John Sciacca Tag

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

All of us have those few movies we’ve seen that make a lasting, indelible impression on our minds. For me, the first was Star Wars (now with Episode IV—A New Hope added to its title). I saw this when I was seven, and can still clearly remember the massive Star Destroyer flying overhead to start the movie and knowing I was in for something unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Another was The Matrix. I can clearly remember turning to my wife while we were watching the movie and saying, “I have no idea how they are doing any of this! Man, I am loving this movie!” Terminator 2: Judgment Day is another film that sits firmly in that category.

 

Even more than the original Terminator, T2 was a film that just fired on all cylinders. Here we have Arnold Schwarzenegger as a good guy Terminator we can cheer for, a buffed-out and intense Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor saving humanity from a new threat, and an all new T-1000 liquid-metal terminator (Robert Patrick) that defied any of the special effects technologies my 21-year-old brain could comprehend. I can remember walking out of the theater with my cousin and just dissecting the movie for hours, wondering how they accomplished some of the shots, and planning when we could go see it again.

 

As I got into the custom installation business years later, T2 was one of those go-to movies for demo fodder for clients wanting to experience home theater. The canal chase and Connor’s escape from the sanitarium are both scenes that pack a ton of action and tension into a short, intense sequence.

 

Like Star Wars, T2 is one of those films I’ve owned in multiple formats over the years. A VHS tape, then a special-edition widescreen VHS tape, then on LaserDisc, then DVD, then on Blu-ray. But for some reason, I had skipped out on upgrading to the 4K UltraHD version even though it’s priced incredibly low for a 4K title. Yesterday, while browsing at Target with my daughter, I saw T2 sitting there in its 4K slipcover for the just-can’t-refuse price of $7.50, and I decided to snatch it up.

 

I’m not going to waste any space offering any kind of synopsis for Terminator 2. If you’ve seen it, then you know what the movie is about; if you haven’t, you either have no interest in it, or need to drop everything and go watch it immediately.

 

This version of T2 is taken from a new writer/director (James Cameron)-approved 4K digital intermediate created in 2017 for the film’s 3D re-release. And bizarrely the film opens with a title card that says, “This 3D version has been produced by Studio Canal,” even though the film on the disc is most definitely not in 3D. While the 4K disc only contains the original 137-minute theatrical version, the Blu-ray included in the 4K set also includes the 153-minute Special Edition and 156-minute Ultimate Cut, along with several special features, featurettes, a making-of documentary, and commentaries.

 

Now, there has been a fair bit of controversy and angst surrounding the picture quality of this release of T2. In fact, one enthusiast site has a forum dedicated to discussing it that has over 9,000 posts.

 

The complaints mainly revolve around the somewhat aggressive use of DNR (digital noise reduction) throughout, which has scrubbed the grain from the movie’s original 35mm negative. However, it had been years since I’d sat down to watch the movie from start to finish, and with my brand-new JVC 4K projector, $7.50 seemed like an incredibly reasonable investment in an evening’s entertainment.

 

What you have here is a T2 that looks a lot like a modern, digitally-captured movie instead of something shot on film. Images are surprisingly clean, sharp, and detailed, with almost no noise. For me, I was mostly pleased with the images; but some purists—as a forum inciting 9,000 comments would attest—are not.

 

However, like it or lump it, it’s important to remember that this transfer got Cameron’s blessing, so it’s the Terminator 2 he wanted released. And, without a doubt, it’s the best-looking T2 we have.

 

There are moments when the DNR appears to have been applied a bit too heavily, with the result making some faces appear a bit waxy, smoothed, and overly botoxed. But, remembering that the Terminator is a cyborg, this waxy look didn’t seem especially out of place for me. I was far more aware of the sharp details in closeups, revealing pores, lines, and pockmarks in Hamilton’s face, or the pebbled texture and grain in Arnold’s leather jacket, or every strand of T-1000’s perfectly coiffed ‘do.

 

While some of the effects scenes don’t hold the same magic they did back in 1991—what was cutting-edge morphing technology almost 30 years ago has been eclipsed many times over since—the film still holds up remarkably well as a whole. The T-1000’s relentless pursuit of John Connor (Edward Furlong) still feels as intense, and unstoppable, as ever, and the enhanced resolution lets you appreciate the makeup work used on Arnold as his increasingly damaged skin gives way to reveal the cyborg beneath.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Black levels also benefit immensely in this new transfer, being deep, inky, dark, and noise-free; and these deep black images benefit the overall look. One thing that seems to frequently show an excessive amount of digital noise in older films is the powdery blue sky in outdoor scenes, and there were only a couple of instances where I noticed some of this noise in the desert as Connor plans to head to Mexico. But even then it were far less noticeable than in other recent 4K transfers such as Karate Kid or Field of Dreams. During the attack on Cyberdyne, there is a lot of smoke and gas that swirls around, and it never exhibited any noise or banding.

 

Interestingly, one scene of a trailer-mounted AC unit in the desert exhibited a surprising amount of jaggies and moiré as the camera passed; something you almost never see in 4K images any longer.

 

As much as they used DNR to clean up and modernize the look of T2, I found the restoration to be restrained with the HDR grading and the use of 4K’s wider color gamut. There are scenes, like the opening battle between humans and Terminators, which features a lot of flames, explosions, and laser bolts, or the lightning storm that accompanies a Terminator emerging into our time, that benefit from HDR. Another scene that is also enhanced by HDR is the climactic finale in the steel mill, with dark shadows and glowing red-hot molten metal.

 

But far more often images seem a bit restrained. Explosions seem to lack detail or the bright intensity that modern movies exhibit, and I would have liked to see the reds pushed more aggressively in explosions and the steel factory. Also, the color grading in some scenes has been pushed towards cooler, steel-blue hues, giving them a sterile aesthetic.

 

A variety of audio mixes have accompanied T2 releases over the years, and this is definitely a film that seems tailor-made for a fully immersive Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround remix. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here, and we are given a DTS-HD Master 5.1 mix that I believe was ported from the previous Blu-ray release. (Interestingly, the German soundtrack included on the disc has a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix, so if you auf Deutsch, you can enjoy that.)

 

Fortunately, the mix keeps dialogue clear and intelligible throughout, and it upmixes with either Dolby Surround or DTS:Neural to height speakers very nicely. For example, when the T-1000 is attacking the group in the elevator, you can clearly her him slashing from overhead. Later in the film, a helicopter also flies overhead very convincingly. There are lots of scenes with subtle atmospherics, with sounds placed well around the room, putting you in the action. While not an object-based immersive mix that could have made for a truly epic home theater demo, T2’s audio mostly delivers.

