'Star Wars: The Phantom Manace' R1
Bjoern Roy , last update October 24th, 2001

[Update: there is now a R1 NTSC vs. R2 PAL shootout below the R1 trailer and deleted scenes comparisons, plus some added comments in the conclusion.]

 

Words can't describe how disappointed i am with this transfer.

This could have been a very good transfer, it almost is. There are several smaller issues with this transfer that i would normally comment on... But i won't go too deep into them, because there is one flaw that dominates so profoundly, that every other criticism gets kinda insignificant. Edge enhancement from hell. You might want to read my guide, if the term doesn't ring a bell. ;-)

Apart from the EE, this is quite a pleasing presentation. Some shots are quite soft, others are rather detailed. Black level is spot on. Shadow detail and delineation is very good, but midtones appear a bit too dark sometimes (gamma). Color balance is very good. Color Saturation is quite good, too, but there are some scenes that are borderline oversaturated.

All this becomes uninteresting, once the real problem raises its ugly head. So lets focus on that.

 

Edge Enhancement:

The EE that can be found on this title is not of the usual variety that plagues most DVDs to a different degree.

Analysis:

1) The EE on this disc is of the 'adaptive' variety. What i mean by this, is that the amplitude of the EE effect varies strongly with the contrast of the edge. Below a certain contast threshold, edges aren't effected at all. Thats why most of the picture still looks rather soft. But those edges that have a rather high contrast get contoured heavily with dark and bright halos. Past a cetain level, the halos are so severe that they are basically black and white. This yields a very strange artificial picture, that is rather soft overall, but contains several strong black and white borders that kinda jump out of the screen. Whereas 'regular' EE, that is used by Columbia for example, actually effects the whole picture, which actually brings out detail quite good on less contrasy scenes but is really annoying in 'against sky' shots etc. Fortunatly, I don't know very much other titles that exhibit this terrible 'adaptive' enhancement, but the one that comes to mind is the new Die Hard 3 S.E., which is also a Fox title.

The frequency of the EE is extremely low, which yields very thick halos. If you have to use EE at all, you have to boast those frequencies that are close to the limit of the format. What they boasted here is more like the upper limit for a 10th generation VHS copy.

The unusual thing about this DVD is, that in 90% of the movie, the vertical EE is the real offender, with the horizontal EE being quite acceptable. The funny thing is, that the other 'adaptive' EE title, Die Hard 3 S.E., has it the other way around! Not really much vertical EE, but tons of horizontal EE. But TPM is not the only title of recent times where the vertical EE dominates. Forrest Gumb, Cast Away and Unbreakable for example, although they exhibit the 'regular' flavor.

But there are also scenes with strong EE in both dimensions, and others (although few) with almost no EE, most of them being closeups.

 

Screenshots

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

Lets have a look at some screenshots of the feature presentation first. When i mention horizontal EE, you have to look at vertical edges in the shots. And when i mention horizontal EE, you have to look at vertical edges.

 


Quite typical for the movie. Rather strong horiz. EE, but extremely strong vert. EE. The effect is so heavy, that you can see several bright/dark alterations after the main halo.


Ditto.


Same here

.
As i mentioned, there are lots of scenes with practically no horiz. EE (look at the right statue), but extremely severe vertical EE (look at the lower edge of the round building).


Same here. No horiz. EE (left and right edge of robe). Strong vert. EE (lower edge of robe).


Rather untypical scene with strong symmetrical EE in both dimensions.


This shows the 'adaptive' nature of the EE quite well. Basically the whole picture looks smooth, but the bright shoulder yields a heavy thick black halo on top, followed by a white and another black halo. Those bright black halos ontop of basically everything that is lit by the sun can be seen in every outdoor scene of the movie and is the biggest distraction of the movie. I will call it 'black top'.


'Black top' again.


See how everything in the frame that is bright has these 'black tops'. The result is a blurry artificial mess that masks actual picture detail!


Again, basically no horiz. EE here, but heavy vert. EE. See how the body, the legs and even the left mountain-top against the sky look smooth, but the other edges seem to jump out the picture.

 

Screenshots Movie vs. Trailer
The theatrical trailer is encoded with quite a low bitrate and isn't quite as detailed as the movie itself. But it still looks a lot more film-like, because it shows almost no EE.

Note: movie screenshots always on the left or top, trailer shots at the right or bottom.

The fact that the trailer has quite heavy MPEG block artefacts due to the low bitrate but 'zero' EE should, again, put the "EE is a MPEG artefact" nonsense to a rest.


Every horiz. edge in the picture shows the terrible vertical EE in the movie, while the trailer logo looks perfectly smooth. The darker midtones that i mentioned can also be seen here.


Perfectly smooth horizontal edges in the trailer, enhanced mess in the movie.


Same here. This is probably the best example of what i mean with 'adaptive' EE. Only the bright horizonal edges show heavy dark halos, the rest of the picture looks perfect.


Again, the 'black tops' on every bright detail actually masks detail.

 

Screenshots Movie vs. Deleted Scenes
As if it wasn't enough that the trailer beats the movie in smoothness, the deleted scenes also look quite a bit better. They have a slightly different tonal range, looking a bit more dynamic. There is more vertical detail and the vertical EE is noticable reduced in most shots, but still unacceptable.

Note: movie screenshots always on the left or top, deleted scenes shots at the right or bottom.

 


This shows that the halos are thinner on the deleted scene. Still too much, though.


The deleted scene has a lot more vertical detail. The seating rows are far better distinguishable. The bright lines also show some aliasing (stair stepping) in the movie that is not present in the deleted scene.

