December 16, 2006
Next generation DVD formats promise a huge jump in resolution, from the 720 x 480 of standard DVD to the 1920 x 1080 of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.
Additional resolution is always welcome, of course. But it's not free. You'll have to purchase a HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player, and a television set capable of displaying the new high definition formats. Then you'll need to either rent or buy features on the new optical media formats, as they become available.
But are those additional pixels worth your money?
Decide for yourself. Consider this detailed comparison of Fellowship of the Ring in both formats. Mouse over each image to see before and after; click the images to see the full-size versions.
Here's a closeup of one particular section to illustrate the difference in fine detail:
There is more detail, but I'm left wondering how much of that detail I would notice on a 42" display ten feet in front of my couch. Edward Tufte's arguments in favor of information density are for the printed page, which you read less than a foot from your eyes. I don't think the same rules apply to video ten feet or more away. And how, exactly, do we explain the runaway success of YouTube, where video quality is never less than appalling? Clearly, the rules are different for images in motion.
As screens grow in size, you do need more detail. I doubt a DVD would look very good projected on a movie screen in a typical movie theater. But I also think people tend to overestimate how much detail is needed for an image of a given size; witness David Pogue's street experiment:
On the show, we did a test. We blew up a photograph to 16 x 24 inches at a professional photo lab. One print had 13-megapixel resolution; one had 8; the third had 5. Same exact photo, down-rezzed twice, all three printed at the same poster size. I wanted to hang them all on a wall in Times Square and challenge passersby to see if they could tell the difference.
Even the technician at the photo lab told me that I was crazy, that there'd be a huge difference between 5 megapixels and 13.
I'm prepared to give away the punch line of this segment, because hey -- the show doesn't air till February, and you'll have forgotten all about what you read here today, right?
Anyway, we ran the test for about 45 minutes. Dozens of people stopped to take the test; a little crowd gathered. About 95 percent of the volunteers gave up, announcing that there was no possible way to tell the difference, even when mashing their faces right up against the prints. A handful of them attempted guesses -- but were wrong. Only one person correctly ranked the prints in megapixel order, although (a) she was a photography professor, and (b) I believe she just got lucky.
I'm telling you, there was NO DIFFERENCE.
So, by the same logic, are high definition DVD formats a waste of money?
Perhaps. But I've noticed that typical DVD playback pales in comparison to high definition video clips, even when downscaled to the 800x480 of my 42" EDTV plasma. It's a form of supersampling anti-aliasing; higher resolution sources scale better to larger and smaller screens. I don't think you necessarily need a giant screen, or even a particularly high resolution screen, to benefit from the additional source resolution.
Next-gen DVDs offer almost 5 times the resolution of standard DVDs. Despite the math, the practical difference between DVD resolution and next-gen DVD resolution is highly subjective. And it's arguably much less significant than the giant jump we took over the last 10 years to get from standard television resolution to DVD resolution. Have we already reached the point of diminishing returns? Is anyone actually arguing that DVDs don't look good enough? And is the market willing to pay more for higher resolutions?
To make matters worse, the road to next-gen DVD is currently fraught with risks: technological copy-protection pitfalls, additional costs, and an ongoing format war. PCFormat UK writes that both formats reek of exploitation, and offers an apples to apples comparison of DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray stills from the movie Training Day. Judge for yourself.
Although I'll always be a fan of increased resolution, I'm not sure these additional pixels have earned my money yet.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
there is simply no difference between standard TV and DVD resolution: Both are 720x480 (NTSC) or 720x576 (PAL)
TV is interlaced, so the vertical resolution is halved. And on top of that, analog TV looks much *much* worse than a digital DVD.
I'm going a bit Euro-centric here, but... Could it be that a lot of people across the ocean (from my POV) are so hyped-up about HD because of NTSC?
I've never actually seen a true NTSC video, but NTSC retransmitted in PAL (for example, some NBA games, etc) looks *AWFUL*. The colours are all wrong and there's a very noticeable lack of detail, as if someone applied a strong blur over the image. Okay, it's 480 vs. 576 (20% extra), but it looks much, much worse than that. A friend of mine went to USA as a kid, came back, and couldn't believe how good TV programme looked here (that was before HD became more mainstream there).
