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Site created 12/15/97.




page updated: 2/3/99



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 1/19/99 - 12/29/98)


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1/19/99

Remember back when I first started ranting about Divx, I told you all that if the Divx model worked, you'd start seeing lots of pay-per-use media appear? How about pay-per-listen music? Wired has a new story up on a new type of encrypted MP3 player, that will give the content provider control over how many times you can listen to, or copy music. You'll get to pay for extra listens or copies, of course...

After my rant on Criterion yesterday, a number of readers sent me the explanation Criterion had posted on their site (and later removed) as to why Armageddon would not be anamorphic. So here it is, in full:

Criterion did thoroughly investigate the possibility of a 16X9 transfer for Armageddon. However, the film's distributor, Buena Vista, does not support the format; hence, there is no 16X9 transfer available.

Buena Vista is not the only studio that doesn't support 16X9. The reasoning behind this decision is that the conversion that a DVD player does from 16X9 to 4:3 is not consistent for each player. Therefore, it's impossible to maintain whether the quality would always be acceptable.

We share this concern, which is why we have yet to do a 16X9 transfer for any of our DVD releases. Additionally, and more troubling to us, is the fact that there are a lot of folks new to DVD who might have difficulty figuring out how to tell their player to "unsqueeze" the picture to 4X3. Sometimes the command to do this is buried deep inside a player's machine menus. Our research has shown us that even intelligent folks who are diehard film fans can be completely mystified on this point. The thought of our releases being watched "squeezed" truly frightens us.

We have not unilaterally ruled out doing a 16X9 transfer for one of our discs; believe me, the topic is debated on a daily (and sometimes heated) basis in the Criterion office. I, Jon Mulvaney, also hear from the owners of 16X9 monitors daily and we all know you to represent some of our most high end customers. Contrary to what some have written, of course we understand that, on a properly set up system with a savvy viewer, an anamorphically transfer is definitely enhanced on a 16X9 monitor. Please understand our position, and that we have many concerns that we must take into consideration.

Finally, all those who have sworn off Criterion discs because of the above policy, please remember that many of our films were shot Academy ratio, aka "flat", 1.33:1, or roughly the same size as a regular tv screen. Many other releases are 1.66:1 (we include the aspect ratio info on our packaging). Although it has been suggested, anamorphic transfers for either are definitely inappropriate. We hope you won't pass up some of the treasures of cinema on the basis of their aspect ratio.


Now, I have a great deal of respect for Criterion, and what they've done for laserdisc, the home theater experience, and film in general. To be sure, Criterion's 1.33:1 and 1.66:1 releases have always been outstanding (as I mentioned yesterday, their Seven Samurai DVD is not to be missed). So I do hope that they will take the initiative here, and begin pushing the highest quality possible from the DVD format, as they have always done with laserdisc, by using DVD's anamorphic feature for every widescreen release (as allowed by content providers). And I do hope they choose to voice their position in greater detail in the pages of The Digital Bits.

As our readers know, we at the Bits are often critical of the studios' DVD work, whenever we believe it to be lacking in quality and/or effort. But wherever great work is being done, we're the first to praise it. At the Bits, we don't simply report on DVD issues - we're enthusiastic advocates of the format. Our goal is not to simply criticize, but rather to encourage, so that all of you benefit - so that the highest quality becomes the standard, not the exception, for DVD. Whether the studios like it or not, DVD has raised the bar for the home video industry. Now it's time for them to make the jump. And you can be sure the Bits will light a fire underneath them until they do.

As we mentioned yesterday, we're working on new content which will be posted later today, and over the coming days. In the meantime, I've been getting a lot of e-mail from people who have questions about DVD's anamorphic widescreen feature, and its benefits. I'd like to refer you to an editorial I did last year on this subject: The Big Squeeze: The ABCs of Anamorphic DVD. Those of you who are technically knowledgable in the area of DVD, will find it somewhat of an over-simplification of the topic. But my goal was to make the subject easier to understand for the average reader, and a large number of readers have told me they found it helpful. For a more technical explanation, see the Bits' newly-updated mirror copy of Jim Taylor's Official DVD FAQ (see section 3.5). Just be patient. It takes a while to load, but we believe it's the single best reference work you'll find on DVD, bar none. So don't miss it.

Stay tuned...

1/18/99

Sorry for the lack of updates this weekend, but I'm working hard on some more good posts for you for tomorrow. And, to be honest, after the Vikings let their Superbowl chances slip away, my brain needed a day to reset itself from the Captain Kirk-induced feedback loop...

27-30. Ouch. That's gonna sting FOR-EV-ER. It's not like they didn't have about 20 chances to ice the win. I mean, when your quarterback has that glazed-over look in his eyes, and your kicker (who hasn't missed in over two years) misses a 38 yard field goal, you know the train's about to derail. Oh well. Normally, at this time of year, life-long Vikings fans recite that time-honored phrase, "There's always next year..." I, for one, have to simply put it all out of my mind and move on. I think I lose about a year of life every time I think about it.

No more sports talk - on to DVD! First of all, Laserviews posted some new announcements on Thursday, that you won't want to miss. Among the titles mentioned are What Dreams May Come, Devil In A Blue Dress, Coming To America and Escape From Alcatraz.

All right, now that that's done, I'm gonna go off on a major rant here. Criterion recently announced the specs of their forthcoming Armageddon DVD, and lo and behold - it's not in anamorphic widescreen. They did have some reasons for this listed on their web site, but those appear to have been quietly removed since (if anyone has the text of their statement, let me know and I'll post it here). What they did say, was that neither they, nor Buena Vista (and some other studios), had done an anamorphic widescreen DVD, over two major concerns. The first, was a feeling that some DVD players are not as good at doing the down-conversion to letterbox for 4x3 TVs (which they feel reduces quality). The second, was a concern that many consumers don't know how to setup their DVD players properly.

I find both of these arguments to be patently absurd. Let's start with the player issue. Yes, some players are better than others at anamorphic down-conversion for 4x3 displays. But virtually all of the new 2nd and 3rd generation players in the market have perfected this process. And, having seen the result of the down-conversion process from most of the 1st generation players, I can tell you that the picture quality is still generally excellent - still nicely improved over VHS and laserdisc. Ask yourself, what is worse: worrying about a few errant scan lines now, or releasing titles that will anger consumers in 3 to 5 years, when they see how badly some of their DVDs look on their new digital TVs? And trust me, they will be pissed...

Let's talk about the second argument - that people can't figure out how to setup their players. Isn't it something of a mistake to underestimate the intelligence of your market? Let me tell you something - I have to give Divx a LOT of credit. Because as much as I dislike what Divx has done with regard to DVD, Divx never underestimates their audience. They know their system takes a little thinking to figure out, so they do their best to explain it. And people do get it (even if they think it's a silly concept). What's worse (and what some of the studios should find shameful, in my opinion) is that Divx actually listens to what DVD consumers are asking for. Why do you think their "Q pack" disc packaging uses the Universal style features grid? I, for the life of me, can't figure out why EVERY studio doesn't adopt it for DVD.

Criterion's audience has long been serious film buffs - folks who have lots of spending power, and a serious technical bent with regard to home theater. I'm pretty confident those folks can setup their DVD players properly. So why does Criterion insist on underestimating their intelligence? Let's face it, just about every studio with a serious commitment to the DVD format, has released special edition titles that approach the quality of the work Criterion has done on laserdisc. And nearly all of them are in anamorphic widescreen. For Criterion not to have adopted one of DVD's most important features, some two years into the life of the format, is absolutely astonishing. It almost begs the question: Has Criterion become irrelevant in the world of DVD? Unless they get their act together quickly, I'd have to answer yes to that question. And I say that as a longtime fan of Criterion laserdiscs (I also loved their recent Seven Samurai DVD, although the non-anamorphic High and Low stuck in my craw).

Bottom line - if you expect a consumer to pay $50+ for yet another version of a film on DVD (particularly when the original DVD release is less than six months old), then YOU MUST PROVIDE THE HIGHEST ADDED-VALUE QUALITY POSSIBLE. Why should someone who owns Armageddon on DVD now, buy the new Criterion DVD, when it's not in anamorphic widescreen? Why should someone who owns a terrific $100 laserdisc special edition of any film, replace it with a $50 DVD that fails to include the most significant quality improvement feature DVD provides over laserdisc? Why should the only anamorphic widescreen version of Armageddon be available on Divx!? Doesn't that bother anyone?! What the hell is wrong with that picture?!

Look, I can understand Buena Vista's hesitation. They are, after all, the dinosaur of the home video industry (think Brontosaurus, with a pair of tiny walnut-sized brains, and you'll get the right idea). We wouldn't want the Mouse to pull a muscle trying to figure out what they ought to be doing with their DVDs. And to be fair, they ARE pretty busy these days, recalling all those VHS copies of The Rescuers with 2 frames of "adult material". So I expect this from Buena Vista. But Criterion's lack of support for anamorphic widescreen is unconscionable. Get with the program, folks.

I invite both Criterion and Buena Vista to respond to this issue.

More tomorrow.

1/15/99

OK, just to show you how hard I've been working on all of the CES coverage, I left a spelling error from my 1/13 post up. Apparently, someone named Toady has been working on the Bits behind my back... ;-) To be honest, I was so wiped out when I made that post, that I didn't even notice the error. Thanks to the reader who pointed it out.

Alas, I thought I'd close out the week with a bang. You will find lots of new material in today's update. First of all, my CES coverage is nearly complete. I have added my full interview with Divx president Paul Brindze, as well as an up close look at the Thomson / Divx HD-Divx demonstration. There's definitely some things you'll want to read in each, so absolutely don't miss them. All that remains now, are the highlights of the roundtable discussion with Warren Lieberfarb, and my closing thoughts and comments, both of which will be posted over the weekend (I thought I'd give Lieberfarb, whom I'm pleased to say I've learned reads the Bits regularly, the last word).