 

I did find bass to be a bit of an uneven bag. Some scenes push the LFE channel, whereas others seem like the sound mixers shied away from the bass volume output. I’d have loved to feel a bit more impact from things like Arnie’s shotgun, or vehicles smashing into each other. Fortunately, bass is loud and deep during all the scenes and moments you’d expect, such as the semi-truck exploding or the Cyberdyne facilities blowing up.

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the greatest science-fiction and action films ever made, and it deserves a place in any collection. It’s also shockingly affordable. If you haven’t watched it for a while, the 4K version makes the perfect opportunity to revisit, smoothed out blemishes and all.

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.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

If you’re looking for a family-friendly film that appeals to—and is appropriate for—nearly all ages, and that isn’t animated, you don’t often have a lot of options. Of course, Disney has been churning out live-action remakes of many of its classics, but this is a category many other studios have decided to avoid.

 

But since my daughters are 3½ and 13, I’m always interested in films that can work for all of us. So, when I saw that Dora and the Lost City of Gold was available for 4K HDR download at the Kaleidescape Store a full two weeks before its disc release, I queued it up for a family movie night.

 

Based on the animated Nickelodeon series, Dora the Explorer, the movie modernizes many of the beloved characters and puts them on a jungle adventure. My oldest, Lauryn, used to watch the animated series, so I was familiar with the main characters: Dora (Isabela Merced), her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of those other Wahlbergs), Swiper the stealing fox (voiced [unnecessarily] by Benicio Del Toro), and Boots the monkey (voiced bizarrely—but, thankfully, briefly—by Danny Trejo). I also knew about Dora’s talking Map and Backpack, whose voices are reprised by original voice actors Marc Weiner and Sasha Toro respectively.

 

Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about the animated series to jump right in and enjoy City of Gold, but those who are will certainly appreciate some of the clever overt and subtle nods and references sprinkled throughout the film, such as how Dora occasionally turns to the camera and says things like, “This is a golden poison frog. Can you say, ‘severe neuro-toxicity?’” which is one of cartoon Dora’s signature educational moves.

 

The film begins with six-year-old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) living in the Peruvian jungle with her explorer parents Elena (Eva Longoria) and Cole (Michael Peña). Dora spends her days playing and exploring with Boots and Diego, learning a lot about jungle life and survival. Cut to ten years later. Believing they’ve finally cracked the clues needed to locate the hidden Inca city of Parapata, Dora’s parents send her off to stay with Diego, who has since relocated with his family to Southern California. This move takes Dora way outside of her comfort zone, forcing her to experience an entirely new culture where she most definitely doesn’t fit in: High school.

 

After being waylaid during a class field trip, Dora, Diego, and two other students find themselves in Peru, where Dora learns her parents have gone missing. From there, the group embarks on an adventure to rescue Dora’s parents and get back to civilization, which forces them to work as a team to overcome a variety of obstacles and challenges, and ultimately locate and explore Parapata.

 

There is a fair bit of action for a kid’s movie, certainly enough to keep adults entertained, but most of it is fairly tame. And while there is some peril, there are no fatalities or gunplay. Much of the adventure is Goonies-style, with rolling logs, underground water slides, and different puzzle-traps to solve. It also reminded me a bit of Lara Croft-light, with adventuring Dora taking point and using her wits and skills to lead the group.

 

Both Boots and Swiper are animated in a far more cartoony style than the hyper-realistic animals featured in The Lion King (2019), but this is by design. However, a couple of other animals—namely a boa constrictor and pair of scorpions—show their too obvious CGI origins. The film does contain one fully animated scene, which is a great homage to the original series.

 

One of my favorite things about the film was Dora herself. She is determined, self-confident, smart, optimistic, and always sees the good in others. She doesn’t spend the movie obsessing over a boy, or worrying what others think of her, or endlessly gazing into a cellphone. This is the kind of positive “girl power” image I want my daughters to see. There are enough mean-girls films out there, with know-it-all kids surrounded by clueless adults, and it was incredibly refreshing to watch a movie about a 16-year-old girl who is trying to make the world a better place without needing to tear anyone else down to do so.

 

Dora on 4K HDR looks way better than any kid’s movie has any right to. My first note on the film was, “Image is super clean and sharp.” Filmed in ArriRaw in 3.4 and 4.5K, Dora is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and the image quality 

definitely shows. Closeups reveal individual strands of hair, the texture of clothing fabric, and the detail of the jungle terrain.

 

Colors are also vibrant throughout, with lots of bright yellows, greens, blues, and reds. This is especially true in the closing credits song-and-dance number, where the school student body comes together in multi-colored outfits. The bright, daytime jungle scenes also look terrific. And there are a few shots of bright fires and blazing sunsets that also benefit from the wider color gamut, as well as the brilliant, lustrous gold of statues and idols.

 

HDR is used throughout to deliver deep blacks, especially during the night scenes or when the gang is inside some location solving a puzzle. In one scene, the group needs to use sunlight and mirrors to bounce bright light around a room using reflective bowls, producing both dark blacks and piercing brightness.

 

Sonically, Dora also benefits from a fairly dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The jungle is filled with atmospheric sounds like birds, insects, and dripping water that immerse you in the location. During one scene, arrows whip past and overhead or thunk into walls. The sound team takes other opportunities to get creative with the sound placement, like a ringing school bell, Boots racing around the 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

jungle treetops, water flooding the room, or voices. Bass is also appropriately deep and engaging when called for, especially during the finale at Parapata.

 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold makes for a fun family night at the movies—entertaining and humorous for adults (my wife especially liked the “dig a pooh hole” song), without being too intense or mature for kids. It’s a film younger viewers may want to visit more than once, drawn to Dora’s infectious charm. It also has the bonus of looking and sounding terrific in your home system, making it a real win in my book.

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.

Rocky

Rocky

While by no means the first boxing movie, Rocky is without a doubt one of the very best, ranking No. 57 on the AFI Top 100 Movies List and going on to launch five sequels and two spinoffs (Creed and Creed II).

 

However, while it is nearly always described as a “boxing movie,” there is actually surprisingly little boxing in the movie. Other than an opening scene to establish that Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) can take and dish out a beating, some training on the speed and heavy bags, and the final fight with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the film spends just a few minutes of its nearly two-hour runtime in the ring.

 

Instead Rocky dedicates the vast majority of its time to character and relationship development, and, in a way, it reminded me of Jaws in the way it builds and builds towards the big fight/shark reveal. Even the title fight at the end doesn’t dedicate a ton of screen time to the boxing, but rather shows a few key choreographed fight sequences from different rounds, followed by girls flashing round cards to show that the fight is progressing towards the 15th and final round.

