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Spidey2 + SDDS + Mann Village (Westwood) = why I love theaters and movies!


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#1 of 28 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted July 05 2004 - 04:52 PM

Okay, I’ll admit up front that there are several reasons why I am posting this thread:

1. To serve as a counter-opinion to the “I hate theaters, that’s why I’m building an HT” threads.
2. To tout SDDS as a theatrical sound system (though I understand why it can’t be used in HT)
3. To finally prove that the Mann Village does indeed use SDDS (I’ll elaborate later).

So if none of those reasons are your cup of tea, please feel free to click the “back” button on your browser and browse the rest of After Hours [and HTF!] for other great threads.

If you’re still with me, here we go...

Why I don’t hate theaters...[at least not all the time Posted Image]

I own a nice mid-fi HT system. I will readily admit to having the bad experiences with theaters that everyone else here has: bad sound or video, crying kids, laser pointers, talking, cell phones, etc. And this thread is not meant to invalidate the opinions that, at least at home with your HT, you have total control over all of those things. Yes it is true: there is always the risk of having distractions at your local public theater.

But watching Spider-man 2 at the Mann Village in Westwood, CA made me realize today that a well done theatrical presentation simply cannot be matched at home. And trust me, I have quite a few friends that have spent enough money to put kids through college on a killer HT, so I’m not talking about my own modest system. And as much as I’ve loved the 92”-110” screens with HD2 DLP projectors I’ve seen in various HTs, today’s presentation just cannot be matched. The Mann Village boasts a 65’ (if my memory serves me) wide screen. Even the most ambitious home theaters (short of millionaire/billionaire status) cannot hope to rival that screen size. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in HT...size matters! Posted Image

And the crowd, well this was a 4pm showing on Monday, about 2/3 sold out (and the theater holds over 1000 people so that is quite a crowd) and they cheered, laughed, ooh’d and ahh’d in the appropriate places, were by and large well-behaved, and actually added to the whole experience rather than detracted. Now again, I fully admit there are always the jacka$$es who can ruin a theatrical experience, but it was refreshing to be in the midst of a very good crowd for an summer movie that really needs to be seen with an enthusiastic crowd to, as Nigel Tufnel would say, “give it that little push over the cliff”. The crowd, the screen, the sound, it really all “turned it up to 11!” Posted Image

Speaking of the sound...

SDDS rocks the hizzouse!

As with many of you, my HTF brethren, I’ve been to dozens of theaters, seen hundreds of films, and had my fair share of experience with the three competing soundtracks. The ones that have always stood out in my head were the SDDS presentations of two particular films:

1. The Phantom Menace in SDDS at the Mann Village
2. The Fifth Element in SDDS at The Cinerama Dome

and to that you can now add:
3. Spider-man 2 in SDDS at the Mann Village

I am not trying to start a format war, but I will give my opinion based on my own experiences in the years of watching cinema in the digital soundtrack age (all, what, twelve years of it?) Posted Image

When Dolby Digital came out, I did notice that theatrical sound quality did increase, and the discrete surround effects were totally cool. I think my first experience with DD was watching Batman Returns in 1992. I distinctly remember being impressed by that presentation, though if it was because of the DD track or Elfman’s tremendous score (he also provides his talent on the Spidey films, coincidence?) I’m not sure...

Then DTS came out with Jurassic Park. That movie I do remember also being impressed with the sound, but the more I thought about it (saw it three times in the theater in DTS) I wondered if it was because DTS really was superior or the theater was just cranking it up. I distinctly remember The Lost World in DTS in a Pasadena theater, and that was just too damned loud. My ears were hurting after I left the theater. Still, this is not to cast a negative light on DTS, whenever I have the choice, I do watch DVDs at home in DTS.

But the presentations that stick with me are those SDDS presentations. SDDS has always been used (in the presentations I’ve seen) in large arenas like the Mann Village and the Cinerama Dome. SDDS always nicely fills up the theater at what I would presume is reference volume (don’t carry my SPL meter with me to the theater) without overly straining the ears. And yet, even with the largest, loudest crowd (think TPM and to a lesser extent Spidey2) the dialogue was always clearly audible. Quiet passages were quiet without becoming inaudible. Loud passages were incredibly powerful (Pod Race, Lightsaber duels, Doc Ock/Spidey fights) without making me want to plug my ears for fear of aural bleeding. The word that keeps coming to mind is “balanced” sound. The highs are high, the lows are low, but everything is balanced just right for the occasion, be it a raucous action scene or a quiet, sensitive scene. And I’ll be damned if John Williams and Danny Elfman shouldn’t always be heard in SDDS.

