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post #1 of 18 Old 12-23-2014, 05:20 PM - Thread Starter
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Reality vs Reproduction at Radio City Music Hall



While enjoying the Christmas Spectacular, Mark Henninger pondered the audiovisual differences between a live stage show and a movie.

-------

Last week, I was in New York to perform some final tweaks on Theo Kalomirakis' personal home theater, the Roxy 2.0. It was the culmination of several visits where I observed the challenges and rewards of upgrading high-end home-theater gear. Thanks to the new SIM2 Lumis projector and Krell Foundation pre-pro, the system looks and sounds better than ever.

When I finished making the final adjustments to the audio and video presets in the system, we watched scenes from several movies including Transformers: Age of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We also listened to several songs through the system, including "Right Thing / GDMFSOB" by DJ Shadow and "It's What We Do" from Pink Floyd's recent release, The Endless River.

We had to end the demo abruptly because we had another plan for the evening—to meet my wife Danya in Manhattan for dinner at Tavern on the Green followed by the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. Theo's fascination with grand theaters is evident in many of his designs, and he wanted us to experience just such an environment.

The show at Radio City Music Hall each season is a kitschy hodgepodge of Christmas imagery, but it's so exuberantly overproduced, it could melt a snowman's heart. And it had one attraction that no other show offers—The Rockettes. The show also featured 3D video, snowflakes in the form of helium-balloon drones, immersive projection, a live orchestra with dual organs, pyrotechnics, ice skating, live animals, and dozens of dancing Santa Clauses.

There came a point during the show when I realized that it would be impossible to replicate the look of it using conventional AV technology. No matter how hi-res screens are today and no matter how convincing 3D is on a 4K OLED, it is still very different—and diminished—compared to the visual delights provided by this live show.

It's not news that reality offers essentially infinite resolution, but what made the Christmas Spectacular special was the liberal use of color and lighting to create a cinematic aura. I saw examples of contrast and saturation that displays can only dream of reproducing—including the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. The Santa costumes were a deep, glowing crimson that makes a mockery of the orangish hue we accept for red in BT.709 video. Needless to say, skin tones were perfectly accurate. It's clear that future TVs and projectors need to support a much wider color gamut and dynamic range in order to reproduce reality in all its glory.

The show's infinite frame rate allowed for a judder-free presentation—motion resolution was superior to anything I've witnessed on any screen, big or small. Whenever the Rockettes were featured, the effect of real-life 3D was astounding, much more so than the 3D video that was a small part of the show.

During one segment, the audience watched a CGI animation of Santa flying around New York City, displayed on a high-definition video wall that acted as a changeable backdrop for most of the rest of show. Everyone had to put on 3D glasses to watch the scene play out, and the result was less than impressive. I noticed a lot of crosstalk that distracted from the 3D, and overall the colors looked washed out. In fact, the 3D-video segment was the single worst part of the show—it paled so much compared to reality, suspension of disbelief was impossible.

A different scene used the video wall for a far more impressive effect. It involved a tour bus where all the passengers are Rockettes—that part, including the stage-prop bus, was real. The wall behind them showed a CGI rendition on NYC from street level, and the bus rotated to match the video's perspective. All the while, the Rockettes performed various dance moves. When the bus appeared to drive under a bridge on its way through Central Park, the Rockettes all ducked in unison. In my opinion, it was best scene in the show, and it blended reality with reproduction to great effect.

One of the curious things about the Christmas Spectacular is that the sound quality doesn't keep up with the visuals, which is particularly interesting since it's a live performance. However, because all the orchestra's instruments are mic'd and amplified, what you hear comes out of a PA system.

Unfortunately, the resulting mix was not great. It can't be easy to combine so many mic feeds into one cohesive audio program; between the orchestra, singers, and actors, it adds up to dozens of channels. There was no finesse to the result, no delicacy. And even though we had good seats, all the sound appeared to come from one speaker on the right-hand side of the stage. It was the exact opposite of what I look for from a live musical performance—it actually sounded canned. The only exception was the organ, which filled the room with its powerful tones.

