DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor


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High-Def Disc Player Update

August 4, 2006

Remember how long we all waited for HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc to come out? All the publicity and attacks and counterattacks from each camp, and all the reviewers speculating on the pros and cons of each format, and which would win the war.

Well, it looks like we're all still waiting for the two formats to come out.

What we have is a beta release--a test period to get the bugs out.

Deja vu. The coming-out dates for both HD-DVD and Blu-ray will be announced at CES 2007 next January. Mature software and machines that just work (and have HDMI 1.3 interconnects).

So in the meantime, here's what's going on . . .

HD-DVD

The big firmware update that fixed the Toshiba players early problems was version 1.2. Well, they're now up to version 1.4 and counting. But that's okay, because the players are still in short supply, so for most people the firmware upgrades aren't really going to be an issue.

More on HD-DVD soon.

Blu-ray Disc

Samsung is still the only player out there (BD-P1000) and they've been having a real nightmare with it.

Samsung Player

The first reviews reported good performance with the analog outs, but inconsistent playback using the HDMI output. Samsung went to work and determined that the noise reduction circuit in the video scaler chip was enabled full on, and it was apparently playing havoc with film grain, turning it into something worse.

But then again, sometimes it was fine, depending on the movie and even on individual scenes within a movie. Sometimes sharp, sometimes soft, sometimes (video) noisy.

Anyway, Samsung has been busy on a firmware update, and their engineers have delivered a corrected BD-P1000 to the editors at Sound and Vision magazine. S&V has a full 9-page report online here.

So has the problem been fixed?

Well, not exactly.

First of all, the S&V editors noted that the Samsung player did an excellent job of downconverting 1080p from the disc to 720p (for TVs that display at that resolution), and an excellent job of upconverting standard DVDs to 1080. If you do have a 1080p display, the player converts 1080p from the disc to 1080i and then back to 1080p for output to the TV. Very strange. But it seems to work.

And they loved the look and feel of the player itself.

It's just that even with the hand-delivered modified player, the quality of what ended up on the screen was inconsistent. Some movie titles were excellent, and others not so much. Video quality overall was just not up to what the Toshiba HD-DVD players are producing.

How much of this is due to the player and how much to the disc itself has yet to be shown. You may recall that Blu-ray titles are still using single-layer 25 GB discs with MPEG-2 compression, while HD-DVD titles are getting 30 GB dual-layer discs and more efficient MPEG-4 authoring.

This situation should improve soon for Blu-ray, and new players will be out within a couple of months. Here's a look at three of them.

Panasonic's DMP-BD10 - $1300 Panasonic Player

Pioneer's BDP-HD1 - $1500 Pioneer Player

Sony's BDP-S1 - $1000
(out on or about October 25)
Sony Player