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Why do DVDs look so poor on the typical PC?


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15 replies to this topic

#1 of 16 OFFLINE   Frank@N

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Posted July 18 2005 - 05:08 AM

I know this is a broad generalization, but here's my experience:

I've been hearing for years that HTPC is the way to go for a nearly HD-like experience.

Recently, a friend bought a new Dell PC with CRT monitor.

I was excited to see the PQ, since my PC doesn't have a DVD drive.

I was expecting a razor sharp, colorful, VGA-like image.

Wow, what a letdown.

Despite being a CRT, the Dell monitor had virtually no black levels.

Even after tweaking, the picture was solidly 'grey' at best.

Color levels were OK, but they didn't 'pop' at all.

Never found any way to adjust color levels, which seems problematic.

The PC also seemed to emphasis MPEG compression problems.

The DVD I tested was the new Ocean's 12 disc.

Afterwards, I came back home to my interlaced WEGA and breathed a sigh of relief.

Not so sure anymore if PCs are the holy grail of DVD PQ.

#2 of 16 OFFLINE   D. Scott MacDonald

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Posted July 18 2005 - 05:44 AM

1) People tend to crank up monitors pretty high.
2) People typically run their monitors at high resolution (1600x1200 or 1280x1024). As the resolution of a DVD is 720x480 (assuming that the content is progressive), that means that it has to be zoomed about 200%, which means that most of the pixels you see are interpolated. Even if you crank down the resolution, remember that LCDs have a native resolution, so it is still being scaled.
3) TVs are typically very fizzy output devices, whereas computer monitors are extremely crisp (how else are you going to read that small text while in 1600x1200 mode?). This makes TVs very forgiving of MPEG artifacts and transfers that are less than stellar.

Add these together, and you can get a very brutal picture. I suspect that high def will go a long way towards solving issues 2 and 3.
Scott

#3 of 16 OFFLINE   Scott L

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Posted July 18 2005 - 05:54 AM

What software were you using?

Several companies have made it a science blowing up 720x480 compressed, blocky, noisy mpeg-2 video onto resolutions double the size. If you don't know what's out there in terms of software there's no way you can make a fair comparison.

#4 of 16 OFFLINE   Frank@N

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Posted July 18 2005 - 06:30 AM

Quote:
720x480 compressed, blocky, noisy mpeg-2 video

I guess what you're saying is that DVD video is very challenging.

Quote:
What software were you using?

The PC had two programs for DVDs: Inter-something and Media Player.

I used Inter* to watch the whole movie and tested Media Player quickly (didn't look any better).

Quote:
it has to be zoomed about 200%

The desktop res wasn't that high, based on the size of the desktop icons.

Since the CRT monitor was half the size of my CRT TV, I figured it would look that much better.

Guess I was expecting to be wowed by the advanced scaling and interpolation I've hearing about on PCs.

The result was more like hooking up a DVD player to a small, bad CRT with no black levels and then sitting right on top of it.

I never heard of a CRT with poor blacks before, made the DVD look like a download.

#5 of 16 OFFLINE   D. Scott MacDonald

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Posted July 18 2005 - 06:38 AM

Quote:
Not so sure anymore if PCs are the holy grail of DVD PQ.

I didn't respond to this before, but I probably should have. To be fair, this has nothing to do with the PC, and everything to do with the output device. Many graphics cards also support a TV output, so this would allow you to an apples to apples comparison. I should also point out that between the CPU and the GPU, your PC has much more power to potentially do some very great things, although this is largely dependent on the software you are running.

One other thing that typical PC output have going aginst them (which I failed to mention above) is that most grpahics cards output in frequencies like 60hz, 75hz, or 85hz (probably the most popular), whereas NTSC video has a frequency of 59.94 hz. This means that some video frames will get displayed for two VSYNC durations, while others will get displayed for one (which can cause some jerkiness). Some work has been done to match the frame rates, or to interpolate entire frames, but so far I haven't been blown away by the results.

Quote:
Several companies have made it a science blowing up 720x480 compressed, blocky, noisy mpeg-2 video onto resolutions double the size.

