Okay, so the full title of this article is actually "The Immutable, Unchanging, Invariable, Unyielding, Ironcald, Permanent, Entrenchted, Unshakeable, Rigid, Steadfast, Everlasting, Perpetual, and Inalterable Rules...Part II." I'd have kept going, but the thesauras ran out. So did the space the editor said I could use for the headline.
But I think you get the point. In my last post, titled "Ten Steps to Movie Nirvana," I tried to outline some steps that, if followed, would be a short, reliable path to a better-than-average home theater at pretty much any budget. This was primarily aimed at someone starting from scratch. Then, after a re-read, it occurred to me that most of this readership had already committed to a system configuration of various "boxes" connected in some "workable" fashion.
Still in the quest of underscoring what's important to everyone's viewing enjoyment, I'm now offering a follow-up of essential considerations. Essential enough that it's worth re-looking at your own theater to assure you are compliant with at least these half dozen. I'll try to expand on the importance of each.
Anyone who has followed my musings over the years knows I have harped and harped on the importance of real contrast ratio. It is the single most important metric for realizing high impact imaging. To review, contrast ratio is simply the luminance distance (dynamic range) between absolute black and peak white...on the same frame! It is often referred to as "pop." The "new" pop is, of course, HDR. Because contrast ratio is so important, manufacturers tend to stretch the truth by manipulating how it is measured. Some years ago I asked one display manufacturer how the black level was measured and they said (with a straight face) "with the set unplugged."
We're looking for how much dynamic range the native panel or imaging device is capable of without any video processing. The correct measurement, at least the way I do it, is by dividing the peak white luminance reading (foot-Lamberts, candelas/meter squared, lumens, nits, flashlights per fortnight) by the minimum black level. Measuring adjacent black/white squares on a checkerboard pattern puts a fine point on it. Because the denominator (black level) has such a powerful influence on the ratio, so much attention has been given to that number. It is why we really like OLED displays with self-illuminating pixels that can be fully turned off-in other words, infinite black.
Now that you have gone to great lengths to choose a projector that can minimize black level, an oft-neglected consideration in theater set-up is what the room is doing to your precious constrast ratio (C.R.). You would be amazed how fast an adjacent rack of equipment with its myriad of red, green, yellow, blue, amber indicator lights will kill previously established C.R. We call it "room contrast." Sometimes Aunt Martha likes to sit back in the corner of the room with a pin spotlight on her cookbook. That will do it for sure. Reflections from all the above off of glossy painted walls is another usual culprit. I have heard of a test at an ESPN studio in New York where calibrators were asked to wear black shirts while calibrating. Message here is that any light and reflections can cause a serious error, so don't fool yourself. If you like a certain amount of ambient light while watching movies, calibrate the black level there—it's the best you are going to get!
Cables & Connectors
Another surprise in this list of exalted "musts" might be cables and connectors. Joel Silver (of the Imaging Science Foundation) and I have written two articles on the need for speed with regard to ever increasing data rate transmission. To repeat, this is demanded by all the newest features, 4-4-4 chroma sub-sampling, 8K resolution, 12-bit color, UHD at 60 fps frame rate, yada-yada-yada. Are we done? Doubt it. Seems to me we are near the limit of visual acuity, but I've been wrong before. Connect boxes with the highest speed HDMI cables you can.
Projector AlignmentTempting as it might be to correct a mounting error with a click or two of horizontal or vertical keystone correction, don't do it! Some scenes will be worse than others, but if you look carefully, the video processing will be trying to decide what size the picture is. It will guess wrong 50% of the time! Measure once, measure twice, use lasers, string until you are convinced it's dead on. Carefully measuring a white frame on screen will help.
So now, we've made the room about as good as it can be. Time to enjoy...
Even if you have seen them before, they will be all new in 4K/HDR. If not offered in that format, they will still be better than before. Acquire some classics - Casa Blanca, Citizen Kane, Rebel without a Cause, Psycho... pour a glass of wine, turn off the phone...drift into the new world you have created.
Now comes an element I call "drama." Once you become accustomed to the "new" theater, you will be wanting to show it off. Host a Saturday night screening. Conduct a trivia quiz. Enhance the room yet again with a popcorn machine, motorized curtains, sconce lighting, a small candy counter and movie theme pillows.
That's it, folks...that's as good as it gets!
Oh, wait. There's one more...rule number 6B...
What a shame to go this far and not have it ISF-calibrated! Now you know it's as good as it can be....