HD DVD

 
 

 
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HD DVD screen captures

Ha! They told me it couldn’t be done. In fact, the studios did everything in their power to make things impossible, but the old adage applies: if it can be encrypted, it can be decrypted. The images below are from the UK version of Serenity, and, as far as I can tell, there is no downscaling going on, although I’m still not 100% certain, as there is a certain sheen of softness to these images that isn’t present when watching them on a TV. (It may be that the software decoding of PowerDVD isn’t as effective as it could be.) Anyway, click the thumbnails below for larger versions.

Serenity

Serenity

Serenity

Serenity

Serenity

Serenity

Obtaining these screen captures is a rather long and tedious process that I won’t go into here for fear of swarms of Hollywood dragoons descending on me, but, suffice to say, it would appear that the impossible is in fact possible.

 
Posted: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 10:18 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

The best-looking HD title?

HD DVD

King Kong is considered by many people to be the best-looking high definition disc out there. I’ve not viewed it myself, but, based on these screenshots, I think I can see why it’s so highly-regarded:

http://david2k.orcon.net.nz/kk12.jpg
http://david2k.orcon.net.nz/kk25.jpg

More at http://david2k.orcon.net.nz.

PS. Judging by these shots, it is actually possible to get full 1920x1080 screen captures of HD DVD titles from a PC. The process apparently involves getting hold of the disc’s volume key by exploiting a loophole in WinDVD HD, then decrypting the disc, then running the decrypted files in PowerDVD 6.5. In other words, much harder than with a standard definition DVD, but definitely possible.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2007 at 10:51 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Updated HD DVD image quality rankings

HD DVD

Lyris’ recent purchase of a 40” 1080p-capable display has caused me to re-evaluate a few titles. By and large, not much has changed, although Corpse Bride has emerged as the closest to being technically “perfect” (personally, I prefer the grainy aesthetic of Serenity, though).

10/10

  • Corpse Bride (Warner, USA)
  • Serenity (Universal, UK)
  • Serenity (Universal, USA)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, UK)

9/10

  • The Bourne Supremacy (Universal, USA)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner, USA)
  • Miami Vice (Universal, USA)
  • Unleashed (Universal, USA)
  • Casablanca (Warner, USA)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner, UK)

8/10

  • Red Dragon (Universal, USA)
  • Constantine (Warner, USA)
  • Land of the Dead (Universal, USA)
  • V for Vendetta (Warner, USA)
  • The Machinist (Toshiba, Japan)
  • Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, USA)
  • Million Dollar Baby (Warner, USA)

7/10

  • Wolf Creek (The Weinstein Company, USA)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal, USA)
  • The Mummy Returns (Universal, USA)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner, USA)

6/10

  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Paramount, USA)
  • An American Werewolf in London (Universal, USA)
  • Brokeback Mountain (Universal, USA)
  • Basic Instinct (Studio Canal, France)

I’ll continue to post this list, with updates, at regular intervals (probably around once a month). Also, expect Blu-ray titles to begin to be added starting with the next major update.

 
Posted: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 8:25 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Ban this filth!

HD DVD

Two new HD DVDs entered the house today: Lyris picked up a copy of the deliriously awful The Mummy Returns, while I received a review copy of Brokeback Mountain, the movie once referred to by my charming grandfather (who struggles with the concept of multi-racial relationships, let alone same-sex ones) as “the poofter cowboy film”. Unfortunately, neither are particularly impressive examples of the format: both look somewhat soft and slightly edge enhanced, with Brokeback Mountain faring the worst, especially in the first half (the detail levels seem to improve at around the half-way point). Indeed, it’s probably the only high definition title I’ve seen so far where at times I found myself thinking “This almost looks like a really good standard definition DVD.”

