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
Q: I completely understand the studios' thought process on edge enhancement during the days of DVD. Most people had standard televisions that needed an extra boost in sharpness; however wrong this was from an artistic standpoint, if the majority of people didn't have high definition displays it makes sense for the average consumer. But, why does it even exist on Blu-ray? Now the majority of consumers have some sort of high definition television and even inferior products can still take advantage of Blu-ray, and I feel that the image quality is sharp enough to not warrant edge enhancement. What is a studio's reasoning with this? Also, is some edge enhancement a result of porting over old high-def masters that were used on DVD, and is edge enhancement ever a result of deficiencies within the original source material?
There is tons of edge enhancement in the Blu-ray release of 'Little Miss Sunshine', especially during the scene in which Greg Kinnear's character is at the garage trying to get the van fixed and he's standing in front of the opening with the mountains and valley in the background. It's also prevalent on Criterion's 'Bottle Rocket' Blu-ray release in a number of scenes where characters are in focus in front of an outdoor background.
A: Edge Enhancement was bad enough on DVD, and there's simply no excuse for it at all on a High Definition source like Blu-ray. The process does more harm than good to a video image, especially when paired with Digital Noise Reduction. I've viewed far too many lousy transfers where the studio tried to wipe away film grain with DNR, and then (finding the results excessively soft) tried to "sharpen it back up" with Edge Enhancement afterwards. Such decisions are misguided at best.
As you surmised, the most common reason we still see Edge Enhancement artifacts on some Blu-rays is that studios sometimes reuse older HD masters that were originally prepared for downcoversion to DVD or TV broadcast. If the studio doesn't make an effort to remaster the movie from its original film elements, any flaws in an antiquated video master will only be magnified when seen in High Definition. This was a common problem on many of Universal's HD DVD releases, when the studio was cranking out catalog titles without bothering to check what condition they were in first. It still happens on Blu-ray as well, as you can see in titles like 'The Messenger' (Sony), 'The X-Files: Fight the Future' (Fox), or 'Gangs of New York' (Buena Vista).
Unfortunately, the problem isn't just relegated to catalog titles sourced from older masters. It happens on new releases too. 'The Dark Knight' has far too much Edge Enhancement for my taste.
However, not all edge ringing artifacts are caused by a technician deliberately trying to add Edge Enhancement. Some may be side effects of contrast boosting or poor digital compression. Other, similar-looking artifacts may actually stem from the original photography or filmmaking processes themselves. For example, color fringing around foreground actors or objects was a common occurrence with rear projection and blue screen special effects shots for many decades prior to the introduction of digital compositing techniques. Certain camera lenses may also suffer from chromatic aberration, which can be mistaken for Edge Enhancement.
Of course, ringing may also be hardware related. An uncalibrated television will usually have the Sharpness setting too high. Digital scaling artifacts may add ringing around objects in the frame. And there are other steps in a typical equipment chain that can degrade the video image.
I haven't personally viewed either of the discs you cite, but Criterion has a strong track record for avoiding Edge Enhancement. Whatever you're seeing on that disc was probably not a deliberate attempt to artificially sharpen the picture, but I'll reserve judgment until I have a chance to watch it myself.
Q: I've owned the 5th generation Samsung BDP-2500 Blu-ray player since Nov of 2008. During this brief time, I have downloaded 4 firmware updates (for playback compatibility with some movie titles). Why is it that all manufacturers of Blu-ray players seem to be locked into an endless cycle of compatibility fixes with the content originators? Do you expect this to level-off at some point, and if not, could the cost of this affect the continued firmware support over time?
A: There are two schools of thought about firmware updates. The first is that firmware updates are a great way for consumers to fix problems on their own that might otherwise require them to return their disc players to the manufacturer for repair. The more cynical view is that manufacturers have been using consumers as beta testers for unfinished products, and are relying on firmware updates to patch problems that should have been caught in more rigorous QA testing. I can see both points of view. Personally, I'd rather have the option available than not.
Most of the disc compatibility issues that have surfaced on Blu-ray have been the result of studios imposing more and more complex encryption methods on their discs to prevent piracy. You'll note that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment seems to have the most problems in this regard. Practically every new disc that Fox releases will trigger a wave of firmware updates from hardware manufacturers. That's certainly no coincidence. Fox is by far the studio most paranoid about piracy, and has taken the most aggressive measures to combat it.
Your concern about hardware manufacturers discontinuing firmware support over time is completely valid. How many manufacturers are still issuing firmware updates for their first-generation Blu-ray players? How long should they be expected to provide updates for products long out of production?
