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CLASSICAL  May 2009

CLASSICAL May 2009

Subject:

Testdriving the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall

From:

Ravi Narasimhan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 18 May 2009 12:11:54 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (103 lines)

Summary: Terrific and has already changed my concertgoing planning.

Disclaimer: For the whoof to follow, let me state I am not affiliated
with the Berlin Philharmonic in any way

===

I recently took the season pass to the nearly concluded 2008/2009 season
of the Berlin Philharmonic through their Digital Concert Hall service.
It cost 89 Euros and I will have access to archived performances as well
as a couple more live streams left this season.  The deal runs out on
27 August 2009 and the same deal for next season will cost 149 Euros.

My primary computer system is an IBM T60 notebookrunning Windows XP with
a 2GHz processor, 2GB RAM, and 15" widescreen display.  Internet service
is cable modem.  I can achieve wireless download speeds exceeding 6MBps
and often 2x that, depending on the speed test server.  I hook the
headphone output to a ~$75 pair of Creative Labs compact powered speaker
cubes with subwoofer.

There are several demos and a streaming speed test that are available
from the site prior to purchasing any of the many offerings from single
concerts to the full pass.  Since my initial interest in January of this
year, they've added trailers to several concerts.  These two to three
minute segments show the video and audio capabilities and allow one to
honestly test one's configuration before committing.  There are also
educational videos and films touching on the BPO's missions beyond
performance.

Impressed by the snippets, it took me five minutes to set up an account,
confirm it by email, and execute the online transaction.  It hasn't
posted to my credit card yet so I don't know what MasterCard is going
to do to me but the 89 Euros was a flat number.  No fees like we see
in the U.S. for Ticketmaster or other middlemen.  I hit refresh and had
immediate subscriber access to the archives.  Low, medium, and high video
quality formats are offered and purchasing the subscription adds a full
screen view button to the player not present in the trailers.  Sound
quality is set at one, high level and doesn't vary as far as I could
tell.  There is not much difference between the medium and high quality
video - both are excellent in full screen view.  In non-full screen view,
the high quality frame is slightly larger than medium which in turn is
much larger than the low.  My sound system is definitely not high end
but I got the elusive immersive feel between it and the picture.  I
listended to Uchida playing Grieg, Rattle leading Brahms Second, a horn
quartet, parts of Messiaen's Turangalila, Mullova playing Stravinsky,
and others.  The system allows watching a concert start-to-finish or
selecting particular pieces.

The high definition videography is impressive.  I believe they have
several fully articulated cameras throughout the hall and it looks like
a lot of thought goes into determining candidate shots, zooms, and
transitions depending on the piece.  Right now the interface is very
clean and the video is allowed to speak for itself.  I think this could
grow in the near future to giving users a selection of shots along with
the primary stream.  I also hope they add a search feature in the near
future.

On 17 May, I tried the first available live stream since subscribing
and was equally impressed although there are some technical differences
to note.  Ozawa conducted Mendelssohn's Elijah.  I could get the broadcast
in low and medium quality but high quality was very choppy.  I ultimately
went to a direct, wired connection from the laptop to the cable modem,
bypassing all wireless links but this did not change matters much.
Fortunately, the same dead heat between medium and high video qualty
applied in the live stream and this makes no difference to me, at least.
There were some coughlike dropouts in the medium quality webcast but
they were short and the system recovered with no intervention.  The
synchronization between audio and video was surprisingly good.  Not being
a choral music fan, I know little about the piece.  I was able to download
the full score from IMSLP, have it open side-by-side, and verify that
the lip movements and bowstrokes matched what I was hearing.  If there
were a lag, I could not perceive it.  The directors kept a very good
balance among the soloists, chorus, orchestra, and conductor.  Neither
boring nor hyperkinetic.

I tried wireless, wired to router, and wired to cable modem and apart
from reloading the page when needed, the quality did not change.  I went
back to wireless and walked the laptop around the house.  No change
there, either.

The long intermission was filled by a recorded green room discussion in
English between Ozawa and hornist Fergus McWilliam.  Longtime colleagues,
they spoke mostly of good times and the benevolence of Karajan.  I stopped
after a few minutes of the second half.  Again, this isn't my cup of
musical tea but it was a fine chance to see what the service could do.
Hats off to the team that put this all together.  I don't know how long
it was in the making but they must have sweated a lot of details to make
it all flow so nicely and fit so well.  So much so that I've contacted
the LA Phil and arranged to rescind my renewal for 2009/10.  The BPO
meets my concert needs at a good price and with astonishing convenience.

   http://dch.berliner-philharmoniker.de/#/en/
or
   http://dch.berliner-philharmoniker.de

Ravi Narasimhan
Redondo Beach, CA

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