Sunday, March 11, 2007

Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD, Babel, Beerfest and The History Boys

Movies seem to have taken over my life for the past few years and I can hardly move around my flat without tripping over one of the many precariously stacked towers of DVDs that seem to exist in every single room.

The launch of the high definition formats, notably HD-DVD, late last year have not helped my addiction in any way. I bought my first HD-DVD player - a nice cheap, XBox 360 add-on - back in November and haven't looked back since. Suddenly standard DVDs just seem so ordinary!

Last week I decided I had enough titles to warrant purchase of a 'proper' HD-DVD player (the X-Box 360 is notorious for suddenly displaying the 'red rings of death' on power-up - an indication that the box has died and over-heated - and I've always felt rather vulnerable using it as my main DVD player). The Toshiba high-end DVD player I had before I purchased the X-Box has been in Toshiba's workshop 'awaiting parts' for four months now, still with no sign of a date when it might be fixed, despite me agreeing to a repair cost that would buy me four brand new DVD players if I went to Tesco's!

If there were someone else making HD-DVD players of any sort of quality I'd buy a player from them, but alas!, Toshiba have a virtual monopoly on the HD-DVD format. Their XE1 'top-end' player has a typical online price of £650, but I managed to purchase a unit from Dabs for £500 - too much of a bargain to resist, although I still haven't got around to actually connecting it up. No doubt a review of the unit will appear on this blog at some point. For now the only comment I can make is that the remote control for the player is one of the biggest, ugliest and heaviest remotes I've ever seen.

In the meantime, I've also succumbed to the 'other' high definition format: Blu-Ray. In all honesty, I wish this region-locked format would die a horrible, painful death. For reasons why, read the long rant on my new Blu-Ray Review blog, which I launched yesterday.

It's a sad fact that too many good movies are now being released exclusively to Blu-Ray, such that the format can't be ignored, despite its poor, and extremely over-priced players and some appallingly bad transfers that were released when the format launched. Blu-Ray has more film companies behind it than the rival HD-DVD format, and appears to have moved ahead in the 'format war' that's taking place around high definition formats, with Blu-Ray disc sales allegedly now outselling HD-DVD by a factor of about two-to-one. This situation can partly be explained by a sudden dearth of HD-DVD titles (no titles at all this week, although things ramp up again next week), but even so, the marketing muscle of Blu-Ray's supporters is clearly beginning to take effect.

By all accounts the new Sony PS3 (a games machine that just happens to have bundled in a Blu-Ray player at a ridiculously low price which means Sony is losing money on every unit it sells) is by far the best Blu-Ray player on the market, and its European launch on March 23rd, together with some discount bundle pricing from Dabs means that I've succumbed to the format. Expect to start seeing Blu-Ray reviews on the new blog when the units finally start to ship here in the UK, although where a title is released on both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, it will always be the HD-DVD version that gets reviewed because HD-DVD is my format of choice.

In the meantime I've spent the last week trying to catch up on the backlog of DVDs and HD-DVDs waiting to be reviewed. DVDs of The Queen (rather disappointing, given all the hype!), Pan's Labyrinth (a superb film gets excellent DVD treatment), Over The Hedge (one of the better CGI cartoon films that's been released), Echo Park LA (over-rated Sundance winner, but enjoyable for all that), Down in the Valley (far better than most of the critical reviews would have you believe), The Mother (an excellent companion piece to the recent Peter O'Toole vehicle Venus which is currently playing in cinemas) and Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim have all been watched, and are just awaiting the time-consuming process of having screencaps taken so that reviews can be published over the next week or two. On the HD-DVD side two classic Steve McQueen films, Bullitt and The Getaway have arrived, so I'm looking forward to seeing how well they've been transferred to the new high-resolution format.

In the meantime I did manage to get two new reviews posted yesterday, with a third being added earlier this morning. My reviews of Beerfest (ghastly, puerile, infantile crap!) and Babel (classy, Oscar-nominated fare) on HD-DVD have been published on my HD-DVD Review Blog, while a review of The History Boys (far-fetched, and somewhat disappointing Alan Bennett fodder) has been published on my UK DVD Review blog.

A review of the DVD release of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for make glorious nation of Kazakhstan (I laughed out loud. A lot!) will be posted later today, and I'll provide a link to it here on this blog tomorrow.

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