Dark DVD picture on TV, connecting a laptop to a sound system

Week of June 20, 2004

Q: Last fall we finally got a DVD player and surround system. We love it, but we seem to have a problem when viewing most DVD’s. The picture is way too dark. For instance, we just rented Mystic River. I saw it in the theater and it was just fine, but on DVD, it was so dark that we couldn’t even see expressions on their faces. I’m ready to go back to renting VHS tapes. I spoke with a friend and she has the same trouble. Help!!

M.A. Cook, Sacramento, CA

A: This is a common problem, caused by incorrect set-up of your DVD player. Most people simply connect their new DVD players to their televisions and use them without first checking the player’s setup menus and configuring them properly. This is a big mistake!

Most DVD players have two settings for black level. This setting is changed through the player’s video setup menu. Yours is apparently set to the dark setting, which is too dark for your television.

Using your remote, go to the player’s video setup menu, look for the black level control, and set it to the lighter setting. This should solve your problem. In the unlikely event it does not, check the television’s brightness and contrast controls to make sure they are not set incorrectly.

While you are in the DVD player’s setup menus, be sure to check the audio menu for a setting called “dynamic range compression” or “midnight mode”. I receive several emails per week from home users who complain that they cannot hear voices well when watching DVDs, though music and sound effects come through loud and clear.

This is because the soundtracks on DVDs are designed to be played at higher volume levels than usually approached in homes. If you turn the volume up to a point where the voices are easily heard, the sound effects and music will be as loud as you might hear them in a theater. This is more than most people want out of their home systems.

If you turn on the dynamic range compression, the loudness of voices, sound effects and music will be much closer in proportion to each other. This will make dialogue much easier to understand.

Q: Can I connect my laptop computer to my Panasonic SA-XR25 surround sound receiver? What I want to do is play music through the receiver, whilst connecting to one of the internet radio stations overseas with my laptop. I would assume if I can play the music through the receiver it will play only in stereo, not all four speakers. Unfortunately I have been advised of conflicting suggestions as to whether this can be done. Can you help?

-Name withheld by reader request, Melbourne, Australia

A: You can connect any computer to a sound system with an inexpensive audio cable. Buy a miniplug to RCA stereo audio connector with male connectors on the RCA end. Connect the miniplug end to your computer’s audio output, and connect the RCA end to an input on your receiver and your system will play any sounds coming from your computer. Using a good sound system rather than small computer speakers can add a lot of sonic impact to your computer gaming!

Some newer computers such as the Apple PowerMac G5 models have digital audio outputs that can be connected directly to a digital input on your receiver. If your computer has a digital audio output, use it rather than the miniplug audio output.

Your receiver has both Dolby Pro-Logic II or DTS NEO:6. Use either of these surround modes to enjoy music or games in surround sound.

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