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I, Robot: direct HD vs. DVD comparisons...


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#1 of 37 OFFLINE   frank manrique

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Posted March 10 2005 - 09:57 PM

I, Robot: HD & DVD formats comparisons ______________________________________ I am sure that by now most of you have seen “I, Robot” either at the cinema or at home. I bet that in the latter case the vast majority of people have seen this flick on DVD, except where VHS tapes were used instead. However, since this is a HT Forum where image quality is supposed to be valued above all else, I’ll only concentrate on the video formats that offer the highest possible PQ extant: DVD and high-definition tape (JVC’s D-Theater in this instance). I’ll forgo commenting about the movie’s plot line as it really doesn’t make any difference what I might say about it, other than to state that I enjoyed it quite a bit, since minds are already made up one way or another (besides, is not really pertinent to the purpose of my posting this essay in any case). Also, is worth mentioning that I attempted to procure at least one odd reel from a 35mm theatrical release print for direct film-to-video comparison purposes but failed to secure any as I wasn’t able to find anyone who might have had one handy (and I decry not having this absolute frame of reference available for the task at hand, believe me you!), thus direct comparisons were only performed between a copy of the commercial DVD release and a more recently acquired D-Theater HD tape. Resolution… As should be expected, overall resolution is far, far greater with the D-Theater HD tape version, something that is easily ascertained by simply viewing it. Yet the DVD is no slouch in this area (at least when seen via a DVI digital path via a stand alone DVD player with 12 bit processing and with a calibrated CRT-based display device); the net illusion is that with an upconverted signal (1080i) one is almost fooled into believing HD signals are being seen instead of standard resolution video. No matter what, the high-definition tape version is the hand-down winner as details that can easily be seen in this format are otherwise blurred, smeared, obscured, or none existing on the DVD version. What amounts to in the final analysis is that as with infrabass audio reproduction, where there is just no replacement for displacement, so it is with moving images (on film and otherwise) as there simply is no substitution for higher resolution! The greater resolution possessed by the HD tape also lends this fabulously-shot flick an image that is sharply focused without looking video-ish, lustrous and brilliant, with an overall sheen that exudes sheer luxury, something that Fox is well known for with its bigger budget films. Although not being the only factor that is totally responsible for it, having greater resolution does give this version an extreme film-like quality that is just not present with the DVD as the latter still looks more like video rather than real film spite of its other arguable visual assets. Edge Enhancement… I find it unbelievable that HD signals are still been given this undesirable band-aid treatment, but it is true since I did see a certain degree of EE content at various points of the movie. Now, if I can see EE on a 40” CRT display at a distance of 10-12 feet then is got to be far more visibly evident when enlarged and projected to sizes of greater dimensions than what I am currently using to view and evaluate high-definition and standard resolution video contents! As expected since it seems to be its natural nemesis, the DVD exhibits a far greater degree of visible EE throughout the movie than does the HD tape. It isn’t of such horrible quantities as I have seen in many other previous cases, but personally desire to see EE disappear from video signals altogether. EE lessens and cheapens the HT viewing experience! Colorimetry… Not having a film source from which I can derive an a more accurate opinion regarding the color timings between it and its video format counterparts, am still willing to bet that the D-Theater tape version has the more accurate colorimetry; is got to be closer to 35mm theatrical release prints! Starting with the human skin, the HD tape version clearly exhibits tones that are far more congruous with real life. I ascertained this factor by simply comparing the widely different shades of skin tonal hues possessed by people of African and European descent as seen present on this movie; the contrast is startling and is a task that’s made far easier on the HD tape than it is with the DVD as the latter lends human skins a yellowish sheen or cast, more so with people of African descent, that is just not present in the former version. Overall, colorimetry seems to be truer to film on HD tape than it is with the DVD. In this regard the HD tape is definitely the preferable version… Contrast Dynamics… The HD tape has a contrast range that is widely dynamic, an asset of great merit for it yields superb shadow detailing and a fabulous black level…something that is also aided by the greater resolution afforded by this video format. This factor also lends an extremely film-like quality to the D-Theater version (remember that contrast dynamic range is not limited with film at all as it is the case with video since a light source—a powerful lamp or light bulb of some kind, usually of the xenon gas arc type--“pushes” or projects the moving image “printed” on the emulsion contained within the film stock through and onto a suitably receptive material, usually film screens). Needless to say, the DVD contains far less contrast dynamics, although the excellent standard resolution video transfer shows such dynamics to be above average at any rate. The Soundtracks… I found it extremely disappointing that both DD and DTS soundtracks on the D-Theater tape not only audibly exhibit lower sound pressure levels, but are also dreadfully lacking in dynamics and low end extension; they sound highly compressed! Both areas lack testicular fortitude… I found it necessary to increase the volume to -10 db from my customary -15 db setting on the Pioneer receiver just to come closer to that of the DVD’s soundtracks levels. That’s a substantial increase in sound pressure level, no two ways about it! By contrast, both DD and DTS soundtracks are of “reference” quality with the DVD version since there is plenty of audible low end extension, a much more defined and dimensionally enveloping surround sound-field, as well as a greater “slam” factor since dynamic range is much wider. There is far more powerful sound with this version than there is on the HD tape, which is awfully distressing given that we’re talking about the same movie, a flick of very recent vintage, for crying at loud! This begs the question: JVC, why such audibly vast discrepancy? Problems and more problems… Although the image is to die for, I was taken aback by the number of artifacts and glitches, both of the visual and sound varieties, that mess things up and which are present on my D-Theater copy. This aspect, coupled to the lack-of-balls soundtracks, makes for a very uncomfortably distracting, tiresome, irritating, and less than stellar viewing experience. Argh! By contrast, the DVD version fares much better both in terms of visual and sound quality; visually because there are no irritating, pesky digitally-originated artifacts and similar glitches (dropouts, etc.) to mar viewing enjoyment, excepting EE, of course; and sound wise because, as I noted above, the DTS and DD soundtracks are simply audibly superior. What to do…what to do…that’s the question! I absolutely love the looks of, and prefer the PQ offered by the D-Theater tape. However, the artifact and glitch problems found on my copy, coupled to the lousy sounding track, renders this version far less desirable than what should have been otherwise; it isn’t “reference” quality, unfortunately. As for the DVD version, given that its colorimetry is skewed and has lower resolution to boot and spite of its superior sounding tracks, also makes it less than a reference viewing experience. Had no HD tape been available the DVD would definitely be of reference caliber, but that is not the case since an HD version does exist, one that gives a far more accurate visual account of the movie’s film origins. A most frustrating experience. Rats!... -THTS

