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Customer Review

73 of 83 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poor Sensurround Soundtrack, June 10, 2007
This review is from: Earthquake (DVD)
While the picture is beautiful, the new DVD of "Earthquake" completely misses the boat on the Sensurround track and special features. First of all, the so-called "3.1" Sensurround track is nothing but the same, mono, audio fed to the 3 front channels with the 25/35 Hz control tones on the .1 LFE channel - no rumble is there at all. Nothing of the sort was ever heard in theaters, so I don't know why Universal bothered. It's obvious that the Universal tech's in charge of the DVD audio transfer didn't know that the control tones are NOT the earthquake rumble and are NOT meant to be heard! The 5.1-channel remix is problimatical too. Earthquake was the first feature to use the Sensurround Special Effects System (US Patent #3, 973,839). Because, at the time, audio in theaters and on film was in such a primitive state, MCA/Universal engineers designed a sound system to run along side the theaters existing system. Two control tones, at 25 and 35 Hz, were recorded either on the main soundtrack (for optical prints) or, with stereo Magnetic prints, on the redundant optical soundtrack. Their presence and volume controlled the turning on and off of a low-frequency noise (rumble) generator to create the 'earthquake' effects - they also controlled the addition of the "Center Front" channel (or the composite optical) into the Sensurround channel to create "surround" effects. When desired, the two tones could also increase the volume of ALL the speakers in the theater by a desired amount. While the 4-track magnetic soundtrack had a standard "effects/surround" soundtrack (complete with 12kHz CinemaScope switching tone), in Sensurround equipped theaters, the surround mag track was disconnected and not used at all... instead, the Center Front mag channel was connected into the Sensurround channel to create the 'surround' effects when needed. For non-Sensurround installations that used the Magnetic soundtrack, the 4-track mag had the standard surround soundtrack available. Universal's engineers in charge of the new DVD soundtrack remix do not seem to have known this - none of the sounds from the Center Front channel are used at all in the surround channels, nor is any of the Sensurround rumble taken to the back channels as it should be. In addition to the deep rumble, Sensurround was intended to "Surround and engulf you", which the new 5.1 track does NOT do! The composite mono optical prints, or the mag stereo prints, contained all the information the mixers needed, to know when to direct the sounds, and by how much, from the Center Front into the back channels. They only had to listen to and measure the amounts of 25 and 35 Hz tones! Heck, the old MCA DiscoVision laser videodisc release has the control tones present that we can hear, so anyone could have figured it out! Also, it does not appear that Universal used a Sensurround rumble generator - the bass is nowhere near deep enough - I've measured it and it cuts off around 25 Hz! That's a whole octave higher than it should be! The cut-off frequency that was designed for Sensurround was 16Hz. The bass should be played at a level of 110-120db at those frequencies! To replicate the Sensurround soundtrack on DVD, here's what should have been done:

The "main" channels should have been recorded at a much lower level than usual onto the DVD master. The Sensurround rumble should have been recorded at, or as near as possible, to 0db as they could. This would have allowed them to duplicate Sensurround in the home. It would have required the home viewer to raise their main volume control much higher than usual to hear the soundtrack, thus, when the rumble came along, it would be at it's correct, high, level - and the extra headroom could have been used to raise the level of the main soundtrack during the quake as the original presentation called for. The Center Front should have been mixed into the surrounds as required and the original mag Surround track used too. For viewers who don't have the ability to play the Sensurround track at such high levels, the original 4-track master, without Sensurround, should have been supplied at standard volume as an alternate track. The original mono Sensurround-compatible shouldtrack should have been supplied too as a 1.0 Dolby Digital track.

Contrary to what others claim, Earthquake was the ONLY Stereophonic Sensurround release (Zoot Suit doesn't count) - after Earthquake, Sensurround was modified to place all the effects on an optical mono track with dbx Type-II noise reduction. ALL of the other "Sensurround" DVD releases from Universal get the Sensurround track wrong too - Midway, Battlestar, Rollercoaster - all WRONG! The Sensurround, because of the control tones, would pan from the front to the back of the theater, as required - none of the DVD's duplicate this - it gave them a 'surround-type' soundtrack capability from a standard mono-optical print. Hopefully, future HD-DVD relases will get this right - if Universal would only ask me about it! I have extensive documentation on the Sensurround system and am probably the foremost authority on it in the world.

