In the world of higher quality digital video media, there are Blu-ray players and there are upconverting DVD players (HD DVD has since fallen by the wayside). The sales pitch of the upconverting DVD player is that it gives you comparable picture quality to a Blu-ray player, but without the investment in Blu-ray discs. In fact, an upconverting DVD player will send high quality picture to your HDTV using your existing DVDs.
So, how do upconverting DVD player work and is it all it’s cracked up to be? Read on to find out.
Blu-ray vs. DVD
An upconverting DVD player is designed to simulate the quality and definition of a Blu-ray player. To understand what kind of work the upconverting DVD player has cut out for it, you have to first understand the gap that exists between these two formats.
The main distinguisher here is the maximum resolution. Blu-ray discs have a maximum screen resolution of 1\t920 x 1080, while DVDs have a much lower resolution of 720x480. This refers to pixels per inch, and the higher, the better. Higher resolution allows for greater detail in closeups and sharper images on bigger screens.
The other difference is that most DVDs are encoded as interlaced video sources. Interlaced video, in a nutshell, means that there are alternating lines of pixels that are stitched together to create the complete picture. This is usually all well and good, but for higher end HDTVs that feature progressive scan displays, an interlaced source can lead to jagged edges and noticeable lines. Blu-ray, on the other hand, is almost always a progressive scan source. This is what it means when you see 480i vs. 480p.
What an Upconverting DVD Player Does
An upconverting DVD player tries to address both of these shortcomings that are found in a DVD video source. First, it attempts to rectify any issues that crop up when an interlaced video source (a normal DVD) gets sent to a progressive scan display (your HDTV). If successful, this deinterlacing process produces a smoother picture without the “jaggies.”
Second, the upconverting DVD player will scale the resolution up to 1080p. This has about the same effect on quality as you could imagine if you took a 4x6 photo and blew it up to 8x10. You lose some of the sharpness, and the overall image isn’t as detailed or vibrant as if you were to go back to the original negatives and create an 8x10 print from scratch.
Thirdly, and perhaps most useful, depending on your home theater setup, is that an upconverting DVD player outputs via HDMI, as opposed to analog video component cables.
Is an Upconverting DVD Player Worth It?
Maybe. Upconverting DVD players can improve the quality of your regular DVDs, but it still falls woefully short of a true Blu-ray disc. Furthermore, many higher end TVs already have deinterlacing or upscaling chips built-in, so an upconverting DVD player may be redundant. In some cases, you may be better off saving up for a Blu-ray player—especially since upconverting DVD players are more of a transitional technology while Blu-ray players are the undisputed wave of the future.