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Site created 12/15/97.




page updated: 1/17/00



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 12/28/99 - 12/6/99)


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12/28/99

Well... the big DVD news today is on the legal side of things. It looks as if the long arm of Hollywood law has begun "raising its hammer" on those who were involved in creating and distributing the CSS encryption crack. According to CNN, the DVD Copyright Control Association yesterday filed a lawsuit against some 500 website administrators who have made the DeCSS software available on their sites. I've been hearing some off-the-record comments from industry insiders, and from what they're saying, when the hammer falls on this... it won't be pretty. We'll be following this story closely, so stay tuned.

So you wanna win come cool music DVDs? Frank's got a nifty little contest for you in his latest Frank's Notes column, giving you all a chance to take home one of 20 discs that we're giving away, thanks to our friends at Columbia Records. And you may just learn a thing or two about Frankie in the process - he's taken the time to tell you all a little bit about his background, and explain his perspective on music on DVD. I think you'll find it worth checking out. We want you all to get to know the newest member of the Bits staff... and a chance at free stuff is cool too, right? Be sure to let Frank know what you think!

We've updated the CEA numbers again, to reflect the 97,660 DVD players that sold to retailers in the week ending December 17th (see the full chart and the listing above for details). We also discovered an error (that we've since fixed) in our Criterion Collection article from yesterday. Specifically, we had a number of titles incorrectly listed in the Criterion DVD Checklist as out-of-print. For the record, there are currently only 5 Criterion DVDs that are no longer available: The 400 Blows, The Killer, Hard Boiled, This is Spinal Tap and Salo. Sorry for the confusion!

In other news around the Net today, CNN has a little roundup of good DVDs that they recommend to folks who have just gotten their first DVD players over the holidays. There's an interesting story over at Yahoo (from Variety) on how the success of DVD is met with mixed emotions in some places around Hollywood. The big worry is that, with DVD taking off so fast, the format may start cannibalizing VHS rentals, which have long been a lucrative proposition for the studios. They're used to getting $30-$70 a copy for rental cassettes, and they're currently only getting $12-$15 a disc with DVD. Does this mean VHS-like rental windows for DVD, with rental pricing for the first few months, followed by an adjustment to sell-through prices? Let's just say that while not everyone in town is moving that direction at the moment, sooner of later (and probably sooner) I wouldn't bet against it...

Finally today, if you follow showbiz news, you might be interested in this: word out of Hollywood is that actor/director Jodi Foster has opted out of doing the film version of Hannibal - the long-awaited sequel to Silence of the Lambs. After reading the Steve Zaillian-penned rewrite of the script, Anthony Hopkins had agreed to reprise his role as Lector, and Ridley Scott is signed on to direct. Foster will apparently direct Claire Danes in Flora Plum instead. So will the project continue? No one knows at this time, although word is that Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) is being considered to play the role of Clarice Starling in Foster's place. While I think Anderson could absolutely do the role justice, I'm not sure that I even want to see a sequel without Foster...

We'll be back with more tomorrow. See you then!

12/27/99

Welcome back, everyone! I trust the holiday was a good one for all of you who celebrate it? And I assume all of you are stockpiling Y2K supplies (what - you don't have an indefinite supply of Jello Pudding Cups yet!?)? I have to tell you, I've never been one to go out and celebrate much on New Year's Eve, and I think I'm gonna sit this one out. But we at the Bits will be watching the madness on TV, and it should be a pretty interesting night... ;-)

As promised, today we're very pleased to present a special feature article that we've been working on. Our own Todd Doogan recently had the chance to chat with Peter Becker, president of The Criterion Collection. I think you'll find what he has to say about laserdisc, DVD and the amazing work they do fascinating. Peter is also kind enough to give our readers a sneak peek at a few of the titles they have in the works for 2000. And we've even got a complete checklist of The Criterion Collection on DVD for you. So without further ado, we give you Inside the Criterion Collection!

Around the Net today, there are a couple of interesting things to check out. First of all, the Virginian-Pilot Online's Bill Kelley III has published his list of Top 10 DVDs of the Year. It's well worth checking out, and he's got lots of other DVD-related articles that you can sift through as well.

I suppose this was inevitable... there's a Star Wars DVD Waiting Page now online. Drop on by, take the polls, and make your opinion known. And there's a timer that lets you tick down the years...

And finally, don't miss Earl's Famous DVD Technology Exposition Web Page Extravaganza Supreme Deluxe. Don't even ask... just click on over there. I was laughing my you-know-what off in short order. And while you're there, be sure to order your pair of Earl's Special 16x9 Enhanced Cinemonscope Panerific Deluxe Anamorphic Widescreen Glasses...

We'll be back later with Frankie's contest, and tomorrow with more, so stay tuned!

12/23/99

Well, there's not a whole lot going on DVD-wise today. In December every year, Hollywood shuts down for the holidays, and this week there's barely a skeleton staff running the home office at most of the studios. There's no news to speak of this morning, with the exception of a couple of stories available around the Net. The first talks about the record sales figures for Dolby Digital, and the other is a Hollywood Reporter blurb on how DVD movies are flying off the shelves. The week ending December 19th saw over one million of the shinny little discs snapped up by consumers, and that's the first million-selling week for the format. Not too shabby...

We're gonna put up that contest from Frank on Monday. Since most of you will probably be occupied with visions of sugar plums for the next few days, it just makes sense to wait. Plus, I gotta give Frankie and Todd at least a couple of days off for Christmas. Hey - I ain't no Grinch! All three of us are married too, so you know... gotta spend time with our families. I mean, we love DVD... but we love our wives more. ;-)

In addition to the contest, we've got a pretty special interview that we're going to be posting on Monday. Todd and I have been working on this for a while, and we think you're really going enjoy it. Think of it as a late X-mas gift... ;-)

But before we go, we've got one last thing to do. Last December, we started what we expect will become a tradition here at the Bits, when we posted our very own on-line holiday card to our readers (remember the Divx Christmas tree ornaments?). Naturally, we couldn't resist cooking up another one this year. So enjoy a laugh on us Futurama-style... with the 1999 Digital Bits Holiday Card!