But what of the film itself? It garnered three Oscars, including Best Director, and a plethora of adulation. As is so often the case, the answer is good, but not as good as the praise would lead you to believe. However, first and foremost I think something should be cleared up: in this so-called “gay cowboy movie”, neither one of the two main characters is gay, and they herd sheep, not cows. However, “bisexual sheepboy movie” doesn’t have quite the same zing to it, so I can see why the less factually correct pseudonym became the generally accepted one. When it was initially released, many viewers and critics remarked, with both surprise and admiration, that, despite featuring a relationship between two men, this wasn’t a “gay” movie. I think I know what they mean: it doesn’t treat the gender of the pair as particularly remarkable (although that’s not to say that the social stigma attached to it is never an issue). “It could just as well have been a man and a woman,” many people said. And that, for me, is both the film’s strength and its weakness. Yes, it’s impressive to see a Hollywood movie treat this sort of subject matter with respect, but at the same time, make one of the two cowboys a woman and I strongly doubt that it would have attracted nearly as much attention (although the scene in which they beat each other up might have raised some eyebrows). This is a rather conventional tale of forbidden love, and the characters, despite offering some insight into the personas they construct for themselves in order to fit into a conservative society, are really not massively interesting. It’s all quite nicely shot and competently acted, but I don’t see this as a masterpiece by any means; on the contrary, it has a lot in common with those daytime made-for-TV “dramedies” (to borrow a word I detest) that Channel 5 shows most afternoons.

 
Posted: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 7:00 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD
 

Universal pledges 100 HD DVDs in 2007; still says no to Blu-ray

HD DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

After much fretting by HD DVD supporters, Universal have finally made an announcement regarding their plans for the format. Once again they have reiterated that they have no plans to support Blu-ray, and indeed they have promised an aggressive slate of 100 new titles for 2007, all of which will, naturally, be HD DVD exclusives.

Once again, no release dates are given, so it’s anyone’s guess whether we’ll see anything before April, but the studio did let slip on some of the titles we can expect to see:

Among the additional new titles to be released in 2007 are the Oscar-nominated Children of Men, the critically acclaimed epic drama The Good Shepherd, and the high-octane Smokin’ Aces. Also on deck for release this year are such highly-anticipated catalog favorites as Bruce Almighty, The Bourne Identity, Meet The Fockers, American Pie, Inside Man, Pride & Prejudice, The Big Lebowski, Liar Liar, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Brazil, Erin Brockovich, Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Slap Shot and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Universal also stated that more than 90% of these releases will be HD DVD/DVD combos - a move guaranteed to invoke anger and gratitude in equal measure.

 
Posted: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 11:48 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Step away from the bike!

Many thanks must go to Graham for drawing attention to this one: a montage of the most unintentionally funny moments from the cringe-inducingly poor-looking remake of The Wicker Man. Coming soon to HD DVD and Blu-ray: Nicolas Cage steals a bicycle, punches and delivers karate kicks to various women, steals small childrens’ masks, disguises himself as a grizzly bear, and has a swarm of bees poured over his head, all the while screaming “Not the bees! Not the bees! Oh no, my eyes! My eeeeeeeeyeeeeeees!”

Yes, I think I’ve seen all I need to see of this film. It’s fairly clear they dumped the wrong one under the M3.

Update, January 25, 2007 04:28 PM: There’s another, even longer and even funnier, montage here.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 4:16 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

A pawn to the industry

Playstation 3

If you’ve been keeping track of the whole HD format war business, you probably haven’t failed to notice that the Blu-ray studios - Sony, Fox (including MGM), Disney and Lions Gate - announced a crap-load of titles for their format of choice at this year’s CES. The HD DVD camp - Universal, Bandai, The Weinstein Company and the neutral Warner and Paramount - pledged to release another 300 titles before the end of the year, but so far haven’t given much of an inkling as to what we can expect (beyond the obvious: Harry Potter, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings and a bunch of day-and-date titles). Making matters doubly worse has been Universal’s almost complete silence on all things software. Many people suggested that Universal were getting cold feet and might possibly be gearing up to go format-neutral. I can confirm that Universal has no plans to support Blu-ray - otherwise, the war might as well be over. However, I can’t exactly say I’m impressed by the fact that Universal don’t seem to be releasing any more HD DVDs until April.