 

Without question, Rocky launched the mega career of Stallone, establishing him as a leading action hero, and, to a lesser degree, gave ex-NFL player Weathers his big Hollywood break as Creed. Stallone wrote the original screenplay for the film (apparently in a feverish three-and-a-half-day period after watching a fight between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner), and famously held out on selling the script to United Artists until the studio agreed to cast him in the starring role—a decision that turned out the be the best of Stallone’s career.

 

But as good as the screenplay is, Rocky likely wouldn’t have had nearly the success it had if not for the quality of the acting throughout, with everyone doing exactly what they needed to enrich their characters and flesh out the story. Beyond the boxing, Rocky is a movie about relationships—between Rocky and love interest Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky and trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky and friend-antagonist Paulie (Burt Young), and Rocky and mob-boss Gazzo (Joe Spinell)—and for these to work, the acting had to be spot-on.

Rocky

What you might not remember is just how successful Rocky was at the 1977 Academy Awards. Besides winning three awards for Best Director (John Avildsen), Best Editing, and Best Picture, it received nominations for Best Actor (Stallone), Best Actress (Shire), Best Original Screenplay (Stallone), Best Sound Mixing, Best Music (Bill Conti), and Best Supporting Actor (both Meredith and Young).

 

Rocky was also one of the first (but not the first) films to use the new Steadicam process for smooth photography during action scenes and the iconic run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not too shabby for a movie made for under $1 million that went on to gross $225 million!

 

Something else that can’t be understated is Stallone’s shape and conditioning for this film. While it isn’t unusual today to see stars getting jacked and shredded for roles—often spending months preparing and training—Rocky came out six years before Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout role in Conan the Barbarian, and this level of fitness certainly wasn’t the norm for leading men of the day. But Stallone brought a legitimate level of strength and conditioning to the role, and you can see this in his thighs during an early training session with Mick and in the one-arm pushups he knocks out.

 

Rocky comes to the Kaleidescape Store in a 4K HDR transfer, one of the first batch of titles to be available following a distribution agreement signed with MGM. 

 

Shot using Panaflex cameras and Panavision lenses on 35mm film, Rocky’s negative is actually 1.33:1 aspect ratio but matted down to the 1.85:1 aspect shown. There’s no information on the restoration process or on the digital intermediate used.

 

The transfer is a bit of a mixed bag at times. Unlike many of the re-releases from Sony that I’ve raved over, there were quite a few scenes in Rocky that look like they could have used a bit more time in restoration or digital cleanup. (Though it’s possible that the original film elements just didn’t lend themselves to further improvement.) Dark and low-lit scenes such as the boxing match at the opening and the early scenes inside Rocky’s apartment reveal lots of noise and grain in the image. Also, the pale blue of the early morning and day sky scenes seems especially susceptible to showing tons of noise, such as during Rocky’s first morning run (after he famously chugs the five raw eggs).

 

Images look cleaner and less noisy starting at Rocky’s first visit to Adrian at the pet store, and there are many closeups in the film that have startling detail and clarity, with razor-sharp edges that are clean and detailed. Other scenes, though, have almost uneven focus as if the camera’s focal point was off, most notably in one scene where Rocky and Adrian are sitting on the couch at Paulie’s, where half of Rocky’s face is almost blurry.

 

The higher resolution also makes some things like the heavy makeup used for “the vegetation” on Mickey’s ear or some of the fight damage appear less real. And there are shots during the big fight near the end where large crowd shots that were mixed 

to make it appear like a much larger crowd is watching look obviously cut in.

 

Compared to the earlier Blu-ray releases, however, this Rocky looks better in nearly every regard. Skin tones are more natural, colors in the ring at the end are more vibrant, as is the sun in Rocky’s big morning run, and the blacks of Rocky’s leather jacket, pants, and felt hat are nice, deep, clean and noise-free. (You also notice how Rocky almost never changes his outfit . . .) Images are noticeably sharper in almost every shot, especially things in the background.

 

Originally featuring a mono sound mix, the DTS-HD 5.1-channel mix found on both the 4K and Blu-ray versions does a nice job of spreading audio across the front channels. It even gets a bit of crowd noise into the surrounds during the big fight and moves Conti’s iconic “Gonna Fly Now” out into the room. But this is not a movie you’ll ever use to demo your theater system. As much as I’m all for a new immersive Dolby Atmos mix with a re-release, I’m not sure there was much in the original material that would benefit.

 

Unfortunately, dialogue can be difficult to understand at times, especially near the big fight at the end, where there is so much going on sonically that I struggled to hear the ring announcers over all of the music and crowd noise. But this is a case

Rocky

where the fists are really doing most of the talking, and missing a phrase here or there doesn’t have a big impact on enjoyment.

 

Remembering Rocky was filmed on a shoestring budget 44 years ago, it’s safe to say no one will mistake this latest 4K transfer as a modern film shot in native 4K on Arri cameras. But this is likely the best Rocky has ever looked, with the HDR and color grading giving the image life and depth without any flatness, and this is a classic that belongs in every collection.

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.

Does a Luxury Cinema Really Need a Projector?

Does a Luxury Cinema Need a Projector?

Here’s a pop quiz to start your day with: How big is the TV you see in the image above? If you’re familiar with this specific model (LG’s C9 OLED), the proportions of its pedestal may give you some idea. The rest of you probably think this is an unfair question. You’re trying to look for other clues that could give it away: How tall are those ceilings? How wide is that wall? More importantly, how far away from the screen was the camera when this photo was taken?

 

That’s actually exactly my point. For the record, the image is of a 77-inch display. But if I had told you it was 55, or 65, or even 88 inches, would you have balked? Probably not, because you intuitively understand that a display’s screen size isn’t the beginning and end of the conversation when it comes to how large it actually appears to your eyes. It’s the relationship

between the display size and the distance from seat to screen that determines the degree to which an image fills your field of view.

 

Not to pick on my colleague and friend John Sciacca here, but in his recent piece “Rediscovering My Joy for Home Theater,” he says, “Watching movies on a 115-inch screen is incredibly more involving than a 65-inch one.” What John is leaving unsaid there, though, is, “. . . from the same seating distance.” That last bit, that unspoken relationship between seat and screen, was taken for granted in John’s story, because to him it’s obvious. But that fact often gets tossed out the window completely when the gatekeepers of home cinema attempt to discredit the “lowly” TV as a legitimate screen for a proper home entertainment system.

 

I think this outdated perception of projectors as the only valid screens for home cinema systems is probably rooted in the equally outdated notion that commercial cinemas are the gold standard against which the home movie-watching experience should be judged. As I’ve argued in the past, that ship has sailed. 

