Mini-Review: Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Disc, Blu-ray Edition

Posted by: David Birch-Jones at 3:03 pm, June 5th, 2009


A good test disc that features useful video test patterns is something I always recommend even for the video neophyte, as most HDTV owners can’t or won’t pop for a full in-home calibration. With rare exception, just about any HDTV’s out-of-the-box default video settings virtually guarantee an overly bright, harsh picture, with excessively garish colors and over-the-top contrast that destroys deep black and dark gray shadow detail.

Now, two video experts who’ve had a big impact on testing and measuring progressive DVD players, Stacey Spears and Don Munsil, have introduced their own first Blu-ray test disc (High Definition Benchmark), packed with various test patterns that allow a thorough evaluation and tweaking of your HDTV system. This isn’t their first foray into test discs, having previously provided material for DVDO’s test DVD that ships with their video scalars.

What makes this latest Spears/Munsil offering worth a look (it lists for $24.99) is that unlike some other discs that also feature video test patterns, theirs includes call-up examples of what the patterns should, and most importantly, should not look like. Putting up a brightness (PLUGE – which stands for Picture Line Up Generation Equipment) pattern for example, and pressing the Blu-ray player’s cursor up key, calls up good/bad comparative pictures to let you see if your set is adjusted correctly or not. That kind of coaching isn’t a feature of other test discs, and is what makes their disc all the more useful – especially for those who aren’t technical mavens.


A multi-page booklet rounds out the info package, giving an overview on what does what. What’s missing is a blue color filter, which is necessary to check color and tint/hue with the SMPTE color bars test pattern (only a handful of HDTVs have a “blue-only” mode that obviates the need for the blue filter). At press time, Messrs. Spears and Munsil indicated that they’re soon to be able to provide such a filter with the disc, and previous purchasers of the disc will automatically receive one too.

There’s a great, but flawed HDTV video montage that showcases what Blu-ray and HDTV are capable of, shot in and around Seattle (Spears’ home base). Captured with a hi-rez Red One 4K camera, the montage features gorgeous detail and rich colors, but certain segments are speeded up for no apparent good reason. That gripe aside, the disc is definitely a desirable addition to your Blu-ray collection, and once you’ve run through the test patterns (using the coaching feature to help you along) and adjusted your set accordingly, you’ll have your HDTV looking its absolute best.

Available at their own website as well as from Oppo Digital’s website 


jwinder -- Thu, 06/11/2009 - 09:43

 I recently purchased the Oppo Blu-ray player, which included a copy of this disc. The one thing missing  that would really have been useful for some of us would be some 7.1 test tones. It will be a while before I buy a multi receiver, and I run my left and right channels through my Gallo/BAT equipment, and the surrounds through my Acoustic Energy Aego p-5. I can balance the 5.1 setup using the test tones in my  universal player, but balancing the extra two channels (which in my room are closer to my listening position than the other 5 channels) is a bit of a guessing game.


Ken (not verified) -- Wed, 06/17/2009 - 21:14

J: what's your opinion of the new Oppo? It's on my short list of blu-ray players when I finally get an HDTV. Ken

jwinder -- Thu, 06/18/2009 - 00:03

I am enjoying it quite a bit so far; the video quality is quite good. This is my first blu-ray player, so I don't have anything to compare it to. The audio quality is good, though I find a bit more finesse in the sound of my McCormack player, which has more subtlety to dynamics and slightly smoother midrange voicing, and a deeper sound stage. Of course, the McCormack cost quite a bit more than the Oppo. I haven't done much direct a-b'ing, though.


blu-ray player reviews (not verified) -- Sun, 06/21/2009 - 14:17

This Blu-ray disc will provide good quality. Although the price is much higher it is good.

blu-ray player reviews (not verified) -- Fri, 07/03/2009 - 08:25

 It is a cool article dude i like the review from you keep updating.

Trying to help (not verified) -- Fri, 07/03/2009 - 15:20

I usually enjoy reading gadget reviews, but the author of the "blu-ray player reviews" site might want to run the text through a grammar checker before posting.

iphonephotovideo (not verified) -- Thu, 07/30/2009 - 01:55

The Oppo Blu-ray Player is the 3rd blu-ray deck I have owned. 
The first was the Samsung 2550, with the Reon chip.  It was great when it worked but started intermittently freezing on even brand-new just-out-of-the-wrapper discs.  This was true even after getting the wind-funnel cleaning disc from Maxell (uses a vortex created by holes in the disc to clean the assembly rather than the tiny brushes on other cleaning discs). 
When I called to find out about getting the unit serviced (it was still under the year parts warranty but just after the expiration of the labor warranty), I found out I would have to pay over $100 to get the unit fixed.  I wrote to the President of Samsung North America, Tim Baxter, but he didn't bother to write back. 
Stay away from Samsung blu-ray unless you want to be treated like a chump.
The LG BD-390 was pretty good, but it also had issues with intermittent seemingly random freezing on some discs.  Picture wasn't as good as the Samsung.  Built-in WiFI didn't work that well for me, but that could just be my house.
The Oppo, though is the best by far.  Great picture in HD, as well as upconversion of SD.  Audio is terrific.  Human factors and interface are top-rate.  Construction is solid.
Most importantly, the Oppo has not frozen on a single disc and has no issues with the first season of Star Trek Original Series on blu-ray, which was not the case with either of the other blu ray players.
Stay away from Samsung, which has nothing but contempt for its customers, and buy Oppo, which respects its customers and makes quality products.  And, no, I don't work for Oppo...

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