HDTV A/V sync issues

I finally got my first HDTV. I only got it because my mammoth CRT bit the dust. I noticed that the audio and video are poorly synchronized. It’s painfully apparent when singing is involved, especially in animated features where the mouth movements tend to be more exaggerated. It’s also really obvious (and annoying) in rhythm-based video games. Rock Band 2 has a calibration feature to adjust for this, but it’s not the only game I play.

So some factual questions…

  1. Is there an HDTV technology that doesn’t have this issue?

2a. What causes it?
2b. Is there a way to fix it?

  1. Does the method of A/V delivery matter? I’ve got everything currently hooked up via S-Video. Yes, I know that’s not HD. HD is important to me, but it’s more important for me to do it “right” than it is to rush into it.

I have a slight calibration issue, and am curious as to the responses here.

Can you expand on the above quote though? I don’t understand why you wouldn’t run a $5 component or HDMI cable instead of an S-cable. Do you just not have an HD source at the moment?

I’m wondering if there is some internal TV upconverting that’s taking a few miliseconds due to the SD signal. Other than that - I dunno.

Sure! The old TV busted. Priority #1 was to restore peace and harmony to the house by allowing my wife to see Days of Our Lives and my daughter to watch a sensibly limited variety of children’s programming. When I got the new TV, the simplest and most direct solution was to take the S-Video feed from my A/V receiver and plug it into the new TV. By doing that, the only change I had to make was to alter the Harmony remote to use a new TV. (That should’ve been much simpler, but I can live with setup pains when the end-user benefit is so high)

So that explains why I’ve got it hooked up with S-Video, but doesn’t explain what I mean by “right.” My sources are a Dish Network SDTV receiver, a DVD player capable of component-out, and a Nintendo Wii. They are all routed to an A/V receiver which does not up-convert. That is, if I put S-Video into the receiver, video is only sent out to the TV via the S-Video out on the receiver… not the component outs.

The Dish Network receiver would have to be upgraded, along with the programming. I haven’t evaluated all the packages offered by Dish or their competitors. Specifically, Verizon FIOS was just installed in my neighborhood in the Spring. I’d probably have a better overall experience if I ditched my DSL line, got FIOS, and bundled FIOS TV in with it. If I just upgrade my Dish system, I’m pretty sure there are fees involved (e.g., buying the receiver, programming upgrades, etc.).

Then there’s the issue of DVR. I am accustomed to the interface of the Dish DVR. It’s not the best, but there’s a key feature that isn’t present in other systems - the ability to skip 30 seconds forward and 10 seconds backward. Losing that ability would seriously impact the WAF (wife acceptance factor).

So that brings me to building a better mousetrap. No service-provider provided DVR seems to have all the features we want, and keeping Dish would probably not be the better deal. So I’ve decided to build my own DVR. But again, I have to deal with the WAF. So that means I need to compare and evaluate the various HTPC software solutions. I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and none of those seem to be perfect either. The biggest, possibly insurmountable hurdle, is the copy-protection of HDTV programming. I can expand on that if someone likes, but until I get my hands dirty trying, I can only talk theory. So for my first experiment, I’ll be building a Windows Media Center box. I’ve already got the hardware and licenses lying around, so I can tinker without any major disruptions or costs.

And if I’m going to be building an HTPC, I might as well go whole-hog and put a Blu-Ray player in that instead of buying a separate BR player. And to integrate the whole thing, I might as well figure out how to feed other sources into the HTPC (such as the Wii or any of the miscellaneous devices that might come along).

And that, sir, is the first step to setting it up “right” for my household. Once that’s working, I’ll wall-mount the TV, build some custom cabinetry (are you sensing a perfectionist DIY-vibe here?), and replace the furniture with something that fits the room better; we have a bunch of stuff from a move crammed in a room that doesn’t really support it well. There’s also the possibility of setting up a home server, A/V distribution network, TV’s and surround sound in every room.

I have no answer to your sync problem, but FWIW, the bundled FIOS HD-DVR I have (Motorola QIP-6416 IIRC) does have 30 second skip forward/10 second skip back. It’s biggest downside is small disk size though - it only stores 14ish hours of HD programming.

