Streaming Cosmos: CosmosOnTV.com vs. Hulu HD vs. Amazon HD vs. Vudu HDX - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 55 Old 05-11-2014, 06:58 AM - Thread Starter
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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

 

Studio and Year: Cosmos Studios 2014
Feature running time: 107 minutes
Genre: Science Documentary

Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Resolution: 1080p/30

Starring: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Directed by: Brannon BragaBill Pope, Ann Druyan
Music by: Alan Silvestri

 


 

Cosmos, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson, is an updated version of Carl Sagan's 13-episode science-themed documentary series that take viewers on a journey through space and time. Cosmos packs a ton of science into each episode, but it also tells its story through engaging narrative and spectacular graphics. I fondly remember watching the original Cosmos by Carl Sagan when I was a child; I am inspired by that show to this day.

 

The new iteration of Cosmos features updated science and special effects. I'm thrilled that the new version is an exceptional production; I almost feel like a kid again when I'm watching it. Neil deGrasse Tyson does not just fill Sagan's shoes, he steps into them and starts running as fast as he can. Each week, I eagerly anticipate the latest episode; 11 of the 13 episodes have aired already, and I'm sad that the series will soon end.

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos picks up where Carl Sagan left off

 

Seth McFarlane, of Family Guy fame, deserves credit for stepping up with the financial means and industry clout to make the new Cosmos happen. The result is a show that is as rich in its visual storytelling as it is accurate in its science. The special effects themselves are movie quality, which is why Cosmos deserves a movie-quality presentation.

 

Cosmos comes out on Blu-ray June 29. There is little doubt that the series will make a great box set, and I'm going to pick one up because I love the series so much. I'm also confident that the Blu-ray version will be definitive in terms of sound and image quality. However, the show is worth watching now, and if you are looking for the best quality version that's currently available, there are several online sources. I looked at four HD streaming options: CosmosOnTV.com, Hulu, Vudu, and Amazon. I found a significant disparity in quality between the four formats. I would've compared iTunes HD as well, but Cosmos was not available from the iTunes store.

 

In the past, I've used screenshot comparisons to compare streaming movies to each other and to Blu-ray. For Cosmos, I've added a couple additional metrics. I streamed episode 5, "Hiding in the Light," while tracking data usage. I also captured a three-minute clip from the beginning of each stream (in 960 x 540 resolution) and I created a YouTube video with the resulting footage. Although YouTube introduces its own recompression loss, the video effectively shows how the streams look when compared to each other. I suggest watching the video before you proceed; make sure to view it in 1080p and full-screen.

 


Now that you've seen the Cosmos comparison video, let's get started. Ranked from worst to best, here is what I saw while streaming Cosmos.

 


 

cosmosontv.com

 

Total of data transferred: 924.3 MB

Average transfer rate: 2.5 Mbps

Soundtrack: Stereo

 

Resolution/Clarity: 6/10

Black level/Shadow detail: 5/10

Color reproduction: 8/10

Fleshtones: 7/10

Compression: 5/10

       

If you want to stream Cosmos for free, Cosmosontv.com offers a 3 Mbps stream that looks decent. Unfortunately, the sound and image quality are not all that good. There are significant artifacts throughout the presentation, and during space scenes, the issues become distracting—shadow regions contain significant amounts of blocky artifacts.

 

Sound is only available in stereo, and it lacks the dynamics and surround effects of the 5.1 mix. Since it's a free stream, I can’t complain about the presence of TV ads, but they do diminish the impact of the presentation. Cosmos has very high production values, but a lot of that is lost if you watch the show via cosmosontv.com. Episodes 4 and later are available for at least nine more weeks, but the streams of the first few episodes expire earlier than the rest—episodes one and two are no longer available.

 

Hulu (monthly subscription)

 

Total of data transferred: 848.7 MB

Average transfer rate: 2.4 Mbps

Sountrack: Stereo

 

Resolution/Clarity: 6/10

Black level/Shadow detail: 5/10

Color reproduction: 8/10

Fleshtones: 7/10

Compression: 4/10

      

Hulu managed to make a visual mess of Cosmos. With an average bitrate of only 2.4 Mbps, it suffered from the largest number of visual artifacts among the four services I compared. Sound was only available in stereo, and was rather anemic. On top of that, Hulu's presentation included ads; I don’t watch TV so I almost forgot about television ads, and they sure are annoying. Ultimately, there's no reason to choose Hulu over cosmosontv's free stream.

