Leatherheads – movie review

George Clooney is a man identified with the cool, especially after Ocean 11, and he has successfully ventured into directing, and this is his third outing. He has picked a show about the pro football when leather instead of plastic was used to make the headgear, and he has made a movie which is delicate, yet funny and has plenty of demo worthy scenes to offer.



It’s a sports movie, a romance and a comedy, and he pulls it off with good contribution when he is in front of the camera, with good efforts by the lead actress Renee and of course the newbie Krasinski, the “Bullet”, and plenty of good enthusiasm by the supporting cast. There is the old sporting against the odds theme, plus a three way romance, and the additional pot boiler of some hidden skeletons in the closet to add spice to the show.



The result is a movie which is nostalgic, yet refreshing and the quality of the Blu Ray transfer is highly impressive, especially in the video section where, the clarity and lack of any defects make this disc a good way to show off the new Hi Def TV or projector. The sound is good too, with the jazz band well rendered, although those looking to show off the surround effects may be a little disappointed.



3.5/5 for the plot, 3/5 for action 2.5/5 for chick factor (Renee Zellwenger is no spring chick anymore)



Should you buy this, it is worth a rental at least and if you are a sports fan, and wish to own a demo worthy show, this will be a good keeper too.


I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

Knowing – movie review

Premonition is a popular theme, which excites and can be the recipe for a decent yarn. Nicolas Cage is no stranger to this, having done “Next”, in which he has the power of foresight. This movie is pretty much like a revised version of that, with a better plot and tighter editing, almost as though someone had taken the plot of Next and shaken out all the bad parts and replaced it with a slight better story arc and acting he made the mistake of retaining Nic. You could have replaced him with a better actor and still get as much out of the show.



So a little note buried in the 50s holds the secrets to major disasters for the next 50 years. You get some suspense here, and there seems to be a predilection for end of the world type shows in the recent box office, and what you get here, is a thriller about how our world unravels.



This movie is noteworthy more for the demo scenes, such as the plane crash, where the whole HT system gets a great workout. 3.5/5 for action, 2.5/5 for the plot.

Forget chick factor, it’s in short supply as with many other aspects of the show.

This movie is still worthy of a rental, with all the action going on, but I doubt if you will give it a second spin.



I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

2012 – movie review

Roland Emmerich is the master of disaster. He has wiped out LA, parts of NYC and many other places in his previous movies, which boast bigger and badder scenes of destruction. Mayhem is his middle name and each year, he comes up with something else to wipe out or threaten the survival of the human race.



2012 is his latest offering, which combines his trademark ingredients of a collection of A-grade stars plus another bunch of B+ stars (cheaper to hire?) and what tickled me most – a local talent in the form of Chin Han, who actually makes it to the credits and the IMDB website for this show! Kudos to the journeyman who has rubbed shoulders with the megastars in Batman and now this.



The premise is not unfamiliar to us, Earth is about to be destroyed, of course having used up Godzilla, Aliens, and the weather, he reaches deeper into his rather shallow thinking box to combine apocalyptic events with a event twist, whilst throwing in stories of old, including the Great Flood and the Ark. I doubt if the fans would be too worried about the story arc, and would be more impressed by how he chooses to blow up various capitals around the whilst.



If all this movie was about was merely a few scenes of explosions and mayhem thrown together, I doubt if it would have found much success at the box office (actually it is still just that, some quiet scenes between the big blow-ups). In many of his movies, he adds what he considers a human element, and sometimes it adds the dimension of fragility (see Dennis Quaid in Day After Tomorrow) and it can also be the clowning hero (see Will Smith in Independence Day) and John Cusack belongs to the former genre, being able to be a hero in the anti-hero mould. We see parallels to Dennis Quaid’s role, as separated father, someone who does not see action as an instinct, and a bit of a down and out loser, albeit a clever one, whose one claim to fame prior to this was a book which sold less than 600 copies.



But the all-American will always rise to the challenge, especially when the waters are rising even faster. He has to save his family, even the step-dad replacing him and also save a few others along the way. We do see his limitations, and unlike the Rambo or Arnie models, he does not single-handed save the world, which is a better touch than the ridiculous idea of a virus infecting the alien mothership. We see a variety of personalities as the movie develops, the intellectual geologist, the sanguine and self-sacrificing president, the practical all cut to the chase politician, the tough Russian trying all ways to save his twins and of course, our own Tenzin, the worker who saves his family and a whole bunch of others along the way, albeit a tad reluctant. I reckon he got a good 20 minutes of air time and plenty of dialogue too, so this should do his pay and his movie cred a lot of good.



Don’t expect too much for the plot, and enjoy the ride. 3/5 for the plot.



