Why Warner's Blu-ray Soundtracks Make Me Blue
OK, I know the Blu(e) jokes are stale. Still, I had to call this Blog something to enter it into the system, so why not? Unless you've been under a rock you know that Warner and Paramount support both Blu-ray and HD DVD. Warner is unique in that it now encodes the video for its movies using Microsoft's VC-1 compression on both formats, encodes that are said to be virtually identical. But on the soundtrack front, the Blu-ray customer doesn't always get the advanced, next-gen sound that the HD DVD customer gets.
This last week saw the reputedly awful and universally reviled remake of Wicker Man hit both Blu-ray and HD DVD. But like Superman Returns, while the HD DVD version boasts a Dolby TrueHD lossless track, the Blu-ray Disc has a good, old-fashioned Dolby Digital at 640kbps. What gives? Blu-ray is supposed to have that storage space advantage, so why are big, new releases on Blu-ray getting short-changed?
Paramount hasn't made any use whatsoever of Dolby TrueHD, sticking instead to DTS at 1.5Mbps, but also using Dolby Digital or Dolby Digital Plus at 640kbps or 1.5Mbps in the case of the latter.
At Warner's gala CES event introducing the Total HD disc, I asked Warner's Steve Nickerson about these disparities, which Warner claims will disappear by the time Total HD discs are released in late '07. Not only is TrueHD decoding optional on BD players, in the case of Superman Returns he claims that the soundtrack was mastered for Blu-ray at a point when Warner wasn't prepared to do TrueHD. Bizarre that the DVD/HD DVD combi disc could contain a TrueHD track, but according to Nickerson that was mastered at a later date. Of course, that doesn't explain why DTS at 1.5Mbps couldn't have been used...
Many of Warner's HD DVD discs have proven that TrueHD can make DD sound like MP3. It's a shame that all those PS3 owners out there, whose integrated Blu-ray player supports full multichannel TrueHD, won't know how awesome Superman Returns can sound.
Martin Scorsese's acclaimed The Departed is hitting Blu-ray and HD DVD on February 13th, however, and might represent a sea change here. According to High-Def Digest the HD DVD version of The Departed will feature Dolby TrueHD, while the more spacious Blu-ray Disc will feature uncompressed linear PCM, a first for Warner. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come from Warner.