Thursday, July 26, 2007

New SIGHT & SOUND, More Dish on DishNet

The August 2007 issue of SIGHT & SOUND is now on newsstands (or should be), which means that a free selection of material therein is now available for your perusal on their website. Among the attractions is my NoZone column on Bret Wood's directorial debut PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (Kino on Video) -- at least it claims to be there. Perhaps I caught the page still under construction, but as I type this, the link isn't connecting to the review. Maybe it will work for you by the time you read this. If not, keep trying. Better yet, buy the magazine.

To update you on my continuing Dish Network saga: Yesterday we had a Dish technician and his apprentice come to the house for a look at the set-up. To make a long story short, it seems the most likely cure for our recording ailment would be to swap out the VIP 211 with their DVR 622. Not only does this unit offer 160 hours of hard drive storage for HD content (not quite recording for posterity, but close), but the rear panel offers video outputs in both MPEG-4 and MPEG-2. We can run the MPEG-4 to our monitor and the MPEG-2 to our recorder, which would be giving it the same input that we had when there were no problems. In theory, it should work and my fingers are crossed.

The more MPEG-4 programming I see, the more impressed I am. I was checking out the Family Room HD shows two nights ago, before turning in, and was knocked out by the sumptuous video quality of... of all things, FLIPPER. Not the Universal theatrical remake of some years ago, but the original 1964 teleseries; it was like looking through a well-cleaned window at 1964. I never cared for the show particularly, but I was so impressed with the presentation that I stuck with it through the remainder of the episode in progress and an entire second episode. It was reformatted to 16:9 of course, but the show was filmed in such a way that the cropping was never very apparent. It was followed by THUNDERBIRDS, which I've always enjoyed, and it looked beautiful too, though the cropping here was more obvious. Even programming I'm more familiar with, like Rudy Maxa's SMART TRAVELS, looks significantly improved in MPEG-4, with purer, deeper blacks and heightened textures. And a World Cinema HD promo for Kieslowski's BLUE was astonishing in its clarity.

It seems to me, after having made the leap to HD DVD and Blu-ray now for some months, that the companies responsible for cherry-picking titles for release haven't made much of a leap with me. I'm not losing interest in HD per se, but I do find my interest in the HD disc formats slowly eroding. With the exception of CASINO ROYALE and CORPSE BRIDE, easily my two favorite HD/Blu-ray experiences, it's all been about upgrading so far, as far as my own viewing is concerned. The difference is usually appreciable, but very often it isn't exciting -- and, by "exciting," I mean the feeling I got when I first saw STARSHIP TROOPERS in SuperBit.

As I say, it's a matter of poor selection; I'd rather have DRAGONSLAYER than REIGN OF FIRE. Right now, there are only 10-20 titles on the market that I would care to watch more than once -- everything else is the 21st century equivalent of that early videocassette eyesore, FLASHDANCE. Broadcast HD, on the other hand, is infinitely more far-ranging and adventurous than the current selection on HD and Blu-ray discs. I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in HD on HDNET one year ago, and wrote about it here; we're still waiting for the HD disc. That's why I tend to suspect, at this stage anyway, that broadcast HD may well become the surprise victor in this latest "format war," rather than either of its high profile combatants. Of the three options, it's the one with the most obvious imagination, and therefore the one with the most probable future.

HD is also at its best when it can take you by surprise. When you buy a film on HD or Blu-Ray disc, especially with the current crop of pickings, you sort of know in advance what you'll be getting. Broadcast HD offers you the opportunity to browse/surf through unexpected possibilities and have your breath unexpectedly taken away. Maybe even by FLIPPER.

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