I've been growing increasingly frustrated with my AE1000 in dark scenes, so last night I spent a couple of hours tweaking. My test disc (DVE) gave me the brightness and contrast settings (actually at default 0 when fed from my Sony BDP-S300 at 1080p/50 (or 24)). I use an ND2 or 4 filter to improve the blacks and compensate for my high gain screen (1.8 Greywolf II). I've had my AE1000 since February and I thought that I had got it as good as it can get. I was even planing on having a demo of a JVC HD1 this week, to see if it would give me what I feel is lacking in the AE1000.
I found that when watching 'Memoirs of a Geisha' (SD DVD) and also the end of SWAT (BluRay) the dark scenes were spoilt for me with large 'flat' areas of dark grey where I felt it should be black. I then set each 'Picture' mode with every value at default (which I checked with DVE that the contrast and brightness was still spot on for 0% and 100%). I could compare easily with a paused dark scene and a few button presses.
Maybe professional calibrators should look away now
, but this is what I found may have saved me
buying another PJ just now: I found that altering just the 'Low Gamma' to +2 or +3 would bring up a little extra detail in these large flat grey areas, somehow helping the dark scene to look better (IMHO). While this isn't accurate, it hardly seemed to make a massive difference in bright scenes with small dark areas unless paused, when you could then just make out a slightly higher black level in the shadows (the type of scene that I've never had a problem with on the AE1000). It also helped to make sure that the blacks weren't being clipped as I had previously thought that I needed the brightness at -1 and even this small difference lost some detail in my picture. ( I think I was becoming a bit anal at this point, but it was about 1:30am
It seems that as long as there is some detail in the dark bits, I find the picture more acceptable and I don't seem to notice that the 'black' is really only dark grey....one of those happy optical illusions. With this setting any actual black within the picture (and the letterbox bars for that matter) is no brighter than before, just the near black is pulled up higher than it should be. It might be introducing noise into the picture, but I even seem to find that preferable to 'flat grey'....I'm less distracted by it and enjoy the film more.
Flat grey seems to remind me that I'm watching a screen and 'pulls' me out of the film.
What I also found (and I don't understand the reason) is that despite the waveform monitor confirming matching black (0%) and white (100%) levels, the dark detail seems better on 'Cinema 1' than 'Colour 1'. 'Colour 2' looked even more washed out ( a bit like me taking down some of my anti reflection near screen materials). I've been using 'Colour 1' mode since I got the PJ, as I'd read it was the most accurate to D65, but I realise now that I prefer 'Cinema 1'. I used to work in Instrument calibration, so I tend to always try to set things up 'by the book', but if 'Cinema 1' and 'wrong' Low gamma settings do it for me...then what the heck.
After rewatching various scenes with these settings and using my usual ND4 filter, I found that the dark scenes were more enjoyable, though some outdoor ones seemed a bit 'overcast'. I then tried my ND2 filter, expecting it to spoil the dark scenes at the expense of the bright ones. I found the ND2 better as the shadow details were more noticeable and of course the outdoor scenes had more 'punch'.
While each setup is probably unique, I just wanted to raise a point that by making a couple of small changes I've got a picture that I'm
happy with rather than thinking 'why did I waste my money on this?'. I was on the brink of throwing money at a JVC HD1 or buying an AE2000 unseen (just because everyone seems to say the contrast is sooo
much better). Now I am going to get the anamorphic lens I always wanted originally and maybe next year change to an AE2000 (3000?!) when the prices have settled a bit.
Funny thing is, the reason I started this tweaking session was that I went to a real cinema last week for the first time in about a year. Seeing the better shadow detail, but not very 'black' blacks made me realise that I could get a better picture than I had and enjoy films more....I'd become sidetracked with just trying to make my blacks blacker.
Hope this helps other AE1000 owners.