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Toronto 2002 (Tour 2)

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The start of a new year and a new touring season I suppose. Not the first though as I was in Austin, Texas the week prior to this dealing with an "insane" client who absolutely had to have me there to calibrate his set. I called him insane, his wife did as well. I guess we are all allowed our little excesses every now and then. It was enjoyable to see some 75 degree weather in the middle of this Canadian winter.

But back to the issues at hand, my first Toronto tour of the year occurred in mid February. I had been to this area last January and the participants were kind enough to ferry me around this vast metropolitan area. This time, things changed as I decided to tackle all of the driving myself. My handy, dandy laptop based map system does wonders and since it got me through Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, NY, Boston, DC … and many other places … Toronto was to be no more or less different than any other city. Of course, in some ways, it was worse. Things look so much closer when you are looking at a map.

Saturday Evening – Toshiba TW40X81

Interesting client that lived in a home where the attic area was converted into a small theatre room. He even had a refreshment table outside the room and liquid light projection inside the room for intermission periods. Liquid light … like some drug induced visions from the 60's. I also thought the little stars and planets and comets attached to the ceiling were cute if not too much for my conservative views. Ha!

This unit was interesting in that the client had previously hired a local ISF tech to work on the grayscale of his TV which on the surface was not a criticism of this other tech as he did everything by the book from what I could see including the ISF chart … and optimal TV user settings. Precisely what one expects for the basic ISF grayscale calibration work. Now what stood out is that something did not look quite right with these optimal user settings. I thought the image was way too bright and to the point of hurting my eyes. A quick measurement of the light output via the Video Essentials 100 ire window box pattern confirmed the problem. Grayscale had been set up based on a light output of a whopping 79 foot-lamberts of light output. The reference target is about 20 ft-l for RPTV's. Definitely not so great for the set and my respect for this mystery ISF calibrator dropped a notch.

I was actually staying in a room in the attic across the hall from the theatre room and the stairs leading up to this area of the house were … narrow … to put it kindly. When I was packing up the next morning, I almost stumbled down these same stairs … death and tragedy befall calibrationist. …

Sunday Morning – Panasonic 47" 16:9

A trip north to Newmarket, Ontario. A bedroom community to the greater Toronto area as I am told. Black was the order of the day for this client. All the equipment had to be black … all except for the Sony 480P player he had, having given his significant other the Panasonic RP56 that came with the TV. I convinced him that he needed to find a way to convince her that a trade of machines was in her best interest since the Sony was obviously better because it cost more. I hope his girlfriend does not read this and chances are … she never will.

I find it hard to believe just how awful the progressive scan images look on this set prior to calibration. They truly are awful. However, that is easily fixed by the end of the session. Nothing out of the ordinary to discuss here about the calibration. In fact, the client and I got extremely side tracked into his other hobby, Paint ball. I got to look at the specialized pistols as well as all the other gear that they wear now. This is not your father's paint ball game anymore. And head shots are allowed now …

So cool that I think that I would also like to get into this type of game. Quake Death Matches for real … sort of.

Sunday Evening – Toshiba 34" 16:9 Tube set

Rogers Cable in Toronto has begun to roll out their HDTV capable cable boxes and many of the clients on this trip had the units in hand and we watched a lot of the Winter Olympics albeit time delayed. Still it was great to have a steady diet of HDTV on demand. I ended up staying pretty much the entire trip with this family as the wife decided that I got along so smashingly so I stayed all week. I think she really intended to have me do the blocking whenever her husband would start talking technology. The two of them were also die hard Babylon 5 fans so when I gave them the Rangers movie …

The 34" Toshiba CW 34X92 unit is one of the friendly units from a couple of years ago that still permitted full access to the design menu. But because the menu does not always do what is logical, the grayscale for the HDTV was placed in the medium mode and the DVD's were placed in the warm mode.

Monday Morning – Toshiba 40H80

I'm still checking to see if the sets have had the 3:2 pull down activated. It seems that two of three sets will not have it active until I access the ADDR menu with my trusty Cinema 7 remote. Too much daylight in this apartment so I was forced under the covers to complete the grayscale.