I can confirm that I compared the TPM SDDS track to DD. I saw it four times in the theater: twice in SDDS in the Mann Village, and twice in Digital Projection in the San Fernando Valley to see the competing DLP technologies—those used DD sound I believe. None of them matched the power & fury, not to mention the smoothness, of the Village SDDS track. I’ve only seen Spidey2 in the Village and when I go to see it again in a few weeks, it will be in the same place. Sorry, don’t have time, money, or inclination to go compare another theater’s soundtrack. I want to see it again in the best possible presentation, and to me that means the Mann Village in SDDS.

Now I understand why Sony will not release SDDS for the home. With eight channels of sound, the front soundstage has 2 additional channels added to it. That would be overkill in most HT scenarios (again, excepting millionaire/billionaire type of HT rooms). And no, I haven’t done double-blind testing of SDDS vs. DTS vs. DD. All I know is what I’ve heard, that the three films I mentioned above had awesome sound presentations, and they all happened to be SDDS. I didn’t even know what SDDS was until after TPM and had to do research on it to find out what it was. It was only then that I realized that I had seen the SDDS “pyramid” logo in front of The Fifth Element showing at the Dome.

With regards to the Mann Village, they are normally a DD house. I’ve never seen a DTS presentation there, and I’ve been to that theater dozens, if not a hundred, times in my 12 years living in Los Angeles, most of that time within walking distance of that theater. I make it a point to see any and every “event” movie that I am interested in when it is shown in the Village. While the sound is always top notch, the sound for TPM and now Spidey2 stand apart from the dozens of other showings I’ve seen there.

Yes, Aunt May, the Mann Village is capable and does use SDDS sound

Okay, this is really kooky, but I feel compelled to state this. Here’s why.

I consider myself a man of integrity. Those HTF vets will recognize me as a frequenter since before we hit 1000 members. I can get passionate on occasion, but I also think that I like to be fair-minded, open, and honest.

Some time after TPM came out [it might have been a year or so after], I posted here about the great SDDS sound I heard when I saw it at the Mann Village. A fellow HTF’er (forgot his name) who was also a So-Cal native got “all up in my grille” (as Jim Rome would say) about how the Mann Village was a Dolby Digital House only, and that I was clearly mistaken. Normally I wouldn’t press the matter but he said it in such a way that I felt my integrity questioned.

We went back and forth about it, I found one or two internet articles that mentioned an SDDS presentation at the Village, but since they weren’t “Official” as in they were fan-written and not L.A. Times or official Lucasfilm, Sony or Mann press releases, it wasn’t good enough for him. He basically called me a liar.

So I did do one thing: I called Sony studios in Culver City—I lived 10 miles away and it was a local call, so I figured what the hell. I remembered the name of my college newspaper, and told the receptionist that I was calling on behalf of the paper and was doing a retrospective on the TPM release. I said that I had heard it had opened in the Village with a special SDDS track and if I could get some information on that.

She asked me to hold and said she’d get me in contact with someone “in the know.” A man answered (I took his name down at the time but have since lost it, and besides it would be inappropriate for me to sling his name around the ‘net) and we began speaking about it. First he wanted to know where I’d heard that info and I said “I thought I read it in the LA Times back when it was released” (I really do think that’s where I first read it) and he said “hmm, oh yeah, it might have been mentioned on there. He then went on to talk with me at length about how the film strip can contain both SDDS tracks and other audio tracks, but that yes TPM was indeed shown in SDDS in the Mann Village.

I relayed that conversation here (trying not to be confrontational about it) and this HTF’er basically called me not just a liar, but a deceiver! He said, and I’m paraphrasing “So you took precious time out of this guy’s work, POSING as something you’re NOT, and now you expect us to believe what you’re saying?!?!?!” I think we went back and forth a time or two and then I just dropped it. It wasn’t worth it. I knew I had done all I could, and a lot of HTF friends backed me up then, but I just didn’t want to get into it. Especially since he was a local, I didn’t want him looking up my info and trying to get into fisticuffs over something so trivial.

