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A Few Words About A few words about...™ Howards End -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Nov 8, 2009.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    With Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Thompson), Art Direction and Writing, James Ivory's Howards End might well have also scored the Best Picture nod, which went to Unforgiven.

    This gorgeous, classically produced tale of Edwardian England, has finally found a home on Blu-ray via Criterion, and the final result is one of perfection.

    I'm aware that there is sometimes a chasm between those who enjoy films such as The Dark Knight and Merchant / Ivory productions, but I would highly suggest that those who enjoy quality cinema, with a great story, acting and cinematography, give this one a try. Howards End is, simply put, magnificent filmmaking.

    Filled to overflowing with the normal Criterion hors d'oeuvres, Howards End is Very Highly Recommended.

    RAH
     
  2. Yumbo

    Yumbo Well-Known Member

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    Another fave including the Robbins score. Skipped the delayed DVD.
     
  3. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Well-Known Member

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    Mr. Harris, this is an appalling blu ray release. I know most online reviews have been through the roof over it but Amazon customers, the people who really know this film, have not been happy. The amount of digital noise (not film "grain" as so many reviewers who have never worked in film believe) is awful. I have seen the film theatrically countless times and was even at the premiere at the Royal in Santa Monica and what I saw was absolutely not this "grainy." The film was shot Super 35mm for blow up to 70 and it looked great. The clips used in the blu ray's menu and blown up to 16x9 look better than the feature itself. And there are horrible pale digital blocks that ripple across the darker scenes in a very structured manner as if there was interference in a signal during transfer. Also, I am absolutely certain this is not a new transfer done specifically for blu ray - I doubt Criterion pulled in Tony Pierce-Roberts to time it, at great expense, when they had just done so for the previous masters used for DVD four years before.

    I've got a good playback system and all other BD's look great when viewed, even other Criterion BD's. So why would this one be so hideous? Mr. Mulvaney told all of us complainers that our televisions would have to be recalibrated to make it look good. Interesting, since I am a film editor who grew up on actual film and who has already calibrated his television to look as good and "film-like" (whatever that is in the video world) as possible. This is literally the worst looking blu ray I own.

    Anyway, I just had to say my piece. Most people have been happy with this BD. I find it unwatchable. It looks like it was struck from an old master and indeed it probably was. Even the editor of Howards End, a friend that I've worked with, thought so.
     
  4. PaulDA

    PaulDA Well-Known Member

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  5. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    From what I understand this is a recent, albeit possibly not "new" transfer. Also, this is one of those films which because of the way that it was transferred, can be extremely monitor setup sensitive. How's that for a phrase?

    I had no real problem with it on my system, although some may. The trick here, and you may already be setup correctly, is to avoid any of the hyper-colored or extreme settings, ie. "vivid." With a properly setup monitor, a slightly elevated grain structure will be noticed, which again is a part of the transfer mechanism. For systems that are setup in some modified way, the look of the film can, and occasionally will, be compromised.

    You obviously know what you're seeing, but as I've had problems in the past with my setup occasionally re-setting itself after a power failure, etc. this may be something to check.

    While this may not be the information you're seeking, it is factual.

    RAH

     
  6. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, Robert. I don't use the Vivid setting and have taken the time to make my monitor look as good as possible. I don't understand why there would be a screen-like grid in the darker areas and the big pale blocks that occasionally appear are really awful. Why would I have absolutely no problem with any other DVD or BD?

    I have my set on low contrast and sharpeness to avoid such problems while viewing BD's. It's a really awful disc and a severe disappointment after the stunning beauty of Criterion's The Seventh Seal and Repulsion.

    For the record I took Mr. Mulvaney's advice and drastically knocked everything even farther down and the noise, snow and grid were still there. No DVD or BD release should ever have to force the customer to readjust their televisions. And I've certainly never had to readjust anything for any other Criterion releases.

    Again, most people have no problem with it. But I've seen the film countless times projected in both 35mm Scope and 70mm (I was a manager for Laemmle theatres for years before I got into feature editing!) and this is absolutely not what it looked like.
     
  7. PattyFraser

    PattyFraser Well-Known Member

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    Sean--I've posted to you on Amazon re: our problems with this disc. At Jon Mulvaney's direction I took my sharpness down, although I never had the set on vivid. It still looks just horrible, and as I said on Amazon if you pause it, it looks like someone spilled whiteout on it and tried to rub it off. No disc, including my Criterion of Benjamin Button has ever looked like this. Howard's End is just a wreck. I would think my Sony 52XBR5 and Sony S550 could, with low settings, make this movie look like others are seeing it, but there's a real problem there somewhere. I am so glad I netflixed it first, because this is a picture quality decision I couldn't be happy with as an owner of the disc.
     
  8. Josh Dial

    Josh Dial Well-Known Member

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    Possible batch errors on this release?
     
  9. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Well-Known Member

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    Josh, I thought so, too, but was asked to send my BD of Howards End back to Criterion for evaluation. Mr. Mulvaney responded to my email and said all of the above (did I have my tv set to "vivid," did I turn my sharness down, etc., etc?). He said they could find nothing wrong with the disc and very kindly sent me a new one, which was just as bad if not worse than the other one (the replacement disc now has sound drop outs in specific scenes, I checked the disc with my one eyes, holding it up to the light just to be certain there were no scratches or physical anomalies that would cause this and it's very clean). It isn't a matter of getting my money back, it's simply an unacceptable release. And what is worse, the majority of viewers don't think so.