To be honest, I don't think I'd notice much of a difference between 576p at 100 Hz, which is what my DVD+TV give me, and HD content. My TV (28") also has some digital filters, which appear to sharpen the image and enhance detail, so I get something like 720p. Even analog TV looks marvelous. If it were candy, I'd eat it.
At bigger screen sizes, things would probably change, but - who the hell needs a big screen?
I don't know that David Pogue's street experiment really applies. He's comparing 5+ megapixels, but the move from DVD to HD is .3 to 2 megapixels, which I think would be a much more obvious transition (and it is, looking at your first link--it's clearly visible that the HD image is sharper). At television resolutions, Pogue's experiment wouldn't have been as entertaining.
That being said, you bring up a good point: when the consumer electronics industry tries to sell us some future HD resolution at 5 megapixels, we should probably pass. I'll hold out until they make a holodeck or something. :)
I think that while having a decent picture is important, a quality sound system is what really engrosses you into a movie... much more so than a quality picture.
The group that's really going to benefit from high def is the hollywood makeup and airbrush artists. =P
Next-Gen DVD: Are Those Additional Pixels Worth Your Money?
Absolutely. I bought the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive today, and watched the King Kong movie that came with it on my 37" 1080i TV. The image quality is jaw-dropping. After that I watched a regular DVD for comparison, and couldn't believe my eyes.
If you already own a Xbox 360 and HDTV, those 200 Euros are well spent.
Have you considered Depth of Field?
With the higher resolutions, a much greater Depth of Field can be produced between objects on the screen.
This alone is worth the extra resolution.
"Depth-of-field" refers to the distance objects appear in focus behind and forward of the primary object in focus. Most film cinematographers make full use of the depth-of-field capability; making sure objects in the background are highly defocused so that the viewer is directed only to the object of interest. This background defocusing adds to the overall film "soft" or "smooth" look.
Because you have higher resolution, you can make certain objects look even sharper (less blurred).
Our family currently watch our DVD's on a BenQ MP620p projector. We take advantage of progressive scan from the DVD player and because we're in Europe it's a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/576p"576p/a. We have a good quality component video cable.
The quality is fantastic. The image size is way bigger than any LCD or Plasma I could afford. We have a small 20" LCD for general viewing (who needs a big screen for the news?) and then turn on the projector for good films, sports and PS2 games. No need for HD in this house!
Total cost of projector + DVD player + cable? About 600 (GBP). Bargain!
I think there's a real lack of awareness of how good current DVD's can look via progressive scan and component cables.
(I totally agree with The Geek above - sound is crucial too - we don't have surround - just an excellent stereo amp, stereo speakers and sub. Makes all the difference.)
My girlfriend's dad just bought a 50" plasma TV, and I've been hooking it up to my laptop to watch 720p HD resolution BBC Planet Earth videos. The TV presents itself as a 1360x768 LCD plug play monitor.
The quality difference between standard videos and the HD videos I have is astounding, managing to cause all jaws to drop in a room full of non-techie people. The further jump to 1080p would probably not seem much different, however.
Yeah, it's worth it, but only if you have a big enough screen - although watching on my little 15" 1280x800 laptop display, the quality is still very rewarding.
Take a look at this:
Digital projection systems in cinema theaters are currently using a maximum horizontal resolution of 4096 pixels. And we are talking about huge screens here. Screens that are so large that even the most expensive tv you can buy is tiny in comparison. Ever heard anyone complaining about the huge pixels they saw at the cinema?
It's another Madison Avenue attempt to fuel consumption in response to the dictates of Wall Street. All part of people trying to accelerate the heat-death of the universe for short term profit with little or no benefit to the consumer.
While I think everybody can agree that the higher resolution video looks great, who really wants to re-buy the same movies on Blu-Ray or HD-DVD that they have already bought on DVD? My fiance and I have a collection of at least 200 DVDs that we've bought in the last 5 years, some of which replaced VHS copies we had previously bought. Replacing those with their HD counterparts would require a heavy financial investment on top of the cost of the player itself (assuming we only want to watch them in 1 room of our house).
