Product Review - Video Essentials DVD - September, 1997

By Stacey Spears




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"Video Essentials"; ISF; ID3944ISFDVD; $49.99; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Spanish, and Japanese; Dolby Surround in English, Spanish, and Japanese; Subtitles in English and Spanish; Test signals for setting up 1.78:1 Anamorphic video; Region ID None; Single Sided; 20 Titles.

The most important DVD title, so far, has finally been released. Video Essentials, from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) is now available at stores around the country. DVD offers the highest quality video ever from a consumer format, and the proper setup of your display device will affect the overall image quality that you sit down to enjoy. There is NO regional ID coding and NO copy protection on this disc which was designed for everyone to enjoy.

Whether you own a DVD player or are planning to purchase one, VE will help you get the best from your video equipment. For those who have waited to purchase your player, you can use this disc to evaluate all of the players out there and make an objective decision on which player is best. I can see it now: All the TVs in the stores will have test patterns on the screens instead of talk shows. The drunks will think it is three o'clock in the morning.

Even before DVD was launched, the public and press have been hounding Joe Kane about the release of this disc, me included. What he thought would be a straightforward project turned into a MAJOR project that took up all of his time and many other parties trying to help get this disc done right. When Joe designed VE for DVD, he put it together based on the DVD specs. Well, in a rush to get the DVD players to market, not all players did things quite the same. So Joe spent a lot of time trying to make his disc work with those players. Every time he fixed one thing, it would break something else (hey, just like software programming). In the end, Joe went back to the original DVD specifications for VE, and I believe the result will aid player manufacturers. Sure, the first generation always has flaws, but now they have a tool that can help them with future generations.

This disc is designed to stress every aspect of DVD, which includes giving MPEG-2 a very thorough workout. From this disc, you will see very big differences with the various first generation DVD players. It will also show you how important it is to always use either the S-Video or component video connection on a DVD player. When DVD was first launched, I attended the Sony demo that was on tour. The Sony rep was using the composite cable out of the DVD player to their 32XBR100 TV. I could not convince him that he was making a major mistake. Well now with the aid of the Snell & Wilcox zone plate pattern, it is quite clear. If you want proof, check out Title 20, Chapter 2.

PCM and DTS are not included with VE. The extra space allowed Joe more bits for the video, but other problems also prevented them from being included. DTS, while a superior discrete sound format IMHO, has some work left to be completed. The original music on VE is from a 16-bit master. DTS wants a 20-bit source or they will not encode it. I am sure Joe's next disc will have both PCM and DTS, that is if DTS can get busy and put out some DTS encoded DVDs.

Included inside the DVD case is a blue filter used to set the color and tint controls.  There is also a paper insert explaining one of the problems with some first generation players. These players clip everything below 7.5 IRE, which is below "black" here in the US. Japan and the PAL systems have black at 0 IRE. So on the PLUGE pattern, the blacker-than-black stripe is gone. This makes it difficult to set the black level, but Joe explains how to get around this on the paper. The PAL system has had black at 0 IRE forever, and Japan switched from 7.5 IRE to 0 IRE back in 1990. Why do we still have black at 7.5 IRE? I don't know, but the second-generation player from Toshiba allows you to set black at 0 (enhanced black level) or at 7.5 (standard), which is a good start at getting things to where they should be.

I have included a small list of the Title and Chapters for some of the important test patterns. The complete list can be found at To access them the way they are listed, you need to use the "Search Mode" button on your DVD remote.  This is what it is called on the Sony Remote, but I am not sure how it is labeled on other players.  It might also be called "Title Search."   Note: This is not the same as the standard "Title" button on the Sony remote.  If you have a Sony DVD player, you will find this "Search Mode" button under the flip up lid.




PLUGE w/ Log Gray Scale



Needle Pulse



SMPTE Color Bars






Ambient Light Reference



SMPTE Resolution chart






Sweep to 5.5 MHz






A big plus with DVD VE is that you do not need an instruction manual to use the disc. When I first purchased "A Video Standard" on LD, I was overwhelmed at what had to be done. VE ensures that anyone who watches this video can easily set up his or her TV correctly. As I had said on the review of the original LD, there is "killer" onscreen computer animation along with narration that guides you through not only the front panel controls but also on setting up your audio system. This includes how to use your trusty Radio Shack SPL meter. So, I will not waste space on explaining how to set your controls, just plug in this disc and go.

