Two All-Beef Patties
Dan Golus of Irvine, California, recently wrote to me with two A/V "beefs" about which he feels very strongly:
1. Why don't LCD and plasma TV makers include an option to "step down" a hi-def TV's resolution to simulate a CRT screen for watching old TV shows like I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners? Old TV shows look great on old CRT TVs. I know that an HDTV's high resolution cannot make these old shows look better than a CRT, but there's no reason they should look worse.
2. Why hasn't Sony released hybrid Blu-ray discs with a DVD layer so they can be played in any DVD player? Many people have more than one DVD playerhome, office, car, PC, laptop, portable. They do not want a movie disc that can only play in one player. They don't want to tell their kids they can't watch a favorite Disney Blu-ray disc on their car's DVD player. A number of people have told me this is the main reason they keep buying DVDs and haven't purchased a Blu-ray player.
In 2006, Sony told me they were considering it, but at the time it would add $10 to the cost and would hurt the format's introduction. Okaynow it's 2008, and Blu-ray won the format war. Where are the hybrid Blu-ray/DVD discs?
Let's take these beefs one bite at a time. (Don't forget the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun!) First, I agree that many LCD and plasma TVs can make older shows look pretty bad, but it's not because they don't "step down" the TV's resolution to match that of a standard-def TV. I suspect it would look really funky if a TV mapped each pixel in an SD picture to, say, a block of four adjacent pixels on the high-def screen.
Instead, an HDTV "steps up" the resolution of those old showsand, in fact, all standard-def materialto its native resolution, a process called upscaling or upconversion. If this is performed poorly, the resulting image can certainly look terrible, with lots of jaggy, shimmery artifacts and soft edges. However, even if it's done well, any flaws in the original picture are revealed in all their ugly gloryflaws that went unnoticed when watched on a standard-def CRT TV. So either way, an old SD picture can easily look lousy on a new HDTV, and there's not much anyone can do about it, especially when compared with high-def content on the same TV.
Many HDTVs offer a "1:1 pixel-mapping mode" that maps pixels in the incoming signal to the corresponding pixels on the screen. In most cases, however, this applies only to 1080i/p signals, not 480i/p. If it could be applied to a 480i/p signal, the image would be much smaller than the screen itself, which would almost certainly be unsatisfying.
Regarding hybrid Blu-ray/DVD discs, the format's specification does include this option. According to Andy Parsons, a spokesperson for the Blu-ray Disc Association, JVC has developed a disc structure with a BD25 (25GB) layer on top of a DVD5 (4.7GB) or DVD9 (8.5GB) layer. JVC says its hybrid structure is ready to go, but the studios have not yet used it, perhaps because most Blu-ray movies are currently being released on dual-layer BD50 discs, which leaves no room for a DVD layer. Parsons says it might be possible to make a hybrid BD50/DVD9 disc, but it would probably be very expensiveincluding separate Blu-ray and DVD discs in a package would likely be more cost-effective.
Don Eklund, executive VP for advanced technologies at Sony Pictures, agrees that including separate Blu-ray and DVD discs in a package would be less expensive than a hybrid disc for studios and consumers alike, though no studios seem to be doing this either. For those who want to play a disc's content in various locations, he points to titles that offer a digital copy for computers and portable devices. Sony and others have released several DVDs with digital-copy capabilities, but so far, no Blu-rays. Sony is considering this, but the studio has set no date for releasing such titles. Sound familiar?
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