As a 2 hour block of fun, we are treated to a surround fest and this should be a good movie to demo the bass and surround system, with plenty of loud scenes to keep the hobbyists happy. Action 4/5



Amanda Peet is fine eye candy, but her role is not as juicy nor is she Megan Fox, so I give 2.5/5 for the chick factor.



Should you get this movie? If you liked his previous work, then you will consider owning this, but it is fun enough for at least a rental.





I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

Best coffee in Sydney - Vella Nero

I used to regard Campos as the best coffee in Sydney (http://www.camposcoffee.com/), and I still have a couple of bags of the good stuff in my home, but a recent jaunt Down Under has allowed me to try a new place.

http://www.vellanero.com.au/main/index.php

Its Vella Nero, downtown, at Shop 3 / 259 Clarence Street in the CBD. I have to thank Danny for this, but it was a fortuitous event, as we just slipped into the shop near closing time and the staff were still ever so warm, allowing us to savor our java and ask questions whilst they waited for us to finish.

I have a latte, and the taste was sublime, with just enough milk flavor that did not overpower the scent and taste of coffee.

The place was warm, but it was obviously meant for the hordes which throng the place at lunch hour, and by 4pm when it closed, it was a quiet little place, which suited me fine.

Come down, gaze at the rows of pots, the slim narrow configuration of the shop, or simply steal peeks at the lovely ladies who serve you Sydney's best coffee with a smile...

Good stuff












I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

Transporter 3 - review

 

The transporter series will never win an Oscar. Yet the potent mix of fast action, mixed with plenty of explosions, and beautiful women plus the dry humor of the eminently likeable Jason Statham as a retired ex military sort with an ability to kick butts is a tempting proposition.

 

The success of number 1 made it a commercial necessity to make the sequel, but this failed rather badly at the box office so it was brave of the production team to attempt number 3.

 

The usual elements which made the first 2 shine are there, and it keeps through to a simple plot which makes the movie tick and allow the action scenes and the Cory Yuen choreographed fight scenes to speak for themselves.

 

A razor thin plot about getting a hot chick from point A to point B whilst having a proximity fused bomb on his wrist is the how the story unfolds.

 

There is plenty of action, and Jason makes a good choice as an action hero laced with his dry humour which on the odd occasion, makes the wry smile plastered on a taciturn face, fashionable.

 

Chick factor – somehow a freckled marked new face with a lousy Georgian accent does not make it too hot, how about getting someone like Maggie Q, or Giselle Bundchen? They probably cost too much.

 

So should you buy this, IMO, definitely worth a rental.

 

Ponyo

SPOILER ALERT

You could call this a Nemo meets Little Mermaid in Japanese and it would be fine. You could also call it a very simple love story that transcends age as the protagonists are 5 year olds (or at least one and a little goldfish). But the director Miyazaki who did works like “Spirited Away” has done well again to create a relatively simple and straight forward story that audiences from all age groups can enjoy, and then go back and watch it again for more nuances and detail, despite the simple story, which consists of a goldfish child of the sea wizard and the sea goddess who falls in love with a little boy and the story of how they get separated and re-united.

The animation is traditional 2 D here, no fancy Pixar CGI, yet, without the usual eye-popping colors and dimensions, you still get a good sense of movement and the imagination in the director’s mind.
Plot 4.5/5
Action : despite being an anime, with the DTS-ES equipped HK DVD, the surrounds are well used for ambience and when the tsunami comes, you get plenty of bass too. Not a bad effort, but the dialogue is the main thrust and it is clear and easy to follow. Note the Chinese version will be in SS 2.0. 3/5
Chick factor : being an anime, there is little of this, apart from the cuteness Ponyo and the feisty mum

Should you buy or rent or avoid this? – well, I recommend buying, and watching it alone, then with your kids or your partner. It has the depth and watching the lovely Ponyo in her exuberance as she rides the waves with the single objective of meeting her beloved young boy is a joy that transcends age and language barriers. Then watching the destruction trail behind her and the subsequent calmness and the strange fish in the water makes you feel like a child in a glass bottom boat again.

 

Terminator Salvation




With a base of Terminator fans and an almost impossible task of surpassing T2, what can this summer blockbuster movie in this yet another franchise reboot offer? The key lies in the opposite to T2 where the term “Liquid Metal” was introduced to an good effect to win a special effects Oscar, and here the key lies in the ‘human’ element, which is cleverly used to differentiate this from the previous 3 movies and other recent bit shows.

Every filmmaker in recent times has realized the reboot technique works allowing you to keep old fans happy (witness the use of “I’ll be back”) and yet allows the director to take the film into a new chapter to win new fans. But CGI and big explosions can only make a movie half decent, the additional elements of using a “who am I” theme added to flesh out the so called enemy and the effect of blurring the lines of who is your enemy makes this better than just a short action movie with lots of big bangs.

