Matt's blog

Jan 28 2009

Blog - Transition Trip-ups

digitaltv.jpgThe digital TV transition is a rather interesting problem for America.  People want their TV, but the digital transition is going to confuse many people when it takes effect.

Let's discuss the foremost issues: funding and timing.

As of this morning, January 28th, unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives voted 'No' on the extension of the DTV transition to June. This means that time is of the essence when it comes to replenishing the DTV coupon funds and making sure the right citizens get their coupons.

 

Problem #1: Coupon expiration

The vast majority of coupons that have been given out are now expired. Coupons issued from February 2008 through October 2008 are now all expired. These funds need to be recycled ASAP. There is a rather steady trend of approximately 55% redemption rate for every wave of coupons.

 

Problem #2: Who are redeeming the coupons?

The data gets more interesting when it is filtered by households that are using OTA only (what the NTIA calls "OTA Reliant"). Here the redemption rate is closer to 60% and went as high as 65% in the last few weeks of 2008. So that means that quite a few people who claimed to be using OTA only on their request form are indeed getting the coupons, but not enough, it would be nice to see the numbers higher -- into the 70% range.

There is a second group: those that are redeeming coupons when they are not OTA reliant. Their requests make up 40% to 50% of the overall coupons requests. According to the data these people are redeeming coupons at about 55%, the same as the overall rate.

Nov 12 2008

Blog - My Favorite Bond Films

007_gun_barrel.jpgWith the release of the next chapter in the Daniel Craig reboot of James Bond coming to theatres this Friday (Nov. 14th), I thought I'd put up a list of my favorite Bond movies. It gets pretty hard to pick, and I've actually made two lists one of my top picks as an adult, and one with an eye to nostalgia, as I've been watching James Bond since I was about 8 years old. My my second list is made with an eye to my love of action and adventure. Lastly, I'll mention a few total turkeys in the franchise as a "bonus" third list.

 

The Serious List

Goldfinger -- Goldfinger is widely regarded as the most popular Bond film. 'nuff said.

Thunderball -- Thunderball is a close second ;-) The underwater battle was a huge undertaking that is still considered a benchmark in underwater stunt planning and execution.

GoldenEye -- GoldenEye took Bond into to the 1990's: the mess that Russia had become just after the fall of Communism, the pathos of the Bond character as his macho attitudes no longer "just worked". 
Also while watching it in the movie theater in middle school my friend and I, being huge computer dorks, caught an OS/2 boot screen logo during flash on one of the workstations in the end sequence when the pen grenade goes off.

From Russia With Love -- Early Connery, but fairly true to the literary Bond, and pretty darn good suspense moments on the famous Orient Express. The gagdets aren't really gadgets, rather they are fairly realistic and practical spy gear that would have been used in the era.

Doctor No -- Connery is a bit rough around the edges in his first outing but is a pretty hardcore realistic secret agent, no fancy gadgets yet.

Casino Royale -- A much needed reboot of the series made Bond relevent to the 21st century and gave him the chance to let audiences see him in a raw, less worldly, state. The only gripe is that the gambling game was changed to poker to pander to the craze that was sweeping the USA circa 2005/2006.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service -- A pretty darn good film, which follows the novel fairly closely. It looks at a different side of Bond, he gets married! Also kudos to Australian model George Lazenby who was given a crash course in Bond style and then told to fill Sean Connery's shoes.

Oct 28 2008

Blog - Myths and legends of the OCUR and SDV

ati_dct.jpgI got inspired the other day to delve into one of the pervasive questions in Windows Media Center lore: the question of switched digital video (SDV) for CableCARD equipped Media Center PCs.
The solution that is being put forth is the Tuning Adapter. The Tuning Adapter mediates between a unidirectional CableCARD device and an SDV enabled cable system. I'll describe how the Tuning Adapter works with the TiVo HD -- the T.A. was designed with it in mind. But then I'll describe how the Tuning Adapter should work with a PC solution. This is mostly an academic discussion, but one that hopefully sheds some more light on this rather confusing subject.

Oct 13 2008

Blog - Tips of the Day

Did you know Samsung 2008 model TVs have a special “blue only” mode? This lets you use the THX Optimizer or color test patterns from discs like DVE without the need for special color filter glasses.

