Samsung, and Joe Kane came together in the baking sun of a July desert to demonstrate what the
future of HDTV can be. But first, here is a little info about what led up to this
Joe Kane has spent the last few years working on Digital Video Essentials (DVE), a test and calibration program that is going to replace Joe’s earlier work, Video Essentials (VE). DVE will break new ground in many areas, particularly in that it is one of the first video programs to be mastered completely at 1080p/24 (the top HDTV resolution at 24 frames per second), exercising the full resolution and dynamic range of the format. The 1080p/24 master (studio D5 tape format, recorded at 270 Mbps) will be down-converted to various resolutions for different releases. There are DVE D-Theater D-VHS tapes available right now at both 1080i/60 and 720p/60. The DVE DVD at 480i/60 and 576i/50 are supposed to ship in September, 2003.
material was shot with a Panasonic variable shutter-rate video camera. It was
set for 720p/24. That material was up-converted to 1080p/24. The film segments
were shot by Allen Daviau and transferred to 1080p/24 on a Spirit Datacine.
Joe began to
find those weaknesses quickly. Even the best display devices were having
trouble with his material at 720p, let alone 1080p. While producing DVE, Joe
was also working with Samsung on their next generation DLP projector. Joe
started using his DVE material from the D-5 master to work with Samsung to
improve their new unit, the SP-H700A Home Theater HD2 DLP Projector. With
Joe’s help, Samsung now has a product that is capable of displaying even Joe’s
most demanding material from DVE. The Samsung is currently one of the best,
most accurate, display devices you can buy.
all the problems he found in the production process and display devices, Joe
also discovered issues with JVC’s D-Theater High Definition tape format. The
JVC D-Theater VCR stores HDTV material in MPEG-2 at a data rate up to 28.2
Mbps (mega-bits per second). When JVC encoded DVE for D-Theater at both 1080i
and 720p/60, Joe
immediately noticed some MPEG-type issues as well as analog output performance
problems that needed addressing. In one digitally
generated scene, where a rose colored flower is growing rapidly, the smaller petals showed
an unnatural stepped motion and vertical artifacts on D-Theater instead
of a fluid noise-free waving motion visible on the D5. Similar noise and
artifacts were to be found in other parts of the graphics. In real world
video, there was noise surrounding moving detail such as the Ferris wheel
cutting across a static sky. In a live scene, fine beads of
sweat on an actress’s face that are clearly visible in the D5 master were not
visible in either the 1080i or the 720p D-Theater tapes. In several other live
scenes, quantization (blockiness) noise was visible on the D-Theater tapes,
particularly in scenes with lots of white or other light colors.
The results of this test signal on D-Theater depend on how the various components in the signal chain are connected. Joe found the best results when he connected the D-Theater VCR to a Samsung SIR-165 HDTV Tuner via 1394 and used the DVI output of the Samsung to connect to the display.
With this setup, the test signals
on the outer edges, but were completely washed out as indicated by a grey
blotch in the middle. When Joe connected the JVC D-Theater’s analog component outputs
directly to the projector, the test pattern didn't show up. Some faint traces
of it were visible, but it was more than 90% gone. The component connections
also showed significantly more noise in the entire picture. Indeed, it is very
clear here that DVI is the preferred connection for HDTV.
In May of
2003, Microsoft worked with Artisan to release "Terminator 2, the Extreme
Edition" (T2EE). The package has two discs: one is a standard 480i/60 DVD from
a new 1080p transfer of the original film, the other is a Windows Media 9
(WM9) version of the movie at 1080p/24. The Windows Media 9 version of the
movie will not play in a regular DVD player; it will only play in a Windows
Media PC (with at least a 3 GHz Pentium 4). You can play it in a regular PC
with WM9 if it has a 3 GHz P4, 800 MHz front-side-bus, and a good 8X AGP video
card such as GeForce FX-5600. Otherwise, frames will be dropped. You also have
to set your screen resolution to 1920 x 1080 for 16:9 monitors, or 1920 x 1440
for 4:3 monitors. With this release, Microsoft has
leapt ahead of all competing HD-DVD formats by actually releasing an example
disc to consumers.
At the VSDA
Home Entertainment 2003 show in Las Vegas, Microsoft, Samsung, and Joe Kane
Productions got together to show what can be accomplished when you cooperate. In a dark room, they had the new Samsung projector connected
to a Windows Media PC with DVE encoded at 720p/24 in WM9 at 9 Mbps and the JVC
D-Theater VCR connected via 1394 to a Samsung SIR-165 Tuner for MPEG decoding
and the 720p D-Theater DVE tape. Both systems were connected to the Samsung
projector via DVI.
thing that is required for a DVD player manufacturer like Samsung to make a
DVD player that will also play WM9 based HD-DVDs is a new chipset that will
decode WM9 format HD video. Upcoming chipsets from Sigma Designs and others
add WM9 HD video decoding to their existing MPEG-2 capability.
Joe is so
enthusiastic about WM9 that he is going to release DVE in WM9 at both 720p/24
and 1080p/24 in January of 2004. The Samsung representatives at the show told
me that they are working on a standalone DVD player for the WM9 format that
they hope to release by January as well. Keep in mind this means HD-DVD
movies. It is big news. Microsoft is leaping out in front of the HD-DVD fray,
and, unless the others move quickly, Microsoft could win the HD-DVD war before
anyone else has a chance to make their next move.
Naturally, the outcome of all this is based on politics. Will Microsoft's ready to go HD format be stifled by the good old boys who have been in this game from the start, and who probably don't like the idea of a software company - especially Microsoft - stealing their thunder? It will undoubtedly be a fight. I wish they would put it on HBO.
- Tod DeBie -