Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Deinterlaced Digital Damnation

Remember Full Metal Jacket on HD-DVD? The first - and insofar only - High Definition disk I was somewhat interested in? Forget that it's cropped to 1.78:1, and screw the 5.1 upmix... we've got way bigger problems on the HD chopping block.

There's 2 kinds of video on DVD/High Definition (and cable these days); progressive and interlaced. This is an NTSC-land discussion, so PAL standards have their own little nuances they can deal with. Now, films are played at 24 frames per second on the big screen. TV's run at 30 frames per second. This is why something shot on film looks so different than something shot on video; the added frames per second make the movement more lifelike, but video itself has less detail and "character' (grain, etc.) than film, making it look cleaner, and thus more artificial. I know. It's retarded. But that's the way it goes.

So how do they put those 24 frames of film on 30 frames of a TV? It used to be a process called telecine; in which a strip of film was run through a machine that converted those 24 frames to 30 frames by adding "half" frames every so often. Really, TV's don't use 30 frames, but 60 scan lines - or half frames - that when played back to back trick the human eye in to looking like a single frame. It's all pretty complex, and seems unnessicary... but here's where it becomes important. After 1999, they found a way on DVD's to store the video at 24 frames per second and then change the framerate on the fly, so that it could still output itself at 30 frames per second on a regular TV, but would play the film sans-"extra" frames on a computer or an HDTV, which simply read whatever frame rate they're given. This is good, since PC and HDTV displays refresh at different frame rates than a normal TV set; infact, they CAN'T display interlaced 30 frame per second video, and they weave the 2 scans together to FORCE it to 60 frames per second. It does that by weaving the frames together and then playing them twice... and that "weaving" (or BOB Deinterlace - no, I don't know why) basically cuts the resolution in half.

Some DVD's are encoded interlaced even when they were shot on film. Cartoons made after the mid 1980's were usually edited on video, so they're part film, part video. Even if the animation was done at 24fps - for instance - if it was sped up, or zoomed up, or even had the colors changed the original 24 frames per second rate is pretty much gone. And anything shot on video - most sitcoms and the like - are also naturally 30 frames per second. However, the clever fuckers who make DVD players came up with the perfect solution in DVD players for people who had digital monitors; they came up with an algorith that reads interlaced video, and either deinterlaces it for stuff that's actually interlaced (TV shows), outputs JUST the good film-frames (for movies), and then outputs a cross between film frames and deinterlaced video frames (cartoons). This way it didn't matter how the DVD was encoded; progressive, interlaced, or a cross between the two. If you had a good DVD player and a TV to make it matter, you had a smooth, film like image to jerk off to. Everybody was happy.

And then the HD-DVD's of THE FUGITIVE, THE PERFECT STORM, and yes, FULL METAL JACKET came out. They promised 1080p; 1080 lines of progressive video. The best we're going to get until Hollywood decides to release uncompressed movies with 4,000 lines of resolution on hologram disks a decade from now. But Warner Home Video was lying.

See, the masters for these 3 films - all older films at that - were 1080i. 1080 lines of High Definition, but in Interlaced mode. So instead of performing an Inverse Telecine - the process of taking the film frames back from the video version and having a 24fps copy again (something I've done myself a few times)... they BOB'ed it. So there are 30 progressive frames per second... but they squashed the 2 video frames together, and now even if HD-DVD players could perform an IVTC on the fly (they can't... yet) , they wouldn't be able to separate the good scans from the bad ones. Because there AREN'T 60 scans anymore. Just 30 progressive frames every second. Basically, Warner done fucked up hardcore here, and what this means is that the HD-DVD has 540 lines of progressive resolution, and jerky, nasty deinterlacing issues. The DVD has 480 lines of progressive resolution and is actually 24 frames per second.

Who's the winner? Even this badly de-interlaced HD-DVD has 3 times more resolution than the progressive DVD, but it also has jerky, strange movement and jagged looking edges because of the deinterlacing that was done to the master. 3 times the resolution, or movement that isn't all jerky and funky? All I know is that the point of HD-DVD/BLU-RAY was to make the video and audio presentation perfect. DVD has extras, it doesn't degrade with every viewing, and it keeps the full resolution of standard definition video. DVD may not be perfect... but the only thing that HD-DVD has over it is better quality audio and video. And if it can't deliver... well, we're better off not bothering.

Don't get me wrong, only a hand full of disks have this problem, and only Warner Studios has done it so far. But that doesn't mean it can't - and probably won't - happen in the future. In the same way that the first DVD's were often no better than their Laserdisc counterparts, it soon surpassed anything Laserdisc could have ever tried to achieve. I'm sure with some time and practice HD-DVD/Blu-Ray will be stunning and problem free. But until Warner Home Video decides to either do an IVTC (and not a BOB) on Full Metal Jacket - or even is honest about their source material and releases it interlaced - I'm hanging on to the HD-DVD, and I won't upgrade a damned thing until I'm sure the HD/BD release is actually better than the current DVD.

You should, too. It's getting tough though; with the third HD-DVD player only costing $300 at Wal-Mart it's tempting to just buy the bastard now, grab the films I want on HD and then experience the pumped up resolution and audio bitrates when I can afford the hardware. Tempting indeed... but 'till I know how to crack them to play bootlegs and imports too, 'eff 'em all.

Will I talk about remastering grain next time? Maybe sing the praises of Procoder's PAL-NTSCi conversion? Or will I just jibber-jabber about movies you've not ever seen? *Shrug* You think I have a master plan here? You think I'm in the driver's seat? Then fasten up tight; it's going to be a bumpier ride than you imagined.

1 comment:

Jamie Nelson said...

I know this is an old post, but I just recently discovered, the hard way, that The Perfect Storm was clearly inferior to any HD DVD I've viewed to date.

I'm curious to know if you have a more extensive list for any bobbed titles? Or perhaps you know of another source that does?

I would prefer to never run into that problem again! :)

Also, do you know firsthand if the re-release of Full Metal Jacket is fixed?