On HDTV, or, why VF5 finally justifies years of SDTV | iLounge Backstage

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On HDTV, or, why VF5 finally justifies years of SDTV

This is not a review of Sega’s Virtua Fighter 5, which was released this week for Sony’s overpriced, not-doing-so-hot PlayStation 3. And it is not an attempt to convince you to buy a high-definition television set if you have not already done so. It is, however, my effort to put into words some feelings I’ve been having since Wednesday, when I purchased VF5 and began putting it through its paces on one of the HDTVs here.

As someone who has had a high-def set way back in 2001 - long before there were Blu-Ray Discs or HD-DVDs full of high-definition video content - I have to say that I haven’t been entirely thrilled with that purchase, or that of a second HDTV around a year ago. The sets have been fine, but unless you’re a football fan who just has to watch games in high-definition, or a movie fan who really, really needs to see the dimples in your favorite actresses’ cellulite, there hasn’t been a really compelling need for the extra resolution. I bought my HD sets mostly for video games, and while the games have surely looked better than on typical TVs, there’s definitely been something missing: the resolution’s been there, making details look crisper, but in my view, the textures and shapes of the 3-D characters and backgrounds haven’t been up to snuff. Until now.

 

What you’re seeing above is Virtua Fighter 5, an arcade game developed by Sega, perfectly translated to the PS3 and playing on a 720P-ready television this afternoon. The picture immediately above is a crop of the photo above it, showing how this character’s fingers have more polygon and texture detail than most past fighting games used for their characters’ entire bodies. I’d call this hyper-realistic except for the fact that it’s quite exactly what people have been hoping for from HDTVs - compelling realism in every frame, easily distinguishable from what old-fashioned standard definition TVs were capable of providing. Clearly, Sega has accomplished something special here; ever since this game was released, I’ve seen more evidence of people taking photos of their home TVs than any other title I can recall, along with accompanying “unbelievable” and “amazing” comments that are typically reserved for vacation photography rather than something on a television set.

 

Truth be told, it’s not so much the TV, but the 3-D graphics hardware and superb programming that made this possible. Again, I’ve had the two HDTVs here for a while, and they’ve never put anything this spectacular on the screen before - even the same PlayStation 3 console with another generally well-made game (Tekken 5 Dark Resurrection) doesn’t come close to this. You can’t see it from these shots, but in addition to the detail, the game’s 60 frame per second animation is unbelievably fluid and uninterrupted - there’s no slowdown, and it all looks like real martial artists duking it out in 3-D, plus more.

 

Those waterfalls in the background? They flow like real waterfalls. The palm trees sway gently in the wind. Shadows cast by the players and other objects change with the position of the light, the camera, and the characters. The pictures don’t do it all justice.

 

Because of its subtlety, the stage above is the one that’s impressed me the most. Gritty urban backgrounds have been done a million times before in fighting games. But this one - ragged tracks above, people and cars moving behind, and rain falling inside the cage - it just feels real, or something a bit more exciting than real. It’s the puddles on the ground you can’t totally see here, and the occasional splashes of rain on surfaces of the cage, that help make the scene’s small details capture the eye.

 

Bear in mind that it’s taken literally more than five years since the introduction of HDTV to get to the point where a piece of software has been so thoroughly capable of using every pixel, every frame, and every screen as convincingly as this one - and unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of other titles coming down the pike with this kind of software development pedigree. This is Sega’s triple-A team - perhaps the industry’s strongest - working at its absolute best, on a powerful development platform that isn’t easy to program for. Most developers have been willing to compromise on frame rates and/or polygon counts to create visuals with comparable apparent details, and only the best developers (such as Epic, with Gears of War) have been able to come close. In other words, up until only recently, I could have lived with standard-definition TVs, and unless lots of other content developers really work to maximize content for HDTVs, there won’t be a need for the masses to switch this year, either.

 

For that reason, it’s going to be exceptionally interesting to watch how Apple approaches high-definition content with Apple TV. To this point, I personally have not wanted to buy Blu-Ray Disc movies for the PlayStation 3, as my feeling is that they’re not delivering enough additional visual or other content benefit to justify any price premium over standard DVD discs, and the collection of warmed-over titles pretty much sucks right now. My gut feeling is that mainstream customers are even less interested in high-definition movies right now than I am, and that with only a 40GB drive inside today’s Apple TV, Apple’s also betting that standard-definition films are going to continue to dominate for at least another year. For a company that sells movies only via download, high-definition movies require bigger storage devices, more downloading bandwidth, and better home wireless networks - say nothing of demand - pieces of the puzzle that aren’t quite in place yet.

But at the right price, I think people will gladly get into the HD movie market. What do you think? Are you already a HDTV owner? Do you have a HD game console or disc player? Holding out for a while? In any case, tell us why and what your plans are - we’re interested.

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Comments

1

I just bought an HDTV, a small one though (27”). I signed up for HD cable and got myself a Wii with component cables. Also got a DVD player that upconverts to HD.

My overall impressions?

1) There isn’t enough HD content worth watching. I’ve cancelled my entire cable TV service and bought myself an HD antenna with which I will watch select shows in HD (mostly, Conan O’Brian and occasionally evening HD shows).

2) The Wii in HD shows more jaggies, but I’d rather have a fun to play and cheap Wii than an expensive PS3 or Xbox 360. Plus Virtual Console rocks!

3) DVDs are great. They are the best thing so far. I’m not going to upgrade to HD DVD or Blu-Ray until I know which one is the clear winner though.

