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David Poland

By David Poland

No Hi-Def Discs, Thanks

I adore having my Blu-ray and HD players. I have a 1080 set and the image is beautiful, more so than any other delivery, including high-def satellite.
But this NYT story on the ongoing failure of the formats is pretty much on target, with one exception… upscaling DVD players, which has become one of the top threats to the new formats. No one wants to replace their collection of DVDs. And while some discs don’t upscale so well – I really don’t know what makes the difference, but it is noticeable – once you see how most of your discs can, the need to own a Blu-ray or HD player is diminished.
Another interesting point is that Blu-ray owners are buying more discs than HD buyers. I have had the good fortune of two of the Blu-ray driven companies putting me on their publicity lists. And I haven’t really bothered the others about it. But I bought the HD player and have been buying discs in both formats, trying to figure this all out for myself. And it seems, as a consumer, that there are a lot more titles that are exclusively Blu-ray than exclusively HD. This is changing with Paramount content. But there was a 3-for-2 HD deal at a retailer recently and I had a hard time picking three films in the format that I really wanted. (I went ahead and bought Boorman’s Excalibur by itself on Amazon for almost the same price after accounting for no sales tax and free shipping.)
Also, there is the problem that if you are into Blu-ray or HD, you need to have players on all your HD TVs if you are buying only those formats. (Nor can you bring it to a friend’s home, even if they have an HDTV but no player.) I am still a one-HDTV household, so watching a DVD in the bedroom or guestroom in hi-def is not an option at all. I’ll buy a second screen eventually… and when I do, the additional costs of a HD DVR, an additional hard drive to make it capable of holding hundreds of hours of hi-def programming and not just 30, the added program fees to DirecTV, and at least one hi-def player will probably cost more than the 42″ LCD or plasma TV… and that is assuming that I won’t want to bother with surround sound.
I love the formats and especially some of the stuff that artists have done, pushing the technoology. But it is harder and harder to foresee a future that will not be driven by hi-def coming into homes by cable, satellite and, for a bit, internet. As most of you might have noticed, WalMart quietly got out of the download business this last week.
The key to the entertainment is not quality… it is, as it always was, delivery.

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15 Responses to “No Hi-Def Discs, Thanks”

  1. Bodhizefa says:

    I also would like to know what makes for a good upconverted DVD versus a crappy one. I understand that a lot of it has to do with the original compression scheme (that’s the big reason that first generation DVD’s — like the ones on “flipper” discs — look awful on HD screens). However, I still run into excellently compressed films on DVD, like Heat or PotC: At World’s End, where the colors are abysmal and the picture incessantly grainy or dull (for lack of a better word) when upconverted no matter how I change the settings. It’s baffling, if nothing else.
    The fact remains that almost all HD DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs that I’ve encountered have looked unbelievably awesome both on their own and especially in comparison to their regular DVD counterparts. Once prices start going down and people start seeing HD content on their friends’ sets, more people will upgrade. I don’t think there will be as stark a transition as there was from VHS to DVD (how could there be?), but there is certainly money to be made in the HD home video formats. The picture is too pretty to be ignored.
    What HD/Blu-Ray versions of films are you guys anticipating? I’m hoping there’s an Indiana Jones set on the way with the new film coming out in May. I’m also interested in seeing the blues of Jaws and the greens from Amelie as well as just about anything Pixar in HD. Any film with a rich color palette has me drooling at the potential eye candy in store for me with an HD release. I’ve found that I enjoy the rich colors of HD just as much (if not more) than the sharpened detail, so the vibrant films have won me over quicker than anything else (Blade Runner is surprisingly vibrant, by the way, and even my girlfriend’s jaw dropped when I first popped it in).

  2. Spacesheik says:

    I don’t like jumping into new formats and I somewhat stumbled onto Blu-Ray via the PS3 (which I purchased for games).
    I have a friend who uses an XBox360 to watch HD movies and I saw the quality of the films which was excellent, but when I decided to purchase a Samsung 1080p 42-incher, I connected the PS3 to it and the Fantastic Four 2 disc looks absolutely phenomenal, in my humble opinion crisper and more 3D-like than the HD flicks.
    The PS3 (if you update it with all the patches, and you can do this wirelessly) is an excellent machine to watch Blu-Ray discs in, if you don’t want to rush out and buy a player.
    I personally was very impressed with the quality of a Blu-Ray disc.