I'd love to know what you all think of our CES coverage - we've been working so hard on it, that it's tough to gauge reaction. My hope is that it helps put things in much better perspective, and gives you a better insight into the goings-on there. If you dig it, let us know, and spread the word.

You will also notice today, that I've updated the CEMA numbers to reflect the last week of 1998 - 35,445 players sold, making the grand total for the year a whopping 1,079,261 DVD players that entered the retail market. The VideoScan Top 10 Selling DVD information (above) has also been updated, and I've got a new tidbit in today's Rumor Mill post as well. I've even archived the Rumor Mill, and my daily columns (see the link at the bottom of this page) as well, to make load times faster.

I finally delivered that Titanic bootleg DVD to the MPAA on Wednesday, and also had the chance to visit with the DVD folks at DreamWorks. I've got to say again, how impressed I've been with their initial DVD releases. I was given the chance to see some of the menu screens that will appear on their upcoming Paulie DVD, and they're just a blast. The parrot heckles you non-stop, as he waits for you to select from the disc's options, and it's very funny. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - it's the little touches like these that make good DVDs great. Thanks again to DreamWorks for the sneak peek.

Finally, I have several reviews in the works, including some of the DreamWorks discs, and a couple of those initial DTS DVDs, so I'll get them up as soon as possible. You get the idea we've been a little busy here at the Bits lately?

All right, now everybody go out and have yourselves a great weekend!

1/13/99

Toady's update will be a quick one, so I can get as much of the rest of the CES coverage finished as possible. The Picture Gallery is up now. There are shots of prototype DVD-RW, and progressive scan players, as well as the HD-Divx player, and more. The interview with Divx's Paul Brindze is almost done as well - that should be up tonight. And I'm cruising on the rest.

Around the Net today, Andy Patrizio's filed another good DVD related story over at TechWeb. And Criterion has finally announced their DVD version of Armageddon (it doesn't appear that it will be anamorphic).

Finally, there's an interesting new bit of information in the Rumor Mill today, so stay tuned...

1/12/99

Wow, that DVD Panel Discussion was a bear to transcribe... but it's done! You can now read the full transcript, by going to our main CES '99 page. The rest of the articles should be easier to finish now, and faster - it was the two big transcripts that took a long time. But the Panel Discussion was very interesting, so you won't want to miss a read of it - lots of interesting issues discussed, some lively debate, several very funny moments, and more. And some very good debate on the heart of the DVD versus Divx issue. I think this will really help put all of those press releases into perspective.

Well, I've been transcribing for about 14 hours now. Ouch. I'm gonna get some rest, then finish most of the rest of our CES reports tomorrow. Then it's back to usual business here at the Bits. Next on the agenda is to post some comparative reviews of 3 or 4 new DTS DVD titles that I've gotten my hands on.

So be sure to stay tuned....

1/10/99

OK, bear with us here, but we're beginning to post our in-depth pieces on CES '99. We're working non-stop to get everything up as quickly as possible. You'll be able to access all the stories by going to our special CES '99 main page. We'll have 7 pieces altogether, including transcripts, interviews, a picture gallery and more. The first piece is up now, which is a full transcript of the Divx press conference, hosted by Richard Sharp himself, where they announced their player sales numbers.

As I said, we're working hard to get everything up as soon as possible, so keep checking back. More soon....

1/9/99

Congratulations to Robert Schmaltz of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He correctly answered all of our questions, and was selected at random as the winner of our monthly Trivia Contest. You can read the answers on the Contest page. Many thanks to all 1,253 of you who entered. And for those who didn't win, don't despair - the contest will be starting again soon, and we'll be giving away another new DVD player. So be sure to check back soon.

We're back from CES as you may have guessed, and we're wiped out. My plan is to get about 8 hours of sleep, then get up, have some coffee, and start writing. I'll post each item as I finish it, so check back throughout the weekend for the whole scoop on CES.

I did have the chance to meet with Divx this afternoon, as I mentioned yesterday morning. I was able to conduct a one-on-one interview with Divx president Paul Brindze. And I asked some tough questions. I will be posting the text of the interview as soon as possible. I was also able to see their HD demonstration up close.

Having read some frantic e-mail from people, who suddenly fear that HD-DVD (the Divx flavor) is about to obsolete the DVD format, I want to make one thing COMPLETELY clear: HD-DVD does not even exist as a DVD Forum approved format yet. There is no spec for HD-DVD - period. HD-DVD is a VERY LONG ways off yet. I'm talking several years at the very least. Everyone I spoke with at the show (from DVD people, to player manufacturers) was clear about this. This was a publicity stunt - a technology demonstration for the press. All Divx and Thomson did was to demonstrate that it is possible to protect an HD signal using Divx encryption, and do the decoding in real time. The video signal was encoded onto a standard DVD disc, and was only about 10 minutes in length (there are no disc storage or compression breakthroughs here). This is not the introduction of any kind of new format. Keep in mind, I first saw HDTV demoed more than a decade ago, and only now are we beginning to see it commercially available. Such demonstrations are nothing new - they merely prove technical capability. So calm yourselves folks.

