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Robert Harris on The Bits - 10/28/02 column - OFFICIAL THREAD


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#1 of 30 Bill Hunt

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Posted October 28 2002 - 04:18 PM

We've just posted Robert Harris' new column on The Digital Bits. This time around Robert ponders great films starring Alec Guinness, Columbia TriStar's SuperBit DVDs and the misconception of THX. And he ends it all with the words "Kevin Bacon" in his closing sentence. No kidding!

SuperBit, THX and Six Degrees...

As always, click on the link to read Robert's comments and then come on back here to this official thread at the HTF to discuss as you will. Enjoy!
Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits
http://www.thedigitalbits.com
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#2 of 30 oscar_merkx

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Posted October 28 2002 - 07:00 PM

great article RAH, once and for all I now know what Sony's Superbit means.

Cheers

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#3 of 30 Veen_Senn

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Posted October 28 2002 - 07:24 PM

Mr Harris, your articles have often mentioned the importance of reproducing film grain in DVD transfers. I am in the dark as to how grain structure can improve the visual quality of a DVD. In fact, my only suspicion of what 'grain' is stems from watching the 'Kwaidan' DVD, in which I noticed that the image 'feels' more film-like. I do not seem to notice such an effect on newly-restored, older titles such as 'Citizen Kane' or 'Rififi'.

Since many DVD review sites do not mention the contribution of grain to the visual quality, perhaps you can write an article on it and enlighten many of us. I hope too, that the issue of film grain may be discussed in this forum.


Veen-Senn Wong.

#4 of 30 Michel_Hafner

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Posted October 28 2002 - 08:27 PM

Hi,
Some comments.
Superbit titles. I have also compared some Superbit titles
with the earlier version and agree that they offer better
image quality (and due to DTS tracks also better audio
quality.). You need a monitor or projector with full DVD
resolution to appreciate the difference.
Superbit uses a higher average bit rate, but in addition
also a less filtered master with more fine detail, and less
edge enhancement. Unfortunately there still is edge
enhancement since Columbia-Tristar adds edge enhancement
to almost all their transfers, including the HD versions.
There can also be noise reduction artifacts on Superbit titles (example: Gattaca).
Finally, superbit DVDs like all other DVDs pale compared
to the HD masters they are made from. If you can get your
hands on the HD version and have equipment with HD resolution the attractiveness of superbit DVDs is limited to
DTS tracks and supplements. The real superbit versions will
come when we have HD DVD or Columbia-Tristar joins the
D-Theater wagon (which they hardly will). Watch CT stuff
on HBO HD and it will blow the DVDs away despite only
about twice the bitrate at max.
Michel Hafner

#5 of 30 Brendon

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Posted October 29 2002 - 01:31 AM

Mr. Harris,

Thanks for another enlightening column. Whilst I don't want to turn the thread into a THX bashing session, I'm more concerned than ever as to what THX software certification means for the end consumer.

(BTW I have a completely different opinion of THX hardware, although that is a different subject).

If, as you point out, the THX badge on a DVD merely certifies the calibration of the equipment used during the authoring process of a disc but not the master used or the resultant disc, what is the point of the badge being on the disc ? I am presuming none.

A (crude) analogy: I own a pie factory that buys in raw ingredients (the master), and produces pies (the DVDs for sale). My pie factory has certain standards that must be met in terms of the pie making process; handling of the raw materials by my staff, calibration of the hardware used in pie manufacturing etc (the standards that are adhered to during the process - THX).

Given the principle of GOGO (garbage in, garbage out), with the highest adherence to the quality principles, it is still possible for my factory to make lousy pies. Yet a pie company would never put the quality certification of the pie making process on the box. (Buy your ISO9001 produced pie now!).

If I was to make lousy pies in my factory and publicise the quality processes and standards involved, would my lousy pies not dent the reputation of the certifying body ? I think they would.

Therefore if THX are not certifying the quality of the resultant disc, would they not be better operating "out of view" of the end consumer and merely being an internal industry standard/service ?

At the risk of boring people who already know this story, I'd like to offer up an old tale re THX. In early 1998 the PAL Laserdisc boxset of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition was slated for release one week before its NTSC equivalent in a bid to generate more sales.

This deadline was met due to the ANH (Star Wars ep 4) disc needing to be repressed at THX's insistance. The set, like the NTSC box set, was THX certified. (The PCM stereo audio on side two of the disc was up or down 2dB from side one - can't remember which).

My impression at the time was that THX were being dilligent and were exercising their right to reject "below par" product.

