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Site created 12/15/97.




page updated: 3/16/99



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 2/25/99 - 2/9/99)


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2/25/99

Well, we've got the latest news up on some upcoming DVD titles from MGM (scheduled for May release). There's a definite World War II theme going on here. Check the Rumor Mill for the latest.

Also today, we've got the full text of Paramount's press release, announcing their April DVDs, which include an anamorphic widescreen DVD of The Relic. Artisan has also finally released a statement announcing their intention to issue the first DVD-18 title, Steven King's The Stand (as was first mentioned over at the excellent DVD Resource).

No doubt you're all aware by now of the reader survey on the official Star Wars web site (it's also in the latest issue of Star Wars Insider magazine). Feel free to use it to tell Lucasfilm just how much you want the Star Wars DVDs. Keep in mind, however, that the DVDs are ALREADY in the planning stages, and are soon to go into production for release later this year. The official site also has the latest installment of Lynne Hale's web documentary on the making of The Phantom Menace, this time looking at the casting process. Speaking of Star Wars, be sure to check out one of my favorite Net sites - Cinescape Online, for some new Episode I pix.

USA Today has an interesting article up on music and performance DVD releases. ZDTV's Silicon Spin has been looking more closely at Divx lately. They have some new features and editorials up about the difference between DVD and Divx now, as well as that same RealVideo feed of a program segment on Divx that we mentioned here a few weeks ago. If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth a watch. Keep in mind, you'll need to get the Real Player software. Thanks to Bits reader Jim C. for the reminder.

See ya tomorrow...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/24/99 - 5:15 PM PST)

I'm very happy to say that we've got some more new DVD capsule reviews up today from our own Todd Doogan. You'll find Lovesick, Stroker Ace, Next of Kin, Made In America, Lean on Me and Doc Hollywood.

Around the Net today, you'll find a press release on MGM's Ronin on-line event with director John Frankenheimer, scheduled for March 14th (visit the event's official site to pre-register). Also Image Entertainment has signed an exclusive new deal with RM Associates, for exclusive distribution of classical music, opera and art titles on DVD (see press release).

Check back tomorrow for more...

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/24/99 - 11 AM PST)

Tis true, tis true. Our friends at Home Theater Forum held a members-only, online chat with Warner's John Powers last night. There was a bevy of upcoming DVD information provided. Some highlights include: Heat (3rd QTR, sans extras), Shawshank Redemption, Excalibur (with director's commentary) and the delayed The American President (all hopefully in time for the holidays). Pee Wee's Big Adventure is in development. Superman I and II will take some time to show up on DVD, due to heavy restoration work that needs to be done on the prints, however Little Shop of Horrors may finally be reissued on the format (either sans alternate ending, or with the original color footage of it restored). Perhaps most interesting, Babylon 5 episodes were discussed as possible DVD releases, although nothing definitive was mentioned. Expect DVD-18 support from Warner, as well as a few of their previous flipper titles to be remastered. As we've mentioned before, several Kubrick films are in preparation, including Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Barry Lyndon (our sources say to look for them in July). In the near term, look for The Gauntlet, Cleopatra, and The Outlaw Josey Wales in March, and two Steven Segal flicks, On Deadly Ground and Out for Justice, in May.

For those of you who missed it, HTF has allowed us to post the full transcript of the chat here at The Digital Bits (many thanks to Ron and Parker). It's an interesting read, so don't miss it. Also, be sure to check out Home Theater Forum for the best in "civil" DVD discussion on the Net.

We'll be back with more later this afternoon...

2/23/99

Wow - lots to talk about today! Let's start with what we've updated around the site today. First of all, we have more new information on upcoming DVD titles in today's Rumor Mill update. Lots of good stuff, including more Star Trek DVD info. We've also updated the CEMA DVD player sales numbers (both the full chart and regular listing on this page), to reflect the fact that some 16,545 DVD players were sold into retail during the second week of February (week ending 2/12).

Now then, I've spoken with the good folks at Sony, who tell me that they are still busy investigating that layer switch/multi-angle problem with the Sony 7700. They're having difficulty trying duplicate the problems in question, so if any of you out there are having problems with a particular DVD on the 7700, let me know so I can pass that along to them. At the moment, they do not believe it's an issue with the firmware after all (as reported previously). I've only had one problem with a disc on my 7700, after hundreds of playing hours - my player occasionally sticks on the layer-switch on Disc One of Dances with Wolves (DTS). Sony acknowledges that there is something going on, but they are still hard at work trying to determine exactly what it may be. We'll be sure to keep you up to date as new information is available.

