Jul 252010
 

We recently took a road trip down through the south end of the state for our 2-hour anniversary. 

During our stay in Mesa Verde, I tried my hand at a little night photography.

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Description:  The night sky out of our room at the Far View Lodge
Camera: Canon D90 w/ 18-105 lens
Method: 30 minute exposure, f/5.6, ISO 100 
Date: July 6th, 2010
Comment: Not bad for my first attempt as at a long exposure shot.  Just a tad grainy, will have to work on that.

Jul 242010
 

Today I went and visited my friend Chris, his wife Krista, and two sons Aiden and Ryder.  Aiden is only 1 and half or so, and Ryder is only 11 weeks.  We hasn’t seen them since Ryder was born, so it was a good chance to visit the new addition to the Wilper clan.

Chris and Krista bought a new house last year further up the mountain from their old house in Coal Creek Canyon.  This time they upsized to a bigger house and an 8 acre lot that included the peak of a small mountain!  While we were there we went with Chris for his first visit to the peak.  HE always figured it would have a great view, and hoped to be able to see downtown Denver.

After a quick climb (20-30 minutes) we reached the peak.  Yes it had a great view, and yes you could see not only downtown Denver, and even downtown Boulder!:

http://toddnkaren.smugmug.com/photos/946300475_6XdBG-L.jpg

 

After getting slightly lost on the way back down, we made our way out to the road that leads to his house.   A short walk up down the road found us back at his house.

Since they have such a fantastic view from their back patio,  I figured it would be a good place to setup the tripod and camera to grab some time lapse shots while we were eating dinner.

I wasn’t too sure how this would turn out as it was pointing into the sun, and I’m still trying to get the exposures correct as it start to get dark, not to mention trying to keep lens flares to a minimum.

After a little touch up, I found that the balance came out well, and the lens flare made for a cool effect to the sun!:

Thanks Chris a Krista for a fun evening hanging out with you guys!

Jul 242010
 

Today I headed out to Flatirons Vista just south of Boulder and Eldorado Springs.  Weather was great, about 75 degrees, slight overcast, just and all out great morning to go for a ride.  I did the double loop here covering just under 8 miles in about an hour (didn’t really time it, just a guess). 

This is a great trail.  A moderate uphill to start, followed by a fun downhill, then a longer steady uphill, across the mesa thought the woods and out in to the open across the mesa.  Once across the wide open mesa where you can haul ass it heads down a long winding around the mesa.  The last uphill was a little brutal as I was already tired.  Had to take a few minute break here. Once I caught my breath I pounded up the hill and continue around the south end of the loop.  it’s pretty flat across the top then a long fast downhill to the car, making it a great way to finish up the trail.  I think I may try to make that trail a regular spot for me.  Good mix of everything and you can know it our pretty quickly.

image

I did OK for my second ride of the summer, but I certainly found out how out of shape I’m in.  I only really took a couple 2 min breaks, but I was working harder than I thought I would be.

The bike on the other hand was a absolutely fantastic. Was the first real trail on this bike and it performed absolutely fantastic.  Very pleased with this investment, can’t wait to get it out again…maybe tomorrow morning.

Jul 232010
 

I recently bought a couple Hibiscus to add some color to our patio. Once of them was similar to another I had in the past the blooms great big 10”-12” flowers.  This was was different though as the foliage on it was dark maroon/red colored.  After a couple week of having some bud that looked like that were ready to bloom, I noticed that all of a sudden one of the buds had made an about face while the others still pointed upwards.  But the time the sun had seta couple inches of a flower was sticking out of the end of that bud.  Figuring what was about to transpire, I quickly grabbed my camera, set it up, got the timer setup, and started firing away.   By morning I had a huge flower open wide up and prayed I had captured a good set.

Well here it is, you be the judge:

We’ve since had 304 more flowers since this first night.  Each flower lasts 2-3 days before it shrivels and falls off makinf way for the next.  One day we had two at one, made for a good challenge for that stalk to stay up strait.

Camera: Canon D90 w/ 18-105 lens
10 seconds exposures on 30 intervals
Date: July 15th, 2010

Jul 222010
 

 

Pole-Star-Light-TrailsAnd before those of you in the Southern Hemisphere jump all over the title, with its clear Northern Hemisphere slant, don’t worry, I’ll be talking about the Southern Cross (Crux) as well.  There just wasn’t room in the title to fit in all of that.

Let’s start off with the ‘why’ and then move to the how.  For those of you well versed in astronomy this may all seem very simple to you and you’re welcome to skip right over.  But as I’ve traveled I’ve been amazed at how many people, while sitting around a campfire or on a beach, can’t find the North Star or Southern Cross.  I’ll admit, for most people, it doesn’t matter.  They just like seeing stars overhead, making up constellations and looking for shooting stars.  And that fine.  But if you are looking to take pictures of the night sky, it can be helpful to find either the North Star (Polaris) or Southern Cross.

The reason is that it will tell you how light trails from the Earth’s rotation will show up in your picture.  Are you looking for streaks across the sky when using a long shutter speed or stacking photos?  Or do you want that cool circular effect?  It can be fun to play with different directions and foreground objects and unless you’re familiar with finding the right locations, it can be tricky.  First, some explanation.