Anyway, I'll have lots more on this over the weekend, so stay tuned.

1/8/99

I'd forgotten just how exhausting these shows can be, particularly when you have to scramble from meeting to meeting, and interview to interview all day long. I still haven't had time to hit the show floor, to see any of the exhibits (which I'll do today).

I'm sure all of the announcements from yesterday are available on the Internet, and I'm sure the reaction has been intense (I haven't had the time to check any of the boards myself). I do want to point out something which I hope you are all aware of - all of these Divx press releases (and most corporate announcements in general) are designed to put a favorable spin on things. They never provide the context you need to reasonably evaluate them. This is what I am doing at the show - I'm digging deep to give you all the context. When you have a chance to read my full report later this weekend, I think you'll see that Divx's claim of 87,000 players sold to consumers is a highly dubious one. My feeling is that they are trying to put a bright face on a bleak situation, in an effort to get the financial investor they so desperately need to stay alive. As for the Divx HD-DVD dog and pony show - the general consensus here is that it was nothing more than a publicity stunt, and I have to agree.

Yesterday, I attended the Divx press conference (and was able to ask a question, the lack of an answer to which I think you'll find telling), the DVD panel discussion (highly entertaining), a small, closed-door roundtable discussion with Warren Lieberfarb (extremely interesting!) and other WHV execs., and the DVD Video Group's party at the Bellagio, to celebrate the wonderful success of DVD in 1998. I also had the privilege of meeting both Richard Sharp and Lieberfarb first hand. Today, I'm going to a number of small meetings, checking out some of the activity on the show floor, and a one-on-one meeting with Divx officials, where I hope to conduct an interview and ask some specific questions. I'll also be seeing their "HD" demonstration first hand.

Tonight, we'll be back in L.A. late, so as soon as we return, we'll choose the contest winner and post it (look for it very early tomorrow morning - sometime after midnight). I'll also be posting my initial report on the events of the show. Then, over the course of the weekend, and early next week, I'll be posting full transcripts of the Divx press conference, the DVD panel, and my interview with Divx. I think you'll come to the exact conclusion that I have, when you've had a chance to evaluate the context of the week's announcements - Divx is inconsequential at this point. Whether or not Divx continues or disappears, DVD is a smashing success, and is definitely here to stay.

See you back here, early tomorrow morning....

1/7/99

As I sit here in my hotel room on the eve of the show, I thought I'd weigh in with a quick update. I'm sure you've all read Disney CEO Michael Eisner's comments about DVD in his annual letter to stockholders (see the full text here). The relevant passage is as follows:

"Another development that may or may not have an impact on our animation business is the digital video disk. I say "may not'' because, over time, it may simply replace videotape. Therefore, I will restrain my enthusiasm for the potential of this new format, which of course is difficult for me. In 1998, we began releasing our films onto DVD. We are hopeful that, in the coming decade, this technology will grow to the point where we can profitably release more of our animated library titles in this format."

Hhmmm... didn't I just mention something about Disney's less-than-stellar commitment to DVD yesterday? I sure wish I could be excited about the prospects on this front, but if 1.3 million DVD players and 6.5 million DVD-ROM drives (shipped into retail by the end of 1998) isn't enough to get the Mouse excited about DVD thus far, I'm not hopeful for any movement on this front in 1999. Make no mistake about it - if Disney wanted to make some serious bank in DVD, all they would have to do is gear up their hype machine and release one single decent animated title to the format. Don't tell me their marketing people aren't up to the challenge - they wrote the book on this stuff. The bottom line is that Disney just doesn't want to get fully behind DVD yet - they'd much prefer to release lots of titles to Divx instead, and drag their feet as long as possible, just as they once did with laserdisc. All we can do is make sure Buena Vista knows exactly how we all feel on this issue, so keep those e-mails, letters and phone calls to the studio coming (use the contact information in our Surf the Links section here).

In other news, Best Buy has announced record DVD sales for the holiday season. Image Entertainment is reporting a significant increase in their DVD sales as well. And DVD Express has announced that they are the first on-line retailer to sell 1 million pieces of DVD software. Even the L.A.Times is trumpeting the fast acceptance of DVD, in a recent article. It seems everyone can see the writing on the wall, except Disney....

Finally today, I was talking with some industry folks during press registration here at the show, and they had lots more good suggestions to add to that list of flicks we'd love to see on DVD. Call them guilty pleasures, but how about Repo Man, Night Hawks, Strange Brew, Stop Making Sense, Breaking Away, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and a special edition DVD of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with interactive instructions on all the stuff you're supposed to shout and do when watching the Saturday midnight showing at the Bijou? Hope all you studio-types out there are listening...

Time to get some sleep - lots to do at the show tomorrow. The day promises to be nothing if not interesting. I'll try to give you all a recap of the events of the day tomorrow night. In any case, I'm sure you'll be able to read all of the official press releases on the Net, as soon as they hit the newswire. So stay tuned...!

