Particle Debris: Beware the DTS Bomb on Blu-ray Discs

/> Last night, I was experimenting with a new movie on Blu-ray, The Golden Compass. What got my attention was a piece of paper in the plastic case that said, "It is possible that this Blu-ray disc was manufactured after your Blu-ray player. To ensure the best possible viewing experience, our Blu-ray player may need a firmware update..."

Right away, I knew there might be a problem because I had heard about issues with some Blu-ray discs not playing correctly. All along the way, I've kept my Samsung BD-P1400 Blu-ray player updated with the latest firmware. Those updates improved the start up times, but the release notes focused more on title compatibility.

Sure enough, as soon as Golden Compass started, there was horrible distortion and I couldn't hear Daniel Craig speak in the opening scene.

I always let the Denon receiver do the audio decoding, and the Samsung is set to "bitstream" output to allow that. But that clearly wasn't going to work. I changed the Samsung to PCM mode, a kind of lingua franca for stereo systems and everything was fine.


I did some digging.

1. I knew my Samsung's firmware was up to date from August 8. I had never updated my Denon A/V receiver.

2. A Blu-ray forum discussion suggested that the Onkyo and Yamaha receivers are susceptible to what's been labeled the "DTS bomb" on some movies if they don't have the latest firmware upgrade. It only happens for Blu-ray movies mastered in "DTS-HD Master Audio".

Other forum discussions I looked at suggested that the Denon A/V receivers are immune to the bomb, a sudden loud burst of nose, a popping sound at some point in the movie that is said to be able to "wake the neighbors."

I bought the Denon 3808 back in October last year and decided that while it may not be susceptible to the so-called bomb, the horrible distortion lead me to look for a possible firmware update. Since the Denon is on the Internet for Internet radio, via a small Linksys Switch in my living room, I drilled down to the menu items and found the Firmware Update option. It takes over an hour, so I started it and went to bed.

This morning, I set the Samsung player back to Bitstream mode, a mode that lets the receiver do the decoding, and fired up Golden Compass, All was well.

Lessons learned:

1. If your Ethernet-enabled Blu-ray player isn't on the Internet, get it there. At the very least, burn a DVD and do the manual updates the moment they come out.

2. Make sure your A/V receiver also has the latest firmware. Many modern A/V receivers with HDMI also have Ethernet connections.

3. Watch closely for Blu-ray movies like Golden Compass, The Fly, Fantastic Four, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a few others encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio.

4. If you have a problem you can't seem to fix right away and just want to watch the movie, temporarily change your Blu-ray player to PCM output mode if available.

5. The Internet is your friend. Check out the Blu-ray and AVS Forums.

With the Christmas buying season on the horizon, there will be lots of good looking deals on Blu-ray players and Audio/Video amplifiers. However, a badly selected pairing of equipment or limitations in fire-sale priced equipment can lead to issues, so it it'll pay to watch for problems like this and make sure your equipment is Ethernet enabled for firmware updates. It's just a fact of life on the Blu-ray edge.

In the coming months, the iPod Observer will be publishing articles that will help you through the buying process for A/V equipment for HDTV systems. Stay tuned.