Product Review

Digital Video Essentials (NTSC DVD Edition)

March, 2004

Tod DeBie


Digital Video Essentials (DVE) is the latest installment from Joe Kane Productions for home theater calibration. This DVD supersedes Joe’s previous efforts (Video Essentials, and A Video Standard).

The opening of DVE includes some shots of a launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-106, a mission to the International Space Station, from Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center.

The smaller metal beams and braces show remarkable detail. However, there was a problem caused by the down-conversion possess which left all the video material and montage sequences with acute edge enhancement/ringing.  This material is NOT an example of what to shoot for in NTSC DVD video quality.  The photo below shows the ringing in the frame above, enlarged.

After the opening credits and the shuttle launch, DVE launches into an approximately ten minute narrative on video quality and digital signal processing to help educate users about digital video and DVE, and then a short discussion of how its menu system works.


DVE makes full use of the DVD menu system. You may have noticed on your DVD remote that there is a “Menu” button and a “Top Menu” or “DVD Menu” button. The DVD system defines two types of menus, and it is up to the DVD authors to decide how these menus work. Many DVDs either disable one of the menu buttons or make them both link to the same menu. DVE uses the “Top Menu” button as the overall program menu and the “Menu” button to show the menu for the individual chapter that you are currently in. Examples of the various menus are shown below.



Room Environment

This section of DVE covers both acoustic and visual room environment properties. It goes into detail on how speaker and listener placement as well as objects in the room and room construction can impact audio quality. Similarly, DVE talks about how ambient light and colors impact picture quality and how best to address these issues.



Here are the contents of the audio calibration section:

1 DVD Format
2 Loudspeaker Placement
3 Stereo
4 Multi-channel Audio
5 System Connections
6 Setting Audio Levels

The audio calibration section of DVE first covers the dizzying array of sound formats and implementation options for multi-channel sound with DVD, and then goes into detail on the different types of speakers (center, surround, rear, sub, etc.), how to place them, and how to make sure they are working properly. At the end of this section is a chapter that helps you use an SPL meter to properly calibrate your sound system, with test signals for all the variations of Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, and DTS.


Here are the contents of the video calibration section:

1 Basic Instructions - Calibration Overview
2 Basic Instructions - Brightness
3 Basic Instructions - Contrast
4 Basic Instructions - Color
5 Basic Instructions - Tint
6 Basic Instructions - Sharpness
7 Troubleshooting - Brightness
8 Troubleshooting - Contrast
9 Troubleshooting - Color
10 Advanced Instructions - Gray Scale
11 Advanced Instructions - Primary Colors
12 Advanced Instructions - Geometry
13 Advanced Instructions - Finding Qualified Help
14 Video System Details - Component, S & Composite
15 Video System Details - Interlaced & Progressive Video
16 Video System Details - Video Processors
17 Video System Details - MPEG Encoding
18 Video System Details - Large Screen Home Theaters

The video calibration section of DVE has a section that helps you properly set up the basic user controls of your TV (brightness, contrast, color, tint, and sharpness). Using the color filter that comes with DVE, you are walked through the process of adjusting each of these controls to their proper settings.

The audio dialog during this portion of DVE is critical. You may want to just watch through it once before you perform the adjustments. Be sure to listen to the instructions on what controls to adjust and what the expected results of the adjustment are.

The video troubleshooting section helps you identify and work around problems in your TV while setting the brightness, contrast, and color controls. While it will not eliminate the problems, it will help you make the best of whatever problems your TV has.

The advanced video section covers grayscale, geometry, and finding help. DVE spends a good deal of time talking about the importance of grayscale and how it impacts the representation of color.

Finally, the video systems details section covers how the different connectors (composite, S-Video, component) work and in general what the steps are to get video from a camera, onto a DVD and on your screen.

Professional Help

DVE will help you calibrate your TV as well as can be done without professional equipment and training. Solving certain problems in your TV, like badly set grayscale is best left to a professional and is really worth doing because it can dramatically improve the quality of your TV image. The DVE website has details on helping you find a professional TV calibrator.

Test Signals

Finally, DVE includes a full range of audio and video test signals to help you further adjust and dial in your system. The full chapter list, including references to all of the test signals, is here.

True Progressive Mastering

The initial promotional material stated that DVE would use a new process called True Progressive Mastering. Simply stated, the normal DVD mastering process converts the video signal to an interlaced signal (if the material was progressive to begin with) before the MPEG encoding. As a part of the interlacing process, a 30% vertical filter is applied to the video to help control interlacing artifacts. The idea of True Progressive Mastering is to encode the video stream in its native progressive format and thereby get back the 30% vertical signal loss that DVDs normally undergo. This process should also improve the picture because there will be no interlacing artifacts that the MPEG encoder must compress and save, leaving more room in the data stream for actual video signal.

Unfortunately, the current version of DVE does not use True Progressive Mastering. The problem in the mastering process with True Progressive Mastering is that the available MPEG encoders for DVD would not support it. When asked by JKP about support for encoding progressive material for DVD, all of the MPEG encoder manufacturers said that their product would support it, but when JKP actually tried it, it was found that none of them worked. This situation is currently being studied, and JKP hopes to release the professional version of DVE with True Progressive Mastering, which will set yet another high bar for DVD quality.

Professional and Windows Media 9 Versions of DVE

JKP has previously stated that both a Professional DVD release of DVE and a Windows Media 9 release of DVE are in the works. The current indication is that, if the WM9 discs are ready, they will be included in the Professional release. The WM9 release will come in both 1024p/24 and 720p/24 formats.


DVE is a great disc for people who are looking to get the most from their home theater. Its easy-to-understand descriptions of how audio and video systems work lay the groundwork to help any consumer get through the actual calibration steps. It is $24.99 from Joe Kane's website,

- Tod DeBie -

© Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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