  3. ThriceDamned says:

    Bod: I don’t think you’ll see many of the “big guns” on either HD format in 2008. By 2009 however, they’ll start creeping in I suspect. I think most of the studios will wait for a larger installed user base before releasing high profile titles to maximize sell-through potential.
    I agree with you on the colors. They’re much more rich and deep, and they have a visible “pop” to them in HD that you don’t get with DVD (no, not with upscaling either. Upscaling is an incredibly overrated concept. You can’t reproduce something that was never there). Ditto on Blade Runner. Incredible restoration that made my jaw drop the first time I saw it. I did a real-time comparison, switching between it on blu-ray and DVD, and the difference was just surreal.
    Space: Ditto on the PS3. I bought it only as a bl-ray player (although I’ve actually been playing some games on it recently, after I won some in an on-line game. I recommend “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune”. Best game I’ve played in years), and it’s generally acknowledged to be the best blu-ray player out there. With the latest firmware update came the ability for the PS3 to play Dvix, Xvid and WMV files. It already plays h.264 HD files, so it’ll play pretty much anything you’d care to throw at it. It’ll stream stuff directly from your PC via wireless, and is just a great media hub in general.
    I completely understand that most people aren’t ready to throw down the money to buy into a format that they don’t know will last (whichever one that will be), but I can only speak for myself in saying that HD (I have both formats) for me has in a very short time become the vastly preferred way of seeing films.

  4. themutilator says:

    I bought a Samsung 1080p TV last April and bought a Samsung BD P1200 Blu Ray in August and couldnt be happier.
    I routinely take one of my days off and watch 4-5 movies in a sitting so I thought I might as well watch them in high def. What a difference between reg DVD and high def. I was an avid DVD buyer but now I only buy movies in blu ray and I have rebought most of my faves.
    I was going to buy myself a HD DVD for Xmas but after looking at a list of HD only movies, the only film I really wanted was Poseidon (damn, I love that movie) so Im chose agianst buying the HD. The reason I bought Blu Ray in the first place was that Lionsgate only does Blu Ray (Im a horror freak…Saw and Hostel in Blu Ray–Yeah! even though the Hostel 2 transfer is terrible).
    One thing I didnt know before buying is firmware updates…UGH. Its not that bad unless you really NEED to see that Fox movie the day you bought it. Myself, I can wait a few weeks for the update.
    That said, if something like Saw 4 comes out needing a firmware update, I’ll be pissed.

  5. Dr Wally says:

    The difference between even upscaled DVD and true hi-def is night and day. All upscaling does is show up every flaw and limitation of the DVD, not a commentary on how poor DVD is, so much as an example of how ruthlessly sharp HD is. I recently watched The Bourne Ultimatum upscaled to 1080i via HDMI and it was horrendously blocky and pixellated (and that’s actually a pretty decent transfer of a brand new movie). I’ve dipped a toe into this arena by getting a PS3, but my rule of thumb is to only buy new movies (Ratatouille, POTC3 and Spidey being the most recent) rather than re-buy catalog movies. Even if i could afford to buy more, i’d still be risking being left with expensive coasters with this format war being precariously poised, and also the catalog releases seem to be lazy ports of previous release with little to no remastering done for high-def. Fox is the worst offender, charging 40 bucks for substandard transfers of catalog movies, without even including the extras from the DVD releases. Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone on the blog.

  6. Bodhizefa says:

    Thrice: I am in complete agreement with you about the PS3 as a media hub. I remember initially thinking that Sony had overshot the public desire for HD content with their overstuffed PS3 system as I (as a gamer) opted for the less expensive Xbox 360 as well as the HD-less Nintendo Wii. But a couple months ago I upgraded my HDTV to a 42″ and got an HD DVD player and Transformers HD for my birthday, and a whole new world opened up for me. When I saw the opening desert scenes in Transformers along with the scene where Megan Fox lifts the car hood, I was absolutely blown away by the colors. I’ve never seen yellow look like that before, honestly. Yellow and green have quickly become my two favorite HD colors. The yellows in Transformers in particular are unbelievable — it’s almost as if I’ve discovered a brand new palette for my eyes and they’re still in shock.
    I finally ended up wanting a PS3 because Blu-Ray had a bunch of movies that HD DVD didn’t offer, and since I’m a gamer, the PlayStation offered a better deal to me than a standalone player. Not only am I excited to have awesome games in HD like Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted (I love how your clothes get wet when you submerge in water and then come back out), but Blu-Ray is a fantastic format to go alongside my HD DVD collection. I also appreciate the fact that Sony has made the PS3 so user/modder friendly. I replaced my old 40 gig hard drive with a 250 GB set-up so I’d have more room for HD computer content. It’s a tremendous system, and perhaps I was wrong in thinking Sony jumped the gun on the HD generation.
    A good friend of mine who was ahead of me in getting his HD DVD player said last summer that he didn’t think he’d ever be able to go back to regular content for the most part after watching HD. At the time, I thought he was being marginally silly. Now, however, after having my own experiences with the wonderment of HD content, I can see his side of the fence. There’s no way I’m getting rid of my regular DVD collection anytime soon, but I’m certainly adding all my new movies (with the occasional double-dip like the awesome HD Blade Runner) in HD.

