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trpnmonkey41

 
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I'm being selective in what i describe in the following and have made some simplifications / generalizations in order to be concise and to keep this oriented towards video gaming.

First lets get exact definitions of the different resolutions / signals you see being batted around for the xbox, 360, ps3 and then we'll talk about interfaces both analog and digital

note: i'm avoiding giving pixel specific resolutions here because it varies greatly depending upon content. For example, a 1080i signal can actually be 1920x1080 but almost all 1080i signals are actually filtered down to 1440x1080 or less.

480i - The screen is divided into 480 horizontal lines, "scan lines" that are interlaced, that is, the screen refreshes half the scan lines at a time. This is a fairly low bandwidth signal, by that i mean that (relatively) little information is being transmitted.

480p - Same number of scan lines, but here we have moved to a progressive refresh, this means that the entire screen, all the scan lines, are refreshed at the same time. This leads to a smooth, higher quality picture. "Progressive-scan" dvd players are outputting 480p. Also of note here is that generally 480p signals have a different aspect ratio than 480i, whereas many/most 480i singals are 4:3 aspect ratio, 480p can go with a 16:9 (roughly) aspect ratio. The bandwidth needed in comparison to 480i is roughly double.

720p - Welcome to the wonderful world of High definition signals. Here, we have upped the vertical resolution (# of horizontal scan lines) to 720 and are understood to be using a 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio. Again, our signal is progressive at 60 frames per second, so the end result is a sharper, smoother picture than what we had before.

1080i - Another "HD" set of standards, here we have 1080 horizontal scan lines for an even higher resolution, but now we are back down to interlaced, "painting" the screen a half at a time.

---An Interlude: 720p v 1080i ------------
So these are two seemingly competing HD formats, which one is the best? Might as well ring the bell and get Buffer to scream "lets get ready to rumble" because the argument here is fierce. I make no judgements, i will just pass along the facts as best i can:

While 1080i is of a higher general resolution than 720p, it is interlaced, and thus the screen is actually dividied into around 540 "fields" that are refreshed. Thus the human eye (perhaps the greatest video/image processing chip ever made, wish i'd gotten the patent) or a chip has to de-interlace the signal for display. The upshot is that a static image, you will have a seemingly sharper picture with 1080i, but when alot of motion is introduced, you'll begin to notice blurring and artifacts in the image. 720p thus provides a smooth moving image. This makes 720p the choice for many sports broadcasts (ESPN, ABC, and Fox all broadcast 720p, subjectively, i think NBC is broadcasting the NFL in 720p as well based upon my own viewing, but i haven't checked to back this up).

Thats all fine and dandy, but what about gaming? Well, first things first.. .what is native for your display? An LCD,Plasma, or DLP display is natively a progressive display, the pixels that constitute the image on the screen are either on or off. Thus, they output an hd signal of 720p regardless of the input given them. They must de-interlace and scale the incoming signal to get it there... so obviously if your game device of choice offers 720p output, thats the way to go.

Likewise, rear-project CRT televisions are happiest with a 1080i signal, and are going to have to take a 720p signal and interlace and upscale the signal for display, so feeding them a native 1080i signal is the optimal solution.

If you are one of those lucky people who are looking to buy an HD television and arent worried about 1080p, then what would you rather have for gaming? its a personal choice really. The only system that really takes full advantage of HD is the xbox 360, the ps2 and xbox are just feeding you a 480p signal that you'll be upsampling regardless of what you get. When the PS3 rolls out, it will support HD resolutions... so which way to go?

Well, as we said before, it is fact that 1080i offers a higher resolution and thus a sharper image with a static image. It is also fact that 720p offers a "smoother" moving image because of its progressive nature. By these facts one can infer that if you are into games that have alot of action on screen at once, such as sports games, shoot em ups, fighting games... it makes more sense to go 720p. If you are into more static games... such as Action/Adventure, RPG, or Oldschool/arcadish stuff (Frogger in HD ftw), perhaps 1080i is the better direction to head.

----------Interlude End-----------

1080p - this is the newest "High def" standard featuring 1080 scan lines, now progressive for that silky smooth picture we all love so much. 1080p capable consumer displays are just starting to hit the market at "affordable" prices; Theaters have been using 1080p projectors for hi-def films for a while now. There are currently no broadcasted 1080p signals. Reasons? Well the highest standarized ATSC format for 1080p is 1080p30 which is 30 frames per second. Even then, the amount of bandwidth needed to broadcast the signal is significant, and thus standard MPEG-2 compression wont get the job done. Thus "new" codecs like H.264/Mpeg-4 must be used. The vast majority of consumer displays in use, now and in the near future, dont understand these new codecs and so it would be ncessary to broadcast multiple streams, and there simply isnt the bandwidth available for that in the broad consumer market. Currently, the PS3 is the only videogame console that will feature 1080p output, although there is a good bit of rumor that the xbox 360 is capable of the trick.

