The DVD is dead, long live the DVD!
The impending obsolescence of the DVD format, due to be replaced by more advanced optical formats, mean consumers need to take special considerations when shopping for DVD players today. Although some may argue you should avoid plunging into the DVD player market, nothing could be further from the truth. The media is going to be around awhile and silly deals will soon be seen at the local retailers needing shelf space for the new formats. Armed with the right knowledge, the time for a new DVD player could be just before its impending funeral.
In this article we'll use popular brands and models available at your local retailers as examples, to take an unbiased look behind the marketing hype.Image is everything
DVD picture quality from even a poor DVD player is still a good step up from VHS. But compare the images of different DVD players using a standard definition TV and you begin to see significant differences in video quality between the cheapies and their more expensive counterparts. It's all in the DAC! A DAC is a Digital/Analog Converter chip, processors found in modern digital media equipment to convert digitally stored entertainment such as a movie on DVD or a song on a CD into sound that we can actually hear.
Audio and video on DVD is compressed using the Mpeg2 format. The decompression of this audio/video can be done simplistically with cheap chips; since there is no perfect way to decompress video, there's an array of degrees in quality of processors that perform digital/analogue conversion.
Compression artifacts are a symptom of unclean decompression in video - these are squiggly lines you can see around the edges of images.Low compression, little or no artifacts
Above and below are copies of the same image from the DVD "Mummy Returns" compressed with the jpg format to illustrate compression artifacts. Above is the cleaner rendition, compressed only slightly and consequently a larger file size.
Next is the same image only highly compressed; the image is less detailed because of compression artifacts. When DVD Video is un-compressed poorly, it leaves many of the artifacts behind as seen below, or it can be done well so you get few to no visible compression artifacts as seen above.Max compression, note considerable loss of detail
The decompression of video performed by DACs is hardly a precise science; there will always be some artifacts left behind. Higher-grade DVD Players will often cite some proprietary process to further clean up video and hide leftover artifacts. How well such extra measures work will probably be proportionate to the DVD player's cost and should ultimately be judged by your own eyes.
2:3 pull-down is a process that converts the film images to digital video; it's particularly important when showing crisp, rapidly moving images. The conversion of film to digital video requires overcoming a disparity in frame rates. When performed cheaply, this causes inconsistencies visible in the form of jagged outlines on fast moving images. Expensive DACs use more careful and deliberate processes to present sharper video.
Let's begin our examination of DVD Players with the cheapest of the cheap, including that legendary $30 DVD player WalMart shoppers are willing to stampede for.