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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Yankee Doodle Dandy - 2 Disc SE. (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)



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#1 of 24 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted October 01 2003 - 01:22 PM

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Yankee Doodle Dandy – Two Disc SE





Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1942
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 125 Mins.
Aspect Ratio: Standard (OAR)
Audio: DD Mono
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish





The Feature:
Yankee Doodle Dandy is the 2nd installment of the recently released Warner Brothers Legends Set, which also features The Adventures Of Robin Hood and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. For those who are unaware, if you purchase the entire box set, you also get a 108 minute documentary on the history of the studio titled Here’s Looking At You, Warner Bros. The Legends Box is an attractive black cardboard case with pictures of the films three stars; Bogart, Cagney and Flynn. The pictures of the cover art also adorn the bottom of the set showing off the beautiful original art for the films. All in all it’s quite an attractive set.

Although Yankee Doodle Dandy was nominated for eight Academy Awards, it won only three; Best Actor (James Cagney), Best Music Scoring In A Musical (Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld) and Best Sound Recording (Nathan Levinson and the Warner Bros. Sound Department). MGM’s Mrs Miniver took the Oscar for Best Picture. 1942 was a profitable year for Warner Bros. and Yankee Doodle Dandy was partly responsible along with Now Voyager and In This Our Life as being among the studio’s top three money makers.

Some say that the patriotic timing of the film is what led to its success rather than the quality of its content. Others said Cagney didn’t have what it took to pull off the part of George M. Cohan. Regardless of what the critics thought, the film obviously stands on its own merits, placing #100 on the AFI’s list of greatest films ever made.

Directed by the legendary, Michael Curtiz, Yankee Doodle Dandy is a story chronicling the life of composer, singer & dancer George M. Cohan (James Cagney). The story begins late in Cohan’s life while finishing in a role from the Broadway play, I’d Rather Be Right. After his performance, he is summoned by President Roosevelt. In this role, he mimics the President and thinking he is in trouble, he sets out for the White House to meet with FDR. At the start of their meeting, Cohan starts to reminisce and we are taken back sixty years earlier by way of flashback.

The film is a history of Cohan and his family (his father played by Walter Huston, mother played by Rosemary DeCamp and sister played by his real life sister Jeanne Cagney), chronicling their failures and their successes. It is here where we are treated to many of the great dance scenes Cagney has become so famous for. At the end of the reminiscences, we return to present time when surprisingly, the President awards Cohan the Congressional Medal Of Honor for his dedicated and patriotic service to the country.

It is just after he receives his award that we get to see the infamous scene where Cagney tap dances down the stairs of the White House and off to march with the troops who are soon sent off to fight for their country.



Video:
Yankee Doodle Dandy is another great video offering from Warner Bros. It is stunning. The level of image detail is exceptional. Black levels are deep and rich while contrast and shadow detail is gorgeous. As a result, this is yet another example of a film that has a 3D look to it. It was extremely consistent throughout the entire movie.

At the 79:45 mark, I noticed some very visible film dirt which appears on a curtain but lasts only a few seconds. Also visible was a very minute amount of mosquito noise. Neither of these imperfections was even remotely bothersome.

The level of film grain was slightly heavier than my recent viewing of The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre… while it wasn’t distracting, I’m just mentioning this as an observation. I’d be curious to get RAH’s thoughts on the level for this film.

An absolutely gorgeous video presentation…!



Audio:
The audio is a DD Mono soundtrack. Again, with a mono track, we shouldn’t be expecting miracles. What we can hope for is a track that is hiss free and offers solid dialogue and this track delivers. While I wouldn’t go on to say that the track is dynamic, I would say that it is solid and does what it is supposed to do.

Much of the film is filled with various musical numbers. My only complaint was during a few of the pieces where horns were used, the treble seemed rather heavy rendering a slight harshness. Again, more of an observation as it wasn’t necessarily troublesome.

A solid offering.



Special Features:
Disc one of the set features the film as well as a number of special features. First up is a Commentary By Author/Film Historian Rudy Behlmer. This is an extensive voice-over the entire movie filled with history of the shoot and various tidbits that fans of the film are sure to appreciate. Very detailed and informative. Duration: 125:30 Mins.

Warner Night At The Movies. First is a brief introduction by Leonard Maltin. Duration: 3:21 Mins., A theatrical trailer for Casablanca, A Movie Newsreel – featuring many clips and footage of WWII. Duration: 09:15 Mins., Beyond The Line Of Duty – a recruiting documentary narrated by Ronald Reagan Duration: 22:01 Mins., and finally a Bob Clampett WB animated short from 1942, Bugs Bunny Gets The Boid… hilarious stuff. Duration: 07:26 Mins.