A Pole Star is a star that sits near the point of rotation for the axis of the Earth directly above either pole.  In the case of the North Pole, it’s the North Star. In the case of the South Pole there currently is not a single star close in that is easy to spot with the naked eye, so the Southern Cross is often referenced.  Unless you are on the equator, you can only see one or the other (or very high up a mountain near the equator, like Mt. Kilimanjaro).  When you point a camera at either Polaris or the Crux and leave the shutter open for a while, you’ll get a swirled pattern as you see in the photo above (shot in Arches National Park, Utah, USA).  If you point the camera away from the pole, you’ll get more gradual curves depending on your location.  The photo at the bottom of this post was taken near the equator, in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, while pointing Southwest.

Speaking of location, let’s find the North Star.  It’s fairly simple and you only need to know one constellation, the Big Dipper or Ursa Major.  I usually reference this constellation rather than the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), even though Polaris is part of the Little Dipper, because the Big Dipper has ‘brighter’ stars (I know I’m disturbing some astronomers out there with a few colloquial terms and I apologize).  Once you have found the Big Dipper, connect the dots from the bottom of the outside of the dipper (farthest from the handle) to the top of the outside of the dipper.  Now follow that line until you meet the next bright star.  That’s Polaris and it is at the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper.

Serengeti Star Trails As I have practically no experience finding the Southern Celestial Pole, I’m going to borrow from Wikipedia (this is where the astronomers can jump in and give some pointers (har har har)) “Since the southern sky lacks an easily visible pole star, Alpha and Gamma (known as Acrux and Gacrux respectively) are commonly used to mark south. Tracing a line from Gacrux to Acrux and extending it for approximately 4.5 times the distance between the 2 stars leads to a point close to the Southern Celestial Pole. Alternatively, if a line is constructed perpendicularly between Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, the point where the above mentioned line and this line intersect marks the Southern Celestial Pole. The two stars of Alpha and Beta Centauri are often referred to as the “Southern Pointers” or just “The Pointers”, allowing people to easily find the asterism of the Southern Cross or the constellation of Crux.”

A helpful reminder when finding either celestial pole is they are as far off the horizon, North or South, as you are from the equator. In other words, the photo at the top was taken in Utah at approximately 38.7°North Latitude, so the North Celestial Pole is 38.7° off the horizon to the North.  This is helpful for visualizing a trip in advance.  If you know your latitude, you can guesstimate what your star pattern will look like.

And that’s the how and why of finding either celestial pole.  Armed with that knowledge, and the DPS post 4 Steps to Creating Star Trails With Stacking Software, it’s time to head outside when the sun goes down and see what you can create!  Feel free to post some of your memorable star trail photos in the comments section.

PHOTO NOTES: The top photo is a stack of 36 images taken over 51 minutes. Each image is 75 seconds in duration shot at 16mm, ISO 1250 f/6.3. The second photo is one single image lasting 618 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 400, 16mm.

Post from: Digital Photography School – Photography Tips.

How To Find The North Star And Why You’d Want To
Peter West Carey
Thu, 22 Jul 2010 14:07:52 GMT

Jul 212010
 

 

As part of my new diet initiative to feel better (and of course to gain some extra room in my clothing), this include an dedicated effort to get away from caffeine as much as possible, at least at this delusional NEED level.

I ran across this great article that outlines the affects of caffeine.  Make your own verdict:

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

For all of its wild popularity, caffeine is one seriously misunderstood substance. It’s not a simple upper, and it works differently on different people with different tolerances—even in different menstrual cycles. But you can make it work better for you.

Photo by rbrwr.

We’ve covered all kinds of caffeine "hacks" here at Lifehacker, from taking "caffeine naps" to getting "optimally wired." And, of course, we’re obsessed with the perfect cup of coffee. But when it comes to why so many of us love our coffee, tea, or soda fixes, and what they actually do to our busy brains, we’ve never really dug in.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your BrainWhile there’s a whole lot one can read on caffeine, most of it falls in the realm of highly specific medical research, or often conflicting anecdotal evidence. Luckily, one intrepid reader and writer has actually done that reading, and weighed that evidence, and put together a highly readable treatise on the subject. Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, by Stephen R. Braun, is well worth the short 224-page read. It was released in 1997, but remains the most accessible treatise on what is and isn’t understood about what caffeine and alcohol do to the brain. It’s not a social history of coffee, or a lecture on the evils of mass-market soda—it’s condensed but clean science.

What follows is a brief explainer on how caffeine affects productivity, drawn from Buzz and other sources noted at bottom. We also sent Braun a few of the questions that arose while reading, and he graciously agreed to answer them.

