Thursday, September 11, 2003

Waiting for the Next-Generation DVD Player

I was generally happy with my APEX player until I bought a new 20-inch Sony. On the old 13-inch, just about anything short of nth-generation VHS copies look alright. Or, to put it another way, the defects of the old TV smeared any recording-media problems into a general slaw of pixilated discontent. With a new, and presumably functional, TV, the problems with the original material stand out sharply. And boy, howdy, DVD has a lot of problems.

The mpeg-2 standard has all the issues of the jpg family of compression - blur on motion, block pixilation, darkness mottling. Throw on top of that the anamorphic glitching that I discovered on my new Project Eden disc the other night, and I'm a grumpy damn consumer.

Went over to a friend's place to watch his digisub downloads, and the comparison was humbling, infuriating, and irritating. His copy of the new Read or Dream TV premiere, playing on a five-foot-tall projection-screen TV four times the size of my new Sony, was twice as clear as the RahXephon disc I watched the other night after giving up on the Dirty Pair. The digisub encoders just keep improving their codecs, evolving like rodents in a radioactive waste dump, while DVD's set-in-stone proprietary codec rots slowly, set in amber. Two years ago, digisubs were highly pixilated, embarrassing messes that you watched because you were too damn impatient to wait the one to two years for the US licensors to crank out a DVD. Today, they're increasingly becoming what you turn to if you want to watch something on a big-screen TV.

Don't get me wrong - a lot of digisubbers are corner-cutting fly-by-night amateur hacks. But there's a lot of them, they're cut-throat competitive, and the cream rises to the surface. Five or six groups might do R.o.D. TV, each with a different translation, different encoding and subtitling. The one I saw last night was absolutely unparalleled. I don't think the US licensor will be able to improve on it; in fact, I rather suspect that a legal version, done to DVD standards, will be much less viewable.

Of course, this evolutionary open-source black market has its downsides. My friend has to chase new codecs for his viewing software every so often, and certain encodings won't work with DIVX Player, or won't work with RealPlayer. He's got about four different programs that he uses, depending on the encoding of any particular download.

But it isn't as if DVD is a particularly stable format, anyways. That Project Eden gitch disc I was bitching about? On a proper high-end DVD player, I'm told that it probably would work. If I had a widescreen TV, I think it *would* work. But because I bought a cheapass APEX that plays properly encoded DVDs, the marginally-miscoded Project Eden disc isn't going to work. And of course, everybody knows about DVD regional encodes. Not that I need to worry about that - I hacked my APEX to get around that. It's a large part of why I got that model.

I rather think it's time that the industry starts working on getting that next generation superDVD format off the tarmac and in the air. 'Cause the black market's siren song is luring me onto the rocks of piracy, I swear.

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