Blu-ray to be
Yesterday Sony invited a bunch of us down to the Sony Pictures lot to get briefed on the latest about Blu-ray. They had just announced that the first BD titles would be hitting the street May 23, with more on June 13. These first titles are:
50 First Dates, The Fifth Element (Yeah!), Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, A Knight's Tale, The Last Waltz, Resident Evil Apocalypse, and XXX.
As you can see, they're really rolling out the A-list titles this first round out. Boy, I can't wait to not see A Knights Tale in HD. On June 13 we'll see:
Kung Fu Hustle, Legends of the Fall, Robocop, Stealth, Species, SWAT, Terminator, and Underworld Evolution.
These are just the titles from Sony Pictures and their various subsidiaries, expect more announcements from the other studios.
But that's not what was interesting
In addition to these announcements, they showed us some BD material on a 23x11 foot screen using a 4k Sony SXRD cinema projector. They had a split screen with the uncompressed HD signal (around 400 mbps) and the MPEG-2 feed at 24 mbps. At this point, many of you are certainly going "back the truck up." That's right, Sony has said that their first releases are going to be MPEG-2, not VC-1 or AVC (MPEG-4). Their rationale behind this is that in their testing MPEG-2 at higher bit rates still offered superior picture quality than the higher compression VC-1 and AVC. Ironically, using their own cart judging picture quality v. bit rate, at the 18mbps average that their release titles will be, the picture quality was nearly identical with the other codecs. At an average of 18 mbps, with the ability to peak to 30 and even 40 mbps depending on content, they can fit 155 minutes on a standard BD (25 GB) with four compressed audio tracks (as in 4 different Dolby 5.1 tracks). They made it very clear that they are sure that VC-1 and AVC will meet if not surpass MPEG-2 at some point, but they feel the technology and picture quality aren't there yet. I think this is a not-so-subtle jab at HD DVD, which doesn't have the space to run MPEG-2 at those bit rates for the length of a movie. At least, not with HD DVD 15. Well, whatever, how does it look?
Well, it looks amazing. On the huge screen it was pretty hard to see the difference between the uncompressed and the MPEG-2. If you know what you're looking for, it's there, but on a smaller screen (like any TV), I doubt you'd see a difference. What does this mean? Well, it means what we've all suspected, that these next generation of discs will be, by far, the best looking HD you've ever seen. The amount of detail is truly incredible, and far better than the crap you're seeing on cable and satellite.
They were even saying that there is a visible difference between films shot on 35mm and films shot on 65mm are noticeable. That the 65mm films are visibly more detailed. So it's possible that some older films will actually look more detailed than many newer films. Then there's stuff shot on HD cameras, which won't have film grain at all. As these cameras get better and better, their detail will (and pretty much has) surpass 35mm film.
ICT - The Great Evil
Image Constraint Token is the innocuous name for the most insidious "feature" of a consumer electronics product since DIVX. On a title by title basis, a studio can choose to down-rez the component outputs to 960x540, or one quarter HD resolution. Sony made it very clear that they have no plans to implement this…for now. No other studio has announced they will do this either. Then my question is, why is there? The equipment you'd need to record and compress analog HD is incredibly expensive. Even Sony admits that analog coping is not how discs are being pirated. Sony wanted to spin this as "oh, we're not going to do it, trust us." Well, sorry, but the possibility is there, and that makes them and every one else involved suspect. It means that at some point, after these players are all in people's homes, they can flip a switch and neuter the component outputs. There's a name for that kind of thing, it's called "bait and switch" and it's illegal. I hope some studio tries it. The legal and public backlash will be incredible, and they'll deserve it.
While early specs on BD players has said 1080p, this isn't the 1080p you're thinking. BD can't do 1080p/60, only 1080p/24, as in 24 frames per second. They were trying to make a show about how if you do the 3:2 conversion correctly, it will look fine. That is true, but it's also a big "if." It would be nice if the players had the option to do the 3:2 internally, and maybe they will, but relying on the TV to do this is pretty stupid. It took years for TV manufactures to implement 3:2 correctly on TVs, and many of them still don't.
With any luck, you are the first consumers to read about the Easter Eggs on Sony's first BD releases. That's right, my crappy blog (ok, and TJN's Blog over at UAV. He gets up earlier than I do) has a world exclusive. On the main menu of the BD, type 7669 (Sony, in numbers like a phone) and you'll be given access to a few HD test patterns. They're not sure exactly what yet, but color bars with PLUGE and a monoscope pattern were both mentioned. How cool is that?
Any other questions?