Recent advances and price drops in the high definition market may have made the latest in A/V standards available to all, but not everyone considers how connectivity, calibration and various audio and visual environments impact the performance of this expensive new hardware.
Experts often laud the importance of high quality cabling and complementary components but spending a fortune in an effort to create the perfect home cinema experience will count for nothing if it's not properly set up.
This is where something like Digital Video Essentials comes in, a combo format HD DVD/DVD calibration disc that covers both audio and video. The bulk of the package is actually based around the original standard definition release (with extra tools on the flip-side for HD DVD players) and to gain access too much of the content you'll need to run it, at least initially, as a standard DVD.
In doing so you'll be assaulted with a selection of frighteningly cheesy American voiceover montages intended to soften you to the wonders of audio visual entertainment.
If you can get past the 1980s elevator-music soundtrack and aren't fettered by the outdated breadbin sized DVD players and amplifiers used as visual aides there's actually a lot of decent information.
The first few chapters offer a comprehensive though at times unnecessarily verbose description of the most efficient ways to calibrate audio equipment, including correct speaker positions and room acoustics. The bulk of the narrated content is based around video though, where you'll find out how to calibrate brightness, contrast, colour, tint and sharpness, where applicable, and a fairly detailed explanation of other more technical areas such as colour geometry, MPEG encoding and video processing. You may not want or need to know a lot of this information, but the calibration routines at least should come in very handy. Once you've learnt how to correctly tune your TV you can access all of the 'test' screens shown in the demonstrations along with a whole lot more by instantly skipping to a specific chapter in the reference section, which includes a range of pluges, colour charts at various amplitudes and test patterns that sit on screen while you tweak settings to establish the best image. There are also 5.1 and 6.1 test signals here that'll help you set up surround sound correctly.
Since all of the above commentary and reference material is aimed at standard definition configuration, to get your HD screen set up correctly you'll need to flip the disc over to access high definition content. You can switch between 1080p and 720p modes depending on your TV's compatibility which is an important consideration. In truth most of this is just a high definition duplicate of the montages and test materials on the other side of the disc. It would have been nice to see a few more demonstration materials here, there are a couple of highlights that'll show off your screen but if you really want to see what your TV can do you're better off going for a dedicated disc like Antarctica Dreaming or Visions of the Sea (both available for £9.99 delivered from Play.com). You should find just about all you need to configure your setup correctly, provided you've watched the demonstration material it's pretty easy to tweak settings to optimal standards and you'd be surprised how a few adjustments here and there can improve your overall experience.
If you've spent a lot of money on a new HD-based setup it certainly can't hurt to find out as much as you can about how the technology works, including audio, connectivity and the varying quality of different standards. Not only will this help you when you're buying an HD-ready TV or additional equipment but you'll get a far more rewarding experience after setting everything up.
If you can stomach the bad American commentary and cheesy soundtracks there's a lot of good information here, though we'd have preferred it to have been slightly more accessible by splitting it into bite-sized chunks.
The disc covers some important areas you may not have considered when getting involved in HD and considering the lack of alternatives that offer the same sort of information and calibration advice we'd consider it a must-have purchase for HD-DVD users whether you've bought or are about to buy an HD TV.
This disc was kindly loaned to us by Play.com