Very true, but if were THAT good, then we would all be happy with the upcoversion and would have no need at all for high def DVD.
Scott

#6 of 16 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted July 18 2005 - 07:26 AM

Quote:
TVs are typically very fizzy output devices, whereas computer monitors are extremely crisp (how else are you going to read that small text while in 1600x1200 mode?). This makes TVs very forgiving of MPEG artifacts and transfers that are less than stellar.
I have to totally agree with this. Computer monitors are SO clear that you will see all of the artifacting and compression in the picture. Sometimes this is not a good thing. In this case, you want an NTSC TV to hide some of the quality constraints of DVD.

#7 of 16 OFFLINE   Jesse Blacklow

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Posted July 18 2005 - 08:13 AM

HTPC is a long, hard, and obsessive road, and using Interactual or Windows Media Player shouldn't even be on the map. There's a whole section of AVSForum.com devoted to media on PCs, and the techniques for sound and audio quality are as varied as they are numerous. The sticky for video calibration alone is dozens of pages. Each combination of equipment and software, as well as the perceptions of the viewer, makes a difference. People will spend as much money on a good HTPC as they will for a piece of high-end A/V equipment. The true obsessives (and those with very deep pockets) will go for professional-level equipment to achieve HTPC nirvana--and still find something to improve on!

That being said, a lot of the problems you saw could have been almost anywhere in the chain, but I'd be willing to bet it was more the software or the graphics card than the monitor. Video (especially DVD) on PCs is not a "set and forget" kind of thing, since every time you change something, such as new versions of software, driver upgrades, or new hardware, then you have to check your settings again. This may seem like a daunting task, and sometimes it can be a little difficult, but for some (such as myself), fiddling around and tweaking is half the fun. Of course, I spend more time watching movies than messing with my settings, and they look beautiful. People are sometimes shocked when I tell them they're watching a DVD, not HDTV, and hearing that makes all the futzing around worth it.

Quote:
Computer monitors are SO clear that you will see all of the artifacting and compression in the picture. Sometimes this is not a good thing. In this case, you want an NTSC TV to hide some of the quality constraints of DVD.
Untrue. If you use your computer for hardware and/or software post-processing, you can make your DVDs shine. Also, if you're sitting a foot away from the monitor, you're definitely going to notice a lot more faults than sitting a normal distance (say, 2.5x screen size) away.

Also, a netiquette suggestion for Frank@N: Please use line breaks for paragraphs and lists, not after every sentence. It'll make your posts a million times easier to read, instead of reading like a telegram.
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#8 of 16 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted July 18 2005 - 08:25 AM

Quote:
Untrue. If you use your computer for hardware and/or software post-processing, you can make your DVDs shine.
But what do you mean by "shine"? Computer screens don't hide a thing and you see what is put on the disc (at least from a high-end system). Not that it looks awful, but you do see what you're supposed to be seeing...the actual video, direct from the disc, compression and all.

I've watched DVD's on my Mac G5, with a high end video card and the HD flat panel. I've calibrated my montior to the proper specs and I can see the MPEG 2 compression. It's what you are supposed to see when watching DVD's on a computer that's meant for computing.

#9 of 16 OFFLINE   Christ Reynolds

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Posted July 18 2005 - 09:49 AM

Quote:
Also, a netiquette suggestion for Frank@N: Please use line breaks for paragraphs and lists, not after every sentence
i think ron epstein does the same thing, but instead, he puts the line breaks when he reaches the end of the reply/message box (i think). makes it tougher to read.

CJ
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#10 of 16 OFFLINE   Scott L

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Posted July 18 2005 - 10:00 AM

Quote:
I've watched DVD's on my Mac G5, with a high end video card and the HD flat panel. I've calibrated my montior to the proper specs and I can see the MPEG 2 compression. It's what you are supposed to see when watching DVD's on a computer that's meant for computing.
He meant you can take the DVD and use some powerful post-processing filters to make it look almost like HD. Doing away with the compression artifacts is usually done with a handy denoise3D filter. Works wonders.

#11 of 16 OFFLINE   Ken Chan

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Posted July 18 2005 - 11:31 AM

Quote:
He meant you can take the DVD and use some powerful post-processing filters to make it look almost like HD.
OK, but the quote starts with how monitors are "too clear", which is not "untrue" Posted Image

Back to Frank's original post: monitor calibration is definitely a problem, and yes, most people have theirs cranked up too bright. (And if it's a CRT, the geometry is probably wacky in some way.)

