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Why upconverting DVD players can be a gimmick

Ben Drawbaugh

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DVDs have changed the way we watch movies and our favorite TV shows, and while the picture quality was the best we could find for some time, DVDs are not HD. It makes perfect sense for us to want to do whatever we can to make our DVDs look better on our HDTVs, and consumer electronics companies know this, but do upconverting DVD players really make DVDs look better? The answer is sometimes; but why not always? The reason why upscaling a DVD can be a gimmick, is because your HDTV already has a scaler built into it. An HDTV has to have a scaler built in, because there are so many formats and digital TVs can only display one resolution natively, everything else has to be scaled. This isn't the only video that gets scaled, believe it or not most 720p TVs scale 720p content too. The reason isn't a good one, but none the less, the reason is overscan. While there really isn't a good reason for overscan on HDTVs, there used to be, so manufactures actually engineer overscan into their TVs. Sure some newer TVs support 1:1 pixel mapping, but it is almost never the default, if it's supported at all. So now that we understand that all the signals are already being scaled, using a DVD player that scales actually makes the image get scaled twice, and as we all know, anytime you mess with a digital image, you risk mucking it up. Just like anything else in life, no two scalers are created equally, and if the scaler in your DVD player is better than the one in your TV, you are sure to see better results despite the dual conversion. Either way, in a perfect world you would watch a 1080p movie on a 1080p HDTV with 1:1 pixel mapping enabled, and enjoy the movie as it was intended, but in the end, it is really about what looks best to you.

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