When shopping for an HDMI receiver watch for the key words like: "HDMI repeater", "HD Audio LPCM 7.1-channel reception","HDMI processing". Also if the specs mention Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio decoding, then you know my definition the receiver supports HDMI audio.
You do not want on that only specifies "HDMI Pass Through" or "HDMI switching". The most basic of receivers simply pass video along and do not process the audio, which sort of defeats the purpose.

Nearly all Blu-ray players now decode TrueHD, and the few that don’t can bit stream them over HDMI 1.3 to a receiver.

Considering a new HDTV? Think about a big brand name (Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Toshiba, etc.) and not a budget one. The big brands tend to have better features even in their budget lines, and come with better warranty service then the "value" brands.

Costco extends the manufacturer's warranty automatically to 2 years, while Sam's Club offers very inexpensive extended warranties to its customers. Both Costco and Sam's Club have more liberal return policies then normal electronics stores. Both also offer complementary help lines for HDTV installation questions. So if you already have a membership to either warehouse store you might want to check out their HDTV selection before buying from a big box electronics chain.

Sep 29 2008

Blog - Dear Microsoft -- What the heck is going on with Media Center?

Chris Lanier recently summed up the poor misguided path of Media Center since becoming a part of Windows Vista:
{joomsay}Media Center’s number one problem has been failing to define itself in the market. Enthusiasts and power users want features not currently provided by Media Center, most of which Microsoft has shown little interest in actually implementing, and they want it at the smallest price possible. The high-end custom install channel wants the same things, but are willing to pay as much as they need to in order to get the features. Then the rest of the world doesn’t know that Media Center exists, and even if they did they want it at a price lower than what enthusiasts and power users are willing to spend.{/joomsay}

While custom installers keep busting tuner limits (which makes any kind of tuner limit a big fat joke now), so the number of CableCARD tuners is up to something like 8. This doesn't solve the looming issue of SDV. Why aren't the custom installers pushing the industry, namely Microsoft and ATI (providers of the OCUR hardware), to get the bi-directional CableCARD specification into real shipping PC hardware?  Media Center will never be viable without the ability to properly support the digital cable TV infrastructure.

Likewise, where's the DirecTV tuner? And why isn't Dish Network being courted too?

All of this lack of focus and total deflation of the push for Media Center as a premiere digital media platform has left me a bit cynical and close to trading in my Media Center PC for a stand alone DVR and a PlayStation 3 for its Blu-ray playing & media streaming abilties and calling it quits with Media Center.

The strength in PC solutions lies in the inherent flexibility. The PC is a jack of all trades, which is why Media Center was such an ambitious concept... circa 2005. Microsoft's clout in the PC industry and reputation in the business world should have been a fairly easy sell for these service providers. Vista's new protected paths and DRM foundations should have made for a no brainer. Yes we hate DRM, but let's face it premium content isn't getting to the PC without it.

Vista Media Center had (realistically Windows 7 is where all the resources are currently in Microsoft) the potential to allow a world where in theory a DirecTV, a Dish Network, and a CableCARD tuner could all be used at once in one device. Heterogeneous support (something other PC DVR software vendors have had forever) is only available to OEMs with the elusive and feature underwhelming "TV Pack" update.

So let's talk about where Microsoft really could, and should, work on Media Center. Some of these are directly in their control (MS owns the IP elsewhere in the company), some are a good opportunity to work with the 3rd party vendors they love so dearly to provide their system vendors with product differentiation, and some admittedly are harder to implement, either due to industry politics or some other factor.

Apr 08 2008

Blog - An HDTV Feature List

lcd.jpgRecently I've been pondering more and more what makes a good HDTV set. I pulled out my excellent Oppo 981HD and found that I should recalibrate my TV, however my quite basic 3 year old LCD TV is not able to save essential things like contrast and brightness per input. It groups the inputs. All the standard definition (composite, s-video, component #1) inputs share calibration settings, and likewise all high definition capable inputs (component #2, DVI-D, VGA) share settings. So sadly one of the sources had to be compromised a bit by adjusting at the player instead of at the TV.