In the meantime, the boys in Blu are cranking out discs like there’s no tomorrow (which, for them, there probably isn’t if their format tanks). In addition to juggernauts like Casino Royale and Cars now having official release dates, numerous catalogue titles from the various studios (barring Sony, who own very little worth purchasing) are looking increasingly appealing. Their agenda, it seems, is to bully people into buying into the format through sheer weight of numbers… and it seems to be working. Originally, when I bought an HD DVD player, I was determined to hunker down and remain on one side until it either won or was decimated by the competition. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon. A glance at eProductWars will show you that the two formats are essentially on equal footing. They trade blows, and every few days the balance tips in favour of one or the other, and, as such, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that either format will be going anywhere in the near future. We’re simply going to have to accept that both will co-exist for some time to come. And, as much as I don’t want to give Sony a penny, I am, when all said and done, a film fan, and I’m no longer content to, as Lyris puts it, cut off my nose to spite my face.

In a couple of months’ time (when I will hopefully have some form of income to support my plans), I intend to pick up a 20 GB Playstation 3 from the US. It pains me to say it, but this is a far more cost-effective solution than waiting for a stand-alone combo player that properly supports both formats to become available, and in any event I can console myself (pun unintended, I assure you) with the knowledge that Sony loses nearly $250 every time they sell a PS3 - money that they hope to regain via game sales, which they certainly won’t be getting from me. For betraying my principles, I will have access to a much wider array of titles: around 15 available and announced Blu-ray exclusives appeal to me, including one of my favourite films, Hannibal, and two of the best films in recent years, Casino Royale and The Descent. Naturally, for titles available on both formats, I will continue to buy the HD DVD versions. However, I’m well on the road to becoming format neutral. Expect me to be putting the image quality of some Blu-ray titles under the microscope in the not too distant future.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 11:26 AM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Games | HD DVD
 

La Rue Mulholland?

HD DVD

I’ve cancelled my pre-order for the upcoming French HD DVD release of Mulholland Dr. Why? Well, DVDFr and DVDRama are both stating that the release will come with French subtitles only, which strongly suggests that they will be forced when English audio is selected. With the one Studio Canal title I own, users are asked to select a ‘base’ language the first time they insert the disc, which determines which options are available to them. Selecting English restricts you to a choice of English audio with or without subtitles, locking out all the other language options, so it stands to reason that Studio Canal could, if they want, force French subtitles to “on” when playing Mulholland Dr. in English.

I don’t want to go without one of my favourite films in high definition, though, and it looks like I won’t have to: a post at the AV Science Forum suggests that Mulholland Dr., along with Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Deer Hunter and Ran, will be coming to HD DVD in the UK in March, courtesy of Optimum. Presumably this will coincide with the standard definition Special Edition being released on March 12th - although, given Optimum and Studio Canal’s HD track record so far, I don’t expect that we can count on any of the extras being ported over.

 
Posted: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 2:41 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Lord of the double-dips

HD DVD

Source: HD-Insider

The first details regarding the upcoming high definition releases of The Lord of the Rings trilogy have begun to trickle out. Annoyingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the initial releases will be the theatrical versions rather than the longer (and, in most cases, superior) extended editions. New Line, who, like their parent company, Warner, seem to be committed to supporting both formats equally, will be releasing both HD DVD and Blu-ray versions, although it remains unconfirmed whether these will be separate releases or a dual-sided Total HD disc. Both will be encoded with VC1 and will be the first titles to feature Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio.

Nothing has been confirmed about the extras, apart from the news that, due to “bandwidth constraints”, there will be no In-Movie Experience features. This strikes me as somewhat suspect. If they had said “disc space constraints” then I would have found it more plausible, but what exactly is it about The Lord of the Rings that sucks up so much bandwidth as to prevent an IME stream from being included? Smells suspiciously like double-dip territory to me. Actually, for people who bought both the theatrical and extended editions on DVD and plan to do the same for the high definition versions, this is going to be a quadruple dip. For myself, I’ll wait until the extended editions come out in high definition (unless of course I can get the theatrical cuts for review): Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the book is flawed enough without the massive chunks of essential material missing from the theatrical versions.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 5:27 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Nocturnal wanderings