 

The most distracting artifacts in Hulu's stream were amoeba-like areas of blocky pixels that showed up in the shadow regions during space scenes. Hulu's stream had no ability to handle subtle gradations; what should have been wispy clouds of stellar dust instead looked like 1980s videogame graphics.

 

Cosmos is a beautiful production, featuring spectacular graphics and surround sound; it deserves a better presentation than what Hulu offers. On the other hand, since Hulu is a subscription service, watching Cosmos costs nothing extra, and all the episodes that have aired already are available.

 

Amazon HD ($2.99/episode)

 

Total of data transferred: 2.0 GB

Average transfer rate: 6.4 Mbps

Soundtrack: Dolby Digital Plus 5.1  

 

Resolution/Clarity: 7/10

Black level/Shadow detail: 6/10

Color reproduction: 8/10

Fleshtones: 7/10

Compression: 6/10

 

I was optimistic about watching Cosmos on Amazon. I knew it did not feature as high a bit rate as Vudu HDX; however, in the past I've found Amazon's HD video looks very good, so I was not sure what to expect quality-wise. What I got was video that was a fair bit better than Hulu, but it still contained a distracting amount of visible artifacts during the space scenes. Also, Amazon's HD video was not quite as sharp as what I saw with Vudu HDX—although it was noticeably superior to Hulu and cosmosontv.com.

 

To Amazon's credit, sound quality was great—full Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. If it were not for the poor performance during space scenes, I would rate it as acceptable. However, because the space scenes have too many distracting artifacts in the deep shadows, I recommend skipping Amazons offering.

 

Vudu HDX ($2.99/episode)

 

Total of data transferred: 2.9 GB

Average transfer rate: 9.3 Mbps

Soundtrack: Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Resolution/Clarity: 8/10

Black level/Shadow detail: 7/10

Color reproduction: 8/10

Fleshtones: 8/10

Compression: 7/10

 

Until two weeks ago, Vudu HDX was the only format in which I had seen the new Cosmos. The quality level of Vudu HDX is so high, I became spoiled, which is why I was so disappointed with CosmosonTV, Hulu, and Amazon's HD offerings. Although not perfect, Vudu HDX managed to render the outer-space CGI accurately the vast majority of the time. Maybe it's something in the compression algorithm, and Vudu does use a higher bitrate than other streaming services—all I know is the HDX version looked great 99% of the time.

 

When artifacts did appear in the Vudu HDX version, it was only for a brief moment—a flicker of banding or macro-blocking would occasionally flash on screen, but not in the same distracting manner as with the other three formats. Furthermore, Vudu HDX looks visibly sharper throughout. Finally, the sound quality matched Amazon's; both formats use Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio and sounded excellent.

 


 

Screenshot Comparisons

 

I recommend clicking into each image, then clicking "original"

 

This scene contains lots of fine detail, Vudu HDX is clearly the sharpest 

 

 

Compare the sharpness of the text in the credits (Braga) and the asteroid debris

 

 

Vudu HDX wasn't just sharper, it also featured the most accurate color

 

This screenshot reveals how each format deals with dark shadows in space scenes

 

In motion, this was one of the toughest scenes for any of the formats to deal with

 

Vudu's HDX format consistently brought out the most detail among the four formats

 


 

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post #2 of 55 Old 05-12-2014, 09:40 AM
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I love this show. We've been watching it via an antenna & TiVo, through an Emotiva pre-pro & amp, and on a 115" screen via Optoma projector.

The visuals are fantastic. I've been less impressed with the audio, to the point that I'm planning to purchase the Blu-ray (for the archive, but also) to compare the actual audio to what my local FOX affiliate is sending out.

I used to work at the local FOX affiliate about 9 years ago. I caught them using a compressor in Master Control on the audio to make sure the commercials didn't blast too loudly. I noticed it watching 24 at home, you could really hear the compressor pumping the breaks on the dynamic range, then slowly letting it squeeze back out. I wasn't able to get them to remove it completely, but we at least adjusted it over the next couple weeks and had it making a minimal impact on the program material.