These days, with a few rare and special exceptions aside, commercial cinemas are simply a way for most people to check out the latest Avengers or Star Wars flick before someone else ruins the plot for them. Or maybe they just want to view those big event movies with a few more subwoofers than their home AV systems can accommodate. But I guarantee you that almost none of the people who opt to go to their local movie theater to see the latest blockbusters would tell you that the allure of seeing an image bounced off a big sheet of perforated vinyl was what drew them out of the comforts of their own homes.

 

And mind you, I’m not claiming there aren’t plenty of valid reasons to install a projector at home. In his own media room, John sits roughly 12 feet from his screen, by his own estimation. He also has two kids at home, so movie-watching is often a whole-family experience. For his needs and his lifestyle, yeah, a projector is absolutely the right screen.

 

I, on the other hand, only have to worry about my wife and me. The only other permanent resident is Bruno, our 75-pound pit bull, and more often than not he either leaves the room when we watch movies or curls up in my lap and goes to sleep. We also only sit about six and a half feet from the screen in the main media room. The smallest high-performance home cinema projection screen I’m aware of is an 80-incher that would frankly be too much at that seating distance. A 75-inch display is pretty much perfect for this room, as it takes up a healthy 45.5 degrees of our field of view—a little more than

THX’s recommended 36 degrees, but so be it. We’d rather have a bit too much screen than a bit too little. But we don’t want The Last Jedi turning into a tennis match, either.

 

Interestingly enough, John’s 115-inch projection screen, when viewed from 12 feet away, takes up roughly 38.5 degrees of his field of view. In other words, my 75-inch screen looks bigger to me and my wife than his 115-inch projection screen looks to him and his family.

 

Am I bashing John’s choice of screens? Of course not. What works for him works for him, and what works for me

How to Determine Your Viewing Distance

 

If you want figure out your screen size based on viewing distance, or vice versa, but without having to wade through technical specs or do any heavy math, click this link.

works for me. And I’m sure he would agree. Different rooms. Different families. Different viewing habits. Different solutions. Without a doubt, we’re both enjoying a better movie-watching experience than we would at the local cineplex, and his system gives him one big advantage over mine: He gets to watch ultra-widescreen 2.4:1 aspect-ratio films without any letterboxing.

 

In addition to the larger perceptual screen real estate, though, my TV also gives me better black levels, better dynamic range, better peak brightness, and better color uniformity than any two-piece projection system could. And if for whatever reason we ever decided to watch a movie with the lights on, we wouldn’t have to worry about the screen washing out. (Not that we would, mind you. My wife and I prefer to keep any and all distractions to a minimum when watching movies, going so far as to put our mobile phones away or turning them off entirely. I’m just saying that we could leave a light on if we wanted to.)

 

And yet, the naysayers and gatekeepers would have you believe that for whatever reason my viewing experience is subpar. That I would somehow be better served by lacking black levels, middling contrasts, less peak brightness, and worse screen uniformity, simply because that would be a more faithful facsimile of the local cineplex.

 

To which I say this: The New Vision Theatres Chantilly 13 across town isn’t the yardstick by which I judge my movie-watching experience at home anymore. My home cinema system looks better and sounds better, and quite frankly has a better selection of films from which to choose. Granted, if we had a much larger room, or typically invited large groups of friends over to watch movies, a projection screen would likely be a superior alternative to our 75-inch TV on the balance sheet. If we had two or three rows of seating? No question about it—we would need a projector.

 

The beauty of current AV gear, though, is that you don’t have to change your lifestyle or viewing habits to have a better-than-movie-theater experience at home. You can assemble a reference-quality home cinema that conforms to your lifestyle, not the other way around. And if, like me, that means employing a gigantic TV as your screen of choice, you shouldn’t pay much attention to anyone telling you you’re doing it wrong, or that your system doesn’t count as “luxury.” Chances are, they’re trying to sell you something.

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.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’re looking for a realistic action/heist movie, the Fast & Furious franchise probably isn’t the right one for you.

 

Scratch that. If you’re into realism at all, Fast & Furious definitely isn’t for you.

 

These films frequently involve supercharged cars used to either commit or prevent some kind of crime, and the franchise has grown in both size and scope over the series to now be on the international, world-affecting scale—which often forces you to lean heavily on your suspension of disbelief and just sit back and enjoy the big chases and action pieces.

 

Things like a Russian nuclear submarine chasing sports cars across an icy tundra (Fate of the Furious) or cars racing and jumping parkour style between floors of high-rise buildings (Furious 7) or somebody jumping out of a moving vehicle and catching someone else in mid-air across two freeway lanes on a bridge expanse (Fast & Furious 6) or a Dodge Charger ripping out a massive bank vault and then dragging it down the highway at high speed (Fast Five) abound. So, yeah, the Furious franchise and reality—and things like gravity, physics, and the fragility of the human body— are really more like nodding acquaintances.

 

But if you can look past that and just sit back with a bucket of popcorn and a drink, these movies can be a lot of fun.

 

After eight films that have amassed nearly $5 billion worldwide since 2001, it isn’t surprising that Hollywood looked for more ways to get some gold from this goose. This latest installment, however, isn’t really a Fast & Furious film, but rather a new story set in the same universe involving two spinoff characters: former Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and former British Special Air Service Major, Deckard Shaw (Jason Stratham). Of course, making an action film starring The Rock and Stratham isn’t really much of a gamble, as the two have enough star power individually to carry a film.

 

Fans of the series will know there has been little love lost between Hobbs and Shaw, and calling them “frenemies” would be generous as the two have a history of animosity and trying to out-macho each other while wanting to beat each other to death. This movie embraces that, with the two frequently trading barbs and insults to comedic effect. The chemistry between the actors works well, as does the juxtaposition between the Rock’s hulking mass and rough-around-the-edges ways, compared to the posh, stylish, and subtle Stratham. (The film’s opening is literally a split screen highlighting the stark differences of how the two begin their day.)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

While a team of MI6 agents is attempting to retrieve a super virus named “Snowflake” from a terrorist group, they’re overrun by another group of terrorists from an organization known as Eteon led by a cybernetically enhanced super-agent named Brixton Lore (Idris Elba). Not wanting the virus to fall into enemy hands, MI6 agent and Deckard’s younger sister, Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with the virus and goes on the run. Lore kills the remaining MI6 agents and frames Hattie for the crime and virus theft, and from there the story takes us around the world—from London to Moscow to Ukraine to Samoa—in search of clearing Hattie’s name and finding a way to extract the virus before it kills her . . . along with everyone else on the planet.