When the show ended, I cannot say I was convinced that Santa Claus is real. However, it left me with an appreciation for the infinite resolution reality offers, even if it's restricted to only one camera angle. I look forward to the day when a display can show me a scene that matches the visual fidelity of Radio City Music Hall's annual holiday show. That will be truly spectacular.


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Mark Henninger

Last edited by imagic; 12-23-2014 at 05:33 PM.
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post #2 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 02:13 AM
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Great report Mark. There is nothing like reality! As for sound, I was at a performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Opera House in Zurich on Saturday night. It is a modern take on the piece, as far as costumes and set were concerned and I think in the humor as well although my German isn't too good. However, the music was sublime. The acoustics in this hall were FANTASTIC. No amplification. The sound of the orchestra just washed over you. I can't imagine any HT system, no matter the screen size or number and placement of channels, being able to recreate this experience. It would be nice to try though! Oh, I saw this very show sans 3D a few years ago. The Rockettes just have to be seen in person. All those beautiful legs kicking in perfect sync is truly a sight to behold.
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post #3 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 06:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post
...
Last week, I was in New York to perform some final tweaks on Theo Kalomirakis' personal home theater, the Roxy 2.0. It was the culmination of several visits where I observed the challenges and rewards of upgrading high-end home-theater gear. Thanks to the new SIM2 Lumis projector and Krell Foundation pre-pro, the system looks and sounds better than ever.

When I finished making the final adjustments to the audio and video presets in the system, we watched scenes from several movies including Transformers: Age of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles....
First, let me tell you how jealous I am that you not only get to experience Theo's home theater first hand but that he also lets you touch his equipment.

Second, any particular reason why you chose to demo Transformers 4 and the new TMNT? I know that the Krell Foundation is supposed to be a superb pre/pro, but my understanding was that it does not support Atmos. Has that changed or were you demoing it in order to be able to make a comparison between a high end setup using the standard Dolby TrueHD with and without Dolby PLII processing versus the Atmos soundtrack played back on the Pioneer system that you are reviewing? Are the soundtracks in these two films demo-worthy even on non-Atmos systems as compared to a non-Atmos title like Edge of Tomorrow or Guardians of the Galaxy? Not criticizing. Just honest curiosity.
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post #4 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 07:11 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by HockeyoAJB View Post
First, let me tell you how jealous I am that you not only get to experience Theo's home theater first hand but that he also lets you touch his equipment.

Second, any particular reason why you chose to demo Transformers 4 and the new TMNT? I know that the Krell Foundation is supposed to be a superb pre/pro, but my understanding was that it does not support Atmos. Has that changed or were you demoing it in order to be able to make a comparison between a high end setup using the standard Dolby TrueHD with and without Dolby PLII processing versus the Atmos soundtrack played back on the Pioneer system that you are reviewing? Are the soundtracks in these two films demo-worthy even on non-Atmos systems as compared to a non-Atmos title like Edge of Tomorrow or Guardians of the Galaxy? Not criticizing. Just honest curiosity.
They are just as demo-worthy as non-Atmos titles since Atmos is backwards-compatible. I was particularly impressed by one scene in TMNT where they are sliding down a snowy mountainside in a truck. There was some value in comparing 7.1 in a theater like Theo's to the 5.2.4 mix I heard at home. But it was the music that really showed off the fidelity of the CAT/Krell combo.

If Atmos is to succeed, the non-Atmos mix has to deliver the goods as well. I feel that's true for both those titles. The truth... EoT and GotG are both titles I watched on Vudu. I have Blu-rays of Transformers 4 and TMNT. Of course Theo has thousands of Blu-rays, but the other thing is those two titles were fresh in my mind. I already wrote an Atmos vs. 7.1 comparison for Transofrmers 4, and I'm working on a similar piece for TMNT.
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post #5 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 07:15 AM
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Loved the reading and have to admit: quite jealous here.

