal to me next.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

What You Need to Know About Disney+

What You Need to Know About Disney+

The Simpsons will stream exclusively on Disney+

Even if you pay no more than a middling bit of attention to the streaming-video landscape, you likely felt a great disturbance in the Force in the past few months, as if millions of voices cried out and said, “Take my money!” That disruption, of course, has been caused by Disney+, which was met with skepticism when it was originally announced two years ago. (Yours truly called it a “huge mistake,” words I would like to eat with some ginger and a few shavings of fresh wasabi root, if you don’t mind.) But in the time since, numerous announcements about exclusive content and the service’s price structure have turned it from an inconvenient extra bill to a legitimate threat to Netflix.

 

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Disney+, mind you, and probably won’t know until closer to its November 12 launch date. But for now, here’s what we can say about what makes Disney+ different from the competition, and why you should care.

 

1) It’s got the content you want for a price you can’t refuse

If you’re a fan of, well, pretty much anything, chances are good Disney owns a piece of it. It goes without saying that Disney+ will have a large collection of Disney movies (with none of the Vault shenanigans that we’ve come to know and loathe in the home video era), as well as Pixar offerings, to choose from. It’ll also have every Star Wars movie except for The Last 

Jedi and Solo at launch (those are coming in the first year), as well as original Star Wars programming like the new live-action show The Mandalorian and a brand-new season of the highly acclaimed The Clone Wars animated series.

 

Ditto Marvel. The only movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that won’t be available at launch is Avengers: Endgame, which is slated to hit Disney+ in December. That, by the way, gives us some interesting insight into how long it will take new theatrical releases to stream after they’ve been released to home video. Then there’s the mountain of new, Disney+ exclusive MCU programming in the works, including original TV series based on Hawkeye, Vision & Scarlet Witch, Falcon & Winter Soldier, as well as everyone’s favorite bad boy, Loki.

 

Out of the gate, the service will launch with 300 theatrical films, and by the end of the first year we’re promised 500 films and 7,500 episodes’ worth of TV programming. All of that would be worth $6.99 a month even if the service didn’t also include a ton of National Geographic content to boot.

 

 

2) Bundles will sweeten the pot

Disney recently announced that in addition to its main subscription plan for $6.99, you’ll also be able to drop $12.99 on a bundle that includes Disney+, ESPN+, and the ad-supported version of Hulu without live TV. In other words: Pay for two, get one for free.

 

This makes sense, given that Disney now owns a controlling stake in Hulu (with Warner going its own way soon to launch HBO Max, another studio-exclusive streaming service), and seems to be positioning Hulu as the home for its more adult-oriented programming (including former Fox properties like Deadpool, as well as more mature original shows).

 

Interestingly, that $12.99 price point is also exactly what Netflix charges for its most basic, HD-only subscription tier. That can’t be a coincidence.

 

 

3) Disney isn’t skimping on AV quality

The company has already made some reassuring statements about Disney+ supporting 4K video and HDR. While we don’t know what sort of compression codecs the service will employ, that promise means it’s using HEVC at a minimum. In other words, Disney+ will be in the top tier of streaming providers from a video-quality perspective.

 

Here’s what we don’t know, though: Will you be able to

access 4K HDR video for the aforementioned $6.99 subscription price? Netflix charges for 4K HDR. Amazon doesn’t. So, it’s difficult to guess.

 

What’s more, we also don’t know if opting for the Disney+/Hulu/EPSN+ bundle will force you into accessing all three services from one app. If that app is Hulu, that could also be bad news in terms of video quality. Although Hulu recently re-introduced support for 4K video, it doesn’t offer HDR, which is a bummer since dynamic range has much more impact on picture quality than pixel count.

 

In other words, if you care about video performance, it may be that you’ll need to skip the bundle and just subscribe to Disney+ directly. But again, nobody knows for sure just yet.

 

 

4) They seem to have solved the biggest problem with most streaming services—the user interface

Here’s a fun experiment for you bored masochists in the audience: Load up Netflix and attempt to find all of the existing Netflix-original (but Disney-financed) Marvel TV shows in one place. This is a little easier if you remember the names of all those series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders). But search instead for, say, “Marvel,” and you end up with a mess of unrelated content with no clear indication of which shows exist in the same continuity. (Particularly troubling for nerds, you’ll also find a lot of cartoons based on D.C. Comics properties.)

 

Netflix isn’t alone in this, of course. The user interfaces for all of the major streaming platforms are just terrible.

