Picture quality – DVD vs. Blu-ray

As regular readers know posts on this blog frequently feature screen caps from the DVD or Blu-ray disk reviewed.  In the process of garnering the screen shots I have found out one or two interesting things about the picture quality of the originating disk.  Using vlc to play disks gives a window the size of the image in pixels.  (I use vlc because for some reason screen caps from DVDPlayer come out blank.)  Older opera DVDs have a picture that is nominally 720 pixels wide giving a 720×540 window for 4:3 pictures.  In practice there are often black bars at the side of screen reducing this a little and sometimes older TV derived material isn’t even really up to even that quality so this really represents an upper bound on the amount of information available.  More recent 16:9 DVDs tend to be a bit more information rich; 830×468 pixels seems quite common and some HD derived material checks in at around 850×480.  It does mean though that very few operas will fit on a single DVD9 disk. 

The big change comes with Blu-ray.  I haven’t capped enough Blu-ray’s yet to see if they are entirely consistent but I imagine the Zürich Semele from Decca will be fairly typical.  Here the image size is 1184×668 or almost twice as much information as the best DVDs.  The difference on a high resolution screen is striking.  That I guess is the advantage of the 50GB Blu-ray format.

To illustrate I’ve included thumbnails of pictures at various resolutions.  Click through to bring them up full size and really see the difference.

A typical analogue TV derived DVD. In this case the 1975 Glyndebourne “Rake’s Progress”

A typical non-HD widescreen DVD. In this case the 2004 recording of “L’Amour de Loin”

A DVD cap from HD source material – In this case DNO’s St. Francois d’Assissi

A Blu-ray screen cap from the 2007 Zurich “Semele”

What I’m wondering is how long it will take for video directors of opera DVDs to realise that the increased picture resolution means that they can back off from the super closeups without the picture turning to mush.  Of course it does depend a bit on what they think viewers are using to watch the recording too so in the interests of science here’s a poll on screen size.

8 thoughts on “Picture quality – DVD vs. Blu-ray

  1. Too bad you didn’t include front projectors in the poll. I clicked TV > 55: but it’s no where close to what I watch on. My screen is 108″ and it’s simple to get that with a front projector for much less than the cost of a large screen TV.

  2. Thanks for the information. I just saw an ad on TV for a movie coming out in combo pak DVD, Blu-ray and Ultraviolet. and I thought oh no, I haven’t even made it to Blu-ray yet!
    I appreciate some plain English and visuals on what the difference is with Blu-ray

    BTW, I ticked the box for 27-40″ but I also watch quite a bit of opera DVD on my laptop, too.

    • Not sure what to make of Ultraviolet. It’s a DRM scheme so it doesn’t have anything to say directly about the quality of the streaming. In Canada HD streaming is problematic because the main ISPs have usage based rates which makes downloading a 50GB stream prohibitively expensive.

    • I’m not optimistic. If the MetHD broadcasts are anything to go by, even given the use of the biggest cinema screen in town, the video director will still show us a close up of the soprano’s tonsils and eight foot high tonsils are really scary.

      • I think that the MET HD close-up problem is a result of directors thinking this is what people actually want to see. It’s instructive to look back on some older MET DVDs taken from the days when there was an ongoing “Live from the Met” series on PBS. These recordings make much more use of long-range, and mid-range shots so that you’re never in doubt of what the entire stage picture looks like. With many of the recent HD transmissions you have no idea of this context – sometimes it feels like the whole thing could have been filmed in a small studio with the camera simply moving from singing head to singing head. It kind of drives me crazy sometimes – it’s almost as if they’ve gone backwards in terms of cinematography even thought the overall technology is obviously so much more superior. For me, it’s the factor that’s the biggest cause for me reducing the number of HDs I now attend.

      • I agree. Gary Halvarsson seems to be straight out of the Brian Large school of videography. There are people in Europe who do it better. Francois Roussillon comes to mind as someone who gives the production a fair crack.

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