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High Definition Coverage

Jan 29th, 2007
Our readers speak

I must begin by thanking everyone who wrote in response to my column asking your opinion concerning our high definition coverage.  I wish I could have answered all of you individually, but there were simply far too many responses.  I’m impressed with the intelligence and the communication skills of our readers.  Almost every message I received was well thought out and expressed well.  Admittedly there were a few flames, more often than not by a writer with a screen name that hid his or her identity.  This issue seems to have struck a nerve.

I thought it would be entertaining and instructive to comment on a few of the remarks emailed to me, but before I do, I’ll offer the broadest possible summary.  A whopping 74% of you seem to think that our coverage of HD is just right.  15% of you asked for more, expressing that they couldn’t get enough.  The dissenters are in the minority: 11% of the readers who responded.  There is overwhelming agreement with my suggestion that DVD has nowhere to go.  The hardware is very mature, and player costs are remarkably low.  There isn’t much more to say about the format except to report upcoming discs and review standard definition discs, both of which we have every intention of doing.  Let's get to a few emailed remarks.

I was gratified to read that many thought our coverage is “impartial.”  The reason I’m pleased is that some perceived that I was favoring one format over another, and that biased my reporting.  That is not my intent; I call ‘em as I see ‘em.  Some thought I was accepting bribes from Sony.  I’m not; all my high definition equipment - front and rear projectors, HD disc players - were purchased at retail.  I can’t help it if Sony scored a few home runs over the course of the last year or so.

I mentioned that there was general agreement concerning DVD having nowhere to go.  6% of the respondents used almost the same words when they wrote that I “. . . hit it on the head when you stated that standard DVD is pretty much status quo in terms of new developments.”

One reader took exception to my home theater rig; he wrote, “ . . . your equipment is not a good example of the typical person's home theater.  Therefore it's hard to discern some of the points you make given the fact you are describing imaging and sound on vastly superior equipment than the average person is going to own.”  This is not the first time I received such a comment.  First, I think it might be time to publish a little article on how we review discs and what we look for.  I’ll include the terms we like to use and define them in the context of what you might see and hear.  Second, and this is very important, if a disc looks and sounds good on an exceptional home theater rig, it will look and sound good on any home theater equipment, regardless of equipment quality.  And as each reader trades up slowly over time, he or she will be able to perceive the qualities and flaws that my system makes clear.  On the other hand, if I were to review discs on less capable equipment, I might miss a problem that you should know about.  For example, one reader used to take me to task for criticizing halos on specific titles.  He didn’t see them.  I responded with cropped and magnified screencaps of the flawed disc and an example of an exemplary disc for comparison.  He had to acknowledge that the flaw was there but simply not visible on his system.  But when and if he purchases a moderately large HD-ready display with high resolving power, those flaws will become all to obvious.

Several readers wrote that they came back to the site because of the high definition coverage, “ . . . the main reason I return to your site is to read up on your latest HD news coverage.”  I’m sorry to have lost them before, but I’m delighted they are back.  And I do recognize the risk of ignoring the feelings of those readers who feel we’re covering HD too much.  To them I will say again that we will continue to post disc news and reviews of SD DVDs for a long, long time.

Quite a few respondents (11%) suggested that we make a separate section for high definition coverage.  While I can’t rule that out, it would take a major site redesign, and we’re still amortizing the cost of the site redesign we executed less than two years ago.  So bear with us; that may take a while.

And while I’m on the subject of general site suggestions, one reader asked for updates more often.  I’d love to accommodate that request, but my corporate masters have authorized only three updates per week.  Sorry.

Another writer asked that we only “review titles that are new.”  That was balanced by another writer’s remark, “I also prefer that you post as many reviews as you are able to regardless of how long the title has been out.”  The fact is that the studios are constantly issuing new versions of existing titles.  And if we review the initial DVD release of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, wouldn’t we be remiss if we didn’t also review the extended version on DVD?  Similarly, when a film hits HD, the disc represents an even more significant improvement than the copious supplements found on a special edition DVD or a longer version found on a director’s cut DVD.  And if we didn’t cover back-catalog films on HD, we wouldn’t have many HD reviews to publish; the studios are issuing far, far more back-catalog titles than new.  As for my being somewhat late with some of my reviews, sometimes I have to wait for final product and avoid reviewing special screeners that are not the same as the version you can buy.  But the biggest reason for the delay is the screeners that piled up as I was waiting for the delayed Sony BD player.  I'll press ahead and try my best to get caught up.

Among the readers who are pleased or want more HD coverage, quite a few expressed the sentiment that “After seeing the visual feast that is HD DVD, regular DVD is dead to me now.”  Having become quite addicted to the pleasures of HD, I can fully appreciate the sentiment.  That's why we seem to proselytize; we want all of you to share in the enjoyment.

On the other hand, from some readers (4%) who are reluctant to jump in financially because of a format war in which they could become a victim of collateral damage, comes the sentiment, “I pay absolutely no attention to the HD disc reviews.  But . . . I am very interested in the format war.”

Among the HD enthusiasts were several comments along the lines of “As far as DVDs becoming outdated, people need to get over it.”  I would suggest to that writer that I fully appreciate the frustrations of this hobby.  Multiple editions of the same film, hardware advances that obsolete existing expensive displays, being forced to buy a new player or perhaps two . . . not only do the outlays never seem to stop, but we’re asked to buy the same content over and over again.  I experienced similar expressions of frustration from laserdisc owners in ’97.  And I bemoaned for many months my having to retire prematurely a perfectly good front projector (that was quite expensive).  So I feel the pain expressed by HD detractors.  But HD is not only here today, but it represents the future. 

I shudder to think of the expense of replacing my entire collection of DVDs with HD discs (only half of my extensive library are review screeners).  But I will suggest one more time that this may be the last time such an expense is necessary.  In a column of several months ago, I demonstrated how HD doesn’t approach our visual acuity, but it does approach the quality one can expect from distribution prints in a typical motion picture theater.  And “filming” in 1080p24 HD is becoming more popular.  So the motion picture theater experience and the HD experience are becoming virtually equivalent.  HD, with its improved visuals and sound, replicates the emotional impact of the motion picture theater experience.  And that was the goal all along.

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