Hmm… that’s good news about Verizon’s DVR. Obviously, I haven’t compared much on that front yet.

re: the sync issue, what I’m really hoping for is that someone knowledgeable will say, “Sometimes it’s a problem with the source, but LCD screens typically introduce a 2-5 frame delay on their own due to a slow scaler. Switch to HDMI and the scaler is bypassed and then you’ll only be annoyed by lame sources.”

At CEDIA, Dish demo’d a receiver that will work directly with Media Center and allow you to record premium HD content. However it will have copy protection, maybe as much as cable card did. There is also no telling when it will actually be made available.

Your best bet might be to get FIOS and an HDPVR. The HDPVR will capture the component out of a set top box free of any copy protection. There is third party software that will integrate it with Windows 7.

I think the Media Center would solve the sync problem if it is caused by the TV scaling too slowly. Does the TV have audio inputs that can be passed through to the receiver? If there is a delay from the scaling, the TV might delay the audio to compensate.

Media Center is the best DVR interface I have found. It isn’t as plug and play as a DVR box, but if you are willing to put some effort in, and treat it as a bit of a hobby, it works well. You can start out taking S-Video from the current box into a tuner card for now, with HDMI from the HTPC to the TV.

You can get an antenna and get HD over the air for now from the locals, and later add an HDPVR when you get a new box from Verizon or Dish. Start ripping your DVDs and and Bluerays for easy access with My Movies or Mediabrowser (great for keeping grubby little paws off the discs). When you run out of space or lose 6 months of collected TV shows to a hard drive failure, build a Windows Home Server to keep everything protected, backed up, and easily expandable.

I got into Media Center because when I first started looking for a DVR I realized there would never be enough drive space, and nothing else was expandable. I couldn’t think of using anything but an HTPC now because in addition to TV, all of my music, dvd, pictures, and home video are in one place and easily accessible. Without it, pictures and home video might rarely be seen, but the pictures are always there when the screen saver comes on. Home videos are mostly short clips recorded with the digital camera and copied off as easliy as the photos. They are just a couple clicks away, sorted by date.

Once you have a computer hooked up to the TV, the internet also becomes a source for HD programming. Ben Drawbaugh at Engadget has a method for automatically downloading and converting TV series by way of RSS and Bitorrent.

I have frequently seen a difference between video and audio on HDTV. Some of theorized it’s due to the compression algorithms used in the signal transmission. I’m not an engineer, so I have no idea.

But here is a way to test. Get a regular TV antenna that will allow you to watch a local station. Watch it using your satellite provider. When you see the synch problems, switch to your antenna. If the synch problems are identical, then it’s some glitch in transmission and you can complain to the local station. If the satellite version seems worse, it’s a glitch in the satellite service and you can complain to them.

But for problems in games, I got nuthin’.

Ian, it’s like you read my mind and posted exactly what I plan to do. Have you heard about the new multi-tuner cablecards that were announced at CEDIA? I’m thinking that I’ll just bite the bullet and get Dish to upgrade me to HD equipment. They’ll do it for “free” with a 2 year contract. During that contract period I can start tinkering with the hardware I’ve got and add to it as needed. Maybe Dish will come out with their WMC card some time along the way. If not, by the time I get around to getting the WAF ready for a total switchover, I’ll be 2 years into my contract and can get one of those multi-tuner cablecards and go with FIOS. My biggest hesitation is that I’ve got some slow DSL at home and wanted to upgrade to FIOS. I’ll have to hold off on that for now. The DSL speed is only noticeable when I start doing morally ambiguous downloads anyway.

The idea of routing the audio to the TV first is brilliant. I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes perfect sense.

I got the biggest lag issue licked. It was mostly due to the “Active Control” feature of my set that compensates for lighting by reading a room sensor & doing some fancy footwork to the picture. Surely this was steps to the pipeline. Disabling it was enough to get everything convincing enough. There’s still some delay, but it’s fairly minor. I’m fairly critical of this stuff, and it’s good enough that I’d live with it if there weren’t other opportunities for improvement.

Cable card will only work with cable, which FIOS isn’t. FIOS is fiber to the house. It is also blazingly fast, which may not be as noticeable on downloading. However it also has much faster upload speeds. If you get a home server and start playing around with remote desktop over the internet, getting files from home while you are at work, or maybe even streaming content from home while you are on vacation, then that upload speed will make a huge difference.

