Tuesday, February 19, 2008

HD-DVD - An editorial

Many years ago (more than I care to think about) I was an avid collector of Laserdiscs. Attracted to the format because of letterboxing and director commentaries, the format was a film geek's dream. During this period I went into a video store to peruse their selection of discs and met Steve, the manager.

Steve and I have been friends since that day many years ago. Steve was the only person I had run into who had a passion for films and collecting Laserdiscs that exceeded my own (at the end of my disc collecting days, I had about 1000 movies - I think Steve had 2000 when he stopped).

As the HD format began to take hold, Steve bought a D-VHS deck. I laughed and asked him why. To answer that, I can say that he is the only person that I know who has the ability to record HD. When HD-DVD and Blu-Ray came along and the players were about $1000, I demurred figuring that the format wars would be short lived and the player prices would drop.

Well, the war is over. The player prices dropped long before the war ended. I bought the HD-DVD add on for the xBox 360 for $200. $200 was my "oh what the hell" price point for this stuff. Since that time, I have purchased about 8 HD-DVDs. I have no real regrets there. I still have the films that I wanted in that format and I will be able to enjoy them until my drive fails.

Ahh, but Steve - His passion still reigns supreme. After the fall of HD-DVD, he made a posting over on the AVS Forums. I thought that the post brought up some great issues and also conveyed a point of view that was rational and pragmatic. I'll let you read it for yourself here:

Thanks to HD DVD, I own 90% of the titles I'd want from ANY 'exclusive' studio already. With BD, the rest are rounded out. Sure, we don't have Alien, Star Wars, Jurassic, etc., but I have had those on at least two formats already. I'll buy 'em when they come out, but not excited like I was for HD DVD.

Even if, when, the HD DVD studios begin releasing the content on BD, it could take years to 'catch up' on what already exists. I don't know about you, but I am certainly glad to have had the opportunity for the last few years to have these movies in HD. Movies like "The Thing," were a must for my collection, and I'd probably have bought a player if it was out on SHMSHQX DVD Aquamarine-ray.

Case in point. I don't know about you, but I like the movie "Fight Club." I had the DVD with all those special features, etc., but thanks to D-VHS DTheater, I could watch the MOVIE in HD! I've watched that tape quite a few times over the last FIVE YEARS! Five years is a long time.

So when the first HD format on optical disc was released, I jumped in with a who cares attitude. I committed to buying the G1 HD DVD player, along with the Blu-ray G1 player. And every movie that comes out on both formats for the first year. I did, and I don't regret any of it. There have been many superb releases out of nowhere, and even I was surprised at the catalog selection the studios chose to release as their early HD movies.

When I went to a DTheater love-in at Widescreen Review back in 2000, there was lots of talk on AVS about "HD Discs in a year." I said three, we were both wrong. It took a lot longer than I thought it would, but HD DVD was a little quicker at the bat.

Like a good "Scooby Doo" episode, it could be said that Blu-ray might say "We would have gotten away with this if it weren't for you meddling kids..." Toshiba beat them to the punch bad. So bad, 'they' (not Sony), are now getting sued for their G1 player (which I own). It really does suck they didn't have a 'complete' spec out of the gate. I still bought one, and so did a few others. $999. Now = doorstop.

Sony only pushed BD out when they did because of HD DVD. Period. We all know it wasn't ready, and any happy BD person likely had a PS3 (still the fastest, most reliable player). Loading times were similar between the two previously, and both had firmware updates in order to play new titles.

HD DVD was exciting, something cool & new, like when DVD first came out. I was a LaserDisc guy, and DVD was not nearly as cool when it came out. The whole first batch of Warner DVDs was recalled due to quality issues (my store was in the test market). When they got it together, it opened a whole new angle. Anamorphic DVDs on widescreen TVs, and (sometimes) better sound than LD. Way better than VHS, which didn't take much.