Monday Evening – Sony 27" Wega

Aside from this home being a hard place to find parking … Here is an interesting one as the client was a student living at home with a bedroom set up. Any talk of costs was strictly hush, hush where his parents were concerned. The nice thing about this set was that grayscale was pretty stable in both 16:9 mode and 4:3 mode. On the rear projection sets, this had been a problem for the longest while. Tube calibrations are pretty fast in my book so I offered to work on his father's 32" Sony set pumping out its 100% contrast image for free. Value for money … but the father turned it down anyway. Man, sometimes you just cannot give things away for free. Don't bother lining up for this, because I'm not doing any more freebies for a while.

Tuesday Morning – Pioneer Elite 510

Another straight forward calibration although I still cringe whenever I have to take the frame off the set for focusing purposes. Shades of the East Coast trip are still vivid in the memory.

Tuesday Evening – Sony KP53HS10 4:3 RPTV

The start of a small calibration arc where some interesting things occurred and plenty of stuff seemed to go wrong …

It was an interesting townhome/condo design with the 4:3 Sony as the center piece. Fairly straight forward calibration except this time I had to take the protective screen off the TV. My first time for this model, although I have been all too aware that this one might be nightmarish … likely 100 screws to take off to get at the screen. You really had to disassemble the entire top part of the TV to get at his screen. This part took about 60 minutes or more.

The strangeness of the evening began at the conclusion of the calibration and the convergence tutorial. I always throw in a couple of my demo DVD's to look at certain scenes. At this time, the client pumped up the volume and my head pounded … as his subwoofer was set far too high. The next series of events would bring a gasp to every calibrator … I watched in horror as the client grabs the remote and proceeds to pump up the contrast and the brightness … from "reference" levels in order to suit his tastes. Augh!! ..

Figuring that it is his TV … I'll just be quiet there. After the DVD demos, he hooks up his X-Box and sends the TV to 16:9 mode and promptly pumps up the contrast to 100% to play Halo … (I die a little bit inside.) I mention to the client that these actions are very bad for the TV … and he replies with "sacrifices have to be made."

Okay … oh look at the time … I have to be going …

Wednesday Morning – Toshiba TW56X81

The start of my "bad convergence day." This was a return visit to a client I had done work for last year. We had discovered that his HD convergence grid was dead after spending many hours working on the 480P section. I told him that I would return one day and I keep my word … or try to anyway. I wanted to implement some improved grayscale techniques on his set as well.

He had a replacement convergence board waiting and when I arrived, he pulled the old one and inserted the new board. The use of the old board was needed as it held all the vital service menu settings as well as the convergence.

With the new board in place, I proceeded to enter the service mode and to our horror, the HD grid on the new board was also quite dead. We could certainly watch the HD material, but clearly some convergence work was needed. But without a grid, he was up the creek without a paddle. It was at this time that I mentioned how ironic it was that the man who was obsessed over geometry would be cursed with a TV where he could not fix the geometry or converge it. Something akin to the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough At Last."

Although things seemed bleak, all was not hopeless since the missing HD grid still had coordinates locating the position of the cursor. Since I knew it was a 56 point system, I took on the task of converging his HD section in the blind. With only the help of some masking tape that roughly identified where all the convergence points were, and the convergence grid from the HD signal generator, I was able to converge the HD section in about 90 minutes … but he was cursed for the moment to live with some bad geometry.

Wednesday Evening – Toshiba 50H81

My bad convergence day continued with the evening event. It was supposed to be a straight forward affair as the Toshiba sets this year were supposed to be simple … and they were. I finally got my hands on the designer menu information for the current model year and last year's Toshiba sets so I got a chance to do some exploring on this set. The offset parameter options were handy allowing me to finally do some user mode centering. But the joy turned sour at the end of the evening after the job was done. The final task of the evening was to teach the client how to use the service convergence mode and everything went well until the second time he did it.

It was then that the TV decided in all its wisdom to fry its convergence board. The red convergence grid went haywire … and that pretty much ended the evening. The work had been done … but the set was broken … a freak occurrence …

A repair would be a relatively simple process, but it would invariably undo many of the service mode changes performed on the set. A rock and a hard place so I decided to give the client a break and I let him off the hook for the services rendered. I would say I trained all evening. I got a nice bottle of wine out of it in appreciation for the efforts. Well, it's just money. (I'm crying inside though)

Thursday Morning – Pioneer Elite 620

This was another return visit to a client I have serviced last year. In the interim, he said that his TV developed some type of excessive green problem and so I was back to take another look. He surprised me this time by having another new Pioneer set there instead of the one I was expecting. The client was an A/V dealer so he moved stock in and out of his home quite a lot. The DVD player of choice this time around was the Pioneer DVD-RW unit that sells in the order of $2500 CDN. Of course, know Pioneers, the first thing about the DVD player I checked for was chroma bug and there it was in all its abundance. Not pretty and since it is more severe in Pioneers than the other major brands like Toshiba and Sony … I'd really hesitate when it comes to buying this DVD-RW unit.