But do not get me wrong. The is a movie where you get a home theatre system demo worthy soundtrack and almost continuous action peppered with large explosions to test your subwoofer and those who crave the big screen action will not be disappointed. There is good use of live action and the additional of CGI serves to add flavor rather than become the centre theme of the show.

There are several nods to adoring fans, even to the point of using Arnie’s 3 famous words: “I’ll be back”, and other small points that fans will recognize.

Christian Bale makes a good John Connor and Sam Worthington is an excellent thespian who adds dimension to his role as a covert operative machine who has an identity crisis. Linda Hamilton even has a brief cameo as an old lady, and of course old Arnie makes a grand appearance as a terminator, although he looks a little younger and fitter than the real person.

Plot 3.5/5

Action 4/5
The chick factor in such an action boiler is limited and Moon Bloodstone (some name!) does not make the top 10 list of hot chicks 2.5/5

Would I buy/rent or forget it?

As a Terminator fan who has owned 3 different copies of T2, 3 copies of T3, I will buy this, but not only because I am a big fan, but because the new addition was enjoyable and promises a new storyline with a good cast which can carry this off well with a nice combination of CGI, action and most importantly a good yarn with a human element. It will be back…

 

Mall Cop

Kevin James is the kind of likeable chubby fellow who walks on to the screen and with each of his chubby steps begs us to like him. He milks every known cliché about the luckless fat guy who falls in love and wins the heart of the babe and defeats the bad guys. This is a feel good movie, so you would want everything to go to plan and it does.
A simple by the book plot is carried by good chemistry between the leads, plus the bad guys and the obnoxious actors genuinely ham it up to make you detest them, yet its all good fun. There is a body count and swear words, so its not totally kid friendly. Plot: 3/5
Chick Factor: one reasonably attractive actress 3/5
Action: some skate board, slides and physical humor, but this is no Die Hard 2.5/5
So where does this movie lie? It is funny, and a good enough diversion for a Saturday afternoon rental.

 

Inkheart

This is another family orientated movie, which is played to its best by Brendan Fraser, who is the master of the Indiana Jones Lite movies, as seen from his ventures into the Mummy Franchise, Journey to the Centre of the Earth etc. he has an able supporting cast and despite the PG rating, gives adequate development to the plot, the emotions and family dynamics, even though the mother/wife does little.

A plot that reminds you of Jumanji is the basis of the story but Brendan manages to carry it off. Plot 3/5

Action: there is plenty of adventure, and it is all in good fun, with little blood, so you can bring junior to this. 3/5

Chick factor: apart from a sweet young lady who plays his daughter, there is little eye candy 2/5

I would say this is worth a rent and those with kids may even consider a purchase if junior likes it. It has elements of honor, honesty and family in it.

 

Review of Star Trek

 

 

 

What makes a successful blockbuster? The current trend of series re-boots has been emulated by many, after the initial success of franchises like Superman, Batman, James Bond amongst others. This approach is also adopted by Star Trek, which also has a large following, with a fan base that spans at least 3 decades, which rivals the James Bond one in size.

 

So how do you keep the old faithful happy and attract new fans? Well first make sure the old names are there; Spock (in which Leonard Nimoy actually plays an older Spock), Kirk, Sulu, Scotty are all here. The Enterprise looks identical, and the cockpit is similar. Then add some cute new faces who have become hot young stars that have begun attract their own fans in other productions. Throw in some kick ass action scenes with enough but not too much CGI, and mix… then sit back and wait for the billions that adoring fans will bring. And indeed, this is one spectacular show on many fronts.

 

But we all know that some who have the same mix have fallen flat on their faces. So what makes this show such a success? First, spend enough time and effort to source a solid villain, who is menacing, mean and looks like he means business. Eric Bana was a great choice, who is almost unrecognizable as the Romulan baddie that seeks vengeance through a path of destruction and mayhem. A strong villain makes the heroes look better when they defeat him. And a tag team of heroes with their own hang ups and woes adds dimension to their characters.

 

James Siberius Kirk is a rowdy young upstart here, albeit one a with astounding military savviness, and Spock has emotions, gasp! Throw in an obligatory babe and some funny scenes which lighten the mood between the action. And yes, this is still an action movie, which help this show differentiate itself from the older slower ones, and that helps attract a whole new fanbase with less cerebral stuff. The CGI combines well with excellent sound effects to elevate this movie to the reference level for the whole HT experience. When the explosions come, it is breath-taking and although older fans will recognize the space craft and the whole scene, new CGI effects have taken the franchise to a whole new level.

 

The story has a nice time space thread which allows the franchise to be cleverly re-booted into a new story line, but yet allows the introduction of all the main protagonists and showcase the main members of the team as they get introduced into the movie as the story unfolds.

