And my first HD DVD double-dip is…
Bet you didn’t think I’d be double-dipping this early in HD DVD’s life, did you? Well, neither did I, but the news that the UK release apparently featured a better transfer than its American counterpart made it difficult to resist. (Well, actually, this is not technically a double-dip for me, since my brother owns the previous version, but it does mean that we now have two copies in the house.) The US release of Serenity was one of the very first HD DVDs to be released, and it was also one of the first to be encoded, using an early and less efficient version of the VC1 codec. For the European release, therefore, the compressionists decided to revisit it and encode it more efficiently, partly to allow for additional language tracks to be included, thus facilitating a Europe-wide release of the same disc.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Captain Whiggles, isn’t Serenity your number one HD DVD demo disc?” It is, or rather was, because the US disc has just been knocked down a peg by its younger European sibling. No, the differences aren’t massive, and I don’t expect the majority of people to even notice them, but the new encode takes an already spectacular-looking disc and makes it look just a hair better. The most significant difference, if we can actually call it significant, is that the grain is very slightly more pronounced, further amplifying the film-like nature of the HD presentation. It also seems to be microscopically more detailed. This tends to be most noticeable in the form of improved definition of the skin texture during facial close-ups, although some of the wider shots also look a little crisper. Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d recommend that everyone immediately rushes out and picks up the UK release if they already own the US version, but the difference is there. I rated the US version a 10/10 for image quality, and I don’t think I’d drop it to a 9 even having seen the UK version - perhaps more of a 9.8 (although I prefer not to get that specific when it comes to overall ratings). It’s too bad I don’t have more than one HD DVD player, and it takes upwards of a minute to switch discs, because that makes it pretty much impossible to perform any sort of a scientific comparison. I really hope that affordable PC drives and software capable of displaying titles in their full 1920x1080 resolution become available before too long, because I’m itching to subject some HD DVDs to the same in-depth comparisons as I currently do for standard definition material.
The UK disc also includes an additional bonus feature not found on the US release: the 20-minute A Filmmaker’s Journey, which is not particularly substantial - but hey, the more the merrier!
A minor point, true, but the UK release has a much nicer cover. The US version, for some reason, has been designed to look like it houses some sort of intergalactic space porno, while the UK edition, while still a bit cluttered, looks considerably less embarrassing.
Oddly enough, the UK release comes in a different type of case from what I’ve been used to seeing for HD DVD so far. The spine, this time, is much wider - the same width as a normal amaray DVD case, in fact. The reason for this seems to be to allow UK stores to fit those special plastic security tags that can only be removed by a dedicated machine. Oddly enough, the other UK HD DVD release I own, Warner’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, uses the same size of case as its US counterparts, so it may be that only Universal has opted to use this alternate design. Either way, if I end up buying more of them, my HD shelf, already almost full, is going to be filled up a lot more quickly!
Oh, and I also received, in the same order from Amazon UK, the ominous score to V for Vendetta by Dario Marianelli.