On a related note, we would like to welcome Sony as an official sponsor of The Digital Bits. You'll notice we've added their logo to the top of our site, and you'll see a new Sony banner running on the Bits as well. Sony is cautious about advertising, especially on the Net, so we're definitely honored that they would choose to get involved with the Bits. Here's to a long relationship!

I received a nice e-mail from Josh Dare of Divx yesterday, saying that their lawyers had nothing to do with that Divx Hack box site redirecting to the Divx home page. Josh says they were just as surprised as the rest of us. Go figure...

Laserviews has again been updated to include a TON of new, upcoming DVD titles. Among those mentioned are American in Paris, At First Sight, Gigi, Hair, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers from MGM, and Badlands (a great flick with Martin Sheen doing his best James Dean) and The Big Red One from Warner.

We've had a lot of readers mention to us, that they don't like a new trend in DVD production, in which studios are omitting Spanish audio tracks on Region 1 DVDs. We're sorry to report, that this is being done very deliberately. A recent issue of Video Week had this to say:

"Although studios that were slow to step up to the DVD plate have been making great strides in day-and-date availability and inclusion of extra material on discs, one feature that's been discontinued even by DVD champion Warner Home Video is Spanish language tracks. Spokespersons for 2 leading major studio DVD releasers Warner Home Video and Universal Studios Home Video confirmed practice has been halted, while spokesmen for other studios we contacted couldn't name any new title for which Spanish track is planned. Primary reason for discontinuing Spanish tracks is to prevent transshipment from U.S. to Mexico to keep release windows intact. Some studio spokesmen said demand doesn't warrant inclusion of Spanish track for domestic market anyway - although video retailers in areas such as Miami have told is they strongly disagree."

While I can appreciate the business reasons for doing this, I find it extremely troubling that Spanish-speaking American consumers (who make up a significantly-growing percentage of the U.S. population) are being left in the cold. Perhaps if the studios got more aggressive about simultaneous multi-Region DVD release windows, this wouldn't be a problem. In the meantime, this is likely to be something of a hot-button issue for DVD in the coming months (and rightly so, in my opinion).

Columbia TriStar and Universal Studios are teaming up to distribute DVD titles internationally. You can read the full press release here. From the text comes this statement: "Both USHV and CTHV have agreed that wherever possible, new release product will be day and date with VHS rental and VHS direct-to-sell through and that catalog titles will be released at the earliest possible moment to build a successful international DVD business."

There's a lot of great new DVD information on sites around the Net. DVD File has lots of new title information today, so be sure to check that out. DVD Resource has been following an Artisan plan to release the first DVD-18 title (the Steven King mini-series The Stand, due this fall), however The Big Picture claims that Paramount may try to beat them to the punch with a DVD-18 Titanic (our sources have been telling us to expect this as well).

Finally today, Jim Taylor has voiced "His Two Cents" on the hotly-debated "blacker-than-black" issue, as to whether or not a DVD player should be able to reproduce below black. You may recall that I voiced the opinion that it isn't very important to a DVD player (the Sony 7700 does not do it). Here's what Jim had to say:

"While I agree with Sony (and you) that the inability to produce blacker than black is not very important, Sony is being specious when they claim it's not in the DVD standard or NTSC standard. It's an accepted video industry standard that analog NTSC video leaves headroom for blacker than black and whiter than white, although you'll get arguments about whether that headroom should be used only for calibration signals or for general video. Headroom is also definitely part of the DVD-Video standard, since it specifies MPEG-2 MP@ML video, which in turn specifies ITU BT.601 digital video, which has explicit reserved ranges for superblack and superwhite.