So now that we are all on the same page in regards to resolutions, lets talk about transfer interfaces, analog / digital, the differences, the similarities, and the women that love them.

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trpnmonkey41

 
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Talking about interfaces, we first need to be clear on the difference between digital and analog signals. I'm going to greatly simplify here and keep this geared towards videogame system applicability.

An analog signal is a continuous (think smooth curve, like a sine wave, most importantly, no vertical lines) time signal that relates information. Real Life display information, think the colors you see for instance, is an analog sort of thing... light hits a surface and the spectrum of color is absorbed, some reflected..the reflected wavelengths are the color we see.... change the properties of an object just a little, or adjust the light beam being shot at the object just a little..and you can see subtle (or drastic) changes in the color. The problem with analog signals is that they are volitile little ****ers that can be quite hard to recreate. In transmission, analog signals degrade easily due to distance traveled, electrical noise, and medium characteristics , among other things.

A digital signal is discontinuous (think jagged, with sudden stops and vertical lines), discrete signal. For our purposes, consider a digital signal purely binary, in that the the amplitude of the signal is either 'ON' or 'OFF' at any discrete time point. Digital signals are much more robust than analog due to their binary nature.

In today's world of digital video signals, it may strike you as odd to find that the most common transfer interfaces used by consumers are analog. Lets look at these interfaces, starting with the most simple and working our way up.

Audio / Video composite cables - The Red/White/Yellow combo cable. Only the Yellow carries video information. Essenentially the picture information is modulated and "mashed together" into a composite video stream that is sent as an analog signal. The signal is then reconstituted by demodulating the analog signal back into its components. THe problem here is that in general, composite cables of are a fairly low quality and are highly succeptable to noise. Further, the modulation and demodulation of the signals is responsible for a large amount of degredation of the original signal under the best of circumstances. This is why games look "fuzzy" when viewing them over a composite interface.

S-Video - S-video cables the round cables with 4-pin heads. Here, the video signal is sent over two seperate channels, one for color information and one for brightness. The color information is still being "mashed" together unfortunately, so while this is a better option than composite cable, it is not ideal. Further, the max signal that is able to be handled by s-video (or composite for that matter) is 480i.

RGB - Here, color is seperated out into its Red, Green, and Blue components and each is transmitted via a single coaxial cable. This is not a major concern for us in terms of videogaming, Occasionally you'll see VGA out offered as an option (the dreamcast's best output option was VGA); however it is not widespread.

Component - Here, rather than componentialize a picture signal into its RGB components, the signal is instead broken down as YPbPr where Y = Lumanesence and Pb and Pr are its red and blue chromaticity. Fancy words just to say that the image is being defined in a different color space.

the governing equations for conversion from RGB color space to YPbPr (which is the analog of the YCbCr space) are:

YPbPr (analog version of YCbCr) from R'G'B'
================================================== ==
Y' = Kr * R' + (1 - Kr - Kb) * G' + Kb * B'
Pb = 0.5 * (B' - Y') / (1 - Kb)
Pr = 0.5 * (R' - Y') / (1 - Kr)
.................................................. ..
R', G', B' in [0; 1]
Y' in [0; 1]
Pb in [-0.5; 0.5]
Pr in [-0.5; 0.5]
(borrowed from wikipedia)

Component is the only analog transmision medium that can handle "hd" formats, being able to output 480p/720p/1080i/1080p.

The quality of component cables needed to maintain an excellent signal is an area of some debate. As we have stated before, analog signals are highyl succeptable to degredation due to environment, and so ultimately the environment (including the length of the cable run) decides the quality of cable needed.

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trpnmonkey41

 
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First, lets address a question: "Why use digital cables?"

This is a valid question, especially in the videogame realm. After all, we've already seen that component cables can handle the biggest and baddest HD signal we can throw at it, why fix what (seemingly) isnt broken?

There are three big reasons why we are seeing a big push towards the use of digital cables:

1) Future proofing - Sure, Component Cables can handle things now, but as bandwidth requirements increase, it will become more and more expensive to produce the quality of analog cable needed to maintain signal characteristics over any reasonable run length to accurately reproduce the input signal. While DAC (Digital-Analog Conversion) technology is very good and constantly improving, it cant escape the fact that there is inherent loss of signal quality when doing the digital-to-analog / analog-to-digital conversions at both ends of the transmission. Also, as display resolutions and signal qualities keep improving, more and more bandwidth will be needed. For example, if one wanted to transmit 1 second of uncompressed 1080p video (assuming a resolution of 1920x1080, 32 bit color depth [that is, 1 byte for red, blue, and green channel info and then 1 byte for alpha channel], and a frame rate of 60 fps), a bandwidth of at least 3.98 Gb/s is needed (gigabits/second).