This incident, and the fact that I noticed that HD material looks nice and sharp when at the edge of my bed, but more like really nice SD when I'm all the way back in the room, made me start thinking about TV features and proper sizes for a given room. I have a 27" 720p LCD TV, and I sit anywhere from 3' to 8' away, which is just fine for SD material, but at 8' back I'm not able to resolve 720p.

What's more there is banding in what should be smooth gradations and the analog standard definition quality leaves quite a bit to be desired including really poor deinterlacing, it looks like the TV is just blindly bobbing everything and scaling to 720p. Lastly, fast motion smears, the response time isn't great, but the TV set is from 2005 and was rather inexpensive even then.

Now I'm not actually able to replace my flat panel right now, but it got me thinking about features I want, and those that I won't compromise on, even when trying to stick to a budget.

Read on for my list of HDTV features and comments about why I picked each feature.

Features checklist

Basics: 

  • Independent input memories
    This is a biggie: If at all possible calibration should be done at the TV, not the source device.
  • A 1:1 pixel (dot-by-dot) mode
    There's no need or want for overscan on HD sources
  • A variety of aspect ratio controls including a non-linear stretch
    A variety of zoom modes is important when dealing with things like a 480i 16:9 source with embeded letterboxing or a 1080i 4:3 source that is pillarboxed.
  • Ability to disable integrated speakers and route built-in tuner audio to a receiver
    Pretty basic feature, sadly my current TV doesn't disable its own speakers when connected to a stereo
  • Input labeling
    This handy feature let's you assign device names to an input, great for the non-techies in the house
  • 10-bit (or higher) video processing
    This is important because the more processing, the more potential errors to the source are made, so the higher the internal accuracy for manipulating video the better. Vendors like Sony and Toshiba tend to be clear about this, other vendors not so much...
  • Quick panel response time [this is an LCD TV specific feature]
    This is really pretty important for an LCD set, however the ratings vendors list are generally total BS, it's far more important to read professional reviews and see the TV in person.
  • Controllable backlight [this is an LCD TV specific feature]
    This lets you fine tune black levels, this is key on LCD TVs which are prone to a dark gray rather then true black.

The good news is that most 2007 and 2008 mid-range and high-end models of large brand name companies (Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, etc.) tend to have all of these. Low-end models and budget brands (Olevia, Westinghouse, Vizio, etc.) can't be counted on to have these features.

Advanced features that are somewhat less important but pretty darn important:

  • Ability to accept 1080p/24 and display at a proper multiple of 24fps (48Hz, 72Hz, 120Hz).
    This is something that I almost put up in the first list, but there are some great flat-panels that do a good job with 3:2 pulldown (ex: Most of Panasonic's plasma TVs accept 1080p/24 but turn it back into the panel native 1080p/60 with fairly good results.)
  • Ability to fine tune color temperature presets
    Still not standard, rarely is the out of box color temperature presets perfect D6500K. Sony still seems to leave this feature out of most of their mid-range flat-panels.
  • Correctly deinterlace film and video material of both 480i and 1080i sources.
    This is also one I debated about putting up top, but so many otherwise great sets fail 1080i film deinterlacing, I can't be that picky, especially if you use a Media Center PC which will be doing the processing instead.
  • Decent SD processing with customizable levels of noise reduction and sharpening
    This is also pretty important since standard definition resolution TV isn't going anywhere (just turning digital), it's also key that this be totally defeatable should the results be unwanted. In the past, both Sony and Samsung have been guilty of always having some level of image processing on no matter what.
  • If considering an LCD TV, that it use a 10-bit panel (to reduce false contouring/banding).
    This is a good feature to look for but it only comes with the higher end of mid-priced sets. Many vendors don't disclose this; Sony and Toshiba are both good at mentioning when a TV set has a 10-bit LCD panel.

Other niceties:

  • A full resolution VGA input
    Far too often VGA inputs seem to be thrown in and not treated well, many don't actually accept the native resolution of the panel, a VGA input isn't so important given the good state of DVI/HDMI output from PCs today.
  • RS232 control port for automation
    This is a neat extra useful for integrating your HDTV into potential home automation projects.
  • A QAM capable digital TV tuner
    Most mid-range TVs today include an ATSC tuner that is also a clear QAM tuner (for getting local HD channels via digital cable) however, it isn't always a given and would be a nice feature to have for cable customers.
  • TV volume normalization
    A neat extra feature that helps prevent the shock of changing volumes when going to a commercial or changing to an especially loud channel

Click Next for the Size and Resolution factors 

The Size and Resolution Questions

  

The size and resolution questions:

This chart is incredibly useful, it helps you find at what size and distance would a given resolution be useful. From where I flop in bed, to get anything resembling full 720p resolving I would need at least a 37" HDTV. A 40" HDTV is somewhere around $100 more so it makes sense to go for 40", going slightly larger then you need is nearly always a good idea when it comes to TV sizes, having a slightly larger TV then the bare minimum helps ensure you are enveloped in the action on the screen. 

