Individual Entry


HD my left walnut

As most people will be aware by now, there have been some amazing high definition transfers on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, and some rather less than amazing ones. When you’re working with a native resolution of 1920x1080, you’d better hope that your master is of the highest quality, because little flaws that would go unnoticed in standard definition will stick out like sore thumbs. The two titles most commonly dragged out for a public for a ritual flogging are Sony’s House of Flying Daggers and The Fifth Element on Blu-ray, transfers that are generally regarded to constitute a decidedly miniscule improvement on their DVD counterparts. Indeed, even Sony have apparently realised this, given that they are currently in the process of preparing a new version and setting up a disc replacement programme.

Unfortunately, it seems that the crown for worst HD transfer must pass from Blu-ray to HD DVD. AV Science Forum member Xylon recently started providing side by side comparisons of standard definition and high definition titles, many of which admirably demonstrate the undeniables improvements that are possible in HD with even the least visually inspiring films. Unfortunately for certain less than proficient reviewers, however, these highly effective demonstrations have shown up their amateurish postulating for the sham that it is. These screenshots serve to confirm many of the opinions I’ve been expressing for a while now, e.g. that Batman Begins looks underwhelming, while Serenity looks fucking incredible.

The shit really hit the fan a few days ago when Xylon posted a comparison of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, released last September on HD DVD by Universal. When initially released, many people commented that the transfer looked less than stellar. Such individuals were quickly put in their place by being told that Traffic intentionally looked rough and grainy, and that they shouldn’t expect 3D whizz-bang effects and crystal clarity from every title (a sentiment that I fully agree with). Now, however, Xylon’s screengrabs demonstrate the truth that dare not speak its name:

Traffic DVD

Traffic HD DVD

Traffic on HD DVD is a 480i upconvert.

Not only that, it actually looks worse than the DVD, with additional ringing and what appears to be even less fine detail. I really am absolutely flabbergasted, especially given some of the reviews that have emerged. The notorious Peter M. Bracke of High-Def Digest gave the transfer a 4/5 and said this:

Bottom line, this HD DVD transfer delivers. The source material is as good as the film stock allow, with no major defects visible such as print tears or distracting blemishes, though grain is intentionally excessive for much of the film. Black levels are consistent throughout, while contrast is all over the map. Some story threads have whites so blown out that fine detail is all but obscured, while others are bathed in darkness or excessively saturated colors. Thus, there is some noise and smeared hues, but again it appears intentional. Overall detail and depth to the image is about as good as can be expected. No, I was never blown away by the presentation as I’ve been with other HD DVD releases, but then I never anticipated otherwise.

The infamous Joshua Zyber of DVD Talk, meanwhile, rates it 3/5, and claims that

The disc looks exactly like the film is meant to look, and it actually has some fascinating textures, but this just isn’t the type of movie you buy for crystal clear HD image quality. While certain scenes show off the High-Def fairly well (primarily the blue-filtered Michael Douglas segments), on the whole there isn’t much fine object detail or depth. Aside from some minor edge ringing in a few scenes, the disc represents the movie’s intended style faithfully and I can’t fault it for that, but most viewers will probably not find it a huge upgrade over standard DVD.

Sorry, but the comparisons speak for themselves, and, coupled with some additional screen captures from a still crummy-looking but undeniably superior 720p broadcast version, it’s difficult to imagine anyone trying to claim that Universal have done anything other than screw up royally. Unfortunately, this is not the case: Zyber is currently ransacking what little dignity he has left by attempting to poo-poo the screenshots and tell us that what we’re seeing is untrue.

Josh Zyber, Peter Bracke: please consider retracting your reviews. The visual evidence speaks for itself, and not even the most blinkered individual could attempt to claim, based on the screenshots in question, that the Traffic HD DVD is anything other than a standard definition upconvert. Reviews such as these bring this profession into disrepute and mean that prospective buyers cannot make an informed decision about their purchases. Worse, they give lazy distributors ample reason to pump out any old garbage and charge a premium for it rather than spend money on new, decent-quality masters. Based on these phenomenally misguided reviews (and I’m sorry, but in this particular instance, we are talking about fact, not opinion), I highly doubt that I will ever trust a single article from these two writers ever again.

More ill-informed reviews:

DVD “Authority”
Upcoming Discs

One thing that should be remembered, however, is this: as ignorant, ill-informed and damaging as these reviews are, they are the small fry in this debacle. The people who should truly be hanging their heads and grovelling for apologies are Universal, who blew a 480i master up to 1080p, slapped it on a disc and had the nerve to sell it as “The Look and Sound of Perfect”.

Update, April 12th, 2007 09:08 PM: A separate thread has now appeared at AVS, with the topic starter demanding (rightfully so) that Universal acknowledge their screw-up. Unfortunately, Mr. Zyber is continuing to make a fool of himself by refusing to admit the obvious.

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2007 at 6:49 PM | Comments: 8
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology



Yea, I was voicing my concerns about Traffic when I first recieved it last fall. It got past many folks on AVS because it seems that not very many ppl purchased it. From the time I saw it my eyes were screaming "SD". Reviewers like Zyber and Bracke dismissed these criticisms as Soderbergh's intentions. I recieved my Criterion version of Traffic last week and did a comparison - it looks comparable if not better (much less EE)

Posted by: aw, April 12, 2007 6:30 PM


Better transfer or not wouldnt make that crappy film any better.

Posted by: ARCVILE, April 12, 2007 6:50 PM


This reminds me of the "awesome" reviews some magazines (and fans) put out in the early DVD era - let's say for all the 90s up to 2001. Embarassing products, barely transferred from VHS and largely inferior to the respective tapes, were sometimes highly prised as the visual non-plus-ultra experience. Just for the fact they were digital material.

Posted by: MCP, April 12, 2007 8:12 PM


Fantastic, isn't it. On DVD we had all those shitty VHS to DVD (Vipco take a bow), NTSC/PAL and PAL/NTSC conversions.

Now in HD we get 480i upconversions. I'm not surprised in the least, but how tiresome it is... and what a bunch of utter bastards film studios are.

Posted by: Philly Q, April 13, 2007 12:19 AM


Hey Michael,

Just wanted to thank you for this post. These reviewers should be shot in the head for giving false claims when they have no fucking clue what they are talking about. These are the same websites that give "No Shame" Interlaced transfers high ratings!!!!!!Bunch of idiots.

Keep up the good work..

Posted by: Mazi, April 13, 2007 2:15 PM


Hey Michael,

Just wanted to thank you for this post. These reviewers should be shot in the head for giving false claims when they have no fucking clue what they are talking about. These are the same websites that give "No Shame" Interlaced transfers high ratings!!!!!!Bunch of idiots.

Keep up the good work..

Posted by: Mazi, April 13, 2007 2:15 PM


"These reviewers should be shot in the head"
Shot in he head because of a DVD review... right....

Posted by: ARCVILE, April 13, 2007 3:06 PM


Oh come on Arcvile, lighten up.

Posted by: Lyris, April 13, 2007 6:42 PM

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