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