 

Update: Screenshots NTSC R1 DVD vs. PAL R2 DVD

I finally got my hands on a R2 copy of TPM. There where differing reports on the EE on the R2 PAL copy. Some said, the EE is exactly the same, others said it was greatly approved.

Now that i checked the disc out, my verdict is this. The PAL version has a lot less vertical EE, which was the most bothersome on the R1disc. The horizontal EE, that varies from shot to shot anyway, seems to be exactly the same. At the same time, a lot of shots are quite a bit more detailed vertically. Part of the reason being probably the PAL resolution advantage (576 vs. 480 lines), but as was shown above, the detail in the deleted scenes is also higher, so the R1 disc doesn't even use the full potential of the NTSC resolution. What a shame.

Note: R1 screenshots always on the left or top, R2 shots at the right or bottom.

 


Look at the horizontal edges at the bottom of the ship. The vertical EE is much less on the PAL disc.


Same here. Horizontal edges have much less halos. Look at the vertical edges, the EE is a bit less pronounced on the PAL disc, but not nearly as much of an improvement as with the hor. edges.


Ditto.


Ditto again. Vertical edges basically EE less on both, horizontal edge much less EE on PAL. You can't show it better than on this shot, no?


The halos on the R1 are tremendous. They are so heavy that the contrast is is falsely increased.


Look at the dark halo and the bright double-contour on the right shoulder. Almost perfect on the PAL disc.


Heavy halo at the horizont on the right. Much better on the PAL.


Heavy EE on the R1, basically non on the PAL (middle), somewhat inbetween on the R1 deleted scene (bottom).


As already mentioned, the R1 (top) has less vertical detail (see seating rows) than the R1 deleted scene (bottom), and some heavy aliasing artefacts (jaggies, stair-stepping), see bright horizontal lines at the top of the frames. The PAL version has similar detail to the R1 deleted scene and even less aliasing. Since the PAL version doesn't show significantly more vertical detail than the NTSC deleted scene, it doesn't use the full potential of the 576 lines. Rather typical for PAL DVDs.


In a few scenes, the added detail and reduced EE on the PAL disc leads to a difference in picture clarity that is staggering! You can see the jaggies in the R1 version again in the bright triangle on the lower left. It seems to be filtered down considerably. Note that this is not due to the PAL version being so great, its because the NTSC is so bad.

 

Conclusion and final thoughts

What am i supposed to say? The transfer had a lot of potential, but is screwed up, at least form a videophile perspective. Most TV owners most likely won't have a problem. If it wasn't for the terrible EE, this would have been quite a good, although not perfect transfer (see review at the top). On a very resolving FP setup with the optimum seating distance (~1.5 times screen width), most of this transfer is really painful to watch. The 'adaptive' nature of the EE is especially bothersome, since most of the picture is unaffected and thus soft, plus the ultra high contrast of the enhanced detail/edges distracts from the rest of the picture and masks the real detail.

Peter Staddon of Fox was told by his telecine folks that "little or no EE was applied to the transfer" and even better "its probably in the print". Huh? The latter makes no sense at all. If you don't understand why it doesn't, simply look at the comparison with the trailer above. They probably have halo prints for the movie and non-halo prints for the trailer, right? :O) The former is a bit more difficult. One plausible explanation is, that the statement 'no EE was applied' may infact be true if you add 'deliberately by the telecine people'. But that doesn't mean that the equipment chain that was used didn't by default! One of the machines used in the transfer chain film->DVD must be the cuprit.

But there is one fact that makes me think the telecine people are indeed at least partly responsible. The pictures above proove without a doubt that different scenes have different EE patterns applied. Some with heavy horiz. EE, some almost without. If only the equipment would be at fault, i would expect the EE characteristic not to change over the whole movie. Just like basically every Col/Tri transfer, where the EE stays the same from beginning to end (the latest consensus among us videophiles being that the Sony encoder used by them being the culprit).

But in the case of Fox and TPM, i think both the equipment and the operators might be at fault. Whatever it is, the important part here is, that the 'adaptive' EE that plagues TPM and also DH3 S.E. is the among the worst things that can happen to a DVD transfer today. Even worse than the regular EE that we complain about in most other transfers. Whatever piece of equipment in the chain is responsible for it should be identified through some tests and avoided in future releases.

[Update:The improvement in vertical EE on the PAL disc (which happens to have a higher vertical resolution as we know) is an strong indication that the vertical EE is VERY likely indeed applied on purpose! The PAL and NTSC transfer were probably prepared at the same time and they figured "heck NTSC has less vertical resolution, so lets bump up the vertical sharpness a bit to compensate". Bah!]

The real scandalous part here is that the title is supervised under the 'THX quality assurance' label! Some of the most scandalous transfers ever, carry their badge (Highlander, True Lies, DH3 original edition). So this shouldn't come as a surprise. This doesn't mean that there are no great THX certified transfer (Toy Story's, Dinosaur...), just that the THX label on a DVD doesn't guarantee a thing.

The madness has to stop now. If Fox doesn't get the issue solved before the new True Lies 5-star special edition, i can't guarantee for anyones safety! :O)

 

Now, do i recommend you buy the disc? YES! Apart from the flaws in the transfer, this is one hell of an amazing DVD. The extras alone are priceless. Go get it!

[Update:But if you have PAL R2 playback capability, you could also consider buying the UK, French, German etc. version. Of course, only if the EE on the R1 bothers you more picturewise than the 4% speedup on the PAL bothers you soundwise. ]

Best regards
Bjoern Roy

Note: you can find my sound analysis of the TPM DVD here .

 

Back to Review Main Page

WEBCounter by GOWEB WEBCounter by GOWEB