2) Cost / Performance Ratio - Go to Best Buy and price a 20 ft Monster Component Cable. Ok, now, take a stiff drink, hug your mother, and relax, they mark things up a bit. The point, however, is that top quality component cables, especially those of a length longer than 3 to 6 feet, can be quite expensive. Common internet / enthusiast forum logic dictates that Monster is overpriced; however, they do represent a good base line for "high quality" cable. In theory, digital cables should be cheaper, because the amount of shielding is nowhere near as important as with analog cabling.

3) Copy Protection - Here's the biggie. Content providers (or more accurately, the people that finance / own / control content producers) are really into getting paid for their content. As such, they are eager to make it as difficult as possible to make "illegal" copies of their copyrighted materials. It is virutally impossible to create a copy protection scheme that can be enforced with the signal is transmitted as an analog signal; however, by developing special hardware and doing some tricks with the data stream, it is very easy to create quite robust copy protection with a digital signal.

At a consumer level, digital cabling makes sense because it can simplify wiring greatly (1 cable instead of 3~5), offers the possibility of bit-perfect transmission, and future proofing.

Lets take a look at the two big digital video cable types now:

DVI - DVI, or Digital Video Interlink, is a digital cable type that features a wide rectangular head with 24 ~ 28 pins. There are several types of DVI, including DVI-A (analog), DVI-D (digital) and DVI-I (digital and analog). DVI is unique in that it can handle both digital and analog data. For modern display purposes, DVI cables can be segregated into two types: Single-link and dual link. Single Link cables have a maximum bandwidth of 3.9 Gb/s and only transfer 1 pixel per clock cycle (max 165 Mhz in single link mode). Dual Link cables' bandwidth is limited only by the speed of the transmission originator and the quality of the cable. Speeds of over 7 Gb/s are normal. Dual Link cables are able to transfer 2 pixels per clock cycle.

DVI is extremely popular use with LCD Displays for PCs; however, it has been replaced in most HDTVs by HDMI.

HDMI - HDMI, or High Definition Multimedia Interface, is a digital cable type that is capable of carrying both video and audio signals. The current HDMI spec, HDMI type A, uses 19 pins (type B is a proposed spec for ultra high resolutions in the future, but it hasn't been finalized), and features three main data channels.

The TDMS channel carries audio, video and/or auxilary data. Enough bandwidth is available to carry up to 192kHz audio and 1080p60 video (1080p at 60 frames per second). It also allows for 48 bits of information per pixel, regardless of transmission speed used.

The DDC channel is an informational channel that allows two devices to query each other as to their capabilities.

The CEC channel is used for remote control functions.

Both HDMI and DVI are capable of supporting the HDCP or High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection form of digital rights management. Essentially, any two devices that wished to communicate over a digital link and share (by share, i mean view, transmit, copy, read, write, any action accessing the protected data stream) protected content must each have a HDCP token. They must exchange and authenticate each other's token to allow the content to be provided at full resolution. If this constraint is not met, then an ICT flag (Image Constraint Token) can be set and the content will only be provided at a greatly reduced ("540p" seems to be the most talked about resolution) quality level.

For gaming purposes, the Sony PS3 is the only system to currently plan to take advantage of HDCP. It is unclear at this point whether games will initially use this feature; however, it is unlikely since even movie studios have virtually guaranteed not to enforce the ICT flag for 4 or 5 years as the market becomes saturated with HDCP capable displays.

I should point out that HDCP has some fairly gaping flaws in its protection scheme, and that there are already devices available that can strip away the copy protection.


--What follows is not purely fact, rather, it is fact based commentary that forwards my own views on the subject of HDCP---

This leads naturally to a question i've seen asked several times on the gaming forum: "Why is Sony using HDMI instead of Component?" I hope the answer is clear at this point; it has very little to do with technical issues, it simply enables them to have a fuller control over how the PS3 is used to view content. Sony is perfectly capable of enabling the full features of HDCP the day the PS3 is released, meaning that anyone with a non-HDCP enabled display (most people who own HD-displays at this point) would have the pleasure of viewing their highly touted 1080p content at a blistering 540p resolution.

All is not peachy in computer gaming land either. Videocards and monitors are just now beginning to show up with HDCP compliance and Microsoft has included support (its already sitting in RC1 and earlier pre-releases) for HDCP. For those of us who have large, fully functional, long lasting displays such as the Dell 2405fp, it is a scarey prospect to know that we are just a bit flip away from having our expensive hardware crippled.

