Okay folks, it’s laid out right here for you. If you got your grubby little hands on Wii, then maybe you’ve been wondering if the component cables really make a difference. Maybe you even blew off buying them, scoffing at the Wii and its low graphics capabilities when compared to the behemoth graphics on-board both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.
I’ve read various articles debating the importance of the 1080p. I want to set the record straight once and for all: if you are serious about properly setting up your viewing room, you will definitely benefit from 1080p (and even 1440p.) Why? Because the 1080p resolution is the first to deliver enough detail to your eyeball when you are seated at the proper distance from the screen. But don’t just take my word for it: read on for the proof.
There are a few obvious factors to being able to detect resolution differences: the resolution of the screen, the size of the screen, and the viewing distance. To be able to detect differences between resolutions, the screen must be large enough and you must sit close enough. So the question becomes “How do I know if need a higher resolution or not?”. Here is your answer.
Based on the resolving ability of the human eye (with 20/20 vision it is possible to resolve 1/60th of a degree of an arc), it is possible to estimate when the differences between resolutions will become apparent. Using the Home Theater Calculator spreadsheet as a base, I created a chart showing, for any given screen size, how close you need to sit to be able to detect some or all of the benefits of a higher resolution screen. (Click the picture below for a larger version.)
What the chart shows is that, for a 50-inch screen, the benefits of 720p vs. 480p start to become apparent at viewing distances closer than 14.6 feet and become fully apparent at 9.8 feet. For the same screen size, the benefits of 1080p vs. 720p start to become apparent when closer than 9.8 feet and become full apparent at 6.5 feet. In my opinion, 6.5 feet is closer than most people will sit to their 50″ plasma TV (even through the THX recommended viewing distance for a 50″ screen is 5.6 ft). So, most consumers will not be able to see the full benefit of their 1080p TV.
However, front projectors and rear projection displays are a different story. They make it very easy to obtain large screen sizes. Plus, LCD and Plasma displays are constantly getting larger and less expensive. In my home, for example, I have a 123-inch screen and a projector with a 1280×720 resolution. For a 123-inch screen, the benefits of 720p vs. 480p starts to become apparent at viewing distances closer than 36 feet (14 feet behind my back wall) and become fully apparent at 24 feet (2 feet behind my back wall). For the same screen size, the benefits of 1080p vs. 720p start to become apparent when closer than 24 feet and become full apparent at 16 feet (just between the first and second row of seating in my theater). This means that people in the back row of my home theater would see some improvement if I purchased a 1080p projector and that people in the front row would notice a drastic improvement. (Note: the THX recommended max viewing distance for a 123″ screen is 13.7 feet).
So, how close should you be sitting to your TV? Obviously, you need to look at your room and see what makes sense for how you will be using it. If you have a dedicated viewing room and can place seating anywhere you want, you can use this chart as a guideline. It’s based on THX and SMPTE specifications for movie theaters; the details are available in the Home Theater Calculator spreadsheet.
Looking at this chart, it is apparent that 1080p is the lowest resolution to fall within the recommended seating distance range. Any resolution less than 1080p is not detailed enough if you are sitting the proper distance from the screen. For me and many people with large projection screens, 1080p is the minimum resolution you’d want.
In fact, you could probably even benefit from 1440p. If you haven’t heard of 1440p, you will. Here’s a link to some info on Audioholics.com. It is part of the HDMI 1.3 spec, along with 48-bit color depth, and will probably surface for the public in 2009 or so. You’ll partially be able to see the benefits of 1440p at the THX Max Recommended viewing distance and the resolution benefits will be fully apparent if you are just a little closer. I’ve read of plans for resolutions reaching 2160p but I don’t see any benefit; you’d have to sit too darn close to the screen to notice any improvement. If you sit too close, you can’t see the far edges of the screen.
In conclusion: If you are a videophile with a properly setup viewing room, you should definitely be able to notice the resolution enhancement that 1080p brings. However, if you are an average consumer with a plasma on the far wall of your family room, you are not likely to be sitting close enough to notice any advantage. Check the chart above and use that to make your decision. And remember, the the most important aspects of picture quality are (in order): 1) contrast ratio, 2) color saturation, 3) color accuracy, 4) resolution. Resolution is 4th on the list and plasma is generally superior to LCD in all of these areas. So pick your display size, then measure your seating distance, and then use the charts above to figure out if you would benefit from the larger screen size.
Last week Sony promised a patch to fix the problem, but it appears the solution may be more complex; the PS3 not supporting such high-definitinon TVs at a hardware level. Promises of a fix have also subsequently disappeared though the platform holder do assure us they are looking into the problem.
Now Microsoft’s Andre Vrignaud (Xbox Live technical strategy director), speaking on his personal blog, has twisted the knife into Sony over this problem, stating a fix could be very difficult: “…it appears there’s no internal hardware scaler in the PS3. As reported, it appears the PS3 is unable to output a consistent signal to your TV based upon your desired selection (ie, what your TV supports). This means that while I might want to play Resistance in 1080i, if the game doesn’t support it the console drops down to a lower-common denominator of 480p. The game then tells me that if I want to play in the best quality, I need to quit out, go to the dashboard, change the PS3’s resolution to 720p, and then relaunch the game. Oh, and when I return from the game, I’m obviously still at 720p, and not the 1080i I’d prefer to navigate the dash with. I experienced this myself and I can tell you it’s hugely frustrating.”
Vrignaud concluded: “This issue also affects people who have older HDTVs that only support 480i/480p and 1080i (not 720p – this was pretty common with earlier CRT HDTVs). These folks have no way to scale the game’s output to 1080i, and are thus forced to play in 480i/p. This smells of the console being rushed to market, and I’m not holding out any hopes for any significant fix. It’s bad, and feels like something Sony would have fixed if possible. My guess is the ‘fix’ they’re working on is going to be a bit of streamlining in the dashboard (perhaps a switch to automatically change back to 1080i/p when returning from a game), but the core issue isn’t going to be fixed. I hope I’m wrong, though, for the sake of all those folks having problems.”
More bad news for Sony? Quite possibly, though given this expert’s employer it would be rash to write-off Sony’s chances of satisfying owners of older HD sets, even if at the moment the situation is ambiguous. We’ll keep you posted.
Take it as you will, whether you prefer 1080i or 480p. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 currently upscales 720p to 1080i if necessary (i.e. 720p is not supported).
[Thanks, Kumar Shah and Miniboss]
[Update 1: Doing a little more research after reading many of the comments, turns out we might have been too generous in saying that most older HDTVs support 720p. We took out that sentence; just be sure to know what you set does and does not support. Also, rephrased the 480p vs. 1080i. I just tested the difference. Yeah, a bit different.]
Finally! Well, it only took a day. But Nintendo of America heard the frustrated cry of HDTV-owning journalists around the country and got component cables overnighted to us. So here you are: the highest level of graphics quality the Wii can manage.
Does it make any difference? You bet your ass it does.
Here we have a detail of Legend of Zelda’s title screen. Note first the fact that the top line of smaller text is much crisper and stand out more clearly from the background. Note also that the colors are more defined — check out the white accents on the E and L.
But finally, look at the intricate design that peeks out from between the E and L. With composite video, all the little lines blur together into one indistinct blob. But with component video cables, each little line is individually defined.
Nintendo promises that component cables will be available at Best Buy, Gamestop, and other B&M retailers at Wii launch. If you can’t find them, my advice is: bitch. Bitch loud and bitch long. It worked for me, it can work for you.
Oh, and please remember once you get the cables to go into your Wii settings menu and set the screen resolution to 480p. Or you’ll get nothing out of your purchase.