Frankly, there is nothing in those HD images that could not be achieved with a sharpen filter on the DVD image. In fact, in places it looks like an over active filter algo has been run already to clean up the downsized HD images. Run the same filters on the DVD image and then lemme see me, ya know?
The higher res lets the compression artifacting get mostly hidden by downsizing the content onto lower resolution screens (who could affort a 42" inch tube with native HD resolutions?). After that, anything extra you see is probably due to resizing filters - shrinking images always makes them blurry, so they inevitably get sharpened. Sharpen the same DVD image, I'll bet you'll see similar detail.
Frankly I am in no rush to by HD DVD or bluray. I'll wait till the format wars settle and the next gen format after them is out, thanks.
My local Best Buy has an LG upconvert DVD player which converts regular DVD playback to HD for $80. Much cheaper than re-purchasing your DVD collection in HD.
I think there is a visible difference between DVD and HD-DVD. Presently I get HD transmission at 1080i from my cable provider (Timer Warner). Viewing HD broadcasts on a 55" plasma the quality is visibly superior to viewing DVDs; they both look great, but the HD at 1080i is greater. I do think it takes a pretty big screen to see the difference; on a 42" screen it may not matter.
I do think that at 30fps the difference between 1080i and 1080p is negligible. There is enough "lag" in current TVs that the interlaced frames blend smoothly together, and either way the resolution is the same. The difference could potentially be noticed with a lot of motion - a basketball game, say - but in actual practice I don't think it matters.
Take a look at this screen calculator:
There is no question that 1080i looks better than 480p from up close or when looking at raw stills, however, when you take a look a chart like this and apply it to realistic setups. (i.e.: most people have TVs that are under 35" and rooms that are designed for 8 to 10' viewing distances)
Also, I have a high quality setup (100" 16:9 DLP front projection system with HD resolution) and honestly there is little to no difference in quality for a DVD upconverted to HD and a true HD source of the same content at a reasonable viewing distance (at least 8'). In other words, I can tell the difference but it is small enough that I don't care enough to spend a significant amount of money on the difference and I am someone with an expensive home theater setup and that loves movies.
Increased resolution is nice, but I think the copyright protection might kill these media formats before they become standard.
I believe that the success of the DVD format was partly thanks to the fact that the CCS was so easily broken and thus allowed consumers to excercise their fair use rights above and beyond of what DVD designers envisioned.
If the copyright protection on BlueRay or HD-DVD disks will prove strong, and impractical to crack they will loose value to the consumers. Why would you buy your media in a hermetically sealed box that you can't open without assistance of the manufacturer?
I predict that the BlueRay vs. HD-DVD war will be won by the format which is more easily cracked. But that's just MHO.
I think the general consensus is that HD looks quite a bit better - enough that for sports shows and such the big TV and nicer cable are worth it.
But when looking at the next-gen formats... the players are incredibly expensive, the formats have more rights restrictions, I have to re-buy movies I already have in acceptable quality, and either one of the formats could be completely gone in two years.
I'd love to have the extra quality of HD-DVD's or Blu-Ray, because it is somewhat noticeable. But they're tacking a whole lot of negatives onto that one positive for me to even consider it.
The real issue, that you touched on in your article, is the confusion surroiunding the technology and copy protection. There is another big issue, and that is that the guys who are the editors of material who do the digital transfers to DVD, are all in the dark when it comes to HD transfers. One of the biggest problems is that film has tiny imperfecctions, frame to frame, that are picked up by HD, and this makes thinks like the blue sky on a fine day "crawl", or speckle. So then there is the issue of noise reduction, and how much is too much. I have compared the recordings of WMV-HD and DVD that are packaged together, like "Step into liquid" and "Standing in the shadows of MoTown", and the amazing thing is that there is more detail in the DVD playback (Faroundja-rendered) than in the HD version: there is so much noise reduction in the HD version that old people lose their wrinkles and little kids lose their freckles!
There is another issue that is a direct result of all these problems: there are only about 100 titles on each of the HD formats, while there are some 50,000 titles on DVD. With the confusion in format, the difficulty of editing, this picture ain't going to change soon, because the film-to-HD transfer is not automated at all.
So movie buffs are going to be building their libraries from DVD for the foreseeable future, and demaning much better picture rendering. Do a search for holo3dgraph II, a spendy PC add-in card that does perfect DVD rendering, and you can see the transition expectations.