  7. jeffmcm says:

    Why can one not bring their HD player to their friend’s house with an HDTV?

  8. Joe Leydon says:

    Maybe I should post, as a sort of cautionary lesson, a photo of all the Beta format and RCA Spectravision format movies I still have in a closet.

  9. Working AD says:

    I also have a 1080p set, and a PS3 to play Blu-rays. I agree with all the comments about improved video and sound quality.
    The thing about upscaling is this. (And with the PS3, you can hit the “display” button on your remote and see the rates as the disc plays) A standard definition DVD with picture encoded at MPEG2 will likely be putting an average of maybe 6 to 7 megabytes of information on the screen every second. Many times, it’s lower than that, sometimes, it may be a little higher. A high definition DVD will put an average of 20 to 30 megs per second on the screen. That’s a pretty big jump, and you can see it in the colors and in the visible details on the screen. One example I used was the explosions at the beginning of Terminator 2. On a standard DVD, even upscaled, these are big and colorful but not distinct. On the Blu-ray, the same explosions are well-defined down to the smallest parts. Now, when you upscale the standard definition DVD to 1080i or 1080p, you’re not adding any new information. It’s still the same 6 or 7 megs per second, and there isn’t much more you can do with that.

  10. bobbob911 says:

    It feels different than your typical format war to me, for a couple of reasons:
    1)Eventually (meaning 18-24 months), you simply will not be able to buy any players other than dual-format capable, HD players, and they will cost $99-$199 for the entry level. There will no longer be a format war in the eyes of consumers.
    2)Studios clearly are pushing the HD-DVD format much more than DVD at its inception, or more than any of the high definion audio formats (SACD, DVD-Audio, etc). Why? Simple, they are hooked on the DVD revenue stream, and it has peaked. They *need* this format to get everyone to repurchase all over again to expand revenue.

  11. Jonj says:

    A lot of DVD tech Web sites believe Blu-ray will eventually win. It’s got a big lead on sales right now. I have both formats — Blu-ray (on the PS3) and HD-DVD (as an Xbox 360 add-on). They look about the same to me. The thing I like about HD-DVD is most movies come on a joint HD-DVD and regular DVD dual format, meaning that if HD-DVD takes a dive, it will still work on a regular DVD player. I don’t think Blu-ray does this, but I still have more Blu-ray DVDs right now. I think a lot of consumers are confused on the formats right now. The price difference doesn’t help. I almost bought Eastern Promises on HD-DVD for $30 and then I saw the regular DVD on sale for $14.99. I went the cheap route.

  12. IOIOIOI says:

    Joe; those Spectravision disc are a trip. Bob; there will not be any combo platters. If there are… they will be made by the likes of a GO VIDEO-esque company because this whole FORMAT WAR is about rights. I doubt Sony will want to share space with Microsoft in terms of the same player, and may bring the legal heat to keep it that way. Nevertheless; the studios are sorely mistaken in thinking that they people will pay for the same movie again in HD. Unless it’s incredibly special like Blade Runner. There’s simply no reason to upgrade unless it’s a true UPGRADE — not only in picture and sound — but extras as well.

  13. bobbob911 says:

    Samsung and LG already have combo players – fairly big names. I’m sure Sony will be the last to make one of course 🙂

  14. Joe Leydon says:

    IoIoIo: Hey, I bought the Spectravision Player because Gene Kelly was the advertising spokesman. Figured he wouldn’t steer me wrong. Dammit.

  15. Working AD says:

    If you want to hang on for another few months before taking the plunge, the HD format war should be figured out this year. While both formats feature equally high quality video and sound, and with the BD-java thing worked out, both feature picture-in-picture and the other bells and whistles, JonJ is correct to note that Blu-ray has a sizeable sales advantage. It’s 2 to 1 in some places and 3 to 1 in others. Normally that would be the ballgame (as it was with Beta way back when), but HD-DVD still has a couple of things going for it at the moment. It has Universal only releasing their titles on HD-DVD. It also has Paramount/Dreamworks staying HD-DVD exclusive until December, thanks to a donation of 150 million made by Toshiba last year. And it has Warner Bros. still releasing titles in both formats, thus allowing the Harry Potter films and Blade Runner, etc to come out on both formats. There have been loud rumblings at WB that they are looking very seriously at the sales for each format and are likely to go Blu-ray exclusive fairly soon into this new year. If they do that, it will leave only two studios releasing HD-DVD content – with Dreamworks already having the caveat that the Spielberg films in their library are not subject to the HD-DVD only rule.
    HD-DVD still had a pretty good year last year, most especially with TRANSFORMERS. On the other hand, the week after that came out, SPIDER MAN and then DIE HARD came out on Blu-ray and easily dwarfed the numbers.
    I figure the back and forth will continue until WB goes to one format. And then it’s just a matter of a few months before it’s all done.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon