Saturday, September 16, 2006


You know, there's nothing like a little comeuppance. A little "Next-Gen Justice", if you will. Surfing the tech headlines today found this delightful article, which lays out the path for the coming demise of the so-called "Next-Gen" home video formats, HD-DVD and BluRay.

Now, before we get too far into this, I will say that just because one article says they aren't selling well, doesn't mean the whole thing is collapsing...but, at the very least, things are looking up (or down, if you're a member of the HD-DVD or BluRay camps). I'm very passionate about seeing the format war end, so we can all get on with it (it being enjoying HD content), so thought I'd help spread the word.

Basically, these players aren't selling all. Not at all. Very poorly. Bad. No interest. Nope. Sorry. Better luck next time.

Wonder why...oh wait, it couldn't be the lack of titles maybe? Maybe the high costs? The players are about $600 to $1200 CDN. The movies are $40 to $50. And the selection is not good..."RV" for $45?! "Into the Blue" for $38?! Nah, couldn't be the problem.

Why am I so interested in the failure of these Next-Gen formats? Well, I guess for starters, it's the fact that there is even a format war at all. A couple years ago, and even up until earlier this year, they (the companies responsible for this mess) had their chance to make nice, and create a unified standard where everybody wins and consumers come to the till with their wallets raging, and hearts full of joy for the chance to experience HD content on their new HD-TVs (another not-so-hidden cost of Next-Gen).

Nope, they blew it. Couldn't agree...we all can't share a pie, they each said, cause then my piece will be smaller, and I don't like small pie, I only like big pie. That is not a direct quote.

And so there was no unitedness, and thus two competing formats emerged. Confusing, yes. Each format boasts similar specs, couple differences here and there. I never really paid much attention, cause I figured I won't be making the Next-Gen leap until the better format wins.

Now, if I thought that to myself, and I did...then, well, surely the big companies, with their millions of dollars and hours of carefully thought out research and market analysis, and just plain ol' savvy when it comes to reading the consumer...surely they thought that as well? Hmm, guess not. What I'm saying is, not only did I choose to wait n see, but so have 99% of the home video consumers.

And then came the players...I mean the actual hardware disc players. So, what do you get for all that money spent? Well, they're slow. I'm talking turn-it-on, wait a couple minutes, put the disc in, wait 3 to 5 minutes, and by then you're maybe at the forced-trailers (the trailers for other titles you don't want to know about and cannot skip...oh, these are on DVDs too, nothing Next-Gen about that little gem). Now, that's just what I've read, but there's new firmware, and new models of players, maybe it'll be an acceptable experience someday, maybe it already is...dunno, don't care. Fun fact: Apparently these players run Linux...which slays me, because wasn't it a Linux user who cracked the DVD copy protection?

And what of connectivity? Business tip to all the young "suits" out there, you cannot launch a new format of entertainment without a new form of connector: Behold...HDMI! This baby is basically DVI (the digital out you've likely seen on your computers video card)...but, with the added "benefits" of also carrying digital audio down the cable...and, wait for it...Digital Rights Management (read: copy protection). Yeah, DRM, that thing that the Norwegian teens love to hack to death. So, you'll also need a new HDMI cable...and if your TV doesn't have an HDMI port (and if your HDTV is about a year and a half old due to your "early adoption", it may not), then you'll need an HDMI-DVI adapter, which are about $100 themselves! Just for the right to carry DRM...nah, no thanks.

Side note, I'm not sure why we should care that HDMI carries the audio with the video. Home theatre buffs don't listen to movies through their TV speakers, they listen on their home theatre, through their amp! They want us to think it simplifies connections...but...if I come out of the DVD Player into the TV, where's my 5.1 surround sound go? Maybe you can go from the DVD player to the amplifier, and then the video goes to the TV...but then I'd need TWO HDMI cables?! I dunno, I don't have first hand experience with this.

One more word about available titles: Perhaps studios are holding back their good movies for a couple reasons: Spending the extra time to make sure our favourite movies are remastered/transferred in the best possible methods, with all new extra features (which I never watch)? Or, like the rest of us, are they just waiting for one standard to claim to crown before they ship more product? The Circle of Life, Simba.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that these companies thought they could browbeat us into another format war (the first being VHS vs Beta), and we'd all just chase like rabid dogs into the Wal-Marts and home electronics stores to hand over our first-borns for just a taste of higher resolution and less compressed soundtracks.

Well, the problem, as I see it, is the HD/BluRay experience is not at all the quantum leap over DVD that DVD was over VHS. Think about it: DVD gave us discs...with discs comes chapter skipping, menus, extra features, no rewinding, no tape degradation, digital video and digital sound, all in a convenient disc-sized disc. Now...Next-Gen gives us the same things, with higher resolution pictures and audio, but at the price of the numerous problems, as I've outlined just a few of. Oh, and the HD players "phone-home", using their Ethernet help yourself to some conspiracy theories.