So why don't I care too much about whether my flat panel is 720p or 1080p? 
Two reasons:

  1. 1080p is becoming pretty common/affordable, so it's quickly becoming a moot point.
  2. And more importantly, good contrast and black levels matter more then 720p vs. 1080p. The eye is far more sensitive to light and dark (luminance) then a specific digital TV resolution. Case in point: a 720p resolution model of Pioneer's excellent Kuro plasma line won the top spot in a Home Theater Magazine shootout among HDTVs of various technologies, including other plasma vendors, most of which were 1080p native.

I have found, both in general discussions and in the results from many Face Offs, that the number-one thing most people want in a display is contrast ratio: legitimate contrast ratio, not this number-pumping crap that we see constantly nowadays.

So, was the resolution noticeable? Most of the reviewers commented that, if you're too close (less than 3X picture height), then you may start seeing pixels. From where most of them were sitting, around 4X, it wasn't noticeable. In fact, at that distance, everyone made a comment about how detailed this TV looked. How is that possible with half the pixels? Easy. Your eye is fooled into seeing detail when it is really seeing contrast. Think of what you would use to see detail, say, a wrinkle on a face. You see the wrinkle because it's in shadow compared with the rest of the face. Well, on the PDP-5080HD, that shadow was so much more realistic that it didn't need resolution to appear detailed. Seeing as it's highly doubtful you'd ever sit three times the picture height away from a 50-inch TV (less than 6 feet, in this case), 768p is more than enough.

Mar 05 2008

Blog - A Quick Look at the Radeon HD 3470's Video Performance

3470_box_small.jpg

 

 

The Radeon HD 3470 is just up from the bottom of the line in the new Radeon HD 3000 series. ATI had press slides saying the 3470 is great for HD and passes the HD HQV tests. So of course I wanted to see for myself. So how does this $70 card work? I'd say quite well. Please note that this not a comprehensive review, but a look at the video performance of the Radeon 3470. Read on for the details.

To get things started I tested in my desktop PC which has a single core CPU. This should let us see if this will be a nice upgrade for those with single-core CPUs.

The specs:
AMD Athlon 64 3700+ (single core socket 939 2.2 GHz)
1GB DDR 400
Windows XP MCE 2005
NVIDIA GeForce 7800GTX or ATI Radeon HD 3470 (Catalyst 8.2)
PowerDVD Ultra 7.3 with latest ver. 3730 patch

The titles I selected were made to stress the decoding abilities.

  • Elephant's Dream is an open source computer animated movie. The clip I used was encoded at 1080p/24 with a constant bitrate of 40Mbit/sec. This is a very high bitrate, and not normally seen, even Blu-ray titles that use MPEG2 are variable bitrate and so only hit 40Mbit for a few seconds at a time.
  • The Bourne Ultimatum is an action packed movie with a lot of quick movements, it seems to be quite strenuous to decode. Even when I had the more modern GeForce 8600GT in this system it couldn't hack it, the GeForce 8600 has partial acceleration for VC-1 whereas the Radeon HD series have full acceleration for the codec.
  • Transformers is a pretty typical H.264 (MPEG-4/AVC) title, in general H.264 is known to be harder to decode then the other codecs Blu-ray and HD DVD are allowed to use.

Some baseline performance metrics:
The GeForce 7-series is still quite popular, many users have these in their HTPCs from a few years ago when the 7600GT was a great GPU to have for DVD and basic HDTV watching.  

