This page is http://www.iki.fi/leopold/Carnivale/ScrewR2.html

Carnivale Season 2 on R2 DVD



First of all I would like to say that I love Carnivale the series. If I didn't love it, I would not have had the passion to write this page. I even founded a Finnish Carnivale fan page at http://www.iki.fi/leopold/Carnivale/ to build awareness for this show.

The reason to write this page is the utter disappointment I had when I earlier this month (2006-10) spent my hard earned 44.99€ and bought the Season 2 DVD set - which had poor picture quality because of a shoddy TV systems conversion job. What is shown as HDTV in the USA, gets a complete subpar NTSC to PAL conversion here. Shame on the responsible parties.

It is my understanding that the R2 DVD is actally an R2/R4 DVD. While I cannot confirm that, it would mean that this information might also be relevant for the people Down Under.

Season 1 on DVD

The R2 release of Season 1 of Carnivale had superb picture quality. The PAL masters were converted to 25 fps from high-resolution 24 fps originals as usual, and the results was just grand. (For details of speed conversion, have a look at my classical article How Film Is Transferred to Video.)

The only issue with Season 1 was that the series was clearly originally compressed so that 3 episodes would fit on a double layer disc so that the series would fit on four discs. Then, obviously, a marketing decision was made to make the series feel bigger, so it was distributed to six discs, each of the discs being only 2/3 full. Stupid, and one could have used higher bit-rates when the decision was made to only put two episodes per disc. However, even now the picture quality is good and there are only occasional compression artifacts.

Season 2 on DVD

I was completely confident when I bought Season 2 on DVD from http://www.play.com/ . It never occurred to me that the good, and nowadays, standard conversion method would be broken. But oh, it was.

What I got for 44.99€ was not a 25 fps PAL master made from high-resolution digital masters, but a shoddy conversion from NTSC, without speed conversion.

The problem here is that films are usually shot at 24 fps (frames pre second). When showed in the USA using standard 3:2 pull-down, the frame rate is roughly 24 fps (actually 23.98 exactly, but let's not get into boring details here). Converting from 24 fps to 25 fps is easy if you speed up the film by 4%. However, if you don't, you are going to end up with something that was barely acceptable in the 1980's, and completely unacceptable in these days with high-resolution computer-driven DVD systems.


But is there any proof to what I say?

Yes, there is.

I will begin by proving that the speed of S1 and S2 is different. Then I will show you direct screen captures that further prove my point.

The methodology I use was to decode files with mplayer, running it with an option that would create 24-bit non-compressed .ppm files. Because the files are big, I have compressed them to JPEG. While this is a lossy conversion, I have used quality values high enough to retain essential picture content. If you want to repeat my tests, here is what I have done:

mplayer -vo pnm dvd://1        # To dump a file
cjpeg -Q 75 < xx.ppm > xx.jpg  # To convert one .ppm file to .jpg

24/25 Fps Speed Difference

I dumped the first two minutes of the first episode of each season. I measured the frame numbers of the first non-black of the opening titles (after the HBO logo) as well as the first completely black frame right after the Carnivale logo has disappeared (and before the "created by DANIEL KNAUF" book appears). The results are as follows:

Start frame End frame Time/s
Season 1 173 2200 81.08
Season 2 177 2291 84.56

Notice, that S2 is running 1.043 times as long as S1. 25/24 is 1.042. Thus, as the opening titles are exactly the same for both seasons, it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that S1 is running at 25 fps, and S2 at 24 fps, which will destroy PAL picture quality.

(Sidenote: the length of the first episode of Season 2 is 50 minutes 50 seconds. The correct PAL length would be 48:48.)

1 Frame Comparison

Below, presented side by side, is one of the Carnivale logo frames, frame 2137 for Season 1 (left) and frame 2226 for Season 2 (right), respectively. If you have a stupid web browser that downscales images to fit your screen, do something so that you can see the pictures in their real scale. Note that the images below are pixel-accurate captures at PAL's 720x576 resolution and non-square pixels, so the aspect ratio is not what you would normally see on the screen when watching the program.

For your benefit I have made a 200% crop which can be seen below:

As can be seen, the Season 1 image is clearly superior: it is significantly sharper. The difference is there because the S1 PAL master was converted from a high-resolution original to 576 lines, retaining full PAL resolution, while S1 was converted from a 480-line NTSC source, with additional detrimental effects from 24->25 fps conversion.

Consecutive Frames

Below I present how movement gets broken when 25 fps is created from 24 fps without speed conversion. This is very typical for a conversion made without changing to a proper speed. For S1 on the left, frames 324-328 were used, for S2 on the right frames 335-339 were used. (Btw, note that the titles have changed: while S1 is advertising Patrick Bauchau, S2 is presenting Adrianne Barbeau.)

Again, below are 200% crops:

As expected, converting from 24 to 25 fps breaks the PAL frame structure and results in frames that are simply unusable for high-quality display devices like computers, 100 Hz IDTV sets, video projectors, etc.


It is very disappointing to see that the R2 PAL DVDs of HBO's masterpiece Carnivale has been given a crap mastering job. How can it be possible that the season my friend recorded for me from TV Channel Canal+ broadcasts, have better picture quality than these commercial DVDs? To be honest, the torrented Season 2 episodes that fit on a single DVD have better picture quality!

Why would I ever want to buy another HBO DVD? I like Rome, and the DVDs for the first season are not expensive, but why would I pay when there is a real risk of getting only grief for my money? I am all for putting my money where my mouth is, but I am also loathe to be screwed.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Text Š2006 Henrik Herranen
Images Š2006 HBO. No copyright infringment is intended.

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