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You've Gotta Be Kiddin' Me

Jun 20th, 2008
Part Two

Well, I certainly got that one wrong. Two columns ago I surmised that Toshiba’s rumored Blu-Ray killer was going to be a red laser HD system. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The true nature of Toshiba’s killer product is so absurd that it simply never occurred to me. Ready for this?

At a London press event, Toshiba announced that upscaling has become its strategy to put Sony in its place. Upscaling! Toshiba has been hard at work developing a scaling chip or chipset that recreates image detail by, among other things, processing adjacent frames to enhance the viewed frame. But no matter how you process, this is still a form of interpolation and prediction that cannot – I repeat cannot – create something from nothing.

I’ve had some considerable experience with scaling DVDs. My first was years ago with a home theater computer. Next was with a Key Digital HD Leeza scaler, which I still own and which does a very credible job. I’ve experienced the scaler in my Sony Ruby front projector. And I evaluated the scaling capabilities of the Toshiba HD-A1 and HD-XA2 HD DVD players, and the Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Disc player. I can attest without hesitation that scaling is not even close to replicating the visual information found in true high definition content. And as an unavoidable consequence of scaling, constructed images bring with them all the flaws of the DVD’s transfer: mosquito noise, macroblocking, and the dreaded and all too common edge halos. When I wrote and published my HD DVD versus DVD reviews, my visual impressions were derived from precisely the same HD DVD player: native HD format for HD DVD versus DVD scaled to 1080p. Similarly, when I wrote and published my BD versus DVD reviews, my visual impressions were derived from precisely the same BD player: native HD format for BD versus DVD scaled to 1080p. The differences were painfully obvious… always.

Toshiba claims that its newly developed process will “add resolution” and “fill in the gaps” while enhancing colors to the expanded palette of high definition. There was a demonstration at the press event in which a DVD and a scaled DVD were displayed on two monitors side by side. Reports are that the scaled image did look better (as I would expect), but what Toshiba did not do was place an HD DVD or BD presentation of the same film on a third monitor. They wouldn’t dare; the obvious superiority of true HD would make Toshiba’s assertions laughable.

The press members in attendance were reported to be quite aggressive with their questions and comments. One of the more diplomatic correspondents characterized the assertion that scaled images are competitive with true HD as “fanciful nonsense.” Head of Product Marketing at Toshiba Europe Emily Shirley had the unenviable task of fielding questions and after becoming somewhat flustered by the harsh reception, she asserted, “Blu-ray is only a storage medium.” No, Ms. Shirley, Blue-ray Disc is more than only a storage medium. It’s the legitimate physical media to convey full resolution, genuine 1080p images and superior sound to the home. It's the only physical media with the capability to deliver the bit rates required and the storage capacity to support the consequentially large files.

It also became clear during this presentation that Toshiba will more aggressively support the digital download vector. A Toshiba panel member commented, “The fact that Bill Gates and everyone in the industry is talking about downloads is illustrious.” What was not discussed were: the gaps in Internet infrastructure; the need for much higher bit rates to the home; and, the low resolution, highly compressed nature of the HD downloads currently offered by Microsoft and Apple. BD is reported to be growing considerably faster than DVD did at a similar time after its introduction in 1997; and the installed base of BD-capable players worldwide is four times that of DVD at a similar point on its growth curve. One would think that with the enviable acceptance BD is enjoying, even as eroded consumer confidence and economic concerns are in play, Toshiba would jump more rationally on the BD bandwagon and market its own players. Even Sony eventually marketed VHS decks.

The scaling chip or chipset will be integrated into the newest line of Toshiba’s Qosmio laptops and in dedicated DVD players expected to be formally introduced in August. Don't let your friends or family be fooled into buying a product that can't deliver real quality; don't let them be distracted by silly claims that scaled DVDs look just as good as true high defintion content delivered by Blu-ray Disc. This Blu-ray Killer is going to shoot blanks.

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