Editor's Note: Each Friday, High-Def Digest's own HD Advisor will answer a new round of questions from our readers. If you have home theater questions you need answered, send an email to HDanswers@gmail.com.
Answers by Joshua Zyber
TV Show Frame Rates
Q: In the past, TV shows were universally 30 fps productions, and 1080i was the resolution of choice. However, many TV shows are released on Blu-ray in 1080p24. I can gather that shows such as 'Lost' are shot with 24 fps cameras, but what about documentary shows such as 'Ancient Aliens'? The Blu-ray release is 1080p24, but the show incorporates footage from a myriad of sources. It was my understanding that interlaced formats are traditionally used in such a case. Has production turned a corner and moved exclusively to 1080p24? Do 1080p30 or 1080p60 really exist in professional production?
A: 'Lost', like the majority of primetime dramas over the years, was photographed on 35mm film at a frame rate of 24 fps. A series of this nature would not be shot at 30 fps for two reasons. First, the 24 fps rate gives the production an appearance similar to a feature film, which is an aesthetic decision. Secondly (and perhaps more importantly), it's simple a matter of cost. The slower frame rate uses less film per second, and thus is less expensive to produce.
'Lost' was broadcast on the ABC network at a 720p resolution. All American over-the-air television broadcasts (whether 480i, 720p or 1080i) run at a 60 Hz refresh rate. In order to accommodate this, the show's 24 fps photography was converted to 60 Hz by the addition to 3:2 Pulldown. The Blu-ray release restores the series to its original 24 fps rate at 1080p resolution.
These days, many primetime dramas are switching to digital photography rather than film. Nonetheless, they continue to use the same 24 fps shooting rate in order to maintain the "film look." Faster frame rates give an appearance more similar to the classic "video look," which is usually not desirable for dramas or many comedies. Material shot at 24 fps continues to have the film-like appearance even after 3:2 Pulldown.
Non-fiction programming (news, sports, game shows, Reality shows, and so forth) has traditionally been shot on video, first in standard definition and more recently in HD. These types of shows have a higher frame rate and a distinct "video" appearance.
A show like 'Ancient Aliens' falls into a middle ground where the producers have discretion on how they want to shoot it. Honestly, I'm surprised to see that the Blu-ray release is encoded at 1080p24. I would have expected this to perhaps be a 1080p30 production encoded on disc as 1080i60. (The Blu-ray format does not support 1080p30.) If the program incorporates older standard-def video clips recorded at 480i60, those would need to be frame rate converted to 24 fps by dropping frames, which will likely give them a stuttering appearance. Note that I haven't seen the show or watched the Blu-ray myself, but it doesn't seem like a good idea to me.
Updated: After this column went live, I received the following email from Bryan Banks, one of the editors on 'Ancient Aliens'.
BB: I have to say that I am a little surprised to see 'Ancient Aliens' pop up in this week's HD Advisor. I have worked on both seasons 1 & 2 of the series as the lead asst. editor. The emailer was correct that we get a number of different source formats. We get EVERYTHING... The variety of formats makes my job particularly frustrating. The deliveries spec for History requires a 24p master on HDCamSR. The Blu-ray was authored from this tape. All of our interviews are shot 1080p24, and all acquired material stays at its native frame rate until the final output when it is converted by the Avid to 24p. The Avid has a few different methods of field blending for this.
'Resident Evil: Afterlife' Playback Issues on PS3
Q: I just got 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' on Blu-ray and I 'm having problems getting it to load on my PS3. When I insert the disc and try to start the movie, the PS3 (fat) will try to load it, and then for some reason it returns to the PS3 main menu. A pop-up comes on screen saying "The disc cannot be played" or something like that. When I turn off the PS3 with the disc inside and turn it back on, it starts the movie with no problems. I decided to try it on a buddy's Sony Blu-ray player and it played like normal. Is anyone else having this problem playing this disc on their PS3? My PS3 is connected to the internet with the latest firmware and has no problems playing other Blu-ray titles, games, or DVDs.
A: I happen to have a copy of this Blu-ray, but only the standard 2D version. You didn't mention whether your disc is the 2D or 3D edition. I also have an original ("fat") PS3, which I hadn't used in a while and was running an older firmware (Version 3.50). I inserted the disc and it loaded without issue. However, the disc didn't auto-load. I had to navigate to the "Video" menu and manually prompt playback.
Next, I ejected the disc and upgraded the console's firmware to the latest update (Version 3.56) and rebooted. Once that was complete, I tried the 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' disc again. This time, the disc auto-loaded on its own. Once again, I had no issues getting to the main menu or starting movie playback.
I'm not able to test the 3D edition at this time. I'll leave it to our other readers to comment in the forum thread for this article if they've experienced the issues you describe with either Blu-ray release. Based on my own experience, I have to assume that this is a glitch specific to your player, or possibly a defective disc. I don't believe this to be a general authoring error with the release.
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!
Audio-Only Blu-ray Compression
Q: My company is looking to do on spec (we'll pay mastering and replication) several audio titles that will take advantage of a BD-50 disc's storage capacity. There are two types of titles: spoken word audio books and music. The audio books are intriguing, as you could have five language tracks and multiple subtitles that would allow a book to be listened to, say, in French but translated with an English subtitle crawl. There could be a classical music compilation or a collection from a jazz festival, etc., with limited graphics and menus that would allow one to program a personalized compilation that would provide day-long enjoyment from a BD player. What compression format would you recommend for the music? If I use AC3 at 640 Kb/s with 5.1 channel sound, does 180 hours on a BD-50 sound correct? Is it 640 Kb/s for each one of the 6 channels? That is to say, would a 2-channel title use more or less bits than the 6? What about for audio books? Is this a good idea, or am I crazy?
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.