 Title  CPU Usage  Comments
High Bitrate MPEG2 -- Elephant's Dream  42%-69%   Looks good
VC-1 -- Bourne Ultimatium 68% -100%  CPU jumps all over from 68% to 100%, usually right at 99%, lots of frames dropped, making it unwatchable.
H.264 -- Transformers 91% -100%  Bearly making it, lots of frames dropped but smooths out for a while, and then stutters again, making it unwatchable.

Now to the Radeon HD 3470...

 Title  CPU Usage  Comments
High Bitrate MPEG2 -- Elephant's Dream  39%-69%  Looks good
VC-1 -- Bourne Ultimatium 66%-88%  Smooth, but high CPU usage, Ultimatium is a bitch to decode in my experience.
H.264 -- Transformers 50%-72%  Nice and smooth!

And now, the bigger question, how does the 3470 do at the HQV tests?

HD HQV

 Test  Score  Comments
Noise Reduction   7/25  Noise is reduced but detail is lost. This is probably the most subjective portion of the tests and really the least important for HD sources. So don't let this score deter you.
Video Resolution Test Pattern  20/20  
Jaggies   20/20  
Film Resolution Test Pattern  25/25  It passes, but when the clip loops for a split second it has to re-lock on to the 3:2 cadence.
Film Resolution Stadium Clip   10/10  
     
 Total Score  82/100  This is a fine score, especially when you figure that of the 75 points that matter the most it gets full scores on those tests.

HQV

 Test  Score  Comments 
Color Bar    10/10  
Jaggies 1  5/5  
Jaggies 2   5/5  
Flag  10/10  
Picture Detail  10/10  
Noise Reduction  10/10  
Motion Adaptive Nose Reduction  10/10  
3:2 Detection (motor speedway)  5/10  Lags a bit in catching on to the 3:2 cadence when the clip loops.
Film Cadences  40/40  
Mixed Film/Video Horizontal  10/10  
Mixed Film/Video vertical  10/10  
     
 Total Score 125/130   Excellent score, really these days it's hard to mess up standard DVD.

Misc. Notes about the Radeon HD 3470

The pulldown detection was unchecked by default! NVIDIA now has their inverse telecine box checked in recent drivers.

ccc_video1.jpg

Manual Deinterlacing modes in CCC -- Weave, Bob, Adaptive, Motion Adaptive, Vector Adaptive

PowerDVD's advanced deinterlacing mode was set for '3C' which is the ATI Vector Adaptive mode, the highest quality mode.

Aug 20 2007

Blog - The Poor State of HDMI Audio in PCs

hdmi_audio_blog.jpgIt wasn't that long ago, we HTPC users were left out out of the high definition loop, sure we could get over the air HDTV, but that was it. Slowly HDCP enabled video cards became a common item. Vista and CableCARD support allowed people with the right PC to finally get premium HD content, and HD DVD and Blu-ray playback became possible thanks to cheap processor power and later GPU offloading of the decoding. But then it became clear that while we had the video OK, we were missing the advantages of audio that the set-top players had with HDMI. I'll outline the history of HDMI on the PC and how the audio capabilities aren't really up to the level of the set-top player competition. In case you get lost along the way I have also included a rundown of how we outgrew S/PDIF for our digital audio needs and an overview of the audio formats found on HD DVD and Blu-ray discs today.

Aug 01 2007

Blog - My turn -- under $1k HD-ready HTPC

So let's make this quick and easy, this little box has HDMI and is ready to have a Blu-ray or HD DVD drive added to it. For a little bit more you can get whichever flavor of video card, AMD/ATI or NVIDIA, you'd like to ensure smooth MPEG-4 AVC [H.264] playback from the latest batch of HD DVD/Blu-ray releases. Read on for the full monty...

Apr 24 2007

Blog - Analog TV Tuners -- How We Test

tuner_lab.jpgAs a compliment to our upcoming ATSC/NTSC combo round up I wanted to share how I test the TV tuners. Read on for the nitty gritty.
Mar 13 2007

Blog - Why you want a 120Hz LCD TV

In talking with Alan the other day it became obvious that we should have a write up about why 120Hz LCD HDTVs are a big deal and why they should be your TVs of choice.

sharp_lcd.jpg

Read on for the details

Mar 07 2007

Blog - I joined the MP3 revolution with a 30GB iPod video

ipod_video.jpg

Digg this story! 

