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
Comparing Blu-ray to DVD
Q: First, let me say that I love your reviews. Not the "Movie Itself" reviews, being subjective as they are, but the "Sizing Up the Picture" and "Rating the Sound." I often base my Blu-ray purchases on those two segments. I, like many other home theater enthusiasts I'm sure, am finding it expensive to update my catalog titles as they come out on Blu-ray. Some are movies that I only own on standard DVD that actually get what seem as bad reviews ('Predator', '28 Days Later', and 'X-Files: Fight the Future'). Would it be too much trouble to simply suggest that, "If you already own it on standard DVD, skip it as this Blu-ray version isn't worth buying the movie again"?
A: I've watched and reviewed hundreds of Blu-ray discs by this point. Honestly, there are very, very few that don't offer at least some appreciable improvement over DVD. Certainly, some are more dramatic upgrades than others. But it's very rare indeed to find a Blu-ray that's no better than the comparable DVD edition of the same movie.
As to whether a specific movie is worth repurchasing if you already own the DVD, that's something only you can answer for yourself. That decision will depend mainly on how big a fan you are of the film. In my own collection, I own several movies with lousy DVD transfers that I know have been released on Blu-ray with vastly superior video and audio quality. But I just don't care enough about those movies to buy them again, regardless of how much better the Blu-rays will be. Likewise, there are other movies that I will gladly repurchase several times over just for the tiniest of incremental improvements, because I love them so much. The purpose of a disc review isn't necessarily to tell you what to buy. A good review will provide enough information for you to make that decision on your own, factoring in your own opinions and circumstances. We have no way of knowing which movies you already own on DVD, what your financial situation may be, or what your priorities are.
Although ideally it might be wonderful if every Blu-ray review could include a direct comparison to the DVD edition, the reality of the situation is that such a thing just isn't practical for the reviewers to provide on every title. We receive our Blu-ray screeners from the movie studios, and those studios rarely send DVD copies to go with them, especially not for catalog titles that were last released on DVD years ago. Even if we did happen to have a DVD of the same movie lying around, you'll need to factor in how much extra time it would take to watch and rate two copies of the film.
There are a few web sites out there that specialize in direct DVD vs. Blu-ray comparisons. We appreciate the extra time (and expense!) they put into those features as much as you do. But that just isn't our focus here. This is High-Def Digest, and frankly most of us here feel that High Definition is the new minimum acceptable quality standard for watching movies on home video. Ultimately, the intent of our reviews is to tell you how well the Blu-ray represents the best that each movie can look, not how much better it is than an inferior DVD copy. As such, we approach and judge each Blu-ray as a Blu-ray.
And one last thing: I can assure you that every reviewer on this site puts just as much hard work into the "Movie Itself" portion of our articles as we do the technical portions. Taste in movies is of course subjective, but I hope that wouldn't prevent you from listening to another person's perspective and insight into a movie, regardless of whether you ultimately agree with his opinions or not.
Q: I recently purchased a Pioneer Kuro display that supports 1080p24 and I have a PS3. Are all of the Blu-ray discs 24 frames per second? Looking at the back of my most recent Blu-ray purchases, the back shows nothing that would note 24 frames per second. The TV can display this movie mode without artifacts so I'm really interested if I should make my PS3 output 24 fps all the time instead of keeping that setting on automatic.
A: The vast majority of feature films released on Blu-ray are encoded at 1080p resolution with a 24 fps frame rate. In fact, the Blu-ray format actually doesn't support video encoded at 1080p resolution with a 60 fps rate. It only supports 1080i (at 50 Hz or 60 Hz) or 1080p24. It's safe to say that any reference on this site to a Blu-ray having a "1080p" transfer actually means that the disc is 1080p24. Blu-ray players that output video at 1080p60 do so by applying 3:2 Pulldown after decoding.
With that said, there's a fair amount of material released on Blu-ray at 1080i resolution. Mostly, these are concert videos, scenery discs, or other specialty programs shot natively on video. However, there will also be the rare feature film that a studio just plain screws up and releases on Blu-ray with an old 1080i transfer. ('Short Circuit' suffers this affliction.)
