Video Gaming in HD:
July 19, 2005,
My first game console was a Sega Genesis that I bought in 1993. At that time, my only video game experience had been my friend's old 8-bit original Nintendo, so I was blown away by the graphics that my Genesis was capable of producing. At the time, I remember thinking that games couldn't possibly get much better than this.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Over the years, progressively more advanced game consoles have been released. The major players have changed - first it was Sega and Nintendo, then Sony introduced the Playstation, then Sega dropped out of the console market and Microsoft entered the running. The only constant in the console gaming world is that every successive system release represents major technological advancements.
However, up until the current generation of consoles, the only video output options available have been composite and s-video. With the release of the GameCube, Playstation 2, and Xbox, videophile gamers now have nearly as many output options available with their consoles as they do with their DVD players. And while this in itself is impressive, the next generation of consoles, set to hit the market in the next year, look to be truly stunning.
The Playstation 2 (or PS2) was released on October 26, 2000, making it the first of the current generation of consoles to come to market; it is also the highest selling, with over 90 million units sold.
The downside to this is that the PS2 is using slightly older technology than the other consoles available. The console only outputs in 480 interlaced, and then only in the 4:3 aspect ratio. Composite output is standard, though Sony does offer both s-video and component output adapters through retail stores and the Playstation website
So what does this mean for you? The Playstation 2 was clearly built for the TV you've had in the living room for years, and will look best on that set. Since there is no option for widescreen 16:9 sets, images will be pillarboxed in the center of the screen on these displays. A projector with good deinterlacing will improve image quality at large screen sizes, and either good scaling performance in the projector or an external scaler will improve quality at resolutions greater than 640x480. If you already own this equipment, then your PS2 should look good on your home theater display; if not, we recommend leaving it hooked in to the TV. [EDIT: We have found this information to be incorrect, the corrected statement should read: "Several games - roughly 60, by our count - do in fact offer software support for 480p and 16:9 - and one game exists that supports 1080i. These games will look very good on your High Definition display." 7/19/05 bl]
The GameCube was released in November of 2001, and holds the smallest market share of this generation of consoles.
At the time of the GameCube's release, it offered a Digital A/V out, which would accept a component video cable and automatically switch the unit to progressive-scan output. However, all systems manufactured after May of 2004 have had this port removed, in an effort to cut costs and further lower the price of the system (the GameCube is the least expensive of the current consoles at $99). The official statement from Nintendo on this decision read as follows:
On newer models of the Nintendo GameCube, we opted to remove the digital A/V out port from the system because we found that less than one percent of all Nintendo GameCube players used this feature.(source here)
However, for that one percent of estimated GameCube players who wish to regain this port, Nintendo offers the following option:
If you have a Nintendo GameCube without this port, and you wish to play your games in progressive scan, you may be able to obtain a system that was made prior to the removal of the Digital A/V Output port. Please call our Consumer Service department at 1-800-255-3700 to discuss available options.(source here)
In short, this places the GameCube in almost the same position as the Playstation 2 - except GameCube owners have lost the option to use component video cables with their system, unless they own one produced prior to May 2004. The only option available with the GameCube is composite video output at 480 interlaced, which does not exactly suit high definition displays.
Also in November of 2001, Microsoft released the Xbox, which was their first foray into the console gaming market. It is also considered the favorite among those who use high-definition displays.
The Xbox has, by far, the most options available for high definition display. The system comes standard with composite video out, which is configurable for either 16:9 or 4:3 output (note that most, but not all, games support 16:9 format output; some will appear pillarboxed). There are both s-video and component adapters available, sold under "Advanced A/V pack" and "Hi-Definition A/V pack" respectively.
This may not seem much different than the other two consoles available, but once the High-Definition cable is plugged in, more options become available. After inserting this cable and restarting the Xbox, the menu that previously held options for 16:9 and 4:3 expands. You can now enable 480p, 720p, and 1080i support, as well as audio support for Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and DTS through an included TOSlink optical audio port.
When compared to the other two modern consoles available, the Xbox looks very impressive. Not only do most games support 480p, but many games support 720p and a select few are available in 1080i. Component video is fully supported, as is widescreen 16:9. This paints a pretty picture indeed for owners of digital projectors or flatscreen TVs of any kind.