Scenes featuring both bright and dark areas had a far greater range of contrast on HD DVD. This was obvious in one sequence near the beginning of The Phantom of the Opera
, where the Vicomte de Chagny (Patrick Wilson) pulls into the courtyard of the Opera Populaire in Paris on a horse-drawn carriage. In this wide shot, the courtyard is drenched in shadow and light fog while a white brick building at the rear reflects the morning sun. On the regular DVD there was little detail in objects in the shadowed area, and the building didn't stand out much against the more subdued foreground. But on the HD DVD, I could clearly see the vapor in the air; the bright building suddenly came to life and demanded notice, and all kinds of detail became evident in the foreground shadows. This experience was repeated on disc after disc - the regular DVDs were not only less detailed, but also much duller and less lifelike.
Hook Me Up
|Setting up the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player for the best picture and sound quality is not for the uninitiated. Even home theater experts will face a learning curve to understand the different ways to extract video and audio from the player and the ramifications of each option and will have to read the manual to find what settings in the player's internal menu will yield the desired results. Read on for some background and useful tips. |
It seems apparent that HDTV should spank a DVD every time, but the HD DVDs were also noticeably better than a typical HD broadcast on satellite or cable. While I couldn't do an A/B comparison with any of the HD DVD titles, looking at a variety of movies and filmed shows made some differences obvious. While the broadcasts occasionally competed on overall detail, they, like the DVDs, offered less saturated colors and dynamic "punch" than the HD DVDs. And they were very often plagued by mosquito noise and other compression artifacts. There's an explanation: Most cable and satellite systems top out at bit rates around 8 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) for their HDTV transmissions. By comparison, HD DVDs pump out data at around 18 to 20 Mbps, with peaks that can hit 40 Mbps if the program demands it. The MPEG-4 or VC-1 compression schemes used for HD DVD are also more efficient at a given bit rate than the MPEG-2 used for broadcast and for most satellite and digital cable transmissions.
SOUNDS GOOD The HD DVDs proved to also have superior sound compared with the traditional Dolby Digital track found on most DVD and HD broadcasts. All the new titles I looked at were encoded with Dolby Digital Plus - a enhanced version of Dolby Digital that supports up to 7.1-channel sound and much higher bit rates - which I listened to as uncompressed PCM or as PCM downconverted to a DTS bitstream for the player's optical output. (The format specs give manufacturers the option of downconverting to DTS or Dolby Digital for output on the coax and optical ports, and Toshiba chose DTS.)