Hmm both those comparison shots are not showing the benefits of HD. The LOTR is taken from a cable TV broadcast, and thus has a lower bitrate than one would expect. The training day one isn't using a HD source, it's prolly just an up-rezed DVD image.
You write "And it's arguably much less significant than the giant jump we took over the last 10 years to get from standard television resolution to DVD resolution." Well, there is simply no difference between standard TV and DVD resolution: Both are 720x480 (NTSC) or 720x576 (PAL).
I watch on a home projector, screen about 8 feet diagonal. The difference is very obvious.
(for obvious reasons, I prefer to be anonymous with this posting)
Personally I think both blueray and HD-DVD are both completely unacceptable formats: All the effort put into copy protection ended up in creating a medium that's full of compatibility issues. And all the different codecs that can be used for both audio and video don't exactly help at making the whole mess cleaner.
As I see it, there's currently no way to actually get a player, receiver and projector/tv capable of playing all the HD-DVD and blueray media I could throw at it.
Even worse: I paid a heap of cash for a receiver capable of decoding digital audio signal and putting that on my 7 speakers and the subwoofer. But thanks to the paranoia of the movie studios, digital players are not allowed to output digital signal when decoding high-quality audio - the players decode the signal and transmit it over the analog line - bypassing all the optimizations my receiver may do. This leads to either suboptimal sound (due to the player not doing as good a job as the receiver) or too high a price due to features duplicated in both the receiver (where they can't be used any more) and in the player.
Even more so: While in the good old DVD days I had to program only one device with the distances and sizes of the speakers, now I have to do it in the player too.
Same goes for video signal: Sooner or later, the high resolutions will only be transmitted via HDMI which in theory would force me to update all cabling. Thankfully I just moved and actually migrated to HDMI due to other reasons.
Which brings me to the thing causing me to remain anonymous: Pirated movies (also available in HD) don't have all those disadvantages.
They provide me as user with the best possible handling and quality: I can have all movies conveniently stored on one of my home server's harddrive, I can watch them in HD over whatever connection I find useful (component comes to mind, though as I said, I DO have the luxury of HDMI) and I can use my receiver to decode the AC/3 or DTS signal. No need to change media, no expensive importing to get the movies in the original language and no strange concepts as region codes.
There is no reason what so ever to support the crap that's called Blueray or HD-DVD as it's WAY too limited, expensive and complicated.
But to the topic of your posting (sorry for posting a novel here):
The difference between HD and non-HD is very, very visible as screen sizes increase. For four years I'm now using projectors and I just recently migrated to a HD one (720p). Granted: Non-HD signals look WAY worse on a HD projector than they do on a non-HD one, but as you increase the diagonal of your screen, non-HD gets blurrier and blurrier while HD stays crisp.
Also, when you are watching HD, you don't think it's *that* good (with the exception of a Ghost in the Shell 2 video I've seen - *wow*) - until you watch the same thing in non-HD. Then you'll notice one hell of a difference.
Quality-wise, I'd say things come in this order once you have more than 2 meters screen-width:
non-HD on HD-Projector non-HD on non-HD-projector (lots of empty space) HD on HD-Projector
Sub 2 meters (sorry for using metric units here - but where I live, we measure in meters), the difference between HD and non-HD isn't that obvious. Only scenes with a lot of details in the background gain a lot from the additional pixels, but the foreground - even faces - stay more or less the same.
Once you scratch the 2 meters, non-HD material gets blurry all over the place and just looks strange, making you adjust the sharpness, but obviously without any success as the blur comes from too few pixels to fill the screen.
Where HD totally rocks is with games. When they came out, I tried both Kameo and "Perfect dark Zero" in HD and non-HD on both a HD and a non-HD projector with a screen a bit smaller than the "magical" 2 meters.
Both games felt cramped in non-HD. It felt like always looking into a box too small to actually see stuff. I always needed "more room" and I never got it. Details were missing and I had lots of trouble getting the levels, always getting lost.
As soon as I switched projectors, the world changed: Suddenly the screen felt "big enough". I stopped feeling cramped and my generally good sense of directions kicked in again: I stopped getting lost and I had a lot more fun.
