Poll of the Month
Last month, I wrote about the need to preorder in order to keep Laserdisc alive. Now I am wondering:-------
11/23/99 I'm still working on the second part of my copy protection report. Hopefully, it will be done by next Monday. However, in the meantime, I have some Laserdiscs news to report. Pioneer has announced four new Laserdisc titles just in time for Thanksgiving. They are Bowfinger, Dudley Do-Right, Mystery Men and Runaway Bride. All titles will retail for $29.98. My calendar has been updated to reflect these new releases so click on the Release Calendar link above and preorder them before its too late (December 7).
Also, Pioneer is thinking about no longer releasing Star Trek episodes on Laserdisc. There are two reasons why this shouldn't happen. First, the original series episodes are just now appearing on DVD. It will be a while before they get started on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager episodes. If Laserdiscs were to vanish, you would have to watch newer episodes on TV or (shudder) VHS. Second, it would be a shame to stop releasing Deep Space Nine episodes without finishing the series because Deep Space Nine got a whole lot better near the end. Who wouldn't like to see the last seven episodes on Laserdisc (maybe in a box set?). Having the first seven episodes just isn't as good. Anyway, there is a survey on Blaine Young's website you can fill out where you can voice your support for future Star Trek releases on Laserdisc.
Finally, a bit of bad news. The Indiana Jones Trilogy has been cancelled. Makes you wonder why they bothered to announce it in the first place . . .
11/13/99 If you have been having trouble accessing this site the last couple of weeks, I have answer for that. My webhost recently upgraded their servers (which is good) but the new servers turned out to be faulty (which is bad). We're not out of the woods yet because the equipment is still not operating at 100% yet, although it is limping along. Therefore, it has been difficult for me to update my webpages since the server apparently crashes every couple of hours. Hopefully these problems will be cleared up soon.
Of course, the week my webpage is off-line is the week with a lot of big news. Both Image Entertainment and Pioneer Entertainment have begun to announce their January releases. Amazingly, Image Entertainment announced almost as many titles in their January announcements as the last two months combined (8 titles in January vs. 9 in the two preceding months). Image announced the following titles: 10 Things I Hate About You (LBX,DD), Inspector Gadget (LBX,DD), Instinct (LBX,DD), Lake Placid (DD), Thomas Crown Affair (1999,LBX,DD), Mickey Blue Eyes (LBX,DD), Haunting (LBX,DD,1999) and Existenz (LBX,DD). Pioneer even announced a title (Stir of Echoes) that will street in February. Rather than just listing the release dates and prices in the news section like I usually do, I decided to create a new page that not only lists the release dates and the prices but the preorder deadlines as well. In addition, if I manage to scrounge up some information about extras available on some titles, I will list it there as well. Just click on Release Calendar link above.
Although I run a Laserdisc page, I do pay close attention to DVD news for several reasons. One reason is that LD releases and DVD releases will often have the same extras and DVD publicity (a.k.a. hype) far outstrips Laserdiscs. By looking at DVD extras, I can find out about laserdisc extras. Sometimes, I can even find out if there will even be a Laserdisc release. For instance, a few weeks after the Blair Witch Project debuted in theater, rumors of extras on the DVD surfaced on several websites. Of course there was no mention of a Laserdisc release at all. I contacted Pioneer and learned about the Blair Witch LD release months before it was listed at Ken Cranes. The second reason is both Laserdiscs and DVDs (at least initially) aim for the same market. Both are high quality optical disc formats. Therefore, it is interesting to see the differences and similarities between the formats.
One of the major differences between the formats (other than one is digital and one is analog) is the type of copyright protection available on each format. Laserdisc has no copy protection (with the possible exception of laser rot). DVD, on the other hand, is protected by two types of copy protection. One is analog (Macrovision) and the other is digital (CSS). Macrovision can be eliminated with a good (=$$$) time base corrector or passably subdued by a $50-$100 black box advertised in the back of magazines. However, the CSS (Content Scrambling System) would prevent anyone from making a digital copy. That was true until last week. Norwegian computer programmers managed to exploit a bug in a computer based MPEG-2 player made by Xing, a subsidiary of Real Networks. This just isn't Real Network's month. Earlier this month, Real landed in some hot water when it was learned that their Real Jukebox MP3 player sent information about the user to Real Networks, without the user's permission of course. Anyway, back to the CSS story - the programmers posted their hack on the Internet where it was quickly downloaded and distributed in newsgroups and chat rooms. The hack has the unfortunate ability to allow anyone to make a perfect digital copy of a DVD. This caused a little bit of a uproar in Hollywood and in conference rooms of major media companies.
Of course, this interests me because Laserdiscs have no copy protection. Amazingly, Laserdiscs never had a bootlegging problem either. While Laserdiscs are sometimes used to make bootleg VHS tapes, there really wasn't any bootleg laserdiscs made. In fact, I never heard of one being made (although there was probably some made somewhere. sometime). Of course, this begs the question how did Laserdisc avoid this scourge while VHS and DVD (both with copy protection) have been hit so hard? I think the reason has to do with these three facts: (1) Laserdiscs are expensive to make and (2) There is no demand for bootleg laserdiscs and (3) Laserdisc are not recordable. While the exact cost of making a Laserdiscs, DVD or VHS tapes are never openly published, I know that it takes about $7-$10 to manufacture a Laserdisc, $1-$5 to manufacture a DVD and around $1-$2 to manufacture a VHS tape. Laserdiscs take a lot of effort to make, something a pirate does not want to do especially since there is no market for it. Throughout its long history, Laserdiscs have always appealed to a small group of well heeled movie nuts. Those movie nuts demanded the utmost in picture and sound quality, something that bootlegs are not known for. It is much easier for a bootlegger to make a VHS tape. The profits are higher too. Bootleggers exist only to make a quick buck (hmm-sounds like some companies I know) and they take the path of least resistance. Lastly, Laserdiscs are not recordable. This isn't a big deal to the professional video pirate but it prevents amature/wannabe pirates from making easy copies. This fact alone doesn't stop professional pirates since DVDs are not recordable also, but there are still bootleg DVDs - did you see the Star Wars: Episode 1 bootleg?
However, the recent CSS hack changes all of this. Now bootleggers can create copies that are indistinguishable from the official studio ones. So what happens next? Does this mean that DVD's will no longer be released? No, DVDs will continue to be released in the near future. However, this has probably doomed recordable DVD. Right now there is no easy way to distribute illegal copies. DVD file sizes often exceed 4.7GB (the size of a single DVD layer) which is pretty much impossible to download using a 56k modem. Also, removable computer media that can hold 4.7+ GB are more expensive than a legal DVD. Like before, only dedicated video pirates with access to CD/DVD pressing plants can distribute DVDs. Only now, their DVD's will be a little higher quality. Nevertheless, this does raise several questions. In our digital future, how will we tell the difference between official and bootleg copies? Should we pay studios extra $$$ when we can buy a cheaper bootleg? A digital copy of a studio release will appear exactly like the original.
Next week, I will look at possible ways to deter video pirates (move to High Def?) as well as what the studios shouldn't do in battling pirates (like making a stronger Macrovision).