||Extended Special Report [A Story of Passion, Controversy, Espionage, and the LAPD ... all Up In There N’ Stuff] - Page 1
Extended Special Report
A Story of Passion, Controversy, Espionage, and the LAPD ... all Up In There N’ Stuff
By Marc Flemming
I’ll set the record straight now. That title of this report may mean nothing to you, but I promise that by the time I conclude this variety of confused thoughts into a semi-flowing work of mostly non-fiction, some small part of what I have written there will mean something to you - if not make perfect sense in an insane sort of way. If in the end, you’re asking yourself who is really off their rocker - you... or me - then I have at least achieved something. What that is - I do not know. But feeling the success of achievement is a powerful thing that I need right about now.
Ron Epstein and Parker Clack's Home Theater Forum threw together a great little get-together in sunny Southern California amidst peaking afternoon temperatures that put the Arctic winds through our upper Northern Hemisphere to shame. First and foremost, I would like to thank Ron, Parker and their group of moderators for putting together an entertaining trip that I’ll remember for sometime to come (or until later this week - as most of my memories have a shelf-life of about a week due to the large amounts of radiation I have been subjected to since I was a child - cell phones, computers, console systems, large screen TVs, Chernobyl - the list goes on).
Throughout this event we visited the back-lots of studios, met people in the industry, caught a few star sightings, drank beer, and dodged a few bullets from standard issue semi-automatic weapons courtesy of the LAPD. Yes, let me just explain before you go jumping to any conclusions. It is from this experience that I will write on a few separate topics entitled: Diggin’ that DTS, Perusing the Alleyways of Paramount, Walking with Warner, Out-foxed by Twentieth Century Fox, Studio Day 2000 (which contains DVD release information), and various After Hours installments. What we have here is more a story of adventure than merely a report of the facts. Let’s begin - shall we?
Diggin’ that DTS
Our first trip would take us to a typical California business district remnant of the thousands scattered through Silicon Valley. There sits the unsuspecting white building with a blue and white ‘DTS’ logo. Before long, we found ourselves sitting in the comfortable chairs of DTS’s private theater. With speakers installed at a rate of one every square foot, one might expect the theater to be completed with a large screen to match, but all that was to be found was a 32” television on a push stand. For a moment I thought, “Hmm, indeed, this IS a company all about sound,” and really - they need not care about the latter half of “Audio/Video”. It would soon come to my attention that this theater was still under construction and that we wouldn’t hear or see anything emanating from its walls. Instead the 32” television and VHS VCR was to be DTS’s demonstration tools. Were we ever enthusiastic. That aside - the true entertainment to be witnessed at this visit would reside in the words of DTS’s marketing director, Dave DelGrosso.
Lumbering into the room after we had taken our seats, DelGrosso’s large frame draped in an untucked t-shirt and jeans on a Wednesday afternoon seemed hardly like an executive heading a marketing team that had the immense feat of competing with the likes of an antiquated and well-accepted Dolby. Despite his knack for defying traditional professionalism, DelGrosso was clear in his position and he delivered it on our level: DTS is the best means to delivering a transparent copy of the original audio master to the home theater environment. His loyalty, belief in his product, sharp marketing and sales tactics enveloped us for a fair amount of time. I very much enjoyed the comments he had to share that day.
DelGrosso provided us first with a touch of history surrounding the DTS product. A guy named Spielberg met with them one day and after determining that their product was what he needed to complete his Jurassic Park experience, Spielberg proclaimed that if they could get DTS installed in as many theaters as Jurassic Park was going to debut in - he would use DTS. Otherwise he would default to the Dolby Digital backup. Suffice to say - they achieved this requirement and the rest is history with DTS appearing in more than 18,000 theaters around the world today. When coming to comparative conclusions between the two leading sound technologies, it really does go a long way to say that every major electronics manufacturer uses DTS in all of their demonstrations at major conventions around the world.
DTS is not without their own touch of controversy and when DTS reps are situated in front a room full of home theater enthusiasts, it is almost 100% certain that existing controversy be brought to the forefront.
This controversy was of course 2-3 years ago when DTS unknowingly released audio transfers (bound for laserdisc) with 3dB surround deviations that would eventually find their way to the public. According to them, this was a simple oversight and lack of communication between parties. DTS apologized for this sometime ago and made a couple things clear: 1) DTS is responsible only for creating the equipment to sell to a studio for encoding an original audio master in DTS. 2) Since the 3dB issue, DTS has never purposely altered any portion of an audio master (through the use of “mixing”).
On this note, DelGrosso and a DTS production engineer discussed a particular DVD where they went above and beyond their usual call of production duty to produce something they thought best represented their work in recent years. The master for Dances with Wolves was located in a vault in London. Upon its retrieval, they rented the best equipment possible and developed their own transfer from start to finish - something that is now handled by the studios. What is to be realized is that DTS is usually not involved in a process beyond providing the DTS equipment to studios who then create the audio transfer (which should then be transparent to the original master - no changes are made in levels at DTS, i.e. “mixing”).
Apparently DTS has been fielding several inquiries asking about the audio issues present with the Universal’s Jurassic Park DTS track, ironically enough. It would seem that many agree that the DTS and Dolby Digital versions are quite nearly impossible to tell apart. When presented with this information, DelGrosso seemed unwilling to debate that this wasn’t the case. Without coming out and saying it, anyone paying attention could use a little deductive reasoning to conclude that it’s quite possible one of a couple things happened, one being much more likely than the other: 1) Upon hearing the DTS track, Universal attempted to remix the Dolby Digital to sound as dynamic (unlikely). 2) The DTS version was created from a Dolby Digital transfer (oops?). In any case, it was made clear that this was Universal’s fumble and it is they that should do their own play calling to get themselves out of this grind. We should expect to hear an announcement from them in the near future.