 

Two big stars, Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart, make uncredited cameos in the film, and their scenes are some of the best and most hilarious, showing that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. Reynolds plays CIA agent Locke, responsible for getting Hobbs on board to help track down Hattie, and his dialogue is fantastic, reminding me of a PG-version of his Deadpool character. Hart plays Air Marshal Dinkley, who desperately wants to join Hobbs and Shaw in their mission and get involved in something bigger and get out of his “can of farts.”

 

The movie has a 2-hour 17-minute runtime, and while it never feels slow, it does feel a bit long. I mean, there are only so many fights and chases one can handle, no matter how well they look, how many people are in the fray, or the weapons and choreography involved. Though even the most jaded car-chase viewers will find it tough to not feel a bit of an adrenaline rush during the terrific London chase with Shaw behind the wheel of a McLaren 720S being chased by Lore on a Triumph Triple Speed motorcycle.

 

Filmed in ArriRaw in a combination of 2.8 and 3.4K, Hobbs & Shaw is taken from a 2K digital intermediate. Detail in closeups is always sharp, clear, and detailed. There are plenty of opportunities to see fine details, like the well-groomed stubble on Shaw’s face, individual drops of sweat glistening on The Rock’s significant dome, or the texture and grain in Lore’s black-leather uniform. The image is always totally clean and noise-free, with blacks that are deep and pristine.

 

What really makes the image look great is the use of HDR throughout. Many of the film’s big scenes are at night, and really come to life with the HDR grading. This is apparent from the opening nighttime robbery in London, with bright lights against deep blacks, along with vibrant greens, golds, and reds, and near the end when lightning flashes and huge fireballs had me squinting, while the image maintained lifelike, deep-black levels. In contrast, the non-HDR Blu-ray version just has a flatness to it that is especially noticeable on larger screens like my new 4K projector and 115-inch screen.

The disparity in picture quality is apparent in the opening when we watch Hobbs and Shaw walking through clubs in LA and London surrounded by lots of bright lights and neon. The 4K HDR version makes these lights glow brightly like neon, where the 1080p non-HDR version just looks like blue, red, and purple lights without any pop or vibrancy to them. The 4K HDR version has far more depth and realism throughout.

 

Sonically, H&S is a big film, with a big and dynamic soundtrack with some significant bass when called for, which is often, due to the fights and explosions throughout. Unfortunately, NBCUniversal continues to refuse to provide Kaleidescape with the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, so the digital download only contains a DTS HD-Master 5.1-channel mix. While not as impressive as a discrete Atmos or DTS:X mix, the H&S soundtrack sounds quite exciting and immersive when run through an upmixer like Dolby Surround or DTS:Neural.

 

Drones zip past overhead, cars screech along the sides of the room, glass shatters and debris falls all around, and even the gentle outside wind, ocean, and bird sounds fill the room.

Fast & Furious Present: Hobbs & Shaw

If I had one quibble with the audio. it’s that the dialogue was a bit difficult to understand during some scenes. Whether this was due to the music and effects levels, the British accents, or just poor dialogue recording or mixing I can’t say. Fortunately, these moments are infrequent.

 

If you can look past some moments that defy credibility—like Hobbs lassoing and holding down a Blackhawk helicopter —Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw can make for a fun night at the movies. It’s available for full 4K HDR download from the Kaleidescape Movie Store now, a full three weeks before its release on physical media November 5.

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.

The Lion King (2019)

The Lion King (2019)

While it’s tempting to refer to Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King as the latest in the studio’s string of live-action remakes, following in the successful footsteps of Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Dumbo (2019), and Aladdin (2019), it would technically be inaccurate to refer to it as such.

 

Why? Because, well, it’s not live action at all. As director Jon Favreau revealed in an Instagram post, “There are 1,490 rendered shots created by animators and CG artists. I slipped in one single shot that we actually photographed in Africa to see if anyone would notice. It is the first shot of the movie that begins The Circle of Life.”

 

Yup. Following that opening shot, it’s fake. All of it. So, just because it looks like a live-action remake, The Lion King is actually more correctly described as a full computer-generated-imagery (CGI) remake.

 

Call it whatever you want, this film takes animation photo-realism to the next level with animals and landscapes so detailed and real-looking, the lines between “real” and “digital” are blurred into non-existence. In fact, if you were to just walk into the room with the volume turned down, you could be forgiven if you thought you were watching a documentary on the habits of a dysfunctional lion pride.

 

But the film’s strict adherence to ultra-realism is also a bit of its downfall, as it removes some of the heart and connection to the characters. In the original 1994 animated version, Disney’s animators humanized the characters by giving them human

emotions and expressions. In reality, though, lions—and most jungle animals—only have so many facial expressions, none of which are designed to express sadness or pleasure. So, without the musical and voice cues, you’d often be hard-pressed to know what the characters are feeling.

 

Fortunately, the voice casting is spot on, and definitely helps in connecting you with the animals and understanding the emotions they’re feeling.

 

While the remake runs 30 minutes longer than the animated version, it doesn’t feel like much has been added; rather, scenes just open and develop at a slower pace, giving you more time to absorb all of the glorious CGI realism.

 

It’s hard to imagine the story not being familiar to anyone at this point, but in a nutshell, the movie opens with king of the jungle, Mufasa (voiced once again by James Earl Jones, who returns 25 years after his original performance, and gives the alpha-lion patriarch the much-needed gravitas), introducing new cub Simba (Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino) to the jungle. Mufasa’s outcast brother, Scar

(Chiwetel Ejiofor), is jealous of this new heir to the throne, and he teams up with a pack of ravenous hyenas to overthrow Mufasa and banish Simba from the pride.

 

Young Simba stumbles across the comedic duo of a warthog, Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), and a meerkat, Timon (Billy Eichner), who also take on the role of raising Simba in a secluded paradise-like section of the jungle. After growing up, Simba runs across Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter), who tells him how bad things have become under Scar’s rule, causing Simba to return to assert his rightful claim to the throne. Other notable roles include John Kani voicing shaman and adviser Rafiki, and John Oliver voicing hornbill and jungle gossip Zazu.

 

Part of what made the original so memorable was the score by Hans Zimmer and songs by Elton John and Time Rice, and those remain intact here, with some new songs added, and with the two pop stars, Glover and Beyonce, teaming up to perform “Can you feel the love tonight” and Rogen and Eichner putting their spin on “Hakuna Matata.”

 

As mentioned, the film’s CGI is beyond reproach. Only in a couple of instances (some water splashing and some of the jungle scenes) did the visuals look anything but lifelike. Colors have a golden, natural shade, with lots of sun and earth tones. There are many shots of wide African vistas, surprising me a bit that they opted to film this in a 16:9 aspect ratio instead of the more cinematic 2.4:1.

