The other day one of my daughters announced that she had borrowed from a friend the entire ten season series of ‘Friends‘ on DVD. When she showed me the box, a slim, professional looking, cardboard affair containing only five DVDs, I was perplexed. We spent a few minutes working things out, and it appeared that there must be two full seasons per DVD, with some 24 episodes per season, each of about 22 minutes. That works out to well over a thousand minutes of video per disc.

The next day I happened to notice that the complete ten season series of ‘Friends’ was available on DVD on a 40 disc set. Somehow that (six episodes per disc) seems more realistic.

So I examined one of the five discs from this packet. It is a DVD-9 dual layer and is quite chock-a-block with the entire surface area utilised. A few calculations showed that the bitrate for each episode ranged between about 0.8 and 1.1Mbps (of which nearly 0.2Mbps was used in audio). Compare that to the 3.5 to 4Mbps of a regular low quality DVD, and the 6 to 8Mbps of a high quality one.

Further examination revealed that the resolution was, instead of the 720 by 576 pixels we use in Australia, or the 720 by 480 pixels they use in America, a mere 352 by 240 pixels (the DVD player scales this up). Which explained two things: why the picture was so soft, and why the compression artefacts, while bad, were not as bad as I had expected.

I’m going to assume that this is a pirated set, and it confirms to me that copyright pirates simply don’t care about quality.

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