37 HD Advisors. In a Row?

Posted Fri Nov 27, 2009 at 10:00 AM PST by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

Rental vs. Retail Blu-ray Discs

Q: I recently rented a Blu-ray copy of 'Léon: The Professional' from Netflix and was amazed by the crystal clarity video of the HD transfer on this movie. I liked it so much that I went out and purchased a copy of this Blu-ray at my local Walmart store. Maybe it's just me, but I swear when I played my purchased copy of this movie, the video clarity seemed to be a lot worse than the rental I previously viewed. I had sent my Netflix copy back, so I could not compare the two, and now I am in a "Long Wait" status at Netflix to get it again. My question is, could this be possible that there are differences in the video clarity on these two Blu-ray discs of the same movie? If so, could or has this happened with other movies? (And I don't mean like what happened with 'The Fifth Element'.) I know it seems unlikely, but I am pretty sure there was a "night-and-day" difference in the video between these two. There were no hardware or setup changes with my equipment when I viewed these two. Any thoughts on this matter?

A: Without having seen either copy of 'Léon' for myself, what you describe sounds pretty unlikely. There have been cases of studios sending stripped-down versions (with no bonus features) of their movies on Blu-ray to rental outlets. However, that's primarily an issue with 20th Century Fox, Warner Home Video, and Disney. I haven't heard of Sony Pictures (the studio behind 'Léon') doing it. Even if they did, no studio would go to the trouble of striking two separate film-to-video transfers for the rental and retail markets. The transfer process and disc authoring are extremely expensive. It would simply not be in the studio's financial interest to do it. Nor is there any good reason to do so. In a worst-case scenario, the studio may overly-compress the rental version, which could result in worse picture quality. But what you're describing is the opposite of that. I really can't imagine a scenario where a studio would allow its retail copies to look worse than the rental copies.

The digital mastering processes used in the authoring of Blu-ray discs are basically immune from copy-to-copy variances like we may have seen back in the VHS days, where one tape could produce a dramatically worse picture than another if it were damaged or defective. A damaged or defective Blu-ray will either not play at all, or will have serious and unmistakable playback problems. It won't just cause the disc to have different picture quality than another.

'Léon' was previously released on Blu-ray in Europe with a video transfer that may be different than the new Sony disc. My first thought was that perhaps Netflix was somehow renting out copies of that older import. Unfortunately, the import was locked to Region B. You wouldn't have been able to play that disc at all.

I have two theories here, one more likely than the other. The less likely scenario is that perhaps your home theater equipment has somehow changed its calibration settings without you realizing it. Perhaps someone in your household changed something when you weren't around, or the equipment reset to the factory defaults in between power cycles? I've had both of these happen. Be sure to double-check your settings to see if they're really where you last left them.

I hate to say it, but I think that the most likely scenario here is that your memory of the rental copy is betraying you. Perhaps you were in a better mood that day and were more inclined to be impressed by the disc's video quality? By the time you bought your own copy, you may have been feeling more critical and were subconsciously scrutinizing it for flaws that you missed the first time around. Memory can be fickle. Such things happen.

But, if you do manage to rent that Netflix copy again and can do a side-by-side comparison, be sure to write back if you find a real quantifiable difference between the two discs. That would certainly be an issue worth taking up with the studio.

No HD Resolution over Component Connection

Q: I have a Mitsubishi WS-65857 HD-Ready TV without HDMI. I bought a Panasonic DMP-BD60 Blu-ray player, and don't understand why I can only watch Blu-rays in 480p format. When I set the player to 1080i, I get nothing but a blue screen. Is this because I don't have a HDMI connection?

A: In most cases, a Blu-ray player should allow you to transmit HD video signals at either 720p or 1080i resolution over Component Video for Blu-ray content. Unfortunately, due to ridiculous restrictions imposed by the DVD Forum, you will not be able to upconvert DVD content to resolutions higher than 480p over Component. You must use HDMI for that.

The Blu-ray spec includes a provision for something called the Image Constraint Token that would also prevent Blu-ray discs from being viewed at more than 480p resolution over Component. However, to date, this ICT flag has not been used on any Blu-ray discs.

I did some research into your TV, which is an older model. Apparently, the WS-65857 has two sets of Component Video inputs. Only one of them is capable of accepting high-def input resolutions. The other Component inputs are intended only for SD signals up to 480p. My guess here is that you've connected the Blu-ray player to the wrong input. Take another look at your connections and see if that's the problem.

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

The HD Advisor knows many things, but he doesn't know everything. Some questions are best answered with a consensus of opinions from our readers. If you can help to answer the following question, please post your response in our forum thread linked at the end of this article. Your advice and opinions matter too!

HD Advisor Column Photo Images

Q: Last week, I asked for suggestions for future HD Advisor column titles. I got some good responses. This week's column title was one of the less-than-good suggestions. For the half dozen readers out there who get the reference, you can blame High-Def Digest's own Nate Boss. It's all his fault.

If you've read the column for any length of time, you've probably noticed that I also try to pick an opening photo image in the theme of questions and answers, or people who give advice. I've had teachers, game show hosts, psychics, etc. My personal favorite was the picture of the young Melissa Joan Hart, which I'm sure all of five people found clever. But I'm running out of ideas again. If you have some suggestions along these themes, preferably movie- or TV-related, please throw them my way.

Check back soon for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.

Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.

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