It's All About The Movie

    DVD is a wonderful medium for movies. It is by far the best medium available to us, the consumer, at this point in time. It has a number of compelling advantages which make it so, but DVD producers seem to have a knack for losing the plot sometimes and forgetting about these advantages.

    It's all about the movie. Sure, the latest and greatest interactive extras are great adjuncts to the movie, but the main reason I buy a DVD is because I want to see the movie, and I want to see it in its best possible format.

PAL, please

    DVDs can't really be classified into PAL or NTSC as that strictly isn't what is on the disc. What is on the disc is a video and audio data file in one of two resolutions: 720 x 480 pixels ("NTSC") or 720 x 576 pixels ("PAL"). For the sake of brevity and clarity , I'll refer to these resolutions as PAL and NTSC in the context of this article.

    PAL DVDs have 20% more resolution than NTSC DVDs. This translates into a potentially much sharper picture, all other factors being equal.

    I want my DVDs in PAL, please.

16x9 Enhanced, please

    For widescreen presentations, 16x9 enhancement provides a higher resolution image. 34% higher resolution, in fact, if your equipment can take advantage of it. Even if it cannot, there are compelling reasons to prefer 16x9 enhanced DVDs over ordinary DVDs - see my article on 16x9 Enhancement if you need to be convinced of this.

    I want my DVDs 16x9 enhanced, please.

Dual layered, please

    The data on DVD is compressed. The video is compressed with MPEG-2 compression. This results in approximately a 12:1 reduction in the data rate from the original uncompressed video stream.

    MPEG-2 video compression is not a lossless compression. That is, when the video imagery is reconstructed from the compressed data, it is not exactly the same as it was before it was compressed. If needed, the MPEG-2 video compression discards what the algorithm considers to be unnecessary picture information. The usual place that data is discarded from is in the backgrounds of scenes. The way this is done is by lowering the image resolution in these areas as compared to the foreground areas of the scenes.

    MPEG-2 video compression is also a variable rate compression algorithm. This means that the compression ratio can be varied up and down, according to the needs of the image at any given time. For high motion, high impact scenes, the compression can be turned down and the data rate increased to cope with these scenes and minimize the appearance of compression artefacts. As the degree of compression goes up, so too does the size and frequency of the compression artefacts. An ideally compressed DVD should show no visible compression artefacts when viewed at normal speed. The lower the degree of compression, the less likely it is for discernible compression artefacts to appear.

    The degree of compression required for a movie is dependent on two factors; the length of the movie, and the space available for the movie to be compressed into.

    Dual layered DVDs provide almost twice the amount of data storage space of single layered DVDs. All else being equal, a movie stored on a dual layer DVD will require significantly less compression than a movie stored on a single layer DVD. This translates into a better looking DVD, with more definition in the backgrounds of scenes.

    I want my DVDs dual layered, please.

Widescreen, please

    DVD is a home video format that is finally of sufficient quality to display decent quality widescreen images. I want to see my movies in the original aspect ratio that the director intended them to be seen in, at the aspect ratio they were presented in at the cinema. I don't want to see pan & scan compromised cinematography in my home theatre.

    I want my DVDs widescreen, please.

Automatic Pan & Scan Encoded, please

    You can't please all of the people all of the time. I may want my movies widescreen, but not all of my friends want them that way. There are plenty of people that hate widescreen video presentations as much as I hate full screen or pan & scan video presentations. In the US, DVDs are often produced with a widescreen version of the movie on one side of the DVD and a pan & scan or full frame version of the movie on the other side, pleasing both camps. That is not an ideal solution for a number of reasons.

    Firstly, dual sided DVDs are fingerprint magnets. It is all but impossible to keep a DVD of this format clean of fingerprints, all the more so if people less careful about handling DVDs than you or I get their hands on them.

    Secondly, with the current state of DVD production technology, a dual sided DVD is pretty much required to be single layered on each side. Since I want my DVDs dual layered, I guess I'll have to settle for widescreen-only movies, right? Wrong. The DVD specification allows the encoding of automatic pan & scan information onto a widescreen transfer. The result: both the widescreen camp and the full-screen camp can be satisfied with the one dual layered DVD. When I watch the DVD, I'll be happy. When my still-to-be-convinced-about-widescreen friends watch the DVD, they'll be happy. You can please all of the people all of the time.

    Sadly, this is a grossly underutilized feature of DVD at this present moment in time.

    I want my DVDs automatically encoded for Pan & Scan, please.