So overall, I think DVDs, even though they aren’t HD, are the best thing for HDTVs right now.

I look forward to buying an Apple TV and renting HD movies through iTunes though :)

Posted by Kevin on February 23, 2007 at 6:30 PM (CST)

2

...as apple tv can only play what an ipod can play (which isn’t even 720p, let alone 1080 that’s deliverable on blu-ray/hddvd), that 40gb (which is only used to temporarily store/buffer videos streamed from your central hard drive) makes a lot of sense…i don’t really see how the 40gb precludes hd content, or is any indicator either way for hd or sd.

With that said…I’ve got a DLP hdtv (720p), and I really like it…I mean, it’s hooked up to my wii, and my ps2, so i’ve got no HD consoles to play on it, but I definitely did spring for component cables for both connections, because the difference was phenomenally noticable on the ps2, and nominally noticable on the wii (obviously enough to justify the cost).

I’m not, however, jumping out to spend the money on a ps3 or xbox360 to get higher def games…I’m definitely interested in getting movies at high def, but that’s why i’m putting together a media server housed in a mac mini, and stored on a big ol’ raid 5 box.  I want to have all of my movies digitally stored on the server, and “servable” to wherever I happen to be in the house (viewable from my laptop or on the DLP).

This seems to be much more valuable to me than the appletv, which I struggle to see any justification for, except that it’s simpler and cheaper than setting up a media server.

Posted by OnlyShawn on February 23, 2007 at 6:41 PM (CST)

3

Nice, you guys got a PS3 too. Well, I have a horrible 20” SD, but I still love my games. This article makes me want to try this game out.

Good review!

Posted by Ian Donnelly on February 23, 2007 at 10:41 PM (CST)

4

3 years ago I bought a HD-ready CRT TV. I couldn’t afford LCD at the time. I’ve never seen HD content on it but I bought it for future-proofing my investment. I’ve ordered the Apple TV and this will be the first HD source I’ve used.

I believe strongly in HD. I’m hoping that Blu-Ray will win because from a data-storage perspective, it’s got 15Gb more than HD DVD, which is so significant that I wonder why anyone would be interested in HD DVD.

I recently bought an EyeTV and while I do get some 1080 content, it looks fuzzy compared to Blu-Ray demonstrations I’ve seen. I can only put this down to bitrate. I really do want HD for movies. I have stopped buying movies on DVD in anticipation of Blu-Ray releases. I still buy a lot of TV and music on DVD because I figure the source material for a lot of this would not benefit from HD resolution.

I want a PS3. I firmly believe that Sony will lead the world into Blu-Ray adoption, and PS3 is the spearhead. From the viewpoint of it being simply a Blu-Ray disc player, it’s the cheapest on the market, and the one game I saw was so clear and crisp that it was refreshing to look at.

OnlyShawn has oversimplified a point with the Apple TV. It is a true 720 HD device, capable of playing 720 content. Apple doesn’t sell this yet, but given the capability, it’s obvious that this will come. It does have a somewhat limited market—the user who has invested heavily in iTunes content. I myself in Australia have no movies or TV available from my iTunes Store, yet I have ripped about 150Gb of video from DVDs into iPod-compatible format, so it’s perfect for me, but I’m an unusual case.

Posted by Japester on February 24, 2007 at 4:39 AM (CST)

5

...if it’s ipod compatible, i’m *pretty* sure it’s not 720, man, and while I can’t find it now, I’m pretty sure that the appletv **at this point** can only play what an ipod can play, which is not even 720, let alone 1080 blu-ray quality.  Your ipod only does 640x480, which, while not *bad*, and higher def than SD, is not HD.

and…oversimplified?  perhaps; welcome to forums, where exhaustive discussion is exhausting and ignored. :)

**note:  sorry, I’m wrong about appletv…it CAN play 720p, apparently…but that’s still not 1080 blu-ray quality**

Posted by OnlyShawn on February 24, 2007 at 11:32 AM (CST)

6

I’ve been happy with my HDTV purchase. I got a 360 shortly after buying it, and I think the games look fantastic, and that the visuals do improve the experience.

i’m getting the Apple TV, but i have a feeling i’m going to regret it. ripping and then converting movies to the right format is a PITA. also, even though the Apple TV can supposedly playback content at HD resolutions, it’s unclear to me how well this works. in my own tests, large movie files over 2G do not stream.

overall, i find the new tv to have a lot more usefulness once you get streaming pictures, and next-gen gaming going. i’m not at all sold on HDTV movies though. i haven’t invested in a crazy home theater setup, though.

Posted by mrfett in Washington, D.C. on February 24, 2007 at 1:34 PM (CST)

7

I am happy with my HDTV to play DVD’s.  This is the only way to watch the TV series 24 that won’t drive you nuts.  The HDTV is a lot smarter, having a lot more features and intelligence than other TV’s I have owned.

Cable based HDTV with DVR is good, but I am struggling with $100/mo fees.

I don’t ever see myself buying an HD or Blue-Ray DVD player.  Regular DVD’s, even without upconvert, look great on my HDTV.  Why pay more and create incompatible libraries?  I have a large collection of VHS tapes I am trying to decide what to do with.

Technology is great, but only when it makes life easier.  That is what Apple figured out a long time ago.  I will probably buy an Apple TV, perhaps two.  Cancel HD cable and DVR’s at $100/mo, and buy shows I want to watch from iTunes.  $1200 per year will buy quite a few $35 seasons.

Apple TV is going to kill $150 iPod docks.

Posted by Chrystopher on February 25, 2007 at 10:44 AM (CST)

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