Tag Archives: TV

The Doctor Who Cliffhanger

The current series of Doctor Who has been pretty variable in quality, often thanks to the very presence of Catherine Tate, who has had moments but, as a rule, I can’t stand – the announcement that she was a permanent fixture was almost enough to make me bail out completely – but last night’s penultimate episode of the series was something else. As if it wasn’t already apparent, there will be spoilers here after the break. Those who haven’t seen it and want to know what happens, there’s a good synopsis here.

The big crossover between the three previous series’ of Who and its two spin-offs, as well as the now-annual return of [insert major Who villain from the past here] (an awesome incarnation of Davros, in this case) was well-known and the major talking point beforehand, but OH MY GOD at that ending. Continue reading The Doctor Who Cliffhanger

Not Compensating For Anything

So while my 26-inch Samsung LCD that I bought in early 2006 was great for its time, back when an HDTV actually became affordable to a mortal and I was making less than the minimum wage, I’d decided a while back that I wanted something bigger and better.

I’d been thinking about LCDs in the 37-inch range and set myself an absolute maximum of £1,000 to spend, but when I found that decent models were well below that price (as low as £650 online), I decided to go all out. Why settle for an 8 ms response time and 8,000:1 contrast ratio when I can get 0.001 ms and 30,000:1? That’s how I came to have such a magnificent beast as the Panasonic TH-42PZ80B – that’s a 42-inch 1080p plasma, reviewed here – sat at the end of my bed.

Panasonic TH-42PZ80B

As much as I enjoyed having the old LCD, I found that when I was watching HD video material I wasn’t really getting the full benefit. It looked sharper, but from my perch it didn’t look worlds beyond an upscaled DVD. Indeed, a competent DVD could be almost indistinguishable, which meant dropping the extra cash on the Blu-ray/HD DVD over the standard DVD was done as much for being future-proof as anything. Not to mention that black levels of LCDs have never been great (check out this comparison), which annoyed me with low detail in darker films. Batman Begins on HD DVD, for example, has a highly rated video transfer that was frankly a bit grey and murky via LCD.

Compared to the old one, this is a revelation. Watching a Blu-ray in 1080p at 24Hz with no overscan at that size would convince anyone that it’s worlds ahead of DVD, to the point where even my excellent little player upscaling to 1080p can’t keep up anymore. My go-to demo disc, Pixar’s Cars, looked amazing, with vivid colours, sharp detail and smooth motion, as did the recently acclaimed Narnia.

Rambo Blu-ray

While the black levels are undeniably superior, it’s not all roses, though. I’ve found that I’m one of the few per cent of people who can see the phosphor trails on plasma displays, a flaw endemic to the technology. Films are largely – though not entirely – unaffected, but certain games like Call of Duty 4, with its high contrast and fast movement, can almost look like one of those red-on-green 3D double images. Thankfully it’s something that will supposedly fade as the panel wears in over the first couple hundred hours, but I’ll suppose I have to get used to it. Even so, it looks dramatically better than any LCD that I’ve seen, so I’m going to take it as a worthwhile trade.

Still, given the choice between the grey blacks, slow response and poor scaling of an LCD and the phosphor trailing of a plasma (admittedly that only a small percentage of people can even see), it kind of makes you wish that reliable old CRTs weren’t so bloody big.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is Rubbish

I’ve given it a chance, I really have, but I can’t keep living this lie.

The first two Terminator films are among my favourites ever and I don’t even find the third completely objectionable, but this new TV show is a blight on the series. A 9.1 user rating on TV.com? Nothing but proof that people do, in fact, have no taste. They’ll come to their senses eventually, once the novelty has worn off; it’s like when the Star Wars prequels went straight into the IMDb chart, before everyone came to their senses.

It’s not for any frivolous reason, like that Lena Headey looks distractingly not at all like Linda Hamilton (although couldn’t they have dyed her hair?). Or that Summer Glau is just playing River again. Or that the T-888 hides a pistol inside its leg, creating another plot hole to try to fill – why didn’t Arnie bring back a phased-plasma rifle in the forty watt range for any of his appearances? I can just about live with the fact that there are suddenly tons of Terminators sent back and a similar number of resistance fighters. Anything beyond Terminator 2 isn’t canon in my book, anyway. Just make it entertaining.

But this isn’t, which is the problem. Think of those little internal monologues from Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, when she was sitting and watching the terminator and John talking as she waxed philosophical about the nature of human existence – it happened maybe three times in two-and-a-half hours of film. It happens to a similar extent in every single episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and those are only about an hour. All she needs is black makeup and a MySpace account on which to write shitty poetry.