Caffeine Doesn’t Actually Get You Wired

Right off the bat, it’s worth stating again: the human brain, and caffeine, are nowhere near totally understood and easily explained by modern science. That said, there is a general consensus on how a compound found all over nature, caffeine, affects the mind.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your BrainEvery moment that you’re awake, the neurons in your brain are firing away. As those neurons fire, they produce adenosine as a byproduct, but adenosine is far from excrement. Your nervous system is actively monitoring adenosine levels through receptors. Normally, when adenosine levels reached a certain point in your brain and spinal cord, your body will start nudging you toward sleep, or at least taking it easy. There are actually a few different adenosine receptors throughout the body, but the one caffeine seems to interact with most directly is the A1 receptor. More on that later.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your BrainEnter caffeine. It occurs in all kinds of plants, and chemical relatives of caffeine are found in your own body. But taken in substantial amounts—the semi-standard 100mg that comes from a strong eight-ounce coffee, for instance—it functions as a supremely talented adenosine impersonator. It heads right for the adenosine receptors in your system and, because of its similarities to adenosine, it’s accepted by your body as the real thing and gets into the receptors.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your BrainMore important than just fitting in, though, caffeine actually binds to those receptors in efficient fashion, but doesn’t activate them—they’re plugged up by caffeine’s unique shape and chemical makeup. With those receptors blocked, the brain’s own stimulants, dopamine and glutamante, can do their work more freely—"Like taking the chaperones out of a high school dance," Braun writes in an email. In the book, he ultimately likens caffeine’s powers to "putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals."

It’s an apt metaphor, because it spells out that caffeine very clearly doesn’t press the "gas" on your brain, and that it only blocks a "primary" brake. There are other compounds and receptors that have an effect on what your energy levels feel like—GABA, for example—but caffeine is crude way of preventing your brain from bringing things to a halt. "You can," Braun writes, "get wired only to the extent that your natural excitatory neurotransmitters support it." In other words, you can’t use caffeine to completely wipe out an entire week’s worth of very late nights of studying, but you can use it to make yourself feel less bogged down by sleepy feelings in the morning.

These effects will vary, in length and strength of effect, from person to person, depending on genetics, other physiology factors, and tolerance. But more on that in a bit. What’s important to take away is that caffeine is not as simple in effect as a direct stimulant, such as amphetamines or cocaine; its effect on your alertness is far more subtle.

It Boosts Your Speed, But Not Your Skill—Depending on Your Skill Set

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

Johann Sebastian Bach loved him some coffee. So did Voltaire, Balzac, and many other great minds. But the type of work they did didn’t necessarily get a boost from their prodigious coffee consumption—unless their work was so second-nature to them that it felt like data entry.

The general consensus on caffeine studies shows that it can enhance work output, but mainly in certain types of work. For tired people who are doing work that’s relatively straightforward, that doesn’t require lots of subtle or abstract thinking, coffee has been shown to help increase output and quality. Caffeine has also been seen to improve memory creation and retention when it comes to "declarative memory," the kind students use to remember lists or answers to exam questions.

(In a semi-crazy side note we couldn’t resist, researchers have implied this memory boost may be tied to caffeine’s effect on adrenaline production. You have, presumably, sharper memories of terrifying or exhilarating moments in life, due in part to your body’s fight-or-flight juice. Everyone has their "Where I was when I heard that X died" story, plugging in John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, or Kurt Cobain, depending on generational relatability).

Then again, one study in which subjects proofread text showed that a measurable boost was mainly seen by those who could be considered "impulsive," or willing to sacrifice accuracy and quality for speed. And the effect was only seen in morning tests, indicating the subjects may have either become lightly dependent on caffeine, or were more disposed to such tasks at that time of day.

So when it comes to caffeine’s effects on your work, think speed, not power. Or consider it an unresolved question. If we’re only part of the way to understanding how caffeine effects the brain, we’re a long way to knowing exactly what kind of chemicals or processes are affected when, say, one writes a post about caffeine science one highly caffeinated afternoon.

For a more direct look at what happens to your brain when there’s caffeine in your system, we turn to the the crew at Current. They hooked up one of their reporters to a brain monitor while taking on some new caffeine habits, and share their brains on caffeine:

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

Effectiveness, Tolerance, and Headaches

Why do so many patients coming out of anesthesia after major surgery feel a headache? It’s because, in most cases, they’re not used to going so long without coffee. The good news? If they wait a few more days, they can start saving coffee again for when they really need it.

The effectiveness of caffeine varies significantly from person to person, due to genetics and other factors in play. The average half-life of caffeine—that is, how long it takes for half of an ingested dose to wear off—is about five to six hours in a human body. Women taking oral birth control require about twice as long to process caffeine. Women between the ovulation and beginning of menstruation see a similar, if less severe, extended half-life. For regular smokers, caffeine takes half as long to process—which, in some ways, explains why smokers often drink more coffee and feel more agitated and anxious, because they’re unaware of how their bodies work without cigarettes.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your BrainAs one starts to regularly take in caffeine, the body and mind build up a tolerance to it, so getting the same kind of boost as one’s first-ever sip takes more caffeine—this, researcher can agree on. Exactly how that tolerance developers is not so clear cut. Many studies have suggested that, just as with any drug addiction, the brain strives to return to its normal function while under "attack" from caffeine by up-regulating, or creating more adenosine receptors. But regular caffeine use has also been shown to decrease receptors for norepinephrine, a hormone akin to adrenaline, along with serotonin, a mood enhancer. At the same time, your body can see a 65 percent increase in receptors for GABA, a compound that does many things, including regulate muscle tone and neuron firing. Caffeine, it’s been suggested, is probably not directly responsible for all these changes. By keeping your brain from using its normal "I’m tired" sensors, though, your caffeine may be causing the brain to change the way all of its generally excitable things are regulated. Your next venti double shot goes a little less far each time, in any case. Photo by zoghal.

