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Kisses, bangs, tombs and Blu-ray - oh my!

We took a little family outing today, and went to Braehead Shopping and Leisure Centre, where all the cool people buy their groceries. In the after-Christmas sales (or not), I picked up Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Legend (what a mouthful) for PC. I’d downloaded the demo on a whim and played it the night before, and found it to be surprisingly good, especially in comparison with its tedious predecessors. It seems that the move from Core Design to Crystal Dynamics salvaged the crumbling franchise and resulted in what it possibly the first truly good Tomb Raider game: even the much-lauded original struck me as rather anaemic, thanks mainly to the awful controls - Legend solves this by switching to a much appreciated mouse-and-keyboard combo. I’ll probably do a full review once I’ve worked my way through the whole thing.

HD DVD

I also picked up Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on HD DVD. I’d been toying with getting the US release, which is an HD DVD/DVD combo, for some time, but, when I saw that the UK version was just a straight HD DVD, I decided to get it instead. I’m glad I did: this is probably the funniest film I’ve seen all day, and quite possibly my favourite HD DVD release so far. It’s a little too smugly self-referential at times, especially in terms of the narration, but the rest of it had me guffawing uncontrollably. I don’t think I actually understood the plot at all, but who cares when you’ve got Robert Downey Jr. losing his finger and having it swallowed by a dog, Val Kilmer playing a gay private detective called (what else?) Gay Perry, and Michelle Monaghan running down a Los Angeles highway in the middle of the night wearing a skimpy Santa outfit? I understand that the film didn’t do particularly well at the box office, partly due to an ineffective advertising campaign that seriously misrepresented it, but don’t let that put you off: this borderline satire of film noir is highly entertaining stuff and one of the most purely enjoyable films I’ve seen in ages.

After that, we headed over to Costco, where Lyris wanted to look into a 1080p television that he will, we hope, soon be picking up. It was there that I had my first up close and personal experience with Blu-ray. And do you know? It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting…

It was worse!

I came across Lyris watching something on a moderately-sized HDTV. I glanced at the screen and saw what looked to me like a heavily edge enhanced but rather crisp DVD. “What’s this?” I began to ask, but, even as the words left my mouth, I began to wonder if something foul was afoot. “That’s not… is that… Blu-ray?” I spluttered. It was. The title in question was S.W.A.T., described by High-Def Digest as “a very nice-looking disc from Sony, and definitely one of the better they’ve put out on the format thus far”. If this ranks among the studio’s best, I’d hate to see their worst. The image was definitely sharper than standard definition DVD, and yet I wouldn’t actually describe it as better. Sharper, yes: the edge enhancement was pretty invasive, and the image overall looked incredibly harsh rather than particularly detailed. But that paled in comparison to the appalling compression. “MPEG2 is perfectly viable for high definition” my left buttock. The film grain was rendered as grubby noise rather than actual grain, and, whenever the camera moved, macro-blocking was in abundance. Worse still, any part of the screen that might be described as remotely saturated was alive with smearing artefacts. Admittedly, an improperly set-up television in a warehouse is far from an ideal setting for evaluating a disc, but I highly doubt that all the calibration in the world would save the mess that assaulted my eyes today. I’ve never felt more glad we went with HD DVD instead.

 
Posted: Friday, December 29, 2006 at 10:07 PM | Comments: 8
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Games | General | HD DVD | Technology

 
Comments

1.

I've seen the Blu-ray release of "S.W.A.T" myself on a 42" plasma TV and I must say, it really looked nothing like you describe. The picture was crystal clear at all times and there was no trace of edge enhacement and/or artefacts of any kind.

Posted by: gva1116, December 29, 2006 11:58 PM

2.

that last part was pretty funny. What did you think of KKBB's PQ? I have the US version which is a combo HD-15. Yours must be an HD-30 right?

Posted by: aw, December 30, 2006 12:19 PM

3.

As far as I know it’s an HD-30, although I won’t know for sure until I get my hands on an XBox 360 HD DVD add-on for my PC. I was pretty impressed by the picture quality, although it seems to have been handled by the Constantine/Million Dollar Baby team: i.e. some noise reduction and detail filtering.

