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1080P, The Magic Number


Call me slow on the uptake, especially for someone blogging about technology, but I have only recently begun to appreciate the marvel that is 1080P ‘Full-HD’ TV. The term and the tech have been bandied around for ages now, even to the point where we have a new preoccupation in the form of ‘3DTV’. So why has it taken me so long? It’s because, despite the format’s prevalence, it’s just not that easy to get good 1080P content. And this upsets me.

Blu-ray discs have been the champion of HDTV and 1080P since they toppled HD-DVD some years back. Now I haven’t been the biggest disc advocate – I can count the number of DVDs I own on maybe 2 hands – by BD-ROM just fails. The tech is expensive and yet even more fragile and less reliable than DVDs. Capacities increase on an almost yearly basis, and with them comes generational obsolescence of all non-networked and non-upgradable players out there. The real problem with Blu-ray however is that the experience is not good. Systems like BD Live are not consistent and confusing, special features are often not on par with DVD releases and, wait for it, picture quality is usually trash. Avatar is a spectacle to behold, but what of epic movies pre-dating the format? Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings are the types of films you’d expect to get the most out of high definition, yet these releases have been marred by poor transfers and a general inability to show off significantly better picture quality. The only Blu-ray equipped piece of hardware in the house is my Japanese PS3 and although I’d been lead to believe a lot of discs would be region-free, more than a few aren’t. Let’s just say this has left me to passover Blu-rays altogether.

DVB or HDTV broadcasts are similarly a joke. I can’t speak for anywhere else in the world but TV in Australia is a joke at the moment with all of its inconsistently-named ‘multichannels’ and what have you. The real problem though is that hardly any of the major broadcasters put out a decent HDTV signal. The majority use digital SD 576i signals and you’d be hard pressed to find where each one’s HD channel is located. Network Ten doesn’t even have one, and the Nine Network’s previous Nine HD seems to have been recently cannibalised by ‘Gem’ which again spits out 576i. Not impressed here either.

I’m a gamer, and my PC is HDMI’d to my beautiful Samsung HDTV. I get a good 1080P signal here. The only problem is that my taste in games leans toward ones requiring a keyboard, a mouse and a hunched posture over a monitor. Games like StarCraft II or Torchlight hardly lend themselves to a controller-mapped couch experience, which is fine and that’s purely a gameplay thing. If we were to talk PlayStations and Xboxes, which are generally to be enjoyed on the big screen, how many of those games output in 1080P? Hardly any. Even big budget titles like Halo 3 or Grand Theft Auto IV look appalling. These examples don’t even run in 720P- they draw to some substandard, sub-HD resolution and I think it’s unacceptable. Yet another reason I rue the suggestion that there won’t be a PC version of Super Street Fighter IV. Don’t even get me started on the Wii – the recent Metroid: Other M looks so bad upscaled that I didn’t even care to suffer its torturous failtrain of a plot.

This trend of content providers talking up and then ignoring this discernable increase in picture quality extends well into the current ‘3D’ era where ‘autostereoscopy’ essentially cuts down the number of image lines delivered to each eye, halving resolution in order to show two picture streams at once. I’m of the once-bitten mindset here; after witnessing the astonishing content drought for 1080P I have no doubt the same will be true for 3D. So I’m not upgrading. And why should I? I’ve only just come to enjoy the pleasures of full HD video. What form that’s in deserves its own post.

UPDATE: People have pointed out that Gem’s broadcast is actually HD. Nine’s promo material says the same thing but my TV still disagrees.

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