 

Disney+, by contrast, has developed a user interface that seems to do all the things normal streaming UIs do—track your viewing habits, give you recommendations based on your preferences, spotlight new releases by category, etc.—but it also

curates its content and allows you to hone in on specific universes it owns. Just want to watch some Star Wars but not sure exactly what you’re in the mood for? The Galaxy Far, Far Away will have its own separate section of Disney+. So will Marvel. So will Pixar and NatGeo.

 

If other streaming providers don’t figure out how to do something similar—not 

necessarily segregating their home screens by shared universes, but coming up with some way of streamlining the process of finding something worth watching that matches your current mood—this could be the Number One thing that threatens the competition.

 

 


Add it all together, and it’s really not a question of whether or not you’ll subscribe to Disney+. Because of course you will, especially if you have a kid, know a kid, or remember being a kid. The real question is whether or not you’ll start dropping your subscriptions to other services once Disney+ launches.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Demo Scenes: “Avengers: Endgame”

Demo Scenes: "Avengers: Endgame"
“Avengers Assemble”
(Chapter 16, 2:16:02–2:19:42)

 

Martin Mull (or maybe it was Frank Zappa?) once opined that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Trying to convey the benefits of high dynamic range video can feel a little like that at times, given that most web browsers don’t support HDR by default, and still images just can’t do it justice. So, those of us who champion this video innovation in written form are often reduced to hyperbolic-sounding statements that still don’t effectively get the point across. It’s brighter! It’s darker! It’s billions of colors!

 

Want to see for yourself the difference that HDR can truly make? Fire up your Kaleidescape, download the 4K HDR version of Avengers: Endgame, and cue up the climactic moments of the big final battle when (spoiler alert, in case it wasn’t already obvious) the heroes who fell in Infinity War return from non-existence and are magically teleported by Doctor Strange onto

the battlefield alongside Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. On Kaleidescape, it’s the scene named “Avengers Assemble,” for obvious reasons. If you’re watching via some other platform, you can skip to the timestamp listed above.

 

But don’t press that Play button just yet. Before you watch the scene in 4K HDR, check out the same sequence in the HD version first. It’s epic, to be sure, even in Blu-ray quality. The battlefield feels immense. The shadows that hang over the sundered pile of rubble where Avengers HQ once stood are deep and inky. The layer of grime and streaks of blood marring Cap’s face are tangible and perfectly textured. Once you’ve soaked in all of that and gotten a good reminder of what state-of-the-art home video looked like barely more than three years ago, switch over to the 4K HDR version and prepare to have your hair blown back.

 

Truth be told, there isn’t much of a difference in terms of resolution, given that Endgame was sourced from a 2K digital intermediate. And yet, the enhanced contrast HDR brings with it makes every shot feel crisper, more detailed, more dimensional, more lifelike. (I mean, as lifelike as a 

scene can look when it involves a bunch of grown folks running around in armored pajamas fighting a big purple space fascist.)

 

This isn’t just an academic study in video specs, though. What makes the HDR presentation of Endgame work so well—in this scene, particularly—is that it genuinely enhances the passion and poignancy of these moments. The portals Doctor Strange opens aren’t merely razzle-dazzle circles floating in the darkness, as they are in high-definition and standard dynamic range—they’re blinding rips in the spacetime continuum. The sun hanging over the horizon isn’t simply a yellow-white spot on your screen—it’s a stunning light source that pierces the darkness of the battlefield, and indeed of your room.

 

These brilliant spots of light dancing through the darkness actually have a physiological effect, dilating your pupils a bit and tickling your wince reflex—though not pushing it to the point of discomfort. And given that you’re genuinely, physically engaged with the imagery, you can’t help but be drawn more deeply into it. You’re not merely a passive observer of this shield-throwing, lightning-calling, web-spinning battle for the fate of the universe—you’re more invested in the action because all of those photons pouring off of your screen literally invoke an involuntary biological response, yanking you into the heightened reality of it all. At that point, you’re not just watching a movie; you’re having an experience. One that simply wouldn’t be possible without HDR.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame comes to the screen with an incredible amount of baggage for any one film to carry. It has to serve as the emotional and narrative conclusion of 11 years’ and 21 films’ worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stories. It has to serve as the second half of a film released a year earlier. It also has to work as a self-contained narrative on its own terms—one that satisfies both hardcore fans who’ve seen all 21 of those previous Marvel movies numerous times, as well as more casual moviegoers who may have seen some of them only once, if at all.

 

The fact that Endgame manages to check all of those boxes without crumbling under its own weight is a bit of a minor cinematic miracle. The fact that it ends up being so much more than a mere obligatory box checker is a testament to the

talents of the film’s directors (Joe and Anthony Russo) and writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely).