 

Closeup detail throughout is fantastic, especially of landscape and animals. In fact, closeups look so good, they only add to the illusion that you’re looking at real life. Individual whiskers and strands of fur are clearly visible, as are subtle eye expressions and mouth movements. You can clearly see the claws extend from the lions’ paws as they walk, the wrinkle and texture in elephants’ skin, and individual wisps of hair around Rafiki’s face. The detail and realism are nothing short of stunning, and represent a generational leap in CGI technology on par with Jurassic Park.

 

While shot in ArriRaw at 6.5K, this transfer is taken from a 2K digital intermediate. While this doesn’t “doom” a movie to lower picture quality or mean it isn’t “true 4K” (see Dennis Burger’s post for a terrific explanation of why), I did feel that while

closeups had incredible detail and texture, backgrounds didn’t have that next level of detail found in some films. Backgrounds had a general softness and lack of detail that stood out, with forest leaves blending together and lacking sharpness, especially when contrasted with the terrific detail on tight shots.

 

With the sun appearing in many shots, HDR is used nicely to deliver a lifelike image. The sun is bright, with the landscape retaining shadow and detail. I also appreciated that the bright orange hues of the sun or the varied shades of blue in the sky had no hints of banding. Some lightning strikes and a roaring fire at the finale also benefit from the HDR grading.

 

Sonically, I wouldn’t call The Lion King‘s Dolby Atmos track aggressive by any means, but it did offer some nice moments, and served its source material well enough. Dialogue is always clear and understandable (though Simba/Glover does tend to mumble a bit), and music is mixed up into the ceiling speakers to give it some more dimension. The sound mixers took some opportunities to add echo to voices and sounds inside of caves and canyons, to have animals running past your head, or to have some atmospheric sounds in the jungle, but I would have liked them to push these a bit further.

The Lion King (2019)

They get a little playful with Zazu’s voice as he flies around spouting out bits of news, and there are some lightning and thunder effects that crack overhead. While there aren’t a lot of bass-heavy moments, the sound mixers choose the right moments—like the stampede and pivotal lion roars—to push the LFE channel and heighten the emotional impact.

 

While The Lion King offers nothing new from a storytelling perspective, it is gamechanging for its use of CGI, and is a terrific looking film. While there are a couple of scenes that might be intense for younger viewers (my 3½-year old left the room during a couple of scenes saying, “Scary!”), it is mostly family-friendly fare that is nearly as educational as a documentary and likely more entertaining.

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.

Rediscovering My Joy for Home Theater

Rediscovering My Joy for Home Theater

I’d already planned to write a wrap-up post on my journey to get a new projector to update my personal home theater, but Andrew Robinson’s recent “4K is for Fanboys,” makes the timing of this post even more relevant.

 

As I mentioned in “It’s Time to Update My Theater,” technology had passed my previous Marantz projector by, and it had been quite some time since we had used it. Instead, we just watched our 65-inch TV screen full time. (I know, a first-world problem for sure.) Sure, it was still enjoyable, but it actually curtailed the number of movies we watched. When the projector was in action, we would generally watch two to three movies per week, making an evening around dropping the lights and focusing

on the big screen. But with the projector out of action, we went to watching two to three movies per month.

 

After the new projector arrived, I couldn’t wait to see it in action. Instead of waiting until I could get some help to properly install the JVC by retrofitting the new cabling required (sending 4K HDR signals upwards of 50 feet is beyond the limits of my old HDMI cable, and I’ve gone to an HDMI-over-fiber solution from FIBBR) and mounting the JVC, I just set it on its box on top of our kitchen counter, strung the FIBBR cable across the floor, did a quick-and-dirty alignment and focus, and settled in to watch a movie on the big screen.

 

And from the opening scene, I was ecstatic with my new purchase. The blacks were deep and cinematic, colors were bright and punchy, edges were sharp and defined, and, blown up to nearly 10 feet, the projector’s 4K image had incredible resolution and detail. For me, this is what true theater-at-home is all about.

 

Watching movies on a 115-inch screen is incredibly more involving than a 65-inch one. And with the projector, it is an active viewing experience, with the lights down and distractions minimized. In the short time I’ve had the new projector—less than two weeks—we’ve already watched seven films with it, and each time I’m giddy that this is something I’m actually able to enjoy in my own home.

 

Coupled with my 7.2.6-channel audio system, movies look and sound as good as virtually any commercial theater.

I’m not a filmmaker as Andrew is, and I’m not a student of film as site editor Mike Gaughn is. I don’t watch movies to dissect framing, composition, or lighting. And I’m sure there are many subtleties, references, and hat tips in films that I’m completely oblivious to. But, the fact is, most times when I go to watch a movie, it’s to relax and enjoy myself. And I’d imagine that’s what most people are looking to do with their home entertainment systems. I’m not looking for Ready Player One to change my world view, or for Alita: Battle Angel to offer a commentary on anything, or for John Wick to teach me any lessons, well, except for maybe on the benefits of rapid mag changes. 

 

I’m looking to sit back with a martini and be entertained for a couple of hours.

 

At the end of the day, unless you are a filmmaker evaluating your work, or a professional film critic getting paid to review the work of others, all of this “home theater stuff” is really just a hobby designed to be fun and enjoyable. And any technology improvements that can help people to achieve a better experience—be it 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos, 3D, or other—is an improvement in my book.

 

To my eye, 4K HDR films look better, especially when blown up to large sizes. And, to my ear, Dolby Atmos (or DTS:X) soundtracks are more exciting and involving. And if I’m electing to spend my precious time watching something—be it Survivor on broadcast cable, Jack Ryan streaming on Amazon, the latest Star Wars, Avengers, or Pixar entry, or just some new release from the Kaleidescape Store, then I’d like to do so in the highest quality possible.

 

And if that makes me a 4K Fanboy as Andrew suggests, then sign me right up!

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.

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4

First, let me just put this out there: I’m a huge Pixar fan. Like huge. For years, I felt the studio could do no wrong, as they churned out one brilliant, original, entertaining film after another. In fact, I would put Pixar up there with Lucasfilm as a studio whose next film I am going to see regardless of what it is or what it is about. Pixar makes a movie? I’m going. Automatic.

 

And that Pixar films are animated is almost irrelevant, as they have heart, head and shoulders above most of what other studios are putting out. And they seemed to have cracked the code on how to make films that simultaneously appealed to a wide generation of viewers, offering something engaging for toddlers and grown-ups alike, with characters you truly care about.

 

But recently, Pixar seems to have veered away from its originality roots and has been relying fairly heavily on sequels, with Cars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc. all getting the multi-film treatment. So, it shouldn’t have come as a real surprise that they would return to their original goldmine one more time with another entry in the Toy Story franchise.