Nocturna

I can’t remember precisely when I first enthused about the impending release of Nocturna, a delightfully twisted-looking nightmarish animated feature from Spain, but I have a feeling it was pretty close to when I first launched this site in 2001. Anyway, it’s been put back and put back, but it seems that it might finally be coming out. A new trailer has surfaced on YouTube, boasting a release date of Summer 2007. Judging by the colour scheme and line style, it’s taken on something of a Les Triplettes de Belleville influence since the last publicly available footage was released, but it still seems to have enough of its own flavour. In any event, it’s great to see more traditionally animated features in the pipeline, and I for one hope this gets a theatrical release here instead of going straight to DVD (or, more likely for me, HD DVD, given that Filmax is an HD DVD partner).

You can find more information (and pictures) at the official web site.

Update, January 15, 2007 02:12 PM: There’s another trailer here. You can also see artwork from directors Victor Maldonato and Adrian García’s next project, Monsieur Collieu, here, and a trailer, here.

 
Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007 at 11:35 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

This year’s HD DVD releases

HD DVD

Source: HD DVD Promotion Group

Here is a partial list of some of the 300 new titles we can expect to see on HD DVD this year in the US. Note that I’ve omitted concert, nature show and “screensaver”-type releases to concentrate on films and the odd TV show. I also haven’t included titles that already have a street date.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner)
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin (Universal)
  • Above the Law (Warner)
  • American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile (Universal)
  • American Pie: Unrated (Universal)
  • The American President (Warner)
  • Angels in America (HBO)
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (New Line)
  • The Aviator (Universal)
  • Awake (The Weinstein Company)
  • Band of Brothers (HBO)
  • Battlestar Galactica (Universal)
  • The Black Dahlia (Universal)
  • Blade (New Line)
  • Blade Runner (Warner)
  • Blood Diamond (Warner)
  • The Blues Brothers (Universal)
  • The Bourne Identity (Universal)
  • Braveheart (Paramount)
  • Breaking and Entering (The Weinstein Company)
  • Bruce Almighty (Universal)
  • Bubble (Magnolia)
  • Bullitt (Warner)
  • Catwoman (Warner)
  • A Clockwork Orange (Warner)
  • Coach Carter (Paramount)
  • Conan the Barbarian (Universal)
  • Contact (Warner)
  • Cowboy Bebop (Bandai)
  • Dante’s Peak (Universal)
  • Dark City (New Line)
  • Dawn of the Dead [remake] (Universal)
  • Deadwood: Season 1 (HBO)
  • Decameron (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Dirty Harry Collection (Warner)
  • DOA: Dead or Alive (The Weinstein Company)
  • Elizabethtown (Paramount)
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia)
  • Eraser (Warner)
  • Executive Decision (Warner)
  • The Exorcist (Warner)
  • Eyes Wide Shut (Warner)
  • Face/Off (Paramount)
  • Flags of Our Fathers (Paramount)
  • Forest Gump (Paramount)
  • Friday (New Line)
  • Friends: Season 1 (Warner)
  • From the Earth to the Moon (HBO)
  • Galaxina (BCI)
  • The Getaway (Warner)
  • Ghost (Paramount)
  • Ghost in the Shell (Bandai)
  • Golgo 13 (BCI)
  • The Good Shepherd (Universal)
  • The Goonies (Warner)
  • Gothika (Warner)
  • Grease (Paramount)
  • The Green Mile (Warner)
  • Grindhouse (The Weinstein Company)
  • Hannibal Rising (The Weinstein Company)
  • Hard to Kill (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Warner)
  • Idlewind (Universal)
  • Inside Man (Universal)
  • Killshot (The Weinstein Company)
  • Last Legion (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Lemon Drop Kid (BCI)
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Paramount)
  • The Libertine (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (New Line)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Warner)
  • The Mask (New Line)
  • The Matrix (Warner)
  • The Matrix Reloaded (Warner)
  • The Matrix Revolutions (Warner)
  • Maverick (Warner)
  • Mission: Impossible (Paramount)
  • Mission: Impossible 2 (Paramount)
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Music Man (Warner)
  • Mystic River (Warner)
  • Natural Born Killers (Warner)
  • Next of Kin (Warner)
  • Night of the Werewolf (BCI)
  • North by Northwest (Warner)
  • Ocean’s Eleven (Warner)
  • Ocean’s Thirteen (Warner)
  • Ocean’s Twelve (Warner)
  • One Last Thing (Magnolia)
  • Passenger 57 (Warner)
  • The Player (New Line)
  • Pride & Prejudice (Universal)
  • Red Planet (Warner)
  • The Return (Universal)
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Warner)
  • Rush Hour (New Line)
  • Save the Last Dance (Paramount)
  • Scarface (Universal)
  • School for Scoundrels (The Weinstein Company)
  • School of Rock (Paramount)
  • Scoop (Universal)
  • Se7en (New Line)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (Warner)
  • The Shining (Warner)
  • Sin City 2 (The Weinstein Company)
  • Singing’ in the Rain (Warner)
  • Sister Street Fighter (BCI)
  • Soldier (Warner)
  • Son of Paleface (BCI)
  • The Sopranos [various seasons, it would seem] (HBO)
  • Spawn (New Line)
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Paramount)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (Paramount)
  • Star Trek: The Original Series (Paramount)
  • Superman: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner)
  • That’s the Way of the World (BCI)
  • Transamerica (The Weinstein Company)
  • Twister (Warner)
  • The Ultimate Star Trek Movie Collection (Paramount)
  • US Marshals (Warner)
  • Vanilla Sky (Paramount)
  • Vengeance of the Zombies (BCI)
  • The War at Home (Magnolia)
  • The War Within (Magnolia)
  • The West Wing: Season 7 (Warner)
  • Wild Wild West (Warner)
  • The Wizard of Oz (Warner)