Digital content managment is, unfortunately, going to be a fact of life in the coming generation of digital media and content distrobution / receiving devices. The definition of "ownership" of content from the consumer's perspective is becoming more and more restricted; to the point where ownership might be more accurately described as content leasing. Piracy, the supposed target of this movement, will continue -- If the PSP has served as nothing else, it has shown that it is almost impossible to enforce DRM, even at the firmware level, without constant updates and upkeep -- only the percentage of user capable of administering the "hacks" will change. The cost of including these content protection measures, as well as their subsequent development and upkeep, will be passed along to the content purchasers, you and i.

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Awesome article, heads up.

I have a question though: What about backwards compatibility, Nintendo's Wii only support 480p, so if I buy a HDTV 1080i/1080p it will upscale the information - will this result in a loss of quality, like stretching an iMage over a large screen?

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trpnmonkey41

 
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If your TV supports 1080i/p it will almost definitely (I have never seen the case where it doesn't) also support 480i (for standard definition television), 480p and 720p as well as the maximum resolution that your TV is capable of so you don't need to worry about backwards compatibility.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by trpnmonkey41 View Post
This leads naturally to a question i've seen asked several times on the gaming forum: "Why is Sony using HDMI instead of Component?" I hope the answer is clear at this point; it has very little to do with technical issues, it simply enables them to have a fuller control over how the PS3 is used to view content. Sony is perfectly capable of enabling the full features of HDCP the day the PS3 is released, meaning that anyone with a non-HDCP enabled display (most people who own HD-displays at this point) would have the pleasure of viewing their highly touted 1080p content at a blistering 540p resolution.

All is not peachy in computer gaming land either. Videocards and monitors are just now beginning to show up with HDCP compliance and Microsoft has included support (its already sitting in RC1 and earlier pre-releases) for HDCP. For those of us who have large, fully functional, long lasting displays such as the Dell 2405fp, it is a scarey prospect to know that we are just a bit flip away from having our expensive hardware crippled.

Digital content managment is, unfortunately, going to be a fact of life in the coming generation of digital media and content distrobution / receiving devices. The definition of "ownership" of content from the consumer's perspective is becoming more and more restricted; to the point where ownership might be more accurately described as content leasing. Piracy, the supposed target of this movement, will continue -- If the PSP has served as nothing else, it has shown that it is almost impossible to enforce DRM, even at the firmware level, without constant updates and upkeep -- only the percentage of user capable of administering the "hacks" will change. The cost of including these content protection measures, as well as their subsequent development and upkeep, will be passed along to the content purchasers, you and i.
Sorry if this is a stupid question... but what does sony (or any other company for that matter) really gain from this. How does limiting the abilities of our current equipment help them. Is it just to force us to buy new technology so they can make more money from us? Or am i missing something?

again sorry for the stupid question

Lucius
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Nice.

I just picked up a Westinghouse 42" 1080p monitor and this article would've helped me a lot...

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Quote:
Originally Posted by luciusad2004 View Post
Is it just to force us to buy new technology so they can make more money from us?
Bingo

Quote:
Originally Posted by luciusad2004 View Post
Or am i missing something?
I wish there was a better reason

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I cant really express how angry this makes me. The idea that the hardware companies can decide when i have to upgrade and what i need to upgrade to is just ridiculous. I understand the need to fight piracy, i pride myself in the fact that i purchase almost all of my software, music, video, etc... but i dont see what this would do to fight piracy. The only way i can see this fighting piracy is if it was used to weed out some sort of unapproved audio/video capture device. Otherwise its just capitalism at its worst. Dont get me wrong i Love capitalism but i should have the right to choose when to upgrade my hardware. If i want to watch something on an older televison set i should be able to watch it to the best of my television's ability. It seems focus has been shifted to the rights of big corporations and away from the rights of the consumer.
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You are not being force to upgrade. What is happening is the old analog signal is being replace with the digital one. Like that was done with analog record and CDs. This process has started may years ago. I believe in the last five. The television industry was given a time span to make everything ready for the change. If you have an older television, then all you need is a convertor box to get the analog signal again. Most people have cable or satellites.

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ah ok. As long as my current equipment doesnt become useless in the near future.
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What is the resolution/signal that the MBP display is capable of? 720p?
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15" 900p
17" 1050p

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We just ordered a Toshiba 32HL66 HDTV through Future Shop and will be getting it tomorrow. Hope we chose well?

Specs say contrast is 1200:1 and stuff like that...
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Congrats on your new system. I have been enjoying mine for the last year and a half. I just wish there is more HD content.

When you get it, be sure to check out Discovery HD.

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