HTF REVIEW: Columbia Superbits

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Nov 11, 2001.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein


    One of the biggest unresolved arguments amongst
    DVD enthusiasts these days is whether Columbia's
    new line of Superbit DVDs are really better
    than the original releases or just a gimmick to
    get consumers to repurchase titles already available.
    The premise is that these new Superbit
    releases are recorded at a bitrate at almost double
    of what normal DVDs are recorded at, thus, resulting
    in superior picture quality. Extra Features are
    removed from these releases to allow more available
    bandwidth in which to record the movie.
    I have been wanting to do a review on the
    Superbit titles since they first appeared
    over a month ago, but Columbia only recently shipped
    me the collection to look at and compare.
    My initial reaction to hearing about Columbia's
    SUPERBIT releases was WHY? Almost
    any major current DVD title I purchase boasts a
    gorgeous video and audio transfer. Take a look at
    some of the stuff coming from Fox, Dreamworks and
    even Columbia. The transfers are dazzling within
    themselves. Since I have a new DVD player, I have been
    unable to find the bitrate display to accurately see
    what these new Superbit DVDs are recorded at,
    but most standard DVD bitrates hover in the 5-7 range,
    which isn't too far off from (what I am guessing)
    is the 10 range that Superbits is recorded
    at. I can't see why there is all this hype.
    I took a look and compared a few of the Superbit
    titles that I already had standards of in my
    collection. Comparing the standard and Superbit
    versions were not especially easy. I didn't have
    identical players sitting side-by-side that I could
    easily compare at a moment's notice. I had to
    actually look at a few moments of a particular scene
    on one disc -- eject -- and then sit and wait till
    the other disc loads. That amount of time where your
    eyes leave the screen in order to compare pictures
    is not exactly a plus for doing accurate comparison.
    First up was Air Force One. I first looked
    at Chapter 2, which starts off with a night assault
    on an Embassy. On the standard DVD, the scene is
    dark, and you can immediately see a lot of grain
    in the picture. I had hoped that the Superbit
    version would have cleaned it up, but alas, it
    looked exactly the same. I then looked at Chapter
    three, where Harrison Ford is talking to a delegation
    during dinner. Though a member on this forum swears
    that there is more detail in the faces of the people
    at the tables, I saw no improvement whatsoever.
    Next, I popped in the standard DVD edition of
    Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which by all
    means is one of Columbia's best transfers. I went
    to Chapter 19 where we watch a procession carrying
    Princess Jade. It's a beautiful scene to look at,
    because you have so much vibrant red color in the
    flags and costumes offset by the deep blue sky.
    The standard DVD edition shows all this off without
    flaw. When I popped in the Superbit DVD, I
    saw absolutely no difference in the picture quality.
    The Fifth Element standard DVD is still
    considered amongst videophiles to be a demo quality
    disc. It would be hard to imagine that this could
    be improved upon in any way. I also have read that
    many people couldn't see much difference in the
    Superbit version. Surprisingly, I did, though
    it was subtle. The picture is noticeably a bit
    cleaner on this disc. Check out Chapter 11 where
    Leloo falls from the building, through layers
    of traffic, into Bruce Willis's taxicab. The picture
    is slightly cleaner and more vibrant. Even more
    noticeable, is the DTS audio where the rear effects
    of honking traffic is more distinguished. Skip
    ahead two chapters and look at Bruce Willis kissing
    Leloo. The picture is slightly sharper and more
    vibrant -- noticeably the yellow in Willis's T-shirt
    and the orange of Leloo's hair. I must stress,
    however, the differences are subtle, and I was going
    out of my way to look for improvement.
    I have never seen Desperado nor owned the
    original DVD. I had nothing to compare it to.
    However, from what I have been reading, THIS is the
    Superbit DVD that looks noticeably better
    than the original release. I popped the disc in and
    took a look at the opening credits which had deep
    beautiful red lettering against Banderes strumming
    his guitar. Picture looked beautiful. I then
    skipped ahead to Chapter 11, and looked at a black
    automobile coming through the gates into a courtyard
    that is colored in reddish/orange/brown. The
    colors and picture clarity look stunning. I would
    love to have seen what the original disc looked
    like, but this disc certainly looks sensational.
    My Final Thoughts
    I don't quite understand why there was a need
    for Superbits DVD, when Columbia Pictures
    is one of the leaders (if not THE leader) in
    consistently releasing gorgeous transfers that
    outshine everyone else. I mean, this studio has
    been doing hi-def transfers long before anyone.
    I can buy most any new release from a major studio
    and see transfer quality that is just as impressive.
    In order to make a Superbit title, the
    extras are removed. This means that not only are
    there no trailers, commentaries or extras, but
    even the menu system has been reduced to a very
    plain, industrial-like page.
    That being said, I would probably buy a Superbit
    over the same title being released with extras.
    Why? Because one, I don't even watch or listen to
    all the extra material and, two, I found that the
    DTS mixes on these discs are more active than their
    Dolby Digital counterparts.
    If you already own any of the Superbit
    offerings on standard DVD, I would not reccomend
    buying the title again. The difference in picture
    quality is just not an eye-opening difference. The
    average joe six-pack wouldn't even notice it. I
    think most of us notice it because we know we are
    supposed to look for it. Keep your standard Columbia
    editions -- they already look sensational and still
    remain Demo quality.
    On the other hand, if I didn't own a particular
    title and saw both the plain vanilla SUPERBITS
    and the chock-full-of-extras STANDARD edition on
    a shelve, I would pick the SUPERBIT, knowing
    I was getting even a slightly more improved video
    and DTS audio experience.
    Folks, we all "ooh" and "aaah" over just about
    every new and catalog release coming out from all
    the major studios. Selling a concept of superior
    picture quality based upon bringing up the bitrate
    a few notches, is nothing that's going to revolutionize
    the DVD industry when you have standard DVD transfers
    like Planet Of The Apes, Driven, and
    Shrek that are setting their own transfer
    benchmarks without the highest bitrate setting.
    This is an argument that will continue to be
    debated. Some see the difference, some do not.
    I wasn't particularly impressed -- but yet -- I'll
    be looking forward to Bram Stoker's Dracula
    Ronald Epstein (pronounced like the English "Ronald Epstein")
    Circa 2000
    Home Theater Forum Administrator
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  2. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

