Dialogue drowned out on DVDs
December 16, 2008 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I watch DVDs on my TV, the dialogue is always drowned out by sound effects and music. I'm not interested in buying a surround sound system and was wondering if simply buying a newer model DVD player (than my Panasonic S25) will fix the problem.

I've tried changing all the audio menu settings with no noticeable improvement and googling brings up a bunch of recommendations about turning up the "center channel" and other audiophile surround sound related stuff.

Any DVD player recommendations will be gratefully received.
posted by bonobothegreat to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You say you've changed all the "audio menu settings". Does that mean you've tried all the different sound tracks on the DVD itself? Often there will be a "Dolby 5.1" and a "Dolby Stereo" and sometimes to others as well; usually the DVD will default to the 5.1. Have you tried changing to one of the other tracks?

This would be different than changing settings on the DVD player itself; it's something you'd get to from the DVD's own menu.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:55 PM on December 16, 2008

...umm, no.

I didn't know anything about that. Thanks Choclate Pickle. I'll try it!
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:02 PM on December 16, 2008

I pulled up the manual here:

Panasonic Support

There appears to be two interesting features--

1. Virtual surround. Maybe this is on, but shouldn't be?

2. DVD-V. It says "dialogue enhancer"?

Good luck.
posted by gregvr at 7:03 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Awesome, gregvr.

Tunnel vision kept me futzing with the audio set-up menu settings all these years. I've still got the manual stashed someplace but never thought to read it thoroughly.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:20 PM on December 16, 2008

How bad is it? Audio mixing on DVDs is one of my pet peeves. Often the dialogue is mixed very quietly meaning I have to fiddle with the volume to hear what people are saying and turn it down during action parts. This has been true of all the TVs and DVD players Ive owned. 5.1 owners can just turn up the center channel but we dont have that luxury. I believe these levels are a feature and not a bug.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:14 PM on December 16, 2008

DVD audio tracks are usually either 5.1 or stereo (if it doesn't say which on the disc audio menu, it should say on the packaging). If you play a stereo track (2.0) then those two channels will output through the two RCA leads to your TV and you'll hear the stereo track (assuming you have a stereo TV). If you play a 5.1 track but you're not outputting to a 5.1 decoder, then those 6 channels - 2 front, 2 rear, center dialogue and subwoofer (the .1) are "folded down" or "downmixed" by your player to output an essentially makeshift stereo track to your two RCA leads. All said and done, to downmix a 5.1 track to stereo during playback and expect the mix to sound well balanced between music, effects and dialogue is kinda asking a lot for a $100 player. Also, in-built TV speakers tend to be pretty crappy, so switching out your player may not necessarily be your answer if you're rockin a $100 Magnavox out of Target.

That said, it'd certainly be an interesting experiment to try out a DVD which has both 5.1 and stereo audio and see if the 5.1 downmix from your player is causing the problem. If so, you might want to look at reviews of players which score high for their audio performance as they'll probably/ hopefully handle the downmix better. In my past experience, higher end Pioneer players sound good.

On preview; damn dirty ape - see above.
posted by forallmankind at 11:11 PM on December 16, 2008

Not a solution, but I have exactly the same problem. It doesn't help that everyone in modern films seems to whisper to each other all the time.

Is there a way to plug a set of average PC speakers into your television? Sound quality won't be that great but at the same time they won't be able to produce the comparatively loud noises during the music/explosions/raptor attacks, so there might be some normalization.
posted by jhighmore at 3:52 AM on December 17, 2008

As a last resort, turn on the subtitles.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:29 AM on December 17, 2008

Virtual surround sounds cool, but it just raises atmospheric audio (it somehow thinks it will creep up behind you and sound like its coming from behind?). If you're watching something with a studio audience, you'll hear the applause over everything else, no good.

I would check the settings on the dvd player (you may have to do this with the disc out) and see if it is set to just stereo, and again, check that you're playing the stereo track on the DVD. a 5.1 mix will just send audio to the front L/R speakers, while the majority of dialog comes out of the center channel (which you don't have)
posted by ijoyner at 5:48 AM on December 17, 2008

I think Chocolate Pickle is on the right track -- my parents and I had this problem once watching a DVD they rented, and we were having the same problem with the DVD for a while and we finally figured out that we had to look at the "surround sound" settings on TWO things -- I believe it was the DVD player and the DVD itself. And that fixed it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on December 17, 2008

I turns out that apart from the audio controls in the main setup menu, the button A.SDR had a setting that toned down the background noise and there was another "onsceen menu" accessed by pressing the DISPLAY button three times. A setting there, called Dialogue Enhancer has done the trick beautifully. I had stumbled on this onscreen menu once before but thought the settings were all just redundant to the main setup menu.

Thankyou again for the PDF link, gregvr. I hope this helps anybody else who has to sit with a finger on the volume control while watching Spiderman III.

Pore through that user manual!
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:52 AM on December 17, 2008

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