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
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
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
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:
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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
coverage is nearly complete. I have added my full
with Divx president Paul Brindze, as well as an up close
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
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
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
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!
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
related story over at TechWeb.
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...
Panel Discussion was a bear to transcribe... but it's done! You
can now read the full transcript, by going to our main
'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....
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
'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
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....
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
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
Anyway, I'll have lots more on this over the weekend, so stay tuned.
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
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
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....
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
In other news, Best Buy has
record DVD sales for the holiday season. Image Entertainment is
reporting a significant increase in their DVD sales as well. And
DVD Express has
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
article. It seems everyone can see the writing on the wall, except
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...!
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
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
did some cracking business over the holidays, what with all the new DVD
players sold (see the press release
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....
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
closed auction, in which 8 discs were sold for a whopping $11.
There are a couple of interesting news stories on DVD today. The
Oregonian has a
on the brisk DVD sales over the holidays, and how video stores are
starting to embrace the format. Techweb
on Circuit City's support of the format, and their impending player
sales announcement at CES. FYI - this would normally belong in
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
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
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
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)
I'll be back with more later, and tomorrow, so stay tuned...
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
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
Finally today, the DVD
Video Group has issued another
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Totalmart.com Customer Service
The Digital Bits would like to
applaud TotalMart for their courageous decision to take a stand. As for
Products, well... keep sending those
ZDNet has a
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
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!
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
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
is currently selling the Top 25 DVDs for $14.99 and under. That includes
the excellent Tomorrow Never Dies: SE.
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
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?