And please accept our warmest wishes for a happy and safe holiday! See you back here on Monday!

- Bill, Todd, Sarah and Frank

(LATE UPDATE - 12/22/99 - 6 PM PST)

Just wanted to chime in with a quick update to let you know that Kevin Smith's News Askew has gone back and forth today on the possible DVD release of Star Wars: Episode I. You'll find that in today's Rumor Mill.

Hey... I've got a lame-ass, blatant plea for help on something today. Anyone out there know where I can get new or used laserdisc copies of 1984 (the Orwell adaptation with John Hurt), Wings of Desire or the widescreen version of Once Upon a Time in the West? Yes, I did say laserdisc. See... you LD fans out there... I'm one of you, comrades. Anyway, if anyone out there can help me find these titles, drop me an e-mail. As Bugs might say, "Tanks!"

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/22/99 - 6 AM PST)

Surprise! Had to hit you guys with an early update for a change. Frank's thrown in his two cents today on another recent music DVD. This time 'round, it's The Ricky Martin Video Collection. And Frank will be back again tonight with a new Frank's Notes column and a special contest, sponsored by Columbia Music Video. We're giving away a whole slew of music DVDs, including titles from Savage Garden, Mariah Carey, Aerosmith and the Ricky Martin disc. We'll have 20 winners in all, so there will be lots of chances to win. Be sure to check back later to enter!

Yesterday's post was a late one, so in case you missed it, let me tell you that we covered some ground for KISS fans, with reviews of KISS: The Second Coming and Detroit Rock City. And you Star Wars fans might be interested in yesterday's update of the Rumor Mill...

Image Entertainment is back with another update of their DVD News page. Among the titles mentioned are Best Man, Buffalo 66, Out Of Africa: Special Edition and The Story of Us from Universal, and a number of other interesting upcoming releases from smaller distributors.

Finally this morning, we'd like to thank the folks at E! Online. Yesterday, they posted an online guide to DVD for their readers, and they saw fit to recommend The Digital Bits as one of their Five Best DVD Websites (along with our friends at DVD File, The Home Theater Forum, DVD Demystified and Robert's DVD Page). E! had some very nice things to say about us, and you can be sure that Todd, Frank, Sarah and I are honored by the mention. Many thanks!

We'll be back again later this evening, so stay tuned!

12/21/99

I wanna rock and roll all night... and party every day!

Well, the burdens of holiday errands might have made today's post a little late, but we've still got a one-two punch for you KISS fans today. First of all, we've got an early review of Image's KISS: The Second Coming, which streets on January 4th. And Todd's taken a look at New Line's Platinum Series DVD version of Detroit Rock City. One of these two discs is a KISS fan's dream come true... and the other is an interactive mess. You should just read the two reviews to know which is which. I could try to explain it here, but... well, it's just better to read the reviews.

One note on the DVD Todd and I consider to be an interactive mess -- I first looked at the disc a few weeks ago and was stunned by what I saw. Thinking I was nuts, I asked my wife to look at it was well, and she was equally bewildered. To be double sure we weren't half-cocked, I asked Todd to look at it without telling him what I thought... and sure enough, he had the same reaction (even more so). I wish the studios would realize, that the two most important things on a DVD are the quality of the movie's presentation (video and audio), and being able to navigate the disc easily and logically to access content. You can push all the envelopes you want with nifty interactive features, but if you can't find your way around a disc with ease, what's the point? There's nothing I hate more than having to sit through 5 minutes of crap before you can start watching the movie, or surfing a disc's content. And when a DVD has to explain to you how to find your way around its content, that's a big red flag in my book. Todd and I consider ourselves to be pretty savvy DVD users, so when a disc confuses US... well, that's pretty bad.

Anyway, check out those reviews and let us know what you think. We're curious to see what reactions the rest of you have on this one. In the meantime, we've also posted an interesting bit of information on Episode I from Video Store magazine in the Rumor Mill today, so do make sure to check that out as well.

We'll be back tomorrow with more. Frankie's got a new quick contest for all of you, and another music DVD review as well.

Stay tuned...!

(LATE UPDATE - 12/20/99 - 3:30 PM PST)

All right! We're back with a pair of great reviews. We've posted my thoughts on a great new Image DVD, Sheryl Crow: Rockin' the Globe Live, which features fantastic audio in both Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.1, as well as DTS 5.1. It's one of the best sounding concert discs I've reviewed so far - definitely worth a spin when it's released in January (street date 1/4). And Todd's given Columbia's cool new Easy Rider: 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD a look as well.

We've also posted our second and final Trivia Contest for December, and the 20th Century. Sarah's cooked up something called WHO IS IT? You goal is to unscramble the names of some 30 celebrities, and get the answers back in to us by 7 PM PST on Thursday, December 30th. One lucky winner will be drawn at random, and will win a brand-new Pioneer DV-525 DVD player, and three DVDs of their choice, thanks to the folks at Access DVD! It's a fun one, and it will definitely give you something to kill time with at the office - we know how boring it can get at work before X-mas! And it'll keep you entertained if you get an overdose of family during the break. Heck -- gather 'round the fire and get them all involved!

You should also be aware that the nominations for the 2000 Golden Globe Awards were announced this morning, and there are some real surprises. Take a look at the complete list of nominees for yourself, and you'll see what I mean. Should be an interesting awards season...

Finally today, Don May, Jr. from Synapse Films has made it known to us that he's working on a pair of great new DVD titles. The first title, A Better Place, will be released sometime in April, and will include a new digital widescreen high definition transfer (aspect ratio approx. 1.66:1), a newly-remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (mixed at the Skywalker Ranch), the director's cut featuring scenes not included in festival prints, an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, a filmed DVD introduction from producers Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier and more. You can see the disc's cover art here (look at the bottom). Don's also working on an uncut DVD version of The Brain That Wouldn't Die, featuring a new widescreen digital transfer (aspect ratio approx. 1.66:1), the uncut version of the film (featuring almost 20 minutes of additional footage), the original theatrical trailer and more. Look for that in April as well.