As they refined encoding & mastering, studios like Disney & Fox began to unload their classics, and the format took hold. VHS stuck around for a long, long time. People are stupid, you know that. You have no idea how many times I've explained widescreen/letterbox & resolution to people. Not any more. If you can't figure it out, then bummer for you!

I said at the beginning of this whole thing, if you don't have a player, you don't "care" about HD. Most people didn't, and a few saw something at their friend's house, etc. By HD DVD coming onto the scene, it forced BD to up their standards (Fifth Element anyone?), and rethink the entire strategy.

So much they were essentially forced into buying friends, which really is just business. One thing I did notice is, BD marketing often slammed HD DVD, whereas never the other way around. I actually heard a voice over in a demo in BB while walking by that said "HD DVD is more compressed, so the audio is compressed, and it doesn't sound as good as Blu-ray!" True or not, crappy.

Does anyone remember the first HD DVDs from Warner?

"Welcome to HD DVD, you put the disc in and the movies starts!" Freakin' Finally! I hated Disney for their 12 previews on VHS, the first unskippable previews on DVD, etc. Now what did oh lovely BD bring us? Stupid 12 previews in front of the movie! I counted 11 skips I had to do to get to the movie (that I purchased). Too bad, so sad.

Fox makes some great movies. Fox makes some crap, no extras catalog titles for $39.99. You know what they can do with those. I paid $59.99 for Fantastic Voyage and Planet of the Apes on LaserDisc. In 1990. Oh I'll probably still buy em on Blu-ray. BUT I WON'T BE HAPPY ABOUT IT!

I think that is the main difference here. HD DVD was a new, logical choice to follow DVD. Likely the last ditch of optical disc formats before downloads (or what have you) become prevalent. Remember the picture outside of BB and the video of the guy getting his A1? Show me one "Yay I got Blu-ray player" video. :)

We were corned into Blu-ray, because the dominant company wants format royalties. There is no winner here. Has there ever been a winner of any WAR? Ever? Not really. I personally know people who work in BD, and I like to tease them with "Be careful what you wish for! Now you have it all! Yay!" Should be interesting.

Heck, I remember getting angry at the studios releasing New Releases 30 days after video to Pay-Per-View, because it cuts into rentals. That was 10 years ago! How are we renting or buying anything still? Shouldn't we have long ago had instant on-demand HD super-duper everything right at our fingertips?

I own lots of HD discs, and I will continue to enjoy them. After getting an A1, an XA1, and then an A35, it will sit nicely under my BD30, with a PS3 for love. Yes you would need them all now, if you want to enjoy the full benefits of HD optical media.

- A35 for bitstream, and all those awesome HD DVDs that won't be out for a while on BD (even if they start tomorrow)

- BD30 for bitstream, and way faster than the BD-P1000

- PS3 for PCM, games, streaming, etc. Pretty cool box, does a lot.

IMHO, the A35 is 95% perfect (XA2 theoretically better upscaler), but I wish I could say the same RIGHT NOW about any of my BD pieces. PCM issue on BD30, no DTS-MA on PS3, BD-P1000 not even worth a hundred bucks now!

And Fox not releasing ANYTHING all that time? Shame on you. Delaying the rest of the titles in to oblivion? (Red Dawn, From Hell, etc). And shame on Weinstein, you should have given us Grindhouse Day & Date.

Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that certain directors have some control over their content, or we would have many more A-titles on either format. I do know that SS saw CE3K on BD, and up until then had no idea what EITHER format were. So there.

They have all been seriously wasting our time, and I hope now they get their stupid act together and start giving us what we want. Isn't that the point of this whole entertainment industry thing? You give us what we want, we give you money. Is there some basic problem with that? While I have purchased more HD discs than should be allowed by law, I would have more if they existed. Ya can't string this one out forever like DVD! This is 2008!

I don't know about you, but I'll still buy their (good and bad) movies if they keep releasing them, but the love is LONG, long gone baby...

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