I hadn't noticed any problems since. Until Cosmos started. I noticed it in week one. Visual effects that look like they should have a nice, solid sound effect with them were pedestrian. The sound was just not impressive. After an explosion, the voice would be very quiet, then slowly ramp back up to a normal level.

I have been meaning to contact the good folks at my local affiliate and see who had screwed up the settings on that red box. I need to do that. Especially now that 24 is back on. smile.gif

Curious if anyone else in Central Iowa has noticed this on Cosmos, or anywhere else in the US?

LOVE that Cosmos is back. Originally only planned for a single season, Seth MacFarlane has hinted on Twitter a couple times that he's interested in continuing the series, and hopes that the constantly growing audience will allow that to happen.

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post #3 of 55 Old 05-12-2014, 11:27 AM
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to bad you didnt compare it to an actual OTA quality as well. smile.gif
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post #4 of 55 Old 05-12-2014, 11:32 AM - Thread Starter
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to bad you didnt compare it to an actual OTA quality as well. smile.gif

 

You are right, but I'd have no way to perform a screen capture or measure the bitrate. If I get a chance to see it OTA before the series concludes I'll post a comment about it—I have an antenna sitting around somewhere. On a related note, I'll update this topic when the Blu-ray comes out.

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You are right, but I'd have no way to perform a screen capture or measure the bitrate. If I get a chance to see it before the series concludes I'll post a comment about it. I'll definitely update this topic when the Blu-ray comes out.

If you would like I could dropbox you a recent episode off my TiVo...

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You are right, but I'd have no way to perform a screen capture or measure the bitrate. If I get a chance to see it before the series concludes I'll post a comment about it. I'll definitely update this topic when the Blu-ray comes out.

If you would like I could dropbox you a recent episode off my TiVo...

 

Correct me if I am wrong, but the TiVo version won't necessarily possess the quality of an OTA broadcast due to compression? 

Either way, I'd gladly check it out to see how it compares to Hulu. PM me.


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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Correct me if I am wrong, but the TiVo version won't necessarily possess the quality of an OTA broadcast due to compression? 


Either way, I'd gladly check it out to see how it compares to Hulu. PM me.

I don't know the inner workings of the TiVo, but I've never been able to discern a difference between live & recorded. Perhaps someone will jump in here and explain it.

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post #8 of 55 Old 05-12-2014, 12:11 PM
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I don't know the inner workings of the TiVo, but I've never been able to discern a difference between live & recorded. Perhaps someone will jump in here and explain it.

It should just record the MPEG2 video and AC3 audio untouched off the air. I was thinking I could run an episode through Video Redo and pull the info and screen shots, but I'm not sure if my ATSC tuner or my CableCARD tuner has been recording it. I assume a mixture of both.


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It should just record the MPEG2 video and AC3 audio untouched off the air. I was thinking I could run an episode through Video Redo and pull the info and screen shots, but I'm not sure if my ATSC tuner or my CableCARD tuner has been recording it. I assume a mixture of both.

I use cTivo for pulling stuff, which gives many options of how to save the file. I'll mess with it when I get home from work.

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I'm waiting for the Blu-ray set to come out in order to watch this. I'm dying to see it, but I want to see a show like this in the best possible image and audio quality.


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post #11 of 55 Old 05-12-2014, 01:33 PM
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I have been watching this series. I love astronomy and cosmology and try and record everything I can get my hands on, but my own personal opinion is that it's very pretty but short on substance. So far I have been underwhelmed.

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no way would I stream things that are meant to be visual treats like this.
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From WPGH Fox 53 here in Pittsburgh PA:







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Man, that's going to look fantastic on Blu-ray in 1080p.


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post #15 of 55 Old 05-12-2014, 05:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thrillcat View Post

The visuals are fantastic. I've been less impressed with the audio, to the point that I'm planning to purchase the Blu-ray (for the archive, but also) to compare the actual audio to what my local FOX affiliate is sending out.

I used to work at the local FOX affiliate about 9 years ago. I caught them using a compressor in Master Control on the audio to make sure the commercials didn't blast too loudly. I noticed it watching 24 at home, you could really hear the compressor pumping the breaks on the dynamic range, then slowly letting it squeeze back out. I wasn't able to get them to remove it completely, but we at least adjusted it over the next couple weeks and had it making a minimal impact on the program material.

