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Joshua Zyber Posted: Feb 09, 2009 0 comments
In movies, one size never fits all.

By now, most home theater fans have undoubtedly grown used to seeing letterbox bars on many movies they watch. In today’s high-definition era, any content with an aspect ratio that’s greater than a 16:9 (a.k.a. 1.78:1) HDTV screen must be presented with black bars on the top and bottom of the frame. Blu-ray viewers have many examples of this. Approximately half of all modern theatrical films are photographed in the scope aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, and Wall-E fall into that category. Scope photography is sometimes referred to as 2.35:1 for reasons that are too complicated to explain in detail here. Just know that 2.40:1 is technically correct, although many people in the industry continue to use the term 2.35:1 interchangeably. At the other extreme, material narrower than 16:9 (classics like Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood are 1.37:1) will have pillarbox bars on the sides. In the middle, movies composed for 1.85:1 (such as the The Sixth Sense, Hellboy, or Knocked Up) nearly fill an HDTV.

Joshua Zyber Posted: Jul 06, 2010 0 comments
Blu-ray’s Missed Opportunity

In May of 2009, Home Theater ran an article titled “BD-Live in Action” with an overview of the Internet features available on Blu-ray. Even though that piece was written a good three years into the high-def format’s life, the BD-Live aspect was still very much in its formative stages. Many of the Internet features available at that time were gimmicks or filler material. Few could be classified as essential to the experience of owning a Blu-ray Disc. The article concluded with the statement, “We’ve only started to see the building blocks of BD-Live’s potential. Now is the time for a true innovator to step in and show us what it can do.”

Joshua Zyber Posted: Aug 04, 2008 0 comments
Can Blu-ray be more than the next Laserdisc?

Although I don’t usually pay attention to such things, the other day as I was opening a recent Blu-ray purchase, I took note of the “Compatible with PlayStation 3” sticker that either the studio or the retailer had attached to the shrink wrap. It was trivial, hardly worth glancing at, but it got me thinking about how closely the Blu-ray format is tied to Sony’s multipurpose game console. Of course, I seem to recall similar stickers about the PlayStation 2 appearing on early DVD releases, but the situation is very different now. DVD’s benefits over its VHS and Laserdisc predecessors were so obvious that the format achieved explosive growth, and its success was never dependent on just one playback machine. Certainly, the PS2 brought DVD into a lot of homes very quickly, but standalone players and computer drives were equally (and soon more) popular with the public. Everyone wanted DVD, whether they wanted a game console to go with it or not.

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Joshua Zyber Posted: Aug 23, 2011 1 comments
Is it OK to sympathize with Nazis? That’s a thorny question, and not just for American viewers who’ve been raised on a diet of rah-rah patriotic war films about freedom-loving Yanks kicking the butts of dastardly Nazi scum. Germany itself has a very complicated and uncomfortable relationship with its past and rarely broaches the topic on film. Wolfgang Petersen’s superlative submarine thriller Das Boot takes us inside a World War II U-boat patrolling the Atlantic in 1941. Technically, its crew members are Nazis. Yet few are ideologues, and none are jackbooted villains. Mostly, they’re young boys who know nothing of politics but hunger for the adventure of war and believe themselves to be serving their country.

The film depicts the camaraderie of these men, their conflicts, their boredom, their excitement, their terror, and their growing disillusionment. In its most profound scene, the crew cheers at having destroyed a British cargo ship and then watches in horror as the sailors from that ship leap off its flaming deck and desperately try to swim to the submarine for help they will not get. It’s a sobering moment, both beautiful and haunting.

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Joshua Zyber Posted: Jul 27, 2008 0 comments
Denon sound quality lives on in the next generation.
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Joshua Zyber Posted: Nov 24, 2008 0 comments
It’s like a Blu-ray and a half?
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Joshua Zyber Posted: Mar 16, 2009 1 comments
How important is HDMI 1.3 anyway?

The HDMI standard was developed with noble intentions. Most people in the home theater hobby know the hazards of cable clutter. When you have a lot of equipment connected this way and that by separate audio and video cables, you wind up with a tangled mess of wires behind your equipment rack or entertainment center. The problem is compounded by component video (three cables just for picture) and multichannel analog audio (six to eight more cables!). Now factor in a DVR, a couple of DVD players, a Blu-ray player, a video processor, and an A/V receiver all interconnected in one theater room. If you want to add or remove any piece of equipment, you’ll have to squat behind the rack with a flashlight and trying to trace each cable from end to end. Which unit did this blue one come from? If I plug that red cable into here, will I get my picture back, or will my speakers start blaring obnoxious noises?

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Joshua Zyber Posted: May 19, 2008 0 comments
To bitstream or not to bitstream?

For all the dramatic improvements they’ve given us in the picture and sound quality of movie playback in our homes, sometimes it feels like the new high-definition disc formats—both Blu-ray and HD DVD—also make our lives needlessly complicated in some respects. Case in point is the process of getting high-resolution surround sound audio from the disc player to an A/V receiver or processor. Let’s be frank here and admit that, in this regard, things were a lot simpler with standard DVD, where there was far less confusion about the different audio formats and hardware hookup requirements.

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Joshua Zyber Posted: Dec 14, 2011 1 comments
Those of us who’ve spent a lot of time reviewing movies on video discs (from Blu-ray to DVD and, for some of us, even back to Laserdisc) understand that the process involves its share of both objective and subjective criteria. The exact balance varies depending on the content under review. Every movie—and every disc—is unique. Nonetheless, certain rules and standards hold true in most circumstances. While Blu-ray Discs provide vastly better quality than DVDs, and we in turn have gotten a lot savvier over the years in detecting the nuances of what makes a good or bad video image, the fundamental process has remained unchanged in the transition from standard definition to high definition. That is, until now. The introduction of 3D has thrown things for a pretty big loop. The more 3D content I’ve watched (on Blu-ray or other sources), the more questions I have about exactly how 3D should be evaluated. It turns out that reviewing 3D is a lot trickier than reviewing standard 2D.
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Joshua Zyber Posted: Sep 28, 2011 0 comments
According to the painstaking research I performed before writing this review (i.e., looking at Wikipedia for all of five minutes), Charlotte Brontë’s proto-feminist novel (I cribbed that phrase right from the wiki, FYI) had been adapted at least 15 times for the silver screen and an additional 10 for television before this year’s revival. That’s to say nothing of the other numerous attempts to sequelize, prequelize, or retell the story in literary form. What is it about this book that inspires so many people to tell the story until someone finally gets it right?

The latest Jane Eyre comes from director Cary Fukunaga, an American filmmaker of Swedish and Japanese descent whose only previous feature was the Mexican gangster film Sin Nombre. In other words, he’s exactly the first person you’d think of to make a British period romance starring an Australian actress and German-Irish leading man. The mind reels.