A Few Words About A few words about...™ The African Queen -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Mar 20, 2010.

  1. Frank Ha

    Frank Ha Second Unit

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    This has nothing to do with the audio on the disc, but I canceled my Amazon order last week. When the price does drop, I will buy this great film. As always, thanks Mr. Harris for your valuable review.
     
  2. Sumnernor

    Sumnernor Supporting Actor

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    Excuse me , there as some terms that I don't know. Someone please describe what a lossless track is and likewise a lossy track is.
     
  3. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    the quick tutorial:

    With digital audio (other than Sony's Direct Stream Digital architecture), you start out with "linear PCM". That's what a WAV file is and what is on your CD... it's linear, uncompressed. The only real limiting factor of the fidelity of PCM is its resolution... the more bits and the more samples per second the more the digitally capture waveform will resemble, and therefore sound like the continous analog original. Why the lesson about digital audio? because that's the starting point for the lossy versus lossless.

    So you've now got a soundtrack master in PCM format. How do you deliver it on blu-ray Disc?

    Well, one option is you deliver it bit-for-bit... you can put the actual PCM on the disc, but that uses a lot of space. So you can "zip" the PCM file using Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA to pack the file in a smaller space, but when it's unzipped before playback you still get a bit-for-bit original PCM file prior to d/a conversion.

    That's lossless. It's called that because you don't lose anything going from the PCM master to your d/a converter.

    However, if you don't have enough space to preserve the full quality of the original file even via lossless compression (or you don't care or understand how to maximize audio quality even if you do have space for lossless), you can use *lossy* compression like you do with an MP3 or apple-comprssed audio recording on your iPod or portable player. This basically throws away sound...there's an algorithm that does its best to try to only throw away what you probably won't hear, but no algorithm is perfect. The higher the bit-rate the better and better the audio will sound, but there's no way to know for sure if you ever reach a point of transparency to the original because by definition lossy compression sounds different to different listeners because the compression model is built on generalizations of human hearing.


    DVD, because it has so little space, uses lossy compression via Dolby Digital.


    Blu-ray Disc, because it has lots of space, can present the full qualtiy "lossless" version of the soundtrack for almost every title. However, there's still a mantra in the industry that "old soundtracks don't need full quality because they aren't that good anyway" which isn't really true, but is popular among many industry folks as are many old habits that take time to change (think of how long it took many studios to get consistent with providing anamorphic encoding on DVD... some had even told us that anamorphic "wouldn't make a difference" with 1.66:1 titles way back in the day). Those of us who enjoyed laserdisc PCM (lossless) know very well how much better most of our vintage classics sounded on laserdisc than they did on DVD, and so we're pushing the studios to provide lossless quality on all blu-ray disc releases: even old movies.
     
  4. Doug Otte

    Doug Otte Supporting Actor

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    Agreed. Some people are better able to "hear" things; other people are better able to "see" things. By this I mean they're attuned to one or the other, whether it's a physical issue (poor hearing, poor eyesight), a brain thing (the brain is better able to process audio vs. video), a training thing (they've learned how to distinguish one better at the expense of the other), or a conscious decision.

    Of course, many of us have high perception of both audio and video, again, due to a combination of the above factors.

    I think it's incorrect to state that the video fidelity is more important than the audio fidelity. To use the example of "CD has been good enough for most of us for 25 years (paraphrase)" is a glib assertion. Most current consumers think CD is fine because they've never been exposed to anything better.

    Doug
     
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  5. bugsy-pal

    bugsy-pal Stunt Coordinator

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    In all this discussion, I hadn't realised that the lossy soundtrack being referred to was 224kbps 2.0 - that does seem a bit stingy, given the storage capacity of Bluray.

    I still don't think it's a reason not to buy this disc. 224kbps is perfectly adequate - I have made CDs from 224kbps MP3s to play in my car, and I am hard pressed to distinguish the quality from a standard redbook CD. It would be a bit of a different story comparing a 224kbps lossy track to uncompressed CD audio on a good stereo system.
     
