Sunday, August 24, 2008

PS3 Media Playback Update

First of all, kudos to Sony for producing what I think must be the first 1080p60 AVC file to playback on PlayStation 3. Posters on the AVSForum tipped me off to the 1080p download available at WipEout HD website. Encoded at 20mbps with peaks at 49mbps, it's a worthy workout for the PS3 - but it's a shame that the gameplay footage has so much v-lock screen tear.
The video is also noteworthy in that I could not match this performance initially whatsoever, despite matching its encoding profile as closely as I could using x264. It turns out that the video divides the image into 'slices' which PS3's Cell CPU decode in parallel... and x264 doesn't support slices.
However, the Mainconcept Reference encoder does and while it's horrible to use compared to x264, I quickly had 1080p60 material playing back nicely. I'll have to consider updating the Devil May Cry demo on to replace the existing VC-1 encode as I get the same quality at a lower bitrate and AVC is clearly more suited to the PS3's media playback capabilities. That's if I can find someone with the full version to do the encode for me, as the demo version watermarks output and I'm not paying $1,999 for an encoder that is inferior to x264 in just about every way.

PlayStation 3 WipEout HD supports 1080p60 (with one or two interesting technical tricks I might go into at a later date) and the AVC video Sony produced for it is well worth downloading and checking out on your own PS3...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Website Revamp Now Live

Well, after lots of behind-the-scenes mucking about, the new Digital Foundry website is now live. Contained therein is a stronger focus on the hardware offerings we've developed, including a pretty remarkable 1080p60 demo of Devil May Cry 4's superb intro sequence, running from PC. Encoded into the VC-1 codec and optimised for playback on PS3, it's well worth a download as an example of the quality of final deliverable asset Digital Foundry TrueHD provides. There's a good-looking 1080p30 AVC file based on Gran Turismo 5 that should playback nicely on both PS3 and Xbox 360 too.
Also revealed is the first work on the notebook version of Digital Foundry TrueHD that'll allow for 720p60 and 1080p30 HD capture 'on the go'.
While putting the website together, checking the logs also revealed that many of the shots posted on this blog are being hotlinked from elsewhere - and with it, the astonishing statistic that 5GB (!!) in JPEGs were downloaded at my expense last month, mostly from MySpace mouth-breathers stealing the Kasabian images from a previous blog posting. The shots have been moved and if they're stolen again, they'll be replaced with far more 'colourful' images I'm not sure your mother would appreciate seeing plastered over your profile!
Not too much else to report otherwise - my personal time has been vacuumed up preparing video material for the Leipzig GC games event currently taking place in East Germany. I've visited the event in the past, and while I'm never too keen on shows like this, the conference centre's surrounding area is truly beautiful - away from the city centres, Germany is a lovely place to visit; like rural England, but with space to breathe...

Friday, August 8, 2008

1080p60 Video Playback: PS3 Supreme

It's all very well having hardware capable of 1080p60 capture; the only problem is that once you have created your wondrous edit, the only playback mechanism available is a quad core PC running the CineForm NEO Player software. Great (incredible, actually) for event usage on a huge display, not so great for final asset delivery to the masses.
Sure, 1080p30 can be played back with much aplomb on both Xbox 360 and PS3, but all my previous efforts in getting demanding video working at full fat 1080p60 have failed miserably, with only mediocre 1440x1080 performance possible via the Xbox 360's dashboard WMV player.
PlayStation 3 recently had VC1 decoding added to its media playback arsenal and it's outperforming my 3.0GHz Core 2 Quad system, and indeed the Xbox 360. Easily. My previous 1440x1080 anamorphic edits which gave 360 'pause' play back beautifully on PS3. Handle the encode carefully and the PS3 will even stream 40mbps VC1 without a hitch!
Sure, there are limitations with Sony's console, as you might expect from a consumer-level piece of hardware bent over and molested at gunpoint into doing things it really doesn't want to do. In an ideal world, you'd want to use all of the encoding power of VC1 - in-loop and overlap filters, dequant, true chroma motion estimation, B frames, the works. But in dealing with 60 frames, the poor old PS3 simply can't cope. The answer is to turn off varying amounts of this stuff and compensate with sheer bandwidth. The amount you'll need will vary with your source material but for 1080p60 you're looking at the top end.
So... what's the catch? Weirdly, PS3 supports VC1, but support is patchy for the Microsoft audio codecs. Plus you need to 'Enable WMA audio' on the XMB, which nobody ever bothers doing any way. The answer is to demux the WMV, transcode audio into ac3 then plonk everything into a transport stream (.ts) container.
As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. My whole objective here is to get some semblance of the magnificence of TrueHD 1080p60 captures but playable on everyday hardware; getting that level of quality is going to take some time, so no downloadable goodies for now, but at least now I know it's actually possible...

Kudos to Microsoft for Expression Encoder 2 and its 30 day trial period I'm ruthlessly exploiting as we speak. It's based on the same code that produced spectacular VC1 encodes for HD DVD and Blu-ray, but it ain't cheap at $199. However, encoding quality seems to leaps beyond Microsoft's previous Windows Media Encoder offering

Sunday, August 3, 2008

PC Gaming Renaissance

I'm currently in the process of revamping the woefully out of date website. There'll be new pages detailing all our HD offerings and streaming video rather than cumbersome HD downloads. Tomorrow one TrueHD unit will be capturing the other in order to create videos showing the new system in action.
I can't be using Ridge Racer 7 to showcase 1080p capture for the rest of my life, so I knocked together a basic PC out of spare parts lurking in corners of the Digital Foundry lair, then bought a brand new 512MB nVidia 8800GT for a mere £90.
The results were spectacular and the revelation clear: for much the same price as a PlayStation 3, you can have a gaming machine that massively outperforms any current console. Devil May Cry 4 with 2x MSAA at 1080p60 is spectacular - an inordinate leap visually over the console versions. So-called system killer Crysis? Performance a touch choppy at 1080p with all settings on 'high', but still perfectly playable. Scale back to 720p and once again we have 60fps gameplay. Unreal Tournament 3 ran without a hitch at the full fat 1080p60 and predictably, blew the console versions out of the water graphically: over twice as much detail and double the frame rate.
The irony is that as pundits confidently predict the end of PC gaming, we've finally reached a point where basic PC technology is sufficient enough to feed consumer level HDTVs with a graphical experience far beyond what the set-in-stone, unupgradable consoles can achieve. In my view, there's never been a better time to get into PC gaming, and it needn't cost the earth...

A quartet of images derived from TrueHD 1080p60 captures using the CineForm encoder. Clockwise: Crysis (PC), Devil May Cry 4 (PC), Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (PS3) and finally Virtua Tennis 3 (PS3). Click on the thumbnails for full images.