Honestly, I don't see this cycle ending until the studios realize that draconian copy protection measures will never stop piracy. Pirates will always find a way around them. The real way to stop piracy is to make their products more desirable to consumers, and sell them at a price that people feel is worth paying.
Native Resolution and Jaggies
Q: I have a Sony Bravia 46" KLV-46S300. It says that its maximum resolution is 1366*768px. However, the PS3 suggests that I used 1080p resolution. What does that mean? Am I watching a Blu-ray at 1080p truly? Moreover, in certain PS3 games I see "jaggies". If I had one of those 1920x1080 LCD TVs should that jaggies disappear or is a game-related issue?
A: A digital television has one and only one native resolution. In your case, the TV's screen literally only has 1366x768 pixels available. Any source you feed the television will be scaled to the native resolution. Even though the set may accept a full 1080p signal, the picture will be converted to 1366x768 before it shows up on screen. The scaling process may cause jaggie artifacts, however most modern scaling chips do a pretty good job downscaling a higher-resolution signal such as 1080p Blu-ray video. (Upscaling a lower-resolution signal like DVD is more difficult.)
Keep in mind that most PS3 games are rendered at only 720p resolution and must be upconverted to your TV's native resolution. Additionally, many video games actually have jaggies rendered as an inherent part of their graphics. The more detail the game designer tries to cram into the animation, the more processing power needed by the console, which can have adverse affects on game play. Often, the way to avoid this is to skimp on detail in the animation, which in turn causes jaggies. Game producers can use anti-aliasing filters to minimize jaggies, but there's a tradeoff. More filtering results in a softer picture. So, a lot of games just simply have jaggies.
I'd recommend leaving your PS3 set for 1080p, because that should give you the best Blu-ray picture. You'll just have to learn to live with jaggies in video games, which will probably never go away no matter what you do.
Q: Many of us now are buying 7.1 receivers capable of decoding all the latest HD formats. Embracing the new High Definition era, I decided to go for a 7.1 set-up in my lounge so I'll be future-proofed. The problem is there is a real lack of 7.1 HD audio soundtracks on Blu-ray. I realize that all the early releases would be in 5.1, but was hoping by now we'd be seeing more and more 7.1 tracks. Especially the latest releases, such as 'The Dark Knight', etc. Any industry news on this issue?
A: The vast majority of movie soundtracks are mixed in 5.1 format, which is considered sufficient for most theatrical venues and for home video. There hasn't been a tremendous amount of industry pressure to move to 7.1. In fact, almost all of the movies that have been released with 7.1 audio on Blu-ray were originally mixed in 5.1 for theaters and then remixed after-the-fact for home video by specialty audio post houses (Mi Casa Multimedia being the most famous).
Currently, Lionsgate Entertainment is the only studio making a major push to include 7.1 audio on a significant portion of their Blu-ray titles. New Line Home Entertainment was also a big believer in 7.1 audio, but the studio was absorbed into Warner Home Video last year and no longer exists as an independent company. Every once in a while, you might find a 7.1 release from another studio (like 'Hellboy II' from Universal), but those examples are rare, and usually only occur if the filmmaker specifically requests it.
The good news is that most newer 7.1 A/V receivers should include Dolby ProLogic IIx processing, which will convert a 5.1 soundtrack into 7.1 for you. ProLogic IIx uses a matrixing algorithm that analyzes the audio signal and selectively steers certain sound cues from the left and right surround channels into the back 6th and 7th speakers. The process works similarly to the way that ProLogic creates a center dialogue channel out of a 2.0 signal. I think you'll find that ProLogic IIx is very effective and will give you satisfying results. (Note that many receivers may also include other DSP modes designed to do the same thing using different algorithms. In my experience, ProLogic IIx works the best.)
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!
Q: I'm looking for a small 5.1 speaker set that'll do well for movies as well as gaming. I currently have my new TV in the den, so it's not exactly the largest of rooms, but I really would like to put in a surround system. This is why I have the need for a speaker set that are of the bookshelf type, so that I can either mount them to the wall, or just put them on the stand with the TV, or even purchase some of the speaker stands and use them that way. I plan on hooking this up to an Onkyo TX-SR606, so I do want some pretty decent sound out of them since they'll be used for Blu-Ray/HD DVD and gaming on the PS3 and X-Box 360. The budget would probably be under $1000 CAD since I live in the great white North. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Check back next week for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.