 

The pace of the action is well done, and with some comic relief by Simon Pegg as Scotty, the movie moves along quite evenly and John Cho makes for a good Sulu as well.

 

There is genuine chemistry and sparks fly as the whole cast gel well to make a sterling new entry into the Star Trek adventure. May this cast live long and prosper!

 

Up -uplifting the eyes, ears and heart

Apart from some forgettable short films in the past, today is the first time I tried a 3-D movie and what better way to get introduced to this than a movie which has so many dimensions and stimulates your eyes, is a real sonic treat for the ears and stirs your heart all in an hour and a half. Throw in a great short film called Partly Cloudy to start it, and you will leave the cinema with a smile, guaranteed…

 

SPOILER ALERT

 

This movie is not your usual kiddie animation offering from Pixar, and whilst it retains the high quality productions bursting with rich colors, what makes it stand out, literally too, is the storyline. The 3 D is sharp, and the goggles offered at the Orchard Cineleisure were clean and effective in bringing out the effects. You could almost reach out and touch the characters on the screen. I was seated dead centre too, and I guess that helped.

 

But the heart and soul of this story of love, adventure and the relationship between a grumpy old man and the boy is a journey of discovery, where each person discovers happiness. It is a little darker than usual, with death and some violence with a more menacing moment at the tail end of the movie, which may disturb younger viewers, so I would not advocate leaving your kid in the cinema alone with this show.

 

It begins quite sadly and in a bittersweet start, the protagonist, Mr Fredrickson, meets the love of his life, grows old with her and loses her, all within the first 10 minutes of the show. They are seen to have never fulfilled their aim of visiting Paradise, in South America. This is despite his vow and ‘crossing his heart’. We then see a panning shot which zooms out to show his old home surrounded by masses of re-development, which serves to juxtapose how old and left behind, and also alone he must feel.

 

Then cue the eager beaver boy scout boy Russell, which in a politically correct ploy, is either Korean or Asian, complete with cherubic red cheeks and overloaded to the hilt with modern technology but in a single-minded desire to gain that last badge which will allow him to get Senior Wilderness Scout status in the hope that his estranged father will come forth and pin that badge on him. The hints to separation and divorce and a splintered family are subtle and yet portray the settings of this movie in a modern and perhaps realistic setting where not everyone exists in a happy “Waltons” or “House on the Prairie” sort of world.

 

The unlikely duo journey to South America with the aid of a violent storm on a house floating with the help of balloons and meet the strange bird Kevin, the talking Dog Doug and the old man’s idol who vowed never to return to civilization until he captures the bird. This twist on the Wizard of Oz theme with elements of self-discovery is new and yet turns to the old theme of finding oneself amidst adversity without seeming contrived and appeals to the viewer at many levels.

 

It isn’t all serious, as the comic moments and the old guy, young kid contrast routine is nicely worked in with plenty of hilarious moments, interspersed between the more tender and serious ones.

 

The love story between the old man Carl and Ellie is also very tender and heart –warming, and even though they did not fulfil the aims of reaching South America together, the lives they lived together is filled with love, kindness and joy. With references to an old song “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey”, sums up the feeling conveyed in the short lead up to the loss of the wife. They also make do with what they have, making their own “South America” in the jobs they do at the zoo. It is a testimony that it isn’t important where the journey leads you, if you can go through the journey of life with someone you love.

 

Highly recommended, firstly as a show at the cinemas, as a keeper for the sound effects and most importantly, a storyline you will not tire of watching again, especially with a loved one.

 

Sherlock Holmes is anything but elementary

 

 

2009 was a year of franchise reboots which allowed movies which have gone stale to get off to a new start. What better way to start 2010 than with a successful reboot of one of the oldest.

 

History affords us wisdom and 20/20 insight into what makes for a successful plot and a great movie. You have a good buddy partnership to kick things off, a good old cop theme, with a suspense thriller thrown in, spice things up with a sexy yet spunk maiden, add lots of gadget or intriguing science and  finally bring it into the 21st century with a bang, or rather, lots of them.

 

This same mix has worked well for movies as diverse as can be, from Lethal Weapon, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Austin Powers to even McGuyver.

 

Guy Ritchie is Brit and has done some snappy movies, and he carries his signature style of fast flashbacks, tight editing peppered with good action sequences in between. Traditionalists may baulk at having Downey JR as Holmes, and the portrayal has him as more of an eccentric with flashes of brilliance, yet apart from updating him into more of an action man, Guy actually retains much of the old characteristics of sharp observer skills honed into good old fashioned detective skills, and he is aided by an also updated Watson, who is erstwhile a doctor and has a limp, but is a more lean (pun intended) version who can trade punches alongside Holmes instead of merely bumbling along. I did not like the ills of gambling, but along with the untidiness of Holmes, all this is some means in which Guy tries to humanize these two characters which have long acquired legendary status.