Part of the problem is that the analog video guys (including my esteemed friend Joe Kane) have certain preconceptions from the analog video world that don't translate well to the digital video world. For example, many of them claim that it's important to maintain headroom when video is encoded digitally. For example, they say "What if you have a standard black scene, but then you want something even blacker? You need extra values." I say, "Figure out what the extreme values are, then set the scale to match. If you need extra, include it as part of the range in the first place." Kind of reminds me of the "It goes to 11" scene! Adding to the confusion is that when MPEG-2 encoders are given full-range digital video (say from the RGB colorspace) they can either directly encode all 255 brightness values, or they can scale the video to fit within the ITU 601 constraints (values from 0 to 15 for superblack, 16 to 235 for normal video, and 236 to 255 for superwhite). Almost all encoders scale the video first, which means there is no valid data in the headroom ranges. So DVD (MPEG-2) video played back on a computer will almost always be scaled back up from the 16-235 range to the full 0-255 range, throwing away things like blacker than black in pluge test patterns."

Got that? Whew - certainly a mouthful of tech-speak! In any case, we consider it the last word on the subject, straight from the DVD Evangelist himself.

Now then, we'll be back tomorrow with another big update, so see you then!

(LATE UPDATE - 2/22/99 - 2 PM PST)

Want to see the legal team over at Divx making themselves useful? Remember that Divx Hack box that was being sold on the Net for $150? Well the site that carried it now redirects to the official Divx site. Check it out for yourself. I'm guessing that Divx reached right out and touched the would-be Divx hackers with the long arm of the law. To be honest, we at the Bits were just waiting for this to happen, are only surprised that it took this long. Guess we won't be getting one of those boxes to test any time soon...

Speaking of Divx, the company is claiming that it's sold a total of 1 million pieces of software to date. You can read the official press release here. This is combined over ALL their brick & mortar store fronts, AND their on-line store. It is something of a milestone for the pay-per-use format, but is SO outshone by DVD software performance that I wouldn't even bat an eye...

Noted horror film scholar David Skal (author of Hollywood Gothic and The Monster Show) has announced (via AOL) that he's going to be producing the Universal DVD collector's editions of Dracula (both versions), The Mummy, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. The discs will include documentaries, commentary tracks and more - very exciting news indeed for film buffs. The DVDs couldn't be in better hands in our opinion. We've updated our AFI Top 100 DVD list accordingly. ;-)

Finally today, we've got some very exciting information about those upcoming Alien DVDs in a late update of The Rumor Mill.

See you tomorrow!

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/22/99 - 5:15 AM PST)

So did everyone have a good weekend? I spent mine doing some work around the site, getting ready for the transition to version 2.0 of The Bits. We're still at least a couple of weeks away yet, but you'd be surprised how much work is involved.

One thing I did this weekend in particular, was to work on the new Digital Bits logo. We wanted something smaller, which would load faster than the old one. Also, since it's going to be in the new button bar frame, you'll only have to load it once per visit - not every time you read a new page on the site. Even with browser caching, this should all help load times significantly. We also wanted to give the new logo a more dynamic look and feel, so we snuck a little bit of animation into it (but we took to heart everyone who said they found the spinning DVD distracting). Without further adieu, here it is. Let me know what you think...

The Digital Bits logo

Well, there's been a great deal of talk over the weekend about forthcoming Star Wars DVDs. Several sites have posted information on the subject, including the snazzily-reworked Digital Bayou, The Big Picture and DVD File. According to many of the posts, 20th Century Fox's international distributor (PFC) sent out a sell sheet relating that Star Wars: SE would be appearing on DVD in a "simultaneous worldwide release" this fall. Other posts have indicated the possibility of a May release for the DVD. We at The Digital Bits CAN confirm (as we've been saying) that Star Wars will find its way to DVD this year, but there's no way a May release will happen. At this point, the DVDs are still in the planning stages only - no significant production has as yet begun. Look for the DVDs to appear late in the fall, in a time frame leading up to the home video release of The Phantom Menace (but WELL after the theatrical release of Episode I). No doubt Star Wars will be THE DVD to buy for the holidays.

Check out The Rumor Mill today, for a few more juicy tidbits on upcoming DVDs.

I took the opportunity to see a couple of films this weekend, and I really enjoyed both. Office Space has got to be one of the funniest flicks I've seen in a long time. It sort of unravels a bit about 2/3rds of the way in, but the laughs up until that point are definitely worth the price of admission. If you've ever worked for a big corporate monster of an employer, the film will hit VERY close to home. In fact, it's almost scary just how on-target the film is. The "printer rumble" scene had me in tears. I'll say no more - just check it out. I also saw October Sky and Rushmore (last week), and enjoyed both immensely. It's rare that you see three good films in a row these days, but there you have it - all are recommended.

