Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kasabian, Digital Foundry and Microsoft

It's quite ironic that Digital Foundry's first mainstream non-games project should be for... Microsoft. Last week, the Xbox Live Marketplace was updated with the back catalogue of Kasabian videos in standard definition, with the latest single, Shoot The Runner, available as an HD presentation.
Digital Foundry performed the conversion and encoding for this project, taking the masters in 1080i/50 format from HDCAM tape, ingesting the raw footage directly over HD-SDI into a 25fps 1080p file.
The video was then scaled downwards to 1280x720 - the Xbox Live HD standard - and encoded directly into the appropriate WMV container.
It was a relatively painless operation, but the flat colour/animated nature of the video provided a lot of potential for compression. However, with an eye for quality, Microsoft chose to use the version we encoded at the maximum possible bitrate, providing a virtually flawless rendition of the original file.

Click for full-size 720p images of the Kasabian video, Shoot the Runner, prepared by Digital Foundry for Microsoft and the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

1080p 24-bit Precision

The latest Digital Foundry HD software is now ready, offering native analogue component support to the already impressive results from VGA, DVI and unencrypted HDMI. So now the challenge is to push our existing hardware further and offer additional functionality.
Just about all HD capture solutions at the moment including Digital Foundry HD are limited to YCrCb 16-bit colour spaces, and it has to be said that in most cases, this is absolutely fine. Every single screenshot in previous blog entries has used this mode.
However, the next phase of software development will be for those looking for ultra-pristine assets. We are currently beta-testing full, lossless 24-bit capture. It'll be limited to 30fps at 720p, and 10fps at 1080p, but in terms of ultimate quality, nothing else will even get close.

Click for full-size 1080p images of Ridge Racer 7, captured digitally with full 24-bit precision.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

HDMI Capture with PlayStation 3

It's always been my intention to make Digital Foundry HD compatible with every single video gaming source, and via its component and VGA inputs, we've been able to extract the very best image quality from every single gaming system we've tried.
With PlayStation3 having a digital HDMI output, this gave us the potential for lossless, pristine quality video - it was just a case of finding one of the rare machines out there and calibrating it for our system. There was also the small matter of HDCP - the copy protection system that Sony has inexplicably activated for games content as well as Blu-ray movies.
Debug PS3s (used to test games) have the facility to turn off HDCP and the results are spectacular - Digital Foundry HD instantly locks on and gives a pure digital transfer.
Last week Nintendo Wii was also calibrated, meaning that not only does Digital Foundry HD cater for all three new games systems with 60fps capture at up to 720p (480p max for Wii), it also ensures ultimate picture quality by using the top-end video output from all three next gen consoles.

Click for full-size 720p image, captured via HDMI.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

HD Video: The Future of All Games Media

I was lucky enough to kick off my career in the games business working on some of the most influential games magazines of their time - Computer and Video Games and Mean Machines to name but two. Right from the beginning part of the key to our success was to make games look as good as possible. That meant the best possible screen shots, no matter what the cost.
Back in the day, that required an expensive 120mm Minolta camera, a decent CRT, a dark room and the hope that the pause mode in the game was decent. Then we moved into the DTP era and frame capture devices.
Now we live in an age where time is indeed money and yet many (if not all) games media outlets are still duplicating work by first taking screen shots via conventional frame grabbers and then capturing video footage for internet media, cover disks and magazine work.
What if the same capture session could be used to cover web footage, screenshots and disk video too?
Digital Foundry HD footage is pristine enough to be allow one capture session to be used for both eventualities. The quality of our HD footage speaks for itself, but those same video files can now be scanned frame by frame, the user able to individually extract any single frame they want.
The results are screenshots just as good to the human eye as a direct memory dump (eg Xbox Neighborhood screen capture tool) but with the added advantage that every single frame output by the source machine is there to be chosen, making for far more dynamic shots.
So, no visible quality loss, far more dynamic shots, no more duplication of work in the media environment - Digital Foundry HD just makes sense on multiple levels.
Here are a couple of Xbox 360 shots taken from CineFormHD compressed game footage...

Click for uncompressed 720p images.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Half-Life 2 Demo Retired

As we continue the process of upgrading our website, it's clear that our high definition page is way out of date and we'll be adding WMV and 60fps VC1 versions of our Xbox Live Marketplace trailers to the site. That said, it's a bit of a shame to lose the Half-Life 2 demo trailer we crafted way back in the day.
This demo was created in August 2005 to test our prototype HD capture tools and hardware. Since then, Digital Foundry HD's user-friendliness and picture quality have improved substantially. For our initial tests, in the absence of Xbox 360 hardware, our games PC was configured to mimic the output of Xbox 360, and we used this for calibration purposes - it was such a close match that when we had Xbox 360 retail hardware, we were able to get up and running within five minutes.
The demo was also a cool testbed for getting to grips with Microsoft's high definition WMV files. The three minute demo was eventually scrunched down to an internet-friendly 99mb and still looks superb (even running at 30fps).
So any way, while our Live Marketplace demos take priority on the main site, we've archived off the old WMV demo here so feel free to check it out.

Click for BMP file of this frame from the Half-Life 2 demo at the full 720p resolution. Quality was excellent even on the prototype hardware, but these days we work using the wonderful CineForm HD codec.