Monday, June 01, 2009

Field Testing Part 1: The Perverse Wife

TORTURE TEST SUBJECT:


Yet another rarely seen SATO Hisayasu film - Hitozuma Hentai Biyoushi - this time produced by Image Box, and released back in 1994. While the on-screen title is 変態美容師 3P SM 変態 レズ (Perverse Beautician Wife: Threesome S/M Perverted Lesbian), it's obvious that this ridiculous title was tacked on at the last minute by its' distributors, Excess. Who knows what his original title for this hour of urban debauchery once was?

IMDB claims that Perverse Beautician Wife has also been released as "Dead End".
Sadly, I haven't the foggiest notion how this alternate title came to be...



VARIABLE:

This is the latest string of quality tests on my poor abused DVD recorder, this time using VHS tapes as a measure of its' mettle. Being typically softer, noisier, and more prone to errors than LD, I wasn't positive if the measurable - though typically minor - difference I've found in video quality while recording anime LDs would be repeated on a lower-resolution analog format. To be certain, I recorded the same feature using both the AC3 and PCM settings on the recorder, giving me ample opportunities to compare the relative quality of both modes using a sample that, being noisy but letterboxed, theoretically gives me ample opportunity for compression artifacts to pop up on both settings.


PCM MODE Video Samples:



AC3 MOVE Video Samples:



As you can see, the only substantial difference between the two modes is that the PCM setting creates a slightly softer transfer, resulting in both less fine detail and less video noise. Clearly 1/3 more bitrate doesn't equate to 1/3 fewer artifacts, proving that the argument of "diminishing returns" thrown around during the HD DVD/Blu-ray war wasn't total bunk after all. If anything, there's actually more blocking on the higher bitrate transfer, because less of the signal noise has been filtered out: noise has to become something when it's digitized, so it becomes small digital squares instead of small analog lines. Simply softening the noise right out is a nice touch on the PCM mode, but in the end it's hardly the best way to represent the source, assuming the source was noisy to begin with at least.

The increased bitrate on the AC3 mode wins, if only by a nose.


AUDIO COMPARISON:

Download 1 minute long audio samples HERE.

I'll admit that I'm naturally less attuned to audio troubles than I am video issues, so perhaps I'm just not the guy to ask about this sort of thing, but the difference between the two of them seem utterly negligible to me. When your sound is drowning in constant analog hiss with all manners of distortions stemming from the original production, not to mention analog wear and tear on the tape itself, does recording it at 6 times the bitrate really make an appreciable upgrade?

No. No, it doesn't.


CONCLUSION:

Despite technical sheets telling me that VHS audio was "comparable to CD", I can see zero reason to waste the bandwidth on PCM audio for import low-budget Japanese VHS tapes. I acknowledge that there is a slight loss in audio quality, but the technical value versus the quality I hear coming out of my headphones is just not there. Granted I do need new headphones, but they're plenty good enough to show off the difference between a PCM and an AC3 recording on a CX enabled digital LD track, so this is all a matter of "garbage in, garbage out", nothing more.

I'm of a surprisingly similar mind on the video quality, however; what little loss is had on the PCM Mode video is really something I'd wind up doing on most "remastered" transfers at a denoising and/or deblocking stage anyway. The differences between the two modes are effectively a wash - which, to be honest, is exactly what I expected. AC3 mode has ever so slightly sharper video quality, and PCM mode has ever so slightly higher audio fidelity. Once again I find myself polishing silver on the Titanic, and the choice between slightly better audio or video becomes meaningless pretty quickly when - as you can see - both are utter shit to start with.