Obviously this is not a concrete list - we can probably expect to see considerably more titles from Universal than are included here - but there are many, many titles in that list that I will definitely be picking up.

 
Posted: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 4:07 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD
 

The butterfly effect: another porn studio defects to HD DVD

Blu-ray

Source: AV Science Forum

Sony would do well to remember the VHS vs. Betamax war, in which the system on which porn was available was the winner. Of course, things are different now, with all manner of filthy images a mere mouse click away, but I still think they’re underestimating just what an impact smut can have on sales. With any luck, this is just the beginning, and the boys in Blu will be leaking partners like a sieve by the end of the year.

Update, January 12, 2007 01:54 PM: And another. To paraphrase on poster, the ripple has just become a tidal wave.

 
Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 1:35 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | HD DVD | Technology
 

A taste of things to come if Blu-ray wins

Blu-ray

Source: High-Def Digest

Want to know why I’m so against Blu-ray winning the format war? Stories like this. Okay, I know, dodgy low-rate porn movies - who cares - but this is merely a foretaste to the sort of control Sony could have over the industry if they emerge triumphant from this shambles. Basically, none of their copying facilities agreed to cooperate with porn producers Digital Playground, and Sony even went so far as to threaten to revoke the company’s Blu-ray licenses if porn appeared on the format. As a result, Digital Playground have defected to HD DVD - hopefully they are just the first of many.

So, the question now is, what other titles will Sony decide are not “appropriate” for release on Blu-ray? We already know that Synapse Films were told that they couldn’t release Thriller: A Cruel Picture, among other titles. This is the sort of nightmare situation we could be faced with if the industry takes the Blue Pill, and I’m sure I speak for every movie fan with any sense when I say that the last thing we want is a future in which a company with its own films to sell can dictate what others can and cannot release.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 8:45 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

The CES obituary

HD DVD

The show itself is not over yet, but there are unlikely to be any further major announcements between now and when it finishes tomorrow - and in any event Universal have already confirmed that, somewhat surprisingly, they won’t be announcing any titles at the show. Many HD DVD fans are currently a little down about the fact that the Blu-ray camp unveiled a roster of major titles for release this year while HD DVD had little to show on the software side of things, but I’d like to read this slightly differently.