Now back to the green issue … the new set calibrated fairly smoothly, but the lack of controlled lighting would ultimately play a role in how things ended up. I found out for the first time where the complaint of green images came from. It was not as bad as a complaint that a film like the Matrix was green, but almost as bad. The film of choice for the client was "The Insider" and one brief look at it showed all these strange lighting conditions which were obviously intentional. A slight frustration creeps into the brain … there was nothing wrong with the original calibration. There may be something very wrong with the client and his perception of colour.

Of course the bad news continued once I got home since there was yet another call from him saying that the new set was also too green after the calibration. Then it dawned on me that in addition to the bad reference material that he liked to use, the lighting conditions also changed. I was asked to set up the TV so that it looked proper in the day time … and the complaints about colour came during the evening sans the daylight. The client wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He wanted something that was proper in the day time and equally so in the evening although with vastly different room lighting … not possible with one grayscale set up. Offsets yes … but not for marketing work and sometimes it really helps to provide me with more information about what one really wants instead of complaining about it after I am gone.

Thursday Evening – Pioneer SD532-HD5

A country residence north west of Toronto. I got there well after sunset because I missed my turn off in the rain and I had to backtrack to find the client's home. The much talked about Toronto rush hour traffic was the culprit here. But I finally hade it there and got to work on this sorry looking set where the colours were simply all wrong. Too red/purple for my tastes and not even readable in terms of a colour temperature reading. I was a bit nervous at the start because of the family dog who seemed more fierce than he actually was. All he wanted to do was sniff me and then he was a puppy dog again. The subject of discussion this evening was Calgary since the client used to live there. We also talked a bit about Anime since his son was part of an Anime club at the university and constantly made him watch this stuff.

The client was also strictly a two channel audio type of person and just not convinced about the gimmicky 5.1 audio world. Luckily, I only care about good video and hopefully I delivered on that end. So much more satisfying with the image properly set up.

Friday Morning – Toshiba TW65X81

This was another long drive to one of the bedroom communities. The client was a IT person for Sears and he lived out on an acreage. He was using both large dish and small dish for all his programming. The nightmare of this calibration was that there was so much dog and cat hair all over the theatre room that it really hindered the restacking of the protective screen. The process ended up taking about twice as long as usual since I had to spend so much time removing the animal hairs between the protective screen and the fresnel lens. A very straight forward calibration aside from that and as expected, a very nice looking image at the end of the calibration road.

Friday Evening – Toshiba 34" Direct View

For the longest time, I just had the hardest time figuring out where this client lived. I had to wait for him to get home on this Friday evening and parking in the Downtown area was not easy. I ended up knocking at his door some four times spaced out in 20 minute intervals wondering when he was to be home. Just as I was about to write it off, he answered the door and we were off to the races. The home was a three storey condo which was the most compact that I have seen yet. A wonderful view of the CN tower and the Skydome was available from the top floor. But oh were the other floors compact. The nice thing about downtown living was that he was close to many of the great restaurants of the area so we wandered off to dinner before the calibration was to begin. The client was a Pathologist so he really did see dead people …

I won't comment too much about the actual calibration end since it was pretty routine except when I had to access the back panel on the TV for hooking up the HD signal generator. We had to take apart the entire top end of the stand that the TV was resting on. It is hairy since the condo was very tight where space was concerned.

Saturday – Morning – Pioneer Elite 610

This was the start of a very long day as I had to drive out to Oshawa in the morning and then drive to Welland some two hours away in the evening for two more sets. The most noticeable event of the morning was that the client was my first bonafide female customer. These people are rare indeed when it comes to the home theatre arena. She was the first client who wanted the calibration done for herself as opposed to a present for the husband. It's the other way around most of the time for this hobby. It is usually the man that watches the film for both content and presentation value, rarely the woman. On this day, presentation was the key for this lady and her husband only cared about the story and likely "tolerated" the wife's hobby.