A 1995 study suggests that humans become tolerant to their daily dose of caffeine—whether a single soda or a serious espresso habit—somewhere between a week and 12 days. And that tolerance is pretty strong. One test of regular caffeine pill use had some participants getting an astronomical 900 milligrams per day, others placebos—found that the two groups were nearly identical in mood, energy, and alertness after 18 days. The folks taking the equivalent of nine stiff coffee pours every day weren’t really feeling it anymore. They would feel it, though, when they stopped.

You start to feel caffeine withdrawal very quickly, anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after your last use. That’s a big part of why that first cup in the morning is so important—it’s staving off the early effects of withdrawal. The reasons for the withdrawal are the same as with any substance dependency—your brain was used to operating one way, and now it’s suddenly working under completely different circumstances. Headaches are the nearly universal effect of cutting off caffeine, but depression, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, nausea, and vomiting can be part of your cut-off, too, along with more specific issues, like eye muscle spasms. Generally, though, you’ll be over it in around 10 days—again, depending on your own physiology and other factors.

Getting Out of the Habit and Learning to Tame Caffeine

Beyond the equivalent of four cups of coffee in your system at once, caffeine isn’t giving you much more boost—in fact, at around the ten-cup level, you’re probably less alert than non-drinkers. So what if you want to start getting a real boost from caffeine once again, in a newly-learned, less-dependent way?

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your BrainOur own Jason Fitzpatrick has both intentionally "quit" coffee, as well as just plain run out of coffee. Being the kind of guy who measures his own headaches and discomfort, he suggests measuring your caffeine intake, using caffeine amounts in all your drinks, chocolate, and other "boosting" foods. Wise Bread has a good roundup of caffeine amounts, and the Buzz Vs. The Bulge chart also shows how many calories you’ll be cutting if you start scaling back. Once you know your levels, map out a multi-week process of scaling down, and stick to it. Jason also suggests that dependency kicking is a good time to start taking walks, doing breathing exercises, or other mind-clearing things, because, in his experience, their effects are much greater when caffeine is not so much a part of your make-up.

Braun, author of Buzz, sees it the same way, but still uses coffee—strategically, according to our email exchange:

In practical terms, this means that if you’d like to be able to turn to caffeine when you need it for a quick, effective jolt, it’s best to let your brain "dry out" for at least several days prior to administration. This is actually my current mode of consumption. I don’t regularly drink coffee anymore (gasp).

This from a man who loved (and wore out) his home espresso maker. I love coffee in all its guises. But after 30+ years it wasn’t working for me. For one thing, the problem with caffeine is that there are adenosine receptors all over the body, including muscles. For me, that meant that caffeine made me vaguely stiff and sore, and it aggravated a tender lower back that was prone to spasm. But I also just wasn’t getting a clean, clear buzz from coffee…I drank so much, so regularly, that drinking an extra cup or two didn’t do a helluva lot except, perhaps, make me a little more irritable.

So about a year ago I slowly tapered down, and now I have, if anything, a cup of tea (half black, half peppermint) in the morning. (The amount of caffeine from the black tea isn’t enough to wire a gnat.) Not only does my body feel better now, my brain is clean of caffeine, so I really want (or need) a good neural jump-start, I will freely…nay, ecstatically…indulge. Then I stop and let the brain settle again.

That’s the theory, anyway…and it’s basically true, although I’ll freely admit that sometimes I have an espresso or coffee just because it tastes so damned good.


That’s our attempt at summing up the science and common understanding of caffeine in one post. There is, as you can imagine, a lot more to explore—Braun’s Buzz is a good starting point, but you’ll find your own way from there. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about caffeine, either from reading or personal experience? Share the science in the comments.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain [Explainer]
Kevin Purdy
Tue, 13 Jul 2010 16:00:00 GMT

Jul 012010
 
What with all the attention give to high-definition and 3D in 2010, it’d be easy to underestimate the role of great sound in the film experience. But think about it: what was it that made the shark attack in Jaws so scary? Why did the opening scene of Star Wars leave such an indelible mark on most contemporary viewers? And why, even now, does the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan possess the power to shock so completely?

jawsfilmcover 224x300 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

Simply put, the answer is great sound. Spielberg knew that sharks were silent, stealthy killers: it took John Williams’ powerfully affecting score to heighten the terror of each attack. George Lucas was just as profoundly aware of the need for great sound: he needed it to hide the flaws in his 1970s-vintage special effects. Once the thundering engines of a Star Destroyer have screamed over your head, you’ll pay less attention to the fact that, quite obviously, it’s all being done with models. And then there’s Saving Private Ryan, that paragon of surround sound savagery, as realistic a multichannel masterpiece as any in movie history: here, the sonic intent was to both convince and terrify, and did it ever work.