 

To get into why, though, we need to dip our toes into spoiler territory, for both Endgame and 2018’s Infinity War, but I’ll try to keep things as vague as possible on both fronts, for the pair of you who’ve seen neither film. At the end of Infinity Warwe were left in a weird place for a big, blockbuster superhero franchise. The villain had won. Half the population of the universe—and half of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes—had been “blipped” out of existence at the snap of a finger. Mind you, we live in a world where films are announced years in advance, and it didn’t take a savvy viewer to put two and two together and realize that some of those dead heroes were only a film or two into a multi-film contract, which meant they would be coming back, somehow or another, by the end of this film.

 

Think about that weird conundrum for long, and it quickly becomes apparent that Endgame ran the serious risk of not only narratively undermining Infinity War by undoing its deaths, but also of emotionally undermining it so severely that the first part of this two-part story lost all impact for future viewings. I think the most dedicated Marvel fans 

amongst us all sort of went into Endgame knowing that this would be the price we had to pay in order to see the resolution of this storyline.

 

Except, that ends up not being the case at all. Instead of undermining Infinity War—narratively and emotionally—Endgame ends up enriching it, making it a more interesting and impactful story. If the thematic arc of Infinity War could be boiled down to coming to terms with defeat, Endgame at its core is a film about consequences. As with any good epic (in the Tolkien sense

Avengers: Endgame

of the word, not the Hollywood sense of the word), Endgame is a film about the high cost of victory. So, rather than robbing Infinity War of emotional and narrative weight, this film piles an extra heaping helping of solemnity on its forebear, and all the films that came before it.

 

Once its end credits roll, what we the viewers are left with is not only a satisfying yet bittersweet conclusion to the rambling and seemingly disconnected narrative that began with 2008’s Iron Man, but also one that makes us reflect on everything that has happened to the MCU’s characters along the way. Honestly, it even redeems some of the MCU’s weaker efforts, like 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, although perhaps only in retrospect. (And no, I’m not confident enough in this statement to actually suffer through that movie again to find out for sure.)

 

But as I said above, Endgame would be a wholly unsatisfying film if it were merely a massive nostalgia romp. I won’t recount the plot here, because if you’ve seen the movie you already know it, and if you haven’t, I would sound like I was having a stroke. But what makes the film work on its own terms is, in part, the economy of its storytelling. That may seem an ironic statement to make about a three-hour film, but the Russos, Markus, and McNeely have managed to craft an engrossing narrative that feels perfectly paced, because when the plot is simple and straightforward, they use that opportunity to ramp up the richness and diversity of the story’s themes; and by contrast, when the narrative gets more complex (as will happen when you’re playing around with comic-book quantum physics and the fabric of spacetime), they use simpler and more straightforward thematic underpinning to maintain a coherent through-line.

Avengers: Endgame

The film also uses the luxury of its relatively long running time to give the characters a lot of room to breathe. Upon second viewing, I was taken aback by how much of the film is devoted to people sitting around, simply talking to one another. It’s refreshing, to be sure, and It’s exactly what was required to give these beloved characters one last chance to grow, and express their growth, in shockingly adult ways. Coming out the other end of the film, I honestly wonder if most viewers realize that only about half an hour of screen time is really dedicated to stereotypical blockbuster comic-book action scenes.

 

Unsurprisingly, it is those scenes that shine the brightest in Kaleidescape’s 4K/HDR presentation of the film. And I mean that literally. This is truly some of the most effective use of HDR I’ve seen to date, especially in the big battle at the end, where stunning contrasts are used not merely for eye candy, but also to reinforce the emotions of the sequence. I watched this epic

throwdown back-to-back in Blu-ray quality and 4K with HDR, and while it certainly got my nerd heart pumping in mere 1080p HD, I was literally moved to tears by the climactic turning point of the battle as it plays out in high dynamic range.

 

But hey, if you’re just in it for the eye candy, Kaleidescape’s presentation works on that front, too, even if the vivid and detailed presentation does at times make some of the special effects ever-so-slightly too obvious. Audio enthusiasts who’ve grumbled at Disney for their sometimes-lackluster audio mixes will also be delighted by the richness of the film’s soundtrack and its effective use of bowel-loosening bass and the aggressiveness of the Dolby TrueHD Atmos track’s height channels. Truth be told, those effects were a little too distracting for my tastes, and I preferred the included DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, but it’s nice that both options are available.

 

There is one other audio track that absolutely cannot be ignored, although you’ll only find it on the Blu-ray-quality download (which is included with your 4K HDR purchase): The audio commentary by directors Anthony & Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. If you listened to their commentary for Infinity War, you know what you’re in for here. If not, I’m jealous that you get to experience it for the first time. As with the previous film, their commentary is less 

Avengers: Endgame

a scene-by-scene breakdown of how the film was made, and more a masterclass in storytelling, character development, and filmmaking, making it essential listening even if you typically skip commentaries.