The basic fidelity and seperation of the 3 front channels is quite good, as is the high-frequency response. Unlike other magnetic stereo films of the era, Earthquake was mixed with mono, meaning Center Front-only, dialogue - other films of the time panned the dialogue across each channel to follow the speaker. The DVD replicates this nicely, although I hate mono dialogue.

The image of "Earthquake" has a bit too much edge enhancement, but is otherwise OK. Sadly, there are NO special features at all, which is a pitty, as there was a wealth of material produced for Earthquake. MCA Universal made a "Sensurround Product Demo Reel" to show theater owners how the system worked and why they should install it in their theater - there were film demo reels to show the total image+sound effect - there were Sensurround encoded trailers - there was deleted footage - the LAX restraunt was actually modeled and filmed collapsing, but the footage wasn't used in the film - in addition, around 10 mintues of footage were deleted shortly before the films release - all of this should have been included on the disc along with photos of the incredible Sensurround horns.

BTW, in the Mid-1970's, MCA/Universal was attempting to sell Sensurround as a new, high-fidelity, film sound system - Dolby Stereo had just become available, and there was a general industry-wide interest in upgrading theater sound. MCA positioned Sensurround as a large increase in fidelity with special effects, all from a single, compatible, mono optical soundtrack. When the dbx Type-II noise reduction was added, the specifications of Sensurround were quite impressive:

Dynamic Range-90db
SN Ratio-80db
Frequency Response-16Hz to 16,000 kHz.

All these specs out-did Dolby Stereo at the time. SENSURROUND+PLUS, used on Zoot Suit, was merely the use of dbx Noise Reduction, WITHOUT the rumble, on a 4-track mag stereo soundtrack.

Hopefully, Universal will get it right on the HD-DVD's of the Sensurround films.
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Comments

Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 9, 2007 5:32:11 PM PST
hankaaron says:
Great info. Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on May 7, 2008 5:04:57 AM PDT
J. Roberts says:
My reply is to the original poster. Way to go! I only wish these companies had the integrity to hire technical staff such as yourself. Viewers who actually care enough to want to preserve these fine films for future viewers. Much thanks for your efforts.

In reply to an earlier post on May 21, 2008 2:59:32 PM PDT
Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate it. I just hope that someday, perhaps on Blu-ray, Universal Studio's will give us the Sensurround films encoded for proper effect. It certainly wouldn't be difficult to do - easier, in fact, than remixing a movie from mono into surround sound.

Posted on Jul 4, 2009 10:09:33 PM PDT
BOB SZVETICS says:
Wow What A Great Reveiw. Thanks Alot.....

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2009 4:11:14 AM PST
R. Rische says:
Thanks for the Sensurround info! The hard part will be getting Universal to care, unfortunately. But don't give up hope. There have been several screenings of "Earthquake" in Los Angeles in the past few years, with reconstituted Sensurround installations in the theaters, and the shows did bang up business, in most cases selling out! So here's hoping someone at Universal is paying attention.

Most contemporary home theater systems are more than up to the task of recreating the Sensurround experience at home.

Posted on May 25, 2011 12:01:42 PM PDT
andy summers says:
P. T. Chamberlain

I found the post very interesting having heard Earthquake some 3 to 4 times in Sensurround at the local cinema in Bournemouth ABC screen 1 in early February 1975.

I have the laserdisc widescreen I didn't see anything mentioned in your post about that transfer expect for the panned and scanned DiscoVision which I have seen on Lasedisc Database site so I know what the cover looks like.

I have the region2 DVD and I enjoy the discrete mix the LFE.1 only comes in as and when called for. Centre front (DME) dialogue music effects along with discrete effects and music on front left and right and surrounds is thrilling.

I was thinking on the centre channel panning and there is a kinder "deep new rumble" that comes in when the elevator plummets to the base of the shaft with almost better than Avatar 3D RED SPLAT that makes me chuckle.

I was thinking of gimmick idea to create or send the lows from centre to the back surrounds. I'd have to use new or special installation in my JBL home cinema as I use up x12 JBL control 1 to surround with all types of DOLBY film soundtrack types.