So great sound counts. In fact, according to Randy Thom, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed sound designers, it counts so much that “If you look closely at and listen to a dozen or so movies you consider to be great, you’ll realise how important sound is in many if not most of them”. Or to put it another way, while watching a great movie in stereo through bandwidth-limited television speakers has little impact on your ability to understand dialogue or follow the plot, it’s still a long way short of the complete entertainment experience the director originally intended you to have.

Randy Thom 550x367 300x200 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

All the more reason to buy a Blu-ray player and an appropriate multichannel amplifier, receiver or processor: the combination of these two (or three) components, used in harness with a good-quality surround speaker system, will get you closer than ever to the original sound of the master audio tracks created by the world’s best sound designers.

Older disc formats such as DVD are comparatively careless with the precious cargo they bear: in essence, when we talk about data compression for DVD sound, what we really mean is data ‘reduction’, because elements of the original source audio are permanently discarded during the disc-encoding process. With Blu-ray’s uncompressed and lossless audio technologies, that doesn’t happen, so the end result can be sonically identical to the original.

Identical? Really? Unbelievably, the answer is yes. For any film, sounds are first recorded and engineered as uncompressed 24-bit/48kHz PCM audio (far better than CD quality, which is 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM): this is then mixed in the studio to create an original master. After that, the finished soundtrack is usually heavily compressed to create final versions of the movie for distribution on film or, subsequently, for domestic use. This is very similar to the way MP3 works on a CD-quality piece of music: indeed, Dolby Digital, the most commonly used compression system found on DVD discs, stores audio at transfer rates very similar to a good MP3 file (384 to 448kbps, or kilobits per second).

This compromise is enforced by the technical difficulties involved in cramming surround sound on to a film reel, on to a limited-capacity data disc or, most recently, on to a DVD. DVD can only offer between 4.7 and 9.4GB of storage space for the completed movie presentation, and its video is packaged using less-efficient MPEG2 compression, which requires more space per second of video information than newer, more efficient systems. That, plus the need to accommodate numerous extra features and, in discs destined for the European market, additional soundtrack options in other languages, has meant that on many DVD releases, audio has frequently come a poor third to its two space-hungry rivals.


09   BW Custom Theater CT800 System 1 537x215 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

But Blu-ray has up to 50GB of storage capacity and often uses newer and much more efficient video compression systems compared to DVD, so there’s no need
to cram in data to fit the space available. In fact, there’s so much space on a 50GB disc that it can even accommodate a studio-quality 7.1 channel 24-bit/48kHz PCM soundtrack, if needed: the only inhibiting factors are the duration of the film, the extent of the extras included and the willingness of each studio to make the effort. As a guide, two hours of 7.1 channel, uncompressed 24/48 PCM audio would need 8.3GB of space, or less than 20 percent of the space on a 50GB Blu-ray.

That said, not all Blu-ray discs afford dual-layer 50GB capacity: many films are released as single-layer 25GB discs. Even here, it¹s possible to fit multiple channels of uncompressed PCM audio onto a 25GB disc ­ but at the same time, to do so obviously takes up a relatively larger proportion of the available capacity.

So, to create room for extras, soundtrack options and video, most studios have adopted one of two approaches. Some have preferred to down-convert the 24-bit PCM original into a 16-bit/48kHz version. This still sounds very good, because even down-converted, uncompressed PCM will deliver more dynamic range and detail than a Dolby Digital soundtrack. Two hours of 16/48 7.1-channel PCM occupies 5.5GB of disc space ­ a useful capacity saving.

However, rather than opting for a lower-quality version of PCM, an alternative is to use a ‘lossless’ packaging system, either DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. These work rather like zip files in home computing: they repackage the 24-bit/48kHz PCM master (or whichever quality of master is available) into less space, rather than down-converting it. All that’s required is some way of ‘unzipping’ the data file to recover the original PCM audio, which can be done inside your Blu-ray player, or, depending on the type and quality of kit you own, inside most new surround amplifiers, receivers and processors.

10   BW CT800 System Grilles Off 1 537x215 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

Using this lossless approach, a 24/48 7.1-channel PCM soundtrack packaged using Dolby TrueHD requires 4.2GB of space, meaning it occupies about half the disc space of the same soundtrack stored as uncompressed data. Clearly, that makes lossless packaging attractive for studios releasing single-layer 25GB Blu-ray discs, and even on dual-layer 50GB discs, it’s frequently used for films with long running times.

Whichever type of lossless packaging system is used, the salient point is this: the sounds you eventually hear will be bit-for-bit identical to the original studio master, and should also sound better than a down-converted 16-bit/48kHz PCM alternative.

