High Dynamic Range Tag

Our Planet

It’s been barely more than a year since beloved natural historian Sir David Attenborough took viewers on another romp around the natural world in Blue Planet II, so for some it may seem a little soon for another such epic journey. After all, Attenborough’s tentpole nature documentary series tend to follow big technological leaps, either in terms of presentation (HD, 4K, HDR, etc.) or exploration (e.g. the Nadir and Deep Rover submersibles employed in Blue Planet II).

 

Needless to say, we haven’t made such quantum leaps in the past calendar year. For the most part, what sets the new Netflix original Our Planet apart from its predecessors isn’t technological (although its heavy reliance on 4K drones does mean that we get to witness the wonders of a natural world from a new perspective at times). No, for the most part, what sets this series apart is its intent, and the prominence of its message.

 

Since the 1980s, Attenborough’s documentaries—at least the big “event” series—have been largely subtle in their environmental and conservational messaging. A summary sentence here or there. Maybe a wrap-up episode that connected the dots and spelled out how human activity has threatened and continues to threaten the fragile ecosystems around our pale blue dot.

 

With Our Planet (and its accompanying hour-long making-of special), that message takes center stage. Which isn’t to say that Attenborough dwells on it constantly. Large swaths of the eight-episode series are devoted to the drama, heartbreak, and 

hilarity of the natural world. Show a ten-minute clip from the middle of any given episode to your dad, and he might be hard-pressed to tell it from an old episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, if not for the stunningly modern cinematography and deliciously dynamic Dolby Atmos sound mix.

 

But Attenborough does a great job of priming the 

pump here, setting the stage in such a way that you can’t help but meditate on how much of nature relies on delicate, precarious balances, and how those balances are undeniably being thrown out of whack.

 

One example: It’s one thing to be told that arctic sea ice is on the wane. It’s another altogether to see with your own eyes how that’s affecting the wildlife in the region. At the other end of the globe, we also see how diminishing sea ice around Antarctica is disrupting eating, mating, and migration patterns of everything from seals to penguins to humpback whales.

Even if that message doesn’t resonate with you, it’s impossible to deny that Our Planet is an absolute feast for the eyes. Presented here in 4K with both Dolby Vision and HDR10 (depending on which HDR format your system supports), the series is one of the most striking video demos I’ve ever laid eyes on—in any format. The high dynamic 

range is used here to enhance everything from the iridescent shimmer of orchid bees to the fluorescent glow of algae growing underneath sea ice, and while we’ll likely never know how much better (if at all) it could look if released on full-bandwidth UHD Blu-ray or via Kaleidescape, one thing is for certain: This streaming series manages to surpass the already mind-blowing video presentation of Blue Planet II on any format, streaming or not, and that’s mostly due to its stunning HDR mastering and grading.

 

There are times when the contrasts and highlights are so rich and nuanced, and the imagery so detailed, that your brain just can’t help but interpret the picture as glasses-free 3D. Individual snowflakes fall through the back of the frame, reflecting stray sparkles of sunlight, without a hint of lost definition or clarity. If not for the liberal application of slow-motion, you’d swear you were looking out a window. Indeed, only the appearance of some very occasional, subtle, fleeting, almost imperceptible banding in the underwater sequences of the second episode give the slightest clue that this isn’t uncompressed video.

The audio is mostly fantastic, as well. For a nature documentary, the surround effects can be quite startlingly aggressive at times, but they’re never egregious, and such effects are always used for the purposes of immersion, not merely spectacle. If I have a slight beef here, it’s that the Dolby Digital+ encoding doesn’t quite fully capture the nuanced timbres of Sir Attenborough’s inimitable voice in the way I suspect Dolby TrueHD would. But again, that’s a minor nit to pick.

 

As mentioned above, the series is also amongst the rare Netflix offerings to be accompanied by bonus features—in this case, a behind-the-scenes documentary that sheds light on how so many of the stunning images within were captured. The series was four years in the making and involved 3,365 filming days at 200 locations, with a total of 6,000 drone flights and 991 days at sea. With only an hour to play with, the behind-the-scenes doc can’t dig into all of the high-tech trials and tribulations of the filming, but it’s enough to scratch your curious itch and answer most of the biggest “How did they film that?!” questions you may have.