Finally today, we'd like to take a moment to remember film critic Gene Siskel, who passed away over the weekend, apparently due to complications from recent brain surgery (see press release and Chicago Tribune obituary). We at the Bits were surprised and saddened by Gene's death, as I'm sure all of you are. I suppose the most fitting tribute would be... "Thumbs up, Gene."

See you back here tomorrow.

Have a great weekend, folks!

2/19/99

Let's get right to it! We've got some extremely cool information for you Trekkers out there in today's Rumor Mill, which you'll definitely not want to miss. You'll also find some new DVD information in there from New Line, regarding your favorite serial killer Freddy coming to DVD, as well as the latest on shag-a-delic super-agent Austin Powers. FYI, we've also updated out list of AFI Top 100 Films on DVD today (finally!).

Columbia TriStar issued an official press release yesterday, announcing the street date for their long-awaited The Adventures of Baron Munchausen DVD. You'll find it in stores on April 20th, along with Apt Pupil, One Tough Cop and Savior (all three of which will be day-and-date with VHS).

Looks like DTS is gettin' busy with... X-rated DVDs? Yessir, I've got a nice, full-color, glossy brochure from Nu-Tech (the folks behind that dubious Legend of Mulan DTS disc), which indicates that at least 4 of their upcoming adult DVDs will feature DTS 5.1 audio. Now, I'm not gonna list the titles here, 'cause you know how adult film titles are - pooooooor taste man. And this is, after all, a family web site. I'm no connoisseur of the whole X-film milieu, but it is worth pointing out that the adult video industry has long driven the home video market - a trend which has definitely continued with DVD. There are literally hundreds of adult DVD titles, and while many are of poor quality, a small percentage of titles are really pushing the envelope in terms of DVD's capabilities - Doom-like 3D interactive menu screens and more. I have to say, however, that I'm having a REAL difficult time trying to imagine exactly what benefit the added clarity of DTS 5.1 surround sound would give an adult DVD. I mean, the only sounds on X-rated films are the cheesy music and the... well, we won't go there. You know what I'm talking about. I can hear the testimonials now - "Gosh... it almost sounds like they're right here in the room!"

Moving on, Laserviews has been updated, to list some more forthcoming DVD titles, including Very Bad Things, The Thief and several DVDs of Bonanza episodes.

Finally today, I have to say, I'm really impressed with the quality and quantity of DVDs being produced right now. I had expected there to be something of a drop-off in DVD production after the holidays, but if anything, it's actually increased - something which I find very encouraging. We've been looking at some great new DVDs here at The Bits this week, including Warner's terrific The Music Man, Artisan's new director's cut of The Last Emperor, MGM's awesome Ronin, and Universal's The Flintstones: Collector's Edition (OK, the movie ain't great, but the extras are cool). All are definitely worth a look. We'll be getting reviews of some of these new titles up soon, so stay tuned...

2/18/99

I've been getting a lot of e-mail from people asking if I can confirm rumors that have been appearing on the Net, regarding Buena Vista releasing some of its classic Disney animated films on DVD this year. The rumor originated from a brief article in Video Week, an industry trade newsletter, in which Buena Vista Home Entertainment president Michael Johnson was recently interviewed. The article is a bit confusing in its wording, but the headline boldly proclaims:

[DISNEY STRENGTHENS OPEN DVD BUT WON'T RULE OUT DIVX GOLD: Johnson says Mulan and 101 Dalmations will appear on open DVD this year but not before Divx Gold.]

The article itself speculates that the Disney animated classics will debut on open DVD by Christmas, but probably will first be released on unlimited-play (but still restricted) Divx Gold discs. You may recall that The Digital Bits, along with DVD File, attacked this story aggressively in January, when we first learned that the both Mulan and 101 Dalmatians had been made available to Divx for use as Divx Gold releases. The article in Video Week confirms this, but reiterates something that we discovered in the course of our investigation - no specific release dates had yet been decided upon for either Divx Gold or open DVD versions (although release schedules are now in development).

When asked by Video Week to comment on the possibility of the titles being available exclusively on Divx Gold, at least initially, Johnson had this to say: "Exclusivity is either by design or by happenstance, and we don't plan exclusivity by design. I'll let you figure out what that means." The article then speculates that he's referring to the fact that Disney's contract with Divx binds them to offer Divx titles, even when the studio isn't yet ready to offer then on open DVD (for whatever reason).

