Before yesterday's firmware update, the PlayStation 3 couldn't upscale standard-definition DVDs to high-def resolutions--a once high-end feature that's now built-in to nearly all DVD players with HDMI outputs. But what's the real benefit of upscaling (or upconverting, as it's also known)? Despite some of the marketing hype claiming that upscaling will make your DVDs appear in true high-def quality, the increase in picture quality will never come close to matching that of native HD material (HDTV broadcasts, HD DVD, and Blu-ray). Moreover, the video quality improvement is completely dependent on how good the upscaling and deinterlacing technology in your TV already is. Every HDTV is already capable of upscaling and deinterlacing; the only benefit an upscaling DVD player can bring to the table is to do it better. In some cases, the difference is easily discernible. In others, it's much more subtle. Ultimately, an upscaling DVD player might be able to make your DVDs look better, but the difference will be worth it only to "critical viewers" who pay close attention to image quality.
As the PS3 formerly did a pretty poor job of just deinterlacing DVD to 480p, there was a lot of room for improvement. We put the PS3 through Silicon Optix's HQV test suite in 1080p mode on our Pioneer Pro-FHD1 reference display. For the most part, we were satisfied. It passed the initial resolution test, which means it can display the full resolution of DVDs. The next tests didn't go as well. For example, we saw artifacts on third line on the test with three shifting lines. We've seen better performance on this test on players with HQV processing, such as the Toshiba HD-XA2, or even with the older Denon DVD-3910. On the other hand, the PS3 did a decent job with a waving flag, as there were definitely some slightly noticeable jaggies, but we've seen worse. It did even better on the 2:3 pulldown processing test, as it kicked into film mode almost immediately.
Test patterns performance is fine for the lab, but we also took a look at some actual movies. The introduction to Seabiscuit can be difficult for some players, but the PS3 handled it well, with only a few slight artifacts--occasionally we could see some flashing behavior in the old photos as the camera panned over them. We also watched a bit of King Kong, which looked fantastic (as it does on almost all DVD players).
The bottom line is that the PS3's upscaling is pretty good, although it doesn't compare to top-of-the-line players such as the Oppo DV-981HD or the new high-def disc players with HQV processing, such as the Samsung BD-P1200 and the Toshiba HD-XA2. On the other hand, the PS3's DVD performance is definitely a big step up from that of the Xbox 360 Elite. In the final analysis, when you consider that upscaling is just one of the many functions of the PS3, we think the performance is pretty impressive.
Another resolution issue worthy of note: it appears the 1.80 firmware update has fixed the 720p issue on the PS3 (the system would downconvert games and movies to 480p on HDTVs that couldn't handle 1080i or 1080p resolutions). Post-update, we were able to play a DVD movie, a Blu-ray movie, and a game (Motorstorm), all at 720p resolution. That'll be welcome news for the legions of TV owners whose sets have 720p native resolution.