The 26th HD Advisor

Posted Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 12:00 PM PDT by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

HD Movies from Sources Other than Blu-ray

Q: As you are aware, a number of movies that have been broadcast in high definition on television have never been released on either high-def home video format (HD DVD or Blu-ray). Is it fair to assume that since these films have been mastered for high-def TV broadcast transmission that it is only a matter of time before they are indeed released on Blu-ray, or is that a faulty assumption? Perhaps there is no correlation at all between broadcast rights and high-def home video rights. In a similar vein, is it fair to assume that all HD DVD movies will inevitably be released on Blu-ray? If so, why are so many studios holding off doing so? Could it be that HD DVD sales for certain titles were underwhelming, so they don't see any financial incentive to also do a Blu-ray release, or are there other reasons for the delays?

A: All of the major movie studios have been mastering their movies in high definition for over a decade now. Those HD masters serve multiple purposes. They can be used for Blu-ray, or downconverted for DVD, or licensed out for TV broadcast and other sources (VUDU, Netflix downloads, etc.).

In general, there isn't much correlation between broadcast rights and home video rights. The fact that a movie has appeared in high definition on cable doesn't guarantee that a Blu-ray is forthcoming. A lot of the movies broadcast in high definition are sourced from older and dated masters. The studio may choose to hold off on releasing a Blu-ray until a new master can be struck. Or they may just have gotten a good broadcast licensing rate for a specific movie, but don't believe that a Blu-ray would be as profitable.

I expect that all the movies released on HD DVD will eventually be released on Blu-ray. However, similar conditions apply. Universal in particular was notorious for cranking out catalog titles on HD DVD that had very old and problematic video transfers just to get product out on the market. They've been more selective about which titles make it to Blu-ray. A lot of those missing movies deserve to be remastered first.

Also, as you speculated, the studios may hesitate to release poor-selling HD DVD titles on Blu-ray until they feel the market is more amenable, such as during an anniversary for that movie, or to coincide with the release of an upcoming sequel/remake.

Timelines and Other Gimmicks

Q: Why is it that some manufacturers don't seem to understand the importance of a clean, uncluttered image? Some action sequences or still frames can be so beautiful I'd like to look at them a little longer. Especially on Blu-ray. But only on Blu-ray can you find a thing like an unremovable 'timeline' when you want to watch a sequence frame-by-frame or you simply want to enjoy a still frame. I have nothing against timelines and other gimmicks, but please: optional/removable. Or is it me having the wrong equipment, a Panasonic DMP-BD35? Is there a player available that can override these forced 'timelines' and give me back my uncluttered image?

A: For what it's worth, I happen to agree with you. I also find timeline meters and other graphics or icons that clutter the screen when the movie is paused annoying. I would prefer if studios made those functions optional.

Unfortunately, no Blu-ray players can override these features unless the studio specifically authors the disc to make them defeatable. The Blu-ray format has a protected video path that prevents a player from altering anything the studio wishes to appear on screen.

Why Both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio?

Q: Regarding the two lossless audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio), you have mentioned a while ago that all three formats are bit-for-bit identical to their studio masters and result in equivalent audio quality. I understand why studios have dropped the use of linear PCM audio track, but what's the point in maintaining Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA? At the end, the studio has to choose only one of the two audio formats. So if they are identical...

A: If you're asking why a studio would choose to include both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio on the same disc, that is very rarely done. Off the top of my head, I can only think of 'Close Encounters' and 'Top Gun'. You're right, there's really no need for that. Assuming all other factors involving the sound mix are equal, the two lossless compression codecs will deliver identical results. (To add to the confusion, the two soundtracks on 'Top Gun' are actually sourced from separate mixes.)

If you're asking why there's any competition between Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio in general, that's a little more complicated. Although both audio formats are lossless, they achieve their results through different means. Dolby TrueHD is a more efficient codec and requires less space. However, it's not backwards compatible with older A/V receivers, and will require that a standard lossy Dolby Digital track also be authored on the disc.

Meanwhile, DTS-HD Master Audio is stored in a core + extension configuration, which means that it is backwards compatible with older receivers. If a viewer's hardware doesn't support the lossless extension, the player will only read the lossy DTS core. Therefore, there's no need to include a separate lossy track, because the lossy track is already part of the signal.

DTS-HD is also advantageous for viewers who can't make use of the full lossless extension. The lossy DTS core is usually the higher bit-rate 1.5 Mb/s version of standard DTS, which is arguably higher in fidelity than the 640 kb/s standard Dolby Digital option.

A studio's choice between Dolby or DTS will come down to which model they prefer. Of course, business being business, behind-the-scenes deals and incentives may also play a part in the competition.

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

Some questions that the HD Advisor receives 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.

This week, the Homework assignment is literally a homework assignment!

Digital Cinematography

Q: I am writing a school paper on the emerging technology of digital cameras used in motion picture production. What percentage of movies/television series are shot digitally?

JZ: For theatrical features, the percentage shot on digital video is still quite small, only a handful of movies a year. The numbers are almost certainly higher for television, but digital video is still far from ubiquitous there either. The majority of primetime dramas are still shot on film, for example. Part of the reason for the slow transition is that existing production pipelines are focused on film. It's easier and less expensive for a movie or TV show to use an existing post-production chain rather than to invest in the development of a new HD video pipeline. The other major factor is that many of the creative talent still prefer the look of film to the look of video.

In either case, I don't have the exact figures. Can one of our other readers help out? Perhaps someone working in the industry is reading this.

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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