#2 of 37 OFFLINE   Michel_Hafner

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Posted March 10 2005 - 11:03 PM

While it's annoying when dropouts happen with D-Theater material it does not have to happen. Your tape may be faulty or your player needs some head cleaning. The HD is most likely made directly from the DI. If it has EE someone should be hit with a stick.

#3 of 37 OFFLINE   Dave H

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Posted March 11 2005 - 12:11 AM

Frank, How does D-VHS look compared to your HD 1080i programming? I've heard as good as 1080i programming looks, there is some picture quality loss due to the nature of broadcasting. This, of course, is something you don't have to deal with on a home video format.

#4 of 37 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted March 11 2005 - 07:39 AM

Frank,

thanks for your excellent and insightful comparison!

-dave Posted Image
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#5 of 37 OFFLINE   frank manrique

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Posted March 11 2005 - 07:53 PM

Just for the record, the following components were used to view/evaluate the picture and sound contents of the "I, Robot" D-Theater HD tape and DVD... HD and NTSC video: Samsung Sir-T165 OTA STB (outputting 1080i video to the display device via DVI interfacing; digital sound output via 6-foot long optical interface) JVC HD40000U D-VHS HD tape deck with DTS playback capability (connected to the Samsung STB via Firewire interfacing) Sony XBR-800 40" 4:3 CRT-based display (it can only do 1080i HD; no 720p HD processing) ISF and "globally" (via AVIA, VE, and DVE test DVDs) calibrated Mobitsu 880 DVD player (upconverts standard resolution video signals to 1080i HD level) Gafen two-way DVI switcher Three 6-foot long DVI cables Sound system: Pioneer VSX-49TX receiver (6.1 channel, DD EX and DTS ES capable) Samson Servo 2000 Stereo power amp Onix/Rocket RS 750 Special Edition main L&R transducers Onix/Rocket RS 2000 center channel transducer Rogers LS3-5A BBC mini-monitors (15 ohm version) for L&R surround sound application Pair of SVS B12-Plus/4 (formerly B4-Plus) subbass systems (powered by the Samson Servo 2000 amp)... -THTS