That said, I spoke this morning with Buena Vista Home Entertainment's director of public relations, who confirmed the basic statements made by Johnson in the article. Disney classic animated films WILL be finally released to DVD later this year. Specifically, Mulan and 101 Dalmatians appear to be the titles in question (although official confirmation on this is not as yet forthcoming). We at The Digital Bits will bring you more as on this as soon as we're able to learn it.

Yes, it's true - Polygram Filmed Entertainment has begun closing up shop (see press release), as new owner Seagram begins integrating the company's various divisions into Universal, a piece at a time (with home video expected to follow theatrical distribution). This comes just months after the company's library of films was sold off to MGM. How this will affect DVD is still a bit unclear, but look for Universal to likely handle DVD release of any films that are currently in production, while MGM gets around to releasing catalog titles later this year.

Finally today, I've received some valuable comments from the esteemed Jim Taylor (Microsoft's DVD Evangelist, and author of The Official DVD FAQ), regarding the newly-finalized DVD-Audio specification's compatability with existing DVD equipment:

"The bad news is that the DVD-Audio spec includes features that will not be compatible with existing players (DVD-ROM PCs should be upgradeable). This includes new copy protection, watermarking, MLP encoding (lossless packing), higher sampling rates, slideshow format, lyrics options, and a bunch of other stuff. Not to mention that all of this is stored in the AUDIO_TS directory, which DVD-Video players never even look at.

The other bad news is that even though the spec is official, the copy protection and watermarking schemes have not been finalized. This may be resolved quickly in a few months, but could easily drag on for more than a year (especially if the RIAA's SDMI monkey wrench gets in the works).

The good news is that while "universal players" will be needed to take advantage of all the DVD-Audio features, any DVD-Audio disc producer who cares about current player owners can make a "universal disc today." All it takes is to put a copy of the audio, encoded in Dolby Digital format, in the DVD video zone. The disc will then play on all the DVD-Video players and DVD-ROM PCs out there today."

Jim then elaborates further on the "universal disc" process:

"Pioneer (and others) have released DVD-Video discs that contain mostly audio in 96/24 format. These discs can be played on any of today's players, although many players will throw away 4 or 8 bits and every other sample (resulting in 48/16 playback). If you let a player with full 96/24 capability decode the PCM audio (as opposed to connecting it digitally to a receiver), then you'll get full quality. Unfortunately no player can pass 96/24 audio out the standard digital audio connections. When DVD-Audio discs are released that contain 96/24 audio (or even 192/24 audio), they won't play on existing players, even those with 96/24 capability, since the data is stored in the audio zone of the disc (the AUDIO_TS directory) that DVD-Video players never look at.

Soon there will be "universal players" that can do both DVD-Audio and DVD-Video. I believe that within a few years all DVD-Video players will become universal players. In the meantime, people who care about audio should ask the studios to make "universal discs." Anyone making a DVD-Audio disc can take a little extra time and a little extra disc space to add a Dolby Digital version of the audio in the video zone of the disc. This will allow the disc to work on every DVD player out there, including computers. The audio quality won't be quite the same as the full PCM track in the audio zone, but at least it will play. And many people can't tell the difference anyway (me included--I've listened to AB comparisons). I think it's very important for DVD player owners to understand that music studios can make universal DVD-Audio discs if they care enough. And it's important for player owners to make them care."

I couldn't agree more with Jim's comments. So if you were wondering, "How does DVD-Audio affect me?", there you have your answer in a nutshell. Many thanks to Jim for his comments, and for all his fine work in general.

More tomorrow...

2/17/99

We've got more new DVD title information for you today. I spoke with Columbia TriStar this morning, and learned that their Monty Python and the Holy Grail DVD has been delayed. Fear not - it's definitely coming, but some last minute legal issues must be resolved first. The studio is working on a special edition re-release of Taxi Driver (for release sometime in May), which will include a production featurette, featuring new interviews with Robert De Niro, director Martin Scorsese and others.

