DVE HD Basics

The Digital Video Essentials Blu-ray

Looking for a high tech tweakin' disc to help you get the most out of your home theater? Not looking for a disc that'll send you back to school for a new vocabulary?

Then DVE HD Basics may be your answer.

After much anticipation, a new high definition version of Joe Kane's well known Video Essentials "home theater tweaking disc" series has been released, and we're glad.

Why? 'Cause we take our home theater seriously, and so does Joe Kane - and while the DVD versions were flawed (mostly due to menus that required you to be psychic to use them), the Video Essentials was still one of the best tools for tweaking your home theater.

Digital Video Essentials competes with such other test DVDs as the Avia disc, which we haven't tested. But other than that damn interface, we always liked the way DVE conveyed its technical information to the novice, in a friendly and non-intimidating manner. We also liked the video footage montages designed to give you an instant review of your handiwork after you’ve adjusted your TV.

Now that HDTV and Blu-ray are finding their way into people's homes, it was obviously time to update Video Essentials, and the result is DVE, “Digital Video Essentials HD Basics” disc. It's easily the best DVE yet, armed with the latest advances in technology - and now in high definition.

Why would anyone need a calibration disc? One of the primary reasons for a disc like this is the fact that TV makers don't generally calibrate their sets for your room (how could they?), but rather to stand out on the sales floor, to catch your attention. This is understandable, but it doesn't help you get the best picture right out of the box.

Some TV's today come ISF calibrated right out of the box, though, and this is good. Our reference Epson, for example, boasted this feature. But even here, we found the DVE disc to be really handy, if only to prove to us that the projector was, indeed, nearly perfect upon first firing it up.

According to David Goodman, President of The DVD Acquisition And Development Group, "While HDTV sales are exploding, the reality is that most users still do not completely understand HD and are not enjoying the optimum picture on their sets.  HD Basics is designed to rectify that, and we have made set up easier than ever by taking advantage of the interactivity that next-generation high definition formats are capable of delivering.  The first thing that a consumer will discover after inserting HD Basics is that it is different from any version of DVE offered to date. A simple and straightforward menu asks you whether you want to just calibrate your television or whether you want to delve into all of the advanced features that HD Basics has to offer.”

He's right. When you first fire up the disc, you're face with "Where Would You Like to Start?" and from there you can follow this virtual yellow brick road to the various sections, from quick setup to an overview of HD, simple and complex test patterns and audio calibration signals. It's a breath of fresh air from the old disc. The navigation looks and works like a typical Blu-ray pop up menu, giving you instant access to just about anything you want to find on the disc. This alone is worth the price compared with the earlier versions. Joe Kane and his folks have obviously listened to their users.

The“Setting Up My HDTV” section includes test patterns that can improve your TV's high definition performance quickly - or reassure you that your TV is set up correctly already (In our case, the only real tweak we needed on the Epson was to adjust the red a tiny bit; everything else was great out of the box, as advertised by the manufacturer!). And easy to follow spoken instructions let you follow along with the demo material until you achieve the optimal settings.  

The “Advanced Video Test Patterns” section includes so many test patterns your eyes may glaze over long before the patterns end. But it's good stuff if you really, really want to ensure the best picture from your equipment, and it's easy to scroll past the stuff that doesn't interest you. Sometimes the jargon gets a tad technical, but it's easy to ignore many of these terms and just tweak the TV as they recommend, without having to go back to college. And the disc's background material on what HDTV is all about can help you learn some of the stuff that may be confusing right off the bat. 

New to the DVE experience is a commentary track recorded by Joe Kane, describing what to look for in the demonstration materials, and another one by cinematographer Allen Daviau, talking about color grading film for high definition presentation. You don't need this, but it's quite interesting. 

Kane says his goal with the new DVE: HD Basics is "To help make display device setup easier plus describe what I think consumers should expect from high definition.  It’s really a great system and not everyone is seeing it for what it’s worth.  This new disc allows users to choose the depth at which they want to learn about High Definition – or simply begin with calibrating their set."

Indeed. We're not technical people, but had no trouble finding our way through the disc and making the few adjustments that were necessary. There's a lot on the disc we didn't need to use, but the "highfalutin'" stuff is still there for people more comfortable with serious tweaking. And it's easy to find your way back to particular sections later if you need them (perhaps to show off your set's capabilities to impress friends and family).

DVE: HD Basics includes a tri-color filter for use with the included test patterns, and this is a marvelous tool for helping you ensure your TV's color is putting out properly.

Of course, the TV is only part of the home theater experience - albeit a vital part. But the audio system and the room in which you've installed your equipment are also imporant, and DVE includes some handy help here, too.

It’s undoubtedly the video section that will sell this disc, but it's nice to have the audio stuff to, if nothing else, check how accurate your system's onboard stuff works.

The audio adjustments sections offer a workable test tone length, giving you enough time to make any necessary level adjustments for the various channels without constantly having to invoke the A/B looping feature of your disc player (assuming it has the capability). This is particularly handy if, like some, your audio system inflicts a slight delay on the audio stream.

And the “Buzz and Rattle” test will reveal how much your room interacts with the lower frequencies, which in many home theaters can be a real annoyance. The test is given to all the speakers in a surround system and is a good way to tell if, for example, your fireplace glass doors are rattling, or if picture frames are dancing on top of your speakers.

This test may convince the spouse to give you permission to do some "room deadening."

And the new DVE HD Basics disc offers some stunning pictures in its Montage section, with plenty of vibrant colors and fine detail to test any TV set’s abilities. Use it once you’ve done your adjustments (or for "before and after" comparisons, or to check your “work in progress”) to test the results without having to remove the disc and find another of your favorite DVD’s to test (that delicious part will undoubtedly come later, when you show off your results to your friends). It gives you an excellent look at what an optimized picture should look like.

A lot of this material isn't new, but it's new to have it available right up to 1080p resolution. We enjoyed in particular the stunning "old" scene of the Space Shuttle on the liftoff pad we'd seen before, but never in such fine detail.

DVE is a disc that no one who’s serious about home theater should be without. It is, quite simply, a necessary tool for any home theater system if you want to ensure you get the most out of your hard earned after-tax dollars. Not only will it allow you to set up your equipment properly, it also teaches you what you should know about it in the first place.

It'll also give you a leg up on questions to ask if you decide to call in a professional to “super tweak” your prized television monitor. Though chances are if you have one of the new technology TV's and master this disc, you may not need that professional at all.

In our view DVE has accomplished its mission well.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

Buy the eBook
Ransom for the stars
of Jim Bray's
fantastic Sci-Fi Adventure