Category Archives: DVD & Blu-ray

IR2BT: Infrared Control for the PS3

The PS3’s lack of an IR port is a problem that I’ve moaned about before, and I’m certainly not the only one. When you have excellent universal remotes that cost anything up to and beyond £200 and control dozens of appliances, from the TV and DVD player to the 360 and the lighting system, it’s not that appealing to have to spend £20 on a hulking great Bluetooth remote that isn’t even backlit.

Enter the IR2BT.


This isn’t the first way around the problem that I’ve tried. I bought a Darklite, which works mostly but co-opts the PS3’s first controller port, which is problematic for some games that require the controller to be there, and can’t fast forward and rewind any movie with BD-Java, which is a significant number of modern releases. Any one that has a loading screen before the menus load, essentially.

The IR2BT is notable as a Bluetooth-enabled way around Sony’s oversight that provides all the functions of the official remote. It’s a smallish box (size comparison here) with an IR receiver and a Bluetooth transmitter. All it does is translate the old PS2 IR codes – which any universal remote should support in some form – into Bluetooth for the PS3, and it’s even already in the Logitech Harmony database. That’s all most of us universal remote owners want, and it’s an elegantly simple way around the omission. Continue reading IR2BT: Infrared Control for the PS3


Blu-ray wins?

So CES hasn’t officially started yet, but the first megaton of 2008 has been dropped as Warner, currently the biggest studio for HD releases, confirmed that in May they’re dropping support for the HD DVD format. With only two major studios now supporting HD DVD, and one of them on a time-limited contract, it looks like the end of the HD format war is in sight.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now. Despite occasional better versions and, for me at least, a number of compelling exclusive titles, that was probably the death blow for HD DVD. It’s being reported as such, and even the comments from Toshiba have an air of resignition to them. There’s none of the bullishness that was usually found in press releases from both sides, and the cancellation of the HD DVD conference speaks volumes. They were blindsided and need a miracle, frankly.

Ultimately it’s good for HD movies. It will bring stability to the market that it hasn’t had and has probably been a contributor to the tiny size of the market for HD movies so far. I still don’t think Blu-ray will ever come close to the popularity of DVD, but now those who have been sitting on the fence can grow the market. Paramount certainly won’t stay exclusive when their contract period is up, and that will leave Universal as the last ones at the party.

I’m keeping my HD DVD player and keeping my collection, but now I’m only buying the biggest exclusive titles on HD DVD. That means Sweeney Todd and…uhh…hmm…

*goes to watch Serenity on HD DVD again*

Joytech HDMI TriLink Switcher

One of my bugbears with many HDTVs is that although they have several SCART sockets which will (hopefully) be all but obsolete in a few years, most of them around the lower end only have a single HDMI port. Not ideal when you have an upscaling DVD player, 360 Elite, PS3, HD set-top box, and the rest.

Joytech TriLink HDMI Switcher

Enter Joytech. I was wary of their HDMI switch after the serious performance problems with their component switchbox (the first version had problems with HD sources, making it all but useless), but for £30 (minus HDMI cables) I thought it was worth the risk.

What a fantastic little box! I’m going to have to gush a bit here because, aside from the lack of even one included HDMI and the fact that the blue indicator light is too bright in a dark room (I stuck tape over it to take the edge off), I have no complaints. It does exactly what you want it to – that is, it switches between HDMI sources quickly and is HDCP-compliant – and has a couple of handy touches that make it especially easy to recommend.

The first is that in addition to the normal plug, it comes with the option to power it over USB. With so many consoles and modern STBs having USB on the back it can save a valuable slot on the mains. The PS3 doesn’t send power to its USB slots when it’s turned off but the 360 (and HD DVD drive) and Wii both do, as does the Sky HD box, I’m reliably informed. This is an option that more low powered items should have, and in future I want all phones and portable devices to support charging over USB as standard, please.

Secondly it comes with an infra-red extension attached to a small box that can be taped to the TV or somewhere discreet. No need to have the box on display in order to change it remotely so it can be safely chucked into the jungle back there where you never have to notice it again. Unless you’re in a dark room, in which case you’ll notice the aforementioned blue glow all the time. The day that electronics companies realise that as cool as blue LEDs look, they’re usually far too bright will be a happy one.