If I filter the centre with crossover (just for augment sakes) 80Hz with lows being rerouted to an extra special array of surrounds on the back wall with Expander/Gate set at certain level so that the lows from centre will pass threshold and be sent to rear array surrounds (with kinder pan like effect). I don't think the brain would care to criticize the effect if it works and I'm confident it would work.

I have one DXC2496 for LCR at the moment so I'd need another DCX2496 which in fact I do need (several more). I can fit up some new JBL for the back wall to handle lows with their own Expander/Gate. I have Behringer MD4600 thou its being used for LCR and LFE.1 at present and (I need several more of these devices).

I could try a centre to back surround by unplugging a few inputs on the DCX2496 and re-plug the system for an experimental trail.

Also I've looked at the low frequency effects channel (LFE.1) it has a pitiful frequency response. I have tinkered around using Behringer FBQ2496 by reducing the lows in the centre part of the spectrum by look at the direct signal input to the computer from the LFE.1 output with Spectrum Lab. I managed stretch the lows just pass 20Hz.

As for SPL I don't care to hear or listen to this film again without earplugs because it has resulted in mild tinnitus that I get on and off most days that leads to deep depression and some anger issues as well. The film should have handed out free earplugs in case the lows was too loud on the ears. I was only 8 and didn't notice the hissy like sound till around 10 or 11 years old. I haven't been near a sound system as loud as Sensuround or maybe I should have only seen it once! I saw it at least twice within the same week and the next week and few weeks later on.

Anyway back to the Expander/Gate I don't want the back wall surround array active all the time which is the reason why I thought of Expander/Gate because the Sensurround is kinder like signal gate that was triggered by signal on the film print.

Posted on May 25, 2011 1:23:24 PM PDT
andy summers says:
I have theory why this might be so for the DVD. Maybe Universal didn't want to accept reasonability if one was to get too carried away with structural damage to the home as EARTHQUAKE did create controversy with fallen plaster in Mann's Chinese and dead fish in pet store and broken china in shop as it was next door to the cinema LOL damn.

So maybe that is why? Thou makes no sense you need flipping loudspeakers to handle the levels separates with crossovers and amps EQ to manage the system a bit better than some off the shelf AVR that really does the decoding in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 9, 2012 9:01:10 AM PST
Wayne says:
Actually very few home theaters are capable of reproducing the effect. Technology today allows recording and conveying the information accurately, and decoding it accurately. But people who want to spend from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars on an AV system won't have what it takes. A capable sub-woofer alone cost more than what people spend on their entire audio system.

People should stop looking and numbers and deciding that they want 7.1 instead of 5.1 or anything else that's supposedly the latest, because 7.1 channels of garbage is worse than two channels of good fidelity.

What most current home systems have in common with Sensurround is the nebulous nature of reproducing low frequencies, the muddy blending of them, and the poor imaging. I suppose that if you have lots of loose bric a brac and thin Sheetrock walls, you can simulate the feeling of your house falling apart. But you can't reproduce a room shaking 17Hz tone.

Posted on Mar 9, 2012 12:12:56 AM PST
You are one smart cookie! I found your comment EXTREMELY interesting and very informative! WOW! I am into technology but your knowledge puts me to shame! I first saw this movie in the theatre with my father in 1974 in sensurround! I agree, Universal should upgrade and put extras with this movie if and when re-released again on DVD and blu-ray! AT LEAST, WARNER BROTHERS (and 20th Century Fox), when they release their movies on DVD and blu-ray, they have everything including the kitchen sink! Commentary, etc. EVEN ON THE "4 movies in one DVD box"! Warners includes all the special features from the original release. Universal does not; just the 4 movies, no extras. Thats why after I bought 1 Universale 4 movie DVD, I do not buy theirs anymore. BUT Warners I do! Thanks again for the insightful info! Contact Uniervsal and give them a piece of your mind! -Paul A.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2013 10:15:26 AM PDT
Everett says:
I was a projectionist when "EarthQuake" was running in theatres. I saw it in Washington D.C. at the UPTOWN theatre. The lights in the ceiling were falling out of there fixtures. No one was hurt. LOL. I ran it at two theatres in Balto. Md. one MONO & one 4 track mag., the 4 track was the better of the two.
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