#6 of 37 OFFLINE   Julio De Luis

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Posted March 12 2005 - 09:31 PM

I recently received my copy of the DVHS version of I, Robot and I'll agree that the colors in the DVHS version really stand out and seem more natural. The detail in the DVHS version can really be seen at the beginning when Will Smith character is lying on the bed and camera is focused on his face. As for the audio, it has been specified that since the Dolby Digital is a higher bit rate, it will sound lower then the usual Dolby Digital found on DVD's and is suggested that the volume needs to be turned up to compensate. I have no idea if this actually effects it, but I do know that the soundtrack sounds great in DVHS version. You might also want to use a head cleaner on your player, since it is usually dirty heads on the DVHS players that cause break up in movies.

#7 of 37 OFFLINE   frank manrique

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Posted March 13 2005 - 07:31 AM

quote:

thanks for your excellent and insightful comparison!
__________________________________________________ ___

Dave,

Thanks for the kind words! Posted Image

Now, I am sure you have seen and heard this movie--if not reviewed already--in both formats, thus could you verify or debunk the assertions I made regarding the soundtracks issue?

I have no problem with the D-Theater's image quality per se as I think it truly is of "reference" caliber as I only am having a problem with the flaws contained in my copy(they just may be endemic to my particular copy), which mar the viewing experience to a good extent.

I'll would greatly appreciate your valuable input...

-THTS

#8 of 37 OFFLINE   frank manrique

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Posted March 13 2005 - 07:48 AM

quote:

You might also want to use a head cleaner on your player, since it is usually dirty heads on the DVHS players that cause break up in movies.
__________________________________________________ _______

...am an old dog when it comes to playing around with electronic equipment (have been at is since the early 70s); audio (both analog and DAT) and video tape decks (Beta, VHS, and D-VHS) being part of that equation.

However, I should have also mentioned that both JVC and Maxell head cleaning tapes are frequently used for that very purpose when I listed the "reviewing" equipment (which should have also included speaker cables; 12 ga. for the mains and surrounds...10 ga. for the subwoofers). Posted Image

I have a rather large number of D-Theater tapes (and a s...t load of D-VHS tapes of OTA and satellite recorded HD material) to know differences, both visual and aural, when they exist, thus I felt compelled to mention what I found with my copy of "I, Robot" during the direct comparisons sessions...

-THTS

#9 of 37 OFFLINE   Michel_Hafner

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Posted March 13 2005 - 10:19 PM

#Sony XBR-800 40" 4:3 CRT-based display (it can only do 1080i HD; no 720p HD processing) ISF and "globally" (via AVIA, VE, and DVE test DVDs) calibrated This CRT has a DVI in? Anyway, it does not fully resolve 1080i. The tapes have more detail than you can see on this monitor.

#10 of 37 OFFLINE   Inspector Hammer!

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Posted March 14 2005 - 12:01 AM

Frank,
while I did find your evaluation interesting, I don't understand the need to compare the two different formats DVD and D-Theater. Posted Image

It's a given that the D-Theater version will be superior in video quality to that of the lower resoluton DVD, I mean let's face it 480p can't possibly touch 1080p, but it's like comparing apples to oranges, it isn't a very fair comparison IMO.

For what DVD does, it does well, it can still deliver a very satisfactory HT experience and remain a faithful reproduction of said film, unlike VHS which could not. DVD, in it's current form, must be accepted on it's term's. When HD-DVD or Blu Ray gets here, those, in turn, must be accepted on THEIR term's.

D-Theater also does what IT does well, but the important factor to remember here is that BOTH formats are acceptable video delivery mediums for creating an immensley satisfying HT experience. Comparing the two is pointless, really.

Your right in that the goal of HT is to recreate as close as possible the theatrical experience at home, it should be the goal, my point is that both of these great format's can do that, not D-Theater alone.

I'm sure that once one has an HD format like D-Theater in their system, they wouldn't want to go back to standard DVD, I can certaintly understand that. However, if a certain film isn't available on D-Theater, it isn't really wise to get upset because the 480p DVD version can still fit the bill nicely.

