Click for larger example of film grainThomson announced last night that their Film Grain Technology for MPEG-4 has (finally) been approved for mandatory inclusion in HD DVD products. We say finally because they've been showing this off since 2004, and it was originally not approved by the DVD Forum for mandatory inclusion back in February 2005. No word on what has changed between then and now, or exactly when the Steering Committee met and approved it, but it's in there now (See below). Currently this technology is only included for use with the h.264 codec, although they indicate it could be added to support other compression solutions, like VC-1 for example.They remove all trace of film grain before the movie is compressed, then the player recreates the effect during playback. Beyond just adding a different visual feel, they claim this will also enhance compression and lower necessary bitrates for high definition content further. This AVS Forum thread provides much useful information on the effect of film grain and Thomson's technology.
The one thing we're not totally clear on at the moment, is whether or not this technology is already present in shipping Toshiba HD-A1, HD-XA1 and RCA HDV5000 HD DVD players. Even though it wasn't mandatory it could be present optionally or need to be added through a firmware upgrade. The press release indicates the aforementioned players will be manufactured with the technology present, as well as Microsoft's Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on however it doesn't make mention of players already on shelves or in homes, leading to our confusion. We also have no word on whether or not this will be user-optional for those who prefer their titles without it.

We'll have to wait until titles are available using this technology to judge for ourselves if it makes any noticeable change. It will also be interesting to see how many other technologies are added to HD DVD and/or Blu-ray after players have launched.

Update: Rochelle from Thomson's PR firm responded to us (thanks!), and confirmed that Film Grain Technology is already a part of both shipping HD DVD players.

Update #2: Although it was not approved during the February 2005 meeting for mandatory inclusion, it was approved later by a letter vote in April, and has been a part of the HD DVD spec ever since. With Thomson/RCA working with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), this can be more easily adopted by content producers, as the hardware required to play it is already rolling out. We've also updated the title to reflect the announcement.

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