We'll be back tomorrow with more, including an in-depth review of Image's Kiss: The Second Coming and lots more. Stay tuned...!

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/20/99 - 3:30 AM PST)

Ah... yet another Manic Monday. So did everyone have a great weekend? Everyone get all of your holiday shopping done? Just 6 more days left until X-mas, folks!

This is just an early update so all of you can get your early morning Bits fix over coffee. We've updated the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section with LOTS of new scans. We've got new artwork for a number of titles we recently announced in our Rumor Mill, including The Exorcist III, The Goodbye Girl, Heaven's Gate, Hoosiers (re-release), Malcolm X, Meteor, Natural Born Killers, Stigmata, Stir of Echoes, Stargate SG-1 and a whole lot more. Do check it out.

We're very sad to have to report today that actor Desmond Llewelyn was killed in a car accident this weekend (see press release). He's better known to film fans as "Q", 007's indispensable gadget man in the James Bond films. Oddly enough, in the the most recent installment in the series, The World is Not Enough, Q himself introduces us to the man destined to replace him (played by John Cleese). While Cleese is a wonderful choice, Bond just will never be the same again without Llewelyn. Our hats off to him.

In other non-DVD related matters, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off yesterday on an emergency mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. I'm less than enthusiastic with my cable company, Cox Communications, which doesn't see the need to show Orange County, CA residents NASA TV on even one of their HUNDEREDS of channels (most of which are pay-per-useless). I swear, I'm this >< close to going DSS - I'm way sick of dealing with my local cable monopoly. Anyway (I digress), those of you who wish to follow the shuttle mission online, can do so at the excellent Space.com website, which will even give you live video feeds from the shuttle.

We'll be back later today with reviews and our new Trivia Contest, so stay tuned...!

12/17/99

There's some big DVD news today, so let's get right to it. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has just sent us their DVD player sales numbers for the second week of December - 123,605 players. And according to our calculations, that puts the DVD format over the magic number of 5 million players in the U.S. marketplace! Any way you slice it, that's an amazing statistic for a new format that's not quite 3 years old. Everyone run out this weekend and by a good disc to spin on your players to celebrate. We've updated the full chart and the listing above accordingly.

We've also got word that Richard Sharp will be replaced as CEO of Circuit City, effective June 2000. Sharp will remain on as chairman of the board. In the spirit of the season, I'm not going to comment further on this. I just thought it worth mentioning, particularly given the news of the day. ;-)

In other news around the Net today, MGI Software is partnering with DVD Express to enable users of MGI's SoftDVD MAX software to buy DVD movies through the Web (see the press release).

Finally today, we're rounding out our work for the week with an early review of Universal's forthcoming DVD edition of Mystery Men. I really enjoyed this disc, and I think you will too. It's definitely worth a look when it comes out (it streets on 1/11).

We'll be back Monday with reviews of a pair of very special upcoming music titles from Image Entertainment. And we'll have lots of other reviews next week from Todd, Frankie and I as well, along with all the usual news and juicy Rumor Mill updates you guys have come to love. Have a great weekend, and we'll see you then.

Stay tuned...

12/16/99

So when you turn 2... do you turn 2 on the anniversary, or the day after the anniversary? Sorry... bad Y2K joke (sound of groans). Thanks to everyone that's sent well wishes - much appreciated!

Today I'm pleased to give you a review of a film I think is pretty fun - Warner's Deep Blue Sea. Turns out it's a pretty nifty little DVD as well, with great production quality. Do check it out, 'cause I think this is a disc you might like.

Did you know that DVD Express has a European store? I wasn't aware of this, but it's true and they're selling lots of great Region 2 titles. If you're in Europe or Japan, or you've got an all-region player, this might be a good place to drop by. Thanks to Marloes for making me aware of this!

Our comrades over at Kevin Smith's News Askew have announced the tentative street date for Columbia TriStar's DVD edition of Dogma (April 11th, 2000). Slide on down the page for the news. They've got pricing as well ($24.99 SRP), but no word yet on features. I'm told by sources that they won't even start working on the disc until after Kevin Smith returns from the holidays, but expect the DVD to be loaded with LOTS of extra material - deleted scenes, commentary and the like.

Image Entertainment has updated their DVD News page again, with details on a bunch of titles, including Bats, Birdy, Born Yesterday, Grey Owl, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (yeah, baby!) and Random Hearts from Columbia, and Fight Club, Abyss: SE, ID4: SE and X-Files Season One from Fox. Do NOT make the mistake of thinking that because it doesn't say 16x9 in the listing, these Fox titles won't be anamorphic. Our sources tell us that only The Abyss is confirmed non-anamorphic, while Fight Club and ID4 will be 16x9.

Finally today, a couple of press releases. First of all, Image Entertainment is expanding their overseas distribution (see story via Yahoo). And Cahners (a market research firm) has announced some very rosy sales stats for DVD in living rooms, but some not-so-good stats for DVD-ROM thus far, although that's expected to change in 2000 (see press release).

Stay tuned...

12/15/99

My, how the years go by. Yes... we here at The Digital Bits are celebrating our 2nd anniversary today. And that's hard to believe. It seems like only yesterday that I started this web site over at Earthlink, using my personal 2 meg web space. Now, the Bits has grown to well over 20 meg in size, with tons of interviews, feature stories and reviews. We've got a staff of 4 people dedicated to bringing you the latest DVD news, and we've broken more stories and chased down more rumors than I can count. We aren't perfect by any means - some days we get the bear, and some days it gets us. But hopefully, we bring you something that helps you to appreciate this format we all love more fully.

