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Need for Speed Carbon VGA comparison

King Kong HD DVD VGA comparison
Xbox 360 games now look better than ever in VGA

Although the new Windows Live Messenger integration and improved Achievements system are the more widely advertised new features of the Spring Update, a little known new feature has crept its way into the latest Dashboard version – improved image quality when using the Xbox 360 VGA output.

A long-standing complaint of the VGA output on the Xbox 360 is its “washed out” picture quality, where colors on the screen would not appear as bright and vibrant as compared to running the console to the TV using component cables.

The culprit for this problem is the difference between how HDTV and PC displays interpret black levels. A correctly calibrated HDTV typically expects a black level to be at 7.5 IRE (with anything below that to be “blacker than black”), while a PC display has its black set to zero. The Xbox 360, which is tweaked for televisions, has its IRE tuned for the HDTV norm of 7.5 IRE.

However, due to the fact that most HDTVs manufacturers expect that VGA inputs are for use with PCs rather than the Xbox 360, most televisions have its IRE for VGA at zero to accommodate a PC video card’s output. The result of this is that while the Xbox 360 is sending out a 7.5 IRE for calling for black, the HDTV is interpreting that as a call for something less than black, like a pleasant shade of grey.

The Spring Update adds a new feature allowing users to tweak the IRE setting that the Xbox 360 sends out to the television. “Both Xbox 360 Elite and current Xbox 360 units will have a spring (console) update which adds support for different video levels for VGA output (“7.5 IRE vs 0”) ... using this setting you should be able to use computer monitors in addition to TVs with resolutions all the way up to 1080p with high fidelity and no issues with HDCP handshaking,” explained Amir Majidimehr, VP of Microsoft’s Consumer Media Technology Group. “So for current users, I highly recommend trying this update with your VGA connection to see if it does the job for you. Note that this is a console update and will work for both games and of course, HD DVD.”

Surprisingly, instead of giving the user direct control of the IRE setting, the Spring Update added three non-descriptive options to the Xbox 360 display settings – standard, intermediate and expanded – with no indication of which setting represents what level of blackness. DailyTech decided to put each of the three levels to the test. Presented in the images to the right is a comparison of each of the three reference levels using Need for Speed Carbon as the test game and King Kong as the test HD DVD. “Standard” appears to retain the same black level setting (7.5 IRE) as it was before the update, and the “expanded” setting looks to present the blackest blacks (0 IRE), with the “intermediate” setting being somewhere in between.

While the increased richness and color in Need for Speed Carbon is noticeable, the more appreciable difference of the new IRE settings comes when watching movies. In all parts of King Kong, but especially the dark scenes where accurate black levels are essential, the new “expanded” reference level produced images that were far richer and less washed out, providing a significantly improved picture.


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RE: Any word on resolutions?
By tdawg on 5/9/2007 6:29:47 PM , Rating: 2
I have my 360 hooked up to my LCD (Dell 20") via the vga connection. I think it looks great, but then again, I've don't have a TV to test out the components. I set my 360 to either 1366x768 or 1280x720 and I get a letterbox effect (black bars top and bottom) but the games look good to me. Not tack sharp, but nice nonetheless.


RE: Any word on resolutions?
By Trogdor on 5/10/2007 9:19:50 AM , Rating: 2
Okay, I'll give it a shot. I know that my monitor automatically stretches every image to fit the panel, which I hope won't be a problem. I would rather have a true aspect ratio with the letterbox instead of it stretching to fit the screen, but hopefully it'll look good. Which resolution would you think would be better, 1280x720 or 1366x768?

The monitor I've got is a Viewsonic VX2025 widescreen.


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