Posted by: Whiggles, December 30, 2006 1:13 PM

4.

well, it's definately not in the top heap of HD DVD. But given your comparisons I'm inclined to believe the same transfer was used. What a pity - I'm guessing you get the same paltry extras as well? - bloopers, trailer, commentary?

if so, it's highly dissapointing that Warner is using the same transfers when NR and filtering is evident. I say this b/c the HD-15 looks fantastic and in all aspects comparable to MBD and Constantine. I think Constantine was the worst, it exhibited the most motion smearing

Posted by: , December 30, 2006 11:43 PM

5.

Yeah, same extras. I’ve not had a chance to look at them yet but I somehow doubt they’ll consume much of my time.

I’m not particularly surprised at Warner using the same transfers - after all, if they passed off on them a few months ago, they’re unlikely to suddenly consider them substandard. As far as I’m aware not capability for adding noise reduction, edge enhancement etc. is built into the VC1 encoding tools, so these problems must exist in the actual digital masters themselves from which all transfers (including those for DVDs and HDTV) will be derived, and as such I doubt that any problems inherent in them will be fixed for some time.

As for which is the worst, I think I’d give the edge to Million Dollar Baby rather than Constantine (the smearing during the slow crane in on the gym distracts me every time).

Posted by: Whiggles, December 31, 2006 12:22 AM

6.

I think that your opinions on Blu-Ray are ubstantiated and generally unfair. You appear to take a delight in insulting the technology when I am sure you could be a little less biased in your thoughts.

I have both formats and agree that VC-1 wins hands down when compared to MPEG 2 but there are still a number of quality MPEG 2 releases on the Blu-Ray format. For example, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK look very impressive but there are a number of very poor releases that shadow the good ones. The UK release of HOSTEL is a bright but not overly gratifying.

I have had Blu-Ray for six months and only had HD-DVD recently. So far, Blu-Ray has done nothing to convince me that SD-DVD will be replaced any HD technology any time soon but my first viewing of HD-DVD has certainly changed my opinion. I watched the HD-DVD disc of KING KONG on Christmas Eve and way blown away by the quality of this transfer. The level of detail is breathtaking and, for a three hour film, there are no problems with compression. I was also impressed by THE THING and CASABLANCA, the latter demonstrating the capabilities of HD when presenting older films. I can only imagine what SUSPIRIA or BLOOD AND BLACK LACE would look like. From the examples I have seen so far VC-1 is most certainly the way forward and also much better than H.264.

In my opinion, the only advantage Blu-Ray has over HD-DVD at the moment. The uncompressed PCM soundtracks are more powerful and involving than the Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks I have heard so far. Yes, the Dolby Digital Plus tracks are still very good but uncompressed PCM just sounds slightly better.

Posted by: demented, December 31, 2006 6:51 PM

7.

Sorry, I meant unsubstantiated not ubstantiated, pity these comment sections do not have an edit function.

Posted by: , December 31, 2006 6:54 PM

8.

You may be right about me taking a delight in slating Blu-ray, to be honest. The existence of this “rogue” format, and Sony’s own arrogance, make me very angry, and it strikes me that things will be better for everyone concerned if HD DVD wins this war. As such, I have no problem admitting that I will be very pleased if I can convince anyone to go with HD DVD rather than BR. No, I haven’t had much experience with BR, but I’ve not been impressed by what I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are good BR releases - the Warner titles using the same VC1 encodes as their HD counterparts should look identical. I’m also not about to deny that there aren’t any good MPEG2 titles - a good compressionist should be able to pull it off provided the film is reasonably short and not particularly visually complex. (Although that doesn’t change the fact that MPEG2 is completely unsuited to HD encoding.) All the same, it annoys me that Sony continues to use this format simply to save a buck here and there, and continually refuses to admit that there is a problem.

Ultimately, yes, I probably could be less biased, but the fact is I am biased, albeit not without good reason. I’d been waiting since 1998 for Blu-ray to be released, and for years expected it to be a no-brainer purchase. The state in which it arrived, however, really hurt my overall view of Sony, and the entire debacle following its release, and they have told lie after lie and generally behaved in a completely outrageous way has pretty much scuppered any hope of me ever putting faith in one of their proprietary formats again.

Posted by: Whiggles, December 31, 2006 9:05 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

https://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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