There is a new section with DVD VE that is not included on the LD version, i.e., the anamorphic test pattern section, which can be found at Title 20. These patterns can aid you in finding the best DVD player in your price range. With these patterns, you can see how well the DVD player is able to take an anamorphic image and letterbox it for 4:3 TVs. This is important if you have no plans on purchasing a 16:9 TV, because some players actually cut off a portion of the picture during this transition. Of course if you want to see DVD at its best, anamorphic is the ONLY way to go.

Well, you can now properly set the color and tint with that component input TV! Up until now, most of the DVD owners, well at least me, have set up their display based on the LD version of VE. Let me tell you (please) that setting your TV from the LD is NOT the proper setting for DVD (can be close at times) especially with component connections.

I have mentioned the black level and color settings but what about sharpness? Sharpness, as mentioned repeatedly in the past, MUST be properly set or things can look bad. But you thought the sharpness control sharpens the picture! NO, watch Title 14: Sharpness, which goes into detail on how to properly set that dangerous knob. The whole idea is to boost the high frequency information, which is not there in VHS and broadcast. With DVD, that info is there and boosting it will not help. In fact, you will add ringing (artificial outlines around objects), and other nasty artifacts.

If you ever get to hear Joe give a seminar, he always tells the story of the high quality LDs that got POOR reviews and failed miserably. These super LDs had lots of high frequency information in them, but at the time most reviewers had no idea how to properly set their sharpness controls. When these discs were viewed with the sharpness cranked up, there was plenty of noise added to the picture and everyone exclaimed, "these are the worst discs I have ever seen!" Well, actually these were the best discs ever produced, but the reviewers didn't have their TVs set properly. Joe is afraid the same thing can happen to DVD (bad reviews from less-than-knowledgeable reviewers), and that is why he is so adamant about properly setting the sharpness and why I emphasize it here.

The overall layout is different than most DVDs that have been released. Pressing the "Title" button will give you one menu, while pressing the "DVD Menu" button will give you a completely different one.  The following table is how the menu structure looks under the "Title" menu.


What each action does

1  Start Program This starts VE.
2  Audio Program This allows you to select the audio, either in 5.1 or Dolby Surround in the appropriate language.
3  Subtitle language This lets you pick which subtitle you want.
4  Start at Chapter This displays the list of chapters 1 through 15 as they are on the LD version.

5  Additional Information

This takes you to a submenu.
Additional Information


DVD Control

This explains how DVD navigation works and explains some of the buttons on the remote.
Video Essentials Another submenu with more information from conversion methods to what test patterns look like on a Wave Form Monitor. You can use the right navigation arrow to see additional images.
Sound Level Meter setup This is a quick intro on how to use the Radio Shack SPL meter.
Web Site This shows you how to get to the ISF, Video Essentials, and Band From the Ranch web sites.

The next table is what the DVD menu looks like. These selections take you to certain scenes on the disc.

DVD Menu

1  Introduction
2  Video Control Setup
3  Ideal Viewing Enviroment
4  Overview of the Disc
5  Stereo Demo
6  Dolby Surround Demo
7  Dolby Pro-Logic Center Mode
8  Program


What are the major differences between the LD and DVD version?   Picture quality for one. From the very beginning, you should see an improvement between these two versions.  Take a look at the floor on the opening shot of the computer-generated living room.  There is much more detail, and the carpet looks gritty. This is not noise, but rather, what the actual computer image looks like.   The LD version only has the detail behind the TV, and the rest of the floor looks soft. Joe has also added the 3 anamorphic test patterns at the end of the disc on Title 20.

Bottom line: this disc is a must-have for anyone who wants to get the most out of their DVD player and TV. With this disc you will be able to extract every nuance possible. Period! End of story! Go buy the disc so you can see what you've been missing, and after you have used it, you will know what your friends who don't have it are STILL missing.

Video Quality: *****
Audio: *****
Content: *****

Stacey Spears

Copyright 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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