 

In the end, it’s difficult for me, a nearly fanatical David Attenborough devotee, to come to terms with the fact that Our Planet could conceivably be the last of his major earth-spanning natural history mini-series. He is, after all, approaching the age of 93. As such, and when taking into consideration the urgency with which he delivers his message here, it’s hard not to view this series as a potential swan song of sorts. If that be the case, I couldn’t imagine a finer farewell, nor a more fitting final lesson from the man who has done so much to entertain, inform, and enlighten us about the wonders of the natural world for the better part of half a century.

 

To call this one “essential viewing” may be the biggest understatement I’ve ever typed.

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.

Even Streaming is Better than Most Movie Theaters

We’ve been talking a lot here lately about how a home entertainment system—built with the right components, carefully installed, and properly calibrated—can now deliver an experience that surpasses that of most commercial movie theaters. There’s this persistent and niggling perception in the home theater enthusiast community, though, that achieving such a seemingly lofty goal means that you must eschew streaming formats like Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Vudu altogether.

Simply put, this is silly.

 

And mind you, I’m not saying that such streaming formats are perfect. Consider the fact that your typical 4K movie, which is only compressed down to roughly 250 megabits per second at your local cineplex, is squeezed into a 15- or 20-megabit-per-second pipe for Vudu streaming. It’s pretty obvious that something is lost along the information superhighway. (A UHD Blu-ray release or Kaleidescape download, by the way, runs at more along the lines of 60 to 100 mbps).

I’m merely arguing that when viewed in the right environment, on the right system, the quality of the experience you can get via streaming can far exceed the quality of most movie theaters.

 

How is that possible given the above admission about compression? It all boils down to the way our eyes prioritize certain elements of an image over others. In short, the most important aspects of an image, at least to our eyes and our brains, are black level and dynamic range. The closer the darkest parts of an image are to true black, and the more steps there are between the darkest and lightest areas of an image (to a point), the more pop and impact an image has.

Streaming Better Than Movie Theaters

Need an example? Here’s a screen grab from the 2017 Pixar film Coco. The top image is a direct screen grab in all its high-contrast glory, with inky blacks and sparkling highlights. And this doesn’t even capture the high dynamic range you’d get from the Vudu stream of the film, with its enhanced sparkle and superior shadow detail.

 

The bottom image? I simply tweaked the contrast to make the blacks a little less black and the whites a little less white, in line with the limited brightness and dynamic range capabilities of most commercial cinema projectors and screens.

 

And you may be thinking to yourself, “What about the vibrancy of the colors? The glow of those magically lit leaves? The pop of Miguel’s jacket? Surely you toned down the colors of the bottom image a bit, too!”  Nope.

The perceived loss of saturation in the bottom image is simply a byproduct of tweaking the relationship between black and white, to illustrate the differences between a good home display and Screen 3 at Jim Bob’s Continental Cinema 16 down the street. That’s literally the only thing I manipulated here.

 

Actually, I lied. The top image was also subjected to roughly four times as much lossy compression as the bottom before I combined them and compressed them again.

And hey, maybe you don’t like the DayGlo color palette of Coco as it was originally intended to be seen. That’s valid. But what’s true of this example is true for any other film. Even via a streaming source like Vudu or Netflix at home, you’re getting an image that’s more vibrant, with truer-to-life contrasts and oodles more brightness. And at the end of the day, that’s far more important to our visual cortices.

 

And that’s not even taking into account the films these days that were color graded and mastered with the superior brightness and dynamic range of home displays in mind, with no thought given to the compromised theatrical experience. I’ve never seen a theatrical presentation that came close to capturing the contrast, shadow detail, and highlights of Netflix’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, just to name one example.

 

Maybe if more commercials theaters converted to Dolby Cinema, with its vivid laser projection and higher dynamic range, this argument would carry less weight. But of the 250 Dolby Cinema theaters in the US of A, the closest one to me is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. So, for me, the very best commercial cinema experience is defined by the

limitations of IMAX Digital. And if you bother to venture out to your local cineplex with any frequency, the same is likely true for you, as well.

 

In his most recent post, our own John Sciacca made the point that Kaleidescape is the only sure-fire way of ensuring that you enjoy the absolute best picture and sound that you can at home, short of buying UHD Blu-ray discs. That’s absolutely true. No arguments from me on that point. If nothing less than audiovisual perfection will suffice, streaming hasn’t reached that level
. . . yet.

 

But if we’re simply talking about enjoying a better experience than you’re likely to get at your average local megaplex? I would argue that streaming, in the era of 4K and HDR, and when viewed on a properly installed and calibrated home display, has already crossed that Rubicon.

