Home Theater in the Internet Age

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing my weekly Add to Queue column is the opportunity it’s given me to not only discuss upcoming movies but also to weigh in on the technology behind home entertainment. Film and home video tech are in a state of flux, and I can’t wait to see where their rapidly changing mechanism end up taking us. For those who aren’t early adopters, however, the new packaged media formats (along with the smorgasbord of other, more ephemeral options) can be both overwhelming and confusing. Fear not: my next few posts on GameSpite should help bring some clarity to the mess that is high-definition home content.

I’ve been a proponent of Blu-ray from the beginning; Blu-ray, of course, is a disc-based home video format that offers higher resolution picture and sound than DVD. But Blu-ray is hadly the only way to get HD content. As gamers, you’re no doubt aware that you can download HD movies and television shows from both Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. You may also subscribe to cable or satellite services that offer HD movies “on demand”, where you can pay a little bit of money for access to an HD movie with a few clicks of your remote control.

So why is Blu-ray better than those options? And for that matter, do we even need new HD formats when an upscaled, standard definition DVD looks nearly as good as a Blu-ray disc to most consumers? I’ll tackle those questions in depth next time, but if you have any thoughts on true HD vs. upscaling — or on physical media vs. digital downloads, or on anything else related to this topic — please do speak up in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Home Theater in the Internet Age

  1. Yeah if you can explain how DVDs are upscaled and still look pretty good, that would answer my question.

  2. I guess you can count me among “most consumers”–while I don’t doubt that Blu-ray (or HD-DVD, alas) is one of the technically best-looking options out there, after seeing a properly upscaled DVD I was struck by a profound inability to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a whole new disc player. But then I suppose I’d rather spend my time with video games, anyway.

    Actually, there’s a question–why did you believe that Blu-ray was superior to HD-DVD (or was it just a matter of wanting to pick one and stick with it, or “hey, I was getting a PS3 anyway”)? It seemed like it only had size as a (temporary?) advantage, while HD-DVD had a bunch of other stuff.

  3. Is there really a difference between Blu Ray and upscaling a normal DVD with my PS3? I honestly can’t tell the difference.

    I think it matters with games, sure, but for actual films I see no difference; everything looks great.

  4. I will definitely be talking about BD vs HD DVD and BD vs upscaling in future installments.

  5. I’ll leave the full article writing to the robot, but as this is a topic where I’m well versed I can’t resist submitting a few blurbs.

    Not all upscalers are created equal. The one in the PS3 is actually very good. But the one in my aging HD LCD TV is crap (I believe it is just a linear resize)–though not as bad as the old IBM Thinkpads which used nearest neighbor. Good upscaling involves edge detection (keeping a hard transition hard rather than just averaging the colors) along with other tricks.

    As for upscaling looking “good enough”, what I’ve always said in the home entertainment field: If you can’t tell the difference between one level to the next you can stop spending. Unfortunately for me; I can tell the difference. Even on a 720p TV I can tell the difference between the quality of an episode of broadcast television HD and the Blu-ray release. Heck, at work the other day, I received 5 Viewsonic monitors all of the same model. They only came with analog cables so that’s what I used to check for DOAs. When I hooked one of them up I said, “this one looks softer.” The guy who was standing next to me thought I was crazy, but as he was writing down the serial numbers he noticed it had a different manufacture date than the other 4. (Now that I’ve received the DVI cables they all look the same–I figure the older one had a different ADC.)

  6. I’m definitely not in the proper tax bracket to really answer this question. Like CalorieMate, though, I can much easier tell the difference between a nice, HDMI-carried HD signal and, say, a composite one. Maybe I’m just too much a game snob and not enough a movie snob.

  7. The objection I had was that HD-DVD seemed like the more sophisticated format, from product demonstrations before both launched. So I guess I’d like your take on that.

  8. The jump from VHS to DVD was massive… you could have multiple language tracks, instantly skip to scenes, have access to extra content, and even the occasional easter egg. The jump from DVD to BluRay is just “purtyer” images on the screen. Which honestly for me isn’t enough to pay ten extra dollars over the DVD versions, especially since I’m still using a TV that’s almost ten years old. I think the BluRay format is shoving DVD to an early grave, far before it needs to die out.

    Of course, the upside is that DVD prices have dropped like a rock. These days I can raid the five buck bin at Wally World and actually find GOOD movies in there.

  9. You should mention the obvious redundancy of the term “digital downloads.” A download is ALWAYS digital; it’s a stream of ones and zeroes. “Digital downloads” is like saying recorded record, wet water, or golden gold.

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