 

It’s just a shame that the rest of the extras don’t rise to the same level. Also included with the Blu-ray-quality download is about an hour’s worth of bonus documentaries that you can mostly ignore, except for the eight-minute tribute to Stan Lee that was included after the film in its soft theatrical re-release back in June. You’ll also want to check out the last of the six deleted scenes (which, by the way, doesn’t include the excised clip that was tacked onto the aforementioned theatrical re-release).

 

Hopefully, at some point Endgame will get a double-dip home video release whose bonus features dig a little deeper into the rich tapestry that is this film. Until then, though, this one is a must-own.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

A Guide to Luxury Speaker Systems

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

Once you’ve decided what type of luxury home entertainment system best suits your needs and decided whether you want to go with a TV or a projector and screen, you should next think about what kind of speaker system you’d like to have. In Part Three of Cineluxe Basics, we’ll guide you through some of the options, and some of the things you need to think about when picking out your sound system.

 

This is arguably a more important decision than what type of video display to go with, if only because you’ll probably be living with your new speaker system for way longer. Unlike TVs, projectors, and indeed even electronics—which often become

outdated after a few years due to the rise of new audio/video standards—a good speaker system can perform at its best for decades to come, with no updates needed.

 

That’s not to say that there have been no recent advancements in speaker technology, though. As mentioned in “What is a Luxury Entertainment System?” perhaps the biggest change is that hidden architectural speakers—those designed to be installed in your walls or ceiling and painted to match the environment—now boast levels of performance that were unheard of just a decade ago.

 

Take GoldenEar Technology’s Invisa Signature Point Source speakers, for example. These discrete in-walls deliver much the same performance as the company’s lauded in-room tower speakers, just without the big, black, monolithic design. GoldenEar also makes some very nice, practically invisible in-ceiling speakers, so you could build a nearly complete Atmos surround sound speaker system without ever seeing a single box in the room with you. Other 

companies known for producing high-performance architectural speakers include MartinLogan, Origin Acoustics, PSB, RBH, Triad, and Wisdom Audio.

 

I say “nearly complete” because in addition to five or seven ear-level speakers (depending on your preferences and the geometry of your room) and two, four, or six overhead speakers (if you want to do Atmos and DTS:X), you’ll also need a subwoofer or four. And while most of these bass-makers are big, unsightly boxes, you do have some options for hidden subs, as well.

 

James Loudspeaker makes a diverse line of hidden subs that come in all shapes and sizes, from in-wall options designed for installation in a standard stud bay to larger boxed subwoofers that can be mounted in the attic or in a cabinet, then vented out through a grille that looks like a traditional HVAC vent. Origin Acoustics also offers subwoofers similar to the latter, but with vents that open up into a port that looks virtually identical to can ceiling lights.

 

Chances are good that you’ll want to go with a hidden subwoofer of this sort even if you opt for in-room speakers. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean you’ve completely given up on your décor. These days, any number of luxury speaker manufacturers 

offer models that look right at home in even the chicest of interiors. Focal’s Kanta line, just to name one example, comes in a wide array of finishes running the gamut from Gauloise Blue to Warm Taupe. Simply put, these gorgeous cabinets are as much of a statement as they are a high-performance sound source.

 

If Italian design is more to your liking, check out Sonus Faber’s Homage Tradition collection, a deliciously retro lineup that borrows much of its handcrafted design from 

A Guide to Luxury Speaker Systems

Bang & Olufsen’s Beolab 18 speakers

the art of violin making. Or the company’s newer Sonetto Collection, which draws heavy inspiration from the shape of the lute for its distinctive styling.

 

Depending on your aesthetic taste, you may also find what you’re looking for in the style-focused designs of luxury manufacturers like Steinway Lyngdorf, Meridian, and Bang & Olufsen.

 

No matter how large the room or beautiful the speakers, though, few people would want to have an Atmos system made up of nothing but massive floorstanding models. One common solution is to have tower speakers flanking your TV or projection screen (sometimes accompanied by a matching, wall-mounted center channel speaker) and then employ high-performance architectural speakers for the surround channels.

 

These recommendations shouldn’t be viewed as the last word, by the way—merely a starting point in your exploration of what’s available at the moment in terms of ultimate-performance speakers that will either accentuate or recede into the background of your carefully crafted décor. The point is, you don’t have to sacrifice on style to put together a home cinema sound system that will positively embarrass your local cineplex. 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Veronica Mars: Season 4

Veronica Mars

The Hulu-exclusive fourth season of Veronica Mars—which surprisingly dropped this past weekend ahead of its originally announced July 26 launch—is a wild and wonderfully complex thing. And I don’t just mean the sociopolitical murder mystery at the heart of its plot. This eight-episode run also has a sort of meta thing going on, in which it explores the tenuousness of its very existence, and what a dangerous motivator nostalgia can be.