There have been some funny moments for me over the last 2 years. I remember attending the Divx press conference at last year's CES show, and asking some pretty tough questions of Divx CEO Richard Sharp. You all know how critical I was of the format - believe me, they all knew who I was, and what to expect. Then a short time later, I found myself wandering around the exhibit hall with none other than Sharp, and Divx's Josh Dare and Paul Brinzie. We were all lost together, trying to find our way to the day's DVD Panel Discussion. It was a funny moment, making small talk with people who's work you despise. But they were good guys - go figure. Later that same day, I was invited to Warren Lieberfarb's closed-door spin session after the panel, and got to interact with him one-on-one. I was humbled to be told that he's a fan of this site. No doubt he liked my anti-Divx rants best. ;-)

That's actually been one of the most interesting things that I've experienced over the last two years - learning that many of the people I admire in this business (directors, actors, DVD producers, studio people and the like) read the Bits themselves. It's an honor for me, and a surprise that I never quite get over. I want to take a moment to thank all of them for their kind words and their support of this site.

I've encountered some great people because of what I do here every day, not the least of which are my fellow webmasters at other good DVD sites - people like Peter Bracke, Steve Tannehill, Jeff McNeal, Guido Henkel and Ron Epstein, to name just a few. These are people who I believe, our different perspectives aside, are all united in support of the DVD format. We might not get to chat as often as I'd like, but I feel lucky to work alongside them. Thanks guys.

I also want to thank my wife Sarah, and my friends Todd and Frank - the staff of the Bits (without whom this site wouldn't be possible) - for their contributions, encouragement, hard work and support. You guys are the best. Period. My heartfelt thanks also to Todd's wife Erin, and Frank's wife Jill, for tolerating all the time the two of them spend working on the Bits! There's nothing more boring than having to listen to us talk DVD all day long... ;-)

But most of all, I want to thank all of you... the readers. You've been unwavering in your support of our efforts from Day One. We've gotten to know some of you, and meet some of you, and we hear from lots of you every day. You give us your feedback, tell us your own stories and experiences, and stick by us through thick and thin. And we've tried to bring your concerns to the attention of the studios and manufacturers. To all of you, whoever you are and whereever you may be... thank you. Thank you for helping to make possible 2 of the greatest and most interesting years of our lives. And here's to many more.

Okay, that's all I wanted to say. To help celebrate our anniversary, I've just posted a milestone for us - our 300th DVD review. My thoughts on Paramount's new U2: Rattle and Hum disc are now available for your reading pleasure.

And this day wouldn't be complete without hearing from some of the rest of the Bits staff. Todd and Frank wanted to each say a few words of their own...

Frank Ortiz

This is Frankie here. Since I was a reader of the Bits long before I became a contributor, I thought I'd share a thought or two. I actually found the site by word of mouth, and I really enjoyed it from the start. With all the information I learned in these pages, it became so easy for me to make that first jump into DVD. I'm sure many of you experienced the same thing.

I think the first review I read was Air Force One, and I thought -- these guys aren't too shabby. And their fights against Divx were the source of a lot of laughs for me. What really cracked me up was one of Bill's rants about Divx, where he talked about going into a Circuit City store, and almost getting into a fight with the sales kid. The poor young buck clearly didn't know beans about what he was working so hard to sell to people. Later on, the Bits began fighting for more discs with Enhanced Widescreen, and that means something to me.

Bill, Sarah and Todd have clearly grown with the format, the industry and the times. It's a real treat for me to be part of this fun team. Thanks to all of you who have e-mailed me to welcome me aboard. I'm looking forward to bringing you my thoughts on DVD-Audio, music DVDs and lots more in the future!

- Frank

Todd Doogan

Two years. Man... that's a long time to be doing this. The Bits went from a little e-mail netzine all the way to a digital information monster. Every day it seems like I bump into someone new, who lets me know how much they enjoy what The Digital Bits offers. I share that appreciation, because before I wrote for the Bits, I was a fan of the site. I considered it to be the best site about DVD, because I could tell that Bill really loves what this format has to offer and wants all of you to enjoy it as much as he does. I joined Bill on his quest, because I felt I had that same love for DVD as he does. We've learned a lot over the past 2 years -- as well as picked up a few fellow travelers along the way.

I've been trying to think of some of the more memorable things that have happened since I started here. But I can't pinpoint anything like that, because it's all special to me. I can say that I've gained a lot from working with the Bits. The one most important thing I've gained, is an insight into exactly what we all do this for. Studios think DVD is all about profit margins and filmmakers think it's all about art. Journalists like myself think we do this for ourselves. But all of us, studios, filmmakers and journalists alike, are wrong. We do it for you - the readers, the watchers and the collectors. DVD is a world that I'm quite proud to be involved in, and every day I take steps to become even more involved, always hoping to bring something out of my experiences that all of you can share in.

To put it in a different, more abstract way, working on The Digital Bits has given me a new understanding of one of my favorite poems by T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I can now say that I have direct connection to a section in that poem, because I feel it defines what we critics, journalists and goofy Internet reviewers do:

"No! I am not Prince Hamlet, not was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous -
Almost, at times, the Fool."

If the reader is king... then Bill, Frank, Sarah and I serve you. You may not always agree with what we do or how we do it, but we're doing it... and doing it for anyone that's willing to read us. Over the last year and a half that I have been involved with the Bits, I've made many friends, e-mail pals and even an enemy or two. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I've dedicated myself to DVD, and I hope to give even more of myself to it. The third year of The Digital Bits looks incredibly bright, and I hope that all of you will join us as we move into it. There's a great big world of DVD information out there, and if you're willing to journey into it with us, we're glad to navigate. Thanks to all of you for two incredibly successful years.

- Doogan

This is Bill again. Thanks guys - well said all. Well... on this, our 2nd anniversary, how better to close that the usual? Stay tuned...!

(LATE UPDATE - 12/14/99 - 3:45 PM PST)

Wow... two Rumor Mill updates in one day! We've got more information for you on some possible pricing changes for Disney DVDs, along with a rundown of the studio's release plans through April. You'll definitely want to check this out...

We've also got Todd's review of Image's new DVD release of Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan). Mario Bava strikes again, and Image makes it anamorphic widescreen to boot!

We've updated our CEA numbers again, to include the reported 150,778 DVD players that shipped in the first week of December. That takes us right up to the brink of 5 million players in the U.S. marketplace, at 4,928,274. Both the full chart and the listing above have been updated accordingly.