The "BD 1080p 24 Hz Output" setting in the PS3 will only work if the disc is encoded at the 24 fps rate. Even if you turn that function on, when you insert a 1080i disc, the console will output it at 1080i resolution. At present, the PS3 doesn't have the ability to convert 1080i discs to 1080p24. Although it will upconvert standard DVDs to 1080p resolution, it outputs them at 1080p60 and won't adjust their frame rate to 24 fps, no matter what settings you select in the Setup menus.
Note that the "Automatic" option for the 24 Hz setting refers to the PS3 automatically matching its video output to the display you've connected it. That option has nothing to do with the encoding of the disc being played. With "Automatic" selected, the PS3 performs an HDMI handshake to determine whether your HDTV can accept a 24 fps signal. If the handshake is rejected, the PS3 disables 24 fps output altogether, even if the disc is encoded at that rate.
Q: As to frames per second (fps), what happens if a movie originates in 30 fps (such as a future HD transfer of the Todd AO 30 fps version of 'Oklahoma' or a movie shot on HD video or HD hard drives that chooses 30p fps rather than 24p fps)?
A: The Blu-ray format doesn't support encoding at 1080p30. Any material originating at that frame rate must be converted to 1080i60 before encoding on disc. This has already happened at least once so far with the 'Nine Inch Nails: Beside You in Time' concert disc.
Ironically, the now-defunct HD DVD format did support 1080p30. The HD DVD edition of that Nine Inch Nails concert was encoded at 1080p30 while the Blu-ray was 1080i60.
In actual practice, the difference between these two resolutions will be minimal, if visible at all. When viewed on a 1080p HDTV, the display will convert both 1080i60 and 1080p30 to 1080p60 before you see anything on screen. In fact, most HDTVs won't accept 1080p30 input, which means that the HD DVD player would have to convert it first anyway.
Q: Why can't or why doesn't anyone make a Blu-ray player that produces 720p24 output?
A: Simply put, there isn't much call for it. Very few 720p HD displays will accept a 24 fps input signal. Of those that do, most will accept a full 1080p24 signal and downscale it for you, eliminating the need for the Blu-ray player to do it.
Q: I'm very happy with the upconversion of my Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player and still use it for all my regular DVD watching. The movies are upconverted to 1080p24 via the Silicon Optix Reon HQV processing chip and they look spectacular. Have there been any Blu-ray players which can match or even exceed that level of quality?
A: Samsung has released a few Blu-ray players using HQV Reon upconversion, most recently their BD-P2500 model. I've also found the Qdeo upconversion in the (discontinued) LG BH200 player to be comparable to Reon quality.
My personal pick for best DVD upconversion in a Blu-ray player is the new Oppo BDP-83, which uses the same Anchor Bay scaling chip found in the DVDO line of video processors. You can expect a review of that player on this site in the near future.
Some questions that the HD Advisor receives 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!
This week's homework question comes direct from the HD Advisor himself.
Streaming Video via PS3
Q: As much as I love my home theater gear, I'll admit that the area of "convergence" between computer and HD display is the biggest gap in my knowledge base. I'm also not much of a computer guy in general, beyond putzing around on the internet.
Lately, I've had it in mind to compile a reel of trailers for viewing before a movie. I know that there are a number of streaming media devices (like the Popcorn Hour A-110) designed for this purpose. But, and here's the key, I want to spend as little money on this as possible. This project isn't important enough to me to buy or install any new hardware. I already have a computer and I already have a PS3. I know that it's possible to stream video from the computer to the PS3. I need someone to walk me though, step-by-step, how to do that.
Once I've decided what trailers I want, what programs do I need to install on my computer to arrange them in order and edit them into the reel? (I don't want to select them individually. I want this to flow smoothly.) Do I need to re-encode them to a different video format, and how? How do I connect the computer to the PS3 and transfer the content? Start from scratch and hand-hold me through the process!
Check back next week for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.