Cagney Trailer Gallery – Features seven trailers from many of the great Cagney Films; The Public Enemy, Footlight Parade, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties, Yankee Doodle Dandy & White Heat. It really makes me anticipate a future WB release of The Public Enemy and White Heat…

Awards. A text listing of the awards.

Cast & Crew. A text listing of the cast and members of the film.

Disc 2 is exclusively dedicated to special features. The first special feature is titled, James Cagney – Top Of The World. This is an informative and thorough biography on the successful actor narrated by Michael J. Fox. Duration: 46:32 Mins.

Let Freedom Sing: The Story Of Yankee Doodle Dandy is narrated by film historian Bob Thomas and is a mini biography on George M. Cohan which also covers the feature film. Duration: 44:31 Mins.

The next special feature is titled, John Travolta Remembers James Cagney which is a brief interview with producer AC Lyles and John Travolta as he recounts his memories of the film and his zest for his childhood hero James Cagney. Duration: 5:10 Mins. While I’m not so sure this inclusion was necessary, it does offer some insight to the reclusive actor, Cagney.

Looney Tunes. Two animated shorts; Yankee Doodle Daffy and Yankee Doodle Bugs. Again, the inclusion of the WB animation is nothing short of brilliant in illustrating the feature films they were parodying. Just a few more weeks to wait for the big release…

You, John Jones is a military recruiting film prepared for the War Activities Committee made in 1943 starring James Cagney. Duration: 10:26 Mins.

Next up is the Audio Vault which contains 5 clips of outtakes and rehearsal clips of the feature film. Also in this section is the Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Show which ran on October 19th, 1942 and starred Cagney and Huston. While I didn’t listen to the whole thing, much of what I did listen to sounded somewhat scratchy and poppy.

Last but not least is Waving The Flag Galleries which features:
-George M. Cohan Sheet Music
-Dressed Set Stills
-Scene Stills
-Publicity & Posters (a nice collection of old posters and lobby cards used to promote the film).

For the most part this compilation is a most impressive assortment of special features to compliment this great film.



Final Thoughts:
After watching Cagney in many of the tough guy roles, the part of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy may initially seem an unlikely fit… it’s not. Cagney is brilliant in his portrayal of Cohan at a time when his country needed him.

The audio/video presentation on this disc is incredible. The set is loaded with informative special features that honor this wonderful film. As for my recommendation… it’s a must purchase. And if you do, My father will thank you, my mother will thank you, my sister will thank you, and I thank you. Sorry, I couldn’t resist…! Highly Recommended…!!!




Released: September 30th, 2003
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 24 OFFLINE   TedD

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Posted October 01 2003 - 02:34 PM

I agree with the comments on the transfer, except for one glaring problem that seems endemic to many video transfers of older 1.33:1 feature films and, unfortunately, cartoons. I have yet to see a reviewer mention this problem, but to me it ranks right up there with non-OAR releases.

:RANT ON:
That problem is the Windowboxing of the main title and opening credits, and sometimes the end title and credits, that leaves an ugly black or sometimes colored border around the screen.

When a movie starts with a small image with a big ugly black or colored border surrounding it, for me it immediately destroys any illusion of being in a movie theater.

I know that someone is going to make the observation that is it is protection from the excessive overscan that afflicts many TV sets. I understand the reason, but if the studio has an issue with this, they should windowbox the entire film, not just the main titles.

What the studios are saying with the current practice is thats in not OK to lose 10 or 20% of the image to overscan during the 2 minutes that the titles are on the screen, but it's OK to lose that much image for the other 2 hours of the film.

I believe the answer lies in correcting the hardware problem (overscan), not in butchering the transfer to compensate for the problem.

If the windowboxing were constant (and reasonable) throughout the entire film, at least those of us with equipment with no overscan could zoom the entire film to fill the screen (while maintaining the proper A.R., of course).

I am going to be very upset if WB has window boxed the titles on the newly remastered and restored(?) cartoons. If they have windox boxed the titles on the new sets, than they haven't restored them to their original theatrical version (at least not by my definition of restored).

:RANT OFF:
There, I said it and now I feel better.

Ted

#3 of 24 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted October 01 2003 - 04:32 PM

Ted...

The reason credits are usually windowboxes is that the cast and crew HAVE to be visible on all TV's.

The rest of the film doesn't need to be windowboxed since the text isn't a problem. You don't seem to understand the technical aspect of the process..

