Site created 12/15/97.
page created: 12/29/98
A Closer Look at a
weeks ago, a long-time Bits
reader in Australia e-mailed me to let me know something rather
surprising, but I suppose inevitable: he had seen a bootleg DVD copy
of Titanic for sale at a local
retailer. What's more, he had purchased a copy (for around $20
U.S.), and he sent me a high resolution scan of the case insert
to view the image). A number of things are obvious, after even a
quick examination of the cover artwork (and the features it lists).
There are glaring errors present in the text and disc specs, which
immediately identify the disc as pirated (read on for a list). But
before I drew too many conclusions, I needed to look at the disc
As many of you know, I've been working closely with the MPAA to
investigate pirated DVDs. This in mind, my contact in Australia was
able to obtain a copy of the disc itself, and I finally received it
yesterday morning. Much more will become known once the MPAA's
digital piracy forensic team has had a chance to put the disc
through its paces (in the next week or two). In the meantime, I did
some research of my own, and examined the disc carefully. What
follows are the details of my own findings and some tentative
A bootleg Titanic
DVD. Notice the high-quality, two color printing.
|Let's start with
the physical disc itself. Upon cursory inspection, it appears to be
of much higher quality than previous bootleg DVDs I've seen. For one
thing, the media used here looks much more like a legal DVD. It's
more silver in color, not the deep gold all the
bootlegs I've seen thus far have been (deep gold color being a
possible indication of DVD-R media). It also appears to be a
standard DVD-5 disc (single sided and single layered). Yes, you read
that correctly - the whole movie is contained one side of this one
disc (I'll get into that more in a moment). The face of the disc
bears very professional looking labeling. This is high-quality, two
color screen printing.
is very little in the way of manufacturing markings on the disc. The
inner boundary area of the disc (the shinny ring just inside the
clear, clamp area of the disc), bears only the disc's barcode, and
the characters "DVD-98-030". The printing on the face of
the disc names the film correctly as Titanic,
and the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment logo is present, along
with the DVD Video logo. Many people have questioned the presence of
the Fox logo, pointing out that Paramount was the distributor of the
film. That is only partially correct. Fox actually produced the
film, and invited Paramount to participate very late during the
film's production, to help defer the mounting costs. As part of the
deal, Paramount obtained U.S. domestic distribution rights (both
theatrical and home video). Fox, however, retains all international
distribution rights. So the presence of the Fox logo makes perfect
sense, seeing as the disc appears to have originated in outside the
In addition to the Fox and DVD logos, there are markings indicating
the disc's audio content. The Dolby Digital logo is present, as are
the markings "AC-3 5.1". There is also a Region symbol,
indicating that the disc is in NTSC format, and is compatible with
DVD players in all regions.
the following message also appears on the disc face: WARNING: ALL
RIGHTS RESERVED. FOR HOME USE ONLY. UNAUTHORIZED PUBLIC PERFORMANCE,
BROADCASTING OR COPYING IS A VIOLATION OF APPLICABLE LAWS. How like
digital pirates to copy the warnings - sort of an "in your face"
Now, here's where it starts to get interesting. At the very bottom
of the disc face, are the words: (c) 1998 Universal Home Video, Inc.
70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608. All Rights
Reserved. Made in Japan.
Huh? Universal? In fact, much of the layout of the labeling mirrors
Universal's standard face layout. I don't know about you, but I'm
pretty sure that Fox hasn't suddenly given Universal international
distribution rights to Titanic.
And although the disc says Made in Japan, given the dubious nature
of the disc itself, I doubt that is accurate.
Country of origin
or red herring?
it gets more and more silly, believe me. Back to the disc packaging.
The case the disc comes in is a high-quality variation of the keep
case which is widely used for DVD in Regions 2 and 4. The insert
to view a full, high-resolution scan) is printed on high-gloss,
high-quality paper, and uses the artwork we've seen on the VHS and
Laserdisc versions. This is no color photocopy, or cheap printing
job, although I did notice that the trimming of the insert was a bit
haphazard. Of greater importance, however, is the text on the
insert. Or rather, all of the errors contained therein.
Errors on the
the errors in the text (as compared to the VHS and Laserdisc
1. The word ultimately is spelled "ultiately".
2. The ship name R.M.S. Titanic is listed as "R.S. Titanic"
(R.M.S. stands for Royal Mail Steamer, or Royal Merchant Ship).
3. Bill Paxton's name is spelled "Aill Paxton".
4. Film Editor Richard A. Harris is listed as just "A. Harris".
5. Special Visual Effects is spelled "Special Visual Ejjects".
6. The doomed luxury liner collides with an "icederg", at
least according to this text.
disc features grid... with still more errors.
Oh, but there's more. The insert includes a disc features grid on
the packaging (another Universal-style feature that even pirates
have adopted - now if only we could get the rest of the studios to
do the same!). Among the features listed are English audio
(correct), Chinese subtitles (correct) and Color video (also
correct). But the rest are almost all inaccurate. The Dolby Digital
sound is listed as 5.0, although the disc does have true 5.1 audio
(including a subwoofer channel). The video is said to be in 1.85:1
anamorphic widescreen, but the film's theatrical aspect ration is
2.35:1. The actual video on the disc is 2.35.1 matted letterbox -
certainly not anamorphic widescreen. The disc is listed as
dual-layer, although it's really a DVD-5 single-layered disc.
Finally, the running time is listed as "3 Hours and 16 Minutes",
or 196 minutes. The film is really 194 minutes long, and the program
on the disc is, in fact, 194 minutes in length. Whew! Guess the
studios aren't the only ones who label discs wrong.
much for a close visual examination or the packaging. So how about
the contents of the disc? Upon putting the disc in the player, the
Dolby Digital Egypt trailer
appears, in pristine quality (which, as on some of the
bootlegs, appears to have been taken straight from the Delos
DVD Spectacular disc (just a
guess, but the quality is that good).