Which lossless system sounds best? It’s frequently asked, but it’s also fundamentally irrelevant. For starters, very few discs are encoded with both forms of lossless audio, (because studios have no vested interest in doing so), so any direct comparisons between the two systems are very difficult to carry out. But just as importantly, each form of encoding system uses variable bit rates and different data algorithms, so while DTS-HD Master Audio has a nominally superior maximum audio bitrate (24.5Mbps, as against 18Mbps for Dolby TrueHD) in practice the two technologies are far harder to separate.

Whatever the theory, the key point is this: with Blu-ray, film soundtracks can sound far more dynamic and spacious than their DVD equivalents. In fact, your favourite films can sound as good as the original studio masters, which is a giant leap forward in quality for home cinema. All you need is the appropriate electronics and loudspeaker to make the most of them.

04   BW CT700 Home Theater 1a 1 537x215 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound
HIGH-DEFINITION AUDIO FORMATS
Uncompressed:

PCM
Pulse-code modulation, sometimes referred to as Linear PCM or LPCM, is broadly used on CD, in computer audio and on Blu-ray. In the latter context, bit depths of 16, 20 and 24-bits are used, with the latter quality, sampled at 48kHz, being the most commonly employed ‘master’ standard in film production. Every Blu-ray player must support PCM as standard, although not every disc includes a standard PCM soundtrack for the reasons outlined above. In essence, its disadvantage is solely that it demands considerable space on a disc.

Lossless:

Dolby TrueHD

Dolby TrueHD The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

One of the two key lossless audio formats (referred to as ‘codecs’) on Blu-ray. It’s an optional rather than mandatory part of the audio specification for Blu-ray, but is widely supported just the same. Supports bit-depth of up to 24 bits and  sampling rates up to 96kHz at up to eight channels (arranged as 7.1, typically), with higher sampling rates (192kHz) available for soundtracks with fewer channels of audio. The maximum encoded bit-rate is 18Mbps, although in practice most discs use much less than that.

DTS-HD Master Audio
The other key lossless audio codec on Blu-ray. It’s also optional, but it’s more widely supported (so far) than Dolby TrueHD. Supports bit-depth of up to 24 bits and sampling rates up to 96kHz for up to eight channels (arranged as 7.1, typically), with higher sampling rates (192kHz) available for soundtracks with fewer channels of audio. The maximum encoded bit-rate is 24.5Mbps, although in practice most discs use much less than that.

Lossy:

Dolby Digital Plus

Dolby Digital Plus 300x105 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

Rarely used on Blu-ray, this compressed audio system offers significantly better quality than standard Dolby Digital, with the potential for data rates as high as 6Mbps, although typical usages are much lower that that (around 1.5Mbps, maximum). Up to 7.1 channels of discrete audio can be included, at up to 24-bits, although more frequently 16-bit audio is used.

DTS-HD High resolution
Another relative rarity on Blu-ray, DTS-HD HR is broadly similar to Dolby Digital Plus in that it supports up to 6Mbps datastreams, up to 7.1 channels of audio and up to 24-bit data.

TOP FIVE AUDIO SCENES ON FILM:

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight 300x300 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

Sound Designer Richard King won the Academy Award for Sound Editing in 2009
for his work on Chris Nolan’s second Batman film ­ hear it on Blu-ray, and you’ll immediately understand why. Presented in Dolby TrueHD, this is a masterful demonstration of deft effects placement intermixed with formidable dynamics. As with all the best soundtracks, it’s not afraid to use silence as a dramatic counterpoint to volume, either.

Saving Private Ryan

saving private ryan 204x300 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

Still one of the most celebrated surround soundtracks in film history, Gary Rydstrom’s Academy Award-winning masterpiece is as intense as modern home
cinema sound gets. Deftly intermixing furious power with astonishing attention to period detail, the DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is thrilling and terrifying in equal measure.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Blu ray 216x300 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound
Chris Munro’s work on the DTS-HD Master Audio presentation to Holmes disproves the myth that all the best home cinema experiences rely on action sequences to deliver thrills: while it¹s blessed with considerable dynamics, the soundtrack here works just as well at modest volumes and with apparently quieter, more subtle effects: it¹s especially effective at wrapping surround information around you.

Up

Up 243x300 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

Want a home cinema thrill your kids can enjoy, too? Try this: its DTS-HD MasterAudio soundtrack features 6.1 audio for additional rear-speaker spaciousness, and this adds considerable extra scale to the film¹s grander scenes. There’s all the low-frequency thunder you could want, too ­especially during the film’s standout thunderstorm sequence!

Avatar

Avatar 214x300 The Definitive Guide to High Definition surround sound

Yes, the film that everyone went to see at the cinema is now the film that everyone¹s going to buy on Blu-ray, but with good reason: this THX-mastered disc features not a single extra, allowing almost all its 50GB capacity to be given over to delivering the best-possible sound and vision. It¹s a purist approach, but one that delivers outstanding results in DTS-HD Master Audio.

The Definitive Guide to High-Definition surround sound
SusannaGrant
Thu, 01 Jul 2010 09:57:02 GMT

Jun 212010
 

Thank you Louie for taking the time to help expose this recklessness and massacre of our oceans!

