I’ve been contemplating on getting a new TV lately. What has driven me to make such a decision is the look of a relatively new kind of LCD TVs equipped with 120 Hz frame rate “up-conversion”. For some odd reason, films are made with 24 frames per second (FPS). Most LCD TVs (and computer monitors) all do 60 Hz or 60 FPS. Converting 24 FPS to 60 FPS still can’t be done evenly without the 2:3 pull down. This is where 120 Hz comes in. There is no need for 2:3 pull down and the up-conversion from 24 FPS to 120 FPS works out quite nicely. These numbers may sound theoretical, but seeing is believing. I went to see it for myself at Fry’s Electronics when they hooked up a Sony Blu-Ray player with a Samsung 46″ LCD TV at 120 Hz. They were playing Night at the Museum and Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix. Both came out stunningly beautiful, very smooth movement (no judder), and very 3-D like. Others have the same view. It almost made me want to buy the entire setup right there and then. But I had to do some research first.
Firstly, it is definitely the LCD TV at 120 Hz that performed all the magic to make the film looks smooth and fluid like that. Also, it isn’t just about the Blu-Ray content that does it, because my friend LK has the Sharp Aquos LCD TV at 120 Hz using the Xbox 360 HD-DVD player, and he’s getting the same amazing result.
Secondly, the 120 Hz frame rate up-conversion is not without its flaws. In order to get the stunning image, the contrast level has to be bumped up to either max or close to it. Maxing out on the contrast or brightness may reduce the life of the LCD. Also, in some scenes on Harry Potter, where the dragons landed in a forest, I could see artifacting around the wings. I had to look closely (from 3′ away) to see it. A casual viewer would miss it. I doubt it’s a Blu-Ray encoding error because there’s no noise discussion about this. So it must be the hardware frame rate up-conversion. Not surprising because most of these 120 Hz LCD TVs are priced around (or less than) US$2,000 now.
Frame rate up-conversion is not a new subject. DVDo has been doing this for the longest time with a video processor that converts film 24 FPS to a standard 60 Hz TV. They’re using fancy algorithm to do it. Most (if not all) videophiles prefer this product over the 120 Hz LCDs. I suppose having a company, whose sole purpose to come up with a video processor, to make a unit with more control over the processing of the input/output, and to make a unit that is software upgradeable, more appealing. It’s probably that PC vs. Mac mentality: geekiness vs. neatness.
For me, it’s all about cost. If the DVDo device is cheap (it is not: US$3,500 retail!) that may be my solution. The 120 Hz capable LCD TVs are getting much cheaper (about half price) since their availability in early 2007. If Syntax’s Olevia line is available in 120 Hz format, then we know the technology has gone mainstream. It’s no longer a “wait and see” moment. More like, what am I waiting for?