  6. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I must admit that I had tears in my eyes during the opening credits of this marvelous BRD release. Paramount has done a fantastic job for all the reasons, RAH has explained in his original post. What a great job by all of the personnel involved with finally bringing this great film out on Blu-ray and SD DVD here in the States. The difference between this BRD and the Carlton SD DVD release from the UK almost ten years ago, can't be overstated in my opinion. Watching this BRD is like viewing this film for the very first time.

    As far as the lossy audio, I can only say that early in the film, the growling of Charlie Allnut's stomach is loud and clear for all to hear.

    One more thing about the film itself, as I was watching the documentary on this disc, I remembered the Kate Hepburn biography that was written before her death, but not released until after her passing. She stated in the book, how everybody on the film crew in Africa was sick with dysentery except Bogart and Huston. Evidently, their high consumption of alcohol on a daily basis kept both of them from getting any type of illness during the shoot.






    Crawdaddy
     
  7. David Weicker

    David Weicker Cinematographer

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    I've been following this thread, and I really wish it had stayed on the topic of the quality of The African Queen, instead of devolving into a diatribe about lossless vs lossy audio.

    I think before people had commented about the audio quality, they should have actually watched the film. It seems the only one who actually had was RAH, who said the audio was fine. Too many times, people are so caught up in reading the specs, they forget about the actual content.

    Maybe they should have provided both audios, because I'd be willing to bet that if we blindfolded the various participants here, they couldn't have told the difference without their systems telling them what they were listening to. (I'm not saying this is true in all cases, but for a mono picture from the 50s I'd give odds).

    People are saying its unacceptable because of the back of the box, not their ears - because you haven't heard it yet.

    David


    Oops. it seems that Robert Crawford has also seen it, and he also said the audio was not an issue.
     
  8. Rick Thompson

    Rick Thompson Screenwriter

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    My two cents on the audio question, and why I agree with Mr. Harris. Sometimes you CAN have fidelity that's too good on an old audio source.

    For example, I have three vocal albums where I no longer listen to the CD. I listen to the LP. Why? On the CD I hear every intake of breath in detail, and it hinders enjoyment of the recording. You don't hear it on the LP. All three were recorded in the late 50s, and it was expected that playback equipment would simply cover up the flaws. Until they were remastered in the CD era, the flaws stayed unheard. Now I hear every breath on CD. Well, no thank you.

    In short, sound engineering and recording was done by the original artists based on what equipment they had. Various flaws were allowed to remain that would be redone or edited out if that same recording was done today by the same people. Hell, they might not have even heard the flaws back then.

    Listen to The African Queen's soundtrack as John Huston and the rest of the filmmakers intended it to be heard. Give me Bogie and Kate; you can leave out the snaps and pops.
     
  9. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    David:

    Sorry to hear you feel you've been subjected to a diatribe. I'd characterize the discussion in this thread as a constructive and informative debate on an issue appropriate for the forum.

    I, for one, feel I've learned a few things about this subject. There have been quite a few people in-the-know who have weighed in with their opinions on the subject of lossy soundtracks on Blu-ray releases.

    And I don't recall anyone here (in all 48 posts so far) commenting on the audio quality of this release who hadn't yet watched the disc. As you already noted, the only ones who have seen it (among those posting here)--and commented on the SQ--are RAH & Crawdaddy.

    Probably as many people commented that they think a lossless soundtrack should have been included on the release as commented that they think a lossless soundtrack could have hurt this release. Many of these people hadn't watched the release yet---but none of them specifically critiqued the SQ of TAQ as they had not yet heard it.

    So where you see a diatribe, I see a healthy give-and-take on an issue appropriate to the discussion of The African Queen. I'm sure there will be more people commenting on the quality of the release soon as it trickles into more HTF households.
     
  10. Scott Calvert

    Scott Calvert Supporting Actor

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    I don't even understand why there is a debate. The answer for Bluray is clear: if there is space, use lossless. Period. The arguments that I have read here are past ridiculous and verging on comical. You don't want to hear audio transparent to the master because it's old and will sound worse? Really? How is compressing the track going to change anything, except to make it sound even shittier? The studio master is the final product and that is what should be on the bluray. If there were flaws in the soundtrack they should be fixed before or during the master mixdown. Assuming there are truly any flaws that are bad enough to need serious attention.