New impression: As THX only certify the calibration of the equipment used in production (and with LD, the insertion of the calibration signal itself), not the master, then the resultant disc would have been a "true" representation of the master. If it wasn't, then surely THX themselves would have been at fault given they certified the production process & equipment.

Lastly, on a personal note, thanks for the restoration of My Fair Lady. Having seen the revived West End show in London, I bought the DVD on spec - it looked tremendous, vivid and detailed. All I need now is for the theatrical print to come to my local multiplex (FAT chance, but I can dream!)

Cheers,

Brendon

#6 of 30 Justin Sallows

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Posted October 29 2002 - 01:47 AM

In response to the defense of the E.T. disc, I personally don't care that the old version was included. They're pretty much the same movie. I think the old version is better in some respects, and the newer better in some respects. My problem is that it's inclusion meant the dropping of the special features. Everything was set, we were getting the new film and all the features. I certainly wasn't going to pay $70.00 for the old film. I was absolutely fine with that set up. Now Steven puts in the old film and most of the features, which seemed lackluster compared to the laserdisc, got shifted to box set. I puzzled over this, put eventually said "screw it" and bought the 2-disc set at Wal-Mart for $16.99 anyway. Yeah I wanted the Laurent documentary, but I'll settle for the truncated version. I'm not going to pay 4 times the price to get it. Universal just never got their ducks in a row with this release, and Steven's last minute demand didn't help. A CD soundtrack? What the hell am I going to do with that? Sit at home and blast the theme from E.T. over and over? That's stupid!
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#7 of 30 Eujin

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Posted October 29 2002 - 02:29 AM

Quote:
I am in the dark as to how grain structure can improve the visual quality of a DVD.


I think the key to understanding this is to think about the visual experience of watching a movie in theaters. Celluloid film is grainy by nature--it's one of the elements of film that make it "feel" like film. Mr. Harris' point about the quality of the DISPLAY used for DVD viewing is the other crucial factor. On smaller, lower resolution displays, particularly direct-view CRTs 32" and smaller, it can become very difficult to discern any grain in a DVD transfer--regardless of the quality of the transfer. On high-resolution, large-screen RPTVs or front projection set-ups, the preservation of grain (or lack thereof) in any DVD transfer becomes very apparent. I think this is the point Mr. Harris was making when he mentioned the quality of the display used for home viewing. I use both a standard-definition 27" TV and front projector in viewing my set-up and the differences between pristine transfers that preserve the illusion of film, and transfers that have been overly processed to the point where grain is missing, are readily apparent.

#8 of 30 Troy LaMont

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Posted October 29 2002 - 03:36 AM

Excellent post on SuperBit Mr Harris!

Thanks.

Hopefully to those who were non-believers up until this point (even after Bjoern so eloquently pointed out the differences many a time), will finally understand.

Now if we can just get that D-Theater/D-VHS concept to stick as well.... Posted Image Posted Image

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#9 of 30 Rain

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Posted October 29 2002 - 05:34 AM

Nice to hear that E.T. and the Guiness Collection get the RAH seal of approval. Posted Image
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#10 of 30 Bob Muir

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Posted October 29 2002 - 08:33 AM

Sorry to hear that "High Noon" was such bad quality that Harris couldn't recommend a purchase of the DVD. But figure the odds that the studio (after spending the money they've already spent on the release) will revisit the material and publish a new and improved special edition. :-/
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#11 of 30 GlennH

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Posted October 29 2002 - 10:21 AM

Regarding film grain on DVD, I found the following statement in Brian Florian's review of Star Trek III to be interesting.
Quote:
... There is also an abundance of video noise which some may pass as film grain but with the vertical filtering typical of all DVDs, there is hardly enough resolution to resolve true grain.
I'm sure that video noise is sometimes mistaken for film grain, but he seems to be saying that we can't really see true film grain on DVD at all. But I can't believe that the grainy appearance of say REAR WINDOW, which is reflective of the restored film, can be attributed to video noise. Thoughts?

#12 of 30 Andy Kim

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Posted October 29 2002 - 12:54 PM

As a supporter of Superbit, I was glad to read what Richard had to say.
I just wish Columbia would market it better (simultaneous release date announcements with regular versions) and release better titles under the Superbit line.
Anyone have an idea as to when we can expect a BHD or Spiderman Superbit?

#13 of 30 Robert Harris

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Posted October 29 2002 - 01:36 PM

Film grain is certainly discernable on DVD, especially on high end systems.

Re: Rear Window, or any extremely early Eastman Color derived films, a certain amount of grain should be visible, especially where optical steps have been involved.