 

If you’re not familiar with Veronica Mars at all, perhaps it’s worth stepping back for a minute to explain why the fourth season is such a big deal. The series started life in 2004 on UPN and ran for two years before moving to the CW for one final season. Best described as a sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (minus the supernatural elements) meets Raymond Chandler (minus all

the cigarettes), the show launched Kristen Bell into the spotlight, and gained a cult following due to its smart writing, wonderful characters, and incredible performances. And then it was canceled, all too soon, because nobody could figure out how to market a series that looked like a modern high-school drama and acted like a gumshoe classic.

 

In the years since, word of mouth has elevated the series to must-watch status, so much so that a feature-film 

reboot in 2014 broke records on Kickstarter in the video category and held those records until Mystery Science Theater 3000 came along and smashed them. The funny thing about that is that both projects ended up being blatant fan service that failed to capture what made the originals so great.

 

Re-launches of beloved properties seem to be all the rage in the world of streaming these days, though (think: Gilmore Girls and Full House, of all things), so it’s no real shock to see Veronica Mars return, 12 years after its cancelation. What sets this season apart—from other reboots of other properties, and indeed from the 2014 Veronica Mars film—is that it actually has something to say. A reason to exist beyond mere nostalgia. Some self-awareness about what a double-edged sword one wields when giving fans of a dead-and-buried TV show what they think they want.

 

In short, Veronica Mars Season 4 is Veronica Mars and it isn’t. It’s many of the same characters we knew and loved from the show’s original run, except they’re not exactly the same people anymore. Since the Buffy vibe no longer quite works, given how far removed from high school Veronica is these days, this season also leans more heavily on its Raymond Chandler roots, and makes playful references to other noir and neo-noir offspring of Chandler, including some blink-and-miss-it nods to Columbo and—true to Veronica Mars form—a good mix of subtle and overt shout-outs to The Big Lebowski.

 

At its heart, though, what makes this new season work so well is exactly the same thing that made the original series such a joy to watch. Namely, the bond between Kristen Bell as Veronica and Enrico Colantoni as her father and partner-in-crime-solving, Keith Mars. The banter between them puts the best of Cary Grant and Ros Russell to shame, and although that

Veronica Mars

rapid-fire back-and-forth has evolved to accommodate a world in which smart phones, smart homes, and social media are a thing, that evolution feels organic, not forced or kitschy. As does everything else about how the dark world of sunny Neptune, CA, has changed since we last dropped in on it to revel in the whodunnit of it all.

 

Perhaps the most impactful difference between the old and new incarnations of Veronica Mars isn’t the time that has passed, though; it’s the new format. By limiting this season to eight episodes, showrunner Rob Thomas (no, not the “Matchbox Twenty” one; the Space Ghost Coast to Coast/Party Down/iZombie one) is able to craft a compact narrative without all of the mystery-of-the-week episodes that padded earlier seasons.

 

Since the show is also now likely to be binged instead of doled out a week at a time, the new writing team (which also interestingly includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) has also been given free rein to weave a much denser narrative that involves not just a spring-break bomber, but also a blackmailed congressman, two hitmen for a Mexican drug cartel, and a fame-seeking pizza-delivery guy/conspiracy theorist (played to perfection by Patton Oswalt), all of whom come together in one big mystery of misunderstandings, double-crossings, and red herrings.

 

All in all, Season 4 comes as close to the perfection of Season 1 as anyone could hope for. Only a few minor quibbles (a stray reference to a director’s cut of The Big Lebowski when nonesuch exists, and a minor continuity error involving a cellphone video that doesn’t perfectly match events as they played out in an earlier episode, for example) mar what is otherwise a masterfully crafted reboot that can honestly be enjoyed as its own thing, even if you never saw the first three seasons and might not understand a handful of references to characters who didn’t have an organic part to play in this new story.

 

That last fact, though, plays right into this season’s larger theme about how nostalgia can bite you in the ass. Some longtime fans may have preferred to see those characters shoehorned into the plot anyway. And others will no doubt rage at the show’s handling of one of the original cast members. (I haven’t had time to peruse the forums just yet, but I can predict the hissy fits without even having read them.)

 

As for me, you can count this long-time Marshmallow (as Veronica Mars fans are known) amongst those who loved every minute of this season. I want more of the same. ASAP. But appropriately enough, “more of the same” would be outright impossible. The end of Season 4 leaves Veronica Mars (the show and the character) in such a place that it and she are left with no choice but to evolve again.