I’m in the Gulf now with the OPS crew shooting a horror of epic proportions unfolding here. Reading that BP CEO Tony Hayward is off yachting while whole towns are all out of jobs is so out of control – I’m incredulous – you couldn’t make this stuff up. We were trying to get a tour of the estuaries by an out of work fisherman today but he was forced to take a job with BP – suddenly he couldn’t talk to us. We’re finding that getting anyone to talk is pretty difficult in the Gulf. The oil companies, one of their own effectively destroying the only competing industry, hold all the cards in this fragile high stakes game with the environment now. Hard working people are left with no alternative but to sign non-disclosure agreements and start working for the dark side.

At a time when Japan is being questioned for censoring The Cove the hypocrisy of the right wing in our country (and England) forcing poor fisherman to be silenced is not lost on us. Seeing oily pelicans, egrets and spoonbills trying to feed their young in their breeding grounds in what has becoming the biggest environmental disaster in America is heartbreaking. We aim to give these animals and the environment a voice. But we’re going to use this opportunity to help tell the story of what I believe is the crime of the century, how the burning of fossil fuels is destroying the oceans. The oil spill is just the most visible manifestation of the bigger disaster that has been unfolding in the environment for quite some time.

Acidification of the oceans, which results from the burning of fossil fuels, has been destroying the oceans since the industrial age but only in the last few years has it been found to be one of the largest environmental problems we face.

The only solace I find is that we are on the side of the good fight. It gets me up in the morning, it motivates me to do what we do at OPS against overwhelming odds. Next week The Cove comes out in Japan and that effort made the front page of the NY Times yesterday. People told us that would never happen but we have 20 theaters still holding there. After the Oscars, we used our cameras to reveal an LA restaurant that had secretly been serving sushi made from the endangered sei whale. They were shut down. We recently found restaurants in Seoul, Korea to be serving this fare as well and this morning I was told that DNA tests trace the origin to guess where? Taiji! Like I said, you couldn’t make this stuff up. The restaurant owner is facing five years in jail.

This week the IWC votes to abrogate the moratorium on whaling and I’m told by colleagues there The Cove has stirred up a hornet nest – abuzz also by the London Times creating a sting operation that exposed the Japanese vote-buying scheme.

Thank you all for your support and helping us keep shine a light on the good fight – this kind of evil can’t stand the light!

Onwards and Upwards,

Louie

image, Gina Papabeis, OPS

Report From The Gulf
Sun, 20 Jun 2010 18:06:00 GMT

Jun 212010
 

Sign me up!

IMG 1205 300x225 The Future of Surround Sound from MIT

The Opera of the Future group is an MIT Media Lab Research Group led by Society of Sound Fellow Tod Machover. It explores concepts and techniques to help advance the future of musical composition, performance, learning, and expression. Through the design of new interfaces for both professional virtuosi and amateur music-lovers, the development of new techniques for interpreting and mapping expressive gesture, and the application of these technologies to innovative compositions and experiences, the group seeks to enhance music as a performance art, and to develop its transformative power as counterpoint to our everyday lives. The scope of our research includes musical instrument design, concepts for new performance spaces, interactive touring and permanent installations, and “music toys.” It ranges from extensions of traditional forms to radical departures, such as the Brain Opera, Toy Symphony and Death and the Powers.

Ambisonics is one of its current research projects, and here Ben Bloomberg explains a concept that could very well be the future of surround sound….

Ambisonics

Anyone who has gone through the process of designing a home theater understands the difficulties associated with locating speakers. Unless the theater is designed and built from the ground up, it is seldom possible to put speakers in perfectly ideal positions. Ambisonic encoding provides an abstraction layer, which allows one to place speakers independently of sound. It is an elegant method of representing audio such that the locations of ‘virtual sources’ are represented in the most accurate way given any possible speaker configuration.

IMG 1208 300x225 The Future of Surround Sound from MIT

At Opera of the Future, we strive to create spectacular next generation live performance systems that are realistically usable in harsh environments such as touring productions. Systems must be flexible enough to fit into any venue, ranging from small offices to concert halls, and extremely simple to setup and configure. Using Ambisonic encoding, it is possible to arrive at a venue, place surround sound speakers wherever it is most convenient and have a fantastic, consistent surround sound field.

Although Ambisonic encoding is a well-known technique for reproducing pre-recorded content, it is not often used as live tool because latency associated with encoding and decoding is too great. For our latest production, Death and the Powers, we have developed an AppleCoreAudio AudioUnit DSP engine, which is capable of processing 128 channels of ambisonics at a staggering 32 samples of delay. This allows us to take ambisonics to new heights in live entertainment and sound reinforcement.

Existing theatrical surround sound processors cost upwards of $120,000. This system can run on hardware ranging from a small FPGA-based 8-channel system ($60) to a 128 channel MacPro based system ($5,000). It can be automated using industry standard OSC and uses any CoreAudio compatible audio interface for audio I/O.

How does it work?

Ambisonic encoding uses 3rd order spherical harmonics to represent virtual sources with 16 directional coordinates that function equivalently to X, Y and Z coordinates. Using a 16 axes, instead of 3, to specify the location of a virtual source allows greater “perceived resolution” in the surround sound field. Thus adding more speakers can produce a more detailed result rather than a ‘blurrier’ field.