Good Quality Transfers, please

    I want my DVDs created from the best possible source material. Currently, this means a high definition telecine transfer of a movie (1920 x 1080 in resolution) which has been downconverted to either PAL or NTSC.

    Reusing old transfers created for laserdisc is simply not on. They look awful. Backdraft is a perfect example of this shoddy approach to DVD mastering. A great movie is all but ruined by an awful looking transfer.

    I want my DVDs to be mastered from downconverted high definition masters, please.

Give me the Appropriate Audio tracks, please

    I want my DVDs to carry the original theatrical soundtrack of the movie. I also want my DVDs to carry a remastered 5.1 soundtrack where appropriate. I want to have the option of listening to either the remastered soundtrack or to the original soundtrack. I probably will almost never listen to the original soundtrack, but I want to have it on the DVD so I can hear the movie in its original format, if I want to.

    I want my DVDs to have both the original theatrical soundtrack and a 5.1 remastered one, please.

Quality, not Quantity of Extras, please

    There are a preponderance of DVDs out at the moment with a dismal 6 minute "Behind The Scenes" featurette. These are simply extended promotional trailers for the movie concerned with a few cursory behind-the-scenes snippets. Get them off my DVDs! They are a waste of my time and, more importantly, a waste of the precious data space on the DVD that could be put to better use.

    What I do want, however, is the theatrical trailer, still frame notes on the production and the personnel involved, and I want a commentary track. I want the movie's director to educate me about the movie and to explain why things were done in a certain way. Usually, the director does a much better job of speaking about the movie if some of the cast & crew are present as well, so I want them included.

    I don't want a 60 minute documentary included on my DVD if it will impact on the quality of the presentation of the movie. The Thing is a classic example of this approach, where a massive quantity of extras are provided on the DVD, but the transfer itself is slipshod and not up to scratch. If the producers of a DVD want to put together such a lengthy package of extras, put them on another DVD and release the package as a Dual Disc Collector's Edition. Don't overcompress the movie to fit in the extras.

    I want my DVDs to have an audio commentary and good quality extras, please, but not at the expense of the transfer quality.

Package The DVDs Properly, please

    I don't want my DVDs in snapper cases. The artwork on snapper cases doesn't last very long, even with the most careful of handling. Pretty soon, the cases are scratched, dog-eared and creased.

    I don't want my DVDs in those awful cases with the single round button that you push in the middle of the case that almost breaks the DVD every time you try and extract it from the case.

    I don't want my DVDs in opaque Amaray cases - too many of them arrive with the DVD holder in the middle broken and the DVD flopping around inside the case, scratched.

    I like the case that Columbia Tristar used to use with a three-segmented button in the middle (the Brackley case), and I don't mind the Transparent Amaray case.

    I want my DVDs in either a Brackley case or a Transparent Amaray case, please.

Label The DVDs Properly, please

    Over half of all of the DVDs released in Australia have one more more packaging errors on them, ranging from incorrect running times, to missing extras, to incorrectly listed audio tracks, to the unforgivable errors of incorrect aspect ratio listing or incorrect 16x9 enhancement notation. Surely it cannot be that difficult to get the packaging right? We are talking about multi-billion dollar companies here. Surely they can afford to pay someone to look over their DVDs and compare them to the packaging before they release them. Heck, I do it all the time when I review DVDs.

    I want my DVDs labelled correctly, please.

Don't Short Change Region 4, please

    All too often, we receive DVDs that are lesser specified than the US counterpart. Warner Home Video are notorious for leaving off any and all extras from the US version of a DVD. Is it really that hard to put Cast & Crew Biographies on our DVDs? Is it really that hard to put the Theatrical Trailer on our DVDs? We are living in the era of the Internet and the Global Marketplace. It is just as easy for me to hop onto the Internet and buy my DVDs overseas as it is to wander down to the local K-Mart. In fact, it is even easier since I don't have to leave home to do it and I can do it any time that I want to. If I know a product is superior in the US, I'll buy it from the US. If I know that our local product is the same or better than the overseas product, I'll buy our local product and do my bit to support the local marketplace.

    I want my DVDs to have the same features as the US version, please.

In Closing

    It's somewhat easy to forget in the frenzy to stuff ever more extras and special features onto DVD that it's all about the movie. The movie is what we will spend our time watching, over and over again. The extras might get a single looking over, if that. Give us the best possible presentation of the movie. Then, add extras if you have room to spare.

© Michael Demtschyna
17th April 2000