 

Technically speaking, I only wish Hulu would likewise evolve. The look of Season 4 is at times held back by the 1080p limitations of the service the show now calls home. Blacks are a bit crushed in some darker scenes, and banding rears its ugly head from time to time. Granted, the show looks better now than it did in its original run, but its mix of bright and sunny beach shots and shadowy nighttime skulking would greatly benefit from the high dynamic range that 4K brings with it.

 

Hopefully, by the time Season 5 rolls around (fingers crossed), Hulu will have grown up and adapted to the modern era as deftly and meaningfully as Veronica Mars has.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Chasing the Moon

If you’re looking to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing from the comforts of your sofa, needless to say you’ve got a ton of options. From Ryan Gosling’s intense portrayal of Neil Armstrong in First Man to the just-the-facts-ma’am documentary approach of Apollo 11, on to the recently remastered HD re-release of HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon, the space race has been covered from just about every angle imaginable. And yet, despite the fact that I have an

entire shelfful of DVDs and Blu-ray discs dedicated to the Apollo program, I’ve never seen anything quite like PBS’ new documentary mini-series Chasing the Moon.

 

That’s largely due to the documentary’s placement within PBS’ larger pantheon of programming. The three episodes that comprise this new and different doc fall within the 31st season of American Experience, the network’s series about our nation’s history and the oft-controversial figures that propel that history.

 

As you might expect if you’ve ever tuned into American Experience, the emphasis here isn’t on the scientific or engineering marvels that took us to the moon, nor the trials and tribulations of the astronauts themselves. Instead, Chasing the Moon plants the space race firmly within the geopolitical climate of the era, giving the viewer a hefty helping of historical context.

 

The first episode, for example, starts with a spotlight on Apollo 11, and even includes some shots similar to those seen in the recent IMAX documentary of the same name, 

but then sort of backs up and says, hang on, to understand how we got here we need to back up to 1957 and the Soviet launch of Sputnik. And to understand that, we need to back up again to World War II, to unpack the complicated relationships between Germany, the US, and the USSR. This presents an opportunity to unveil some archival footage I’ve never seen, such as the Germans testing their V-2 rockets and the Soviets trumpeting their early successes over the Americans.

 

Shockingly (to me, at least), there’s also extensive voiceovers from Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet Premier and a rocket engineer in his own right, who provides some modern perspective on the Russian side of the space race. Inclusions such as this, combined with the larger focus on politics—how they influenced the space race, and how the space race influenced them—make Chasing the Moon perhaps one of the most important documentaries on the Apollo program I’ve ever seen. Important in that it will give future generations insight into why all of this happened in the first place, not merely how.

Chasing the Moon

Granted, if you’re looking for a spectacular AV presentation, you might be a little disappointed. Since education is the primary impetus behind Chasing the Moon, no real effort has been made to clean up much of the grainy, scratchy archival footage and TV broadcasts that comprise the bulk of its visuals. Still, you’ve got a few avenues by which to view the series (which runs just 20 minutes shy of six hours over the course of three episodes), and quality of presentation may affect your decision about which road to take.

 

There is, of course, cable/satellite or antenna, as PBS will continue to rebroadcast all three episodes in the days surrounding the anniversary of the moon landing on July 20. There’s also the free PBS app, which is available on most streaming devices and requires no subscription, just a free login. The quality of presentation here is a step up from cable/satellite, but not quite up to the clarity of over-the-air broadcasts if you’ve got a decent antenna.

 

You can also purchase the show in 1080p HD with 5.1 sound from Amazon for $7.99 or Vudu for $9.99. There’s no real reason to opt for the latter unless you just hate Amazon Prime’s cluttered interface, as both are practically identical in terms of presentation. Or you could opt for the Blu-ray release for $25, which adds a few bonus features, including a making-of documentary and an interview with the director.

 

However you watch, though, I think Chasing the Moon deserves your attention, due to its distinctive take on this most historic event. Just don’t go in expecting the rah-rah flag-waving typical of Apollo documentaries. This is a warts-and-all exploration of the messy and often contentious reality of the space program from a societal and political perspective, and as such it touches on a lot of truths that more celebratory retrospectives often leave out.

 

In a weird way, though, that makes the big event all the more worthy of celebration.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Stranger Things 3

Stranger Things 3 is such a tonal, structural, and narrative departure from what’s come before that it can take hardcore fans of the series (raises hand unapologetically) a few episodes to get into this year’s batch of eight episodes. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the first couple episodes. In fact, the show’s creators—collectively known as the Duffer Brothers—demonstrate time and again their ability to lovingly mash up, remix, riff on, and reassemble 1980s pop culture in new and inventive ways. It’s simply that this time around, they’re being a little cheeky about it.

