Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Slammin' the lid on the coffin . . .

       On more than one occasion, I’ve jokingly referred to this blog as being, not so much a source of film criticism, but rather more of a P.S.A. -- of information that nobody is really looking for in the first place, most likely. This week, however, that statement is almost not a joke: undoubtedly many of you have noticed the astoundingly low prices advertised on HD-DVD players and discs of late. There’s a reason for this sudden plunge in prices; and a reason why you should not -- under any circumstances -- buy one. The reason is this: the HD-format war is over, and Blu-ray has won -- but that won’t stop manufacturers from trying to unload their backlog of players and discs on you, the unwitting consumer.

       For those not in the know, a brief re-cap. Approximately 3 years ago, Sony and Toshiba both introduced their competing and not-compatible-with-one-another high-definition video formats: Blu-ray and HD-DVD, respectively. Manufacturers knew from the git-go that conventional DVD’s storage capacity was inadequate for encoding high-definition video -- so, the need for a replacement format was imminent. Toshiba’s attempt, HD-DVD, had the benefits of being cheap to produce and backwards compatible with existing DVD technology. Sony’s more advanced blu-ray format has a greater storage capacity and a more robust dynamic rewriting schema, making it a better choice for computer and gaming applications -- but won't play conventional DVDs. At first, The major studios were evenly divided in their support of the formats -- but late last year, Warner Bros. decided to support Blu-ray exclusively; slowly but surely, all the other studios followed suit -- until, on February 19th of this year, Toshiba announced that they would no longer manufacture HD-DVD discs or players -- effectively rendering the format obsolete, even though there are still a few other manufacturers out there who have yet to give up the ghost. But with the creator of the format abandoning it, we can safely say that HD-DVD has gone the way of 8-track tapes, floppy discs and Betamax -- to an early grave.

       Of course, we’re all -- including gadget-loving, early-adopter me -- still watching most of our video-tainment via conventional DVD; and will for many years to come, as the advantages of any Hi-Def format are only noticeable on large (I would say at least 42”), widescreen, High-Definition monitors (at least 720p, but ideally 1080p resolution); and how many of us own those? Well, I do, but I’m “in the biz” as they say, so it’s justified. Even so, even my very nice plasma display (purchased about 4 years ago) is already obsolete. It isn’t capable of displaying the highest high definition signals, and is not compliant with the D.R.M. instituted on all high-def formats (known as HDCP); this is not a problem with displays made within the last two years or so; such are the risks of the early-adopter. At any rate, those of you who staunchly refuse to move forward into this brave, new high-resolution world need not fear. Conventional DVD’s are too easy and cheap to manufacture -- and ergo too attractive to both consumer and manufacturer alike -- to allow for their demise any time soon. And by the time DVD’s do become obsolete, you’ll be able to “rip” them -- as we all do with CD’s nowadays -- and store them on what will undoubtedly be a multi-Terabyte hard-drive.

       So what does this all mean for you, dear reader? First off, don’t buy that $99.00 HD-DVD player from Best Buy -- unless you feel like watching the same thirty movies over and over again. Two, feel free to continue to buy DVDs, if you’re so inclined; the format still has a decade or two worth of life to it, if only because consumers will not warm up to the merits -- or cost -- of Blu-ray all that quickly. Three, if you don’t like the idea of a new video format at all, take heart. Many analysts seem to feel the real future of video-tainment is in downloading, as many of us already do with music and audiobook purchases. Having watched a few downloads from Apple’s video store, I can say that the quality is pretty darned good -- especially on their HD offerings -- and as the cost of multi-giga and tera-byte hard-drives comes down, that option is looking more attractive than buying another set of bookshelves that I don’t have room for in my apartment.

Next post -- 03/14/08