Now when you throw a couple of merchants vying for the top spot in a market where they are really the only ones competing, surely one can expect a bit of bickering between the two. DelGrosso brought to our attention a Dolby article that has been circulating across the net with the full intent of setting some things straight. The article contains Dolby’s findings when making a direct comparison between the two technologies. Of course since Dolby’s market strategy isn’t self-destruction, you can probably guess what those findings were. Dolby pointed out a few things that made DTS the weaker of the two. 1) Loudness: Dolby indicates that DTS encoded transfers are louder. DelGrosso laughed and said that all transfers vary in loudness and that this point was irrelevant. He was quick to point out something that many of us might relate to - CD audio transfers that have us messing with the volume from disc to disc to compensate for the variations. Finally, “loudness” in the home theater environment is dependent upon where the viewer decides to leave their volume set. And while most of us don’t have the same film on DTS and DD discs to make direct comparisons, “loudness” is not a determining factor in one’s experience and certainly not something that qualifies a track as being “better”. 2) Dolby says that they have the edge on the competition because they offer a “stereo” track that can be downmixed from their 5.1 audio transfers. Again - DelGrosso laughs, but this time with a little anger in his voice. He explained that as consumers we should exercise our voices and educate the masses to what Dolby is actually doing with these downmixes. As an example, Dolby takes a film like Saving Private Ryan and produces a 5.1 audio track. Then they listen to this track as it is downmixed by a standard DVD player. If a segment of the downmix does not come across accurately, they potentially use mixing techniques and level changes with the original track therefore compromising the final 5.1 piece to a certain degree. I think most of us would agree that a quality downmixed stereo track is hardly worth compromising the original effort. 3) Finally, when asked to make rebuttal comments for inclusion in the article, DelGrosso explained that he had nothing to say considering the methods in which these findings were carried out. Dolby came to their conclusions using unnamed “experts”, unknown testing methods/equipment and unknown testing locations/atmospheres.
We asked about DTS’s plans for the future. Apart from their plans to get involved with DVD-Audio and DVD-ROM PC games (coming real soon) that will implement their 5.1 surround sound technology, DelGrosso indicated that by 2002, all releases of 5.1 surround films to DVD will be done in DTS (as is done currently with Dolby Digital).
While DelGrosso’s standpoint was obviously biased in terms of DD vs. DTS debate as should be expected, his conversation was both extremely informative and entertaining to say the least. Look for a chat between him and those at the Home Theater Forum in the coming weeks. I hope that someday in the future DCN can also have him share some of his viewpoints on our own turf.
After Hours, Part 1
The conclusion of the DTS meet in the late afternoon meant one thing for many of us: scheduled freedom to explore. The majority of the individuals attending this southern California gig came from all over the world - the East coast, Canada and Europe were just a few of the mentioned home base locations. In fact, I remember speaking with someone later in the trip who had come from West Palm Beach, Florida - and deep down I was wondering if I was staring directly at the one person that would decide our next President.
Some of the group took off in the direction of Universal City to watch any number of movies that were playing there. One film mentioned was DreamWorks’ Legend of Bagger Vance. Others filtered through the high-tech audio/video palace (on the inside anyway) called Ambrosia, a retail outlet that was willing to take you in, offer you some drinks, and send you on a wild ride of the senses. The rest fended for themselves partaking in any number of random activities ... that were hopefully legal. But no one could have readied us for the evil that was to come.
My buddy and I decided we would spend our night wallowing in our own self-pity (with a little socializing mixed in there to balance it out) and where better to do that then at the conveniently located hotel bar not more than a hundred or so feet from the elevator to our room. Several drinks later (and a wee bit happier), a few recognizable faces dropped in. Cigar smoking for those interested soon ensued on the patio, courtesy of the Cigar Smoking Man, Steven Simon. A short while later after a thriving conversation on film, business and DVD (but of course - the one major interest we all had in common), we casually witnessed your typical L.A. drug bust in the hotel parking lot just few feet away. As if going for a streak, we would later find out that this was the second bust in two nights.
Steven Simon, the Cigar Smoking Man.|
Discovering later that we were too hungry to sleep, yet too inebriated to drive - we set out for the nearest source of food at a restaurant that was still open and within walking distance. We found ourselves depressed and banging on the locked doors of a closing Pizza Hut. The employees must have felt pity for us (or were too scared out of their wits to call 911) for they opened their doors and offered us two pizzas free of charge. Undoubtedly, these had been sitting unclaimed for hours, but we were so desperate for any sort of sustenance, be it nutritiously good or bad, that we offered them a tip if they would heat it up. We were so full of good-hearted joy on the way back, we offered half of our pizza to a passing stranger, who ran away from us before we could finish our offering. We collectively agreed he must have been late for something.
After all the bright lights and images of hand-cuffed criminals faded from my mind and I laid to rest my head gently upon my pillow, I thought contently that even if there were more drug dealers combing the halls of our hotel for business, I wouldn’t hear them - because of the major highway situated only 20 feet from our window - 30 feet from my head. The only thing I would hear that night would be my own desperate pleas to convince myself that the constant passing traffic was the ocean and the roaring of the occasional semi-truck was a random rogue wave. Little did I know, that night’s lack of sleep would be put to shame by the following evening.