First, the image windowboxed is the same when not windowboxed. It's just reduced. That's it. Second, why is this just bugging you now? There's HUNDREDS of DVDs out there with windowboxed credits.

There's no reason to be so anal about this kind of stuff. It seems like every time a studio restores a film, someone has to complain about something.


Anyways...

Herb, could you comment on the quality of Yankee Doodle Daffy and Bugs Bunny Gets The Boid?

#4 of 24 OFFLINE   Dome Vongvises

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Posted October 01 2003 - 05:09 PM

You're having fun reviewing some good ones, aren't ya Herb?

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I think I'll be getting that nice box set now.

#5 of 24 OFFLINE   StevenFC

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Posted October 01 2003 - 10:19 PM

Well, I like reviews and all of that. I do find them helpful and even enjoyable. But the main reason I want my favs to be on DVD is because it's the dominant format right now. As long as it's watchable and in the aor, I'm happy. A little dirt and all of that here and there isn't really an issue with me. I would rather it was a perfect transfer mind you and it can be a little distracting when you see a flaw--but as long as an effort is made to make it worth my money then that's all I ask. But I'll always buy the DVD that has the best picture. And I love the extras. So I'm not saying that picture and sound quality etc. aren't important.

I'm sure I've mentioned all this before. But for me the most important thing is the film and it's message and not some idea of technical perfection. If I looked for fault in all my DVDs, I couldn't enjoy the movie that the DVD is presenting. Nothing's perfect. And that's just the way it is. I accept that--and just enjoy the movie for what it is.
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#6 of 24 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted October 02 2003 - 12:12 AM

still waiting for my box set to arrive !!!

oh well
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#7 of 24 OFFLINE   Steve Christou

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Posted October 02 2003 - 12:13 AM

Nice review Herb, one of my favorite Cagney films, "STIX NIX HIX PIX!" Posted Image

Altogether now...

He's a Yankee Doodle Dandy, A Yankee Doodle, do or die;
A real live nephew of his Uncle Sam, Born on the Fourth of July.
He's got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart, She's his Yankee Doodle joy.
Yankee Doodle came to London, Just to ride the ponies,
He is that Yankee Doodle Boy.


Hey, there's a title of an Oliver Stone film somewhere in those lyrics, anyone spot it? Posted Image

Dave hören... auf, wille stoppen sie Dave... stoppen sie Dave... Mein gehirn geht... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin ängstlich Dave... Guter Nachmittag. Ich bin ein HAL 9000 computer. Ich wurde funktionsfähig am HAL-Betrieb in Urbana, Illinois auf January 12 1992.


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#8 of 24 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted October 02 2003 - 12:41 AM

Quote:
Herb, could you comment on the quality of Yankee Doodle Daffy and Bugs Bunny Gets The Boid?


Patrick... Both of these looked very nice, particularly Yankee Doodle Daffy. Since I'm a Clampett fan, Bugs Bunny Gets The Boid is a favorite. I have to admit, it was much grainier than I anticipated - I wasn't disappointed, just an observation. Keeping in mind, that was projected on a 96" screen.

I just finished disc one of Robin Hood last night and watched Katnip Kollege from 1938 - one I had never seen before. I believe I recall you saying that one in particular wasn't yet restored... and it shows. There were quite a few flaws, dirt and scratches etc.... was great to see it though!! The upcoming release of these shorts can't come fast enough.

Hope to have disc two and the review for TAoRH completed by this evening.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#9 of 24 OFFLINE   TedD

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Posted October 02 2003 - 01:07 AM

Patrick, it's pretty obvious to me that re-creating the original theatrical experience in your home theater is very very low on your priority list.

Saying that I don't understand the process is an insult to my intelligence and almost 50 years of experience as a motion picture projectionist and my 30 years as an HT owner.

If you had taken a the time to actually run through the main title sequence of this film, instead of automatically taking the opposing view, here is what you would have seen:

All dimensions below are based on my 5' x 7' screen size:

The transfer has a 3" black border on all sides of the title sequence.

In no case, except for the "Presents" on the WB logo screen, was any of the text closer than 5" away from the edge of the image. (That's 8" from the edge of the screen).

The "Presents" was 1" away from the bottom of the image, and may have been cropped in a overscan condition.

I'm pretty sure that "Presents" was not a member of the cast or crew Posted Image

This particular title card could have been digitally altered to raise the "Presents" slightly, however I seriously doubt that the "Presents" was that close to the bottom of the frame on the original prints. I don't have any material to substantiate my doubts, but I don't believe that text would normally be placed that close the the bottom of the frame, where it would be subject being matted by the aperture plate or screen masking in the theater.