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.

Home Theaters are Better Than Movie Theaters

Home Theaters are Better than Movie Theaters

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As John Sciacca points out in his recent article, “Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?” home entertainment spent more than half a century playing a catchup game with commercial cinemas, at least in terms of technological innovation and quality of presentation. But Wabbit Season has now pretty much undeniably become Duck Season, and home entertainment reigns supreme. Yes, commercial cinemas are making some interesting technological innovations, as John points out. But most of these are limited to a handful of theaters in major metropolitan areas.

 

For most people, a well-built, well-calibrated, well-programmed home cinema system (be it in a dedicated screening room or multi-use home entertainment space), has the potential to vastly outshine the movie-watching experience at the average local cineplex. And while much of this has to do with incredible advancements in the quality of consumer electronics in the

past few years, that’s not the whole story. There’s also a story to be told here about comfort, convenience, and customization.

 

In short, here are 10 reasons why home theaters are now better than movies theaters.

 

 

1) BETTER PICTURE

These days, even a mid-level Ultra HD (or “4K”) display, when properly calibrated and positioned, can give 

you a better and more immersive image than you’re likely to find in your local movie theater. Sure, your neighborhood megaplex has bigger screens working to its advantage, but depending on how far away you sit, a 75- to 120-inch screen at home can fill up just as much of your field of view. And displays this large are pretty close to becoming the norm for better home entertainment spaces. What’s more, you’d have to look pretty far and wide to find a movie theater screen that delivers anything close to the black levels and high dynamic range delivered by a good modern home display.

 

 

2) BETTER SOUND

At least in theory. While commercial cinemas still have the advantage in terms of channel count, let’s face it—you really don’t need 128 speakers in your living room to deliver an audio experience that’s every bit as engrossing as that of a movie theater. What’s more, theater sound has to be balanced for potentially hundreds of viewers. At home, you can tune the sound for the handful of seats that matter most. And today’s advanced room correction systems can make even a somewhat compromised space sound positively cinematic.

 

 

3) BETTER QUALITY CONTROL

Have you ever been to a commercial cinema and complained about an image that was too dim or stretched, or a screen that was soda-stained, or speakers that were blown, only to be greeted with that deer-in-headlights look? The fact is that most movie theater managers don’t care about (or even understand) quality of presentation. At home, you can either

address problems when they arise or, at worst, call your local integrator for assistance.

 

 

4) THE AV EXPERIENCE CAN BE
TWEAKED TO YOUR TASTE

Whether you like your movie sound to be played at reference listening levels, or just a bit louder or quieter than industry standards would dictate, chances are slim that you’ll ever be happy with where the volume knob is set at your local movie theater. At home, you can adjust the loudness to your liking, and even tweak it based on your mood.

 

 

5) THE “WOW” FACTOR CAN BE EVEN BETTER

Back in the day, there was an undeniable theatrical element involved in going to the movies. And yes, most of that boiled down to that highly anticipated moment when the curtains opened or widened to accommodate a Cinemascope film, but still. They used to call it “going to see a show” for a reason. The movie itself was simply the centerpiece of a larger event.

 

These days? Not so much. But home theaters can make movie-watching special in a way that commercial cinemas have long since abandoned. If you have a home automation system, you can dim the lights and draw the shades and maybe even cause the screen to drop down from the ceiling at the press of a button. If you have a Kaleidescape movie server system, these automated events can even be tied to the opening and closing credits of the movie itself—or even intermission. And you can program an entire evening’s worth of entertainment—trailers, cartoons, movies, and more—that can be launched with a single click. Simply put, movie night at home can be special in a way that bopping down to the local movie theater long ago ceased to be.

 

 

6) YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN TIMETABLE

Speaking of intermission, how many times have you missed a few minutes of a movie due to a necessary potty break? That’s not a problem when you’re watching at home. Perhaps more importantly, unless you’re itching to watch

the latest Marvel movie, which is likely to be playing on half the screens at your local multiplex, you’ll likely find that your choice of viewing times is limited to 4:25 or 9:45. At home, you can start the movie when you want.

 

 

7) THE VARIETY OF ENTERTAINMENT IS SO MUCH BETTER

As I alluded to in that last point, even at a megaplex with 16 screens, half of them are likely to be playing the same movie, which greatly limits your viewing options. These days, the rise of streaming services creating their own award-winning movies means that your options are wide open for home viewing.

