During my early fansub days, I was totally paranoid about visual quality. I immediately jumped in the HD bandwagon with the videos I acquire. I do however have my limits. Because I’m not from a first-world country, internet connections are at a premium price over here. That’s why it’s been my policy to get 720p or lower videos. With anime stuff, 720p seems good enough, you could only go so much with clean black lines and simple artwork. There’s a specific problem though. Sometimes the hardware you have cannot match the thing you want to watch. There’s this relatively recent trend about encoding anime in 10-bit H.264 profiles. It’s not exactly new, the profile has been there for a few years now, but somehow it has not been supported in many current hardware decoders/video players, which could only output 8-bit at best.
First off, what is this 8-bit/10-bit thing anyway? Without going too technical because I myself have my limits as previously mentioned, the number of bits refers to a certain “sample bit depth precision”. It determines how accurately your video signal is stored in terms of color. If, for example, you have a video with a 1-bit depth, it means you only have a binary chance of producing color intensity in your video – your pixels are either black or white. The more bits, the more possibilities of color. You could conclude that 10-bit depth has more possible colors than 8-bit, but this is just a basic explanation. In any case, this is quite important in animated videos, where colors are clearly defined. There will be less artifacts and banding due to the wide possible color spread. This simply means you can have better-looking anime even with lower bitrates.
The problem as stated earlier is that besides actual PCs, there are virtually no other machines capable of playing/decoding with that deep color precision. It is simply not supported by the hardware chips that do the decoding. If you have a dedicated media player connected to your HDTV, such as the WDTV, Roku, Apple TV, or other players like that, chances are you can’t play 10-bit encodes. If you have an XBOX 360 or PS3, the media functions in those consoles don’t support it either. If you have some sort of Smart TV, the latest thing in the market today, nope. Simply put, only a PC can do it.
Welcome the elite PC master class. With proper software and hardware, a computer is miles ahead in terms of decoding video. Even my Core 2 Duo, which is already ancient in PC terms by now, can properly play 10-bit encodes with no fuss. So… problem solved right? We could just play the videos in our PC. I guess so, except that it’s not the optimal setup. You would usually connect a PC to a relatively smaller monitor than your living room HDTV. If you want to watch some entertainment, and you do have a living room with a big TV, you would rather use that big TV than the PC right? Well, if you take the perspective of those fansub makers who encode those anime, you are presented with an interesting irony. Why encode for the maximum-possible quality when you’re only going to play it in a small PC monitor? It kinda defeats the purpose. Some of these fansub groups are even so smug to shut out all the whiners who doesn’t want the 10-bit format, saying “deal with it, haters gotta hate”. I don’t participate in those kinds of wars, I just find the irony quite amusing, really. Well, maybe they have a point. In order to have the maximum-possible enjoyment out of their maximum-quality encodes, you really need the maximum-possible hardware. I mean a PC connected to your HDTV. This is possible in a variety of ways, from the untidy (add a big rig with lotsa wires in your living room) to the expensive (make a Home Theater PC itself).
Well, complaining about it is a moot point. Fansub groups do this for free, and subbed anime is still a gray area that is considered piracy in some areas of society. If you really want the highest quality possible, either go to Japan and watch on their HDTVs or buy the Blu-rays, but then you lose the benefit of English subs if you don’t understand Japanese. As evident by now, there is no perfect way to enjoy anime. You just have to deal with it.
To end my article, I have these one-liner solutions for you to consume. It’s up to you to research more about it, but these are all valid solutions.
- HTPC or laptop in your HDTV.
- Use a PS3 for your HDTV and install PS3 Media Server in your PC to transcode.
- If you have a powerful tablet or phone, MX Video Player can do software decodes.
- Manual re-encoding of mkv into compatible 8-bit formats.
- Find fansubbers or re-encoders who release using more compatible video formats.
- Just watch in your PC.
- Buy original Blu-rays.
- Go to Japan.
- Don’t watch anime.