After the "Kiss Me Kate" issues recently, it wouldn't surprise me to see that some amount of zoom had been applied in the creation of the video master, resulting in some image loss from the edges through the entire transfer. It probably wasn't excessive, as in "KMK" but 3 to 5% or so.

"The Adventures Of Robin Hood" has a much more reasonable 1" black border, but still has no text closer than 5" to the edge of the image.

"Treasure Of The Sierra Madre" has about a 1.5" border, with the closest text roughly 3" away from the edge of the image.

Very much like the dreaded EE, this is a practice that I would certainly like to see the studios eliminate from their transfers.

Others may not find this to be objectionable today (or ever, depending on how closely they want to emulate a real theater experience), but as the industry moves more and more to DLP, LCOS, and LCD displays, excessive overscan will become a thing of the past, not to mention those of us who already have properly setup CRT FP's with 0 overscan today.

Ted

#10 of 24 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted October 02 2003 - 01:30 AM

Hey Herb!

GREAT review! Can't wait to get my copy.

One comment with which I disagree:

Quote:
The audio is a DD Mono soundtrack. Again, with a mono track, we shouldn’t be expecting miracles. What we can hope for is a track that is hiss free ...

I question whether "hiss free" is where we want to be. IMO, "hiss" is often like film-grain, a kind of "noise" present in the signal but one that doesn't necessarily have to be "bad" and certainly one that is a natural part of many historic sound-mix technologies.

The danger of hiss being arbitrarily labeled as "bad" is that, just like with film-grain, it's very difficult to remove it from the signal without doing REAL damamge to the viable detail in that signal that often gets filtered out along with the "noise".

The new Hello Dolly DVD is a perfect example of just how destructive "noise reduction" for hiss removal can be. While the soundtrack sounds "ok" on casual listening, comparing with the AC-3 on the laserdisc shows just how compromised it has become. While there is a fine-low-level hiss present on the laserdisc AC-3 audio(not distracting at all IMO), the music sounds like music with loads of resolution and fine-level decays and acoustic cues. The DVD audio sounds "muffled" when A/B compared!
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#11 of 24 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted October 02 2003 - 01:57 AM

I totally concur with David's comments about the dangers of audio tampering. Too many times (HELLO, DOLLY is a perfect example, GUYS & DOLLS is another), the track gets so worked over that the whole thing sounds like there's a pillow over it.

Happily, all three of these new Warner classic DVD sets sound great.

All of them, and particularly YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, have that distinctive, bright & crsipy-clear soundtrack that has a definitive WB sound to it. Just as the trasfer retains its "film look", the audio retains its "film sound", and superbly so.

#12 of 24 OFFLINE   TedD

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Posted October 02 2003 - 02:26 AM

Yes, WB, with their RCA optical sound infrastructure consistently had the highest quality optical sound on film. Real highs, low distortion, and good bass were the hallmarks of the WB sound from the late thirty's on.

It's too bad that most theaters of the time implemented the Academy curve which called for a severe HF and LF rolloffs. Only those few theaters with enlightened sound engineers (a Mr. Meyers at Royal Theaters in Hawaii comes to mind) could deliver all the quality contained in the optical tracks.

Ted

#13 of 24 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted October 02 2003 - 02:55 AM

Quote:
I totally concur with David's comments about the dangers of audio tampering. Too many times (HELLO, DOLLY is a perfect example, GUYS & DOLLS is another), the track gets so worked over that the whole thing sounds like there's a pillow over it.

Roger,

That's exactly the phrase that came out of my mouth when I first heard the Hello Dolly DVD (even without comparing to the LD)...sounded like there was "a pillow" over the tweeter or something.

Ted,

You're right about just how great these optical soundtracks can sound. Really astonishingly good. That's one reason why I detest low-bit-rate DD compression for mono film soundtracks...the PCM on laserdisc really communicated a much fuller, richer sound pallet with these soundtracks (most folks just think "it's an old mono soundtrack...how could *could* it sound?" but once you've heard a great optical track in action you don't ask any more Posted Image )

Glad to hear that the DD encoding for these films sounds up-to-par!
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#14 of 24 OFFLINE   TedD

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Posted October 02 2003 - 03:30 AM

An Addendum to the windowbox issue for "YDD"

There are also windowboxed sections scattered throughout the film as well. Check out the section at around 1 hr 2 mins into the film for an example.

David:

192k was deemed by Dolby to be the total bandwidth required to preserve the fidelity of a single channel soundtrack. When you consider that 384 or 448k represents a 5.1 channel soundtrack quite well, 192k should not be a problem for one channel (or two channels with the exact same content).

