Since we’re nearing the holiday season, chances are that you’ll be spending time with family and maybe even sharing your slideshow creations with them too. For me, this also happens to be the time when I realize how poorly set up some of my family members’ TV sets are. Whether it’s watching “stretch-o-vision” at my parents’ house or watching a DVD on a player that’s hooked up with a video cable standard from the 80s, it can be a little hard to resist the urge to try and improve their technology rather than spending time with them.
There can be many points of potential quality loss in your slideshow viewing setup. The factory settings on your TV, for example, are usually not the best. Your DVD or Blu-ray player can also be hooked up or set up in a less than optimal way. And finally, your DVD output settings may not be optimal for your slideshow. Today I’m going to show you how to make sure that your slideshows look as good as they can on your television.
When creating a DVD in ProShow Gold or ProShow Producer, there are several options that can determine how good your slideshows look. In the Options tab of the Create DVD window, look for the following options:
- DVD Type: This determines what bitrate is used on your DVD, which in turn determines the overall quality of the video. To get the most quality and compatibility on your disc, choose “DVD HQ (High Quality – Safe)”. There is a tradeoff between the quality you set and the amount of video that can fit on a disc – High Quality Safe gives you roughly an hour – so if you have more than an hour total, consider buying a dual-layer DVD+R DL disc or spanning your project over multiple standard-capacity discs. On the other hand, “DVD SP (Standard Play)” will give you 2 hours on a standard DVD and is not necessarily a huge trade-off in quality.
- TV System: This will default to NTSC, which is the standard for North America, Central America, some of South America, and Japan. Please see this wiki article to see if you should be changing this to PAL. Failure to choose right video standard could mean poor playback performance or that your DVD simply does not play in your player.
- Anti-Flicker: This option has a pretty significant effect on your DVD quality, but the setting you choose will largely be dependent on what type of slideshow you’re creating. Slideshows with mostly still images and still text will see a noticeable improvement in sharpness by unchecking anti-flicker. On the other hand, if your images are doing lots of panning, zooming, and rotating and you have crisp text with motion, you’ll likely want to keep this checked to prevent distracting flickering on the DVD. For context, anti-flicker applies a slight blur to the video to counteract the vertical flickering that is inherent in interlaced video.
- Desaturation: This option is largely a legacy concern for older tube televisions, though if your HDTV’s colors are oversaturated, it can be useful here as well. Still, I find unchecking the Desaturation option to be the most appropriate setting for a well-calibrated HDTV.
- Video Clip Quality: This option determines the scaling method for the elements in your show when creating the DVD video stream. When choosing “High Quality” the benefits are often not noticeable and the rendering time is increased significantly. Choose High Quality if you’d like, but I tend to leave this setting on Normal.
DVD / Blu-ray Player
The DVD player itself is where I notice most people lose quality. The DVD player you bought in the late 90s or early 2000s probably still works, so there’s no need to upgrade it, right? Actually, many of the early DVD players were made for tube televisions, and they may be making your DVDs look worse than they should on your HDTV.
The type of cable that’s used to connect your player to your TV is very important. If possible, make sure your player is hooked up via HDMI, or perhaps component cables (red, green, and blue video cables with red and white audio cables). Hooking up via S-video or Composite (yellow video cable with red and white audio cables) is going to make your DVDs look bad. If your DVD player only has Composite or S-Video, it’s time to think about getting a new DVD player or Blu-ray player. A Blu-ray player should have both HDMI output and 1080p upscaling, so this is the safest bet, even if you are only going to play DVDs on it.
The settings on the DVD player can also have an effect on the quality you see on your TV. Here are some general guidelines:
- If your DVD player supports upconverting to 1080i or 1080p, make sure this is enabled. You will at least need component or HDMI for this feature to work correctly (or at all).
- Make sure your DVD player is set up for the right type of television. In your player’s setup menu, you’ll likely be able to choose whether you have a widescreen 16×9 television or a 4×3 television. Assuming you have an HDTV, set it to 16×9.
- If there’s a progressive scan option, enable it. This will not work if you are using composite (yellow, red, and white) connections.
There are a few options on modern HDTVs that are on by default that negatively affect your viewing experience. Here are some things to check for:
- Overscan: To hide bad areas at edges of analog broadcasts and video sources, many TVs will zoom the picture in slightly. This means that your DVD slideshows are going to be cut off. I always recommend turning off the overscan, but the proper way to do this is different on every TV. Your best best is to do a Google search for ‘Turn off overscan on [your brand or model] TV’.
- Aspect ratio: When viewing analog or 4×3 sources, some viewers quickly reach for the remote to zoom or – gasp – stretch the video so that it fills the screen. While this is largely a matter of preference, many users forget to turn it back to the appropriate aspect ratio setting when they’re on a 16×9 source. If you have an aspect ratio or picture size button on your TV remote, press it and make sure it’s set to “Normal” rather than Wide or Stretch.
- Sharpening: Sharpening is almost always a destructive option, and it’s usually enabled to some degree on HDTVs. Note that sharpness cannot actually be added, it can only be approximated – often poorly – by the TV’s software. Look in your picture settings and turn this down, if not all the way down.
- Motion Smoothing: A common feature on TVs with 120hz or 240hz refresh rates is motion smoothing. This feature takes whatever signal you have coming in, then creates new video frames between the existing frames via interpolation. The problem is that it’s impossible to do this correctly, and so there are going to be side effects like the occasional jerk or loss of fluidity compared to the rest of the time. Not to mention, it gives many videos an unnaturally smooth look. Your favorite movie may look like a soap opera with this option enabled. You’ll need to figure out what this feature is called on your TV – see this article – and find out how to turn it off either via the owners manual or a Google search.
Hopefully these tips will help you get the most out of your setup. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.