DVDs Get Sharper Focus In New Players for HDTV
By Daniel Greenberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 18, 2006; F07
Do your DVDs lose their luster on your shiny new HDTV? It's a common problem, but there is a solution.
Certain new DVD players can "upconvert" regular discs to near-high-definition quality. That can be an effective, low-cost way for HDTV owners to get great resolution while sitting out the format war over which type of high-definition DVD technology will prevail -- Blu-Ray or HD DVD.
Movie discs that look great on standard-definition TV sets can look grainy or blurry on the big-screen because their 480 lines of resolution get stretched to fill 720 or 1,080 lines on HDTV.
Video enthusiasts often spend more than $1,000 on digital-signal processors to improve their DVD picture quality on the big screen. Fortunately, a lot of this technology has made its way into lower-cost DVD players.
Many of the big companies make players that can upconvert, such as Sony, Pioneer and Samsung. We tested one of the least expensive, the new upconverting DVD player from Oppo, the DV-970HD ($150, http://www.oppodigital.com/
). Its picture quality on HDTV screens looked substantially better than any conventional DVD player we tested. On the big screen, its images were sharp and crisp instead of fuzzy and blocky. Details were clearer, and colors were more true to life.
The player smoothed out the "stair-step" effect along high-contrast edges. Fine details such as hairs looked like hairs and not strings of square beads. Some of our HDTV test viewers reported that what looked like bad makeup on actors showed up as seamlessly clean facial detail when viewed on the Oppo. The conventional DVD player smeared color gradations into a single mass, but the Oppo clearly revealed multiple shades, resulting in images that appeared sharper and more detailed.
Surprisingly, DVD movies on the Oppo looked good even when compared with the same movie recorded from high-definition satellite television. In direct comparisons, our testers could usually pick out the high-definition version but sometimes needed a second look.
All DVDs showed significant improvement, but the ones that looked most like their HD counterparts were DVDs released in Sony's high-quality Superbit format (like some versions of "Closer" and "Spider-Man") and movies that were originally filmed in a digital format (like "Star Wars: Episode III" or "The Incredibles").
The Oppo plays a variety of disc formats beyond DVD, including SACD, DVD-Audio, DivX, Xvid and WMA. This allows users to enjoy standard definition home movies and downloaded video in all their upconverted glory. It works with recordable DVDs, certain kinds of USB hard drives and several varieties of memory cards. It can also handle digital photos and music and offers surround sound digital audio output.
To get the full effect of upconversion, you need an HDMI input port on your HDTV (or a DVI port, with the purchase of a special DVI-to-HDMI cable). Unfortunately, that leaves out the millions of viewers whose HDTVs only have component video inputs (the red, green and blue plugs).
This limitation is ironic, since component cables are perfectly capable of carrying an upconverted signal. However, the movie industry requires that manufacturers cripple their component video ports because they don't support new copy protection schemes.
Fortunately for consumers, sites like http://www.videohelp.com/
catalogue simple remote control code sequences that restore HD upconversion to many brands of DVD players that have component output. Many consumers already own upconversion-capable DVD players but don't even know it.
The players also could be a way to avoid fallout from a new high-definition copy protection scheme (Image Constraint Token) that has the potential to degrade the high-definition output of all but the latest-model HDTVs. At that point, today's DVD players that upconvert a standard DVD may actually deliver better picture quality than their high-definition counterparts.