Just wanted to share my experience renting the DVDs to John Woo's excellent Red Cliff bilogy. It is also a good opportunity to make known the importance of anamorphic DVDs.
Back to Red Cliff: The movies are not really sequels, but two parts of an entire storyline. The movies were shown separately in the cinemas, and were also released in two separate DVDs.
Red Cliff was a big hit in Asia, so it was a surprised to discover how poorly conceived one of the DVDs were.
The subject in scrutiny is DVD Part I, which was not an anamorphic transfer, meaning that the the video was recorded as a 4:3 fullscreen video (a near perfect square, like what you see on free TV). This isn't an issue if the video was cropped to fit a fullscreen TV, but they used the widescreen format (a rectangle, like in the cinemas) and "squeezed" it into fullscreen. This means that on a classic, square TV, you will see the two black bars on the top and bottom of the screen instead of a video that fills the entire screen. Not much problem there. But on a widescreen TV, the picture looks overstretched width-wise. Worse, the black bars eats up screen and data space, reducing the picture quality of the actual video presentation. If you are not familiar with anamorphic transfers, there's a bit of a technical explanation to it, but essentially it's a recording technique that efficiently retains video quality of movies shot in widescreen format on DVDs. Most good original DVDs would indicate whether it's an anamorphic transfer at the back of their covers. Red Cliff Part I DVD is not anamorphic, thus the video quality is glaringly low on a hi-definition LCD.
Red Cliff Part 2 DVD is anamorphic, though, and the picture fits my LCD correctly. Picture quality is a lot better than Part I DVD, but then I noticed that the video seemed to have fine, horizontal "black stripes". I was about to blame the DVD again, until I read this article about video interlacing and progressive scan. Nevertheless, the video quality is still not to my satisfaction when compared to other original DVDs I owned.
Bottom line: Don't buy Red Cliff Part I DVD (unless they release an anamorphic version), but Part II is ok, though you may see some interlacing issues if your player or TV isn't "progressive". Chim... The Red Cliff Blu-Rays are a better bet, but no comments on those until I finally get them.
All the Red Cliff discs in Singapore are currently distributed by Scorpio East.
BRIEF MOVIE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CASUAL MOVIEGOERS
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
To me, there's no topic drier than a technical one (although the Tech Freak might disagree), but if you're planning to set up a home theatre system, there is really no escape from it. You might have heard about this whole high-definition (HD for short) craze that's going on, with people hoarding bargain-priced HD televisions (HDTV for short) at tech fairs as much as they do with rice (well, maybe just in Singapore). Then, there was this format "war" going on between the two HD formats, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. HD who, you say? To many people, they probably thought that Blu-Ray just burst into the scene recently and were oblivious to whatever "war" that was going on. Probably nobody cared too, because some of us are still transitioning from VCDs to DVDs! (Note: DVDs only came into prominence here in the first half of this decade.)
Of course, to fully utilise the prowess of your HDTV, you need to watch something in HD, and that thing could be either a HD channel from free TV or cable, or from a Blu-Ray disc. I don't doubt the awesomeness of watching movies in glorious HD (e.g. the Blu-Ray's resolution is six times better than a DVD's!), but it's still too early to jump on the bandwagon. For one thing, the Blu-Ray library is currently very limited, so a lot of your favourite movies might not be available in this format for years to come. Furthermore, Blu-Ray disc prices are around the range of S$50, compared to Region 3 DVDs, often priced between S$20-S$30. A Blu-Ray player costs around S$600.
Unless you have deep pockets, it's better to adopt a wait-and-see approach. Prices would naturally drop once the Blu-Ray market widens in the next few months, and it's not like the DVD is immensely inferior to Blu-Ray. If you didn't know, there are Blu-Ray and HD-DVD players that can "upscale" your DVDs, or artificially process the video from your DVDs into near-HD video quality, so, don't sell away your precious DVD collection just yet. The best time to start is either in 2009 or 2010. By then, legal movie downloads might have already become the norm, who knows?
Personally, I think the jump to HD is largely unnecessary. Unless you want to examine every pock mark on your favourite celebrity's cheek, the video quality on DVDs are already sufficient. The only time your eyes need the relief of HD video is when you're gaming. Us gamers are all too familiar with the eye-watering blurry graphics of past-gen systems, but the recent crop of HD-supported consoles have significantly lessen the visual strain, and probably improved gamers' endurance for marathon gaming sessions (to the chagrin of some parents, no doubt.)
Note: I never mentioned about Blu-Ray's audio quality because I'm the kind of person who can't tell the difference between 5.1 and DTS except that one is louder than the other. Thus, the prospect of having 7.1 surround sound in my movies isn't exactly something earth-shattering to me. You might want to ask or check out an audiophile's website for more info on this.