Let’s put it this way: CES stands for “Consumer Electronics Show”, implying a decided emphasis on hardware and technological innovation. The HD DVD camp certainly had much to show in that regard, announcing several new player manufacturers, the development of triple-layer 51 GB discs, and the news of Microsoft’s plans to bring more cost-effective solutions to customers. On the hardware side, what did Blu-ray have to show for itself? Bugger all. Apparently announcing a combined total of less than 90 titles for release between now and summer (many of which were already announced months ago) is news-worthy and points to the impending demise of HD DVD… while the HD DVD camp’s technological breakthroughs and commitment to deliver more than 300 new titles this year is nothing? Yes, I’m surprised and disappointed that Universal didn’t at least hint at what titles we can expect to see from them, but I think that those crowing over the fact that Blu-ray has announced Casino Royale and Pirates of the Caribbean are getting a little ahead of themselves. The announcement of these titles is not news: anyone with any sense could have guessed that they were coming. So don’t give up on HD DVD yet: on the contrary, start wondering what’s going on with Team Blu-ray if the best they can come up with to announce at a major electronics show is a handful of new movies.

Oh, and it seems that New Line has elected to toss its hat into the ring with HD DVD but not Blu-ray. Food for thought, no?

 
Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 4:53 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Another financial blunder

Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. That sound is me metaphorically banging my head against my desk. I don’t have a job, and my funds are rapidly drying up, and yet I’ve just committed yet another expensive mistake.

Back when it was first discovered that Microsoft’s $200 HD DVD add-on drive for the Xbox 360 could be connected to any PC, I was overjoyed: here was an affordable way of making my computer HD DVD-enabled, and, in conjunction with the latest software solution from Cyberlink or Intervideo, begin taking screen captures in earnest for reviews, comparisons, an HD Hall of Fame, and so on. Everything was in place, or so I thought: my system was HDCP-ready, and it seemed that everything would fall into place just fine.

Or so I thought. The drive arrived today from Hong Kong (they’re rarer than gold dust on UK shelves, and in any event I only ended up paying about £5 more than I would have paid for a local model), and I wasted no time in hooking it up to my PC via USB and popping in a disc (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, if you must know). I fired up PowerDVD Ultra, the HD DVD-enabled version of Cyberlink’s popular DVD software, and waited as it span up. The Warner Home Entertainment logo then appeared for just over a second, and then…

“Cannot initialize player, please make sure your system meets minimum system requirement criteria. You can find extra information from Cyberlink FAQ website - - (Error Code = 0103). Please run the BD-HD Advisor tool for more information.”

And so I did. I scanned for HD DVD support, only for the advisor to tell me that apparently my display is not HDCP compatible. Bollocks. Complete and utter bollocks. I know for a fact that the display is compliant because my standalone HD-A1 player has interfaced with it without any problems. I also know for a fact that, when I ran the BD/HD Advisor a couple of weeks ago, when I still had my Nvidia card, everything was in working order. Now, initially I thought that I had been screwed over and that my video card was in fact not HDCP compliant - but that wasn’t right either, because the advisor recognised both the card and the graphics driver as compliant. Why, then, does connecting the monitor to this ATI card make the program think it isn’t HDCP, while connecting it to a different card makes it think that it is? The only possible answer I can come up with is that Cyberlink have screwed up somewhere, and have written crippled software that is shutting out users who should be allowed in. A quite perusal of Cyberlink’s customer forums revealed that I’m not the only person with this problem: another user is also being locked out for no reason, with no explanation other than the dubious claim that his HDCP-compliant Dell monitor was “without HDCP”.

Now here’s the real kicker. Remember the whole point of HDCP? To lock out those unsecure analogue connections and only allow 100% safe, encrypted connections in order to prevent piracy? Well, guess what - if you hook up an analogue monitor, the HD DVD plays just fine, in full 1920x1080 resolution (which my crusty old CRT supports). No error message, no nothing. The reason for this, of course, is that, facing a barrage of complaints, the various studios who insisted on HDCP in the first place agreed not to enable the Image Constrant Token, which would either limit resolution severely or else prevent playback at all, until 2012. But this still doesn’t explain why Cyberlink has chosen to bar users with digital displays unless they have HDCP support. Frankly it reeks of paranoia and fellating the Hollywood studios lest they lose their precious licenses.

