Poll of the Month-------
4/27/00 - Yesterday, I noticed that Jaws will be released on DVD in July as a "25th Anniversary Edition." The DVD appears to borrow heavily from the LD box set released a few years ago. The Jaws LD box set's supplements are excellent and I'm sure they will make an equally nice DVD as well. However, I noticed that the Jaws DVD will be released as two different editions. One will contain a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and the other will contain a 5.1 DTS soundtrack. To me, this seems to be the pinnacle of absurdity. Jaws was released to the theaters with a MONO soundtrack. To include a remixed 5.1 soundtracks seems questionable at best and a way to further separate consumers from their money.
This trend of remixing soundtracks is not new either. Over the last few years, we have seen Star Trek: The Original Series DVDs, The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (on DVD and LD), Vertigo (on LD and DVD) and the Star Wars: Special Edition Trilogy (on LD) released with "new, improved" soundtracks. Some of the new soundtracks sound very nice, especially if the original sound elements (i.e., the separate foley, score and dialog tracks) were found and remixed or if the score and sound effects were re-recorded. However, the soundtracks included with these releases are NOT the originals. This trend brings to mind the colorization craze of the eighties (where George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life is wearing a bright green coat right before he gets ready to commit suicide, tough guy Humphrey Bogart gets a flamingo pink tie, etc.).
Of course, this begs the bigger question, are movies meant to be refreshed and updated every few years, a la Star Wars: Special Edition or the way theater plays are constantly reinterpreted with every performance? I would have to say no. The advantage of film is that it takes a "snapshot" of the time it was made. Films are able to preserve sights and sounds of an era. For instance, Shaft is very much a creature of the 70s, both in the attitudes of the characters, the fashions used in the film and the plot in general. The film just screams 70s. Could Shaft be made in the year 2000? We'll find out once the remake is released. Similarly, the technical advances of the time also shape the movies made in that time. Would old style Hollywood epics like Ben Hur (The Charlton Heston one) and Lawrence of Arabia be as memorable without their extra super wide widescreen? Star Wars ushered in the era of Dolby Stereo and surround sound in general. Isn't that Dolby Stereo soundtrack part of the movie no matter how obsolete it is? Is the movie the same without that classic soundtrack? Did the CGI Jabba add anything to the Special Editions? To give a more extreme example, would Casablanca be the same if it were artificially letterboxed with a 16x9 ratio, colorized, given a 5.1 soundtrack and had computer generated Nazis inserted?
While it is true that video also changes a film, video is a unfortunate necessary evil since everyone does not have the room or money for a projector. Colorization and 5.1 soundtracks, on the other hand, are totally unecessary. Panning and Scanning kind of falls in a gray area since TV's do have different aspect ratios than theater screens.
If Universal wants to release Jaws with a 5.1 soundtrack, they can go ahead and do it (they own the film and they can do anything they want to it). However, if they don't include the original mono soundtrack (and no matter how good the 5.1 remix is) they are in essense changing (or destroying) part of that movie and spitting in the eye of every cinephile.
4/26/00 - THX has announced that every DVD they master will include video test patterns and audio test tones to help the consumer to calibrate their home theater system. THX calls this collection of test signals "THX Optimode.' This is a dumb name but a good idea. Furthermore, I hope that the test signals they use are the same signals the engineer used when mastering the video and audio.
Including test patterns with video releases is not new. Image Entertainment LDs sometimes included the SMPTE color bars the engineer used after the movie. This "feature" helps me adjust my TV, especially when the LD picture is too dark/too bright/too whatever as compared to Video Essentials (a LD which contains setup information and lots of test patterns and audio tones). To compensate for these "defects", I just skip to the SMPTE color bars (which are also too dark/too bright/too whatever by the same amount) and I am able to quickly and accurately compensate for the different levels.
Calibrating the TV (and stereo) helps your system achieve the maximum performance. A properly calibrated TV will have more accurate brightness, contrast and color. Other possible benefits of this include less noise and artifacts like shimmering or jagged lines. A properly calibrated audio system should exhibit better imaging and more intelligible dialog. Calibration sounds complicated but most of it can be accomplished simply by adjusting user controls like brightness, contrast, color, tint, sharpness (for video) and balance, surround levels, subwoofer level, and center channel level (for audio). All you need are a couple of test signals and a little knowledge. Test signals (and instructions to use them) are included in Video Essentials (available on both LD and DVD) and Avia's Guide to Home Theater (on DVD only). Obviously the benefits of properly calibrated equipment is great.
I hope that every video release (LD, DVD, VHS, VCD, etc.) will include test signals in the future.
4/21/00 - Bringing Out the Dead (LBX) has been put on hold, which is kind of surprising to me. I thought a lot of people would want to see this movie, unlike something like Superstar (LBX), which is also on hold.
4/13/00 - Although this website mostly covers optical disc based video systems (Laserdisc, in particular), it is important to note that the only way for a consumer to record high definition video is with a tape based format. Right now, you can buy a D-VHS recorder that will record HDTV signals. It isn't cheap and it isn't compatible with all systems, but nevertheless, you can buy it.
However, it looks like the future of D-VHS is getting brighter. JVC, the inventor of D-VHS (along with VHS) has devised a copyright protection system for D-VHS. Furthermore, Fox has endorsed this system. You might remember that Fox was a supporter of the late, unlamented, copyright protection heavy DIVX system. If Fox endorses the JVC system, other studios are likely to follow. Now that a agreeable copyright protection system is in place, this will open the door to cheaper hardware and pre-recorded media. While I don't know the exact details of this copyright system, it will allow you to record HDTV signals off-the-air. This will give an immeasurable boost to the cause of High Definition since this will allow you to record HDTV signals and buy High Definition pre-recorded media. Furthermore, on an related note, the 5C copyright protection system for IEEE-1394 connections is also gaining steam and more backers. This will hopefully standardize connections between HDTV receivers, TV and recorders. This will also drive down cost. While I'm no fan of copyright protection systems (particularly those that try to stop any and all copying, i.e., Macrovision and CSS), I am a fan of true (as in 720 lines or higher) High Definition TV.
So what about HD-DVD? Right now D-VHS, which was introduced in 1998, holds up to 44 GB on a D-VHS tape (which is essentially a S-VHS tape). Most recordable DVDs formats (yes, there is more than one format and most are incompatible with standard DVD players) hold around 3 GB (give or take a few hundred MB) - not nearly enough to hold high definition. Even pre-recorded DVD can only hold 4.7 GB on one layer and 9 GB on two. Double sided, dual layer discs can hold up to 17 GB, but are expensive to manufacture and are pretty rare. Obviously, tape based formats have already beaten recordable high definition optical disc formats to the market place. Right now, non-recordable HD-DVD formats are about two to four years away (Note: There is a already a non-recordable high definition optical disc format - MUSE Laserdisc. However, its only sold in Japan). So, it looks like the only game in town now is a tape based format.
4/8/00 - In a move that certainly shouldn't surprise anyone, Pioneer has delayed the release of Superstar (LBX).
Meanwhile, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace has been released on Laserdisc in Japan. Those of you who have received this title, I would appreciate it if you would voice your opinion on the sound and picture quality by clicking on this link here and writing a short review.
On a related note, there will be a second pressing of the Phantom Menace LD. Note: There is still no domestic release planned.
Also, I'm still working on an updated rot list, but a beta version of the list is available here.