That multi cable card tuner is exciting, especially now that they dropped the OEM only restriction. However I dropped cable for Uverse a long time ago, and changing providers wouldn’t be good for WAF, especially when I can get an HDPVR which will work with any system. Using IR blasters to change channels isn’t ideal (unnecessary with cable card and the upcoming DISH tuner). However the lack of DRM means I can cut commercials and the heads and tails from the kids’ TV shows we collect.

Anyway, this is the step that I am at. At the moment I have S-Video going in from the STBs, and HD over the air. I would like to get the rest of the HD channels into my Media Center, which is an aging P4 2.8ghz box. I downloaded Windows 7 RC, which can play back h.264 and .mov files as well (much friendlier for HD home video from digicams). I got an ATI AH3450 graphics card which can do hardware decoding of h.264 so it does’t matter how slow the CPU is. It also is able to run the fancy interface which taxed the old card, and it is AGP because my computer is too old to have a PCI-E slot.

I downloaded some sample clips recorded by an HDPVR to see if my Media Center can play them, which it did just fine, so now the next step is to get one for myself. HD is really the only thing my Media Center has been lacking, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it without getting a new machine. Whatever old hardware you are using, make sure it has 2GB of ram. I wasn’t able to get any HD to play reliably until I made that upgrade.

After that I will look into Blueray. Maybe download the trial of one of the players that works with Media Center, and find a rip on bitorrent to try it with before actually buying a drive.

Verizon seems to think they support CableCard.

HD-PVR is $250 a pop… that’s a little steep, even for a 2-tuner setup. I was hoping for a 4-tuner setup.

I didn’t realize that MC didn’t support Blu-Ray natively. Am I misunderstanding why you’d need to d/l a player? Is that just to test it out without a drive? Obviously I’m new to MC. I’m curious about this potential road bloack.

If you don’t have a HTPC, there’s (what appears to this computer illiterate) a good setup over at woot today for less than $300.

I didn’t realize FIOS used cable card. I figured they didn’t since they are an IPTV service, but I guess it makes things easier in some ways to use the same standard. In that case, FIOS and the Ceton card would be a great solution, though we don’t yet know how much it will cost. Hopefully it will get you 4 tuners for no more than $300. I believe the ATI digital cable tuners cost about the same as the HDPVR for a single stream.

The DRM pesents a bit of a dilemma for me. I would like the better integration of cable card, but I like to edit the video sometimes. When Disney Channel ran musical numbers by Dan Zanes as interstitials, I recorded them and put them together into a single video that I could play for my daughter. I also did the same thing with musical guests on Jack’s Big Music Show and the numbers from High School Musical. She liked the singing and dancing, but wasn’t so interested in the story.

Media Center doesn’t play Blueray natively. Instead there are one or two third party applications that are designed to work as seamlessly as possible with Media Center. Basically when you start the Blueray from MC, the app opens up and plays it, taking commands from the MC remote. When you stop, or hit the green button, the app closes and switches back to Media Center.

As far as TV goes, what we really need is Windows Home Server to support tuner sharing. I’ve decided that I’m just going to tinker with Media Center for the time being. I don’t want to get heavily invested (on the WAF moreso than the cash) if a lot of these just-around-the-corner technologies don’t make it.

Ian, any chance you’d want to exchange email addresses so that we can exchange experience/ideas on this? Or more accurately, so I can pick your brain later when I hit the same stuff you did…

Your video is hooked up via S-video - but how are you running your audio? I think there may be a delay due to the signals going to different pieces of equipment - I recall this being an issue with my Plasma when I got it in '07 (but its been so long) and I think I fixed it once i hooked everything up via HDMI through a receiver. If your’e currently running audio through a receiver, try running it directly through the TV (if yours has speakers) and see if there is a difference (or directly into a set of headphones just to test if the TV doesn’t have speakers).

Ideally you’d run everything exclusively via HDMI - this would take care of the issue as each HDMI cable would carry both the video and audio for whatever source you use. Next best is run everything into an HDMI capable receiver, and then take an HDMI out to the TV. One thing (video) going directly into the TV and another (audio) going to the receiver and then the TV seems like a recipe for delays creeping in.

I’ve got an A/V background, but not on the consumer electronics side (ask me to wire up a 3-camera shoot with a remote truck and I’m all good), so I hope this makes sense… sometimes the pro knowledge doesn’t translate perfectly to home gear.