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The depths of insanity


I got home from work yesterday to discover a veritable storm brewing over at the AV Science Forum. The topic was The Descent, one of my favourite horror films of the last few years and also one of my favourite Blu-ray releases. The controversy surrounded what can only be described as the most baffling anomaly I have seen regarding the format so far: apparently, there are two separate encodes being sold, one AVC and the other MPEG-2.

Yes, I wasn’t prepared to believe it either at first. Why on earth would Lions Gate go to the trouble of pressing two completely different discs of the same film? We’re still no closer to finding the answer to this perplexing conundrum, but what we do know is that, thanks to the in-depth investigations of AVS poster msgohan, there is absolutely no doubt that two different versions are doing the rounds. Does this ultimately make any difference to the end user? Well, take a look at the captures below and judge for yourself. They show the same frame on each of the two different discs.

The Descent: AVC encode The Descent: MPEG-2 encode

Now you can understand why people who were sold the MPEG-2 version are rightly aggrieved and demanding to know what on earth is going on. I own the AVC version and I too am not a happy bunny. After all, last Halloween I reviewed the AVC version and gave it a 10/10 for image quality, a rating I still stand by. However, the fact that there is no actual discernible way of knowing which version of the disc you are picking up when you purchase it complicates the review somewhat. My 10/10 rating, after all, most assuredly does not stand for the MPEG-2 encode, which not only features more noticeable compression artefacts, but has also been pre-filtered to remove grain and fine detail. Now I’m in the unfortunate position of having written a review that may or may not actually be valid on a case by case basis.

As msgohan quite rightly puts it:

Not at all what I expected. So much for a nice, fair codec comparison. The Descent has been Warner’d! What numbnuts at Lionsgate thought this was a good idea?

You can see a whole series of captures, saved as lossless .png images, comparing the same frames from both versions, here.

Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 11:26 AM | Comments: 4
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Halloween | Reviews | Technology | Web



Could it be that they got one version and released it, then got the second and decided it was superior? They might have quietly then changed the version available and hoped that a reviewer wouldn't notice.

Posted by: Baron Scarpia, September 14, 2008 9:56 PM


The AVC version (i.e. the superior version) definitely came first, in December 2006, with the MPEG-2 version surfacing unannounced at some point in 2007. What baffles me is that they put out a pretty much perfect-looking transfer using a superior codec and then replaced it with a noticeably weaker-looking one encoded using an outdated and notoriously inefficient codec. It just boggles the mind. Of course, I could see a Lions Gate technician thinking the film looked better with the grain reduced (naturally, he would be teh f00l, but he wouldn’t be alone in his opinion), but then why go to the trouble of using an inferior codec and introducing further flaws in the process?

The worst part is that, by the sounds of it, the AVC version is now pretty hard to obtain, having been almost completely replaced on store shelves by the MPEG-2 one.

Posted by: Whiggles, September 14, 2008 10:02 PM


It's true that the AVC version is quite hard to obtain now. I had supplied my MPEG-2 encoded copy of the BD to AVS member msgohan as he wanted to probe more into this issue and do in-depth comparisons. My initial viewing was a mixed bag as I immediately noticed some grain scrubbing by comparing with the clips in the deleted scenes. Didn't know that the AVC encode would be so superior to the MPEG-2. I will soon notify Lionsgate about this stupid problem so that they wake up and keep a strict tab on their quality control department (if any).

Posted by: , September 15, 2008 3:51 PM


“I will soon notify Lionsgate about this stupid problem so that they wake up and keep a strict tab on their quality control department (if any).”

I’d be really interested to hear what they have to say… of course, that’s assuming they even bother to reply to you.

Posted by: Whiggles, September 16, 2008 10:31 AM

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:


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