    Apr 19, 2000
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    I have a feeling the Superbits issue might eventually resemble the Dolby Digital vs. DTS debate. Some will swear the differences are major, while others won't discern much of anything at all. For my part, I agreed with Ron on his assessment of the two SBs I saw: Air Force One and The Fifth Element. However, I don't concur with his lack of interest in extras. If confronted with a packed SE that looks and sounds great or a bare-bones effort that might look and sound slightly better, I'll take the former. Though I preferred the image of the SB Fifth Element, the difference was small enough that I wouldn't have sacrificed additional content for it. (Of course, the original had no extras anyway, so that was a moot point.)
    Let the debate continue...
    Colin Jacobson
    DVD Movie Guide
  3. Brian-W

    Brian-W Screenwriter

    Feb 8, 1999
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    Having done side by sides w/identical players and display device, the difference is noticeable, but not by a large margin. It's like extracting that last 10-20% in ultimate picture quality. For most, that's not enough to justify an upgrade. For some, it's more than enough reason.
    Those running high-resolution devices who've switched from an DVD player and scaler to a HTPC know what I'm talking about. That last bit of picture quality that can be achieved is worth it.
    I will say that with Air Force 1 and Crouching Tiger, the differences are negligible at best. Fifth Element is noticeable, while Desperado isn't really a fair comparison considering it's a brand new transfer.
    For those with the old Desperado that enjoy this movie a lot, I highly recommend picking up the Superbit version if only for the new transfer.
  4. Dave H

    Dave H Producer

    Aug 13, 2000
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    I really wonder how well SuperBits are going to sell. This is something I cannot see lasting since most new transfers, as Ron pointed, are very good. The differences between SuperBits and the regular editions aren't going to mean much to the masses. (For me, a 10% increase in quality warrants the purchase, but not most people.) I'm very interested in seeing how Dracula and The Patriot (if and when it gets released) will compare.
  5. Matt Butler

    Matt Butler Screenwriter

    Jun 23, 2001
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    The only SB I bought is FE. I didnt have the original version. I do want AF1 and Dracula when its released. I have seen the original FE and the SB is a bit better. I dont see a need for CTHD considering the original is top-notch.
  6. Neil Joseph

    Neil Joseph Lead Actor

    Jan 16, 1998
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    Real Name:
    Neil Joseph
    Superbits is not a bad idea from CTS but the thing that irks me is that..
    1- Not all of the space on the disk is used up
    2- That extra space could have been used for a full bitrate dts soundtrack.
    If these were done, then I would really consider them superbit titles.
    My Favourite DVD's
  7. Luis A

    Luis A Second Unit

    Aug 2, 2001
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    I did notice a small improvement on video w/the SB titles, except for Desperado, whichwas superior to the original and El Mariachi.
    My main reason for picking up the SB titles was for the DTS tracks. However, like Neil said, not all of the space is used so why couldn't a full bitrate DTS track be used? I will continue to buy the SB titles, even if it's only for DTS, but I would love it if CTHV would start using FULL BITRATE DTS soon. [​IMG]
  8. Brian-W

