Lately there has been plenty of talk about 1080p video and for good reason, it brings truly kick-ass quality to your home entertainment movie and TV viewing experience. There is the same type of excitement (if not more) in the industry surrounding HD-DVD and Blu-ray, the competing standards for next generation movie discs, that there was when standard definition DVD was introduced many years ago to replace VHS and Betamax.
These next generation movie formats bring six times the quality of that of regular DVD. How can this be achieved? It all comes down to the media used to store the movie data. HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs are able to store much more data than a regular 4.7GB DVD disc. In fact, the storage capacity of a double sided Blu-ray disc is 50GB and HD-DVD is 30GB - even for the latter, that's over six times the capacity available from the previous DVD standard! That allows film studios to sell movies at much higher resolutions up to 1920 x 1080, which are progressively scanned, for amazing life-like quality and extreme clarity. If you've ever experienced true HD content on a large display, it's easy to become highly immersed in the scene and it really feels as if you are there in the same environment. In comparison and even when HDTV's do their best to upscale content, DVD quality feels like looking at inferior piece of junk. Forgetting about the whole DRM and HDCP debacle, it's awesome technology.
As with all new technology though, it comes at a cost. If you are a real home theater junkie and require the best of the best, it's going to mean spending really big bucks for you. First of all you are going to need the display and that's going to mean spending at least a couple of grand on an LCD or plasma, which is able to output 1080p content, and there's really not too many of those available yet - so you are paying a price premium for them. You'll need to buy an HD-DVD or Blu-ray player, which are ridiculously expensive at the moment. Of course, you could opt for an XBOX 360 HD-DVD player, which carries a much more reasonable price tag, since it skips on the burning capabilities. Nevertheless, you still need to hook it up to an HTPC system which is capable of playing 1080p content and that's not just any system. Then you need to buy the actual movies which are more expensive than regular DVD movies. All up, it's going to be an investment that is going to cost at least $3,000 USD and probably upwards if you want supreme quality, from brands like Sony and Sharp.
Since it's not a small chunk of cash to throw into improving your living room experience, you really should get a taste of 1080p HD content and experience before spending all that money. We won't be held responsible for impulse buying decisions, though! Today we're going to give you a preview of such content on your PC - there's plenty of free and impressive 1080p content floating around the big bad Internet, you just gotta' know where to find it!
What type of system do I need?
The best place to start is talking about the type of PC you'll need to properly experience 1080p HD content on your system.
Most companies and people recommend the same type of system requirements for playback of such content. For the best experience and from what we have tried, you'll need a system running Windows XP or higher (with all the latest drivers installed), a 3.0GHz processor or equivalent (all Intel Core 2 Duo processors regardless of clock speed will work perfectly fine), 1GB of RAM but 2GB is going to be better, at least a 128MB graphics card and display which is capable of a resolution of 1920 x 1200 or higher - a big and expensive widescreen LCD monitor is recommend, Dell's 24" UltraSharp 2407WFP does the trick quite nicely. On the sound side, you'll want a sound card which is capable of reproducing 5.1 sound and a 5.1 or higher speaker system would be ideal for the full surround sound experience.
Since 1080p content is very demanding on the system, you really do need to pay close attention to the system specifications. If your system is too slow, you might physically be able to play 1080p content but it won't be smooth and it will skip and generally make you frustrated about the whole ordeal.
Your only saving grace might be your graphics card - both nVidia (PureVideo HD) and AMD ATI (AVIVO) graphics cards have features built into their most recent GeForce and Radeon cards which off-load encoding of 1080p content (and others) using WMV-HD, H.264 and VC-1 codecs from the CPU to the GPU. This means that if you have a slower processor, such as an Intel Celeron or AMD Duron, you might be able to playback HD content since the GPU is able to take care of this for you. It will also help improve image quality and clarity as well by using a range of different algorisms but that's an entirely different subject on its own. You can find more information about nVidia's PureVideo HD and ATI's AVIVO by clicking these links but we'll be looking more into this in future articles, so stay tuned.
Keep in mind that 1080p content uses bit rates usually 8Mbps or higher and that translates to around one mega byte per second. Hence, if you're downloading a HD movie trailer which runs for two minutes, that's going to be roughly 120MB. If you want to stream the HD content off the Internet, which some sites allow you to do (such as Apple), you're going to need a fast Internet connection (such as ADSL2) that is able to download at 8Mbps or higher. Of course, you can use a slower connection but it just means you'll need to wait for the content to download first. If you're unlucky enough to be cursed with an Internet connection that has download limits imposed on it (such as a great majority in Australia), just be careful you watch how much you download because you could blow your limit in short time watching such high resolution video.