Want to check out something like Bird Box or Roma? Outside of a few film festivals and a limited theatrical release aimed only at Oscar contention, the only way you’d ever see these films is at home. You could easily argue that Netflix and Amazon are the most innovative and important film studios in existence today, and their works are only available in the home for most people.

8) TWO WORDS: GOURMET POPCORN

OK, it’s entirely possible that my wife and I are weirdos in this respect, but we’re total popcorn snobs. We have our own oil popper, and when it’s time to sit down for a movie we’re likely to spend five minutes simply deciding what kind of kernels to pop. On the rare occasions when we do go to the cinema, the grease-covered cardboard they sell by the bucket is an unappetizing letdown.

 

And hey, maybe gourmet popcorn isn’t your thing. Substitute your own snack of choice and you get the point. Movie theaters have done a decent job of offering more variety in their snacks in recent years, but let’s be honest here: They’re all kinda gross unless you live in a major metropolis. At home, you can snack better, snack cheaper, and snack healthier to boot.

9) YOU GET TO DEFINE “COMFORT”

My wife recently returned from a road trip, during which she went to the movies with a friend of ours who lives up north. She came home raving about the recliners in the cinema they visited, to which I replied, “Were they as comfortable as your seat on the sofa?” The answer, of course, was a resounding, “no.” Still, it’s humorous to me that the notion of comfortable seating in a movie theater is a novelty in and of itself. What’s more, these seats have to accommodate a broad range of opinions as to what constitutes “comfortable.”


Personally, I like a firm memory foam sofa that conforms to my posterior, but isn’t so cushy that I drift off during our annual 12-hour Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon. Maybe your tastes lean even firmer, or maybe you’d prefer to sink into the accoutering equivalent of a marshmallow. Either way, in your home theater or multi-use entertainment space, you get to pick the seats.

 

 

10) YOU GET TO PICK THE AUDIENCE

There may yet come a day when commercial cinemas once again reclaim their technological superiority over home cinema systems en masse, but even if they do, I can’t imagine going back to the movies on the regular. And that mostly boils down to the fact that the moviegoing masses are loud, obnoxious, obtrusive, self-centered jerks. When we went to see Captain Marvel a few weeks back, I nearly sprained my shushing muscles. And outside of chains like Alamo Drafthouse, most cinema operators generally couldn’t care less if kids are swinging from the rafters.


Anyone who comes to my house to watch a movie knows they’re there to watch a movie, not gab for two hours straight or check their phones every ten minutes. And you could argue that my rules for movie-watching at home are a little strict, but you know what? Friends and family who join me on my couch for a show always come to appreciate the specialness of the experience.

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.

Why HDR Matters

If you read the reviews here at Cineluxe with any frequency, you’ve probably noticed that we make frequent reference to HDR—high dynamic range–video. By now, it’s a term you’re almost certainly familiar with. But if you’re not really sure what it means, you can be forgiven, because most of the standard marketing materials are confusing and misleading.

 

Here’s a perfect example. This image is representative of the images that most TV manufacturers use to convey the advantages of HDR. Look at that dull and washed out image on the left. Marvel at how it pales in comparison to the vibrant image on the right side of the screen. See how much better HDR is?

Why HDR Matters

There’s just one problem with this. This entire pictured is rendered in standard dynamic range (SDR). That vibrant, lifelike image on the right? Your old, non-HDR display could almost certainly render it with no problem. The image on the left? It’s artificially toned down and muted. This analogy isn’t really helpful. And mind you, I’m not knocking the graphic artist who made this particular example. The entire electronics industry seems content to rely on some variation of this example on every piece of marketing material promoting the advantages of HDR. I’m simply saying that if this is the only sort of comparison you’ve seen, you’re right to be skeptical.

 

So, how is one to understand the actually differences between SDR and HDR video? One easy way is to visit your local tech expert, be it a custom integrator or an electronics store you trust, and ask for a demo.

 

But you can also understand it with just a little math.

 

In short, the SDR video we’ve grown accustomed to for the past few decades, through DVD, HDTV, Blu-ray, and even non-HDR 4K, uses 8 bits of data to represent each primary color: red, green, and blue. What this means is that you can have 256 different shades of each of those colors, which are then combined to create the entire visual spectrum. 256 shades of red, 256 shades of blue, and 256 shades of green combine to create nearly 17 million total shades that can be displayed on a SDR screen, or captured in a video format like Blu-ray.