But I’m writing this now in the hopes that he (whoever he was) reads this:

Yes the Mann Village uses SDDS and you can go right now and watch Spider-man 2 and see the SDDS logo right in front of it! :P)

Sorry, it’s been a few years, but sometimes getting your credibility questioned eats at you even when you don’t think about it. The rare occasions it does pop up in your mind, it’s like the itch you can’t scratch, the scab that won’t fully heal.

Ahh, now I feel better. Posted Image

Thanks for riding along with me on this admittedly long and indulgent post. I know the last part was long winded and really a personal rant, but I do want to let people know, especially LA locals, that Spidey2 is in SDDS at the Village and it is a damned fine performance! Posted Image Posted Image

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#2 of 28 OFFLINE   Chazz_S

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Posted July 05 2004 - 06:17 PM

We are so spoiled by some of the finest theatres in the world here in LA aren't we? I saw Spidey 2 at the Arclight, wonderful.

#3 of 28 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted July 06 2004 - 03:15 AM

I completely agree with Carlo that the Westwood Village is one of those theaters that resoundingly refutes the "my home theater is better than any movie theater" contention. They know how to present films right there (by the way, I went to the showing just before the one you went to, Carlo Posted Image ). Anyone who thinks his HT can even approach, let alone exceed, the presentation at this theater has obviously never seen a film there.

I was a bit surprised to see the SDDS logo before the movie began. My experience with it is very limited (it doesn't seem to be used much). Another film that used it that stands out in my mind is The Mask of Zorro. Superb. I agree that the audio for Spiderman was topnotch. The highlight was the auditorium-filling bass when Doc Ock first fired up the fusion reaction.

#4 of 28 OFFLINE   Malcolm R

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Posted July 06 2004 - 04:11 AM

One of the theaters I go to had one auditorium with SDDS when it first opened. They have since converted that auditorium to DTS. Not sure why they changed. I assumed there must have been some problems with the SDDS system (either the theater's equipment or the prints' soundtracks) that led to frequent or expensive problems. Haven't been to this theater in a long time, so I can't compare the difference in the formats. But I did see "Saving Private Ryan" there in SDDS and it was incredible. Not sure how theaters decide what format to use. One new 8-plex that opened a couple years ago uses Dolby Digital in all rooms. The new 10-plex that opened this past spring uses DTS in all rooms. The renovation of an older 5-plex included upgrades to Dolby Digital in two rooms. And yet another 10-plex I go to occasionally seems to use a mix of both DD and DTS.
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#5 of 28 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted July 07 2004 - 03:52 AM

Wow, SPR in SDDS, that would have been something to see! I'm not sure either how a theater chooses which sound system to go with. I'm thinking it is a hardware or licensing cost decision as to why theaters don't go with SDDS. Not everyone wants to set up 5 discrete channels behind the screen.

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#6 of 28 OFFLINE   Malcolm R

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Posted July 07 2004 - 05:00 AM

Yep, SPR was quite amazing in SDDS. The room was shaking and rumbling, and I kept ducking in my seat as I could swear bullets were whizzing by within inches of my head. :b After doing a bit of research on the SDDS homepage, I seem to recall there might have been issues with the SDDS soundtracks on the prints becoming easily damaged. The SDDS info is imprinted on the outside edges of the film print, outside the sprocket holes. So, any sort of wear or damage to the edges of the film might interfere with the processing of the SDDS information. Their website says that with "normal projector maintenance," there should be no issues as the information on one side of the print duplicates the other to add redundancy in case of damage. Plus the information from one side to the other is offset by 17 frames to allow for splicing and repairs to the print without interference with the SDDS soundtrack. But having heard rumors of the state of maintenance in most multiplex theaters today (i.e. nearly non-existent), I'd think print damage might be a bigger issue than stated.
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#7 of 28 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted July 07 2004 - 05:39 AM

That might be true. And in the few cases I've seen SDDS prints (Cinerama Dome and Mann Village) they were the exceptions in that they care about presentation quality. The Village only has one screen and the Dome used to only have one screen (when I saw Fifth Element it did) but they recently renovated and added a multiplex behind the Dome.

