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Upconverted DVDs are not HD

Posted on Wednesday, January 30th, 2008 11:24 AM

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One of the more egregious examples of marketing run amok is the fact that upconverting DVD players (the ones that take DVDs and play them at the HD resolutions of 1080p, 1080i, and 720) are being marketed as "HD" DVD players. This fact may give some consumers the mistaken impression that these players will make their DVDs look "just as good" as the HD picture quality possible from HD DVD and Blu-ray players.

Fortunately, it would seem as though most of the misleading advertising has been replaced by language that is more accurate to what these players are actually doing. The term "upconvert" is your key to knowing that these DVD players are just enlarging the DVD image, not magically extracting quality that isn't really there.

The ad to the left properly shows that the listed player is an upconverting player and not an HD quality player that plays the HD DVD or Blu-ray high definition formats.

Does this mean that the result you get from playing your standard definition DVDs won't be any better than using your current DVD player? Maybe, maybe not. As we mention in our Help Document I have an Upconverting DVD Player - Am I Seeing High Definition?, the answer depends on the quality of the conversion circuitry in your HDTV. When you play standard definition DVDs on an HDTV, the standard definition image must be converted to the resolution of your HDTV by either the display or the player.

Some HDTVs are very good at doing this conversion, and you won't see much or any increase in picture quality by buying an upconverting DVD player. Other displays are not very good at doing the conversion, so an upconverting player may do a better job. The fact of the matter remains that you have a 720x480 image being converted to 1280x720 or 1920x1080, which translates into a 260% and 600% enlargement, respectively. The results just aren't going to be the same as the 1920x1080 image inherent on HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

One example of the difference is the comparison between upconverted DVD and real HD that was shown in EngadgetHD's review of the new Samsung BD-UP5000 HD DVD/Blu-ray combo player. The examples are under the heading Garbage in, Garbage out, which is a bit of a clue as to how they feel about DVD upconversion vs. real HD. You can see larger versions of the upconverted DVD image, and the HD image to compare for yourself. Check out the creases on Clint Eastwood's head!

The reaction I've gotten from people when I show them the difference is that they often cannot immediately tell the difference between upconverted DVD and the real HD image. This was my experience too when I first started viewing HD material. However, when your eye becomes more accustomed to the increased detail, the upconverted begins to show its lack of quality. While I'm not a wine connoisseur, I would imagine that the difference between a fine wine and the $10 bottle of Zinfandel at the grocery store is probably close to the same comparison...

With the entry level Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player approaching $100 in some stores, it makes sense to pick one of those up if you're looking to get a new DVD player. They do a very good job of upconverting DVDs, and then you will have access to the 400+ HD DVD titles that actually are in full 1920x1080 HD resolution. Rumors have it that Circuit City stores are offering them at $99, which makes them an incredible deal. Because the tide of the HD format wars has turned against it, HD DVD may not be long for this world (read Warner Bros. Announces Shift to Blu-ray Exclusively for more info), but even if the player is only used as an upconverting DVD player, the price is about the same as the decent upconverting DVD players available for sale.

If you're looking for HD quality, buy an HD player. It's as simple as that. Standard definition DVDs will be upconverted to get the most out of them, and you'll be able to enjoy the higher picture quality and better sound quality that the HD formats have to offer.

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