Just one man's opinion.
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#11 of 37 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted March 14 2005 - 01:16 AM

John, it's always good to see comparisons like this. It keeps us reminded of what HD images...mastered from film...can look like. This is valuable when evaluating DVDs because it serves as the bench-mark for the way a perfect digital transfer could look (in HD). Some DVDs come very close...at least "pointing to" their HD counterparts. Other DVDs are 180 degrees the other way. I remember when I compared Master and Commander on D-VHS to the DVD it was eye-opening. I had thought that the film had lots of film-grain bcs that's what it looked like in the DVD. The D-VHS transfer, however, in addition to being shockingly more detailed...showed very little film-grain. Turns out the "grain" in the DVD was digital noise from all the added EE where the D-VHS transfer more closely resembled the HD master and was releatively EE free. Had I not seen the D-VHS, I would have assumed the DVD was just showing "film grain" with an electronic-glaze of EE. Turns out the DVD was really horribly distorting the source HD image by leaps and bounds and adding electronic noise where non existed in the source. Other DVDs don't show "problems" like that (Moulin Rouge) but still obviously fall short of the resolution and color space of the D-VHS transfer. Still good to be able to see and understand IMO. I haven't seen the I-Robot D-VHS to compare, but I can imagine based on other fine DVD/D-VHS transfers how the HD source compares. And yes, color-space is usually a big one...D-VHS has much more natural, less "cartoony" colors than DVD. This is almost always the case. And the higher-bit-rate for DD on D-VHS sounds almost like DTS to my ears. The DD track on Moulin Rouge D-VHS, for instance, sounds BETTER than the DTS track on the DVD! All reasons why I want BluRay/HD-DVD to adopt better audio codecs/higher-bit-rate sound! -dave
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#12 of 37 OFFLINE   Inspector Hammer!

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Posted March 14 2005 - 02:24 AM

David,
I understand what your saying, however I must point out that the artifacts you saw on the Master and Commander dvd were added to it artificially. EE is not part of the dvd spec, it's added to the image by the studio that is under the false impression that it is helping the image when it is actually hurting it.

When done right, meaning no EE or other additives, dvd looks stellar.

My whole point I suppose, is that it's always better not to compare things of this nature, you'll only end up being unhappy with what you have. If one already KNOWS that one is superior (we already know that D-Theater is superior to standard DVD), it becomes an excercise in redundancy to compare, thus confirmig what you already knew before you did it.

Now, I completely agree with you that what D-Theater has done, is set a standard for what we expect from either HD-DVD or Blu Ray, whichever is the victor.
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#13 of 37 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted March 14 2005 - 04:16 AM

But John, my point was that I wouldn't have *known* that the "grain" on the M&C DVD was artificial in origin...I assumed it was "film grain" until I saw the D-VHS! The comparison across the two formats is what demonstrated to me just what the DVD was doing wrong that it *could* have been doing right. Otherwise...I would have thought the DVD was working properly within its means as a format in that case (which it clearly is not). That's why such comparisons continue to be of value. Now, I would never decry the DVD for things that are format-dependent, like having less detail. But just how *much* less I would. If I had a soft-focus DVD that looked particularly soft, and someone said "oh, that's the look of the film"...seeing it on D-VHS might be illuminiating bcs if the image is suddenly stunningly clear then that tells you that the DVD was overly filtered for mastering. There is an expected range of "missing detail" that a trained eye should expect when comparing the DVD to the D-VHS...but anything greater would point to a problem. Same with color. That's why I think such comparisons *are* of value. In the case of I-Robot it sounds like the differences observed are with the "expected range" of what should be there between a well-mastered DVD and HD source. That's also valuable...it tells me that the DVD was properly matered and not exposing other problems from poor processing. Also a valuable thing to learn...
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#14 of 37 OFFLINE   Dave H

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Posted March 14 2005 - 12:48 PM

I think David makes a good point about this. I watched Gladiator on HD-TNT the other night. The DVD has flaws which are underrated in my opinion (I don't understand how people consider this DVD reference quality.) The HD version displayed alleviated these problems and proved that is wasn't source material problems.

#15 of 37 OFFLINE   Inspector Hammer!

