It’s Going to Be One of Those Years

And they're ugly, too!Hey, remember that high-def format war?

I do, and somewhat fondly, because it gave me reams of blog fodder for a couple of years … followed by a flood of cheap high-definition discs, as I pick through the wasteland of HD DVD sales.

(Yeah, I’m still doing it. Who wouldn’t, when you can find Polanski’s “The Pianist” for $12 shipped?)

Well, certain parties do not appear to be content with the whole Blu-ray Triumphant thing. Toshiba, the architect of the abandoned HD DVD format, demonstrated awe-inspiring corporate grace and maturity late last month when it announced its latest innovation, a 1080p upscaling DVD player for standard DVDs.

“Hey, folks, why buy those expensive Blu-ray discs? Your old discs can look just as good!”

Well, except that they won’t. Upscaled discs do look pretty good, particularly if you’re watching them on a relatively small monitor … but who’s doing that? The HDTV movement was angled towards bigness, last time I checked — and even 32″ sets seem kind of small these days.

I mean, sure, I’ve thought about buying a high-def set for the front room, but as we really only watch “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” out there, it seems like a waste of money and effort. And even if I did somehow talk myself into it, I can’t imagine buying a high-def player (or even an upscaling player) to go with it. Dorm rooms aside, this can’t be anyone’s choice for a primary viewing arrangement.

Anyway, Toshiba’s new player will only muddle the high-def waters even further. Besides, if you’re looking for a decent upscaling player, and you’re into the whole high-def thing, there are plenty of affordable choices out there. Almost every manufacturer offers at least one model with HDMI upscaling as a feature. And then there’s Sony’s PlayStation 3, of course.

Today, Engadget is reporting that a company called Kaleidescape is bringing out a pair of 1080p upscaling units for standard-def DVDs that will “rival Blu-ray”. Sticker price: $2999 and $4299. (Those are not typos.) Oh, and you have to be using Kaleidescape’s proprietary system, for which you’ve already shelled out ten grand.

Obviously, if you’re spending that much money and you’re still watching standard-def DVDs, you have my pity. Contact me through this blog, and I’ll hook you up with an upconverting player for just $2000. It’ll look just like a PS3 — and it’ll work just like one, too — but you’ll know it’s so much better. $1600 better, as a matter of fact.

Oh, if you want a Bluetooth remote control, that’ll run you another $250. No quality without cost, you know.

6 thoughts on “It’s Going to Be One of Those Years”

  1. i’m confused… again. do PS3s upconvert standard def DVDs? and can’t you buy DVD players that do a rudimentary hdmi upconvert for like $40 at walmart – what’s this stuff about kaleidescape players going for thousands?

  2. The PS3 will upscale standard DVDs. It does a rather mediocre job of it, but that’s certainly not to say that you need to spend $3,000 on another brand.

    At $399, the Oppo DV-983H is said to be just about the best upconverting DVD player available, and it’s region-free to boot.

  3. I was also confused. The up-converting DVD players on the market now cost A LOT less. What’s the new advance for these far more expensive players? The DVDs are the same, so must the reading of the discs. So the only benefit is likely in the processing of the information to fake a 1080p image. How do they justify an extra $1000+ for that?

    What would the benefit be of these to a blu-ray player with upconverting capabilities, for a lot less cash? Plus, most people could replace their entire DVD collection with Blu-Ray discs for the premium these guys charge.

  4. I know, it’s completely insane. To utterly oversimplify, upconverting DVD players are essentially line-doublers; they don’t add any additional detail to the 480p transfer on the disc, they just exaggerate what’s already there to fill the larger proportions of the 1080i/p frame.

    I have three upscaling players — the PS3, the HD-A30 and a Samsung DVD-HD841 — and the results are decent enough, in that the images don’t look particularly blurry or soft, but when put up against an actual high-definition signal, there’s no comparison at all. (I usually go with the PS3, because the upconversion is just a teeny bit sharper and the remote is easiest to use.)

    John had an Oppo, and was very happy with it. Though I do remember some grumbling when I told him my Samsung had cost me just $150 at Bay Bloor Radio …

  5. DVD video is stored at 480i resolution. In order to be “upconverted”, the signal must first be deinterlaced to 480p and then scaled to your resolution of choice. As Norm mentioned, scaling doesn’t add real picture detail. It interpolates new pixels by copying parts of other existing pixels. In grossly simplified terms, if you have a real Pixel A and Pixel B side-by-side, the scaler will place a new pixel in between that’s half A and half B.

    The deinterlacing is a critical step that most cheap upconverting DVD players do badly. Film-based content and video-based content require different deinterlacing algorithms and there is a great deal of content available on DVD that combines the two (for example, video-based subtitles on top of a film-based movie). Proper deinterlacing is extremely tricky, and when not done correctly will result in “jaggies” in the picture and a loss of detail (sometimes as much as half the original resolution thrown away).

    After the deinterlacing comes the scaling. If you’re scaling up to 1080p, that’s 6 times DVD resolution, which means that your picture will have far more interpolated pixels than it will have real pixels. As you can imagine, you need a quality scaling engine or your picture will look like a blocky mess. The better scaling chips are very refined in what parts of the real pixels they copy and where they place them.

    The more expensive upconverting players typically use processing solutions from sources like Faroudja, HQV, or Anchor Bay. Cheaper players usually use in-house solutions that aren’t particularly sophisticated and do a crude job of both the deinterlacing and scaling.

    With all that said, of course DVD can never be made to look as good as true High Definition. But you can make the image look a lot more stable and visually consistent on an HDTV screen. There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars for this, but at the same time that $40 player at your local supermarket probably isn’t going to cut it.

    As for the PS3, it has pretty good scaling, but its deinterlacing is problematic on video-based or mixed-source content.

Comments are closed.