I imagine that this topic is probably a bit technical and oddly specific for most of my readers, but I was frustrated at the lack of information available on the topic when I faced the issue, so I’m attempting to document my problems and findings. I do try and write and subjects which interest me and I enjoy, so I thought that I’d share what I found out in the hopes that perhaps there may be someone else who may be able to stumble across the information when they need it.
I recently decided that I’d like to watch some of my older anime DVDs on my computer (notably Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), a personal favourite of mine), and I discovered that the visuals were unwatchable owing to the fact that they were in an interlaced format.
To get a bit of understanding of interlacing and why it happened, there’s a useful article on Anime News Network. The upshot is that because technology has changed so that media is now progressive instead of interlaced, by default older DVDs will be displayed as having some funky lines or sawtooth edging around areas of high motion. Live action programmes made in the PAL format don’t seem to have this issue, but anime does, probably because visuals were converted from the NTSC formal. The effect also seems to be a lot more pronounced for animation in general, owing to the large blocks of solid colour used.
Modern TVs are smart enough to recognise if content is in an interlaced format and deal with it appropriately, and the good news for most people is that the default ‘Windows DVD Player’ also can deinterlace quite readily, so it’s only really a problem for a specific subset of people wanting to watch DVDs on their computer. I presently use Ubuntu 16.04, which has many advantages over Windows, but there are at times weird disadvantages which I don’t expect until I encounter them. While technically I have numerous options available to me, including perhaps the most sane one which is giving up and watching these DVDs on my TV which does a great job of deinterlacing and finding relevant images online from other sources if I wished to discuss an anime, I’m someone who tends to like to investigate a problem from all angles and I don’t like to give up on finding a solution for an issue I’m facing.
A big thanks to Chris Siebenmann who gave me some pointers on Twitter and linked me to a post detailing his experiments deinterlacing DVDs a few years ago.
The two main players which seem to be recommended by Linux users are VLC and SMplayer (this is a variant of Mplayer which stopped updating some time ago). They’ve both got slightly different quirks and I’ll showcase what the anime visuals look like. I’ve attempted to use the same scene each time, but it didn’t seem to be possible to capture the same frame (without using the software’s screenshot functionality which doesn’t give a true picture of what I could see). I’ve intentionally picked a scene with a very high amount of motion as it makes it easy to see the differences between settings. Really my goal is just to be able to watch anime DVDs on my computer without the visuals giving me a headache.
SMplayer… doesn’t really understand DVDs. It won’t bring up the menu, but will instead just play everything from start to finish. It also isn’t set up to let you do things like chapter selection and the timer bar doesn’t seem to work correctly and while it gives the total running time, will only show the time elapsed for the chapter, not the DVD overall, making it exceptionally hard to do things like starting from an episode part-way through the disc. On the plus side for people who hate solid yellow subtitles, it turns the solid yellow subtitles into white with a black dropshadow. I did get rather frustrated with discs where the special features played in front of the main feature. Old anime DVDs (at least Australian ones) were pretty big on special features and with the poor chapter selection features it was hard to move through these. I got quite acceptable results by using the Yadif deinterlacing setting, and though I didn’t think the image was as easy on the eyes as using a television, it was comfortable to watch an entire episode. I definitely don’t suggest using Blur, as it gave me the feeling that I needed to have my eyes tested.
VLC is a much better player for DVDs in general, letting you use menus properly and making it easy to move between chapters. I did find though that at least for my PAL DVDs that none of the deinterlacing settings gave me a pleasing picture. I tried all of the different settings and they seemed to maintain the telltale sawtooth edging.
Overall, I’d suggest based on my experiments that Smplayer is superior for watching the DVDs I have as it’s a lot easier on the eyes, but it’s honestly not an optimal solution. I’d prefer VLC for watching DVDs in general though. If anyone has experience with trying to watch older anime DVDs on Linux operating systems and has found some good programs, settings or tricks, I’d love to hear from you!