1/6/99

Well, we're off to CES. As I said yesterday, we can't promise to post from Vegas every day, but we'll see what we can do. Just had a thought - if they provide the press with audio recordings of that DVD panel discussion, I might have to see if I can post .wav files of the choicest Lieberfarb vs. Sharp comments. Maybe a transcript too, if possible. Hhmmm... we'll give it the old college try, anyway.

In the meantime, Laserviews has finally returned with a lengthy posting of new DVD titles. Among those announced late yesterday, are the DTS Dances With Wolves, Monty Python's Life of Brian, The Black Hole, Heathers, Time Bandits, Last Year At Marienbad, and that Rambo Trilogy box set. Some good flicks.

In keeping with whole "good flicks I'd love to see on DVD" thing (because I know all of you studio types are big Bits readers), how about releasing some of these titles: Wings of Desire (the Wim Wenders classic), The Conversation (Gene Hackman's best work - love it), The Final Countdown (remember that nifty time travel movie with the aircraft carrier?), The Hitcher (a great Rutgar Hauer thriller - really creepy), Before Sunrise (a nice light Miramax romance - whoops, knowing the Mouse, it'll be on Divx next week), or Hangar 18 (a cheesy but fun UFO crash cover-up flick). Can anyone else think of some good Saturday afternoon faves that ought to be on DVD, just for the fun of it? I'd throw Buckaroo Banzai in there too, but MGM tells me it's coming in 1999. Hey, how 'bout some Space: 1999 or UFO episodes? Or heck - Thunderbirds! Clutch Cargo! OK, I'm kidding now with Clutch - must be the late hour. You know what I would REALLY dig on DVD, though? The Little Rascals (that's Our Gang for you older folks). All right studios, that's your assignment for today. Quit your moaning and groaning, and let's get busy... ;-)

Our good friends over at NetFlix did some cracking business over the holidays, what with all the new DVD players sold (see the press release here). Here at the Bits, we've been in NetFlix's corner since day one, and we're glad to see them doing well - good work, guys!

I'm probably jumping the gun on this, but what the hell - DVD Express is about to launch a companion DVD information site, that's about to make something of a splash. It will be announced this week during CES, but you can check that out now, at DVD.com. Clever URL, no?

Weird note of the day: I just watched Universal's new All Quiet on the Western Front DVD. It's the fully restored 1930 classic, directed by Lewis Milestone, and it's really great on DVD - a Best Picture winner, and well worth a spin. That's not what's weird though - this is: it was filmed in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 (approx 1.33:1 on the DVD), yet the DVD case says WIDESCREEN across the top. Hmmmm.... Well, don't be fooled - it ain't exactly wide, but that said, it's well worth the price anyway.

One final note: we're giving that spiffy new DVD player away on Friday (we'll announce the winner late that night, Pacific time), so get those Trivia Contest entries in fast!

All right, it's like 2 AM now, and I'm starting to get punchy. Caffeine man, what can I say. No sleep for me tonight. Let your brains supply the Captain Kirk voice here: "Spock! Too... much... coffee...!"

Sin City, here we come....

1/5/99

We're getting ready for CES around the Bits today. Just to let you all know, the biggest DVD-related events will occur on Thursday. Divx is holding its press conference at 10:45 AM, where they are expected to announce their player sales. Expect them to offer lots of information, including net sales (with returns figured in) to consumers, percentage of consumers who establish accounts and more. They will also have other announcements, perhaps of hardware or retail deals.

Then the fireworks begin. At noon, there will be a big DVD panel discussion, featuring Warren Lieberfarb (Warner Home Video) and Richard Sharp (of Divx), among others. You can bet sparks will fly, as they debate the relative merits of Divx and DVD.

I'm not going to promise daily, live updates - doing so at VSDA last year proved to be extremely difficult. There's just too much going on. But we'll bring you the full story, in-depth, by the weekend. We may even try to give you all a look at some of the new DVD hardware in development for 1999.

In the meantime, for those of you who live in the Los Angeles area, Dave's Video is holding another of their exclusive charity signing events tonight. Steve Soderbergh, director of Universal's Out of Sight, will be on hand, signing copies of the laser and DVD versions of the film. He'll sign two items a person, one of which must be a copy of the film purchased at the event. The signing begins at 6 PM and runs until 8. The address for Dave's is: 12144 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604. Having been to a number of these events, I can tell you that they're very well done - lots of fun and for a good cause. Unfortunately, I have a touch of the flu, so I won't be able to attend (gotta rest up for CES). But I know Peter Bracke from DVD File will be there, so be sure to say hello.

My friend Andy over at TechWeb has a story on the upcoming CES goings-on today. FYI - Andy, Pete and I will all be at the DVD and Divx events on Thursday, so you can expect some tough questions to be asked. The Daily TekTicker has a Divx poll today (look about halfway down the page), so be sure to get your votes in. Not surprisingly, 80% of those asked say Divx is "a bad idea and should be eliminated as quickly as possible."

Also today, a Bits reader was kind enough to e-mail over scans of a Region 2 DVD copy of The Truth About Cats and Dogs, for all of you to check out (many thanks Ted). The disc is interesting, in that it features a catalog of other Fox titles available (or coming soon) in Region 2.