And according to Nimbus, as of 12/8, the number of DVD titles released in Region 1 has just cracked 5,000 (at 5,010 to be exact). The company is predicting an additional 3,400 new titles will be released next year as well. DVD has definitely arrived.

In other news around the Net, the folks over at Anchor Bay are giving YOU the chance to decide what titles they'll release on DVD, from the catalog of films they own the video rights to. There are a TON of titles on the list, and you have until Friday (December 17th) to select 5 that you'd like to see on DVD. E-mail your choices to: votes@anchorbayentertainment.com. We here at the Bits think that this is a really nice thing for a studio to do for its fans - give them a voice, and a chance to provide input. We wish some of the bigger studios in Hollywood would do the same once in a while.

It looks like DVD-Audio will be coming out on schedule from at least one manufacturer after all. Pioneer has apparently decided to launch DVD-Audio/DVD-Video players late this month in Japan as originally planned. As you may know, concerns over copy protection in light of the DeCSS hack had caused most of the DVD Forum members to delay their DVD-Audio products until next summer. But Pioneer has decided to push ahead anyway, as the new encryption scheme in development is at least 6 months away. They'll be releasing 2 DVD players that play both Audio and Video discs (one of which - a high-end player - will even be able to play Super Audio CD discs). The manufacturer reportedly plans to offer free upgrades once the new copy-protection scheme has been implemented. Click here to read this story as told by CNN, and here to get the EETimes.com's take on the subject.

Finally today, comes word that Video Business magazine has chosen DVD Express as their Online Retailer of the Year (see press release). Congrats guys!

We'll be back with more tomorrow, so stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/14/99 - 11:45 AM PST)

We'll have more stuff to post later today, but I wanted to get up that Rumor Mill update that I mentioned yesterday. It's got everything to with director Luc Besson's films coming to DVD next year, and there's some Rhino DVD news thrown in for good measure. Don't miss it!

Back later with more...

(LATE UPDATE - 12/13/99 - 8 PM PST)

We've announced the winner of the first of our Trivia Contests for December. Congratulations to Joan Garten of Yucaipa, California. She correctly guessed all of the "mystery DVDs", and was drawn as the winner (you can click here to see what the discs all were). Thanks to all 444 people who entered this first contest. The second contest of the month will start very soon, and will give one lucky winner the chance to win a Pioneer DV-525 DVD player, and three more DVDs of their choice.

We've got a very exciting update of The Rumor Mill planned for tomorrow. We'll give you some long-awaited news on a few DVDs titles that people have been asking us about for a while (no, not Star Wars or Indy... don't want to get you TOO stirred up!). In any case, I think a lot of you will pretty happy when you hear what's coming for early 2000. We'll get the post up as early as we can.

Finally today, those of you who can't wait for news about a DVD version of The Green Mile can already get some insights into the disc at the film's official website. If you click on the "Video" section, you'll be given the option to watch clips from a documentary called Walking the Green Mile, which was shot by Constantine Z. Nasr/Zelt Productions. The site says that the complete documentary will appear on the DVD. Can't wait! Thanks for the tip, John!

See you back here tomorrow...

(LATE UPDATE - 12/13/99 - 1 PM PST)

Hope everybody had a good weekend! To start with, today is the last day for our first Trivia Contest for December. The contest closes at 5 PM PST, so you still have time to get those last-minute entries in!

It's another slow news day, but we have made a couple of site updates today. First of all, CEA has informed us that their DVD player sales numbers for the last week of November were incorrect. They've issued a correction, so we've updated our CEA DVD Player sales page accordingly (including the numbers above). Basically, their sales numbers for the week went down a little after being corrected.

Our official mirror copy of Jim Taylor's DVD FAQ has been updated to the latest version, which was finished yesterday. If you haven't read the FAQ yet, and you're new to DVD, you'll find it an invaluable source of information. I've had more than one reader say that it helped answer some of their questions about the format and how it works. Just give it time to load in your browser, 'cause it's a good 300K file.

Image Entertainment has updated their DVD News page again, and they've got titles mentioned from Artisan, Columbia TriStar, Warner and more, including Chill Factor: Special Edition, Short #7: Utopia, The Absence of Good and Blue Streak.

Macrovision has announced that it's signed a long-term deal with Disney/Buena Vista to copy protect the studio's films on VHS and DVD through 2004. And Panasonic and Kodak have teamed up to jointly manufacture DVD & CD media, and to find new uses for the formats.

We'll be back later to announce the Trivia Contest winner, so stay tuned...

12/11/99

We've just made a quick update in The Rumor Mill today, regarding the possibility of the Indiana Jones Trilogy coming to DVD in early 2000. Hope you're all having a great weekend!

12/10/99

Thanks to everyone who's e-mailed me regarding the subject of anamorphic widescreen on DVD. Based on the tone of your e-mails, you seem to overwhelmingly agree with my sentiments. I can't possibly get back to everyone, but I've been reading them all, so thanks for taking the time to write.

One correction to yesterday's comments: I've been told that only Seasons 4 and 5 of Friends is on DVD at the moment in Europe, but that Seasons 1-3 are coming early next year. No doubt the folks who make a living off of the syndication of such programs here in the States would object to our seeing them on DVD in Region 1. Still, with X-Files and Star Trek episodes coming out on DVD, you'd think there would be a market for this stuff here - especially if the discs had 8 episodes each (which they NEVER would if released here, by the way - it would be 3 or 4 episodes a disc at best).

Anyway... I've got a quick The Rumor Mill update that will make you ID4 fans really happy - you don't want to miss it. Think 16x9...

Frank's given another music DVD a spin, so we've got his review up for you. This time it's Alice in Chains: MTV Unplugged. More reviews from Todd and I are on the way, so stay tuned.

In news around the Net, Yahoo has a Retuers story on how "cheaper, better DVDs" are topping holiday wish lists this year. An Amazon.com representative is quoted as saying, "A lot of studios have been taken by surprise at how popular DVD is." Go figure. There's an interesting press release on Henninger Productions' Top Gun Academy: The Real Story DVD, which traces the history of air warfare. Unapix has announced the global distribution of their Ultimate DVD Collection. And DVD Express says that Wild Wild West is their number one seller at the moment - yikes.

