Aug 13, 2008

To people who truly care about movies, the Criterion Collection needs no introduction. The company's deep library of meticulously produced and packaged DVD titles speaks for itself, specializing in art-house fare like Stranger Than Paradise, Mishima, and Au revoir les enfants as well as lesser-known international, documentary, and cult films.

In "Meeting the Criterion," we detailed the company's plans to outfit its new Manhattan screening room/home theater for high-def video and high-rez audio playback while it waited out the Blu-ray Disc/HD DVD format war. When the war ended, Criterion wasted no time pushing forward with Blu-ray (see "Criterion Goes Blu"). And with some guidance from Sound & Vision, it also moved ahead on installing the new screening room.

When we last checked, technical director Lee Kline, video editor Chris Ramey, and director of DVD development David Phillips were scanning a list of equipment recommendations that S&V had made for them following a visit to Criterion's new Park Avenue South digs. Three guidelines had been laid out for the project: 1) The system had to incorporate the latest advances in consumer technology. 2) It couldn't be crazy expensive. 3) It had to be easy enough to use that any employee could bop by, flip in a disc, and instantly start watching a movie. Basically, those guidelines are the same things that anyone would expect from their custom home theater.

Most installation plans begin by choosing a video display, and this one was no exception. Both Chris and I had caught a presentation by all-purpose video guru Joe Kane at the 2007 CEDIA Expo and had come to the same conclusion: The new Kane-designed Samsung SP-A800B 1080p DLP front projector was a must-have.

As DVD collectors well know, the portion of Criterion's catalog that's devoted to classic black-and-white films is unmatched in its scope and quality. This crew sure takes black-and-white seriously! So, apparently, does Joe, who was screening an HD-DVD of Casablanca when I walked into the Samsung room at CEDIA. Black-and-white material can ruthlessly reveal any problems with a video projector or screen, so it's rare to see products demonstrated at trade shows using classic movie discs. But Joe's confidence in his projector's performance was so strong that he had Casablanca in regular rotation.

To make a long story shorter, Joe and Samsung agreed to provide Criterion with one of the first production samples of the SP-A800B for its installation. And Joe, who's also known in A/V circles as the creator of the Digital Video Essentials test disc, signed on to visit Criterion's headquarters after the installation was finished to calibrate and tweak the projector.

At his recommendation, Criterion acquired a 9-foot-wide (123-inch-diagonal) Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 projection screen — yet another product he had a hand in designing. The list of other gear that Criterion selected for its theater includes a Denon AVR-3808CI receiver, an Axiom Epic 80/500 speaker system, an Anchor Bay DVDO VP50 Pro video processor with HD SDI option, and a Sony PlayStation 3 for Blu-ray Disc playback. The whole thing is controlled by a Logitech Harmony 890 remote.


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