    So be it. There is apparently nothing anyone will do about it. The quality of movie watching at home has finally sunk to a new low, even with a film of the caliber of Howards End.
     
  10. Jesse Blacklow

    Jesse Blacklow Well-Known Member

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    Quote:
    So, every other Criterion release looks fine, but one doesn't, and the entirety of home video is in the crapper? That statement is illogical on several levels, to say nothing of hypocritical.
     
  11. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Well-Known Member

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    No. It is not. Blu Ray reviewers (in general) seem to like anything that appears before them. I come from the film editing world and am deeply critical. That is my prerogative. My statement is quite logical as a comment on the fact that no standards have been set for blu ray releases, as no standards were ever set for DVD releases, etc., etc. so the quality of each release is scattered across the board. Not all films are photographed alike, but a set rule of standards would assure the best and truest look when released on home video.

    Having more detail and brighter colors does not constitute a great release on blu ray. Maintaining the film's original visual and audible integrity, as far as is possible even with blu ray's limitations, does constitute a great release (i.e. The Wizard of Oz and GWTW from Warners).

    My comment is ultimately about the run around we complainers have been getting about this atrocious release of Howards End on blu ray. Again, I come from the professional film/digital world, and to be told my television may be on the wrong setting in order to enjoy the film is really not very helpful. Will the time come when each and every blu ray requires the readjusting of our monitors?
     
  12. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Your comments regarding "no standards" are totally, undeniably, and absolutely accurate. This is something that I've been attempting to get the industry to deal with, to no avail. The consumer is always at risk in purchasing a Blu-ray (which should be returnable for poor quality) and is the final beneficiary of the "no standards" situation.

    Regarding HE, I'm looking into this further. The subject is not closed.

    RAH

     
  13. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Well-Known Member

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    Does that mean you normally watch BDs on your Sony Bravia LCD w/ some sort of "vivid" setting? If so, that's almost certainly not ideal even for other BDs in general. In that case, I'd recommend toning down your settings at least for watching BDs. Make sure you turn off whatever "auto" or "dynamic" (or "vivid") modes/settings and at least use reasonable contrast and brightness settings (and adjust gamma as needed, if the set allows that). Also, turn off whatever edge enhancement setting and tone down the sharpness setting.

    If grain (or digital noise) is still objectionable to you for certain titles after all that, you may want to apply a reasonable level of DNR in your TV settings.

    I also have the Howards End BD, but haven't had a chance to view it yet -- and my player just started acting up yesterday, so I can't even give it a quick test spin right now to see for myself.

    _Man_
     
  14. Xylon

    Xylon Well-Known Member

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    Errrr . . who set their TV at VIVID mode?!?
     
  15. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    My thoughts exactly.
     
  16. Yumbo

    Yumbo Well-Known Member

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    I scanned through the other night, and was blown away by the sound (of the score)!
    Wonderful...and brought back memories of why I LOVE the score.

    Opening credits was nice. Zoom out was a bit strange.

    Skipped through various chapters and picture softened a bit, but not inconsistently.
    I compared against A ROOM WITH A VIEW, which was similarly good (sound for that was a bit unusual).
    HE is a dark movie at times; the opening walk through the garden at dusk was fine, and held up on my rig.

    NO sign of video noise at 185".

    My first Criterion BRD.

    Picked up most of them during the Amazon sale.

    Playtime at last (since missing out on DVD in 2000).
     
  17. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    After discussing this situation with several people who are very aware, I'm of the opinion that this is one of those handful of odd discs which is extremely monitor dependent.
     
  18. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Well-Known Member

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    Quote:
    I am in complete agreement with this. When I read positive reviews of the travesty that is THE FRENCH CONNECTION BD, which fails on so many levels, I knew that quality standards in reviewing Blu-Ray titles was growing increasingly misguided.

    "Monitor dependent?" Thanks, I'll make sure to buy a monitor for each and every Blu-Ray DVD I purchase.
     
  19. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Well-Known Member

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    Wow. Thank you, Robert. This is clearly my first time running into a disc like this. And unfortunately it had to be Howards End. That's a shame that it has to be so sensitive. The clips from the film in the menu design look fantastic, and the film itself looks wretched. I let it play out completely the other night, just to reassure myself I wasn't utterly mad, and when the film paused in the black after the end titles finished rolling to switch back over to the menu, even the black fell apart - green, red, white spots everywhere.

    Well, it'll be too costly for Criterion to fix it, so I'll use my DVD instead. Perhaps when they release it again early 2010 on DVD as spine #488 (same as the BD) I'll pick that up and see if the quality is better than the old DVD. Or maybe not. I think I've seen the film enough for now. :)
     
  20. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    How does "monitor dependent" work?

    I always figured if standards were met at both the source and at the playback system there wouldn't be any problem.

    Does this mean a properly produced disc played back on a properly calibrated display can look bad?
     

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