Last (but not least) today, with CES and the Divx announcement fast approaching, I thought it a good idea today to make sure everyone is clear about just exactly why I dislike Divx. First of all, at every step of the way, Divx has effectively attempted to undermine the DVD format, starting with the timing of their initial announcement, right at the eve of the 1997 holiday shopping season (DVD's first). Of course, actual Divx product was MANY months away at that point (nearly a year in fact), but the announcement timing was nothing less than a kidney punch to DVD sales. Next is the shoddy treatment Circuit City employees have given to many customers in the market for DVD (this has been widely reported). In untold instances, salespeople have grossly misrepresented both Divx and DVD to unsuspecting consumers, in an effort to sell Divx players. Then there are the deliberate efforts of Circuit City and Divx employees to spam the Net with artificial Divx fan sites, and pro-Divx posts. Don't even get me started. How about the fact that Divx is a separate, closed format, yet Divx continues to market itself as a "feature" of DVD. This is no more true than if one were to design a VCR capable of playing both VHS and Beta tapes, and then call them the same format. Yes, much of the technology is the same, but Divx is encrypted, and is thus a closed, separate DVD-based playback format - make no mistake.

Finally, there was a time that I hoped Divx would cease to be an irritation, when those studios who had supported Divx exclusively, inevitably joined the DVD fold. Of these studios, DreamWorks has redeemed themselves nicely, with absolutely first-rate DVD product. But while Paramount started out with some terrific releases, their DVDs seem to have less features these days. Their initial commitment to anamorphic widescreen is MIA, and few of their discs have more than a trailer, if that. Fox is even worse. True, they've released one special edition disc with some great features (Young Frankenstein), but again, the rest of their discs have little more than the movie - no anamorphic widescreen, and no extras. To make matters worse, Fox has released very few DVDs to date (in Region 1 anyway), yet the studio has TONS of titles available in the Divx format. Which leads me to Buena Vista. While the Mouse began supporting DVD at the same time as Divx, one need only visit a Circuit City store to see how uneven the ratio of movies on each format is. Again, Buena Vista releases DVDs barren of the features DVD fans crave - special edition material, 16x9 capability, and the like. Lately, they have begun Collector's Edition DVD releases, but these are priced higher, and still have no anamorphic widescreen. Their "animated" DVDs are bogus - old straight-to-video titles, and again they're priced higher. What's worse, the studio is releasing only 4 DVDs a month - a lackluster commitment to the format at best. And just try to get those good Miramax titles you would love to have on DVD - they're all on Divx only.

So what does that have to do with Divx? I believe, Divx encourages the studios to release crappy DVDs (this is not a deliberate effort by Divx, in my opinion, but the result is the same). It would be different if Buena Vista's DVDs were all features-loaded (at only 4 titles a month, it shouldn't be too hard). The same goes for the other studios I mentioned. The idea is simple: if you want anamorphic widescreen, and lots of extras, you buy the DVD. If you want a basic film with no extras, in pan and scan only, you buy the Divx version. But many of these studios' DVDs are little more than widescreen versions of their Divx counterparts! In fact, Divx has now begun releasing some widescreen discs (which they always claimed they didn't plan to do)! So, for example, other than a couple of trailers and the Aerosmith video, what is the difference between the Armageddon DVD and the widescreen Divx version?

So yes, I'm pissed off at Divx. I dislike it with a passion rivaled only by my dislike of the Green Bay Packers (no offense to Packer fans intended - I'm sure you all hate the Vikings just as much). I love DVD - period. I think it's the best way to watch movies at home ever conceived. And if you're a true movie buff, the extras that many DVDs offer provide a fascinating, in-depth look at your favorite films, at a price everyone can afford (unlike their laserdisc counterparts of the past few years - and don't get me wrong, I loved laserdisc too).

So there you have it - my 2 cent rant against Divx. Long live DVD.

1/4/99

I'm working on a larger post for late this evening, and tomorrow, but I wanted to jump in quickly with a couple of interesting pieces of information.

First of all 20th Century Fox this morning sent over a copy of their first new DVD since their initial release wave. This particular disc is Cousin Bette, starring Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue and Bob Hoskins. It's in non-anamorphic letterbox widescreen, with the theatrical trailer included. I wish Fox would start supporting DVD's 16x9 capabilities, but I'm encouraged at the appearance of this new DVD. I'm betting that Fox will be very active with DVD releases in 1999 (and those of you who read the Rumor Mill regularly will know that I've mentioned a whole slew of DVDs that are in the works from the studio).

I don't know if any of you are familiar with the on-line auction site Ebay, but word is that several Divx discs and players have begun to appear for sale there. This is interesting, because Divx discs don't really have any resale value, do they? Check out this recently closed auction, in which 8 discs were sold for a whopping $11. Fascinating.

