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DVD Quality



Rob Lingelbach commented:  "I just read in a recent Post magazine a quote from
Ron Stein, Chief Operating Officer of Crest National, that the picture quality
of DVD approaches that of D-1, and that it surpasses all existing distribution
media."


I don't mean to cast aspersions on Ron Stein (who I've met before and thought
he was a great guy), but since he's in the business of mastering and pressing
DVD's, I don't think he's in a position to comment fairly.

At the recent DVD Symposium in San Jose last month, I went around to at least a
dozen booths showing off new DVD mastering software with telecine consultant
Bill Hogan leading the way.  It was clear to Bill and I that nobody has quite
got a handle on how to do MPEG-2 mastering software yet, and nobody -- not
Panasonic, not Sonic Solutions, not Philips, not Minerva, not anybody -- is
even shipping MPEG-2 VBR (variable-bit rate) mastering software yet.  

Everything out there right now is still being Beta-tested, and all the firms we
talked to admitted the software is still buggy at best.  I was surprised to see
so many wide variations in picture quality at the different booths; for
example, Panasonic's MPEG-2 demos looked extremely good, while the Philips'
stuff was awful.  

The other problem in trying to judge the picture quality of DVD demos is that
some manufacturers are presenting 10-minutes of material encoded at 9+ Mbps,
with quality far better than is ever gonna be possible with a 120-minute movie.
 They told us at the show that they feel 3 Mbps is better than VHS, and 7-8
Mbps is better than analog laserdisc quality.  In real life, the average is
going to be somewhere in between, but the key advantage will be in S/N and
apparent sharpness.

It's clear to me that a lot of questions about DVD mastering still remain, and
there are still some significant picture quality issues to overcome.  The trick
with DVD is that because the picture quality is constantly changing, it's
difficult to say at any instant whether the quality is good or not.  Sometimes
it looks great; sometimes, the motion artifacts are horrendous.  A lot depends
on the skill of the operator, the quality of the equipment, and the amount of
time taken by the compression process.  I can tell you for a fact that at 4
Mbps, it ain't no D-1.  (To paraphrase VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen's line:  "I
know D-1, I'm very familiar with D-1, I use D-1 every day...and DVD ain't
D-1.")

One last comment:  someone elsewhere commented that they didn't think that DCT
was compatible with MPEG-2 mastering because DCT was already compressed.  I
believe all of Warner Bros. feature transfers are being done to DCT, and those
DCT component-digital tapes are being used to feed their in-house MPEG-2
mastering department (though I don't know what software they're using).  As far
as I know, DCT works fine for this purpose.  

--Marc Wielage
  Complete Post / Hollywood, U.S.A.

P.S.  Toshiba and RCA just announced two days ago that they aren't gonna meet
their original early-August ship date, and they're now saying it'll be October
at the earliest.  This has already led some newspaper and magazine columnists
to spout dire predictions on the potential success of DVD.  I'm not quite that
negative, but I am skeptical about its short-term chances for success.