Thursday, August 23, 2012
Question: What's the most frustrating minor annoyance during a movie screening at home?
Answer: When the dialogue doesn't match up with the actors' lips by just a smidgeon of a second.
Okay, it would probably be more annoying if the dialogue were off by a second or two. But in that case, you just wouldn't keep watching. When it's off by a nearly imperceptible amount, it's not enough for you to abort the viewing. You persevere -- and are just annoyed enough not to love a movie you might otherwise love.
We've been watching our Netflix streaming movies like this for maybe a month now. The most recent example was two Sundays ago, when our viewing of Nicholas Hytner's The Crucible finally transpired. When we acknowledged the problem early on, and our several attempts to fix it were unsuccessful (stopping and re-starting, powering off our BluRay player and powering it back on), I became certain that my wife's first viewing of this movie I love would be tainted beyond repair.
We did persevere, and eventually, were involved enough in the drama that we stopped being distracted by the inexactitude of the lips. (It helps that the second half of this movie is significantly stronger than the first.) I breathed a sigh of relief afterward, as we discussed the ideas and themes of the movie with an intellectual vigor that indicated a successful viewing. If the unsynched dialogue had killed the viewing for us, we probably wouldn't have had much to say at all. Phew.
I was especially relieved because I've been conscious of a desire to re-watch this movie for several years now, and my wife has been excited about it ever since we made our trip to Salem (the movie's setting) back in early July. We got all stirred up about the famous witch trials, and she even bought a novel that occurs in that setting that she's been really enjoying. If you have experience with trying to introduce somebody to a particular film, you know you don't want to blow your only chance by watching it under the wrong circumstances. The time you choose to watch it is key -- but so is whether you have a flawless technical experience.
I'm telling you about this now, ten days after our viewing, not because I have so many ideas for blog posts backed up that The Crucible is just now getting its turn. Rather, because last night I decided to do something about it.
My sister-in-law is in town from Australia. And since she a) loves movies and b) can't really watch the TV shows we watch with us because she's not caught up on them, her visit will give me a chance to see a couple extra movies than I ordinarily would during a given week. But last night was her first night in town, when she was working on about an hour of sleep in the last 30. (Like me, she likes to fill the long flight from Australia with movies -- she mentioned four of them she watched, which tells me she didn't devote much time to sleep.) So instead of a movie, my wife decided to show her an episode of a British detective show called Murder in Suburbia, which was also available on Netflix streaming.
I guess I didn't notice the dialogue mis-match, but my wife did, and she mentioned it again.
My sister-in-law didn't make it to the end of the episode, and as someone familiar with the cruel deficits of jet lag, I could certainly sympathize. So my wife and I finished the episode -- her for the second time -- before I decided to go to work.
Like a true IT guy, I wanted to start ruling out various factors. So I decided I would remove the BluRay player from the equation as a possible source of the problem. Our new TV connects to our wifi, so we can actually watch Netflix straight from the TV, without using the BluRay player. We haven't, a) because the picture looks really bad, and b) because the interface to select your movies isn't as much to our tastes. (Which is strange, because both the BluRay player and TV are made by LG -- why wouldn't they both use the same Netflix interface?)
So we watched the same episode of Murder in Suburbia long enough to determine that the lips and words are synched when coming directly through our TV. We then discovered that you can change the picture settings within the Netflix control panel on the TV, and we got it to the setting that looks right to us (which is called Game, oddly enough).
Problem solved, right? Not quite.
Although we had a potential new way to watch our movies on Netflix streaming, there was still the problem of the wonky interface. So I decided to see if I could adjust some settings on the BluRay player, hoping to bring the dialogue in sync through that particular device.
It seemed like a pretty hopeless task. The audio settings on the BluRay player were the opposite of user friendly, full of jargon that might only make sense to a person with an advanced degree in auditory sciences. And not only that, but each choice had a menu of sub-choices you could tweak and toggle. So there were at least a dozen different permutations I would have to test to see if I were making any progress.
And testing? It meant exiting the Settings screen, choosing Netcast from the home screen to get Netflix among our options, choosing Netflix, loading Netflix, landing on the default screen (our instant queue), moving up to the Recently Watched section, choosing Murder in Suburbia, choosing Episode 1, hitting the Resume Watching button, and then waiting for that to load.
But I was determined. And on only the second permutation, suddenly, the lips were pushing out the words at the exact moment we were hearing them.
This was probably a very long way of telling you a very simple story, which can be summarized as "I fixed an audio glitch on my BluRay player."
But the sense of satisfaction I got from it made it feel like my greatest accomplishment of the week, if not the month.
If you love movies like I do, you understand.