 

HDR, by contrast, relies on 10-bit (or even 12-bit) color. To understand what a monumental increase that is, understand that 10-bit color allows for 1,024 different shades of red, green, and blue, which when combined result in over a billion different shades onscreen.

 

Here’s a visualization of the difference between 10-bit and 8-bit, when limited to the blue channel alone:

Why HDR Matters

And grayscale, which represents every step along the way from pure black to pure white:

Why HDR Matters

Again, you’re seeing these images presented in SDR, but hopefully they convey the point that 10-bit video, and hence HDR, allows for more subtle variation in color and grayscale. Which means that you see more detail in the shadows of darker images (or darker areas of a complex scene), and more variation in the highlights of brighter images (or brighter areas of a complex scene).

 

But that’s not all. HDR also allows for greater image brightness, and more control over which areas of the image are dark and bright. Your old HDTV might be capable of delivering 300 nits (a standard unit of measurement for brightness), whereas many of today’s better HDR-capable displays can easily deliver 1,000 nits or more. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire 

image is brighter, mind you, as if you just took your old HDTV and cranked the brightness control. Turn up the brightness on an old TV, and the blacks get washed out and turn gray. Turn up the contrast to compensate, and what you end up with is an image with stark blacks, bright whites, and not much in between.

 

A good HDR TV, on the other hand, can make a small area of the screen—a flashlight beam, for example—shine with all the intensity of the real thing, while keeping the shadows wonderfully and natural dark, without robbing you of those all-important mid-tones in between.

If you’ll allow me my own dubious analogy, think of it like this: Imagine a piano that only had 22 keys. The key on the left is still low A, and the key on the right is still high C, but there are only twenty keys in between them and they can only be played with the soft pedal depressed. Compare that imaginary hobbled instrument to the rich sonic output of an 88-key Steinway Model D concert grand piano played at full volume, and you can start to really wrap your brain around the differences between SDR and HDR.

 

The bottom line is that good HDR displays do a much better job of matching our eyes’ (and our brain’s) ability to differentiate subtle differences in color and contrast, as well as the natural variations in brightness we experience out in the real world.

 

There is one other confusing aspect to all of this, though: The fact that there are competing HDR standards—which you may have seen referred to as HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma. You don’t really need to understand the differences between them to understand what HDR is and how it works, but we’ll dig into those competing standards in a future post and explain what sets them apart.

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.

First Man

First Man

Two minutes into Damien Chazelle’s First Man, I thought I knew exactly what sort of film I was in for. It’s the sort of film I consume ravenously. A ra-ra tribute to the heroes of the Gemini and Apollo programs. A moving monument to the men and women who took us from the earth to the moon. A seat-of-the-pants celebration of the space cowboys who left our little blue marble and turned around to show it to us from a perspective unlike any we’d ever seen.

 

I was wrong. So utterly wrong. First Man isn’t that film in the slightest. It’s unlike any film about the space program to date, and that’s largely because it’s not a film about the space program at all. It’s a film about one man. One beautifully complicated, flawed, enigmatic man who just so happened to be the first to set foot on lunar soil. And what makes it doubly fascinating is that it isn’t even a film about how he became the first man on the moon, or even why, but rather how it made him feel.

 

That’s an interesting approach for a man whose feelings were so guarded. And the result is that First Man is a stunningly quiet, introspective, even at times abstract film. It’s a tone poem comprised of muted tones. And it’s an utterly gripping film for exactly none of the reasons you might expect.

 

I hesitate to say much more, not for fear of spoiling the story, because we obviously all know the story by now. But First Man does make it fresh in the telling, in the choices it makes about what to explore and what to ignore.

First Man

There is a scene early on that truly made me understand the approach Chazelle was going for here: Neil Armstrong—played nearly perfectly by Ryan Gosling, who really only falters in his inability to recreate the real Armstrong’s fake smile—is the first astronaut to be subjected to the gimbal rig, a multi-axis trainer designed to make trainees puke or pass out. In any other film on the subject, I have to think the rig itself would have been the focal point. But here, Chazelle keeps the camera locked on Armstrong himself while the world around him blurs. That’s really a metaphor for the entire narrative here. It’s amongst a handful of shots that serve to remind the viewer that Armstrong is the sole focus of this story. If it didn’t happen to him or directly affect him or his family, the events of the Gemini and Apollo programs go unsaid, unseen.

