Tag Archives: Movies


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*

HD-DVD Impressions

Serenity on HD-DVD

The first HD-DVD players on the market, Toshiba’s HD-A1 and HD-XA1, have been out for a couple of weeks in the US now, and although they’re not due for release here until the autumn I’ve just been to see the HD-A1 in action. A friend got one off eBay ($800 including shipping!) so I went to his house to check it out.

While I wouldn’t pay that much, I’ve been considering importing for a couple of weeks since the early players are apparently region free, but also because that old trick of swapping out the $ for £ when setting prices has reared its ugly head again according to HDTV UK. $499 is £285: £214 ($375) less than the UK RRP. Disgusting, even for Serenity and Batman Begins in HD.

But holy crap, HD-DVD looks amazing. Obviously it looks sharper and more detailed than DVD since this is 1080p video (I saw it in 1080i), but what impressed me equally was how fantastic the colours were. It just looks colourful and vivid with a real three-dimensional quality to the picture. No artifacting that I could see either, even during scenes that push DVD like the rainy scenes in The Last Samurai. The landscapes in that movie were absolutely beautiful on DVD, and it was just accentuated in HD.

The menu system is especially cool. After the ubiquitous copyright messages and a good HD-DVD promo (including HD footage of The Matrix, amongst others) Samurai goes straight into the movie – no main menu. Pressing the menu button displays the options for scene selection, languages, and extras along the bottom, and they can be fiddled with while the movie continues uninterrupted in the background. Serenity’s slide out from the left very much like the Xbox 360 guide. Very slick.

The main thing that’s keeping me from getting on board immediately is the hardware. Besides the fact that it has the most godawful remote on the planet which becomes indecipherable in anything less than direct sunlight, the HD-A1 takes around 30 seconds to go from standby to actually playing the movie which is something that will inevitably be improved with future hardware generations. The other thing is that it’s pretty much the same size as my LaserDisc player despite only playing standard 12cm optical discs. Annoying that the only obstacle to HD bliss is my lack of space, but I suppose I’m going to succumb to a moment of credit card-induced monetary inhibition before too long.

HD-DVD or Blu-ray?

With CES going on in Las Vegas at the moment all the news about the next-generation DVD formats is starting to come out and the whole debate over whether the “official” format, HD-DVD, will triumph over the technically superior upstart, Blu-Ray. The last thing anyone really wants is a format war, especially when the early players are so fucking expensive.

I’m a huge DVD buff so I’ve been following this whole thing pretty much since the beginning and know the relative benefits of each format (the respective Wikipedia entries here and here are a good starting point), and really hope that a compromise can eventually be reached because a format war will do nobody any good, but it’s impossible to guess which one of the formats will win out.

The most obvious comparison is VHS against Betamax, in which the technically superior Betamax was beaten out by VHS in the race to revolutionise home entertainment. That shows that even if Blu-Ray is superior in many ways (storage space for a start: 54GB and up compared to 30-45GB) it’s not going to ensure a victory. It could be argued that any technical superiority is made irrelevant by the fact that HD-DVD carries the familiar DVD name which BR won’t be able to use, and to a consumer who dislikes jargon and prefers recognisable names that’s an important coup.

What could make or break them is hardware support, and although much has been made of the PS3’s ability to play back BD-ROMs (obvious comparisons to the PS2’s place in cementing DVD as a mainstream format should be made) you can’t ignore that Microsoft are firmly behind HD-DVD. Even if the Xbox 360 doesn’t have HD-DVD compatibility, Windows is more ubiquitous than even the almighty PlayStation and if they sneak it into homes via the growing HTPC market that’s just as much a trojan horse as the PS3.

Part of me wants HD-DVD to win out for the simple reason that I’m all for standards, and Blu-Ray is another attempt by Sony to establish their own, often overpriced, standard when the current one doesn’t suit them. We’ve seen it so many times – Betamax, Memory Stick, DVD+RW, UMD, MiniDisc, ATRAC, etc – and it just locks people into Sony hardware, undermines standards, and confuses the average consumer.

Coexistence is a possibility like with DVD-RW and DVD+RW which seem to have established some form of equilibrium, but I don’t think anybody thinks that it would be a better solution than one unified standard with all movies on it. Our best hope is just that a compromise is still possible or, if a format war does happen, that it doesn’t undo all the good work that DVD has done in bringing home entertainment into the digital age.

Revenge of the Sith Soundtrack Impressions

As I begin to suffer from that frequent disease that relapses every time a Star Wars movie comes out which makes me buy every product in sight, I came home from work yesterday with a copy of the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack in tow. When it comes to Star Wars produce the soundtrack is always one of the least regrettable purchases simply because John Williams’ superb compositions are one of the few things that has been reliably good across the whole saga. As much as I disliked Attack of the Clones, I still find Across The Stars to be a wonderful piece of music.

Like the film itself, this soundtrack is the one that has to tie everything together. You have the love themes and the hinted return of the Imperial March carried over from AOTC, and then you have the first appearances of A New Hope’s themes for Luke and Darth Vader. Even the victory theme from the end of A New Hope makes an appearance. Of course, in addition to this there’s a lot of new and suitably-dark overtures for the well-known battles that are set to take place and one of them, Battle of the Heroes, which you can hear a sample of here (requires iTunes), is simply one of the best pieces of music I’ve heard in a while.

I don’t know if the themes from this one will ever be as iconic as the likes of the Imperial March, but nonetheless this one remains an excellent show from John Williams as probably the best original composer working in Hollywood today.

As an extra incentive, the CD comes bundled with a bonus DVD entitled “Star Wars: A Musical Journey”. Running at around 70 minutes (including introductions to the various pieces; an hour without) and available for your listening pleasure in Dolby Digital 5.1 or uncompressed PCM stereo, it’s basically the story condensed into an hour and told almost entirely through music with very little dialogue – probably a good thing with the prequels. It’s not as pretentious and arty-fartsy as it sounds; it’s just an interesting way to listen to a lot of the music from all six movies condensed in such a way that you can sit down for an hour and watch/listen to it.

If you’re a fan of these scores and for some reason you aren’t picking up a copy yourself, the bonus DVD is a great addition to the package. It’s only like £9.99 online (I’ve seen it for as little as £11.99 on the high street), so you don’t have an excuse not to pick it up.