Hey, Merry Christmas everybody.
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Yippee-ki-yay...
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post #6 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by JWhip View Post
Great report Mark. There is nothing like reality! As for sound, I was at a performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Opera House in Zurich on Saturday night. It is a modern take on the piece, as far as costumes and set were concerned and I think in the humor as well although my German isn't too good. However, the music was sublime. The acoustics in this hall were FANTASTIC. No amplification. The sound of the orchestra just washed over you. I can't imagine any HT system, no matter the screen size or number and placement of channels, being able to recreate this experience. It would be nice to try though! Oh, I saw this very show sans 3D a few years ago. The Rockettes just have to be seen in person. All those beautiful legs kicking in perfect sync is truly a sight to behold.
The Zürich Opera House is putting out some great performances. Mostly more on the modern side, but the singing and, as you said, the sound are outstanding. Almost jealous here in dried up Las Vegas (:

Merry Christmas
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post #7 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 10:58 AM
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Merry Christmas to you and all the AVSers out there. Yes there were quite a few modern pieces on the list for the next few months. The modern twist on The Magic Flute was interesting although the story line was generally the same. There was clearly some modern humor thrown in but the only German I know is from Hogan's Heroes. I do know that they didn't have sneakers in Mozart's time or wrestling championship belts either. IT was a GREAT night. Can't wait to go back. The only problem with Zurich is the cost. $10 for a small cup of coffee. I am glad I don't drink coffee. BTW, we have plenty of rain here in Eastern PA and we would be happy to send you some! At least it isn't snow!

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post #8 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 01:25 PM
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Mark, you so crazy!

Merry Christmas.
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post #9 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 01:29 PM
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........Oh, I almost forgot. What tweaks were you performing for Theo Kalomirakis?
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post #10 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 01:41 PM - Thread Starter
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........Oh, I almost forgot. What tweaks were you performing for Theo Kalomirakis?
I tweaked the Krell foundation's settings so the system sounds ideal from the "main listening position," the center seat in the back row (out of 2 rows). I also dialed in a few adjustments to the SIM2 Lumis in order to maximize its performance in terms of overall brightness and contrast—including tweaking the 3D mode. I also fixed a crooked anamorphic lens that was screwing with the screen geometry. The projector was calibrated already, but not optimized all the way to its maximum potential.

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post #11 of 18 Old 12-24-2014, 03:50 PM
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Emulating the canned reality of a commercial cinema is one thing. However....

...everyone should take the time to experience a large-scale live performance. The better ones will remind you, without even being aware of it, how even the best HT presentations pale in comparison.
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post #12 of 18 Old 12-26-2014, 05:10 AM
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Wow, what a way to spend a day during the Christmas Season. We're planning to vist NY for Christmas next year and seeing the Christmas Spectacular will definitely have to be added to the "must do" list. Now audio aside, I wonder how well visual fidelity of the 75th Anniversary show on Blu-ray will look on the AX900?
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post #13 of 18 Old 12-26-2014, 05:28 AM
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Emulating the canned reality of a commercial cinema is one thing. However....

...everyone should take the time to experience a large-scale live performance. The better ones will remind you, without even being aware of it, how even the best HT presentations pale in comparison.
I totally agree. We are blessed to have a very good, modern concert hall here in Madison Wisconsin. It has good acoustics, probably best described as neutral. We subscribe to the symphony. The dynamics of a live performance are thrilling, from the delicate flute or piccolo, to the whack of the bass drum or tympani, to the detail of massed voices. It can leave you breathless. My favorite performance so far - Orff's Carmina Burana.
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post #14 of 18 Old 12-26-2014, 05:17 PM
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A fun post.

I was always fascinated (obsessed?) with comparing sound systems, and also visual displays, to real life.