 

Another enigmatic thing about the film is its audiovisual presentation. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren shot the bulk of the film on 16mm, with larger-format stocks reserved mainly for First Man’s dénouement. As such, it’s a gritty, grungy, gorgeously organic film with oodles of grain. You might be inclined to think such a film doesn’t really demand a high-quality transfer, but you’d be wrong. This is one of those increasingly rare films whose imagery just can’t be done justice by streaming—even superior streaming sources like Vudu. Without the full bandwidth of a Kaleidescape download (or the eventual UHD Blu-ray release, one assumes), the image devolves into harsh noise.

 

Granted, on Kaleidescape you’ll have to make the choice between Blu-ray quality with Dolby Atmos audio or 4K HDR with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Go for the latter, no matter your usual audio preferences. First Man doesn’t succeed or fail

based on its audio—in fact, large swaths of the film are borderline monophonic, and old-school surround sound is plenty sufficient for the handful of aurally active scenes. In large part, the sound is a matter of quality over quantity, and its dense mixing of dialogue will put your center speaker to the test.

 

The visuals, though, absolutely demand to be seen in high dynamic 

First Man

range, especially in the way the HDR grade conveys the stark contrasts and eye-reactive brightness of the lunar surface. It’s an effect that’s absolutely essential to understanding and feeling the alienness of the lunar environs, and Armstrong’s emotional reaction during those strange moments of solitude.

Dennis Burger

Kaleidescape "First Man"

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.

Venom

Venom

I’ll freely admit that I’m a superhero-movie fan. Ever since seeing the original, Christopher Reeve Superman: The Movie as an 8-year-old, I’ve loved watching these heroes battle to save the planet up on the big screen, and now in the comfort of my own home.

 

No franchise has done more to raise the bar of the superhero genre than Marvel, which, for the past 10 years, has been crafting a spectacular, epic tale that has gradually been drawing an entire universe of characters together in a battle for half the galaxy that began in Avengers: Infinity War and will culminate in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. (Not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU], but still spectacular superhero viewing includes Wonder Woman and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, especially The Dark Knight, which transcends the superhero genre into the realm of simply spectacular cinema.)

 

I bring this up because as much as I enjoy superhero films, I knew virtually nothing about Venom prior to watching. In fact, my only previous knowledge of the character was his appearance in the 2007 Spider-Man 3. From that film, I learned that Venom was an alien entity that bonded with Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and kind of became like a bad version of the character, wearing a black version of Spidey’s costume.

 

With this latest reboot of the character, I expected Venom to continue the MCU trend of bringing multiple characters together, or would at the very least include Tom Holland, who has taken over Spidey’s mantle starting in Captain America: Civil War and continuing in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Infinity War.

 

Well, umm, no.

 

While it was made in association with Marvel Studios, Venom is a standalone Sony Pictures release bearing no obvious connection to the MCU or even to Spider-Man. This is part of a complicated legal and licensing agreement between Sony and Marvel that you can read more about here.

 

So, unless you’re a hardcore Venom fan, you can scrap everything you think you might know about Venom and just go into this cold. In fact, knowing nothing might actually be the best way to approach this, since you won’t be burdened by any required geek-cred knowledge of backstories, interwoven plot lines, or fear of missing any fanboy Easter eggs.

 

This is an origin story, attempting to introduce and launch a new expanded universe of Spider-Man characters. But the film has a big shortcoming in the casting of (or maybe it’s the direction or the dialogue given to) Tom Hardy, who plays both Edie Brock and Venom. Brock is supposed to be this killer investigative journalist, but, honestly, Hardy comes across as just too slow, clunky, and dim-witted to be even close to believable in this role, and the early scenes with him as a journalist were the hardest for me to just sit back and enjoy.

 

Fortunately, your suspension of disbelief over Hardy’s journalistic prowess doesn’t need to last long, as he soon bonds with the alien symbiote Venom, who was brought back from a space exploration mission and kept locked in a lab looking for a compatible host. Once Hardy absorbs Venom, the rest of the film has him coming to terms with his new amorphous, shape-

shifting, and head-chomping alter-ego as the movie transitions from one action piece to another as the duo looks to take down the techno-billionaire bad guy. Actually, I found Hardy more believable post-infection since his body adapting to the “parasite” offers an explanation for his semi out-of-it behavior.

 

One thing Sony knows how to do is release fantastic-looking 4K HDR films,

and Venom is no exception. Detail and color are first-rate throughout, but especially during the multiple night scenes in San Francisco, where the city looks stunning. These shots take full advantage of HDR to produce bright lights and vibrant colors while retaining deep and solid black levels.