I hadn't noticed any problems since. Until Cosmos started. I noticed it in week one. Visual effects that look like they should have a nice, solid sound effect with them were pedestrian. The sound was just not impressive. After an explosion, the voice would be very quiet, then slowly ramp back up to a normal level.

Curious if anyone else in Central Iowa has noticed this on Cosmos, or anywhere else in the US?

I've noticed the show getting quiet then back to normal again but I'm not in Iowa. I don't know if it was after something loud but I recall my wife yelling at me cuz I tend to turn it up when it gets quiet then a minute or so later it's LOUD but yeah that could be the local station's doing. Ugh also the varying quality of the recording of Neil deGrasse Tyson voice is annoying too. One line of dialog will be nice and clear and the next will be slightly muffled or something since it's obviously from a different recording session.


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post #16 of 55 Old 05-12-2014, 08:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Correct me if I am wrong, but the TiVo version won't necessarily possess the quality of an OTA broadcast due to compression? 


Either way, I'd gladly check it out to see how it compares to Hulu. PM me.

From your previous posts, I knew you didn't have a Tivo, but I'm really surprised that you don't have a HTPC with WMC! eek.gif

While it is only my own personal opinion, but a dvr is a must. Especially since streaming is still compressed, compromised and expensive ($2.99 per episode is way too much money for me).

As far as I can tell both WMC and Tivo recordings are unaltered from the original broadcasts, without any compression. This series looks great both from ota (WMC) and from Comcast (Tivo w/cable card).
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Correct me if I am wrong, but the TiVo version won't necessarily possess the quality of an OTA broadcast due to compression? 


Either way, I'd gladly check it out to see how it compares to Hulu. PM me.

From your previous posts, I knew you didn't have a Tivo, but I'm really surprised that you don't have a HTPC with WMC! eek.gif

While it is only my own personal opinion, but a dvr is a must. Especially since streaming is still compressed, compromised and expensive ($2.99 per episode is way too much money for me).

As far as I can tell both WMC and Tivo recordings are unaltered from the original broadcasts, without any compression. This series looks great both from ota (WMC) and from Comcast (Tivo w/cable card).

 

I have WMC and I have an antenna. That doesn't mean I want to save three bucks to watch a DVR'd version of Cosmos. I want true ad-free, cinematic-quality video. Until the Blu-ray comes out, Vudu is as good as it gets AFAIAC. The effort required to "capture" the OTA broadcast... I'm as likely to take up fishing as a hobby as I am likely to set a DVR to record the OTA broadcast.


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Maybe you said it - but I couldn't find it.

What device are you using for playback in this review - a PC per the earlier reviews.

The Amazon streaming 'Average transfer rate' seems low compared with what you can get on the Fire TV.

The Fire TV 1080P Amazon Instant rate is above 10 Mbps (I measured it at around 12 Mbps on the titles I have tried).

In the interest of full disclosure you should mention the player (and if there are any limitations on the streaming content on that player).

Thanks for the reviews.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Correct me if I am wrong, but the TiVo version won't necessarily possess the quality of an OTA broadcast due to compression? 


Either way, I'd gladly check it out to see how it compares to Hulu. PM me.

There won't be any difference - it records the digital OTA broadcast.
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I use cTivo for pulling stuff, which gives many options of how to save the file. I'll mess with it when I get home from work.

 

What do you use to pull from Tivo? I have Tivo Transfer on my Mac but dang thing blocks me from transferring a lot of the shows... including Cosmos.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daniel Chaves View Post

to bad you didnt compare it to an actual OTA quality as well. smile.gif

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thrillcat View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

You are right, but I'd have no way to perform a screen capture or measure the bitrate. If I get a chance to see it before the series concludes I'll post a comment about it. I'll definitely update this topic when the Blu-ray comes out.

If you would like I could dropbox you a recent episode off my TiVo...

 

I have one screenshot comparison featuring the OTA TiVo vs. Vudu HDX...

http://screenshotcomparison.com/comparison/74533

 

Vudu looks slightly sharper overall, while OTA has richer colors.


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post #22 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 05:50 AM
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Vudu looks slightly sharper overall, while OTA has richer colors.

That was my exact impression comparing your images to my recording - the 720p MPEG2 recording was a bit more pixelated and not as sharp, but I liked the color of it more.

And, as you noted, it had 20 minutes worth of commericals.