There are a couple of interesting news stories on DVD today. The Oregonian has a piece on the brisk DVD sales over the holidays, and how video stores are starting to embrace the format. Techweb has another story on Circuit City's support of the format, and their impending player sales announcement at CES. FYI - this would normally belong in The Rumor Mill, but I wanted to just quickly mention it here (so all the usual disclaimers apply): look for the 1998 Divx numbers to be around 60,000-75,000 players shipped, and some 20,000-30,000 players sold to consumers.

By the way, Wholesale Products, that web site we mentioned which carries ProScan Divx players DOES indeed carry an RCA model too (the RC5230Z). Interestingly, neither Wholesale Products, or the RCA spec page for the 5230Z, mentions that the player has the Divx feature - you have to just know that that particular model has Divx (you can also click on the picture of the player itself, and you'll see the Divx logo on the face plate). Once again, here are the links to contact Wholesale and let them know how you feel:

The Mall At Wholesale Products
400 West Cummings Park Suite 1725-122
Woburn, MA 01801
781-438-7335 (Telephone, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Boston time)
781-438-8307 (FAX, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from anywhere)
email: wholesal@shore.net

I'll be back with more later, and tomorrow, so stay tuned...

1/3/99

Ah, what a great weekend this has been! Wisconsin wins the Rose Bowl, and the Arizona Cardinals beat the Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card Game. Meaning that the ferocious Cardinals are coming to Minnesota next week, instead of the Packers or the Niners. I can almost hear the Vikings sharpening their swords now. ;-)

I've also had a chance to take a look a few new DVDs this weekend, and I've got a review of Buena Vista's Armageddon DVD (which streets Tuesday) up for you to peruse.

At the invitation of Divx, I'll be attending their press conference at next week's CES (I gotta give 'em credit - they're brave to invite me). So next weekend, you'll be reading the whole story on their big player sales announcement. I've been told that they will be announcing the number of actual players sold to consumers, not just those shipped to dealers, as well as a couple of other things. You can be sure I'll ask about the number of Divx accounts set-up, as well as rental activity on those accounts.

Finally today, the DVD Video Group has issued another press release on the outstanding DVD software sales this holiday season. The 5 week shopping season saw nearly 3 million DVD discs sold. Wonder how many Divx discs were sold? Hhmmm....

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. More tomorrow.

1/1/99

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a terrific evening last night. And I hope you aren't feeling the effects of your celebration too strongly this morning! In honor of the holiday, today's update is limited to wishing you all a wonderful first day of 1999.

Strange isn't it? It's 1999... and where are all the hover cars? I remember when I was a kid, being sure that we'd be living on the Moon by now. Too many episodes of The Jetsons, I suppose. Maybe in another 100 years. The even stranger thing, is that the year 2000 is less than 365 days away now. We'll probably all wake up a year from today, just like we did this morning - fumble for the coffee machine, stumble through a shower. And then we'll all collectively scratch our heads for a moment, puzzling over the fact that the new Millennium doesn't feel much different than the last one did. Y2K computer chaos aside, here's a comforting thought for you: January 1st, 2000 is a Saturday. So we can all sleep in.

Now, I'm off to cheer on my alma mater in the Rose Bowl... and I ain't rootin' for the blue and gold. I'm probably one of the few people in this industry who DIDN'T graduate from UCLA or USC film school. That's right, folks... your faithful Bits editor is University of Wisconsin - Madison, Class of 1990 (but let me just say, I ain't no cheesehead). Say it loud and say it proud: On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin...! Go Big Red!

Have a great day, and we'll see you back here tomorrow to talk all things DVD.

12/31/98

So how's this for a way to ring in the New Year - December saw a total of 188,050 DVD players sold to retailers, according to CEMA (see summary and full chart). That is, in fact, an all-time monthly sales record. Here's an even better number - for the entire year of 1998, some 1,043,806 shipped to dealers, making the grand total of DVD players since the format began 1,358,942. If you subscribe to the industry-estimated 2/3rds sales rate to consumers, the number of DVD players now in U.S. homes should be well over 1 million. Ladies and gentlemen... DVD has officially arrived. Now if we could just get a trio of the Hollywood studios to get their DVD act in gear (and you know who I mean)...

Yesterday, we told you of on-line retailer TotalMart, which had been carrying Divx players, and was in the process of reevaluating that decision, in response to customer feedback. Well, a number of you apparently let them know how you feel about Divx - well done. Here's their response to your input:

Dear Valued Customer

Thank you for your recent input. We have heard from numerous individuals in regards to the DIVX format. Although we have had the model on our website, until now we didn't know a great deal about the DIVX format. We value our customers and have a strong loyal customer base that have expressed their opinions on this as well. Many new individuals have expressed their opinions about the DIVX format in addition.

From the input we have had, we have decided to remove the DIVX format from our website for good. Our first thought was to hold a on-line poll, however the majority of our customers have asked us to join the boycott against the DIVX format. From this input we have decided that a on-line poll would result in a vote of "no" on the question of "Should Totalmart.com offer the DIVX format on the website?". Rather than use our resources and time on developing a on-line poll, we feel that the same time and resources would be better spent on improving the current features on our website and assisting customer questions. Upon looking into the DIVX format on various reference websites we have also formed the view of opposing the DIVX format. From this research and the input of our valued customers we will no longer offer the DIVX format on our website.