Now anyone who knows me knows how much I like Firefly – I own three copies of Serenity across two formats, and fully intend to buy the Blu-ray as well – but I just don’t like Summer Glau in this. Like I said before, she’s playing the same emotionally distant killing machine, struggling to relearn about human emotions. Expect her to either (metaphorically) descend into the smelter by the end of the series, since I don’t expect the writers to be creative enough to anything else with it. They couldn’t better the thumbs up from T2 as an emotional coda, anyway.

To be fair, I have enjoyed some moments. Despite making little real sense (a bath full of blood that attaches to him in a humanoid shape? Really?), Cromartie’s quest for some artificial flesh was reasonably effective, and given the television budget I liked his paintball mask and trench coat combo as a means to avoid showing CGI endoskeletons in every scene, in that it didn’t make me roll my eyes. Although I’ve come to love it as a plot device now, the same can’t be said for the humanoid Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica.

But despite these flaws, I can say with absolute certainty that this will be better than the new series of Doctor Who, simply for not having any Catherine Tate. It’s undeniable.

Consolevania’s Halo Parody

I’m going to assume that you’ve seen the new Halo 3 TV ad, which may or may not spoil the whole thing for everyone (Bungie has assured everyone that it doesn’t), and if you haven’t watched it you should. I’ll wait here until you’re finished.

When that’s done you need to watch this absolutely sublime parody, created by the Consolevania team:

Superb, and oh so true.

Topfield TF5800PVR Impressions

Another day, another new gadget. This time it’s a PVR funded, as always, by my good old student loan. Hooray!

Topfield TF5800PVR

Say hello to the Topfield TF5800PVR, known to its friends as the Toppy. By day it’s a mild-manned Freeview PVR with a 160GB hard drive to record 80 hours of material, which by my calculations is how much TV I watch in about three months. It also has component output which is a great boon for an LCD TV user. This thing has some real tricks inside that bland little case, however.

First up is the USB port on the back. It’s used not only for the obvious firmware upgrades, but also to pull the recorded video off the hard drive to the computer where it can be edited, burnt to DVD, stuck on the PSP/iPod, or whatever. Obviously this in no way encourages piracy and putting copyrighted material on YouTube. Never. Not even all the weekend’s goals like they show on Match of the Day 2 in a handy two-minute package.

It’s real killer app here, though, is that it can run its own little applications known as TAPs (Topfield APplications). With some judicious tapping mine now pulls EPG data for the next two weeks from the Radio Times site instead of the basic 7-day EPG that Freeview has (this means much more extensive information including mini reviews of every film that’s on) and has a number of searches running that record anything that matches them (e.g. it searches BBC1 and BBC2 at the weekend for names beginning with “Match of the Day” that are on after 10pm, catching both versions). It also allows me to browse the listings by genre, name, and even content summaries. And that pair is just the beginning. There are tons of the things.

I only got it last Thursday (from Superfi, who were pretty good and the cheapest on Pricerunner) so I’m still learning the ropes and doing that perpetual tweaking that I do – I’ve only just become happy with the setup of my Harmony remote that I bought in March – but I’ve been well impressed with this thing. It’s a decent box on its own merits, and when you factor in the ton of extra functionality that you can download for nothing, it’s brilliant.



Forget De Niro and Pacino, because Sacha Baron Cohen may just be the best actor in the world. It’s one thing to be a great actor, immersing yourself completely in the character, when surrounded by other actors and working from a script. It’s quite another to do so with Joe Public, improvising your lines and keeping up the pretence while actually managing to keep a straight face.

Besides having possibly the best title in the world – Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – Cohen’s latest (I’ll just call it Borat for the sake of my typing fingers) is one of the funniest films of the last few years. When Empire say that it’ll prove as timeless as Airplane! and This is Spinal Tap, I really can’t argue.

The format isn’t much different to the TV show and indeed some of the “interviews” could have been lifted from it, but this essentially adds a plot and goes further than the budget and taste constraints of television can allow. The fact that the credits name the provider of “Mr. Baron Cohen’s feces” (sic) goes some way in explaining it, as does the fact that Borat has the police called on him and is tackled by security guards on several occasions. Not always while clothed. You’ll know what part I’m talking about when you see it. It’s the part where the whole audience is crying with laughter. Continue reading Jagshemash!