Widescreen Review & Joe Kane on Blu-ray

August 15, 2006

titles1[1]In the latest Widescreen Review newsletter Managing Editor Danny Richelieu and Editor-In-Chief/Publisher Gary Reber, recap a recent phone conversation with WSR Contributing Editor Joe Kane. Many of you no doubt will remember some of the controversy Mr. Kane incited surrounding his interview with CineNow but much of what was discussed in the WSR phone interview was new and just as surprising.

Before I get into that I want to make an observation about the length WSR went to acknowledge Mr. Kane’s involvement with Microsoft as a “consultant for Microsoft with their Windows Media Video codec, which is what VC-1 is based on, but he is not paid by Microsoft to promote the codec.” Interestingly enough Joe doesn’t even pick HD DVD as the winner in the format war, he bestows that honor to “Internet delivery”.

I think it’s just an important to note that Joe worked with Samsung on their SP-H700AE video projector. A little tid-bit that seems to have eluded some who insinuated that Kane’s vested interest in Microsoft IP’s precludes him from having a legitimate opinion in the format war. As far as I’m concerned Kane has interests in both sides, Samsung as I’m sure you know is very pro Blu-ray (at least for now).

I’ll also point out that VC-1 isn’t exclusive to HD DVD, as evident in the fact that Disney is reportedly moving ahead with VC-1 encodes for their next batch of Blu-ray titles. Alright enough of the preliminaries, lets get back to that interview.

Some of the topics discussed involve the already noted playback issues with the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player and the Genesis chip, including WSR’s acknowledgment that “The fix in the modified player still doesn’t solve all of the problems”.

From there Joe squarely places some of the blame for the poor quality Blu-ray titles thus far, on Sony’s MPEG2 mastering facilities and notes “the original Blu-ray Disc authoring capability had to be modified to accept VC-1-encoded files.”

If true this illustrates just how un-committed the BDA was to advanced codec’s from the git-go, notice I said codec’s and not codec. According to Kane H.264 support also had to be added to the authoring tools. Again if true, this means that MPEG2 was the only option for Blu-ray encodes until very recently. That doesn’t strike me as very ‘next-gen’ but hey better late than never right?

50GB Blu-ray Disc’s:

Of course the conversation then turned to BD 50GB discs with Kane going as far as stating “I don’t think you’ll see any studio releasing dual-layer Blu-ray Discs in the near future.” Speaking of those 50GB Blu-ray movies, it was rumored that ‘Black Hawk Down’ would indeed be the first commercially available, pre-recorded movie on a 50GB Blu-ray disc. Guess what, It was one of two Blu-ray discs “indefinitely postponed” yesterday.

But I have to say one of the most shocking revelations to surface during this phone interview with WSR, involved Apple’s apparent insistence that VC-1 not become a mandatory codec for Blu-ray. Could it be that much of the posturing and deception that has perpetuated this format war on the consumer, is attributable to the never-ending pissing match between Apple and Microsoft?

Panasonic apparently believed Apple’s chances of pushing this through were so great, they (Panasonic) reportedly went as far as manufacturing an early run of Blu-ray players with no VC-1 playback support. Could this explain the four month gap between the launch of the Samsung BD-P1000 and that of Panasonic’s DMP-BD10? Or for that matter the multiple delays of the Sony BDP-S1 or even the source of the delay for Pioneer’s BDP-HD1 ?

But back to Apple and their apparent desire to squeeze VC-1 out of the picture for Blu-ray. Some of the recent inquires in the on-going EU anti-trust investigation are said to involve “whether the technology giants are stifling competition through exclusive contracts with studios and computer makers.” Conspiracy theorists take note; the rumor charter is departing from gate 101.

Returning from the land of tin-foil hats for a second, I was also quite interested to get minor corroboration of something that’s been dogging me for a while. It seems if you mention the subject of advanced audio codec’s in Blu-ray circles your in for quite an interesting assortment of answers.

Advanced Audio Codec’s:

While I’ve heard everything from advanced audio support is mandatory, optional or still being decided upon with Blu-ray, WSR’s Gary Reber states “right now, They’re (Blu-ray) not supporting Dolby Digital Plus or DTS-HD or TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio”. Reber does however rightfully acknowledge that “They’re using PCM but it’s 16 bit, 48 kHz. They’re not even using 96 kHz, 24 bit.”