 

Although having an American as Holmes, especially one with an unconvincing British accent, Downey handles the part adroitly and he has genuine chemistry with Jude Law which bodes well for a sequel, which I am quite sure there will be one as the ending leaves no doubt of that. But no movie is complete without a strong villain and a good plot, and what better person than the sinister and menacing Mark Strong, in a story that has dark magic, take over the world plots, a resurrection to bring back to life an old franchise. Add Rachel McAdams who is not unlike Michelle Yeoh in James Bond, and you have a sexy lady who can handle the kicks and punches gamely whilst still able to look bootelicious.

 

The surround mix was also very good and with action sequences helping the already good plot along, you have action, chick factor, and good effects, which all combine to help make this a real keeper. There is a scene when Mark Strong's voice is projected all round, and the imaging is fabulous. There is plenty of use of the LFE and good ambience in moments of suspense.

 

At least 4/5 on all fronts.

 

Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar review

 

Right, lets get this over with, and get to the ratings. I gave this 8/10 for the CGI, the sound effects and the whole 3D presentation. Truly James Cameron is the master of big blockbuster hits which have spanned stuff like Titanic, Abyss, True Lies, Terminator I & II, but I also gave the movie 4/10 for the story. So now for the details…

 

3D is 2010’s new fangled way of seducing movie goers back to the big screen, just as franchise re-boots were the order of the day in 2009. as DVDs and Blu Ray become more pervasive, it can be almost as good to watch your favorite movie in the comforts of your home, especially if you possess a kick-ass surround system. However current technology will not come anywhere close to the kind of eye-popping effects that a jaunt to the cinema with 3D will provide.

 

So for the good stuff first. Cameron has spared no expense to create a whole new world, the screen is filled with vibrant colors, and there are ambient surround effects emanating from all parts of the cinema, adding a real sonic experience to the movie. The bass was actually weaker than I expected, and did not meet the levels experienced during Star Trek or Transformers II, which were at the top of their game, but even UP had a better bass sound track.

 

Even so, the CGI employ almost makes the holes in the plot bearable and for those who just want to experience 3D, without caring much for the plot, then they can do a lot worse than this show.

 

And indeed you really have to suspend your disbelief. You really need to switch off any brain cells to go with the flow.

Its '1492' meets 'Dances with Wolves' meets 'Eragon' meets 'Pocahontas' meets 'New World' meets.... well you get the idea that Mr Cameron is a master of CGI and using Weta was a stroke of genuis but he should really hire someone way better to get a better story. The story is meant to be simply I assume, to showcase his 3D wizardry, but as in many of these action movies, it borrows or to be more accurate, cuts and pastes the storyline out of other plots, almost as though Cameron had a digital storyboard in his lap and was googling for ideas online then adding elements from other movies to conjure up this movie. The whole catch your own Banshee thing and mating with just one was lifted right out of Eragon, and the white man meets natives bit, complete with CGI faces of the Navi (which also sounds American Indian) and the Indian accents, all come from previous movies of which ‘1492’, ‘Dances’, and 'Pocahontas' are just a few famous examples.

 

However fans of 3D and Avatar will be quick to forgive such shortcoming and indeed there is plenty of action, some humor and the spectacle of 3D to keep them happy. Things really pop out from the screen although for people like me with small noses and spectacles it became a struggle over the length of the movie to keep the 3D glasses in place.

 

Producers of the next 3D movie will have it harder, as the novelty wears off and we examine the plot more closely. Take “UP”, that is my current gold standard. It combines humor, action and the 3D is a bonus rather than the main thrust of the movie. Directors will do well to take a page out of that show.

 

4/10 for plot. Overall, 5.5/10.

 

 

 


 

 

9 is a Perfect 10

 

 

Tim Burton does not make many ordinary movies. Even when he makes a movie about an apocalyptic event, he is able to put his personal touches to it and add mystery, terror and adventure all in the same plot.

 

Using cartoon animation instead of his previous work of stop action type animation, he is able to render rich colors and construct a world dominated by machines terrorizing the last few survivors created by a Professor. However this is not merely some recreation of Terminator Salvation and does not make you want to compare the product with James Cameron’s previous works. However the science and the surround effect is brilliant and this Blu Ray disc is a reference material disc. Sound quality and picture quality are all top notch and the DTS-MA 5.1 surrounds you with a world filled with details and the bass adds not only thump during explosions, but more importantly ambience and suspense.

 

There is plenty of action, but little by way of the chick factor.

 

It will take you more than one viewing to get the nuances of this movie, so I would say, this is a keeper.