 

There’s a poolside scene in the first episode, for example, in which they nab the Cars’ “Moving in Stereo” from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and it’s played in such a way that you can’t help but anticipate exactly what’s coming if you know that film. That anticipation is hilariously subverted, though, setting the stage for a new season that is, at times, something Stranger

Things has never really been before: Zany.

 

Get a few episodes in to Stranger Things 3 and the reason for this starts to become clear. While leaning hard on all of the influences that have made the show so beloved to date—Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper, Rob Reiner, and all the other giants of genre and coming-of-age fiction from that era—the Duffers also start to bring other, darker influences to the forefront: Early-80s Sam Raimi, mid-80s David Cronenberg. As such, things can get a little more gruesome this time around.

To balance that gruesomeness, the show’s creators introduce a lot more levity. They’ve mentioned Fletch as a big inspiration for Stranger Things 3, and indeed, elements of the Chevy Chase screwball comedy can be seen in the side-quest of Hopper (the show’s irritable chief of police) and Joyce (the mother of Mike, the unfortunate victim of Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2). Add to that some unlikely influences such as Spies Like Us and Red Dawn (the latter of which is ribbed more than revered here), and you’ve got a weird and wonderful pastiche that, on paper at least, seems like it would struggle to hold itself together.

 

But hold together it does. Whether it’s tweaking mall culture, reliving the Cold War tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R, or once again bringing a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to life in the creepiest of ways, Stranger Things 3 succeeds primarily because it’s not merely a gimmicky nostalgia romp—it’s a legitimate love letter to a bygone era.

 

Of course, as a result of that, some of its tropes may feel a little dated. The show isn’t interested in shades of grey: There are good guys and there are bad guys. And the bad guys are bad because they’re dirty commies hellbent on world destruction or something. Why are they hellbent on world destruction or something? Because they’re the bad guys. Duh.

 

Really, though, none of the above matters so much as the show’s amazing cast, which features a few new additions. Cary Elwes positively chews the scenery as the corrupt mayor of Hawkins, Indiana, whose shady political dealings allowed for

Stranger Things 3

the construction of the Russian-financed mall that serves as a front for the nefarious Soviet experiment at the heart of this season. And Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) absolutely shines as the misfit mall employee who helps crack the case at the heart of Stranger Things 3.

 

But the original cast, including the impossibly talented Millie Bobby Brown, is still the emotional heart of the show, and it’s their relationships, their emotional ups and downs, their successes and failures that keep us coming back.

 

Another thing that makes Stranger Things 3 such a fun and effective followup to the first two is that, despite all of its shake-ups in terms of tone, structure, and inspiration, there’s an undeniable through-line in the look of the show. The aesthetic is, unsurprisingly, 1980s through and through, and while capturing that look doesn’t leave a lot of room for super-vivid imagery throughout, the show’s 4K presentation relies heavily on HDR to add depth and texture to the shadows. There’s some nice use of spectacular (though not really eye-reactive) highlights from time to time, but most of the dynamic range is reserved for the lower end of the value scale. As such, you’ll definitely benefit from watching on a display that can handle the distinction between black and oh-so-very-nearly black.

 

The show’s 5.1-channel soundtrack also deserves to be experienced on the highest-quality surround sound system possible. That shouldn’t be a surprise, given that Stranger Things 2 was the impetus behind Netflix’ new adaptive studio-quality sound technology. Still, it’s a little shocking just how effective—indeed, how aggressive—the mix is this time around. I don’t think my subwoofer has gotten such a raucous workout since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the surround channels are pushed to their extremes in all the right places, especially in remixing the gloriously nostalgic soundtrack.

 

My only beef is that Netflix doesn’t give us any bonus features for Stranger Things 3. While another season of Beyond Stranger Things would have been ideal, any sort of extra goodies would have been appreciated.

 

Thankfully, the show stands on its own as a binge-worthy romp, especially for those of us who grew up in the era being mythologized here. And for what it’s worth, there is one tiny extra worth mentioning: If you’re the type to hit the stop button as soon as the ending credits start rolling, be sure to stick around past the end of the final episode. There’s a mid-credits sequence that sets the stage for Stranger Things 4, which by all accounts will likely be the show’s swan song.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

A Guide to Luxury Video Displays

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

In our first Cineluxe Basics post—”What is a Luxury Entertainment System?“—we provided a 30,000-foot overview of the basic components that go into building a modern AV system. The goal there was not to overwhelm you with technical specs or particulars, but rather give you a general understanding of what bits you need when having a luxury system specced and installed for you.

