DVDs are encoded in a 480i, standard definition format. When played back on a 1080p, 1080i or 720p HDTV, the low resolution/frame-rate of DVDs or any standard definition video can cause comments such as “Why is it so blurry?” An HTPC with video upscaling software can sharpen DVD video and help stop the“blurry” comments.
Video upscaling takes video and processes it to increase its resolution and frame rate. Hence, upscaling the video. The process of taking 640x480 pixels at 30 frames/second video and converting it to1920x1080 pixels at 30 frames/second video is very hardware and software dependent. How well the software can interpret where each pixel should be as well as how many calculations per second the hardware can handle will determine the upscaled video quality.
Codecs, Filters, and Viewing Software
If you are using your HTPC to watch DVDs or any video, you will need the following:
- Viewing Software – software used to play video. Video players such as TotalMedia Theater, PowerDVD and WinDVD use codecs and filters to display video.
- Codecs – used to decode compression algorithms such as MPEG-2 and DivX. Codecs usually come with viewing software.
- Filters – used to improve picture quality. Ffdshow is an example of an upscaling video filter. Viewing software typically includes filters.
DVD Viewing Software
TotalMedia Theater – is a popular DVD and Blu-ray viewing software made by AcrSoft. TotalMedia Theater includes support for HDMI 1.3 Pass-through technology for lossless 7.1 surround sound. DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD audio formats are supported. TotalMedia Theater also supports multiple video file formats such as Quicktime HD and DivX HD.
PowerDVD – is another popular DVD and Blu-ray viewing software. Cyberlink’s PowerDVD uses its own proprietary codec, and does not work with ffdshow. Blu-ray 3D support is avaiable stating with PowerDVD version 10. PowerDVD will even convert regular 2D movies into 3D. DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD lossless audio formats are also supported.
WinDVD – viewing software for DVDs, Blu-ray, and other popular file formats. WinDVD uses their own proprietary codecs used for upscaling and reduction of motion blur. The Pro version supports DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD lossless audio formats.
TheaterTek – is designed to be very easy to use and to simulate a standalone DVD player. Theaterrek does not support Blu-ray or high definition audio formats. It comes with NVIDIA PureVideo codec, which some say is good enough to make the ffdshow filter unnecessary. TheaterTek works with ffdshow, and makes its installation and setup fairly simple.
Zoom Player – is designed to the tweeker’s delight. It has tons of options and adjustable settings. The many options also makes it not as user friendly as TheaterTek. Zoom Player does not come with any video codecs, and requires a few more steps to install and setup ffdshow. Zoom Player does not support Blu-ray or high definition audio formats.
Media Player Classic – is the older version of Windows Media Player. It uses codecs installed on your computer by other viewing software. Media Player Classic does allow the installation of ffdshow by going to View > Options > Filters > Overrides > Add Filter.
Video codecs are used to read and decipher information from a video source such as a DVD or Blu-ray. For example, the video data on a DVD is compressed with MPEG-2 format. Codecs are used to uncompress the MPEG-2 video. Not all codecs are equal. Some decompress video better than others. Some example of codec packages used to decipher DVDs are:
- NVIDIA PureVideo Decoder
PowerDVD and WinDVD use proprietary codecs that come embedded with their viewing software. NVIDIA’s PureVideo decoder is sold separately from their PureVideo video cards, and works with Window’s Media Player as well as TheaterTek. Lastly, Dscaler5 is an open source project that is available for free.
Upscaling Filters – ffdshow
A free plug-in for your DVD viewing software is available that will arguably upscale and sharpen video better than any high end DVD player on the market. This plug-in is called ffdshow and it has almost too many options to mention. Some of them are listed below.
- Sharpening filters
- Blur and noise reduction
- Noise filters
- Resize video
- Aspect ratio correction
- Increase/decrease video delay (helps with lip sync issues)
- Crop or zoom in on video
- Deinterlace filters
- Logoaway gets rid of logos
- Gamma correction
- Luminance correction
- Luminance/chrominance offset
- Bitmap overlay
All these numerous options makes it difficult to recommend ffdshow settings. Choices will be limited to the HTPC’s CPU processing power, video card processing power, the amount of RAM installed, and other hardware components. If your HTPC can handle it, one general recommendation is to resize your video to 2.0 times the original size, and then run through the other filters such as blur reduction and sharpening.
Blu-ray Playback for HTPC
Movie studios have made it difficult for the average consumer to play Blu-ray movies on their computer. Blu-ray requires HDCP encryption technology in video cards, viewing software, and monitors. Therefore, Blu-ray playback with VGA or component connections to a HDTV will not work.
However, HDMI and HDCP equipped DVI connections will allow Blu-ray playback. Double check and make sure your TV and your video card is HDCP compliant. Most HDTVs and video cards that were released in the last few years are HDCP compliant.
Both TotalMedia Theater Blu-ray viewing software and the new 3-D capable PowerDVD do an excellent job of playing Blu-rays including the latest releases. They are both capable of playing 1080p video with lossless 7.1 surround sound using DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD audio formats.
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