Second, film is grainy. Video is less noisy, and CGI has no noise (unless on purpose, I suppose). If you want to be impressed by DVD on an out-of-the-box PC, try watching a Pixar movie rendered for DVD. The progressive display should beat your interlaced Wega -- as long as it's reasonably well-calibrated.

#12 of 16 OFFLINE   Tony Loewen

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Posted July 19 2005 - 01:19 AM

Jesse, I spend most of my time over at avs, and yes, the HTPC section is much more comprehensive than it is here. I also agree with what others have said here.

The problem is not with the PC/monitor being inferior to a dvd player/tv, the problem is definitely with the set up of the PC. You can use your PC to be a high end, upscaling post-processing dvd player, and connecting it to a high def display, it can put out a picture that will beat a high end dvd player running through a dvdo or similar any day.

Another thing was mentioned that I agree with. How close to your TV do you sit while you are watching movies? Now, how close were you sitting to your monitor while making the comparison? If you are that close, of course you are going to see the compression artifacts. A non-high def rule of thumb for seating distance is typically 2 x the screen width, while for HD it will be between 1.5 and 1.7 x the screen width. Use those figures for a comparison with even intervideo, interactual or media player, as well as a good monitor calibration. You could even use the THX optimizer on any THX-certified disk, like any of the pixar movies, buried in the settings menu. That will get you close enough to do a direct comparison. That alone should be good.

If you are serious about watching dvds off of your computer (notice I didn't say on your computer, you usually set up the PC to be an output device, connected to either a HDTV or digital projector), then Inter-anything or media player shouldn't even be in your vocabulary. Check out theatertek, zoomplayer, mediator, and add in a filter called ffdshow. Go here for more information.

Then you'll see what it's all about.

#13 of 16 OFFLINE   Matt Wright

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Posted July 19 2005 - 01:49 AM

Tony pretty much covered what I was going to say.

Your monitor calibration and the DVD decoder you choose make a big difference.

NVIDIA's DVD Decoder is very good, and is the only decoder you'll want to use if you have a GeForce 6 or 7-series card since it enables the special processing features they have in their hardware.

If you want to try a freebee the DScaler 5.x decoder is an open source MPEG2 decoder that now has support for DVDs. It isn't ready for every kind of content but does look darn good with DVDs.

#14 of 16 OFFLINE   Tony Loewen

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Posted July 19 2005 - 01:57 AM

Also, re-reading the previous post, I just felt I should mention that there are lots of utilities to get your PC to be much more superior to a set-top-box dvd player. Powerstrip and reclock can be used to dial in the refresh rate, and it can be checked with a program called juddertest to make sure you are dropping or doubling exactly ZERO frames. FFDshow can be used for scaling, as can Nvidia's PureVideo. Any directX compliant video card can take advantage of VMR9 technology. Use that with a good player like zoomplayer or Theatertek set to VMR9 renderless exclusive fullscreen, and you will have picture that surpasses most movie theaters, let alone your home TV. Couple your sound into a good receiver with spdif digital out, and a good sized display, and your next trip to the theater will leave you very disappointed. My wife and I haven't been able to go to the theater in almost a year, the picture is soft, juddery through slow pans, lacking black level and detail.

#15 of 16 OFFLINE   Matt Wright

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Posted July 19 2005 - 02:20 AM

Quote:
My wife and I haven't been able to go to the theater in almost a year, the picture is soft, juddery through slow pans, lacking black level and detail.

I feel the same way, My fiancé and I had just finished watching the first two Star Wars prequels (upscaled to 1080i) as a preparation. And then we went to see Star Wars Episode III at our local movie theater (which was not a DLP projection cinema) and it was rather distracting: how unsharp and grainy it was.

#16 of 16 OFFLINE   Dave Poehlman

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Posted July 19 2005 - 04:51 AM

I had the same problem Matt & Tony. I saw EpIII and the picture was dim and poorly focused. The theaters around here in general are pretty poor. They really need to start paying attention to picture quality if they're going to compete against the impending blu-ray DVD rentals and big screen TV's.


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