In any event, it’s all rendered somewhat moot by the fact that Cyberlink have disabled the screen capture process for HD content. What do they think I’m going to do? Pirate a movie by pressing PrintScreen on every frame? That was my main (okay, make that only) reason for getting this drive, so it’s as good as useless for me. Disabling the overlay through my usual method (opening a video file in Windows Media Player, then, with the overlay now in use, running PowerDVD and forcing it to fall back into software mode) doesn’t work either, because it just spits out yet another error code about not finding the appropriate drivers. None of the screen capture programs that supposedly allow you to capture the overlay work either.

Result: I’m now saddled with a drive that is all but useless, and have spent no small amount of money on a video card that is, for at least one program, not interfacing with my monitor properly. This is every bit the nightmare scenario that I correctly predicted when I first heard about these newfangled monopolisation… sorry, content protection measures. At least the drive is in short enough supply that I can probably expect to resell it for a reasonable price, but right now I’m extremely concerned about my video card. If PowerDVD and its advisor program don’t think my monitor is HDCP-compliant when it’s hooked up to it, how can I be sure that other programs aren’t going to think the same?

 
Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2007 at 9:41 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD at CES: the buzz

HD DVD

Well, CES proper hasn’t actually started yet, but last night the HD DVD camp held a pre-show press event to unveil some important pieces of news regarding the format’s future over the next 12 months. Here’s a quick rundown of the major announcements:

  • No defections or declarations of neutrality on either side, although Lions Gate will be distributing their films in HD online via Microsoft’s Xbox Live Video Marketplace service. As the only Blu-ray-exclusive studio to do this, this bodes well for their future neutrality.
  • Toshiba announces triple-layer 51 GB HD DVD disc, taking the format’s capacity beyond that of Blu-ray. Currently it’s unknown whether this will work in current players (it hasn’t been ruled out, though), or whether any studios will actually consider it worthwhile enough to use, but it does make the format more appealing on paper to those who judge its merits based on pure specs.
  • Several hardware manufacturers will be releasing HD DVD players, including Alco, Jiangkui/ED Digital, Lite-On, Shinco, Meridian and Onkyo.
  • From the more than 41 studios and distributors now supporting HD DVD worldwide, we can expect to see upwards of 300 new titles being released in 2007, including the entire Harry Potter and The Matrix series, Blade Runner and the original episodes of Star Trek. New Line will also begin releasing titles early this year, including both catalogue (Se7en, Austin Powers, Final Destination, etc.) and new day-and-date titles.

All in all it sounds fairly promising. I would have expected more concrete announcements from Universal and Paramount - once again it seems that Warner is carrying most of the weight - but perhaps they’ll say something during the actual show over the next few days.

Stay tuned…

Update, January 8, 2007 12:01 PM: Updated with Lions Gate info.

 
Posted: Monday, January 08, 2007 at 11:23 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

CES: what will it mean for HD?

As previously mentioned, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) starts tomorrow in Las Vegas. All the major players will be out in full force, and both sides of the high definition home video war - HD DVD and Blu-ray - will be in attendance, touting their wares. I haven’t yet said much about the early buzz regarding what we can expect to see tomorrow, but I feel that now is as good a time as any to point out that the HD landscape looks set to change dramatically, with the introduction of HD DVD/Blu-ray hybrid discs from Warner and a HD DVD/Blu-ray hybrid player from Lucky Goldstar. This, to me, says that neither side made any real headway over the Christmas period, and at least some companies are buckling down to make the most of a market in which both will be around for a long time.