The Main menu screen looks surprisingly good, with two selectable
options specified in Chinese text.
Main menu on
first option (1) starts playing the movie, while the second (2)
takes you to a Chapter selection menu. The Chapter menu is also
surprisingly good looking. To begin with, it is fully animated. The
word "Chapter" burns into the screen, then an explosion
blasts another selection button onto the screen (which returns you
to the Main menu).
Top to bottom: a
shots showing the Chapter
animation is surprisingly elaborate. One last touch - all of the
chapter preview boxes are in full motion (you can see that they
change in the images at the left). But here's the funny thing - the
entire 194 minute film has only 6 chapter stops (for the record, the
Laserdisc has some 30 stops, over 4 disc sides).
Once you begin playing the film itself, you start to notice one
thing about the video quality. It's very, very bad. The program
starts with the 20th Century Fox logo animation (again appropriate,
given the circumstances). The actual film begins immediately, and
again, all 194 minutes seem to be present. So how could the pirates
have possibly squeezed all 194 minutes onto one side of one disc?
Well remember how bad I said the video was? A quick look at the bit
rate meter on my Pioneer DV-414, showed that the video bit rate
never went higher than 3.2 mbps, with the average being about 2.4.
The result was constant and nasty digital artifacting - the worst
I've ever seen on MPEG-2 encoded material. I mean, we're talking
MAJOR mega-blocks here - it's really not pretty.
MPEG-2 compression of a digital source for DVD, is done in several
passes - a baseline pass, followed by additional passes to tweak the
bit rate for difficult scenes (with lots of action, explosions,
etc...). It appears that this disc was mastered from a Laserdisc
version (hence the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio - perhaps the Japanese
release, which would also account for the Fox logo), but it was done
in one rough pass, at absolutely the minimum possible bit rate. THAT
is how they were able to squeeze a 194 minute film onto one side of
The video also suffers from all of the typical problems associated
with copying an analog source. The color is, at times, red-shifted
and prone to bleed, and is at other times very washed-out looking.
The video level is also sometimes overblown. All in all... yuck. I
would compare it to making a VHS copy of a laserdisc at the EP
speed, with tons of digital artifacts thrown in for good measure.
I've seen bad VHS copies of the Academy screener tapes that looked
Interestingly, the Chinese subtitles on the DVD are burned into the
video. They are not a function of the player, and cannot be turned
off. At least they are always in the black bars of the letterbox,
but they're annoying nonetheless.
By the way, I was able to determine that this disc was mastered
using a Laserdisc, because there is, in fact, a moment or two of
missing program. Side One of the first disc of Titanic
on Laserdisc, ends at 57:20, with a shot of the ship steaming off
into the sunset. When the picture goes black, the audio continues
for just a brief instant into the black. On this DVD, the program
has obviously been edited to remove the side change. The result is
that the audio is slightly (but audibly) clipped at the end of the
sunset shot. The same effect was noticed at two other places in the
program, exactly where the other side changes on my Laserdisc copy
A screen shot.
Note the Chinese subtitles that can't be turned off. I wish this
picture accurately conveyed just how awful the picture quality is.
|So how about the
audio? Well, coming straight from a Laserdisc source (containing
Dolby Digital 5.1), the audio is actually relatively good. It has
somewhat less clarity that the original, and the volume has been
increased, but it's still better than I expected. There are indeed a
full 5.1 channels, including a subwoofer channel, and all the
surrounds are quite active. Still, this is no high-quality DVD.
this disc has been produced and manufactured by some fairly well
trained individuals, with serious authoring and manufacturing
equipment at their disposal. The complexity of the authoring
(particularly given the animated Chapter menu) is surprisingly
complex for a pirated DVD. That said, the disc really looks like
crap. I mean this is some really, really bad MPEG-2 video
compression. What amazes me, is how these pirates really seem to put
some effort into some aspects of their work, but just really blow
others (like for example, simply spell-checking the text on the
insert). I suppose one has to consider the audience they're shooting
for - masses who could generally not care less about quality.
Again, I'm sure we'll learn more about those who produced this disc
after the MPAA's investigation. In the meantime, those of you would
run out to try to purchase this disc have been warned - you're
really much better off sticking with VHS or Laserdisc. Trust me -
this disc sucks. And with any luck, Paramount will get around to
announcing the official DVD version of Titanic
in the next two or three months (which we all know is in the works -
even Cameron has said so). So try to be patient.
But message to Paramount Home Video - I'd suggest you light a fire
under yourselves, folks. Get that legit Titanic
DVD out and PRONTO! Enough said.
LATE UPDATE (12/29/98 2 PM PST)
After posting this article this morning, I received an e-mail from a
knowledgable Bits reader in
Asia, who noted some interesting points:
Hi, after reading your write-up regarding this issue, maybe I
can contribute some hints from what I observed:
Quick look at the subtitles and the menu screen shows that the
pirate uses the complex Chinese characters. Only few countries use
this form of Chinese characters: Malaysia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Since the Chinese phrases are closer to Mandarin (as opposed to
Cantonese), we can rule out Hong Kong. Malaysians are not in good
financial status to invest in DVD authoring system (and LDs release
in Malaysia will most likely to have no Chinese subtitles).
Titanic VHS and LD are officially released in these countries. It
is not unusual for the local distributors to "localize"
the material (like adding subtitles) from either D2 or Digital
Betacam dubs they receive directly from US distributors (such as