 

Plot 4/5

Action 4/5

Surround 4.5/5

 

An early review:

 

 

http://www.highdefdiscnews.com/?p=32097

 

 

 

 

 

2010 the year of great promise

2009 to 2010 - the year in summary (on music, home theatre and hi fi)

 

2010 the year of great promise

 

 

After a rather dreary 2009, where most of us spent the year cowering from the pains of the recession, 2010 can be a great year in which we look forward to a better year and also more in our pockets for our extreme hobby – HT & Hi Fi!

 

The year 2009 began with a dearth of Blu Ray players, despite the format’s victory. We were still forced to buy profile 1 or 1.1 players (see the often flogged Sony BD 300). Many discs bricked players and prices hovered around the 7xx or more mark. Quietly Samsung brought in their 1400 then the 1500 and this was the beginning of a quiet influx of BR buyers.

 

Even so the PS 3 proved the most dependable player for playability (even to this date), although we do see some issues with the laser dying. PS 3 did not rest on its laurels but continued to drop prices, give us bigger HD, but the loss of SACD playback and even PS 2 compatibility was sorely missed.

 

For BR players, surely in our local community, this was the year of the Oppo. One of the most anticipated products in the HT world all everywhere, this was the product which owners swore could kill BR players, CD players many times its price and leap across tall buildings in a single bound too. However at the price of about 1000 for a Region-Free set, it was not meant to entice more new BR or Hi Def entrants. Still, it sold like hot cakes, and for seasoned HT owners, it was an all in one addition to their systems which was almost as essential as the TV itself.

 

As for TV, 2009 was also the year we lost Pioneer. As the last of the Kuros are sought, bought and those without it are left distraught, we mourn the passing of the best ever display made, and wonder if Panasonic will fill its shoes or raise to the challenge. Panasonic has bought over the technology that went into making Kuros, but we still wait with abated breath as they seem more interested in market share and penetration than giving us the best displays possible. Perhaps they have learnt that the best is not good enough, as the best was priced a little too far out for the cost conscious to buy in sufficient volumes to keep the company afloat. Long live the blacks…

 

We also saw TV prices plunge significantly, and the point of value was the 42” basic plasma sets that Panasonic sold for less than $700. This made it possible for owners of CRT sets to pray their old TVs would die and replace it with a screen size that would have cost more than 10 times that merely 5 years ago. Anyone remember paying 10 000 for a SD capable 42” plasma? 2009 also saw the transition to Full HD for many plasma sets, with less HD ready TVs than 2008.

 

LED TVs were also introduced to us, in a rather cunning way that actually used existing LCD technology rather than true LED technology. This allowed the prices of TVs to go northwards a little since new stuff tends to attract a slightly higher price. This was in contrast to the >42” size LCD TVs which you could get for < 2000.

 

But LCDs were the minority here, with plasma the dominant force and for the serious aficionado, nothing was better than the projector. Seeing that Hi Def movie on a 100” screen is a totally different experience to a flatscreen. But projectors were definitely in the minority, especially with the recession and there were not too many new models.

 

On the amplifier front, you always expect new amplifiers each year, recession or not. Yet IMO, the advances in 2009 were not that impressive. The lower end Denons were no longer made in Japan, and the Onkyo, Yamaha amps lost weight despite promising the same power specs and in same cases added new channels.

 

The new addition was DL IIz and Audyssey DSX. The aim was to add more ambience and surround to spread the sound out. It also meant spending more on speakers, cables and even power amps. A ploy to squeeze more money out of the hobbyist? Only time will tell. Marantz continued to drop the ball and get left behind, using older processors, and still not being able to do the same kind of processing that the other major players can. Banking on their “music first” branding was not enough.

 

We also saw hard disk players of many models and types, but these were limited to SD playback mainly, as the storage needs of a full Hi Def playback meant much larger hard discs and the processing chips still lagged behind.

 

 

So what can we look forward to in 2010?

 

First, all kinds of electronics can only get more complicated, and require firmware updates every now and then. The addition of Ethernet ports on all kinds of devices is becoming de rigueur now. In fact, wireless capability is fast becoming a standard feature.  We are seeing the Wi- Fi and DNLA capability in TVs, BR players and even amps.

 

BR and Hi Def will become more pervasive. Cheap BR players were first seen in the last quarter of 2009 and we will see more players to entice the first time buyer looking to join the game. And we have seen that for BR disc playback on a modest sized (<50”) screen, you will not really miss the more expensive options.

 

Discs and other software are continuing their slow downward trend in price and more are aware of the significantly lower prices available online from Amazon and other non-traditional sources. Despite the woes and throes that Vpost, Borderlinx or other shipping companies, most of the time, they do the job and get us our Hi Def fix.