    I'm not saying lossy compression is bad. If done correctly it can truly be transparent. But the thing is, why even bother? Is it easier to click the "lossy compression" button in the mastering workstation? Bluray has plenty of space. Use a lossless track.
    I've been here for several years and there are always the folks who jump through hoops to argue in favor of an inferior product using backwards logic. Years ago there was even debate about anamorphic vs non-anamorphic and you had folks fiercely arguing in favor of non-enhanced discs. I shouldn't be surprised anymore but it is always confounding.
     
  11. Heinz W

    Heinz W Second Unit

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    I just watched it myself, and I must echo Robert Crawford's remarks. Right away I was surprised at how razor sharp the text of the credits were, and I didn't realize how gorgeous and colorful the film really is. It was like seeing the movie for the first time. Just beautiful, the video restoration and transfer are superb. Audio sounded good to me though I haven't yet watched on my main set-up. Sounded pretty good to me considering the vintage. This is an outstanding catalog release and represents everything I love about home theater in general, and Blu-ray in particular. Lossless or not. Kudos to whoever did the restoration and transfer, and thank you!
     
  12. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    Well the quality issues include the sound too not just the image.


    Well said Mike, did I see the you were one of the winners of this movie?
     
  13. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Originally Posted by TonyD
     
  14. mike--

    mike-- Stunt Coordinator

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    I watched TAQ this evening, and it is stunning!......with a proverbial capitol 'S"!!! Kudos to the team at Paramount and the many folks who helped restore this magnificent film to this condition. We are so lucky.
     
  15. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    To be clear about what has occurred with TAQ, there has been no "transfer" as the word has been used for the past several decades.

    Each of the original black & white picture elements, (Y,C & M) were scanned in the UK, and sent over to the Colonies as data. Everything that was performed after that time was also data.

    Many films are still transferred from film to video in the nominal sense of the word. This is not one of the them.

    As to the audio, most here, excluding Mr. Theakson, have probably never examined optical tracks from the era in question. In many cases sections were spliced together after re-recording from stems (which generally no longer exist). Splices are then hidden by triangular punches used to "bloop" the audio, which will than print as black during transitions. There is occasionally dirt buildup on the final printing negatives, which creates noise (static, clicks, etc.) This can be eliminated. During playback most problems are removed by filtering out certain parts of the audio spectrum via a specific "Academy" filter, which affects a certain tonal range. Run many older prints without a filter, and you're going to hear things that aren't necessarily good. The filter however, is very much a two-edged blade. While it was set in place to help along many optical tracks of the era, some, as I recall most notably, many M-G-M tracks, didn't need it and play back with far greater resolution without it. As Mr. Theakson correctly stated, many optical tracks, going back to the 1930s, were superior in their ability to reproduce the spectrum of audio. To be able to listen to some of these original tracks today, can be an ear-opening experience.

    There was also a comment earlier (possibly Mr. Boulet) in the thread that made note of the fact that any problems inherent in the tracks should and can be dealt with by audio engineers working in the digital realm, who could fix them. This is nice concept as long as there is something to fix. Can they help? Certainly, but even the best of digital still cannot make the proverbial silk purse from a sow's ear. Possibly burlap.

    Take Rear Window as an example. Its track was printed as variable area. All original stems with the exception of music, were junked c. 1970. The single original optical track negative was unusable by the time the film elements were turned over to Universal in 1983. All restorative efforts returned to original 1953 prints. It was at that time discovered that printing problems had left extant prints with one modulation source out of focus. Tracks were selectively scanned and the new recording, which sounded wonderful thanks to the audio staff at Universal, was still of far lower fidelity than originally intended.

    Can a track be helped along? Certainly. But I contend that there are many tracks which, already under the digital gaze of a modern transfer, may sound far better when all of their warts are not aired publicly via the wonders of uncompressed digital audio. Was this a potential problem with TAQ? I have no idea.