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#8 of 28 OFFLINE   Vince Maskeeper

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Posted July 07 2004 - 06:29 AM

Me too, in the dome, good stuff. Was the dome performance SDDS? I didn't see any sound format trailers, so I didn't know for sure. -V
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#9 of 28 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted July 07 2004 - 07:07 AM

Not sure for the Dome if SDDS is the de-facto standard or not. Sometimes the LA Times print listing will say if it's in DTS or SDDS, but not always. If I run across a copy I'll check. Hey Vince, you in LA already? If you want to see Spidey2 again in the coming weeks and are up for a Westwood Village trip, email me. I'll send you a PM with my email address.

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#10 of 28 OFFLINE   TedT

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Posted July 07 2004 - 10:17 AM

Try seeing the movie with two crying babies in the theater. The best sound system in the world can't take away the sound of the crying babies. Every single movie I've seen in the theater here in San Diego in the past 5 years has had at least 1 crying baby in it. The exception: a 10pm showing of ROTK. The Hulk had THREE screaming babies in the theater when I saw it.

#11 of 28 OFFLINE   Vince Maskeeper

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Posted July 07 2004 - 10:31 AM


Yep- Been here for a week or two. Already hooked up with Jack Briggs for F911 at the Arclight... I went to Spidy2 at the dome solo. I also saw "the clearing" in advance screening at the Zanuck theater on the Fox lot, and will be seeing a fe others there over te coming weeks. When I'm in a town with such great cinemas, I just have to see as much stuff as possible... you guys have no idea how lucky you are!

I will drop you a line this week and see what's up. And, if there is anyone else in the LA area looking to show me around, feel free to drop me a line Posted Image

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#12 of 28 OFFLINE   Jonathan_E

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Posted July 07 2004 - 11:50 AM

I'm a projectionist in a 16 screen theater in Minnesota and we have on auditorium with SDDS. Let me shed some light on some things for you guys (and let me state it first that I am not the know all person of SDDS, I am just repeating some information I have heard and my own personal experience with SDDS). First off, Sony has stopped supporting SDDS. Prints are still being made with SDDS track encoded on them, but Dolby and DTS have too much of a mainstay in the market that Sony has decided to back out of the theater sound industry. Second, a lot of SDDS readers had various hardware problems where certain prints would refuse to play in SDDS and would cause other miscellanious problems with the sound processor (these are brand new prints and my theater takes care of the prints). So the hardware had always been a little bogged down with bugs and never really caught on much. Lastly, sorry to burst your bubble Carlo, no movie studios have ever really made use of the 7.1 system with the mid-front left and mid-front right. I have been a projectionist for over two years now, and have yet to see a movie encoded like this. It is true that SDDS has this capability, but I have never seen, or heard of it being utilized. Anyhow, just my 2 cents on SDDS as it is a dieing format. Our projection tech was actually going to try to get a new Dolby EX cp-600 theater processor and another rear speaker to try to replace our SDDS system. And on another side note, whenever I have compared movies between SDDS and Dolby Dig (our projector has both readers and can be switched back and forth at will) I have never noticed any significate difference between the two. Don't get me wrong, besides the occasional (and of recent rare, I think we got a firmware upgrade a year or two ago that may have fixed some of the bugs with the SDDS system) hardware problem with SDDS not reading prints correctly, I think SDDS could be a fantastic sound format if it was actually utilized. But, the sad truth is that those extra two channels have never been utilized (and I bet 95% of theaters with SDDS systems aren't even set up for the 7.1 config in the theater itself, ie doesn't have front-mid left and front-mid right speakers installed) and probably won't since sony is pulling out of the theater surround sound camp. Jonathan

#13 of 28 OFFLINE   John Stockton

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Posted July 07 2004 - 12:11 PM

Excellent topic

I whole-heartily agree that the finest home theatres cannot even approach the quality and experience you get from any of the mentioned theatres.

My absolute favorite in the Los Angeles was the Century Plaza in Century City. Cinema #2 equipped with an Awesome HPS-4000 XL class sound system beat the pants off any other theatre in the LA area. With an accoustic power equivelant to 10 symphony orchestras it was indeed the most powerful and the cleanest sound I had(have) ever heard from a speaker system.

Unfortunately the theater was closed last summer and the complex in which this theatre was located was torn down to be turned into office buildings.