Considering that only a year ago you’d be looking at well over £100 for a half-decent HDMI switch this is an absolute steal. Just don’t get suckered into buying overpriced leads (95p through Amazon Marketplace) to go with it.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

I miss this type of fantasy film. While Lord of the Rings and its derivatives pull in untold amounts of cash, the more intimate ones where someone from our world finds themselves in a mystical land – think The NeverEnding Story or, conveniently, Labyrinth – never seem to have survived the 80s.

Maybe people like massive CG battles and vast, open plains better than a bit of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. My theory is just that LOTR doesn’t have David Bowie’s scary 80s hair it it. Or David Bowie, for that matter.

Del Toro is one of my favourite directors at the moment, since he clearly has a wonderful imagination and the means to realise it. Here he shows that he’s just as adept at serious period drama – much of the film takes place in the early days of Franco’s fascist Spain, at a military outpost – but balances it superbly with the fantasy elements. I was frankly surprised at how far the film pushes its 15-rating (clue: there’s no sex or bad language), and yet he still maintains the innocence of Ofelia’s fantasy world, regardless of what’s happening in “reality” (or is it, etc?).

One thing that really blew me away here is the quality of the Oscar-winning makeup work. The all-CGI face of Davy Jones in Pirates 2 had raised the bar for fantasy characters (the best thing in that movie, it’s stunning) but Doug Jones as the faun and the Pale Man looks incredible, and all with minimal CGI on both characters. The Pale Man in particular is one of the most sinister movie monsters in years, and no doubt due a Movie Maniacs figure that’ll be decorating my shelf in the near future.

I ended up enjoying Pan’s Labyrinth so much that I’ve ordered the beautiful Korean limited edition to go with my UK DVD. We got this film on DVD a couple of months before it’s due in the States admittedly (minus DTS-ES 6.1 sound), but how come we don’t get special editions like that?

I’m Seeing Kevin Smith!

Kevin Smith is going to be appearing next month for one of his legendary Q&A sessions at the Prince Charles Cinema (complete with Tarantino-themed bar, which defies awesomeness) in London, and I’ve got tickets! Hooray!

I’ve missed out on the chance to see him speak a handful of times now but have an unhealthy enthusiasm for his ‘Evening With…’ DVDs, and although this one won’t be recorded it’s all worth it to hear some more material. Especially if said material ends up being a tirade against Jonathan Ross, ? la his bash of the 3AM Girls on the last DVD. I’d like to have a bit of a rant about Ross in front of an audience myself, but that’s another story.

Suffice to say I’ll post a report (hopefully some photos as well) on the day after. I can’t wait!

360 HD DVD Impressions

Xbox 360 with HD DVD Drive

If you thought getting hold of an Xbox 360 late last year was difficult, you should try finding one of the HD DVD drives. The shop where I had my original order didn’t get any and, according to my friend who owns it, Gem (the main UK Microsoft distributor for indies) only had a couple of dozen for the whole country. Gameplay told me that they couldn’t supply my preorder until, after much ado, it turned out that they could.

Obviously an external drive isn’t the most elegant way to play HD DVD but what this does is make an excellent stopgap until the standalones come down in price a bit. How many HD movie players are there for £130 again?

It’s admittedly a bit disingenuous to say that this is an HD DVD player for £130 when you need a £200 machine to run it, but a quick calculation tells me that £130 + £200 = £330, which is significantly less than the £400+ for the standalone HD players or the PS3. It comes with the remote (usually £20 on its own) and the King Kong HD DVD (£14.99 on Play), and when you look at the aggressive pre-Christmas bundling going on with 360 consoles I don’t think it’s a bad deal.

Pricing aside, the most important thing is how well this works. The answer is pretty well. Not perfect, although it does represent excellent value for money and the quality is very high. It’s certainly the best way to play HD movies without breaking the bank. Continue reading 360 HD DVD Impressions