    Note: My comments regarding classic optical soundtracks is meant to be simplistic. Books could be written about them, and have been. I'm merely attempting to made a point.

    RAH
     
  16. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I am thrilled to hear the reviews coming in about how good The African Queen looks/sounds.

    Keeping in mind that this discussion is NOT directly pointed at The African Queen as we do not know the reason lossy audio was used (although we are hoping someone from Paramount gives us an answer in a different thread), it seems as if here are the major positions for and against lossy audio on Blu-ray:

    I must admit I am surprised by Mr. Harris and others who think that a less-than-excellent audio presentation is the best way to go in some instances. I cannot imagine that argument ever being put into play on the video side of the discussion.

    If the better fidelity of a lossless track reveals audio flaws in the original material that cannot be fixed by modern digital audio restoration efforts I'd figure there would simply be an acknowledgment on the part of the consumer that modern techniques are simply revealing elements in the original material which were a product of their times. After all, how many times have we seen those very types of "disclaimers" on the digital presentation of analog music?

    I think I'd rather have an audio track that was the most perfect replication of the source material as existed. If the need arose, I would rather deal with settings on my home gear to make adjustments rather than have a compressed signal out of which I would not be able to pull certain bits of fidelity.

    I think we all agree that there is no fixing an audio track whose original elements don't contain the necessary fidelity/information. Same is true on the video side of the process. Garbage in, garbage out.

    I guess the reason I am most surprised by those who believe the use of lossy audio is acceptable (and in some instances preferred) on a Blu-ray disc is because of the mission of the HTF to advocate the "best" presentation of film in the home as is possible. While we seem to differ on whether lossless is "best", there have been many other debates here over the years which have revolved around using the best technology possible to improve the home experience.

    Many HTs cannot take full advantage of the technology that's offered on a Blu-ray disc to to the limitations of the home gear. But that doesn't mean we wouldn't want to have the clearest presentation of an image (visual or aural).

    If HD presentations of older films lead to discoveries of visual imperfections on the part of directors, cinematographers and editors (many which were the product of their times) and we can accept them (because of the integrity and the age of the work), I'd offer that the same would hold true for the acceptance of the flaws that might be revealed in an accurate, digital presentation of the sound of a film.
     
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  17. OliverK

    OliverK Cinematographer

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    Whatever the reasons were for not including a lossless track I still think that it would be better to have at least one for EVERY release even if it is only to allow viewers to have a choice to hear the original sound in all its distorted glory.

    Especially with older mono or stereo productions it does not eat into the bit budget that much so having at least one lossless track is a luxury that every production should be able to afford. Then we would not need to have this discusssion again and again and again. And please do also include one soundtrack with the original channel arrangement (1.0, 2.0, 4.0 etc.) in cases where it is possible and not only a remix.

    I think The Robe and Sleeping Beauty are examples were this was handled quite well with a DTS HD MA remix AND the original channel arrangement even though those were lossy.

    Looking forward to The African Queen - last I saw this movie was about 20 years ago on TV.
     
  18. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    You're misquoting. Any audio presentation should be as high quality as technically possible. What I'm saying is that in some cases our current technologies can expose too much if extant tracks are problematic from the beginning.

     
  19. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I'm sorry, Robert. The last thing I want to do is misrepresent anyone's position.

    So you support the use of lossless audio tracks on all Blu-ray discs--even if they expose more than what might have been originally intended? Or, might contain flaws that cannot be removed/restored?

    That's what seems to make sense to me. This has been a very educational discussion for me.
     
  20. JoeBond

    JoeBond Stunt Coordinator

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    I have yet to see the whole film in all of its HD glory but the scenes that I have scene are pretty spectacular looking and looks a lot better than the previous versions I have seen. I like the audio as well and even though its a lossy mono track it sounds pretty good despite this. During the scene where The African Queen is getting shot at the gun shots were very clear and a little clearer than some other films with lossy mono I have heard. All in all, I think any fan of this film should buy it on Blu-ray.
     

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