As promised, though, we’ll now start digging into the specifics of each type of gear, for those who want a deeper understanding of the technology and a better sense of what makes a component suitable for a luxury environment and a world-class home entertainment experience.

 

First up: Video displays (aka TVs). As mentioned in the overview, you should first decide what type of screen you want or need for your room. Your main two choices are between a TV or a projection system with separate projector and screen. (But there is a third option emerging, which I’ll touch on in a bit).

 

If you’re building a dedicated home theater, or if for whatever reason you simply want or need a screen larger than 85 inches, a projection system may be your best bet, for all of the reasons John Sciacca details in “Basic Choices: Projector or TV? Pt. 1.” If you’re building a media room or multi-use space, though, don’t let anyone talk you out of a high-performance TV. Today’s best Ultra HD (4K), HDR-capable displays deliver a level of visual excellence that’s hard to match with any level of projector/screen 

combo. You’ll get deeper and truer blacks, more spectacular highlights, richer and more lifelike color, not to mention that TVs generate much less heat and noise.

 

“What about the sense of scale, though? The wow-factor? That wall-filling spectacle of it all?” I hear you asking. Truth be told, all of that is really determined not purely by screen size but by the relationship between the size of the screen and the distance to your seat. Park yourself six-and-a-half feet away from a 75-inch TV, and you’ll enjoy the same IMAX-like viewing experience as if you sat ten-and-a-half feet from a 120-inch screen. Depending on the size of your room, that may also leave enough space behind you for a more immersive surround sound experience.

 

If you’ve paid any attention to the TV market as of late, you’ve noticed that there are hordes of high-performance, 75-inch and larger UHD TVs ripe for the picking. But would they all be at home in a luxury entertainment space? I argue not. What sets luxury TVs apart isn’t merely their specifications, but rather their industrial design

A Guide to Video Displays

That’s why I think something like Sony’s XBR-75X950G (shown above) is the starting point for luxury. At $3,300, this TV offers excellent performance, but perhaps more importantly, the X950G sports a simple-yet-stylish design you won’t be embarrassed to hang on your wall or place on the credenza in the living room. It also features niceties more economical TVs lack, like integrated cable management, so you can keep your installation neat and tidy.

 

Step up to something like Sony’s Master Series displays and you do get a bit of a performance boost (including 8K resolution at the very top of the line). But just as importantly, you also get sleeker, more innovative designs, ensuring your TV will look just as good when it’s off as it does when it’s on.

If these models are still a little too “TV-like” for your tastes, LG will soon be introducing a pair of OLED displays that break traditional design molds. The company’s OLED88Z9PUA (shown at the top of the page) eschews the standard pedestal for a built-in open shelf that creates the illusion of the TV floating in mid-air. Its upcoming R9  

OLED, meanwhile, turns the screen itself into a rollable element that retracts into an elegant speaker console when not in use. The screen can also peek out of its hidden home to give you a quick look at the weather, the time, or the particulars of the music you’re currently listening to.

 

Of course, we can’t talk about innovative TVs that break all design molds without mentioning Bang & Olufsen. You may remember B&O from its iconic BeoSound 9000, a radical wall-mounted CD player that practically defined Danish style in the mid 90s, or perhaps you have a B&O sound system in your BMW or Audi. But the company also makes some of the most

gorgeous displays we’ve ever seen. The Beovision Eclipse is a high-performance 4K HDR OLED TV with a built-in 450-watt sound system and an incredibly versatile motorized mounting system. This fall, though, the new 77-inch Beovision Harmony will take things even further with a stunning three-channel speaker system that unfolds from the front of the display like a piece of kinetic origami.

The bottom line is that any display you add to your luxury entertainment environment should enhance, not detract from, the décor. And there are plenty of options that do exactly that. But as mentioned above, there’s another display option that is neither TV nor projector.

A Guide to Luxury Video Displays

Samsung’s MicroLED “The Wall”

Video walls are starting to make their presence known in luxury AV installations in a big (huge!) way. Granted, in the past, such walls were constructed by butting smaller displays up next to each other and splitting an image across them. Today, though, MicroLED technology from companies like Planar (and soon Samsung, LG, and Sony) allows installers to build larger and larger screens out of modular components that can fill a wall from top to bottom with seamless 4K or 8K imagery. No lines. No stripes. Just vibrant imagery with no boundaries.

 

For now, this technology is mostly aimed at commercial applications. But Planar has already had great success in the luxury home market, and as companies like Samsung, Sony, and LG bring their own MicroLED modules to the market, you can expect to see them become more common in the home.

Dennis Burger

RELATED POSTS

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.