If you want to test how high-definition video plays on your Vista PC or notebook, in resolutions like HDTV or Blu-ray, you have everything needed in Windows Media Player 11. Microsoft has free high-def test videos that you can download and try on your PC with no additional equipment or software needed.
Here’s what part of the “WMV HD Content Showcase” looks like. (Click the image to enlarge.)
High-definition video comes in 720p and 1080p. The numbers stand for the number of scan lines in the image, or the vertical resolution in pixels. The “p” indicates that the image is progressively scanned. In the case of 720p, the progressive scanning reduces flicker, provides good sharpness, and provides an image that is close in quality to 1080i. The “i” stands for interlaced, which is how the image is provided on a standard television. Each “frame” in an interlaced image requires that the screen be painted twice. 1080p is for very large screens.
The minimum needed to play the video is an XP PC with Media Player 9, 2.4 GHz CPU, and a 1024 x 768 screen. For 1080p, which is overkill on most PC screens, you’ll need a high-end XP machine with Media Player 10 or a dual-core Vista Machine with Media Player 11 and a 1920 x 1440 screen.
A good video to try first is “Robotica” because it’s the smallest download. (16 MB for 720p and 20 MB for 1080p.)
I tried both versions of Robotica on an AMD X2 Dual Core Processor 5200+ (2.6 GHz) Media Center PC (Windows Experience Index 3.0) and both played well on my 1680 x 1050 monitor. I also tried them on a 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo-based ThinkPad notebook (Windows Experience Index 5.1) at the same resolution. The 1080p file was much smoother on the ThinkPad. When I looked at the videos more critically, I decided that 720p looked fine for anything I’d want to do on the desktop or the notebook. I would save 1080p for a really big, high-resolution monitor and a fast video card.