 

As for displays, the next thing we will see is 3D. this is a smart money making ploy, as you will need HDMI 1.4, new BR players, TVs, amps etc etc. for the “gotta-have-it” chap (and that applies to a majority here), this is a sharp blow to our wallets.

 

We will also see those front surround and height channels filter down to cheaper AV amplifiers. Plus enough amps to apply all 9 or even 11 channels together. Bear in mind, almost 80-90% of movies are still 5.1….

 

Sometimes it is good to miss a year when it comes to upgrades, so 2010 is a promising year for me, as I seek out a new BR player, maybe a 3D compatible TV in 2010 or the next year. Plus the fact that we will have more to spend, it will bode well for the buyer and the shops in general.

 

For the savvy buyer who does his / her homework, you can get a good deal on last year’s models for much less, or get a 2nd hand one from the upgrade mad members, and enjoy HT or Hi Fi for less. Bear in mind that the essential components of good sound will never go down much in price: power supply section, the components of audio (caps, transformers etc). so if a product drops in price and promises more power, take it with a big pinch of salt.

 

For the dealer, the shopper is ever more internet savvy and will compare prices not only from the shop next door, but in the next country. If you did well in 2009, don’t get cocky and ignore the new buyer, otherwise you lose a budding buyer who will spend the rest of his hobby days upgrading and upgrading.

 

Price it right and they will form a queue outside your shop. That goes for TVs, sound systems and software, everyone.

 

Have a good year ahead J

 

 

 

Footnote:

 

Looking ahead to digital TV and FTA channels, I don’t see great strides in this area. Analogue TV is set to continue for a good 5 years or more IMO. The war amongst the 2 big pay TV companies is an expensive war of attrition which will only cost the consumer more and end up with us as losers.

 

I fear for a soccer made nation where the World Cup is either not available or only for a select few.

 

Oppo BD 80 Blu Ray player Review (Region Free Modified Version)





Introduction

Oppo has been a leader in bringing high quality technology to the masses at a price which has been surprisingly competitive. I remember the first time I introduced it to an audiophile used to paying a few thousand for his CD players and I challenged him when I suggested he buy the 980 for his DVDs. I mentioned, that the cost of the player was a mere fraction of the cost of his cable and thus if it was a wrong investment, he would not fret. He still uses the player daily for his video needs.

Differences

The key feature of the Oppo players has been giant slaying performance with a highly competitive price. However the last 2 machines, the DVD only 983 and the BD 83, although very competent machines, have pushed Oppo prices to just beyond cheap. That meant that despite their ABT chips and impressive picture quality, they were slipping out of the cheap and good range. This left room for the introduction of an Oppo Lite, which had the speed of use of the Oppo BD 83 whilst being significantly cheaper than the rest.

Features

So the Oppo BD 80 was born, using an old 980 chassis, which was slimmer, it also used the same DAC, Cirrus Logic CS4361, and the Mediatek System on a Chip (SOC) solution for audio and video, instead of the ABT video chip in the more expensive BD 83. However it retains, DVD-A, SACD and can process lossless Tru-HD, DTS-MA or bitstream the signal. There are also 7.1 outputs, but no dedicated stereo RCA jacks. Quality is retained, all sockets are gold-plated and the player does have most of the heft of the BD 83, although it is much lighter than the Denon 4010.

 The remote is the bad part, it is not backlit, the buttons are not very responsive and despite having the luminous buttons, it is better to remember where the key buttons are by feel or get the extra lit remote for another 15-20 dollars. At least the control pad on the front of the player offers you another option for disc menu navigation. The 2 usb ports are a nice benefit and enable you to play music or update the firmware, and this is very easy, as the player detects the presence of the USB drive if you place the update within a folder called “UPG”.

Interface and usability

In the old days, the PS 3 was the fastest player around and it is still way faster than many 3rd or 4th generation players out there. But the Oppo BD 83 and now the 80 have shown that you can make a fast player that is not a superlarge computer. The player comes to life within seconds but you cannot activate play without turning on the machine.

The menu is simple and easy to understand. Remember the buyer of the BD 80 could be a newbie and would want to have a smooth entry into Hi Def.

There is a speaker adjustment area, and the option to go source direct if you are using this mainly as a digital BR transport, but this is not a substitute for a AV amp.


Results

So how does it look and sound?
It has been mentioned that this player is meant for “smaller screens”, so I tried to use it in this context.

Associated equipment:

Pioneer Kuro KRP 500a
Sony PS 3;Toshiba XE1; Oppo BD 80;
Monitor Audio GS 10 & LCR; PSB 10s bipoles, Mission 30i rear backs;
SVS PB 12+; Velodyne MiniVee
Denon AVR 2809;
QED XT 300 tube cables front / micro Rears
PS Audio; Xindak XF 1000 power conditioner, Power Cables, Coxial Cables, Jumper cables
Monoprice HDMI cables, RCA cables; Anti-cables; Audioquest subwoofer cable.