#14 of 28 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted July 07 2004 - 12:20 PM

No worries, as you haven't burst my bubble. The person I talked with at Sony Studios in Culver City said they specially mixed TPM for the Village presentation back in 1999. You've been a projectionist for 2 years and I respect that, but you haven't been a projectionist *everywhere* and specifically not at the Mann Village/Chinese/Cineramadome where "special" things have been known to be done since they are "crown jewels" of American theaters. I believe I read too that Sony remixed Spidey2 for SDDS 8-channel specifically for the Village showing right now, and perhaps I'll have to call Sony Studios to find out again...

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#15 of 28 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted July 07 2004 - 12:39 PM

From the www.sdds.com site, narrowed down their list of SDDS films (which was very extensive) to the 8-channel ones only. Spidey2 isn't on there but I've fired off an email to the rep to see if perhaps the Village print was specially mixed or not.

Click here to go to the list of 8-channel SDDS movies.

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#16 of 28 OFFLINE   Jonathan_E

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Posted July 08 2004 - 01:21 AM

Carlos, I stand corrected at stating that hardly any movies have utilized the 8 channel SDDS, but considering that nearly 95% of movies come with an SDDS track (easily recognized by the outside edges of the film being blue instead of clear), that is still a small list. I am still curious as to how many theaters are actually set up with the two additional front speakers to even make use of SDDS 8. My theater does not. Since not a large percentage of movies are released with SDDS 8, I would imagine many theaters would just shoot for the traditional 5.1 setup in order to save money on the two additional speakers that wouldn't be used all that often. But, I do live in Minnesota and not Los Angeles which I know has some excellent theaters. One thing I noticed from that list you posted... Notice how much SDDS 8 movies have decreased since 2000? I imagine this is due to Sony's decreasing support of the format. Sure, it is easy enough to transfer a 5.1 mix over to sdds, but to do another mix of the movie for a format that is not very common costs a lot of money for a studio. I wish SDDS could have really taken off because in large theaters, those extra two front channels could really be put to use, but we can't have everything our way. Well, anyway, Enjoy a nice theater when you find one since they're not all that common these days. Jonathan

#17 of 28 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted July 08 2004 - 05:07 AM

Jonathan I have absolutely no doubt that you are correct regarding 95% of theaters do not have the proper equipment. My only point was that I am lucky enough to live near three stellar theaters like the Mann Village, Chinese and the Cinerama Dome, who still do things the right way. Unfortunately, you are correct, things in general just aren't done that way anymore in most of the theaters across America. And yes, it does seem like SDDS is on the decline with regards to 8-channel mixing (though if you click on that link to all movies you'll see that SDDS is still being used for quite a lot of current movies even if its not the 8-ch variety). And I do agree that SDDS needs to stop using the outer edges of the film strip, which can be damaged, and go to an optical disk format like DTS does.

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#18 of 28 OFFLINE   Jonathan_E

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Posted July 08 2004 - 05:33 AM

In regards to the standard 5.1 channel SDDS, the only prints I ever see that don't have SDDS are independant films (for example My Big Fat Greek Wedding only had a Dolby Analog track). Otherwise, everything seems to come with the standard sdds track these days. I imagine they do this because they have something that basically converts a dolby digital soundtrack over to an sdds track which can be imprinted on the film as well. It's probably very little to no extra work for sound engineers who do the mixes. Does anyone on the forum work for the film industry doing sound mixes that may be able to shed some light on the topic? By the way, sorry I steered the topic of this thread away from discussion of the good theaters that are still around. Please continue with talking about your theater experiences.

#19 of 28 OFFLINE   Jesse Skeen

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Posted July 08 2004 - 08:01 AM

Paramount doesn't use SDDS except on their really 'big' films (strangely all their trailers have it though). I don't see any point to using SDDS unless you have the extra 2 channels; of course DTS is a risky system since often the discs don't come with the prints, and so many booth operators are so incompetent that they might forget to load the discs!
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#20 of 28 OFFLINE   John Stockton

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Posted July 08 2004 - 08:34 AM

Carlo You should add the Mann National to the list of elite theatres in LA. In fact after the already mentioned Century Plaza #2 in Century City, I have found the National to be the next best sounding theatre in the LA area due to superior room accoustics to the Village and the Cineramadome.




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