Bowers & Wilkins to the Rescue!

We have been developing ambisonic systems at Opera of the Future for 3 years now. Until the present, we were unable to find a speaker that was small enough and sufficiently detailed to justify use in large quantities for testing in our lab and studios. It should be mentioned that we spend our days using our 800D and 805s speakers in the studio for production work, so we were extremely picky when it came to finding a speaker that would work well for our large-scale ambisonic tests.

IMG 12041 225x300 The Future of Surround Sound from MIT

Just when production for Death and the Powers was beginning to reach its peak, Bowers & Wilkins introduced us to the M-1, a four inch speaker with a one inch aluminum nautilus tweeter. Needless to say, it seemed like the perfect speaker for us to use. In a flurry of emails and phone calls, we managed to obtain 24(!) of them for some testing and experimentation.

The results could not be more positive. After some time testing and tweaking decoder weightings and crossover points, we found that paired with two of our 800Dʼs and an ASW-855 subwoofer, the system sounds incredible!

The first debut of the system was during the open house for the grand opening of our new building, but it has since been the centerpiece of many demos, including one for Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Philharmonic.

The System

The DSP rig consists of a MacPro loaded with AULab and MOTU Digital Performer running in real-time mode (a fantastic resource) and a MADI-based Solid State Logic 128 Channel PCI- express card. The system clock is generated on board a separate SSL AlphaLink SX and sent over MADI fibre-optic cable to the computer. The DSP runs at 96Khz and the converters are 24-bit.

IMG 1209 225x300 The Future of Surround Sound from MIT

The M-1s are spaced evenly at 15 degree increments with two 800Ds in front at 30 degrees and an ASW-855 Subwoofer in the rear. The M-1s have a 1st order high pass filter at 140Hz and the subwoofer is crossed over at 100Hz and 180 degrees out of phase. The 800Ds run full range.

System Specs:

MacPro 8-core 2.26Ghz w/6GB RAM SSL MadiXtreme128 SSL Alpha-link MADI SX MOTU Digital Performer 7.1

Apple AULab 2.1 (19) B&W M1 Speakers (2) B&W 800D Speakers (1) B&W ASW-855 Subwoofer (2) Rotel 1512 Amplifier (2) Rotel 1091 Amplifier.

IMG 1207 300x225 The Future of Surround Sound from MIT

Whatʼs next?

The M-1s will play an important role in Death and the Powers as part of a 128 channel surround-sound system! Stay tuned for more information on the design and implementation of that system.

Ben Bloomberg is an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been obsessed with audio since age 9. Currently he designs surround sound infrastructure for live entertainment at the Media Lab. His systems have been featured internationally in productions such as the world premier of Tod Machover’s Skellig, and more recently, Death and the Powers at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Death and the Powers will premier for the public at the Salle Garnier Opera House in Monaco on September 24, 2010, and then tour to the United States in the spring of 2011. For more information on the production, visit http://powers.media.mit.edu.

The Future of Surround Sound from MIT
SusannaGrant
Wed, 19 May 2010 14:54:46 GMT

Jun 092010
 

Doing what I can to spread the word…

I understand that people and humanity have certain ‘needs’, but I also understand what a ‘NEED’ is. 

In recent months, members of a right-wing nationalist group in Japan have been protesting outside the Tokyo office of Unplugged, the Japanese distributor of The Cove, criticizing the film as a betrayal of Japanese pride. The group uses loudspeakers to shout slogans like "eco-terrorist", and have even protested outside the home of Unplugged CEO Takeshi Kato.

After a flood of angry phone calls, three movie theaters in Tokyo and Osaka have cancelled showing The Cove due to threats of protests outside of screenings. Citing fears about the safety of moviegoers and nearby businesses, these theaters have been intimidated by this small group of extremists in what amounts to censorship of the film.

Kato said in a statement, "Since The Cove won the Oscar, our office and my house has been relentlessly attacked by propaganda activities. Now these attacks have begun on theaters. [These theaters] made a tough decision. The Cove is not anti-Japanese film. We need to debate the content in constructive way. We lament that we are losing opportunities to see the film about Japan, in Japan. We will continue to discuss the situation carefully with other theaters and exert maximum effort to release The Cove."
A letter supporting the release of The Cove was signed by 55 public personalities in Japan, saying that the suppression of the film "underlines the weakness of the freedom of speech in Japan."Despite the nationalist group’s attempts at threatening and intimidating the Japanese distributor and exhibitors, the film is still scheduled to screen in 23 other theaters on June 26th.

Ric O’Barry, former Flipper trainer, is currently in Japan for the premiere of the film and will be talking to media and other groups leading up to that date.

Watch Director Louie Psihoyos’ reaction to this censorship.


Video of nationalist protestors outside the home of Takeshi Kato, CEO of Unplugged, the Japanese distributor of
The Cove.

Censorship of The Cove in Japan
Wed, 09 Jun 2010 16:28:00 GMT