 

When I initially heard about the plans to release Toy Story 4, I was actually upset. Not because I’m not a fan of the franchise—rather, exactly the opposite. It’s because I’m such a big fan, and I felt the story arc had been so wonderfully and perfectly completed in Toy Story 3, that I feared any additional movies would only dilute the emotional conclusion of that film, one that never fails to cause me to tear up no matter how many times I watch it.

 

Sure, give us some further exploits of our toy friends playing with Bonnie such as the Toy Story Toons Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex or the longer shorts Toy Story That Time Forgot or Toy Story of Terror, but let Toy Story 3 remain the perfect end note to the main story.

Toy Story 4

However, with its early release in 4K HDR at the Kaleidescape Store (a week prior to the UltraHD Blu-ray), I decided to take the plunge and complete my Toy Story film collection.

 

I’ve watched TS4 twice now, once in theaters and once at home in 4K HDR, and my heart has definitely softened to this latest entry in the series. While much of the story feels more forced than the more organic events of 1—new toy, Buzz, comes in and shakes up things in the toys’ world—2—Woody is stolen and discovers he is a celebrity—and 3—the toys come to terms with Andy growing up and leaving them behind, it gives our toys another great adventure while advancing Woody’s story and ultimately giving his character some nice closure. (And a new beginning.)

 

The movie opens nine years in the past, showing us what happened to Sheriff Woody’s (Tom Hanks) true love, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), when she is given away to another child. We then cut back to the present where, following the events of Toy Story 3, young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is growing, and Sheriff Woody finds himself being played with less and less. On the first day of kindergarten, Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack to make sure she has a good first day, and while at school, Bonnie crafts a new friend, Forky (Tony Hale), from miscellaneous scraps of trash. When brought into Bonnie’s room, Forky magically comes to life and spends much of the movie trying to throw himself in the garbage.

 

When Bonnie’s family takes a road trip, Woody tries to convince the other toys—and Forky himself—that Forky is important to Bonnie. And when Forky throws himself out of the RV’s window, Woody goes after him, setting the stage for a variety of adventures, and the bringing together of old friends and new acquaintances.

 

All of your favorite characters from the previous films are here, including Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, 

Toy Story 4

Duke Caboom

taking over for the late Jim Varney). Significant among the new characters are Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and ultimate stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).

 

Toy Story 4 is Pixar doing what Pixar does best, which is putting a bunch of interesting characters together in humorous situations and milking each scene for maximum humor and heart. They nail the little moments like 

Rex being impressed with how long Forky’s pipe-cleaner arms are, or Snow Combat Carl (Carl Weathers) missing out on a high five. This is definitely not the best of the Toy Story films, but it is still a lot of fun to watch.

 

We’ve been having a bit of a resurgence of Toy Story watching in our house, as my 3 year old has become obsessed with the first three films, wanting to watch them on our Kaleidescape system over and over. She is especially fond of Bo Peep, who plays a significant role in this movie as a surviving tough gal who knows how to stay alive and get things done.

 

What you really notice is the generational leaps in animation improvement from film to film. Whereas the first movie now looks almost like a student project, this one has many moments that border on photo-realistic. The opening scenes look stunningly real, with incredible depth and detail in every frame. Taken from a 4K digital intermediate, there is striking micro detail in every closeup, a testament to the fanatical level of attention paid by the Pixar team. From the ultra-fine texture in Bo’s bonnet, to the detail in every one of Bonnie’s eye lashes, to the scuffs and scrapes on Woody’s hat (visible only in certain lighting and angles, mind you), each frame is bursting with detail. Just sit and watch as each rain drop in the beginning hits, splashes, and ripples. It’s amazing work.

 

The outdoor scenes all look unbelievably real—from the exterior of Bonnie’s school, to the road and landscape while Woody and Forky are walking, to the interior of the Second Chance antiques store, it’s all 4K eye candy. One scene in the antiques 

store where Bo and Woody look at a variety of illuminated chandeliers is especially fantastic looking.

 

I did find the colors throughout to be a bit subdued and muted. Whether this was to give it a more grown-up, film-like, and realistic look or due to some other creative choice, colors aren’t as overly saturated and “pumped up” as they are in many animated titles, including others in the TS series. There are still scenes where colors pop, such as the shimmer of Bo’s deep purple cloak, the flashing colored lights in the secret club inside an old pinball machine, the gleaming chrome on Duke’s cycle, the midway at the carnival, and especially the carnival lit up at night.

 

This film is gorgeous to behold throughout, and reference-quality video in every way.

 

I found the Dolby Atmos audio track to be mostly restrained, with the vast majority of the audio action happening in the front of the room. There were some nice moments where the height speakers were called into creative use to expand the on-screen dialogue—for example Woody hearing things inside Bonnie’s backpack, or Ducky and Bunny talking off screen—or where the audio 

Toy Story 4

soundstage is expanded with a variety of ticking clocks in the antique store. But Toy Story 4 isn’t really an audio showcase. Having said that, this is frequently a dialogue-driven film, and the dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and there is appropriate use of surrounds when called on, but just not aggressively.

 

There are multiple end-credits and a post-credits scene that are definitely worth hanging around for.

 

If you have kids or grandkids, or just want a fantastic-looking movie with a bunch of heart, Toy Story 4 is sure to please.

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.

Choosing My New Projector

Choosing My New Projector

Following up on my last post, “It’s Time to Update My Theater,” I’m going to delve into the thought process that caused me to splurge and finally upgrade my projector.

 

As I mentioned, my existing projector was about 11 years old, and, while it still produced watchable pictures from Blu-ray and DVD discs, it wasn’t compatible with many of the new 4K HDR sources in my system, so we had just stopped using it. I was

toying around with ditching both the projector and my current 65-inch Sony flat panel and upgrading to a new 85-inch flat panel.

 

Why 85 inches? Well, that is about the current size limit before you start getting into ridiculously expensive pricing. For under $4,500, you can get a Sony XBR-85X950G flat-panel that has been universally reviewed as a fantastic display. This would provide a large screen image for viewing all the time, not just at night with the lights down. It would also handle HDR signals (and Dolby Vision) far better than a projector at any price could.

 

As this was a significantly cheaper upgrade option, I really considered it, but ultimately decided I would miss the truly large-screen experience of my 115-inch, 2.35 aspect screen.

 

We use the projector almost exclusively for movie watching, and having nearly double the screen real estate makes a massive difference, and is far more engaging than a direct-view set, even one at 85 inches. (Now, had the 98-inch 

Sony Z-series TV been a tenth of its price—selling for $7,000 instead of $70,000—that probably would have been my pick.)

