Friday, May 22, 2009

Corel's WinDVD 9 Plus--is more really better?

"G.I.G.O." is a pearl of wisdom I've heard from engineers my entire three and a half decades in radio. In other words..."garbage in, garbage out".

In audiophile circles, this sentiment is expressed something like this: information that's not picked up at the source can't be reproduced at the speakers. If it's not picked up by the microphone (phono pickup, tape head, recording device), then it's lost...forever.

In motion pictures and television, this could be extrapolated to something like "if the camera doesn't capture it, you can't see it on the screen!" It seems obvious enough. But no more! A fascinating area of perceptual science has suddenly, over the last couple of years, yielded startling fruit. We CAN now see more detail than was captured on the original film (or tape, or disc), and even more startling, we CAN see moving images with greater MOTION resolution that was captured by the camera. Don't believe me? I DON'T BLAME YOU! But I challenge you to try a trial version of "WinDVD 9 Plus" from Corel on your favorite film-based, standard definition dvd, with "All2HD" enabled, and "Digital Natural Motion" set to "Best Quality". Suddenly detail that you didn't think was there "SNAPS" into sharp relief...the "magic" of truly excellent "upscaling" (converting the 720 x 480 lines of a DVD into up to 1920 x 1080, or "1080p" resolution") YES it works, and makes standard "def" material look damn close to that shot in "High Def".

But amazing as the increased apparent resolution is, it's the extra resolution of MOTION made possible by the "Digital Natural Motion" that will likely make your jaw drop, as it did mine. We're all used to the "look" of film...and it can be quite glamorous in it's beauty. But the film "look" also includes artifact-ridden motion "judder" caused by the low frame-rate of only 24 frames per second. Live TV, or programming originating on videotape has always had smoother-looking motion, because the frame-rate for video sources is 30 frames per second (actually 29.970, but 30 is close enough for our sake). So why not just run film cameras at 30 frames per second? Well, there's the installed base of projection equipment that runs only at 24 fps. But more than that, people are used to the look of film, and many think the motion artifacts give film extra "character".

So what does WinDVD's "Digital Natural Motion" do? It takes the 24 frames of film-based material, and creates EXTRA frames, up to the refresh-rate of your monitor. If your monitor is set at 60hz (as most are these days), that's an extra 36 frames-per-second. These extra frames are generated "on-the-fly". WinDVD looks at where objects are in one "real" film frame, and the next "real" frame, then creates extra frames at evenly-spaced distances between the two. In other words, you actually see increased motion resolution that WAS NOT captured by the camera. The startling thing is, IT LOOKS REAL! ALL motion on-screen looks SO MUCH SMOOTHER! Is it accurate? HELL NO! And as a purist, you'll have to wrestle with this, as I did. Somehow the "judder" of 24fps film contributes to our distance from what we see reminds the brain "this is not real, it's a movie". Remove this restruction, let motion flow (apparently) as freely as in real life, and "HOLY SHIT BATMAN", the results are, well, STARTLING!

Is there a price to be paid for tinkering with our movies in this way? As Sarah Palin might say, "YOU BETCHA!" Sometimes there are artifacts. Somteimes the smooth motion will "stutter" for a fraction of a second (this is rare). And the technology is REALLY "caught with it's pants down" on material that's SUPPOSED to be "jumpy"...such as sudden slow-motion scenes in films, where the frame rate drops to just a couple of frames per second. "Digital Natural Motion" can go quite insane trying to make what essentially is intended to look like a series of stills look "smooth". Usually these artifacts are obvious only in direct comparison, but they're certainly there. Big deal. It's not perfect!

Using these enhancements in WinDVD will result in your looking at films in an entirely new way. Cinematographers will likely be outrated, as will film purists. But I'll bet even they would find this technology addictive in the long-run. It brings the viewer closer to what was in front of the lens, though not necessarily closer to what was intended to be captured on film. I know in my heart that what I'm seeing on my screen doesn't look at all like what the director and cinematographer saw on theirs. And usually I just don't care.

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