Columbia TriStar has announced that they will be releasing a DVD version of American Movie in the summer of 2000, and if you log on to the film's website (http://www.americanmovie.com) you can vote for the artwork that will appear on the VHS and DVD. You're given 3 choices, and you can vote until December 23rd. Also, the studio has announced their Random Hearts and The Suburbans DVDs, which will be released on February 29th (both for an SRP of $24.95). Random Hearts will include audio commentary by Sydney Pollack, deleted scenes, and Dave Grusin's isolated score. The Suburbans will be mostly extra-less (but don't hold that against it).

Finally today, I wanted to tell you about something my wife and I picked up the other day (non-DVD related). We happened to be in the Discovery Channel store, and I saw this 3D Kids Camera and Viewer for sale. It claimed to take good stereoscopic pictures using normal 35mm film and processing. We figured it would be fun if it worked, and man - is it ever! We've been taking pictures of our cats and just about anything that would look good in 3D, and it's a blast. The pictures end up looking like this...

Sample 3D picture

...and then you slip them in this special viewer that lets you see the 3D effect. Actually, if you look at the picture above, and cross your eyes just right, you can even see the 3D effect without the glasses - it takes a little practice, but it does work. It's surprisingly good, and it's just a load of fun. If you're looking for a unique gift for someone, this is definitely a good one (just FYI). By the way, that's little Winnie you see in the pix - she's become quite the expert DVD reviewer over the last couple of years.

We'll be back with lots more on Monday, so have a great weekend, and we'll see you then!

(LATE UPDATE - 12/9/99 - 3:15 PM PST)

I've gotten literally dozens of e-mails agreeing with my anamorphic rant from earlier, but there have been a few who still aren't sure what the term means. If you fall into that category, you might want to read The Big Squeeze: The ABCs of Anamorphic DVD, an editorial I did about a year ago on the subject. I've added an update to the end of the text with the latest information about studio support for the anamorphic feature. Some of you tech-types out there might find it a bit of an over-simplification, but for the Average Joe, it should help to sort out the confusion.

Now then... I'm gonna save those reviews I mentioned yesterday for tomorrow, so that I can get the rest of the goodies that have come to my attention in the last 24 hours up. And I think you'll be glad I did. First of all, we've once again updated the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section, with artwork for The X-Files: Season One Gift Pack, Fight Club, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, The Winslow Boy, Extreme Measures and a few new Buena Vista titles (check page 7 for the new scans).

And speaking of X-Files, Fight Club and Butch Cassidy, we've posted another sneak peek at the Fox sell sheets for these three upcoming DVD titles. Let me make this point however: the specs and features you see listed are subject to change. And the fact that the sheet says nothing about anamorphic widescreen doesn't necessarily mean that the discs won't be so enhanced. Keep in mind that these titles are officially unannounced, so let's wait and see what Fox says when the time comes.

One more note about those X-Files episode DVDs... if you got to the show's official website, they have this to say today:

"Fox Home Entertainment is releasing the entire first season of "The X-Files" on DVD in May, 2000. The 7-disc box set will feature deleted scenes, as well as interviews with Chris Carter, Dean Haglund, and the numerous writers and directors. There are already plans to release the next six seasons."

Very cool. And finally today, I've gotten word that Warner has released the entire first five seasons of the hit NBC TV show Friends on DVD in Region 2 (in parts of Europe to be specific). Each disc includes 8 episodes each (on 2 sides). Don't believe me? Here's a couple of cover scans (thanks, Chris):

Friends Season 5, Volume 1Friends Season 5, Volume 2

Gee... sure wish we'd get stuff like this on DVD here in Region 1. This is just another thing that's pissed me off today - when studios release completely different DVD titles (or different versions of the same titles) in different regions. I'm not ashamed to admit that I own a code-free player (a Pioneer DV-414, thanks to DVD City). And if this keeps up, I intend to use it a lot more. Did you know that the Japanese version of The English Patient is 16x9? Or that Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (aka Der Himmel über Berlin) is available on DVD in Japan? If anyone out there knows of good places to order these titles online, please let me know.

See you tomorrow (and I'll be in a better mood too)! ;-)

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/9/99 - 1 PM PST)

All right, I'm just going to have to go off again on this whole anamorphic widescreen issue, cause it's starting to piss me off. Why is it that some studios seem to be dragging their feet in releasing more titles in anamorphic widescreen? For example, I've already heard from more than 100 readers who are wondering about the forthcoming The Abyss and Independence Day special edition DVDs - are they 16x9 or not? Well, it's too early to tell from a trade sell sheet. Both discs will likely be lauded for their use of seamless branching. And Fox will no doubt tote The Abyss as the studio's "first DVD-ROM release" (they actually have, by the way).

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: I don't give a flying %@#& about DVD-ROM features on a DVD. In fact, while I love extras in general, none of them will make up for substandard video and audio. And a DVD that doesn't offer an anamorphic widescreen presentation of a widescreen film is at least in part substandard in my opinion. And I am by no means alone in that opinion. You studio types out there need to listen up here.

The argument I hear all the time from you is this: "Well, most people don't have widescreen TVs yet, so they don't care. So why spent the money to do a new anamorphic transfer?" Okay, by that rationale, why include Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on your DVDs either? I mean, most people don't have audio systems equipped to handle it - they're listening to Dolby Pro Logic at best. So why give it to them? Because you would never think to cheat consumers out of the improved audio that DVD can provide. SO WHY DO YOU CHEAT THEM ON THE VIDEO SIDE?

And why is it that THX continues to allow their stamp of approval to be placed upon DVDs of widescreen films that don't include the anamorphic feature? I understand that it still means that the transfer has been carefully done, under exacting conditions, and using only equipment that meets THX's high standards. But 8 times out of 10, those standards were meant for LASERDISC. And DVD sets the bar just a little higher than that folks. THX is starting to mean very little to me as a DVD consumer. And that's something I've heard echoed by a lot of home theater buffs. I hear this comment time and again from frustrated readers: "I did NOT buy a DVD player just so they can feed me the same old laserdisc transfers again!"