Would I buy a dual-format player? I can’t deny that it would be nice to be able to play any HD disc that came out, but I can’t say I’d be willing to plunk down the $1,200 (US) that this player will initially cost, even if I did have that kind of money to burn - especially when you consider that, for the time being, there are at most five Blu-ray exclusive titles that I would even consider buying (a number that will most likely drop to two if Lions Gate go dual-format as predicted). For the time being, I expect this house to stay HD DVD-only, but it’s nice to know that the option is there to get in bed with both in the future without having to own two different players.

Speaking of Blu-ray, here’s their latest boner: apparently the blue camp can’t get picture-in-picture working because the only player that supports it is the Playstation 3. How, then, did Lions Gate manage to enable picture-in-picture on their recent release of The Descent? Answer: by including two copies of the film on the same disc, one with a video window superimposed. Nice to know those 50 gigabytes are being put to good use.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007 at 6:57 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD review: An American Werewolf in London

HD DVD
An American Werewolf in London is the most disappointing HD DVD title I have reviewed thus far, although it constitutes an undeniable improvement on its standard definition counterpart. Unfortunately, edge enhancement and a lack of the original mono audio mix make this release difficult to recommend to all but the most dedicated fans.

HD pickings have been slim for horror fans so far, but Universal has sought to rectify this with the release of John Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London. I’ve reviewed the R0 US DVD/HD DVD combo.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007 at 1:12 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Make your mind up, Warner!

HD DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

Seemingly intent on dragging this misbegotten format war out for as long as possible, Warner is set to announce HD DVD/Blu-ray hybrid discs at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), due to begin on January 8th. What exactly does this mean for the industry? In reality, I suspect not a whole lot. It means that studios supporting both formats will be able to release a single disc for both, but it’s unlikely to suddenly bring Blu-ray only or HD DVD only studios into the dual-format fold. It will also probably mean more expensive discs for consumers, which is never a good thing if you want a new format to succeed.

In an exclusive pre-CES interview with the Times, Barry M. Meyer, the chairman and chief executive of Warner Brothers, claims the studio created the idea of Total HD as it became apparent that while neither the Blu-ray or HD DVD formats would be going away anytime soon, continued consumer reluctance to invest in rival technologies could stall the widespread adoption of high-definition.

“The next best thing is to recognize that there will be two formats, and to make that not a negative for the consumer,” said Meyer. “We [Warner] felt that the most significant constituency for us to satisfy was the consumer first, and the retailer second. The retailer wants to sell hardware and doesn’t want to be forced into stocking two formats for everything. This is ideal for them.”

As for CES in general, who knows how things are going to pan out? One visitor asked me for my predictions regarding the show, so I might as well reiterate them here:

  • A least one major manufacturer will announce an HD DVD player
  • Warner will announce the Matrix trilogy and perhaps some Hitchcock and Kubrick titles, in addition to some more recent blockbusters like A Scanner Darkly
  • Universal will do likewise, perhaps with some Hitchcocks and more recent offerings
  • Paramount will continue their lacklustre support of both formats
  • Perhaps a couple of TV box sets
  • If any Blu-ray supporter makes a commitment to HD DVD, it will be Lions Gate
  • New Line may or may not say something with regard to their HD plans

Bear in mind that these are mere guesses, not informed predictions, so don’t take them as in any way reliable. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how many, if any, turn out to be accurate.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2007 at 2:58 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | TV | Technology
 

HD DVD review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

HD DVD
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire seems to be considered by many fans of the franchise to be the worst film in the series so far, but, whether it’s because I wouldn’t class myself as a Harry Potter fan or for other reasons, my reaction to it was quite the opposite. I still don’t really understand what it is that makes so many people fanatical about this series (I expect that I would have to read the books to get my head around that), and it hasn’t given me any particular desire to rush to the cinema and see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when it is released in cinemas in July, but, as a stand-alone film, this fourth part in the septology is a nicely-executed if meandering piece that should engage both children and adults, whether or not they have read the books.

For the first HD review of 2007, I take a look at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, released in the UK in December 2006 but yet to appear anywhere else in the world. Warner’s disc features a stunning transfer and an exclusive In-Movie Experience feature.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2007 at 2:14 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 
 

 
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