'Desperado' Superbit R1 vs. Double Feature S.E. R1
Bjoern Roy , October 15th, 2001

After the positive encounter with my first Superbit title The Fifth Element , i was really eager to see whether the improvements would also show up equally on the other SB releases. Now i have the second batch in my hand: Desperado, Crouching Tiger and Air Force One. I only skipped Johnny M., and no, don't ask :O>

The first of the new titles that i checked out is Desperado, one of my all time favorites. The old transfer had its flaws, which were completely unrelated to bitrate or compression artefacts. So i was happy to hear that Columbia not only re-encoded this title with their new Superbit scheme, but infact did a whole new HD transfer.

Therefore the improvements found in this new DVD can be put in 2 categories. The increased horizontal resolution together with a little less EE, just like on The Fifth Element , which can be attributed to the Superbit scheme. On top of that, there are difference in color, brightness, contrast etc. that are due to the new transfer.

This comparison is against the Dual Feature S.E. R1 edition. The original plain R1 version had the exact same transfer.

Here we go.

Read the Screenshot 1-0-1 on the main page for info about how these screenshots are obtained.

Note: The SUPERBIT version is always the one at the TOP or the LEFT of the image.

The SB version has quite a bit more horizontal detail than the old one. Again, there is almost no difference in vertical detail. The increase in resolution is not directly due to the higher bitrate, but rater indirectly. I explained that in detail in the first section of the TFE review.

The somewhat soft look of the old version is gone, the picture is highly detailed, you simply feel like you are there.

Here are some samples. Again, to judge horizontal detail, look at vertical edges, to judge vertical detail, look at horizontal edges.

Increase in horizontal detail is clearly visible here. Vertical detail is the same (look at long white horiz. line)

More detail everywhere (guitar, face, wall)


Edge Enhancement:
Unfortunately, the improvement in this regard on Desperado is not quite as profound as it was on TFE .

In the vertical direction, both the amplitude and the frequency stay the same, though the ripple is a bit more profound. In the example below, you can see the typical pimary dark and bright EE halos. But on the SB version (upper half), the inverse secondary ripple is stronger. You can clearly see a brighter halo that follows the dark one in the red, and a darker halo that follows the bright in the blue. This is sadly a bit more pronounced in the SB version:

In the horizontal direction, the amplitude of the ringing is slightly higher, giving even higher contrast at the edges. But at the same time, just like on TFE, the frequency increased by a fair amount, which means that the halos are less disturbing, because they are thinner.

Look at the upper edges of the red wall.

I used the example above to point out another issue, MPEG mosquito noise. Some people seem to think that edge enhancement is not used deliberately on DVD, but is rather an unavoidable side effect of MPEG encoding. This is not true at all, and i already tackled the issue in several threads. The example above can be used to demonstrate the difference quite nicely.

The examples of both the horizontal and vertical edge enhancement demonstrated above already proove that the considerably higher bitrate (and thus lower compression) that is used on the SB version did not get rid of the edge enhacement halos. If anything, they are slightly worse here.

At the same time, you can see the edge artefacts that are really incuded through high compression, called 'mosquito noise'. MN is noise that occurs at contrasty edges if the compression is too high. The characteristic thing about MN is that it is bound to MPEG blocks (8x8 pixels). A block is either noisy or it isn't. Thus, the noise can't really follow a contour precicely, but rather shows up in those blocks, that are crossed by the contrasty edge. To demonstrate this, i highlighted the outline of some of the MPEG blocks that show this noise.

Overall, while the EE on the new SB edition isn't gone, its still less than on most DVDs and the extreme detail and smoothness of the transfer isn't disturbed by it too much. Personally, the only scenes where i found the EE a bit bothersome are the ones with the red wall (fortress of the 'villain') above.

As i already mentioned, the SB edition boasts a completely new transfer. So, the improvements that i mention now are related to that fact and not the Superbit encoding scheme in general. Keep that in mind!

Problems with the old transfer have been: shadow detail, slightly pale colors and an overall muted look with limited contrast, (which was obvious right from the beginning Columbia logo). The new transfer completely solves all these issues!

Things to note on the thumbnails above:

  • the color timing is completely different on the SB edition (left), greens are acutally green, yellows more saturated
  • maybe there is even a tad too much green in the new transfer, because a) the sky in the Columbia logo looks a bit too turquoise and b) the cloth on the table looks neon.
  • Overall though, the new color scheme looks a lot better than the old one
  • On the logo, you can see what i meant with 'limited contrast range' on the old edition. Bright parts clip at a point well below the actual limit.


In the picture above, you can see just how different the two versions look hue-wise. You can also see how the darker parts (door) show a better shadow delineation. The added detail is also very noticable.


There is one other issue that is very interesting. It can be seen if this shot is analysed:

On top of the already discussed issues (detail, colors), you can see that the bright part of the white jacket is actually clipping to a dirty white on the regular edition (lower image). On the SB edition, the highlight detail is preserved, although its contrast is better!

Now, the really interesting thing can be seen if you look at the whole frame:

While the regular edition seems clipped in the middle part, it looks actually darker/murkier at the sides (look at the guy at the right). On the SB edition on the other hand, the contrast delineation seems evenly distributed across the whole frame. This is most probably due to advanced telecine gear that was used on the new transfer.

This would also mean that possibly a lot of the older DVDs from Col/Tri might improve considerably if new transfers were done. Add the Superbit treatment and you get vast improvements all around, just like here with Desperado.


Conclusion and final thoughts

How do i rate the improvement? On my setup, with my eyes, the improvement on Desperado is enormous. The picture is so much more detailed, so much clearer. The difference, basically throught the whole movie, is as big as going from a non-anamorphic transfer to an anamorphic one, only here in the horizontal and not in the vertical dimension. The image looks a lot more '3-dimensional', like you are there. This can be attributed to the SB scheme.

On top of that, the improvement in contrast, shadow delineation, colors etc. due to the new HD transfer completely remove the muted look of the old edition, boasting an visual treat as good as it gets.

With these Superbit titles, Columiba is playing in the major league at last. I will have to think twice about buying Col/Tri movies that are not SB, or at least i will certainly re-buy them once a SB edition is available.

Columbia should expand the SB idea to 2 disc sets immediately. Every new title (at least major ones) should be provided with a Superbit presentation on disc 1, with all the fancy extras on disc 2.

Do it and have the fellowship of videophile DVD consumers forever!

Best regards
Bjoern Roy



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