At this year’s CEDIA, THX made significant announcements fleshing out its Media Director ecosystem. Media Director’s mission is to ensure that digital content plays optimally on your home theater system. Optimally is defined as how the director intended it to be seen. It essentially auto-calibrates your home theater system on-the-fly by title. While Media Director is designed to best utilize the capabilities of your home theater, it is not THX certification.
How does Media Director work? Media Director essentially defines a set of data that fully describes digital content. Data that describes data is also called metadata. At content creation, the source material is encoded with this metadata describing how best to play it. It contains information on the source material’s numerous attributes such as the type of content (movie, game, animation, etc..), color gamut, video resolution, aspect ratio, audio format and frame rate. Current A/V gear does its best to try to figure this out on its own today. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t. For the most part, Blu-ray and DVDs players do a good job figuring out how to best play content since they adhere to a well-defined standard (as opposed to the world of streaming video). Movies encoded at 24 frames are properly sent to my HDTV. However, I’ve also seen times when it hasn’t worked. When watching The Dark Knight on Blu-ray, my player wasn’t smart enough to select the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack which is superior to the Dolby Digital track. While an exception, this is a situation where Media Director would have been helpful.
For Media Director to work best, all of the devices in your system need to know about Media Director: the HDTV, the video player and the A/V receiver. The content also needs to be encoded with the Media Director metadata (it can be defined down to the DVD chapter level). The challenge with standards like this is that all of the different suppliers in the ecosystem have to participate. There have been other standards rolled out such as Deep Color which are essentially useless since almost no content has been created to take advantage of it. It’s the old chicken and egg problem. At the show, THX was able to come up with a big egg by announcing that the new six film Star Wars Blu-ray set will be Media Director encoded. (Luke, I’m Your Father and here’s my metadata to prove it). The metadata can also be downloaded via the Internet enabling it for existing content.
Another piece of the ecosystem puzzle fell into place with leading semiconductor suppliers announcing chips with built-in Media Director support. This will make it easier for the makers of HDTVs, receivers and other home theater equipment to implement Media Director. Basically, the manufacturer has to interpret the metadata and then map it to the device’s best settings. While there are a couple of Media Director devices on the market today such as the Dune HD Blu-player, it will take a little time before it proliferates to other A/V equipment. As always, it will start with high-end gear and trickle down to entry-level components over time. Yes, it’s very unlikely that the gear you own today will get a firmware upgrade.
In the interim, THX has an opportunity here to help proliferate Media Director. As the metadata gets created for existing DVDs and Blu-rays, THX should make this information freely available to consumers via the web. This would give A/V aficionados the information they need to calibrate their systems for a particular title. It’s not something you would do for everything you watch, but it would be worth it for the big movie night when you invite your friends over.
The Hub sees the biggest opportunity for Media Director in the world of streaming video. Streaming video is compelling because of its convenience. If you’re messing around with your home theater settings to get the best picture and sound, it doesn’t feel very convenient anymore. Given the variety of video and audio codecs out there, Media Director can ensure great audio and video are provided side by side with convenience. Look at our recent attempt to show Netflix content at the proper frame rate. Something like that should just work. Blockbuster’s CinemaNow service has signed on to use the technology. It would be great if other streaming services followed.
Tags: audio, calibration, THX, video