    Brian-W Screenwriter

    Feb 8, 1999
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  9. DarrenA

    DarrenA Second Unit

    Aug 30, 2000
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    "Who benefit's the most from Superbit titles?"
    If you see the reviews of those who use direct view and rear projection televisions, most of these folks see little to no difference. The other folks with large front projector setups that can see many more flaws on DVDs can definitely see the difference (improvements) with the Superbit titles.
    The moral of the story...the larger your screen, the more apparent the benefits of Superbit titles comes through.
    The Academy Home Theater
  10. Rob Gillespie

    Rob Gillespie Producer

    Aug 17, 1998
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    I like what I've seen/heard so far. I prefer the SB version of Crouching Tiger. The image seems a tad cleaner, and less importantly, I don't have to suffer the god awful menu sequences every time I hit a button on the remote.
    A full rate DTS track would have been ideal, but I doubt they could have fitted it on there without losing some of the video real estate.
  11. Kimmo Jaskari

    Kimmo Jaskari Screenwriter

    Feb 27, 2000
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    The differences would almost inevitably be minor, since they can't just step out of the current DVD spec. There is only so much space and bandwidth to work with, after all.
    I'm getting some of these Superbit titles. I have to say though, I wish they would have dumped the Dolby 5.1 sound from these discs and made them Dolby Stereo and DTS full bitrate instead.
  12. TedD

    TedD Supporting Actor

    Jan 9, 2001
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    Believe me, if you have a high end front projection system with a high end scaler or a HTPC, the differences are obvious. I have purchased all the released superbit titles to replace the originals, and in every instance, the improved audio (DTS) and video quality is worth it.
    However, thats in my HT, sitting 15' from a 12' wide screen.
  13. Tom J. Davis

    Tom J. Davis Second Unit

    May 30, 1999
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  14. Mark_TS

    Mark_TS Screenwriter

    Mar 23, 2000
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    ...I really hope CTS get around to a SB *and* remaster of ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN-the current DVD has far too much brown in it, unassertive colors, and poor black rendition.
    Taking a look at their previous gorgeous LD transfer shows a palete tilted towards the golds and reds (much like an Italian Renaissance painting) with better blacks.
    The colors fairly glow-the LD, save for the sharpness, is a joy to my eyes.
    The DVD, sharp as it may be, is painfull to watch....
    Pehaps this was an apprentice engineers' first assignment...
    [Edited last by Mark_TS on November 11, 2001 at 09:20 PM]
  15. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

    Aug 30, 2001
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    Real Name:
    I can't resist adding my two cents. For background, I have a 27 inch Sony XBR and Pioneer Elite DV05 DVD player with high end video cables.
    After much viewing of pre and post SuperBit releases I do find subtle but material improvements in the SuperBit picture quality. How bit rates impact this I do not know but it seems logical that they would help. Here is what I notice:
    1. More resolution in detail on the production sets.
    2. The resulting smooth image quality as well.
    I have seen more dramatic improvements on front projector systems, but I for one am impressed enough to hope Columbia adds more SuperBit titles.
  16. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

    Oct 31, 1997
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    My experiences with my 3 SB titles are pretty much in line with everything said here:
    1. CTHD, marginal but slightly noticeable improvement. Thank God no more animated menus to sit through. Still liked the extras enough to keep my old disc.
    2. Fifth Element was more of an improvement than CTHD, but certainly not night and day on my setup. Since the old one had no extras, I had no problem handing that down to my parents.
    3. Desperado was a new transfer, true, so you can't compare apples and oranges. That said, I think a SB title should be accompanied by a new HD transfer to go with the high bit rate. I hope Gattaca and Dracula also get a new HD transfer to go with their SB treatment. This is what I'll spring money for in the future for SBs.
    For the record: I'm viewing a Michael_TLV calibrated Panasonic PT-47 HD-ready set, with a Panasonic RP91 progressive player hooked up directly through Monster Video3 Component cables.
  17. Jeff Adams

    Jeff Adams Screenwriter

    Dec 13, 1999
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    Just like Ron Said. If I had a choice between a normal dvd or a Superbit dvd, I would choose the Superbit dvd everytime. I will purchase new releases or movies I don't have on superbit but I don't think I am going to replace the current dvd's I have with Superbit unless it is an older release with a crappy transfer. The only 2 Superbit dvd's I have are The Fifth Element and CTHD. I do notice a slight difference in picture quality and sound quality on both titles. And I am with Ron. I hardly ever watch any of the extras. So the 10 hours of stuff they put on dvd's is not a concern. My question is, are there going to be other companies that will put out Superbit dvd's? Now that would be heaven sent. Scarface, Goodfellas and Tombstone on Superbit? [​IMG]
    "I'm your Huckelberry"

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