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What do you use to pull from Tivo? I have Tivo Transfer on my Mac but dang thing blocks me from transferring a lot of the shows... including Cosmos.

cTivo

I love my iPhone, but it will never replace my turntable.


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post #24 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 06:27 AM
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Originally Posted by imagic View Post

I have WMC and I have an antenna. That doesn't mean I want to save three bucks to watch a DVR'd version of Cosmos. I want true ad-free, cinematic-quality video. Until the Blu-ray comes out, Vudu is as good as it gets AFAIAC. The effort required to "capture" the OTA broadcast... I'm as likely to take up fishing as a hobby as I am likely to set a DVR to record the OTA broadcast. In other words... I'll be dead before that ever happens. So KMMFA. JK. Tell 'em Dre said so...

I don't know how much you get paid, but $2.99 is a higher rate than I get paid for the minute it takes to set-up a dvr recording. And of course I used that minute to set-up a season pass instead of paying $39 for the whole season. biggrin.gif

Yes, there are ads, and yes, they do suck. But my media center remote has 30 sec forward skip. That works pretty well for me. wink.gif

I must say, Vudu is pretty impressive when compared next to the ota recording. But Fox does broadcast at 720p though. In the Detroit area we have 2 CBS O&O stations (CBS and The CW affiliates) which broadcast at 1080i with no sub-channels sucking away bandwith. Very nice PQ, and NFL games on the CBS station are very nice indeed. Even though I do have this show recorded, I'll still probably buy the blu-ray set. I'm just a sucker for science documentaries.
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post #25 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 06:34 AM
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Originally Posted by mhufnagel View Post

But my media center remote has 30 sec forward skip. That works pretty well for me. wink.gif

This is what I do too, but I'd say that 60% of the time I forget that I'm watching a recording and I can skip through them. I've only been using a pc tv tuner for 12 years frown.gif


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post #26 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 06:53 AM
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cTivo

doh, I misread your earlier post, thanks

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post #27 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 08:01 AM
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Mark, what device are you using to stream each of these? I'm assuming the cosmostv.com was via an HTPC's web browser.  I don't really care much for Hulu... what are you using to stream Amazon and Vudu?


Theater set-up:  

AVR:  Pioneer VSX-820

Speakers:  5.1 consists of four NHT Classic Two bookshelf and an NHT TwoC center

Sub:  PSA-XV15

HTPC - ridiculously over-the-top, home-built gaming PC that I tinker with daily!

OTA antenna:  Winegard HD7698P

HDTV:  Sharp LC-60SQ15U

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post #28 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 08:16 AM
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I've been watching Cosmos on Hulu+ with little complaint, after all it's free since it's part of my monthly subscription fee. It looks fine even on my 120" front projection system, although it's being fed through my Darbee Darblet from my Roku 3. The stereo sound is the only big disappointment but that's true for everything Hulu+ streams. The bit-rate stream that Hulu+ provides makes for the lowest quality in this comparison, shown by a screenshot between 8:53 PM and 9:37 PM CDT last night.



Last night's episode The Electric Boy (Michael Faraday) was not only informative but uplifting which I think it is a large part of the show's charm. To those who are underwhelmed by this series here's a quote from Mr. Tyson.
Quote:
“The task for the next generation of Cosmos is a little bit different because I don’t need to teach you textbook science. There’s a lot of textbook science in the original Cosmos, but that’s not what you remember most. What most people who remember the original series remember most is the effort to present science in a way that has meaning to you that can influence your conduct as a citizen of the nation and of the world--especially of the world.”

So far the series has aired 10 episodes with three left and yes, I will be sorry to see it end. Hopefully the rumors of another season will come to fruition. I'll likely get the series on Blu-ray after it's released.

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post #29 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 09:30 AM
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Originally Posted by imagic View Post

On a related note, I'll update this topic when the Blu-ray comes out.
. But just for the fun of it I'm sure because you don't think VUDU HDX is just as good as blu-ray, right?
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post #30 of 55 Old 05-13-2014, 11:05 AM
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cTivo

 

Unfortunately CTivo quality is not that great and shows interlacing artifacts in any quality chosen, something Tivo Transfer does not suffer. Too bad, because having the option to download ANY show without restrictions on copyright is something Tivo Transfer doesn't do.  

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