As reported here previously, all four of the Alien films have been confirmed for DVD release (by distributor preorder sheets) for June 1st. Each will carry an $29.98 SRP, and all will be available in an Alien Saga 4-pack for $109.98. Aliens will definitely be the longer version (reportedly Cameron's director cut). Look for Soul Food the same day, the excellent Waking Ned Devine on June 30th, and The Imposters on May 18th from the studio.

Image Entertainment is also bringing some great new titles to DVD in March. Look for lots of music and concert titles, including Janet Jackson: Velvet Rope Tour, Joni Mitchell: Painting with Words and Music, Ray Davies: Return to Waterloo and The Rolling Stones: Live at the Max (the IMAX film, THX-certified on DVD, and in 5.1 audio). March 23rd will see the DVD release of Sunday in the Park with George (which will include commentary by Steven Sondheim, James Lapine, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters). Also look for more Twilight Zone DVDs (Volumes 6, 7 & 8 to be specific) in mid March, along with a pair of silent classics - The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), and DW Griffith's America. Down the line, Image is working on a terrific DVD of last year's Amnesty International Concert (recorded in Paris on December 19th), which features performances by Peter Gabriel, Plant & Page, Alanis Morissette, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman and more. For you anime fans, be advised that Project A-KO has been delayed due to production issues, but is still in the works.

Finally, I'd like to thank my friend Peter Bracke of DVD File for the nice mentions on his site recently. Both he and I have grappled with the many technical and time difficulties of publishing our respective DVD sites. I, for one, never imagined how much work bringing The Bits to you every day would be. Between chasing down news, confirming street dates, doing feature interviews, travelling to the various DVD-related events, and attempting to get reviews of new and interesting titles done with some degree of regularity (the list goes on)... let's just say there's never a dull moment. Then when a gremlin decides to mess with your computer... well, you can imagine the kind of havoc that wreaks on our plans. I know Pete's working hard to complete his site re-design, and I'm busy preparing version 2.0 of The Bits as well (plus trying to get that Warren Lieberbarb CES article, that you've all been asking about, finally posted!).

I'm sure I speak for Peter, when I say that we both appreciate all the enthusiastic support and encouragement our readers have given us. And we definitely appreciate your patience, as we continue to grow and improve our sites. Many thanks!

More tomorrow...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/16/99 - 3:30 PM PST)

OK, here's what I've been wanting to tell you all weekend - I've updated The Rumor Mill this afternoon, with a look at some of Universal's DVD releases set for May and June. There are some good titles here, including Gods and Monsters, Patch Adams and Battlestar Galactica, so you'll definitely want to check it out.

More tomorrow...

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/16/99 - Midnight PST)

Well, I've had better weekends. Turned out, after having the cable line pressure adjusted this afternoon, there WAS a problem with the modem after all, so that had to be swapped. Then, we discovered that our network card was conflicting with the new modem, so I had to make a run to my local Fry's Electronics, which naturally meant standing in a line for nearly an hour. And, of course, getting everything working together smoothly again after the new card was installed took a few hours of tweaking and driver updating. It's almost enough to make me want to trade my PC for a Mac... almost. No slight against Macs intended - I've just always been one of those guys who likes to tinker under his computer's hood.

Anyway, we're finally connected to the Internet again, and everything seems to be running smoothly. I'm preparing another update for later today (that I had originally been planning to upload this weekend).

In the meantime, congratulations to the February Trivia Contest winner, Andrew Link! His entry was chosen out of 1,185 we received this month. Thanks to everyone who entered, and who gave Sarah feedback on our first crossword-style puzzle. Everyone seems to have really enjoyed it, so Sarah's preparing an even better one for next month. FYI, we'll be starting the next contest on March 1st, so stay tuned!

Laserviews has been updated again, with some new information on upcoming DVDs. Among the titles listed, are DreamWorks' ANTZ!, Star Trek V (yech!) and War of the Worlds (very cool) from Paramount, and the 1944 version of Henry V (starring Lawrence Oliver) from Criterion. DVD File has an interesting glimpse at another mediocre DVD bootleg, this time Jurassic Park. And I continue to see more of those Disney bootleg DVDs up for auction on Ebay. I would seriously caution you against bidding on them - they are definitely of substandard quality. Finally, I've received the weekly CEMA DVD player sales numbers: 14,746 sold into retail for the week ending 2/5 (both the data above and the full chart have been updated).