Not to get all gadgety on you but I finally got myself into the 21st century for mobile/personal audio. I thought I would share my first impressions, and general usage experiences as well as comments on moving video to the iPod from various sources including downloads and converted TV recordings.

 

Mar 02 2007

Blog - Analog TV and 2009 : let's clear something up shall we?

digitaltv.jpgNVIDIA's DualTV MCE end of life announcement made earlier today is the first of what I'm sure are many other similar product discontinuations and/or end of life announcements. Looking around various forums that have picked up on this I see some incorrect information being spread around.


To be clear: the mandate is only about over the air analog signals. It has no effect whatsoever on cable TV.

Cable companies are very likely to keep offering analog cable packages for some time, because in 2009 that analog cable service will still be quite useful to all those people who have 'cable ready' analog tuners (like nearly all VCRs and TVs have had since the 1990s).

The impact of the analog cutoff to anyone who is a cable or satellite TV subscriber is essentially no impact at all. It will only impact the severely poor who cannot afford cable or people who just don't care to watch TV much and thus still use the ol' rabbit ears on a 13" set from 1986. For these people a voucher system will be setup to help them obtain digital TV set-top boxes that are simple ATSC tuners with analog video outputs for legacy TV users, prototypes of set-top boxes like this cost under $150, so by 2009 these should be quite cheap, especially with a voucher subsidizing the cost.

The impact to the consumer electronics market is simply that any TVs, DVRs, etc. made from this point forward must also include an ATSC tuner, the cost of adding an ATSC tuner isn't very much these days. For the HTPC world this means that any PC TV tuner made from this point forward must have an ATSC tuner in addition to the NTSC one. You'll notice ATI, AVerMedia, Hauppauge, and Vbox all had combo or hybrid NTSC/ATSC cards out in time for March 1st.

Feb 16 2007

Blog - High definition optical discs and their associated copy protection acronyms

hd_br_disc_logos_smlThe next generation optical disc formats, like standard DVD, are encrypted on disc, but unlike standard DVD, also require protected paths from the player to the display. With this comes a confusing new group of terms, many of which betray the idiosyncrasies of the next generation content protection requirements.

The confusion has become obvious, especially when otherwise very technically literate websites start producing Blu-ray and HD DVD articles but confuse the various copy protection mechanisms. I've seen the confusion become quite widespread among users and now tech journalists. Let's go over how this all works...

Jan 13 2007

Blog - HQV Benchmarking the GeForce 7-series

The HQV Benchmark DVD is probably the best and most objective video processing test available today. Unfortunately there are still subjective comparisons that need to be made to give a final rating. Of course reference images are given to compare against, and if you see something that has totaly failed it is obvious. The less obvious is when the scores allow a middle value: what does this middle ground look like? To answer this you need to have some real comparisons, say for example against a sampling of DVD players. I did this testing while working on my review of Oppo's new kick-butt DVD player.

General testing notes
In case you've been under a rock NVIDIA has made large strides in exposing PureVideo functionality at the display driver level and less tied into their own decoder filter (PureVideo Decoder). Thus having it work in basically the same manner as ATI's Avivo technology. What that means is that using ForceWare 91.47 or newer is the key to better deinterlacing and video post-processing. In the screenshot at the bottom of my post are the settings I used for testing. NVIDIA has done something rather stupid (ATI is just as guilty it turns out): they have Inverse Telecine support turned off by default! You must go into the new NVIDIA control panel choose 'Video & Television', then 'Adjust video color settings', and make sure you're in 'Advanced' view, click the 'Enhancements' tab and check 'Use inverse telecine'. Without this checked you won't be using the advanced PureVideo technology, leaving this unchecked will also lead to most video cadences failing miserably when the HQV test is run. Similarly, any detail enhancement or noise suppression technology is also off by default. You do get sliders to control the level of processing which is great for adjusting to personal taste. I found 50% for 'Edge Enhancement' and 75% for 'Noise Reduction' to be ideal for the passing the HQV tests.

