Last updated March 01, 2005.
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July 30, 2004:

I now have four DVD players connected to my television set—more, if you count each piece of software on the HTPC that is capable of DVD playback. Because it was on sale for twenty bucks, I bought Microsoft's DVD doohicky for the XBox, which is connected via component video cables through the HD-pack accessory. I also have a Pioneer DV-563A which is also connected via component video cables, and an old Sony DVP-S530D which is using S-Video. There's also the HTPC and its Lite-On DVD-ROM connected with S-Video.

Now, I'm well aware that it's quite silly to have an HTPC using only S-Video, but I'll address that in a minute. My concern right now has to do with overscan.

As expected, the (unmodded) XBox's DVD capabilities are pretty marginal. Besides the fact that the X-box itself is kinda loud (you can hear it humming during quiet scenes), the picture quality is mediocre. To be fair, it is good enough that "normal" people probably wouldn't notice it at all without a side-by-side comparison, and even then maybe not unless someone pointed out the shortcomings directly.

Specifically, I find gradiants to be a bit splotchy, and fast-motion scenes seem dirtier. It's probably just my imagination, but there are times when I swear I can see interlacing in action sequences. (My understanding is that the XBox does not permit progressive scan DVD playback without a mod chip.) So aside from the novelty, and perhaps the convenience of having a single unit, using the X-Box for DVD playback is pretty much out altogether. There's also a lot of overscan, but it is possible that this is due to some setting for my television's component video inputs.

The Pioneer (a progressive scan player) produces the best picture of the bunch, but it also has a lot of overscan—the same amount as the XBox, actually, which leads me to wonder if the overscan is caused by the T.V., since they're both using component video. Saying there's "a lot" of overscan is pretty vague, so I've included this picture below as a guide:

DVD overscan
DVD overscan

With 4:3 material, both the XBox and the Pioneer cut off appoximately the same amount, as indicated by the red border. That might not seem like a lot, but it is enough that I notice it, and it is rather annoying. The HTPC has no overscan at all, but it also has the worst picture (more on this later). With the DVD source depicted above, the Sony (480i) actually has slightly more overscan when using S-Video, and substantially more when using component video.

The amount of overscan with the Sony surprises me, because I could have sworn it had less overscan than the Pioneer—not more. It is possible that this was due to comparisons from when I had the Sony hooked up via composite video, though, before I found my other component and S-video cables. This would support my theory that at least some of the overscan is due to my television's handling of component video. At least the overscan isn't much of a concern when viewing 1.85:1 or wider material, since most or all of the vertical loss is taken up by empty black space.

Now, ideally, I would just have the HTPC connected using DVI, and theoretically have the best picture. It would definitely be a lot better than using S-Video, anyway. However, I only have one DVI input, and it is currently taken by the cable box and its glorious HDTV content. Now, I could bump the cable box down to component video, and put the HTPC on DVI, but that seems rather silly since nothing I watch on the HTPC ever has more than 480 lines of vertical resolution. Frankly, I'd rather ensure that the HD content is at the best possible quality.

It might be worth it if I can get the DVD playback to noticably surpass the Pioneer's picture quality, but right now it is easily the worst of the batch, not even approaching the Sony, despite the fact that they're both only using S-Video. The HTPC's DVD shortcomings exist whether I'm using PowerDVD, Media Player Classic, or VLC for playback. I would assume some software solution exists that would allow me to improve the picture quality, but I haven't found anything yet. Looks like this is going to require a lot more tweaking—possibly involving some sort of DVI switcher. This would be a lot easier if I had lower standards.