By the way, I hope all of you had a great Valentine's Day. And I hope all of you U.S. readers had President's Day off of work. Now then, I'm gonna take an hour to watch Sunday night's taped episode of The X-Files, crash for a few hours, then start kicking things up a few notches in terms of content here at The Bits (guess I've been watching too much Emeril Live on the Food Network... BAM!). And, once again, many thanks to all of you for your patience with our technical difficulties this weekend.

Stay tuned...

2/15/99

Ggrrrrr...! Don't you just hate it when your computer gadgets flutz up and throw a monkey wrench in your work? My cable modem problems are being resolved as we speak, and it looks like the culprit was... line pressure? Yes indeed, apparently the signal strength back to the Internet from my cable modem (on the actual cable line) is slightly too high. When the pressure going back to the Internet is too high, it interferes with the modem's ability to connect entirely. So one Cox Cable technician just visited to tell me that another technician will have to come back this afternoon, to lower the line pressure on the cable box outside the house. How do you like them apples?

The upshot of all this is that we'll be fully back on-line here at the Bits by tonight, so we'll make an update this evening. As part of the post, we'll be announcing the winner of the Trivia Contest. You've still got a few hours to get your entries in, however, so do it quickly if you haven't already.

Thanks for everyone's patience. Back later...

2/12/99

I seem to be having some trouble connecting to the Internet via my cable modem today. In fact, it took me more than an hour just to upload this brief update. I'm going to take some time to resolve our technical difficulties, and I'll post the content I had ready for today over the weekend instead. Thanks for your patience...

In the meantime, I know a lot of you have asked me about the Sony 7700, with regard to the layer switch problem some are describing. We've been talking with Sony today, and they're investigating now. We'll be working with them over the next week on this, and we'll let you know what's up as soon as possible.

One thing we do want to address today, is the issue regarding the 7700 not being able to output the "blacker-than-black" bar in the Pluge pattern, on the Video Essentials setup DVD. This invaluable DVD is designed to help you properly calibrate your display device, so that you are seeing the NTSC video signal output from your DVD player, as it is intended to look. The Pluge pattern on the disc is designed to make it easier to correctly adjust the brightness setting on your TV. Sony acknowledges that the 7700 does not reproduce the blacker than black signal, but they do not consider this a deficiency in the player (and neither do I). Sony's position is that neither the DVD spec, or the NTSC spec, includes a provision for any black signal below 7.5 (7.5 being considered "black"). And no DVD produced (other than Video Essentials) actually uses a black signal lower then 7.5 as part of the picture - 7.5 is the lower limit. So while the ability to reproduce blacker-than-black comes in handy to calibrate your TV, it will not be required at any other time while using your DVD player.

Furthermore, the Video Essentials DVD DOES provide another method of properly adjusting brightness, without using the blacker-than-black stripe. Using the same Pluge pattern, you simple bring the brightness down until the "above-black" stripe blends into the black background, then bring the brightness back up slowly until the "above-black" stripe just appears above the background. Stop at that point, and you're correctly set. These same instructions are included with the disc. So Sony considers this a non-issue, and I'd have to agree.

As for not including the 7000's feature of being able to adjust the black level OUTPUT of the player, this is really a redundant feature anyway. Black level should never be adjustable via the player - the video signal leaving the player should simply be correct, according to the NTSC and DVD specs. And Sony has worked extensively to ensure that the 7700's output video signal is spot-on accurate. Any adjustment of black level, color, etc... should all be make on the display device, not on the player itself. I hope this resolves both of these issues. Bottom line - the 7700 is a damn fine DVD player in my opinion.

We'll post more over the weekend, as soon as we're able to resolve our technical problems. Stay tuned and again, thanks for your patience.

2/11/99

All right, we've got a review of Digital Leisure's Dragon's Lair DVD (note that separate DVD-ROM and CD-ROM versions exist). I have to confess, I've had some fun with this disc... which explains how long it took to get the review finished! If you liked the original arcade game, you'll dig it.