 

  GeForce 7-series
Color Bar/Vertical Detail (0/5/10)  10
Jaggies 1 (0/3/5)  5
Jaggies 2 (0/1/3/5)  3
Flag (0/5/10)  5
Picture Detail (0/5/10)  10
Noise Reduction (0/5/10)  10
Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction (0/5/10)  10
3:2 Detection/Film Detail (0/5/10)  10
Film Cadences (8 different) (5 points each)  40
Mixed 3:2 with video titles horiz. (0/5/10)  10
Mixed 3:2 with video titles vert. (0/5/10)  10
Total (130)  123

 

It's the little differences...
If you compare my chart to hardware.info's tests from 9/5/06 my scores have very similar results, however the hardware.info folks give the Flag a full 10 points which I don't think it deserves, the Oppo did better then what I've seen from PureVideo. Likewise Jaggies Test 2 is source of disagreement. It deserves a 3, Hardware.info which also tested against standalone DVD players agrees, Tom's Hardware's recent tests gave it a full 5, the Oppo did better on this test, I question whether Tom's really has seen modern video processing chips in action. Interestingly, like me, Hardware.info also arrives at a score of 123, they remove points in the Mixed 3:2 with Horizontal Video Titles which I don't think is deserved. They are also lenient with their score of the 3:2 Detection test giving it a 10. Using their settings this actually deserves a 5, Tom's testing corroborates this.

The PureVideo Decoder's 'Smart' Setting 
If you use a general DXVA decoder, such as PowerDVD or WinDVD, or set the PureVideo Decoder to 'Automatic' the 3:2 detection has an approximately 1/2 second lag. However when you use NVIDIA's own PureVideo Decoder in 'Smart' mode you don't even see the lag as it enters film mode. The lag means you get a 5 on this test. The testing procedures are quite clear: if the video processing locks on to film mode in under 0.2 seconds that's a 10, in 1/2 a second -- that's a 5. Anything longer is a failure.
What I found interesting is that this seems to go counter to the recommendations Hardware.info has. They say to use 'Automatic', I presumed that somehow 'Smart' used different logic then 'Automatic' and it might disable the much improved cadence handling that NVIDIA now shows. So I tested this by running the tests in 'Automatic' and in 'Smart'. There is no difference to the scores aside from the very important 3:2 detail test. 'Smart' is incredible, it never even batted an eye. It looks like with the newest ForceWare builds the cadence detection is ready to be used by any DXVA decoder filter. However having the proprietary 'Smart' mode of the PureVideo Decoder sweetens the deal. NVIDIA's own decoder is considered to have the best image quality of any commercial DVD decoder product and added to this is the fact that it also has the unique deinterlacing mode -- 'Smart'. Thus my scores presented here and in the upcoming Oppo review represent the 'Smart' mode scores.

HD Material
Interestingly, I found 'Automatic' performed properly with HD material while 'Smart' occasionally made odd hitching in HDTV playback. It looks like 'Automatic' is the middle-ground here if you watch a mix of both SD and HD or if you watch solely HD material.

Settings Used for Testing

 

nvidia_enhancements 

Jan 12 2007

Blog - Thoughts on building a high-def ready HTPC

Just kicking around some ideas for what would be an ideal next gen optical format (HD DVD and/or Blu-ray) ready HTPC. This is of course somewhat hypothetical as, alas, I don't have the hand's on knowledge... yet. This is culled from what I know from informal testing, user reports, and decoding performance benchmarks available on the web. Feel free to comment.

Full details and build notes after the "read more."

Oct 05 2006

Blog - DirecTV, HDTV, and the Resolution Question

99pr_01108_hiresIf you all don't remember way back in 2004 a DirecTV customer filed lawsuit saying that he had signed up for HDTV service and was soon getting sub-par results. He claims DirecTV is engaged in unlawful or fraudulent business practices by not delivering actual high definition signals. As most of us in the audio/videophille world know DirecTV started cutting bit rate and then scaling down the resolution of their HD feeds to squeeze more bandwidth. This quickly became known as "HD-Lite" in videophille circles. The drop in bit rate resulted in exacerbated MPEG2 mosquito noise, and posterization. DirecTV's odd 1280x1080i feeds resulted in a softening of the image as the horizontal detail was lost and then stretched back out at the satellite receiver to 1920x1080.

This fella's lawsuit finally came up on the docket on September 20th when a judge ruled against DirecTV's request for arbitration, meaning that this will at some point go to court and be settled by a battle of lawyers.

 

This lawsuit raises an interesting question: Just what constitutes high definition television?

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