Pay close attention to things like this folks, I’ll tell you right now that this mandatory versus optional stuff has the potential to bite a lot of us in the fanny. Right off the bat Blu-ray has established that advanced audio codec’s aren’t mandatory by the very fact they have already shipped discs without them.

As time marches on and studios get comfortable with their encoding they may or may not feel inclined to include the advanced codec’s with Blu-ray releases, but thus far all of the HD DVD’s (that I’m aware of) have shipped with Dolby Digital Plus at a minimum and even TruHD in a few cases. That’s 24-bit/96 kHz mind you and not the reduced bit-rate 16/48 kHz we’ve already seen from some Blu-ray discs.

Reading through the rest of the interview, I was a bit surprised to see Joe’s pick in the format war. Kane: “Oh, I think Internet delivery is going to win the battle. Of course go and download the August 2006 newsletter for yourself but I do want to leave you with one last thing I took away from the interview.

Kane and Reber get into a discourse about people buying into the promises made by the Blu-ray Disc group. I found it somewhat humorous to read Gary Reber’s take on why so many of those early supporters still hold to the notion that Blu-ray will overcome all of it’s hurdles and come out victorious:

“But people bought into the 50-GB capacity, and so now their egos are getting bruised because Blu-ray Disc is not performing like they think it should at 25 GB, and they initially went out and knocked HD DVD, betting that Blu-ray Disc would prove superior performance.” Reber even goes on to state that “We had to deal with that problem within Widescreen Review. And now reviewers are saying, “Well, HD DVD does look good.”

The Bottom Line:

Folks, this should has to move beyond bruised ego’s. No one could have ever imagined that Blu-ray’s launch could have gone this poorly. Before we even have the second or third players out, early adopters have already had to deal with sub-standard disc transfers.

It’s time to look beyond all of this and start asking the tough questions, without looking through the rose colored glasses of what was promised. Egos shouldn’t play any part whatsoever in how we replace DVD. Lets move beyond all of that and get down to the brass tax of scoring the competing camps on their actual products.

That line of thought will serve us much better in the long run, after all what’s really important is the audio and video, that’s what we’ll be stuck with for better or worse, long after the who promised what scenarios are long forgotten.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Blu-ray, HD-DVD


Comments

  • westcott

    I would love to have a job where I got paid for screwing up just about everything I touch. Sony has made a mess of HD players and it looks like they will loose the format war, just like they did with Beta Max. They seem to always rely on their shear weight as a company and technology and innovation are a distant second consideration. Sony has lost the respect of the consumers over the last few years for putting out unreliable equipment and designs that are just incomplete or not well executed.

    Just an example. I just bought a Sony Mega Changer. It is a great player when it comes to convenience and it has a lot of great features. But, to cut costs (and corners) they decided not to include non volatile memory. So, most of the features are useless unless you risk a power outage or buy a separate UPS. They also decided that they would not read CD info. (song titles and album name) off of anyone’s CD unless it was a Sony CD. Once again, making their product a real pain to use. Do not get me wrong, Sony can put out a great product when they put their mind to it but more often than not, they fall short and they seem to be falling short more and more often and reliability is now a concern with all their products now. Not something that was a concern several years ago.

  • westcott

    I would love to have a job where I got paid for screwing up just about everything I touch. Sony has made a mess of HD players and it looks like they will loose the format war, just like they did with Beta Max. They seem to always rely on their shear weight as a company and technology and innovation are a distant second consideration. Sony has lost the respect of the consumers over the last few years for putting out unreliable equipment and designs that are just incomplete or not well executed.

    Just an example. I just bought a Sony Mega Changer. It is a great player when it comes to convenience and it has a lot of great features. But, to cut costs (and corners) they decided not to include non volatile memory. So, most of the features are useless unless you risk a power outage or buy a separate UPS. They also decided that they would not read CD info. (song titles and album name) off of anyone’s CD unless it was a Sony CD. Once again, making their product a real pain to use. Do not get me wrong, Sony can put out a great product when they put their mind to it but more often than not, they fall short and they seem to be falling short more and more often and reliability is now a concern with all their products now. Not something that was a concern several years ago.