 

So, having made the decision to stick with front projection, I had to settle on a model. I had a few criteria going in that helped narrow the search.

 

First, I wanted it to be true, native 4K resolution on the imager, not using any pixel shifting or “wobulation” to “achieve 4K resolution on screen.” This ruled out many of the DLP models from companies like Epson and Optoma. Nothing against them, I just wanted native 4K.

 

Second, it had to have a throw distance that worked with my current mounting location. Actually, this isn’t much of a concern anymore, and most modern projectors have an incredibly generous adjustment range on their lens.

 

Third, I needed a model that offered lens memory so it would work with my multi-aspect screen (92 inches when masked down to 16:9, and 115 inches when opened to full 2.35:1.) This allows the projector to zoom, shift, and focus for a variety of screen sizes at the push of a single button, and is crucial for multi-aspect viewing.

 

Fourth, it needed to integrate with my Control4 automation system. Sure, I could cobble together a driver, but it would never offer integration as tight as one that was meant to work with that particular model.

 

Finally, it had to fit my $10,000 budget. Unfortunately, this ruled out brands like Barco and DPI. I was super impressed with Barco’s Bragi projector, but, alas, it doesn’t fit in my tax bracket.

 

Basically, with these criteria, my search was narrowed to two companies: JVC and Sony. And primarily to two projectors: The JVC DLA-NX7 (shown at the top of the page) and the Sony VPL-VW695ES. (Were my budget higher, I would have added the JVC DLA-NX9 to that list, which has the primary advantage of a much higher quality, all-glass lens, but it was more than double the price. And while the less expensive JVC DLA-NX5 also met all my criteria, the step up NX7 offers more bang for just a little more buck.)

 

So, I did what a lot of people do prior to making a big technology purchase: Research. I read a ton of forum posts, read all of the reviews on both models, and watched video comparisons. I also reached out to a couple of professional reviewers and calibrators who had actually had hands-on time with both models.

 

The CEDIA Expo is a place where manufacturers often launch new projectors, so this past month’s show coincided perfectly with my hunt. Since both companies had models that had been launched at CEDIA 2018, I was eager to see what announcements they might have regarding replacements or upgrades. Alas, there were no model changes, which, in a way, can be a good thing, since it means both models are now proven, have had any early bugs worked out with firmware updates, and  are readily available and shipping.

 

I really hoped to check out both projectors at the show, but, unfortunately, no one was exhibiting either. (Apparently, CEDIA is not the place to show your sub-$10,000 models.)

 

Ultimately, two announcements at the show swayed me to pull the trigger on the JVC. First, the product manager I spoke with said the price was going up by $1,000 on October 1, so buying sooner than later would actually save me money. But more importantly, JVC introduced new firmware at CEDIA that would add a Frame Adapt HDR function that will dynamically analyze HDR10 picture levels frame by frame, automatically adjusting the brightness and color to optimize HDR performance for each frame.

 

Projectors historically have a difficult time handling HDR signals, and this firmware is designed to produce the best HDR images from every frame. This used to be achieved by using a high-end outboard video processor such as a Lumagen Radiance Pro, but that would add thousands of dollars to the system. When I saw this new technology demonstrated in JVC’s booth, I was all in.

 

In my next post, I’ll let you know if the purchase was worth it. (Spoiler: It totally was!)

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.

It’s Time to Update My Theater

 Some views of my home theater space, pre upgrades

photos by Jim Raycroft

The first home theater component I ever purchased was a subwoofer back in 1995. It was a big 15-inch black cube Definitive Technology model that I drove into San Francisco to buy after researching everything I could find for weeks in all the enthusiast magazines at the time. From there, I bought a Yamaha digital surround decoder and Dolby Digital RF demodulator

for a laserdisc player, connected it all to some speakers and a 25-inch Proton tube TV, and voila! I had my first home theater system.

 

It didn’t have a lot of style or elegance, and it certainly wasn’t luxury, but I was on the cutting edge of 5.1-channel technology, and it sounded better than anything my friends had.

 

And I was hooked.

 

Over the years, my system has seen a lot of upgrades, most frequently in the preamp/processor section, as I chase the technology dragon of trying to stay current with surround formats, channel counts, and HDMI processing. (For the record, the 13.1-channel Marantz AV8805 is currently serving processing duties in my rack, and doing a very fine job of it, thank you.)

 

Speakers get upgraded the least often, as a good speaker rarely stops sounding good, and, if cared for, rarely breaks. Sources come and go as technology improves. Gone are the VCR, and the LaserDisc and DVD players. Currently in use are a Kaleidescape Strato and M500 player, Samsung UHD Blu-ray, Apple 4KTV, Dish Hopper 3, and Microsoft Xbox One.

 

Lying in the upgrade middle ground is my system display. Long gone is the 25-inch Proton, having been replaced by a 35-inch Mitsubishi, then a 61-inch Samsung DLP, then a 60-inch Pioneer Elite Plasma. Currently, my primary display is a Sony XBR-65X930D, a 65-inch 4K LED. However, it’s a D-

generation, and Sony is now on G models, so it might be due for replacement next year.

 

One device in my system that has never been upgraded is my video projector.

 

I always wanted a truly big-screen, cinematic experience, and this meant a projector and screen. So I purchased the best projector Marantz made (the VP-11S2, shown below) back in 2008, along with a Panamorph anamorphic lens and motorized 

sled system. This setup fires onto a Draper MultiView screen that has masking to show either a 92-inch 16:9 image or a 115-inch 2.35:1 Cinemascope image.

 

The first time we dropped the lights, powered on the projector, and lowered the screen, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this amazing system in my own home, and we essentially stopped going out to the movies.

 

I continued to feel that way about my projection system for years. It 

It's Time to Update My Theater

provided an amazing, truly cinematic experience that made me happy literally every time we used it. And use it we did, generally watching two to three movies per week on the big screen.

 

But then, technology moved on.

 

Principally, HDMI went from 1.4 to 2.0, resolution went from 1080p to 4K, and video went from SDR to HDR.

 

While the Marantz still worked, it was now by far the weakest link in my theater chain, and it no longer supported any of the sources we wanted to watch. In fact, just watching a Blu-ray on the system via our Kaleidescape meant going into the Kaleidescape’s Web setup utility and telling the system to “dumb itself down” to output HDMI 1.4 signals. A huge hassle.

 

So, a couple of years ago, we basically stopped using the projector at all.

 

But, some things changed in the projector world at the recent CEDIA Expo in Denver that inspired me to finally make the upgrade plunge, and that’s what I’ll dive into in my next post!

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.