When I used to have new pairs of speakers passing through my house constantly (I reviewed for a while, but mostly I just kept buying new speakers), I often compared them to live sound sources. I had made excellent recordings of acoustic instruments I own, and the voices of family members - my wife, kids - and I'd play them through the speakers comparing to the real thing (e.g. my guitar being played vs the speakers, my wife sitting between the speakers talking, compared to the recording through the speakers of her talking). It was always fascinating to see how speakers held up in these comparisons, and to ponder what aspects they seemed to be missing of the real thing. Two of the main aspects of real acoustic sounds that I always found to be missing in the eletronic versions were: 1. Missing a certain organic quality of the real thing and 2. missing the right tonal/timbral color of the real thing.

Human voices in particular - often through all sorts of distortions picked up from the recording chain onwards, onwards through distortions that happen during reproductino at the speaker end, take on a sort of harder edged, electronic quality, missing that round, organic "fleshiness" of voices coming from people in front of you.

And that timbral problem: When I hear many instruments it invokes mental sensations of colors. I wouldn't say I'm talking about straight out synesthesia or anything (though I wonder if we all have some level of it, varying among individuals). But when I close my eyes at an orchestral concert and listen the various timbres of instruments seem to invoke certain mental images, often with some measure of a timbral 'color.' I know I'm not alone there. The same goes for my acoustic guitar, which when I strum it, it invokes a sort of "yummy acoustic wooden warmth with a golden sparkly string tone." I hear sound systems all the time that sound incredibly dynamic, amazingly detailed, full range, you name it, but just fail to reproduce that same impression I get, that timbral accuracy, color and warmth, when I listen to instruments.
To me it's the auditory analogy to viewing a richly colored painting I'm familiar with reduced to a black and white version. And if a sound system does this it leaves me cold. (I'm talking more about a system I'd use for "critical listening - that is the type in which I can enjoy not only the music in of itself, but which may reproduce at least *some* of the other virtues of timbre and dynamics that one may get from the real thing, elevating the experience).

It was interesting how this played out when doing the live vs reproduced comparisons at my home. Those speakers which, listened to on their own, left me wanting for timbral color were inevitably the ones that sounded less like the real thing once compared to a live guitar or voice.
And visa versa for those that did engage me with some compelling timbral qualities when first listened to on their own.

In terms of sound, of course there are "real life" sounds that can make the typical home system sound like a joke. But of course it gets interesting when the challenges aren't that huge - single acoustic instruments, voices etc. My current pair of MBL omnidirectional monitors are ones that had always struck me as being able to reproduce not only the spatial sensation of imaging, but the accuracy and warmth of acoustic sources. When I play recordings of my son playing trombone or sax, or me playing acoustic guitar through these things at the right sound level, from just outside that room it sounds uncannily like someone is in there playing a real instrument. I've fooled a few people into thinking someone was playing a real instrument when they hadn't looked inside the speaker room.

But then starting adding the instruments, and it gets harder and harder to reproduce. And especially if we start talking about amplified music, hell even the sound systems my group used to use when playing gigs in bars and hall venues make the scale and dynamics and impact of most home systems sound like a joke.
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post #15 of 18 Old 12-26-2014, 06:57 PM
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post #16 of 18 Old 12-27-2014, 05:23 AM
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Wow, what a way to spend a day during the Christmas Season. We're planning to vist NY for Christmas next year and seeing the Christmas Spectacular will definitely have to be added to the "must do" list. Now audio aside, I wonder how well visual fidelity of the 75th Anniversary show on Blu-ray will look on the AX900?

Get your tickets early!

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post #17 of 18 Old 12-27-2014, 07:33 AM
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With TV tech there will always be a few important elements missing. Such as, smell, taste and touch (senses). Nearness, one needs to be there where the action is. And real time, since we are always in the here and now (TV program always needs to be live).

I am not shure if TV is real life related or fantasy/imagination related, maybe both.
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post #18 of 18 Old 12-27-2014, 10:38 PM
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Happy Holidays Mark & Theo.
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