To sum up:

DVD over VHS = Obvious improvement...sound, video, random access, extra content and more.

Next-Gen over DVD = Hmm, nah, don't think so.

So, the question becomes, where do we go from here? Well, lots of us have HDTVs, screaming for content, especially in Canada. Fortunately, there is an emerging solution: Online distribution.

Last week, Apple announced it will be selling movies online through it's iTunes Store. Now, these movies aren't HD...yet. But, since Apple's Quicktime website is the home of HD Movie Trailers, it's not a stretch that once demand and bandwidth catch up, HD movies should be offered. Just a matter of getting studios on board...but since their Next-Gen discs are all but dead, is there any other option? Not if they want to make me, they want to make money.

And there you have it. Outside of the PlayStation 3, which is also expected to be a gigantic flop anyway, BluRay will likely go the hell it's a stupid name. HD-DVD could maybe stick around, since there is a legitimate need for a Next-Gen format, just as a ROM/-R format for video games, computers, that sort of thing.

But movies are going online...and DVDs will stay around in stores for a while yet. People have huge DVD collections, they can be had for less than the price of med school tuition, and the discs just work. There's also "up converting"DVD players...haven't tried them, but supposedly they can process the video information on your current DVD and, make them look Hi-Def? Sounds good anyways.

I used to subscribe to Movie Central HD, but at the end of the day, they have a poor selection, and even poorer scheduling, and too much Canadian garbage, to put it nicely. There's too much regulation in Canada, but that's another blog. I crave Hi-Def content for the big TVs, but for now that'll have to be sports. And with NHL just a few weeks away, I think I'm all set!

Anyway, there's tons of analysis and anecdotes on all of these topics on the web. Check out for Bill Hunt's "My Two Cents" for first-hand looks and the Next-Gen players.

The best HD content is still broadcast. Go Apple Go.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

No iTunes TV shows in Canada make Homer something something

With the launch of an iTunes Movie Store now all but announced this Tuesday, I've been doing a little research into why the Canadian iTunes store is lacking in the TV show department...or bone dry, to be frank.

Found an article from February of this year, suggesting that CBC and NFB (That's "National Film Board", yes, proud providers of the Canadian classic "Log Driver's Waltz") are currently at the table with Apple and Google to negotiate bringing content online. Hope that's true, hope it's soon!

Further to that, it's likely that Canada just has to wait it's turn to cut a deal with Apple, since they are currently working out options with every interested country...could be a while!

Anyway, that's what I've found so far, thought I'd mention it, as online distribution is something I'm very interested in, and cable TV is such crap. Props to CBC for going after it...although I don't expect to be downloading Hockey Night in Canada anytime soon.

It'll be interesting to see the specs on Apple's movie store. One thing is for sure, it won't use Windows Media streams like Amazon's new Movie/TV store that just launched this past Thursday (also USA only). It'll use Quicktime, which actually streams properly (my personal opinion). Quicktime allows you to rewind and fast forward, which I've never seen Windows Media do properly.

The real question is how will it compete with DVD? It's one thing to watch $2 TV shows in 320x240, stereo for 20 or 40 minutes. But it's another thing to expect people to plop down $10 or $15 for 90 or 120 minutes in the same quality. I don't know what the Amazon store quality is like.

I'd be impressed if 5.1 surround sound (which Quicktime supports) and HD resolutions (like on the Quicktime Movie Trailers site) are included. There's nothing sweeeter than those 1080p trailers! But do most people have their Macs sending to their TVs? And a surround sound system hooked up? Oh, and do most people have the bandwidth to download a 2 GB (or bigger!) movie? That new 24" iMac is an HD monitor, with a resolution of 1920x1200!

Steve Jobs claimed 2005 as the "Year of HD"...then launched an underpowered Mac Mini with an integrated video card incapable of playing HD. But with the new Core Duo and Core 2 Duo iMacs selling like hotcakes (I don't have the numbers, I just want one bad!), maybe 2007 is what he meant to say?

The other question is, rental or purchase? Personally I don't see "renting" a 2GB file for 24 hours...isn't that a colossal waste of bandwidth? Perhaps it'll be a combination of streaming and downloading. For example, you pick your movie rental from Apple's new "Front Row Movies" menu, let it buffer a minute or so, like the movie trailers, and then being watching. When the movie is done, you can save it for whatever the purchase price is, or delete it. Will you be able to burn it to a disc to play in your DVD player, like the way you can burn audio files to audio CDs for your CD player? Or do you have to redownload it everytime you want to watch it (again, huge waste).

Anyways, it's exciting times. The big entertainment companies are finally figuring out that it's in their best interest to pay attention to what consumers want, and how they want it, by watching indie content producers and copying them.

The 'tubes are alive, with the sound of movies...