It is more obvious, however, in early black and white films which have been transferred from high quality early generational elements. The further away from original one goes, the less obvious the grain structure.

Remove the grain, and you remove the foundation of the film and base element which makes what we call a picture.

RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#14 of 30 Veen_Senn

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Posted October 29 2002 - 05:37 PM

Yes, but how does one tell grain and video noise apart?

#15 of 30 John Hofbauer

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Posted October 29 2002 - 07:52 PM

Why oh why can't Republic do a proper transfer to DVD
of "The Quiet Man"!! I don't believe the elements are
in that bad shape because I watched a gorgeous print on
a Boston superstation several years ago. But the
laserdisc of 10 years ago sucked bigtime and the first
DVD appeared to just be a port of that and the new
collectors edition appears to be about the same.

#16 of 30 Jonathan Burk

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Posted October 30 2002 - 05:11 AM

Wow. Awesome article. Only one comment:

Quote:
Although it takes a while to re-visualize the Jack Ryan character created by Harrison Ford,

Is there a tactful way to point out that Alec Baldwin played Jack Ryan first?

#17 of 30 Brian-W

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Posted November 01 2002 - 10:16 AM

Quote:
If, as you point out, the THX badge on a DVD merely certifies the calibration of the equipment used during the authoring process of a disc but not the master used or the resultant disc, what is the point of the badge being on the disc ? I am presuming none


Anyone else that was at the California HTF meet in April 2001 want to pipe in?

I seem to recall very vividly at Paramounts facilities when we were being shown 'before' and 'after' restoration process that THX was discussed briefly and in direct regards to Titanic.

I can't remember the persons name (he did most of the talking and also took most of the questions when we moved to the conference room), but he said that even new films needed restoration and highlighted Titanic. He said Paramount restorers encountered something like 57,000 flaws (a flaw can be as simple as dirt on a frame of film), but when sent to THX, they recorded something to the effect of 125,000 flaws.

If that is the case, it seems to fly in the face that THX doesn't certify some transfers or prints. Additionally, when Aliens and Abyss came out as $125 laserdisc box sets, that seemed to be part of the hype was that THX was certifying the film as being up to their standards, and not the equipment it was mastered on.

Mr. Harris, I certainly don't disagree with what you are saying. However what you have pointed out seems to have differed vs. what one studio has told members here, and back when these remastered laserdiscs were hyped
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#18 of 30 Seth_S

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Posted November 01 2002 - 02:19 PM

Mr. Harris,

Is there a reason why Lucasfilm hasn't piped up about what THX certification actually means? Studios have gone as far as to imply that THX certification means that the transfer was created at Lucasfilm. Furthermore, I find it surprising that Lucasfilm never objected to how studios recycled THX certified LaserDisc transfers for DVD releases and slapped the THX logo on the DVD box art, thus implying that the DVD release was THX certified. Essentially, studios have been using the THX logo as a means of false advertising and yet THX seems to turn the blind eye, even though it hurts the credibility of their certification?

Speaking of studios re-releasing DVD titles in higher resolution, do you know if Universal has any plans to re-release Psycho and Vertigo in anamorphic widescreen?

Thanks

#19 of 30 Robert Harris

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Posted November 01 2002 - 02:38 PM

Re: Seth_S ...

I have no information regarding THX and Lucasfilm and their methodology of licensing beyond my understanding that any misinformation or questionable use of the trademark did not come from Lucasfilm, but rather from the studio / publisher
community.

Re: "Vertigo" and Psycho...

These are both superb transfers from Universal.

"Vertigo" was produced just before the move to anamorphic, but even that additional technology would have had no affect, as it was a full scale large format transfer at a facility which did not have anamorphic capability.

The cost of "Vertigo" was tremendous, and except for moving forward to a HiDef transfer, which is not yet necessary, I would not be able to in good conscience suggest that Universal re-transfer at this time.

RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#20 of 30 Duncan Harvey

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Posted November 02 2002 - 08:41 AM

One thing which people often forget re Superbit is that until Godzilla came out, Sony did not appear to have any DVD 9 replication facilities. Hence all of their films came out (usually) as DVD 10s with the widescreen and 4:3 versions on separate sides (or with the extras on the other side as with the original disc of Starship Troopers).

Hence bit rates were restricted simply because they only had 4.7gb to play with.

Superbit is a nice snazzy marketing logo to cover the re-release schedule of these earlier single layer releases, and if they look better - well great - given nearly twice as much space they ought to!

As for new releases - again given DVD9s and improvements in compression technology these ought to look superb.

So congrats to Sony, but only to the extent that they are doing their job - would anyone be satisfied with anything less?


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