The set had actually been worked on previously by some local ISF people, but some unrelated problem developed with the grayscale calibration was lost. This was also the first opportunity on this trip to show the differences between an interlaced player and a progressive scan unit. She had the Pioneer interlaced DV 525 unit from a few years ago and combined with the line doubler in the Elite, it made for some fine viewing. While the differences in the progressive scan image from my Toshiba portable were apparent on test patterns, they were nearly invisible on actual film material. The Pioneer DVD player was that good in conjunction with the TV.

Saturday Afternoon – Sony 53" XBR RPTV; Panasonic 47" PT-47WX51C

A long drive from Oshawa east of Toronto to Welland which was southwest of Toronto. But the weather was great on this day and the drive was relaxing after the calibration session. I got to the client's home in the late afternoon and promptly saw that he had this five to seven year old Sony 53" 4:3 unit upstairs for casual viewing. The Panasonic was downstairs for critical viewing.

This was the magnet man in my book. Ever wondered about where those fridge magnets come from? The Client worked at a factory that made these. Wonderfully friendly and quite the chef as well on this all Italian evening.

The Sony was first up and it was one of the units that were pre-service code. I don't see too many of these anymore, but I remembered that these units had pinhole access in the back of the set so digging back there with the flashlight was worthwhile. Exceptional grayscale tracking for an RPTV. One of the flattest tracking sets I have ever seen. They really don't build them like they used to.

The most interesting things about this set were revealed when I opened up the front panel to look for the focus trim pots. The dust build up on the pots was actually astounding. The seven years of dust had created these crystalline structures on the focus knobs themselves. A very neat blast from the past and a good basic calibration.

The heart of the evening was spent downstairs on the 47" Panasonic. It was quite ghastly like most Panasonics out of the box with both severe colour problems and focus issues. Fortunately, I know these Panasonic units will calibrate nicely and become top notch performers with just a bit of effort.

I slept on the couch on this evening and had an early start on the next morning back to Toronto. I was waiting for the client to greet me in the morning, but as time was running short, I had to quietly take my leave of the home and headed back.

Sunday Morning – Philips 34" HDTV

Back into the heart of Toronto and my first look at the Philips brand HDTV tube set. A very handsome unit with an interesting menu system that reminded me so much of video game menu systems. Rolling beads on strings were the way to describe them.

It took a short while to figure out the service menu system that Philips likes to use, but most of the important features were there to adjustment. I found it interesting that this Philips set exhibited the same tube characteristics as the two Toshiba 34" sets I had worked on earlier. The problem is as follows. When the image is properly centered for overscan, the center of the image is not in the physical center of the TV tube itself. It is actually about one inch to the right of center. It would seem that the horizontal linearity of the TV was off. The left side of the image was wider than the right side and there was no way to easily correct this. Three 34" tubes … and the same problem on each one.

This unit calibrated nicely once I understood the menu system better and how it also generates its own test patterns when needed. What I did not like was how the menu system got in the way of the measuring instruments as the menus were centered on the screen. The solution was to work around the menu and then cross check in the real world once we left the service menu.

Sunday Noon – Toshiba 40H80

I was actually going to work on this client's set on Monday morning before my flight out, but since I had the time, I thought I would take an early look. To say that the TV had some issues was understating it. The client had gone and restacked the protective screen and it resulted in an image with a distinct vortex/fishbowl appearance. The center was correct, but the edges were all wrong. I did what I could and I told the client that I would return one day after he got the Toshiba people to look at the TV again.

As it turned out, when the client had done the screen restack, he put the fresnel lens in upside down. Definitely strange. Certainly something I have not encountered before nor have I gone looking for this issue. I had always known that the two sides of the fresnel were different so that the dull side faced the back. Never figured that the top was different from the bottom. Well, horror of horrors, when the Toshiba tech fixed this screen problem, he decided that he did not like the colour scheme and he decided to "fix" it so he turned the screen trimpots. I heard that my client screamed out loudly when he saw this happen. The Techs just could not resist this … like moths to a flame … touch me … touch me …

Sunday Evening – Toshiba 50HX70

A quick activation of the 3:2 pulldown on the TV was done at the start with the handy dandy Cinema 7 remote. Then I watched the continuing celebration of the Team Canada Hockey game …

The protective screen would stay on in this home what with the young girl running around the home. Once more, a very straight forward calibration with nothing strange to note.

Monday Morning

I said goodbye to my hosts and headed off to the airport to catch up on some more much needed viewing of all that anime that I carry around.

I flew home.