Planet Earth on Blu-ray Disc – Too Much “Noise”?

Having caught the start of the Planet Earth series on Discovery Channel a couple of months ago thanks to the recommendation of a British friend, I was amazed at the incredible footage, even in crappy cable TV delivered standard definition mode. So I place a pre-order on for one of the HD versions of the series. I flipped a coin and picked the Blu-ray version (instead of the HD-DVD version).

I finally got the package in recently and the family and I settled down for a viewing, and found, yes, that the footage was incredible, but equally incredible was the horrific amount of shimmer and static noise that appeared in many scenes. I was appalled that what was being called the HD experience to beat all HD experiences could look so absolutely horrible on screen.

I was playing the disc on my Sony PS3, connected to a 61” Samsung DLP 1080p display, on which most everything else has looked pretty darn good.

And the noise was not limited to just the first episode, but each of the episodes I watched. The noise really ruined the viewing experience for me. I did some digging on-line, and found lots of discussion of the subject on various web sites – I was not alone in my static noise! But I then stumbled across a suggestion that it could be the display system used, and not the discs. I was skeptical, as I saw reports from many folks who had all sorts of different 1080p HD displays – not just Samsung, but it encouraged me to try an experiment.

Samsung offers something called DNIe (Digital Natural Image engine) on many of their displays, including the high end DLP displays I have been using from them for several years. DNIe pumps up color saturation and detail, and typically works very well to produce an even nicer picture. But, as it turns out, DNIe was definitely my noise culprit. Take a look at the images below:

Using the DNIe Demo Mode for Comparison

Close Up View of DNIe Comparison

As you can see from the above images, DNIe (on the left side of each image) darkens the shadows of these mountains in Venezuela (episode 3 – “Fresh Water”) and then sharpens the noise to create an amazing amount of speckling. Any user of Photoshop will also recognize the effect here – it’s like using the Sharpen filter too many times on an image. The right side of each of the above images shows DNIe turned off. This DNIe comparison mode is a feature of the Samsung TV to try and convince people to use DNIe for viewing their programming.

Well, in the case of Planet Earth HD, DNIe is not recommended. It ruins the picture. I now wonder if some of the speckling I have seen in other HD programming is caused by DNIe or as part of the native imagery from the source HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc. I know that film grain is certainly more apparent in HD, thanks to a demonstration Sony gave me back in January of Black Hawk Down on Blu-ray Disc – they showed me the original production tape and the BD version side by side, and the grain was identical. But DNIe could exacerbate the grain noise. And now I know to try watching with DNIe turned off to see if it makes a difference.

I suspect that other brands of HD televisions also have a feature similar to DNIe, and I would advise those having visual noise problems with Planet Earth or other HD content to try turning off that feature and see if it helps.

With my newfound knowledge in hand, I can finally watch my Planet Earth Blu-Ray Disc edition with pleasure and enjoyment. But also a little sadness as the HD versions of Planet Earth do not include the bonus features from the standard definition DVD release, including extensive footage of how some of the scenes were shot – something I particularly wanted to see in the case of the Great White Sharks jumping out of the water when feasting on seals off South Africa.

I give Planet Earth on Blu-Ray Disc an 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale (it could have been higher had the extra footage not been omitted).

UPDATE – June 11, 2007: I discovered that DNIe kept being reenabled on my TV, 30 minutes after I would turn it off. Turns out my Samsung TV was in “Shop Mode” – a mode for when a TV is on display at a shop, where it resets various settings, like aspect ratio, DNIe, etc. to defaults to overcome the effects of a consumer having twiddled with the settings and leaving them in an indeterminate (and maybe ugly) state. To turn off “Shop Mode”, power on your Samsung TV, and then hold the Menu button for about 5 seconds until the screen flashes. Note also for the Samsung TVs on which DNIe cannot be turned off, you might be able to get the same result by changing the video picture mode to “Movie” from “Dynamic”. 


One Response to “Planet Earth on Blu-ray Disc – Too Much “Noise”?”

  1. HRS says:

    Note that on new (2007) Samsung DLP TVs, the procedure to exit “Shop Mode” has changed:

    Using the buttons on the TV (not the remote), press and release one of the volume buttons, then hold down the menu button until the screen blinks. Verify that you’ve no longer in “Shop Mode” but pressing the “Info” button on the remote.