Let me give you a frustrating example I like to site - the X-Files movie (which bears the THX stamp). I recently picked up an anamorphic display, on the Panasonic DVD-L50 portable player. Since I go out of town often on site business, I thought it would be a good idea, right? So I pop in The X-Files: Fight the Future, and lo and behold, the menu screens explode onto my screen in full anamorphic widescreen. I'm thinkin', "Cool!" And then when I go to play the movie, the picture shrinks back down, and I'm stuck with a non-anamorphic movie that fills like half my screen. What the @#&%? Why isn't the movie in 16x9? I feel like I got cheated. I feel like I wasted $30. I don't care that THX is on the package - it means crap to me, because I am NOT getting the best possible video presentation here. Now, sure... you can say that the L50 isn't exactly a reference quality screen (and you'd be right). But imagine this problem blown up 20 times on a 50" widescreen HDTV? Ouch!

The bottom line is that all else being equal, the picture with the most lines wins. PERIOD. That's a line I first heard from Fred Manteghian, in his The Back Page column for Stereophile Guide to Home Theater magazine. I hope he doesn't mind that I'm using it here, 'cause it's the truest thing that's ever been said about DVD, and I think I'm gonna have it tattooed on my forehead. Anamorphic widescreen gives you 33% more vertical resolution on a widescreen set - that's a hard fact. And as newer players have been released, all those problems with "Oh - but what about the artifacts on a 4x3 TV?" have gone (or are going) away. So what's the deal?

There was a time when I thought, "Well... if we just wait long enough, till more people buy widescreen TVs, this problem will just go away." I'm not so convinced of that anymore. Get this - the following is the text of a letter that HBO has been sending out to all their subscribers who are interested in high definition HBO broadcasting (thanks for sending this to me, Ben). Keep in mind, that these are people who ALREADY HAVE purchased widescreen HDTV sets:

"Thank you for your email regarding letterboxing on HBO's HDTV feed. Based on our experience in bringing Hollywood films to TV, we have found that the majority of our subscribers strongly dislike the black bars associated with letterboxing and prefer to watch movies that completely fill their TV screens.

While this consumer preference is well established for standard TV sets (i.e., those with a 4x3 aspect ratio), we believe it will hold true for viewers purchasing wide format sets (i.e., with a 16x9 aspect ratio). Letterboxing on many wide format TVs results in a smaller picture than consumers prefer since these sets often have less vertical picture height than the 4x3 set they replace. This is at odds with the expectation most viewers have that a wider screen format will eliminate the need for the letterboxing they occasionally experienced with standard sets. In short, letterboxing on wide screens makes the black bars even more objectionable than on standard sets, which we know most TV viewers dislike.

As you know, this is not a new debate. When the industry committee creating digital television standards established 16x9 as the standard aspect ratio, some cinematographers disagreed. Nonetheless, the FCC decided to adopt the 16x9 format as the standard for digital television in the U.S.

Regrettably, we realize that not everyone agrees on letterboxing. We believe, however, that our decision will please the majority of the people who watch HBO. Again, thanks for your feedback. We hope you will continue to enjoy HBO HDTV."


Huh? People who buy widescreen TVs aren't going to want to watch TV in WIDESCREEN?! Does this not make you want to pull your hair out? What the hell is going on here?

In any case, you should know that we WILL NOT let this issue drop. The Digital Bits has championed the benefits of anamorphic widescreen since day one, and we will continue to do so. And I can tell you that other web sites on the Net will do the same. Peter Bracke of DVD File and I had a discussion about this very issue just last night. To that end, a few months ago I created a pair of logos that we use here at the Bits to help inform people when a disc we review uses the anamorphic widescreen feature. And I hereby give permission for any website editor or DVD reviewer (professional or not, paid or not) to use these two logos (or variation thereof) in their publications for free. Just take them, and use them well.

Anamorphic logoAnamorphic logo

It's time that we get more aggressive about this issue, and start working harder to educate consumers. We all successfully fought Divx together, so we can work on this problem too. Widescreen is the future of television folks, like it or not. It's a shame that some in Hollywood are so forward-thinking, while others have to be dragged kicking and screaming into that future.

I invite THX, HBO and the Hollywood studios to send in their comments and perspectives on this issue. We'll be more than happy to open a dialogue about anamorphic widescreen, and we'll gladly include your thoughts here on the Bits. Send them to this e-mail address: billhunt@thedigitalbits.com

By the way, Pete's posted an anamorphic poll for you DVD fans with regular 4x3 TVs (which includes most of you, I know). I encourage you all to head on over to this link at DVD File and make your opinions known. I don't think the results will surprise anyone (except maybe a few of you Hollywood studio-types).

Stay tuned...

12/8/99

So you want to know all about what's coming to DVD in 2000? And you're dying for a new Rumor Mill fix? Well, let's kill two birds with one stone today shall we? We've just posted a big update of The Rumor Mill, which includes tons of new information. We've got DVD titles for March and April - titles like Spaceballs, Hook, Honeymoon in Vegas, Star Trek III, In the Mouth of Madness, and lots more. We've got details on Fox's The Abyss: Special Edition, Independence Day: Special Edition, The X-Files: Season One Gift Pack, and even the latest on Fight Club. We've got tentative street dates for some big titles like American Beauty and Eyes Wide Shut. And we also have new word on discs upcoming for later in the first half of 2000, like The Messenger, Dogma, The Princess Bride: Special Edition and Braveheart. Whew! This is one Rumor Mill update that you definitely don't want to miss!

And we've also got a very special sneek preview of The Abyss and ID4 - a look at the advance sell sheet for the two discs, listing the features to be included. It's a good 300K file, so give it time to load. Click here, or on the images below to see it.