Video

Now this was done on a 50” plasma, albeit the best one you can buy last year. We used DVDs, BR and compared it to the HD DVDs too on my Toshiba XE1 which has a Reon video chip. We also did real world test, on movie discs and not just test discs.

For Hi Def viewing:
There is some rather small differences in picture quality, but I can tell you, unless you place the images side by side, it will not make you lose any sleep. This was something which I showed in a video shootout test of other BR players. Using it as a digital transport passing through 1080p 24 fps BR discs, there was not much between this and the PS 3, although it might be slightly sharper.


For DVDs, this is where the differences lie. The PS 3 actually does very very well, losing out to the Reon based XE1 but the Oppo was the worst and it was quite obvious. Even sending a 480i signal to the Pioneer proved better. If you do not have any basis for comparing, it will probably not bother you, but you will need a better video chip in the chain if you are going for a large screen. Oppo was being frank: don’t use this for a projector.

Sound

In HT, bitstream allowed you to see that blue “High Definition Sound” logo light on your amp, and it was marginally better than the LPCM signal. But IMO the Denon AVR 2809 is an excellent machine and that is why I feel little need to upgrade it for a while. Its twin DSP Sharc chips, allow it to keep up with most of what is available out there and you get very clear sound effects, and with a well calibrated and setup system, you can get a nice setup for less than 10 000, cables and even TV included. Difference with the PS3, not a large gulf, but there is again better definition and clarity. Plus the fact that it is quite in operation, meant that I can place the Oppo next to my seat on my rack without hearing the disturbing fan noises.


As for its audio performance, if you have a budget system consisting of an AV amp, and a modest set of speakers which have a HT slant, this is the kind of player which does everything and won’t sound too shabby. There is a “Pure Audio” mode which switches off the display, and the internal DACs are pretty alright.

The sonic signature is neutral to a slight treble bias, which is fine for HT, and for a short session with violins, but you may want a more neutral sound if the treble bothers you. Avoid pairing with amps and speakers that are already bright.

Comparing this to a dedicated CD player, the treble is more splashy, there is more sibilance and generally it is a colder sound, but that requires a setup of greater cost to discern. Budget buyers will be pretty happy with what is now the CHEAPEST universal player on this planet.

It really players everything, and I prefer a DSD signal to my amp to decode for SACDs, but it offers a lot for not much.


Discussion

So who should buy this? This player is in a slight awkward position. There are scores of cheaper BR players around, that are half the price of this baby. It is significantly worse in the video section than the bigger brother. Sound wise the discerning audiophile will want better audio performance.

It caters to a certain market, the person who wants everything is one of them, he is not sure if SACD, DVD-A are what he wants, and wants a finger in each pie for not too much.

It also allows seasoned hobbyist to acquire a second player for the smaller room, or get a digital transport to feed a projector with a better video chip. Yet this can be done by a lesser player costing half the price.

Finally it can be a player which allows a new entrant into Hi Def a player which gives a buyer ease of mind. One who is not too fussed about spending USD 289 for a player that is reliable, comes with well-regarded customer support, and can play most formats he needs, and do it with quiet efficiency, and the owner never needs to feel angry that the player is slow or cannot play certain discs.

The market for this player lies in a middle zone, more than the budget stuff, but less than its more capable brother the Oppo BD 83.


The Modification for Region Free Playback
I bought a player which came pre-mod with the hardware for Region Free playback. DVD playback does not need any extra action, but for BR region changes, you need to do this:

When the player is in standby, you press the blue button on the remote, until the unit beeps. Then you press either 1 (region A), 2 (region B), 3 (Region C). There are a series of bleeps to confirm the action depending on the option, and then you take the player out of standby.

I paid USD 420 for this, before shipping and tax, from Audio Iconic, Adelphi, Singapore. You can order the mod separately, or get it together and I also get 1 year’s warranty.

That makes this machine twice or almost thrice the price of some really basic ones in USA like the Panasonic or Sony offerings. But these machines do not allow SACD and DVD-A playback.

So if you take a USD 120 machine, add SACD and DVD-A playback for another USD 150, add the region free mod for another 100, that’s the cost of the Oppo BD 80. So if the latter 2 do not matter to you, then a basic BR player will do most of what the Oppo can achieve and you pay less, a lot less.

If you want something which can do almost everything (even VCDs…) then the Oppo fits and it is a useful USD 200 or so less than the Oppo BD 83 which is the next cheapest universal player, and that is another USD 2-300 less than the SE…. Oppo now has a smart marketing department which gives step ups…

Who knows? Maybe the Oppo BD 80 can also be modified to an SE model in future.














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