Upconvert Me

"Buy any 61-inch or larger Samsung HDTV or any Samsung 1080p HDTV and receive a high definition, upconverting DVD player."

I almost drove off the road when I heard this ad on my car radio recently.

A pox on all manufacturers promoting this fiction. They're not only misleading the public, they're also poisoning the market for true high definition players when they finally do arrive. Why would you buy a Samsung Blu-ray player in May 2006 when they gave you a high definition DVD player with your television in December 2005? The man on the radio told you so!

Repeat after me: Today's DVDs are not high definition, and as of December 2005 there is no such thing as a high definition DVD player on the consumer market. I've said this before but I intend to keep repeating it as long as manufacturers continue to spread such misinformation, either directly or by implication.

I've seen ads from other manufacturers, a little less blatant but no less misleading, stating that this or that product upconverts DVDs to "high definition resolution." The average consumer hears "high definition" and immediately thinks, "high definition DVD player." No, it's not. It simply means that the original image is mathematically altered by clever pixel duplication and interpolation—usually from a standard definition source like an NTSC broadcast or a DVD—to a higher pixel count, typically that of an HD source (either 1280x720 or 1920x1080). But the result is not the same thing as a source that is high definition to begin with. The upconversion adds no detail that was not in the original, standard definition signal.

Another insidious offshoot of this practice is a statement on a DVD cover that the contents were mastered in high definition. Again, how many consumers read this and think it's a "high definition DVD," when all the claim really means is that the original transfer to video was done in high definition, which was subsequently downconverted to standard definition for the DVD release.

The phrase "high definition resolution" has been misappropriated in today's HD marketplace and should be permanently retired except when it refers to a true, native high definition source.

High definition resolution should be claimed only in reference to a high definition level of real detail, not simply a pixel count. Simply put, today's DVDs are not high definition sources and there is nothing you can do to them to turn them into high definition. You can upconvert them to the native resolution of your display, but the result is still standard definition.

In fact, any fixed-pixel, high definition display already performs this upconversion on its own; it must, if the image is to fill the screen. A DVD or other source may look better when this upconversion is performed in the player or outboard video processor, but only because the player or processor is doing a better job of it than your set does.