The Abyss: Special EditionIndependence Day: Special Edition

We've also added a few new scans to the Upcoming DVD Cover Art section. Look on page 7 for the additions, which include Independence Day, Farewell My Concubine, Cinema Paradiso and Birdy.

In DVD news around the Internet, Yahoo has word that NUON has delivered its custom chips to Samsung, for use in DVD players slated for release in the spring. NUON adds tremendous interactivity to the DVD experience, for use in gaming, movie watching, and even listening to music CDs. We'll have more on this soon. And we're pleased to see that the San Francisco Chronicle is encouraging their readers to make the jump to DVD. We say it's about time! ;-)

So enjoy the update, and we'll see you back here tomorrow with more reviews. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 12/7/99 - 3:15 PM PST)

As promised, we've just posted Frank Ortiz' look at a cool recent disc - Columbia TriStar's SLC Punk. Frank's been around music for a long time (he was even in a band himself once, you know), so he's got a unique perspective on the punk rock scene. I think you'll enjoy it.

We've also started the first Trivia Contest for December. The first contest will run for a week (there will be another later in the month), and will give one lucky winner a chance to take home any three DVDs of their choice (of up to $39.95 each), thanks to contest sponsor Access DVD. Sarah's cooked up another Name that DVD contest this time around, so it should be fun. Get your entries in!

We'll be back tomorrow with a big Rumor Mill update, so stay tuned...!

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/7/99 - 4 AM PST)

How's about an early update for a change, huh? We've got a pair of interesting reviews for you this morning, of a pair of... interesting DVDs. First of all, I've given Warner's Wild Wild West a good look over. And Todd's weighed in with his take on Synapse's Deadbeat at Dawn: Collector's Edition. We've also got another review from our own Frank Ortiz in the works for later today, along with the start of the December Trivia Contest.

In other news, Columbia TriStar has sent us word that they'll be releasing BATS on February 22nd. The DVD (which will carry an SRP of $24.95) is expected to include a featurette, commentary with director Louis Morneau and star Lou Diamond Phillips, a gallery of conceptual art, a special effects gallery, the film's isolated music score, "batty" bloopers, storyboard and special effects comparisons, THX EX enhanced audio commentary (that's gotta be a typo - I would assume it's the film's soundtrack that will feature EX), and more.

We'll be back again later, so stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 12/6/99 - 3:30 PM PST)

Okay, we've got those reviews for you! I've posted my thoughts on a pair of solid "no-frills" discs, starting with a look at Warner's new Before Sunrise. The film stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and it comes as a wonderful surprise on DVD. I've also given Paramount's recent Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home DVD a spin, and think you'll find it worth a watch. Both discs impressed me with excellent anamorphic widescreen video quality - they definitely look better than I expected.

Frank, Todd and I will all be back tomorrow with more new reviews, so stay tuned!

(EARLY UPDATE - 12/6/99 - 12:30 PM PST)

So good weekend everybody? Ours was more than a little hectic - I'm actually making this update away from the office on my laptop, for reasons which are WAY to strange to get into now. Suffice it to say that I've just had one of the weirdest weekends ever - go figure.

Anyway, I hope you all had a good one. I'm editing a couple of DVD reviews at the moment, and should have them up by mid-afternoon: Before Sunrise and Star Trek IV. Laptop work is always a bit slower, so I just wanted to jump in early to say hello and let you all know what was up.

There appears to be some big business happening over at DVD Express, and I'm not just talking about strong disc sales. According to Yahoo (see story), they're merging with a company called Maximum Holdings, which creates video game portal sites on the Internet. And in other news, Image Entertainment has again updated their DVD News page, to include a slew of their own exclusive titles, as well as titles from a host of independents.

We'll be back soon with more, so stay tuned!

Thanks for your patience as we get some much needed upgrading done around the site. We'll be back with more as soon as possible, so stay tuned!

Here's what we've done so far: the background has been changed, to be a much smaller graphics file (thus loading faster!), and we've changed the button bar on the left somewhat. Specifically, we've reordered the buttons from top to bottom, to reflect what people are looking for most of the time. We've also added a button that takes you to our Trivia Contest page, and we've done away with the Studio & DVD News button. In fact, we've done away with that whole section of the site. The reason for this, is that all of the DVD news we post here at the Bits, tends to go into one of two sections. Official information is posted in this column on a daily basis, and unofficial (specifically yet-to-be-announced) information always goes in the Rumor Mill. We hadn't updated the studio pages in months, and having so many pages to update every time news came in was really putting a damper on the amount of stuff we could post every day. Plus, we were having a few people e-mail us and say, "Why haven't you updated your website in months?" Which would cause us to scratch our heads, and think, "Huh?" So now, when you go to one of the old studio pages, you get a page redirecting you here. We've also made some changes to the Review section, condensing some of the alphabetized listings, and adding a page for special Series-style reviews, like our recent Bond coverage.

We're planning other site upgrades as well, such as a search engine to access our old articles and all of our reviews more easily. Don't expect them anytime in particular - we're going to just add and change and tinker with things now and again until we're happy. And then we'll call it 2.0! But the result should be a faster-loading, easier to use Bits, and one that should be easier for us to maintain, letting us concentrate on doing more reviews and feature stories. Also, I think we've decided to avoid going to frames here on the site - it's just too much of a pain in the you know what, and lots of people still have trouble with them anyway.

Yesterday, we talked about the possible release of Disney's Tarzan on DVD next year. Word from a loyal Bits reader, is that the new Winnie the Pooh holiday video includes a trailer for Tarzan, and says, "Coming to video and DVD February 1, 2000."

One last thing today - you may want to check out our fellow IGN affiliate The Force.net, which did a great editorial about the lack of Star Wars on DVD yesterday. The editorial was prompted by our recent revelation of bootleg Episode I DVDs appearing here and there. They also find it inconceivable that Lucas wishes to wait until after Episode III is done before releasing the series on DVD. Demand for the DVDs is high, and people will fill it any way they can - even buying bootleg discs. The bootleg disc has even appeared on Ebay - figures.

Well, have a good evening, and we'll see you back here tomorrow! Stay tuned...


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