This was even more visible in the ego-shooter perfect dark zero than it was in Kameo.
Not enough room - not enough stuff to look at - that was my problem with all console 3D shooters I've played (which is just Halo and the Metroid series). My brain needs to see a certain amount of detail from a scene to get a feeling of where I am and how I got there.
Non-HD can't provide me with enough of that and I begin to feel cramped and I'm getting lost - totally independent of screen size.
So to sum up:
- Blueray HD-DVD: Rip-off
- HD for movies: Difference visible, though not needed for screens with smaller width than 2 meters
- HD for games: Not really needed unless it's a first-person view game. In that case, immediately feel lost without the details a HD-world is able to provide.
Just my heap of 2 cent coins :-)
man i dont mind the extra quality tho its true it wont make any diff seen 10 feet away ...
but hey who cares ... finer the better
I'm actually quite happy with my Blu-Ray + HDTV. The difference is astounding. Now only if the studios would get on the ball with giving us good transfers. Some of them are awful, harkening back to when DVDs first came out.
The training day one isn't using a HD source, it's prolly just an up-rezed DVD image
The training day comparison shows the official Blu-Ray and HD-DVD versions of Training Day, in comparison to the DVD edition.
Did you take a look at the closeup of Aragons face? His whole expression changed when the image got sharper.
there is simply no difference between standard TV and DVD resolution: Both are 720x480 (NTSC) or 720x576 (PAL)
TV is interlaced, so the vertical resolution is halved. And on top of that, analog TV looks much *much* worse than a digital DVD.
No it's not halve. It's interlaced, but it's 60 half frames a seconds, it ends up giving you the same resolution and smoother motion. VHS is half the resolution.
However, as I think you mean to mention, when we watch DVD we use component outputs and the sampling is much better, we usually get twice a much luminance resolution as analog tv, and also digital TV which is very compressed.
Personally I don't really understand your post. I have a 42 in tv at about 10 feet, and I watch TV in HD, a few shows on NBC, the CW and the canadian equivalent of HBO. It looks absolutely glorious, you can really see the difference. Also, don't forget that these are still images, but the difference is even more obvious with MOVING images. Staring at the pixel of two still images is not a good way to evaluate what the experience will be.
The luminance and gamma factors of HD are not the same as NTSC and PAL, as well, and this also has a huge impact. There is much more dynamic range in HD images, and the blacks are true blacks
All I can think about is my enormous DVD collection that somebody* is trying to tell me is obsolete.
(*companies which produce Blu-Ray and HD-DVD)
Let's think a bit. What exactly made VHS Obsolete? Was it the picture quality? Was it the size of the tapes?
No. DVD beat VHS because it introduced menus, immediate chapter selection, multi-language and multi-subtitle capabilities... all-in-all greater CONVENIENCE for us, the users. Sure, the picture quality was better and the sound too, but what really got us buying DVD's were the overall convenience. Let us not forget this.
It seems to me that HD-DVD and Blu-Ray only bring two new things that are better than DVD:
1. Picture resolution.
2. More capacity.
I don't deny that the better picture resolution is appealing... sure it is. Is it noticeable? Yes. But... when Star Wars came out in 1977 the picture by today's standards was awful and the sound in some theaters (if not most) was MONO. And even so, Star Wars turned out to be the movie that changed the movies, without High-Definition.
HD-DVD and Blu-Ray bring no new capabilities to us aside from those listed. No revolutionary technology, no new user-friendly devices.
I will continue buying DVD's and enjoy them with my progressive scanning and great Home Cinema sound sistem... and I will wait until the day comes that movies come out in 3D or with holographic projectors (no TV or screen necessary)... Only then will DVD become "old" but to me, never "obsolete".
Ok, I may be a late comer to this discussion, and maybe you are all over it now... but I have some things to add to this.
First, 99% of the comments I'm seeing here are from people who don't actually own or use the gear. I have to tell you, watching a BD movie on a 60" 1080p screen is simply amazing.
