Editor's Note: Each Friday, High-Def Digest's own HD Advisor will answer a new round of questions from our readers. If you have home theater questions you need answered, send an email to HDanswers@gmail.com.
Answers by Joshua Zyber
Foreign Blu-rays and Region Coding
Q: I am looking at the possibility of picking up a couple of international Blu-ray discs. I know your site lists whether a movie is Region A or Region Free, but you only cover North American releases, right? Do you know of a place where I can look up international releases? Second, the movie in particular I was looking at was listed on Amazon.co.uk as being in PAL. I know that the PS3 will not play 1080i material at 25 or 50 frames per second, but I thought the Blu-ray format only allowed 1080P at 24 frames / sec. So I am not sure what the PAL label means in this case, unless they are referring to the bonus materials. I guess I could always order, strip the region coding off, and play on the PC. But I would just really like to know what to look for in buying international movies so that I can play them in my US PS3.
A: As you noted, High-Def Digest is a North American web site. Although we may review the occasional import disc, by and large, our reviews are titles meant for the Region A market.
When buying imports, there are two factors to consider. The first is region coding. North America falls into Region A. The second factor is whether the disc has any content encoded with a 50 Hz frame rate. Most American Blu-ray players are not compatible with 50 Hz content, regardless of region coding.
Keep in mind that many retailers simply copy the specs from their DVD listings when creating a new Blu-ray listing. As a result, those specs are often unreliable, especially in European countries where the DVD edition will be in PAL format and coded for Region 2.
Even if a foreign title is coded for Region A compatibility, it may have 50 Hz content that will make the disc (or portions of the disc) unplayable on most American Blu-ray players. Sometimes, all this means is that the standard-def bonus features are authored in PAL format. If that's the case, you still may be able to play the movie otherwise. The majority of movies on Blu-ray are authored at 1080p resolution and a 24 fps rate, which will be compatible worldwide.
Unfortunately, a smaller minority of movies may be authored at 1080i resolution and a 50 Hz frame rate. There may even be cases where the movie is 1080p24 but the disc menus allowing access to that movie are 1080i50, which will effectively prevent you from starting playback.
In regard to the specific disc you were looking at, the 'Harry Potter' movies are distributed worldwide by Warner Home Video. Warner's Blu-ray discs are almost all region-free. The studio also almost never uses PAL or 50Hz content on Blu-ray. That particular disc should be safe to import.
Movies with Older CGI Visual Effects
Q: It has been said that with the success of the recent remastering of 'Star Trek: The Original Series' to High Definition, Paramount may give 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' the same treatment. However this will be a different challenge in that though it was shot on film, the special effects were rendered for 480i video, and they would all have to be recreated for 1080p. In this vein, should we now have similar problems transferring to Blu-ray older movies that were shot on film but that used early digital effects? The ending of 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' (1989) had a CGI shot of the bad guy getting extremely old. 'Jurassic Park' (1993) is full of computer dinosaurs. Even 'Tron' (1982) used digital animation for a few scenes. At what resolution were all of these effects rendered and how will they make it to Blu-ray?
A: You're correct about the issues with 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'. I wrote about that in an earlier column. This should not be an issue with movies, however.
Remember, feature films are made with the intention of being projected onto large theatrical screens. CG visual effects have to be rendered at a high enough resolution to hold up to scrutiny at that size. Obviously, some CG effects are better than others. Even so, in the days before Digital Intermediates, computer graphics were output onto film during post-production. The completed archive master of the movie exists on film, not just as a data file. That film can always be transferred to high-definition video. Even if the specific visual effect shots look dated and dodgy, the movie as a whole can receive a high-def transfer.
This stands in contrast to TV shows like 'Star Trek: TNG', which were immediately transferred to standard-def video after filming, had all post-production performed entirely in the standard-def realm, and were output to a final master on standard-def video. 'Star Trek: TNG' was only ever intended for standard-definition broadcast, and only exists as a standard-definition product.
Blu-rays that Don't Default to the Lossless Audio Track
Q: I was under the impression that a Blu-ray player would pick the best audio track available when it played a Blu-ray disc. However, when I play 'The Matrix', I have to switch the audio to the Dolby TrueHD track. Am I doing something wrong?
A: You're not doing anything wrong. It's not the Blu-ray player that chooses which audio track the disc will default to. That's a decision made by the studio that authored the disc. Unfortunately, it took Warner Home Video a long time to figure out that it's in everyone's best interest for Blu-ray discs to default a lossless audio track. Viewers with hardware compatible with lossless audio will of course always want to choose that option. And for those whose hardware isn't compatible with lossless audio, the disc player is smart enough to fall back on the standard lossy option automatically.
There was never any need for Warner to author its discs to default to lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 when a lossless track was also available. Unfortunately, until recently, that's how they did it anyway. As a result, you must manually select the Dolby TrueHD option every time you play 'The Matrix'.
Rubbing salt in this wound is the fact that most Warner titles begin playback of the movie automatically without a main menu screen. So you'll need to make that audio change on-the-fly after the movie has already started. I find that infuriating, personally.
It seems that our recent coverage of 3-D is still on a lot of readers' minds. Last week, I posted a feedback email that mentioned a new film-based 3-D format being developed by Technicolor. I expressed some skepticism about it being an effective alternative to digital 3-D. This week, another reader sets me straight.
More on 3-D
Feedback: I recently saw a demo of Technicolor's new film-based over/under 3-D projection. First of all, I think what the person who initially wrote you was trying to get across was that while the images are only 2 perfs high, that because all film is masked (virtually no one shoots anamorphic 2.35:1) that there is actually very little image resolution lost. Even a standard 1.85:1 movie is less than three perfs high. A Super 35 movie is even less. Yes, the image is slightly smaller. But it is not as drastic as it seems. It is not four perfs cut down to 2 perfs. I believe that is the point he was trying to make.
In terms of the practical applications of this new film-based 3-D, it is not about getting higher resolution. It is about getting more 3-D screens out there. There is currently a glut of product and a lack of 3-D theaters.
The RealD process is digital. It requires a silver screen and a digital projector. Technicolor's system only requires a silver screen (which many theaters already have) as opposed to a matte white screen. Technicolor then rents a lens to put over the projector. This way a theater doesn't have to go through an expensive re-fit to be able to show a 3-D movie. More movies can be seen in 3-D because there will be more screens out there. And theater owners can charge the extra cost for a 3-D film without having to spend a huge amount on a digital projector.
Technicolor has done tests, and many people could not tell the difference between their 3-D film process and digital 3-D. In fact, in a small screening room, they showed us (a group of film editors) two scenes from 'The Final Destination' and the trailer for 'Monsters vs. Aliens'. The former looked stellar. I will admit that the trailer looked less impressive. But it was not anything where I would think while watching a film in a theater that it looked bad. And it did not seem any better or worse than when I saw 'Up' or 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' in RealD.
That is the real world application of Technicolor's film based 3-D. More screens at comparable quality. Not more resolution.
Check back soon for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.
Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.