Now that we've covered the type of computer system and Internet connection you'll need to playback 1080p HD content on your PC, let's check out some of the amazing and free content available to you for sampling.
Apple HD Movie Trailers
The Apple website has long offered free movie trailers on their website but only in recent times have they started offering HD content in 480p, 720p and 1080p resolutions. Apple has exclusive deals with the film producers to host their newest movie trailers on their website and there are indeed plenty to choose from and really high quality ones at that. It's definitely one to bookmark!
Before you can watch trailers from the Apple website, you'll need to download and install QuickTime software since they are all in their mov file format. It's free and won't take you long to get up and running.
We'll provide some screenshots of the 1080p content available from the Apple website. Keep in mind they are compressed, so the quality is not going to be as good as the actual trailers but they'll give you a good idea of what is available. Click on the images below for the full 1080p screenshot.
Get a tissue ready if you have a drool problem...
Impressed yet? I bloody well certainly am! Let's move on!
WMV HD Content Showcase
Microsoft's WMV HD Content Showcase
Microsoft has a bunch of 720p and 1080p movies on their WMV HD Content Showcase website which demonstrates their WMV HD standard that uses the Windows Media Video 9 codec. While the quality is probably not as good as the best HD movie trailers offer by Apple, they are still quite good.
You will need the latest version of Windows Media Player to view these movies but if you have the codecs installed through other means (such as Codec Packs), you can watch in other players without any problems.
We'll provide some screenshots of the 1080p content available from the Microsoft website. Keep in mind they are compressed, so the quality is not going to be as good as the actual trailers but they'll give you a good idea of what is available. Click on the images below for the full 1080p screenshot.
Let's get started!
Bikini Destinations - Shots for the men!
Bikini Destinations - Some shots for the men!
Sorry ladies, these shots are for our male readers. We managed to get a hold of a HD 1080p copy of Bikini Destinations (Bahamas Trip) which seems to be an on-going TV episode. Who really cares though?
We'll provide some screenshots of the 1080p content from the movie. Keep in mind they are compressed, so the quality is not going to be as good as the actual trailers but they'll give you a good idea of what is available. Click on the images below for the full 1080p screenshot.
Moving on then... no seriously, I mean it... move on - stop looking!!
Look and Sound of Perfect (HD-DVD)
The Look and Sound of Perfect (HD-DVD)
"The Look and Sound of Perfect" is a promotional website for the HD-DVD consortium. On their website, you can download a bunch of 1080p and 720p movie trailers of all the latest HD-DVD movies and some that are on the way.
Even if they tried, their website could not have been designed any worse with huge amounts of annoying flash all over the place - I'm not even going to link to it, if you want to find it, Google it. Thankfully a good chap called Dave has created a page with links to all of the HD content on the website, which you can download in a much more friendly fashion. Head on over to Dave's Trailer Page and please give the guy a pat on the back if you ever see him.
We are including screenshots from the King Kong HD-DVD trailer which are simply out of this world. King Kong is the best example of extreme HD quality that we have seen so far and it should be one of the first HD-DVD's you buy if you want to show off your new 1080p setup to your friends.
These trailers are definitely up there in terms of quality - just as good as what Apple has on offer. The 1080p downloads are all 8Mbps, so prepare your Internet connection for some serious downloading. We'll provide some screenshots of the 1080p content from the website. Keep in mind they are compressed, so the quality is not going to be as good as the actual trailers but they'll give you a good idea of what is available. Click on the images below for the full 1080p screenshot.
In two words... Absolutely stunning!
From the underground
The following are all 1080p screenshots from various movies and documentaries which are floating around the Internet; you just need to know where to find such content. If you use torrents, just search for "1080p" and you'll be surprised what you can find.
There's plenty out there and it all seems to come from some source in China who is being able to get hold of what seems to be HD promo material from the film studios. For instance, we even managed to find a fairly mint copy of "Swordfish" floating around and the quality is quite amazing but that's around about an 8GB download for the full movie.
We'll provide some screenshots of the 1080p content from the content. Keep in mind they are compressed, so the quality is not going to be as good as the actual trailers but they'll give you a good idea of what is available. Click on the images below for the full 1080p screenshot.
That's all folks!
The screenshots from the previous pages should have now gave you a good taste of what the next generation 1080p movie standards from HD-DVD and Blu-ray should offer you.
We are really impressed with the quality and clarity on offer, especially from movies like King Kong, which are simply amazing and so very life like. Head on over to the website offering the free sampler 1080p content and check it out for yourself!
Is now time to bite the bullet and spend a packet on a new home entertainment setup? Let us know what you are going to do by commenting in our forums or by posting below!
Have fun and try not to spend all of your life savings!