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Posted March 14 2005 - 01:36 PM

I'm sorry, guys, but it all still sounds redundant to me. I understand that comparing M&C's DVD with it's D-Theater counterpart revealed flaws you thought were normal in the DVD image, but what good does it do you? All it does is render the DVD version undesirable to watch and I don't see the point of subjecting myself to such disappointment when I already figured that the D-Theater version would be certain to reveal flaws in the DVD mastering. Again, all it does is confirm what you already expected to be the case. In every instance, D-Theater WILL out-perform the DVD counterpart in regards to image quality, that is certain and undisputed. Heck, the comparison isn't even a fair one when comparing a DVD that was done to perfection, the D-Theater edition will still slam it into the dirt and then piss on it, so I just do not see the point of it. Comparing one format with another where the resolution between them is so radically different will produce no real useable information IMO. DVD is great, but D-Theater is better, that's what it comes down to. Comparing the two is an interesting experiment and an eye opener i'm sure, but in the end it's just needless nit-picking. There is a rather humorous saying that I read recently, but it seems to be true, "If you EXPECT the UN-EXPECTED, doesn't that then make the UN-EXPECTED the EXPECTED?" Simply knowing D-Theater will be better everytime, it then renders the need to compare moot and a waste of time. No harm intended, it's just one man's opinion.
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#16 of 37 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted March 15 2005 - 07:29 AM

It's not just about the D-VHS being "better"...who disagrees? It's about revealing if the studio is doing their job right with DVD-mastering or if they're just passing off some over-processed garbage to "consumers" who they think won't notice or care. Because for me part of the DVD-reviewing process (whether for an official HTF review or for my own pleasure) is to determine good from bad DVD mastering. My rationale...our voice as HT consumers helps change the landsape of future formats. By determining problems in transfering/mastering with current DVDs, we're helping train the technicians who will be in charge of our BluRay and HD-DVD titles tomorrow. If it isn't film-grain, but instead is digital/electronic noise that's been added to the image, I want to know so I can voice my dissatisfaction to the studio. Hopefully that's a mistake they'll be more careful to avoid when they hand me a 5" HD disc. And no...it's not safe to assume that just because some D-VHS titles avoid these problems that the HD-DVD or BluRay titles will avoid them too. Just wait till those studios have a chance to load up those 5-inch high-def discs with special features and alternate language tracks all competing for bandwidth. By voicing our objections now to poor mastering practices, we stand a better chance of seeing good mastering practices enforced in the future. that's my hope, in any case. -dave
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#17 of 37 OFFLINE   frank manrique

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Posted March 15 2005 - 07:31 AM

quote:

This CRT has a DVI in?
Anyway, it does not fully resolve 1080i. The tapes have more detail than you can see on this monitor.
__________________________________________________ _______

1.- YES...

2.- Right...

3.- Once again, you're correct... Posted Image

-THTS

#18 of 37 OFFLINE   frank manrique

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Posted March 15 2005 - 07:37 AM

quote:

Frank,
while I did find your evaluation interesting, I don't understand the need to compare the two different formats DVD and D-Theater.

It's a given that the D-Theater version will be superior in video quality to that of the lower resoluton DVD, I mean let's face it 480p can't possibly touch 1080p, but it's like comparing apples to oranges, it isn't a very fair comparison IMO.

Comparing the two is pointless, really.
__________________________________________________ ________

...if you now think performing this sort of thing is pointless...just wait 'till you read my oncoming direct comparisons of TRUE LIES on DVD, D-Theater, and a satellite-generated D-VHS copy of HBO's broadcast to a theatrical 35mm film print (and too bad I didn't have access to a 70mm print otherwise I would use it as well)!... Posted Image

-THTS

#19 of 37 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted March 15 2005 - 08:51 AM

But before any of us spends the money for a next-generation HD format, we'd like this very sort of confirmation. I'm thinking about all those poor suckers (ahem... me) who left their records to rot in their parents' attic while going merrily on our way purchasing up those shiny new CDs, presuming that since they spec'd out better, well of course they'll sound better. How could they not?

Except they didn't. Even now, with superior CD mastering techniques and a better understanding of the medium... records still sound better most of the time.

The lossy digital HD-TV broadcast I get - certainly the least of all hi-def options - has shown me the benefits of 1080i over 480P to some extent, but I'm anticipating even greater resolution from a dedicated HD player and source. But before I make that plunge, I'll want to read plenty of comparisions just like this one. So, please, keep them coming! Posted Image
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#20 of 37 OFFLINE   Dave H

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Posted March 15 2005 - 09:05 AM

Frank, How does D-VHS compare to HD broadcasts?




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