To the last poster, you are partly right, but not entirely about DVD beating VHS. Actually, it won because we don't have to rewind a DVD. BUT if the image quality had not been improved, and sound not been improved, I think the migration would have been slower. Plus, DVD's were the same size as CDs which had lots of advantage to people, because now they have 2 elements (Music and Video) that fit the same format for the first time ever in history.
What will differentiate the "next generation" will not be ability to rewind. It will be improvements in sound delivery (7.1 surround or better), and image quality. I also think the bigger capacity is an advantage, and hits the "Rewind" factor for many videos. I can list dozens that span 2 DVDs these days. I hate having a movie stop in the middle and ask me to put in another disk. With HD and BD, that is a thing of the past, and they have thought far enough ahead that even an extended movie like LOTR special editions will play on a single dual layer HD or BD.
I hate that there is a "war" between the two formats these days, but it is what it is. Dual players will make that point moot in the future anyway, I expect. As for DVDs... I have bought my last one. But to the poster who says "Makes my DVD collection obsolete" it most certainly DOES NOT! Another cool thing that you didn't get with your shift from VHS to DVD is ability to play it in the same player. (Yes, there were some "dual" players that were on the market but they were more a novelty than a solution). With both HD and BD, they play previous version DVDs flawlessly. (Do have to pay attention to region codes, but HD/DVD has halved the number of regions from 6 to 3, and of course won't be long before that won't be an issue either.)
If you really want to talk about what will make them all obsolete is the acceleration in internet bandwidth and HD storage spaces. Soon, there won't be a media, just a storage location. We won't need Block Buster or Cox Cable, because we'll be able to get it all on demand from the internet as either a streamed broadcast, or download the file and play with VLC (I think VLC even have a media player for the Vic20!).
The new formats are brilliant. If you can't take advantage of them now, you will in the future. They are stunning. Go have a demo. :)
lolz. the difference is insane if you have a really large screen. Watching blu ray on my 102" 1080p panasonic projector is INSANELY different the watching a dvd. The difference is incredible. All hail Sony.
First off Jeff; thanks for all the work putting this together - pict 7 does not work quite right....
Had a interesting experience the other night - friend just hooked up his new blu ray (sony ps) to a new 42" plasma and bose system. First movie looked and sounded...off...somehow. Can't say how, but the motion was just not right and the sound was very echo-y. I did not want to say anything until he mentioned the same thing. All the other discs looked great. Very noticible difference.
I have a measly 32" inch screen and watched my first BD movie on it yesterday. On the HTPC freshly built with the parts you advertised a couple of days ago plus the cheapest BD-Rom drive I could find (109 euros).
The thing which struck me most was the color rendition. There is just so much detail in it. I've been watching upres-DVDs and 8Mit-DVB-C channels for a year now, and the first thing I noticed with them was all the color banding. Especially in the darker areas, DVDs tend to show just blobs of the same color over a large area. The BD movie doesn't have any of that.
Even if I can't really see the difference in absolute resolution when I sit on the couch, I can still see BD movies have a much, much higher bitrate.
Many people here mention 7.1 as an advantage. I personally made a downgrade from 5.1 sound to so called 2.0, or in everyday language stereo. The reason was I couldn't experience any big wow with the 5 channels of sound. No, can hear the directions etc, but I had an impression only some sound effects come from the rear speakers. Later, when i began to go deeper in to the matter, it appeared true, my ears were right. Only in making of several films real 5 channel sound recording systems were used. mainly the 5 channels are made in postproduction. Yes, they add some, let's say, expression, but they sound to me artificial. Or should I be called an audiophile or perhaps some other paranormal word? ;-) Anyway, for me 7.1 or more channels is not a big selling point, as i don't even like 5.1 in the current form.
DVDs are stored on discs in an interlaced format as well (480i). But you are right that they look much, much better than analog TV.
The Geek's comments reminded me of a study LucasArts conducted many years back. They put the audience through the same movie of equal visual quality, but one in a THX theater while the other with conventional (back then) audio equipment.
While the audience generally didn't comment on the sound quality, they mentioned the movie _looked_better_ in the THX theatre.
Somehow our brains will take the sound we hear and "enhance" the image we see with the "additional data".
What does it matter anyway? Image clarity is nice, if it doesn't suit you then stick with the traditional DVD and choose a 25" LCD display that way you'll get clearer pictures.