More is always better, but since we have a finite limit set by the DVD media capacity, I'm certainly OK with the 192k.

Ted

#15 of 24 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted October 02 2003 - 03:54 AM

Hey Ted,

true about the bits-per-channel thing. However, Dolby Digital has a trick up its sleeve that helps 5.1 signals to sound "better" even though the bits-per-channel rate may not increase over a 1 or 2-channel at 192.

The trick is "bit sharing". Dolby digital looks at all the channels it has and analyzes the audio content of each one at any given moment. Based on what's going on it's able to shift-bits around to where they are needed most.

Here's a simple way this can have a *significant* impact in fidelity.

Let's take a center-mixed dialogue track. And let's assume for the moment that there is no surround activity and the left/right information is minimal (ie, not challenging the encoder). In a case like this a 5.1 soundtrack can devote most of it's 348 kbps to the center...giving it full attention and optimizing fidelity when it would be most obvious...while the other channels are silent with only the dialog to really hear.

A 2.0 192 DD soundtrack has no such luxury with center-mixed dialog or "mono" content...in this case *both* channels bear equal weight to carry the center-mix dialog...so each channel is getting 96 kbps to encode the center-channel content (which is matrixed into the L/R signal).



Quote:
When you consider that 384 or 448k represents a 5.1 channel soundtrack quite well, 192k should not be a problem for one channel (or two channels with the exact same content).

I had the understanding that 2.0 DD 'mono' soundtracks were encoded the same way the 2.0 DD stereo was encoded--with audio content being encoded in two discrete L/R channels. If in fact "2.0 DD mono" is really a single 1.0 encoded channel that's just flagged for 2.0 playback through the L/R speakers...then it would indeed make use of the full 192 data rate for its content as well.

But if it follows the same pattern as 2.0 DD stereo mixes as I had understood, in the case of a 2.0 encoding, the mono information is being redundantly encoded in both channels...each getting 1/2 the 192 bit-rate (96 kbps) to encode given identical content. What might sound better is a 1.0 mono channel using the 192 bit-rate...which then lets the single channel use the full 192 for its content.


Quote:
192k was deemed by Dolby to be the total bandwidth required to preserve the fidelity of a single channel soundtrack.

I'd take that "deemed by Dolby" with a grain of salt. Until it sounds just as good as the PCM on my laserdiscs...there's a loss in the process that our ears can hear.
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#16 of 24 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted October 02 2003 - 04:42 AM

Herb,
To get this thread back on topic about your review, I'll watch my dvd today with the hope my opinion is similar to yours which it probably will be.





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#17 of 24 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted October 02 2003 - 05:05 AM

Quote:
Patrick, it's pretty obvious to me that re-creating the original theatrical experience in your home theater is very very low on your priority list.


I don't try to re-create the theatrical experience, but rather the best possible experience that can be achieved with my HT setup.

I'm sorry if I underestimated your experience. It's just that I felt that you missed the intent of windowboxing. A lot of people out there have too much overscan, even if they're doing their best to give a great presentation.



About Katnip Kollege: Jerry Beck mentioned that it wouldn't be restored for the Robin Hood DVD, but it should be in the pipeline for restoration in the near future.

#18 of 24 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted October 02 2003 - 05:48 AM

Quote:
I question whether "hiss free" is where we want to be. IMO, "hiss" is often like film-grain, a kind of "noise" present in the signal but one that doesn't necessarily have to be "bad" and certainly one that is a natural part of many historic sound-mix technologies.


David... I'm not advocating the elimination of hiss altogether. That said however, I'm all for a happy medium. I have dozens upon dozens of old classics where hiss is without question the biggest distraction from my viewing pleasure. Some are big studio releases and some are crummy PD releases. Frankly, I might even say that I personally find excessive hiss worse than a crummy video presentation (obviously there are exceptions).

There are many many great Mono soundtracks that exist... but noting what's not present is just as important as noting what is present.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#19 of 24 OFFLINE   TedD

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Posted October 02 2003 - 09:51 AM

Quote:
The trick is "bit sharing".


David,

When you think about it, it's the same technology whether it's 5.1 channels sharing bits for identical content, or two channels with identical audio content sharing bits. Correct?

Ted

#20 of 24 OFFLINE   jonathan_little

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Posted October 02 2003 - 10:07 AM

I would hope that the Dolby Digital encoder is smart enough to use the full 192kbps available for a "2.0 mono" track instead of encoding the mono signal twice at 96kbps for each channel. Even most MP3 encoders can do something like that.


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