Although we will be offering our customers less of a selection, we believe that the removal of DIVX players on our website is a selection that misleads consumers and that should not be offered. We invite other retailers to join us in our decision to remove the DIVX format. Once again thank you for your input. We welcome any more comments or suggestions.

Sincerely,
Totalmart.com Customer Service


The Digital Bits would like to applaud TotalMart for their courageous decision to take a stand. As for Wholesale Products, well... keep sending those e-mails in.

ZDNet has a great new story up on DVD. Based on all the flurry of sales recently, they're predicting that 1999 could be the Year of DVD (we at the Bits agree).

Finally, there are a couple of official press releases out today. Sterling Home Entertainment will debut its Millennium Series of DVDs on February 9th, with the $35 million, straight-to-video actioner Legionnaire, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The disc will carry an SRP of $29.95, and will include production notes, 2.35:1 widescreen, a 30 minute documentary, audio commentaries, trailers, cast bios, and DVD-ROM features, such as the screenplay, trivia and more. And New Line Cinema plans to debut John Waters' Pecker to DVD on February 23rd ($24.98). Features will include the theatrical trailer, a John Waters audio commentary, cast and crew bios, a photo gallery, and an on-camera interview with photographer Chuck Shacochis.

Once again, thanks to all of our readers for a terrific 1998. And all of us at The Digital Bits would like to wish you a very safe and happy New Year. See you in 1999!

12/30/98

Well, today is a bit of a slow news day. I've been inundated with e-mails about that Titanic pirated DVD (from both the Hollywood community, as well as consumers). Seems everyone wants to know more. So I'm going to try to catch up with that today, and then I'll be back tomorrow with another feature story.

In the meantime, I wanted to alert you to something important that a few Bits readers have mentioned to me. It seems that at least a couple of on-line retailers have started selling DVD players with the Divx feature. TotalMart was one of the two mentioned, but I'm told that the Divx players have been temporarily pulled off their site, while they assess the negative consumer response they've been getting. I'd suggest you let them know just how you feel about Divx (using this on-line e-mail form), to make sure they get the message. The other retailer in question, is Wholesale Products. They've still got a Divx player for sale (see this link to view the Proscan model they have available). Wholesale also carries RCA players, and seems likely to add the RCA Divx model to their inventory as well. Once again, I suggest you e-mail them, and let them know what you think: themall@wholesaleproducts.com

F.Y.I. - one of the video industry trades this week had a report on Universal's 1999 release schedule, and mentioned the Mallrats and Back to the Future special edition DVDs we've been hearing about. More on this as soon as we hear anything.

Finally today, make sure to keep those Trivia Contest entries coming in - we're giving away a brand-spanking new Pioneer DV-05 THX-certified DVD player this month, along with some cool DVDs and accessories to go with it. The winner will be chosen on January 8th, so get you entries in quick.

More tomorrow.

12/29/98

Yes, the good ship Titanic has been pillaged by digital pirates. Yesterday morning, I received an actual copy of the disc myself, which is apparently available in parts of Asia and Australia (this copy came from Region 4 - many thanks, Dave).

As many of you know, I've been working closely with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to investigate DVD piracy. The latest trend in piracy, they've noticed, seems to the creation of poor-quality, illegal DVDs (of films yet to be officially released on the format), made using legal laserdisc copies as masters. The Titanic DVD I hold appears to be the latest example of this practice. The disc itself will soon be in the MPAA's safe keeping, while their forensic team investigates. In the meantime, however, a lot of readers are curious about the disc (and I know a number of you studio-types are dying to see it as well). So, as promised, you can now read my full report on the disc here at The Digital Bits. I think you'll find it an interesting read, and I hope it discourages anyone who might be looking to buy a copy.

Divx advertising on my DVD player - ggrrr! Changing subjects a bit, have any of you wondered what would happen if you tried to play a Divx disc in an open DVD player? I had to admit I was curious, so I spun up The X-Files on Divx in my Pioneer DV-414. Hey - what the heck else am I gonna do with it?! You can see the result at the left. Guess it figures they'd try to advertise. Bastards.

By the way, have I mentioned lately my dislike for Divx?

A number of readers have written to tell me of more terrific deals on DVD software to be found on the Net. Buy.com is currently selling the Top 25 DVDs for $14.99 and under. That includes the excellent Tomorrow Never Dies: SE. And Amazon.com is still selling many DVD titles for 30% off. I can't vouch for the quality of service you'll get at either place, or the delivery times, which have been occasionally protracted due to the holidays. So "Caveat Emptor" would seem to be words to live by here. But those are some GOOD deals....

I've got what I believe to be the final word on that supposed Divx player hack, in today's Rumor Mill update. It's not quite the Divx-killer it was billed as for a few days there around the Net. But it is interesting nonetheless. Finally, just to let you all know, tomorrow I'll be doing some archiving around the Bits (for sections like The Rumor Mill, for example) to reduce page load times. I do tend to get long-winded over the course of a month, don't I?

Stay tuned....


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