It’s like a fairy tale coming true!
Ahh, I remember my early video days when VCD was just good enough. While I really had issues with the quality, as VHS looks just a bit better, for anime it was a no-brainer. VCD “was” good enough for anime. A couple of local companies sell their anime through VCDs even to this day. I can recall myself watching the old To Heart in English dubs, and I was satisfied. The legendary VHS fansubs also got transferred to VCD, albeit with poor quality, but that’s almost the only way you could get old anime like Kodocha back in the days. VCD was also the format of choice in conversion from the early digital fansubs available in the internet.
In those days, no one wanted to watch anime from a PC. It was easier to slap in a CD on a VCD player connected to a TV. Another reason is that old analog TV’s “cheat” their resolution by interlace scanning, making the anime picture look better on TV than what it looks like on a PC. All this in glorious 352×240, which I personally trim down to 330×220 because of TV “overscan”. You won’t see the subtitles without shrinking the picture a bit. Low resolution is still in wide circulation today, with the advent of YouTube and all the other streaming video sites.
Then came the internet and DVD era where digital fansubs become the norm, and DVD is its slave. Early ones still retain the 320×240 VCD resolution, but when videophiles are finally starting to get better TV tuners and signals, they upped the ante to finally Standard Definition. 480i. Things now started to change in the fansub side, because companies are starting to take notice of this new “digital revolution”. They initially figured to wage war on the fansubs, trying to take them down because it could be considered “piracy”. The quality of fansubs, now running along the 640×480 resolution, are somehow at par with their offerings, and so the anime DVD companies feel that their businesses are threatened.
Retroactively though, the fansubs actually helped spread the fandom wider, and the legal anime DVD industry was in a steady increase. Although I don’t follow too much on this because I’m here on the other side of the world, I feel that the US and other countries’ anime industries are either stable or steadily booming. More anime are being licensed and subbed for the fans’ pleasure, plus with other unique extras on the DVDs, we are getting more than the episodes itself.
The internet and DVD era ushered more than 4x the beauty of anime as opposed to the now-sucky VCD format. Kanon in 2002 looked so great (but the chins annoyed me), Chobits was for me the most controversial fansub because of the fansubbers and the various formats (widescreen), and digital animation was on the rise in Japan. I enjoyed my first 480p fansub, actively pursued the bittorrent hype, and eventually my anime fix was really the internet downloads. On the DVD side, friends were happily sharing their well-budgeted collections, I go to anime viewing clubs and events, and eventually got my very first original DVD of my own. More in the future, definitely.
I thought that with a clearer view on my then-huge 21″ TV, and 17″ CRT monitor, I will feel satisfied enough for my anime and my video viewing. I eventually bought my own DVD player, earlier than my peers, and was having a blast. I didn’t waver on the fansub conversions to DVD though, because I felt now that watching on the PC is almost the same as watching on a TV. The difference is negligible. I thought this was the end of it… until I saw High Definition (HD).
Although my first HD exposure is still technically standard def because it was a 480p digital fansub, I would only imagine how it can be moved to the next level. Anime like AIR and movies like Beyond the Clouds started to convince me that DVD is not enough! There is something higher out there, and it is coming. Videophiles are starting to get it, and slowly but surely we see digital anime being released as 720p and 1080i/p videos (1024×576, 1280×720 and the OMG 1920×1080). Especially last year, I have seen a rise in those kinds of files. Our PCs are already prepared for the monumental increase in resolution, and now we turn into bigger disc formats, TV sets, and LCD displays.
It’s really beautiful! The difference between 480p and 720p alone is already night and day… what more with 1080p? Try to find 720p or 1080p videos at Stage6 and try it out. Prepare to wait for minutes or hours though, as our internet bandwidth is still not up to snuff. My laptop is only capable of 720p, anything higher it’s already lagging. Although some of the anime we see in HD are mere upscales, or having lower quality due to poor encoding, time will come and they will eventually be the norm.
On the media side, it’s still a heated battle between Bluray and HD-DVD. Bluray has the advantage of bigger storage and industry backing, while HD-DVD has the advantage of more interactive content and cheaper production. They are almost the same in terms of video/audio quality. While HD-DVD is leading currently I can’t consider going for the format yet. The war is still not over, and until prices go down we will hopefully see how it plays out. Either one wins and another loses, or they can exist together in harmony. It’s gonna be exciting to see especially this year. The PS3 vs. X360 war is somehow related to this too. On the anime side, we saw AIR being showcased on Bluray, as well as the second Ghost in the Shell movie. Brave Story is a movie that will be seen on both formats, so I guess the industry seems to not have decided yet.
Now I go to the hardware required for all these HD stuff. I would now realize that my rigs are not enough for HD, and it will only give me a slightly better picture than the DVD. I’m trying to think about getting a new display so that I can see HD in its full beauty. But displays are still expensive, and so I’m going for the bang-for-buck again. Right now I’m troubled whether I get a bigger screen with low resolution (a HDTV), or a smaller screen with full HD resolution (a LCD monitor). This question bugged me ever since I went to Akihabara, that freaking place is scary for a technophile like me. I keep bouncing back and forth, taking so many variables in mind (resolution, screen size, HDCP, HDMI, contrast ratio, the HD disc formats too, how it will fit in my room, etc).
Can you help decide for me? 32″ 720p HDTV or 24″ 1080p LCD? AGH!
Anyway, I can say that this year will be the year of HD. As for me, I think this really is it, the final visual frontier. Our eyes can only see enough, and I think that with HD resolutions I can be satisfied. Once the initial shock and confusion of the mainstream slows down, when we see the issues solved, and when anime adopts and finally adheres to the new format, my entertainment will be better and bigger than before. I’m so excited!