HD Advisors of '49

Posted Mon Mar 15, 2010 at 12:35 PM PDT by
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Answers by Joshua Zyber

Movies with IMAX Scenes

Q: In the past couple of years, we've seen some Blu-ray releases that include some portions filmed for IMAX theatres. In particular 'The Dark Knight' and the special Big Screen edition of 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'. Both of these show a clearly noticeable increase in picture detail when compared to either the rest of the film or the non-IMAX editions. With a big increase in IMAX films in the past 12 months or so, most notably 'Avatar' and 'Alice in Wonderland', and with many more planned this year, do you think there is any chance we will see Blu-ray releases that contain entire IMAX presentations of films?

A: 'The Dark Knight' and 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' are actually special cases, quite different than the other movies you cite. Both of those titles had selected scenes photographed using 15-perf, 70 mm IMAX film stock (referred to as IMAX 15/70), which is almost 10 times larger than traditional 35mm. The larger film stock captures much more detail. When projected in an IMAX 15/70 theater (not the watered-down digital IMAX theaters), the results are frequently breathtaking.

However, to date, these are the only two Hollywood theatrical features photographed this way. While IMAX theaters often play many other Hollywood movies (including 'Avatar' and 'Alice in Wonderland'), those movies weren't photographed using real IMAX film stock. They were shot using traditional 35mm film or 2k digital cameras, then blown-up to IMAX proportions in a process called IMAX DMR. As I mentioned in a previous column, I'm not a big fan of what IMAX DMR upconversion does to a movie's image quality.

So, when 'Avatar' and 'Alice in Wonderland' come to Blu-ray, you shouldn't expect them to have any special scenes that change aspect ratio or image quality in comparison to the rest of the movie. Because they simply weren't made that way.

Of course, the IMAX versions of both 'Dark Knight' and 'Transformers: Revenge' were extremely popular. As a result, I expect that we'll see more movies follow that production strategy for selected scenes.

As to why entire Hollywood features aren't shot on IMAX stock, that's a matter of practical logistics. IMAX cameras are huge and very noisy. They simply aren't practical for filming many movie scenes, especially quiet indoor dialogue scenes. It may happen eventually. (Christopher Nolan has mentioned that he's trying to figure out how to might make it work for the next 'Batman' movie.) But there aren't any immediate plans to do it.

With all that said, remember that there are other types of movies, mostly nature documentaries, shot entirely on IMAX film stock. Many of those are already available on Blu-ray now. Titles include 'Grand Canyon Adventure', 'Volcanoes of the Deep Sea', and 'Mummies: Secrets of the Pharoahs', among others. 'Under the Sea' will be released shortly.

Wi-Fi Connectivity

Q: My son has the internet in his upstairs bedroom. I have a laptop downstairs which has Wi-Fi. We recently bought a router which is also in my son's bedroom, so that I can connect to the internet on my laptop. I have tried connecting my laptop to my Panasonic Blu-ray player with a cable so that I can access BD-Live, but my Blu-ray player doesn't allow me to connect to BD-Live. Can you tell where I am going wrong? If I take my Blu-ray player upstairs and connect it to the router I have no problem.

A: I'm not going to pretend to be any sort of computer expert, but I don't believe that you can simply hook your Blu-ray player up to your laptop to piggyback off the laptop's Wi-Fi connection. (If I'm wrong about that, hopefully readers will chime in and comment in the forum thread linked at the bottom of this page.)

The Blu-ray player is designed to be connected directly to the router. If that's not practical, you can add a wireless bridge, as described in this earlier column. Check also the forum thread related to that article for brand and model suggestions.

Seamless Branching

Q: How do Blu-rays (and for that matter DVDs) deal with audio when there is seamless branching? Specifically, say a music track goes from A to B in the shorter version, but from A to C to B in the longer version. How do the players make that transition smoothly without any evidence of an edit? It makes sense to me that the players jump around the discs to read the video aspect of the movie, but I'm curious to know what they do when the music and other sounds don't line up to both versions of the video.

A: With seamless branching, the same principle applies to both audio and video equally. If there were any sort of delay in the branching, you'd see a pause or stutter visually just as much as you'd hear it in the soundtrack. You may have experienced this on many DVD players when the disc hits a layer change.

All Blu-ray players have a seamless layer change for Blu-ray discs, and the ability to enact seamless branching on the video content. A recent example of this is the Japanese animated film 'Ponyo'. If you choose to watch the movie with an English soundtrack, you'll view it with English-language opening and closing credits. But if you select the Japanese soundtrack instead, it will play with the original Japanese screen credits. (The song over the end credits is also different.) The bulk of the movie is identical in both versions. The credits sequences for each are stored separately from the rest of the data. The player will seamlessly branch to whichever is appropriate for the soundtrack selection you made in the disc's main menu.

In order to make this transition seamless to the viewer, the Blu-ray player will read the data on the disc ahead and store it in a buffer. The movie plays from the buffer, not in real-time. That buffer will give the player enough time to jump to another section of the disc while the movie is still playing. It will then add the alternate video and audio to the buffer before playback catches up to the branching point. By the time playback does catch up, it will play through as if the video and audio had always been a continuous linear stream. You should experience no visible or audible pause.

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

The HD Advisor knows many things, but he doesn't know everything. Some questions are best answered with a consensus of opinions from our readers. If you can help to answer the following question, please post your response in our forum thread linked at the end of this article. Your advice and opinions matter too!

PowerDVD Playback Issues

Q: I'm having trouble getting HD Audio running Blu-ray discs using PowerDVD Ultra version 9. I have an Alienware M17x laptop with Nvidia graphics card GTX260M connected to a Denon AVR-590 receiver through HDMI. I certainly feel like I have all the hardware and software components and should be able to get the full HD Audio working. It's very frustrating.

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.

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