It all started innocently enough…
I was wandering the aisles of my local Shopko when, there it was, seemingly alone on its shelf…a Blu-ray edition of Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968). I had never seen it. Well, I thought, I should pick it up and find a way to play it…
Blu-ray is a data storage technology. A blu-ray optical disc has roughly 25GB of storage capacity compared to 5GB for a DVD. It uses a blu-violet laser to read the disc and a smaller spot size.
The importance of this technology to “the industry” is digital video. Digital movies have become a huge business. They are also a most potent way for corporate America (or the global military-industrial complex – however you want to look at it) to get its messages across to a live audience. Story telling has always been used for this.
In the Old Days of video, the picture wasn’t digital. It was an analog signal combined with digital synchronizing signals. It was used for TV for years. Movies used film; they still do. But now the frames of film can be digitized into digital video. They put films onto video tapes for TV shows using a similar process. Video tapes were the first way for consumers to buy movies and watch them at home. But that video was very coarse compared to the film it was made from. And so the pressure was on to bring video up closer to the quality of film. Digital video was seen as the answer.
Home movie watchers want an experience more like they get at a movie theater. And that means “high-definition” (HD) video and “surround sound” audio. People have “theaters” in their homes all set up to view movies the way they are shown in a movie theater. And blu-ray gives people a way to buy (or rent) high-definition movies on disc.
Digital data of any type must be stored using some sort of coding system. It’s just a binary number until it’s decoded and its significance to humans (if any) is retrieved. Computer science has worked out hundreds (if not thousands) of coding schemes to turn data that means something to people into streams of binary numbers. In its digital state, data is relatively meaningless. But while in that state it can be reliably manipulated to include, for instance, encrypting, which then requires someone who wants to decode it to also have a decryption “key.” Both of these features of digital data – encoding and encrypting – are seen as valuable to people who think they have the “rights” to the data and should be able to charge others for the privilege of using it.
HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface)
When I got home with my blu-ray disc, I discovered that none of the optical disc players in my house were blu-ray compatible. That means I had to purchase a player. I looked online and found a refurbished one at NewEgg for what I thought was a reasonable price and purchased it. When it arrived a few days later, I found out that the player had only one output on the back: HDMI.
I had heard of HDMI, but I had no equipment that used it. My DVD player outputs analog video and audio; easy to make copies from this output. But HDMI is totally digital; difficult to make copies from this output. That’s why “the industry” likes it!
Actually, the HDMI system is pretty cool. It has four channels of very high speed digital, transmitted on “differential” twisted-pair lines the way ethernet signals are. These channels can go really fast. That means they can squeeze high-definition video PLUS up to 8 channels of digital audio (32 channels with version 2.0) through an HDMI cable, plus let the source of the signal “talk” to the receiving equipment to ensure all licensing fees have been paid by the manufacturer of the receiver!
None of this solved my problem of not yet being able to view the movie I bought.
And I didn’t see buying an HDMI TV ($500 and up) as an option.
Handling the video signal
Video is relatively easy with HDMI. I have computer monitors with DVI inputs (another digital video connection system) and the signals are compatible. Just get an adapter that has DVI on one end and an HDMI connector at the other. Then connect disc player to monitor with an HDMI cable.
Problem: No sound!
Handling the audio
Older blu-ray players had analog audio outputs (I am told). I couldn’t find one. I tried a gizmo that converts HDMI to VGA video (that’s analog but for computers) and analog audio. My player talked to it and decided it wasn’t licensed. Nothing came out!
At this point I went a little crazy. I tried my best to research it all out on the internet and make the right decision. From what I read it sounded like I needed an “A/V Receiver” and maybe even an “A/V Preamp.” A/V preamps specialize in pulling the audio out of HDMI signals. They are considered “top end” and are très cher (very expensive). Not an option.
I settled for an older A/V receiver. It had lots of audio amplifiers. If worse came to worse, I could use them for something else. It had an HDMI input, so I figured all would be good. I wanted to make sure I would have one that worked so I bought two of them! The first one arrived, I opened it and got out the manual, and there in the fine print…”the audio signals which are input into the HDMI IN cannot be reproduced on this receiver.” Wow. I had 12 60 watt audio amplifiers at my disposal and still…no sound!
The next day I went back to Shopko and got a blu-ray player there that was on clearance sale for $70. It had a coaxial digital audio output. I remembered that the receiver had a coaxial digital audio input. I was going to be in business.
I haven’t studied the manual for my Sherwood RD-5405 Audio/Video Receiver yet. It’s a computer-controlled gizmo like all these “modern” electronic things are. But I read enough to figure out how to connect it up to some speakers I had laying around, and to my new blu-ray player, and to one of my computer monitors, and I finally got to watch the movie I’d purchased about 2 weeks earlier!
(See the next post for more about some movies I watched.)