Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

When Upscaling DVD Players Are Good Enough

When Upscaling DVD Players Are Good Enough

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Tonight I was surfing the guide on my TiVo S3 an noticed Showtime HD has Casino Royale scheduled.  Considering I had just watched half of the movie last weekend on DVD before heading to Phoenix and Las Vegas, I thought it was pretty interesting timing.  So I setup the recording and watched a different movie.  I also set my Dell to record the movie as well.  Keep in mind I am feeding the Dell and TiVo with FIOS TV.

A few minutes ago I started watching the Showtime HD version of the movie.  Much to my dismay, Showtime is showing a chopped version.  By chopped I mean it is zoomed and therefore you cannot see the full theatrical frame.  Why do they do this?  I know why they do it.  They want to fill the screen as opposed to having black bars on the top and bottom. 

I hadn't planned on comparing the DVD to the Showtime HD version, but I was noticing some bad motion on the Showtime version.  Some of the motion stuff I noticed was likely a combination of factors.  The zoomed movie doesn't help such matters.  But I started paying closer attention to the actual picture quality (PQ).

In short, my Sony standard definition upscaling DVD player was doing a pretty remarkable job.  And the standard def DVD player had one thing the Showtime HD version didn't...  the entire picture.  I can understand taking a widescreen movie and chopping it to fit a 4:3 aspect ratio screen, but there is little excuse to chop a 2.35:1 ratio movie for widescreen playback.  Let's not forget Verizon had nothing to do with the cropping of the movie by Showtime.

For a more interesting look into the antics of the cable providers (chopping and compression), see the post at  This is a great comparison of Comcast to Verizon FIOS TV. 

The HD programming content war is going to happen.  Eventually enough consumers are going to become educated on this stuff and start demanding better quality.  It will be interesting to see what standards of measure can be agreed upon.  If they can be agreed upon.

Until then, buy yourself a good upscaling DVD player for less than $100 and enjoy your current movies because you have no control over what the networks and cable providers do to the content.  No control other than to vote with you dollars by discontinuing service but even that's too extreme for me. 

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  • Keith, whether it's important to have an upscaling DVD player or not depends on your TV.  Keep in mind that digital TVs do their own upscaling.  After all, when the screen has 1,080 pixels from top to bottom, the pixels above and beyond standard def have to come from somewhere when it's receiving a standard def signal.  The better the TV, the better the upscaling system.

    If you have a high quality 1080p plasma or LCD for example, you're going to want to allow the TV to do the upscaling rather than a $100 DVD player.

  • I checked my upscaling DVD player (Sony DVP-NS70s and don't really see a way to turn of it's scaling.  I guess it really doesn't matter much.  The combination of it and my DLP set is producing a pretty good result.  

    That's really the point of the article.

    Garbage in equals garbage out.  I was surprised Showtime HD was broadcasting the movie in the manner they did.  I would have preferred the theatrical version.

    HBO HD on the other hand played "The Patriot" last night at 2.35:1 and it looked great.  There's no way a standard def upscaled version could have competed with that.

  • I agree 100% Keith.  Cropping movies and calling them HD is pathetic.  Likewise, taking a standard def movie, "upscaling" it, and then broadcasting it on an "HD" channel, (which they also do), is what I would call fraud. :-(

    The place to adjust the scaling should be in the same section where you select the aspect ration of your TV.  Look in Screen Setup in the player's menu.  The setting you want for the HDMI output would be 720x480 to be the native DVD resolution.

    You may have to set the TV for what to expect on that port as well.

  • I can't stand 16:9 or wider movies in 4:3!

    And TVs don't upscale it, they just show it with more pixels. It's like, the source has a 10x10 image, and the TV has a 100x100 pixel screen, so every 10^2 pixels will be the same pixel of video. That's it.

    The same goes for old videogame systems, which didn't output in 720x480. They simply skipped lines or stretched it out over the screen. No upscaling.