 

Venom has no shortage of big action scenes and visual effects, which all look terrific. One of the best scenes is a chase through downtown San Francisco (happening around the 54-minute mark) that highlights the best of what Venom is: Pure balls-out mayhem, with a liberal dose of SFX thrown in for good measure. Just don’t count how many times The Rialto theater appears in the background. Rather, sit back and enjoy the cars smashing and Brock/Venom racing manically through the crowded streets on a motorcycle.

 

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equally impressive, offering a very dynamic mix that will definitely give your system a workout. There are tons of moments where the height channels are called into action, whether it’s drones or helicopters flying overhead, gun mayhem, or just the ambience representing the acoustic space on screen. Bass is particularly impressive, having a ton of weight and impact, with explosions you’ll feel in your chair. Venom’s voice is also recorded with a very cool effect, booming from all around and sounding like it’s coming from inside your head. 

 

The Kaleidescape download includes five pre-marked scenes, along with several bonus features, including multiple making-of docs, deleted scenes, and a special “Venom mode” that engages “informative pop-ups throughout the film to provide insight on the movie’s relationship to the comics, and to reveal hidden references that even a seasoned Venom-fan may have missed!”

 

Venom belongs to that increasing group of films that sees a real divide between critics and fans. While scoring a meager 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, it managed an 85% audience score. In short, I’d say Venom is a classic big summer popcorn action film where it pays to check your brain at the door and just sit back and marvel (no pun intended) at the terrific visual effects and pummeling Dolby Atmos audio track. If you’re looking for some home theater eye and ear candy, Venom won’t disappoint.

John Sciacca

Venom

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Most good geeks will tell you 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series is not only the greatest cartoon of all time but also the best rendition of the Dark Knight. I’m not inclined to disagree with them, but my favorite riff on the Caped Crusader is actually the oft-forgotten 2008 animated series The Brave and the Bold. Unlike every interpretation of the Batman mythos before it, The Brave and the Bold manages to integrate every contradictory aspect of the character and synthesize it into a perplexing and intriguing whole. Yes, it acknowledges the darker, broodier side of the characterbut also the campy, goofier side. It puts some of Batman’s silliest escapades on equal footing with the grimmest tales in the character’s history. It’s a celebration of everything Batman has ever been. And, somehow, it simply works.

 

Netflix’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggsthe latest film from the Coen Brothers—has absolutely nothing to do with Batman, of course. But it reminds me a lot of The Brave and the Bold in that Joel and Ethan Coen, with their quirky old-west anthology, have managed to create a homage to cowboy cinema that embraces all its disparate aspects—from the singing cowboys of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to the grimdark western revival films of the ‘90s like Clint Eastwood’s brutal Unforgiven, and everything in between.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Tom Waits in “All Gold Canyon”

The resulting pastiche definitely wouldn’t work in the hands of less capable filmmakers, and it certainly wouldn’t work as a single narrative. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a series of six disconnected vignettes, each with its own style and tone, and each—it seems—intended to riff on different tropes from the history of old-west cinema, alternately exalting, tweaking, or subverting them. I couldn’t help but wonder, in the middle of “All Gold Canyon” (ostensibly starring Tom Waits, but more accurately starring some of the most gorgeous unspoiled vistas I’ve ever laid eyes on) why the film wasn’t shot in a wider aspect ratio, indebted as it is to some of John Ford’s later VistaVision masterpieces.

 

Put a moment’s thought into it, though, and that question seems silly. Ultra-wide aspect ratios, though possible at home, are the stuff of commercial cinemas, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was made for the small screen. It’s a film no major film

studio would have ever bankrolled. And that fact alone is one of the major reasons for the increasing cultural insignificance of commercial cinemas.

 

Does that mean we’ll see more films like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime become the 800-Pound Gorillas of the film industry? One can only hope. It’s a quirky, weird,

wonderful work that ranks amongst the Coens’ best since The Big Lebowksi.

 

It’s also worth noting that the film’s use of high dynamic range is amongst the most compelling I’ve seen in ages. You no doubt have access to a few different sources capable of playing Netflix in your home entertainment system. If any of those support Dolby Vision, go that route. The luscious landscapes—and even the obvious soundstage settings of the final vignette—benefit beautifully from the enhanced contrast, shadow detail, and lighting effects.

