the star trek test

Note: I actually wrote this a few weeks ago (July 9th), but since I mentioned the Star Trek test in my last post, this is where I first wrote about it, and I thought this post was live. I can’t remember now why I didn’t publish it. Anyway, the basic description of the test is that once I get Star Trek looking really nice on my TV, then I’m finally finished setting things up for good. :)

I spent most of this weekend working on trying to get my media box back up to snuff again, so I can see how well things will work. This time, I focused mainly on trying out the media center experience on my TV, since I remembered vaguely from last time there were a few issues.

My backup power supply also died this weekend, which means I’m down two boxes now, so I hauled out my desktop instead to the living room to hook it up to my TV. For my first test, I trotted out some really old Harvey Toons cartoons from the 50s. Note: Some of the cartoons on this set are *really* creepy, especially considering the time period. Considering the generally low quality they are going to start with, they looked pretty good, except for one problem — I could see some horizontal lines anytime there was a moderate amount of movement.

I was pretty sure the problem was related to interleaving or something like that, there are many terms I don’t entirely understand, so I started looking around the MPlayer man page for some video filters. I immediately found one that I was familiar with, and I had used just the other day to re-encode something. The softskip and pullup filters fixed the problem, and made the lines go away (ex: mplayer dvd:// -vf softskip,pullup).

I tried watching something a bit more modern (Murder, She Wrote), and the picture was absolutely gorgeous. As far as picture quality went, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t the DVD. It seemed to me that I noticed some slight stutter anytime characters moved rapidly, but I wasn’t sure. Once again though, for simple shows where you are just going to watch the show and not care too much about quality, it worked great.

Since things were going so well so far, I decided to pull out the big guns and try out what I refer to as the Star Trek test. This is where I’ll pull out a disc from Star Trek: The Next Generation and see how well my setup duplicates the quality of my DVD player. I randomly grabbed a box set and disc from the bookshelf, and ended up testing with the episode “Deja Q” from season three (a really great episode, btw. “Red alert …”) .

This episode turned out to be a great one to sample, since the very opening scene shows a huge asteroid drifting off to the side, with the Enterprise right beside it. On my computer, the stutter was painfully obvious, especially compared to watching it on my DVD player. The only thing I could think of at first was to try and drop some frames so it wouldn’t have to work so hard, even though my CPU usage was never above 5%. I tried -framedrop and -hardframedrop, and I’d like to say I noticed a slight improvement, but I can’t be sure. Running either one of those is risky anyway, since if you pause and resume playback, half the time MPlayer quits.

One thing I was hoping might help was if I changed my monitor resolution to a lower setting. I changed it to something much lower, like 640×480, but that didn’t help either. I poked around at more video filters, but nothing helped.

It’s not really a big problem for me, anyway. I’d already made the decision long ago that trying to watch any science fiction movies or anything with high motion or action scenes would be visually annoying on the computer, so I’d given up on hoping to get those ripped and archived. Still, as far as the Star Trek test goes, I must admit that the quality was much better this time, and if it wasn’t for the visual artifacts, I’d be sold.

The thing that really bothers me though is this. I can spend $60 on a DVD player, and the picture quality still looks better than what I can get with $600 in computer parts, including a top of the line CPU and video card. I’m really not sure where there is room for improvement. Until then, I guess I’m stuck watching stuff the old fashioned way — one disc at a time.

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