Moving along, I spoke with Columbia TriStar's DVD head of production this morning. He's got some info he wanted me to pass on to all of you. Apparently, on their recent John Carpenter's Vampires DVD, the packaging states that a gallery of production photographs is included on the disc. Unfortunately, when they looked at the photos (during production) they weren't happy with their quality, and so opted to leave them off the final disc. However, they didn't catch the case artwork in time to delete the gallery from the feature listing. So know that they ARE aware of the error - be kind and cut them some slack. It was an honest mistake, and they're working very hard on lots of new titles. You will be happy to know that their Ghostbusters DVD, which is now in production, is coming along nicely. And I'm REALLY looking forward to having Monty Python & the Holy Grail on DVD on 3/16. Very cool.

Warner Bros just issued a press release detailing their March DVD offerings. Among the titles listed are: Soldier (street date 3/2), and Home Fries, The Outlaw Josey Wales, True Stories, Running on Empty, Fair Game, Burglar, and Joe's Apartment (all streeting 3/30). In addition, Laserviews has been updated to include a host of new DVD announcements from Universal, Columbia TriStar, and Fox.

Finally, I'd like to direct your attention to a couple of good review sources. The Pittsburgh Cinema Project has assembled an excellent Movie Review Query Engine (MRQE), which lists reviews of more than 15,000 films on the Internet. I proud to say that the Bits' DVD reviews are indexed there as well. Also DVD-Lasercritique has a nice library of laserdisc and DVD capsule reviews. Check them both out.

See you tomorrow!

2/10/99

Sorry for the late post. I was busy away from the office for a while today, chasing down some new DVD leads. But I've got that Dances With Wolves (DTS) review you've been waiting for. The review is a comparison to the original Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD, so you may want to check that out first if you haven't already.

By the way, it's being reported by the trades, that the DVD version of Armageddon was the second-highest entry (in its debut week) on VideoScan's chart of sales in ALL formats, VHS included. For the week ending January 16th, the DVD outsold all VHS titles monitored. Director Michael Bay has claimed the he shot the film with DVD in mind. Wonder how he'll feel when he learns that it isn't in anamorphic widescreen...?

FYI - we've also updated the VideoScan chart, for the week ending January 31st (see above). The Truman Show currently occupies the top spot.

That Dragon's Lair review I promised will be in tomorrow's post. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/9/99 - 5:30 PM PST)

I'll have my Dances (DTS) and Dragon's Lair review up by tomorrow morning, but we've posted 6 more capsule DVD reviews now. Todd gives you his opinion of Protocol, Sharky's Machine, My Giant, Frantic, Smokey and the Bandit, and Nowhere to Run.

Alas, no sooner do I mention the subject of those newly-nominated Best Picture films coming to DVD, than one of my sources informs me that work is well under way on at least one of them. Check the Rumor Mill for the latest.

See you in the morning!

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/9/99 - 8:30 AM PST)

Well folks, it's a big day in Hollywood today. The nominations for the 71st Academy Awards are in - the announcement was made early this morning, and you can read them at the official Oscar web site. The films vying for Best Picture this year, are: Elizabeth, Life Is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare In Love, and The Thin Red Line.

Saving Private Ryan will be released on video by DreamWorks, and if all goes well, should appear on DVD later this year. Elizabeth is a Polygram film, so we can be hopeful about a DVD release fairly soon. The Thin Red Line is a Fox film, so there's no telling when we might see it on DVD. And the other two films, Life Is Beautiful and Shakespeare in Love are from Miramax, so again, there's no telling...

Laserviews has announced some great new titles, and has confirmed that Paramount is returning to anamorphic enhancement for at least some of their DVDs. Among the other titles announced are Amistad, Beautiful Girls, Father of the Bride, A Bug's Life, and American History X.

At long last, the DVD Audio format specification has been finalized. You can read the full press release here. DVD Audio discs will hold up to seven times the content of current CD discs, making possible single disc anthologies of your favorite artists' music. Both stereo and multi-channel surround recordings can be included on the same disc. The spec also requires compatibility with DVD Video and DVD-ROM formats, although it's uncertain if this definitively means that future DVD Audio discs will work on current DVD Video players and DVD-ROM drives. Of course, for DVD Audio to succeed, it would be foolish to require new players, so I'm hopeful that compatibility will be full.

DVD File has an interesting story on a demonstration of using High-Definition Digital Video to source program material on, as an alternative to 35mm film. Many of you may recall that George Lucas has been considering this process for Star Wars Episodes 2 & 3. Be sure to check it out.

We'll be back later today with DVD reviews of Dances With Wolves (DTS), Dragon's Lair and more, so stay tuned...

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