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Dec 19, 2009

The hidden emotive aspect of film reproduction

Posted by The Advanced Audiophile

Sad to say, the film "Monsters Inc." has become ingrained in my consciousness, and slowly becoming one of my favorite movies. But that's only because I had the DVD on hand, and kept using it during my audio research. I can practically recite the entire dialogue from Chapter 1. This all started, because I wanted to compare HDMI cables, used to hook up my upconverting HD DVD player to my flat screen tv. First to see if there was a difference among varying qualities and costs of HDMI cables (I'll end the suspense now by saying "there is"). And next, to see if I could save on the cost of much pricier cables, by modding (aka "tweaking", aka 'improving') a cheap HDMI cable through the "magic of Beltism". The cheap HDMI cable I chose cost less than $10 from an electronics discounter (the equivalent of a dollar store for electronics).

I could see (and hear) that the pricier cable was superior to the cheaper one. To the uncaring eye and ear, the cheaper cable probably would be perfectly fine. But once comparing the two side by side, I could not go with the cheaper cable. Not when the pricier cable was provoking a greater interest in the movie, due to a somewhat more refined image and sound. My goal was to see if I could meet, if not exceed the standard of the pricier cable, after treating the cheaper one. So out came the Beltist devices, and there I set about tweaking the $8 HDMI cable (and later the DVD player as well). Was I successful in improving the picture and sound produced by the cheap HDMI cable? Yes. Was it as good as the costlier cable? Hard to say, because the two were producing quite different standards of quality. Suffice to say, I preferred what the cheaper "Belted" cable was doing, in the end.

And here's where we get to the monsters (told you there'd be monsters). I'm (very) repeatedly scrutinizing every aspect of the picture and the movie-viewing experience in comparing my Belting work on this HDMI cable, and its costlier cousin. The opening titles of Monsters Inc. has a great, boppy 60's-inspired jazz combo piece, which was great for testing "musicality". Or, the ability for the listener to lose himself in the music. This, I was eventually able to do after Belting the cable. Musicality (a popular term in the art of music reproduction) infers that music has a musical message that it can communicate, and a system that reproduces this well enough will be able to relay the emotional content in music. Most audio systems do not do this well at all. Live music is usually effortless at making you feel emotions communicated by the music.

In the opening sequence of Monsters, the monster named "Mr. Bile" is preparing to enter a child's room. We see his shadow creep across the floor, over the bed, and then a pair of creepy, peering eyes reveal themselves under the bed. Meanwhile, more mooding is set by the moonlight entering the room, the wind rustling the leaves outside, the shutters creaking, etc. Then Bile rises up to ginormous proportions to take his rightful place as the master of the room, and the terror tyrant of children the world over. During this part of the scene, I am looking and listening for how well each test conveys the terror that the scene intends to relate. Then when the kid gets scared, this scares Bile, and he reels back in horror, then slams his big fanny down on the kid's jumping jacks, then springs back up from the shock of that, then runs around the room screaming in pain, pulling jacks out of his rear. In this part of the scene, while experiencing the physical comedy of this bit, I am at the same time making myself aware of how funny the scene is to me, and how much I am laughing at it, during each test.

So in conclusion, yes there are subtle but significant differences in how scary the scary scenes are, and how funny the funny scenes are. Although they represent dialogue and image, they are precisely related to how musical the musical parts are. What I learned is that a good standard of video quality in movie reproduction doesn't just mean your colours are richer, or your pixels are better defined, or your sound is better defined (though all of that should happen). Just as the emotions are stirred by a musical sound, the emotive content in movies are better served by having that same standard of quality. The difference may not be something you notice on a conscious level; but as you laugh harder to comedies, cry harder to dramas, jump harder during horrors, or get more pumped up during action movies, your brain will know the difference. The total immersion experience of today's home movie watching will get better. Watching a movie on such an "emotical" system (one that is adept at producing emotions and physical sensations from listening to music or watching and hearing videos), will be a better experience than one that can't produce this same quality, but has a much larger screen and much costlier associated equipment.

For this reason, when I am tweaking a system to improve the home theatre experience, I don't worry about the image quality, or anything else really, except musicality. For I know that if I get this right on the audio side (and believe me, it isn't always that easy to do well under Beltism, and nearly impossible under conventional techniques), everything else will be in its right place. Given all of the above, it would be interesting experiment to "Belt" the environment of a public movie theatre. If I had one, I would!

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