 

And, yes, in this case that really matters. The substance of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs emerges in large part from its style. That’s not a knock against it, mind you. It’s simply that you could easily sum up the narrative of any of these six episodes in a sentence or two. What makes the film work isn’t its narrative depth. It’s the artistry of its cinematography, the quality of its performances, and of course the inimitably ridiculous brilliance of the Coen Brothers’ too-clever-to-be-believable dialogue.

 

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.

Why UHD Is Way Better Than HDTV–Pt. 2

Ultra HD

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how resolution and HDR (High Dynamic Range) contribute to making Ultra HD TVs and projectors a huge leap over traditional HDTVs. Here are the other two things you need to know about UHD.

 

Color

A new term you might hear when considering Ultra HD is “wide color gamut,” which refers to the significantly larger amount of colors a UHD set can produce compared to an older TV. Imagine the colors a TV can produce as a triangle, with the primary colors red, green, and blue making up the three points. Those three color points determine the number and accuracy of all the colors a TV can reproduce. New TVs produce an expanded triangle of colors, pushing the boundaries of the triangle further out at all three corners to encompass more of the colors the human eye can see. That means you’ll notice brighter, more vibrant colors than ever beforedeep crimson reds, vibrant greens, and cool, tropical blues that will pull you into the image.

Ultra HD
Bit Depth

The most technical area of the bunch, bit depth refers to the number of shades of color a TV can produce. TVs in the past used 8-bit color depth, which meant they could produce roughly 256 shades for each of the three primary colors256 shades each of blue, red, and green. Multiply those together and you arrive at the nearly 16.8 million colors a last-generation TV could produce.

 

Modern Ultra HD sets up the ante to 10 bits, and while a couple of bits might not seem like a lot, since bit rate is logarithmic, it’s actually a massive improvement. How massive? Modern sets can produce 1,024 shades per color, making for the ultimate Crayon box of more than 1 billion colors! That means not only a tremendously more lifelike image, but it also eliminates any color banding as colors transition from one shade to another.

Ultra HD TV

Individually, any one of these four improvements would be a big step beyond HDTV, but when employed together, these upgrades mean Ultra-high-defintion TVs produce the best, most lifelike images imaginable, making UHD TV a must buy for any true videophile!

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Why UHD Is Way Better Than HDTV–Pt. 1

HDTV vs Ultra HD TV

If you’re in the market for a new TV or projector, you’ve likely been bombarded by a lot of new terms and technologies you haven’t heard before. Ultra HD (aka Ultra-high-definition or UHD) burst onto the scene a few years ago and brought with it some major changes and improvements to our display systems. And now that prices are reaching mass-market levels, it would be foolish to buy a new set that wasn’t Ultra HD.

 

Wondering what all the fuss is about? In today’s post, I’ll talk about the first two things you need to know about this exciting new video tech and will discuss the final two tomorrow.

 

Resolution

The height of home video prior to Ultra HD was called 1080p, with the “p” standing for “progressive.” Those sets produced 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels for a total of just over 2 million pixels on screen at any moment. UHD doubles the number of pixels in both directions, producing a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160, delivering nearly 8.3 million pixels on screen, or four times the amount of 1080p. That is why Ultra HD is often referred to as “4K”.

 

What do all those extra pixels mean? Greater definition, razor-edge sharpness, and finer details. Video artifacts like “jaggies” and “moire” are a thing of the past. Every strand of hair, every blade of grass, every grain of sand shows up like never before. As an illustration, imagine if you had a pencil and drew two same-sized circles, one with 10 dots and one with 40 dots. The 40-dot circle would have more resolution and be better defined. That’s the difference between 1080p and UHD.

HDTV vs Ultra HD TV
HDR

HDR is another term you’re going to hear a lot. It stands for High Dynamic Range, and it’s actually more important for picture quality than all those extra pixels. If you’ve taken any pictures on a modern smartphone, you’ve probably noticed the HDR tag. It works by capturing images with different exposures and then combining those separate images into a single photo that maintains the detail from the darkest and brightest regions.

 

In the past, TVs would “crush” the image at one end of the spectrum or the other, sacrificing black levels in bright scenes or lowering overall light output in dark scenes. But new Ultra HD TVs can simultaneously produce deep, dark blacks and bright, brilliant whites, meaning they can deliver images more like what your eye is capable of seeing. This gives the image great contrast, and delivers punch, depth, and reality like never before.

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll walk you through the other two crucial things you need to know about Ultra HD.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.