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DVDs are crap

Two out of the last three DVDs I’ve rented have had technical problems, dirt and scratches that stopped the movie mid-stream, forcing me to go through an awkward and annoying fast forward and rewind process to get back to the exact spot where th

Two out of the last three DVDs I’ve rented have had technical problems, dirt and scratches that stopped the movie mid-stream, forcing me to go through an awkward and annoying fast forward and rewind process to get back to the exact spot where things went screwy.

At the drive-in LUNA Flick last Thursday, a showing of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Min d, their brand new DVD stopped twice, causing a delay and forcing the organizers to jump to the end of two important chapters.

One of the chapters we missed, the one where Jim Carrey’s character learns that his ex-girlfriend had him erased from her memories, was absolutely critical to understanding the plot – if you didn’t come to the movie with a general idea of what it was about, you would have been lost for the entire first half of the film.

Which brings me to the point of this column – DVDs are crap. So are CDs for that matter, and all the CD-Roms, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs that were foisted on the public as the best thing since pre-sliced bagels.

Not only are they prone to scratches, we also learned recently that discs break down for a number of reasons – oxidation, exposure to sunlight, warping due to incorrect handling, manufacturing flaws, excessive moisture, excessive heat or cold. My brother is still playing records he bought 20 years ago, and I can’t play about 20 of my CDs.

The reason this is so important to complain about now is that the industry is busy fighting over the next DVD format, which is expected to be released next year.

That’s right – after four years DVDs are already on the verge of becoming obsolete as media companies get set to release a new generation of discs that allow up to three times more data storage, allowing them to accommodate high-definition movies. The two formats in contention to become that next generation are the Blu-ray Disc and HD Disc.

The technology companies are even now sucking up to the entertainment companies, which will eventually make the final decision on which format will become the industry standard – there can be only one.

Because most of those entertainment companies are owned by the big technology companies these days, it’s going to be a pitched battle of titans over the next few weeks.

As a consumer, really I don’t think I’m going to leap in and purchase a next generation player. For one thing, it might not be necessary.

In the future, a technology called ultrawideband wireless will make it possible to download entire high definition movies to portable hard drives in under a minute, possibly eliminating the need for discs forever. Why rent a possibly scratched DVD when you can download the entire file at a video store in a matter of seconds?

Another reason to abstain is that these new disc-based technologies are a money pit. I’ve already had to re-buy copies of some of my favourite discs several times because of scratches and oxidation, a problem that some people have used to justify their illegal downloading of music through the Internet. I’ve used the excuse myself.

What I’d really like to see is the technology companies doing something radically different with the next generation of discs – like protecting them in protective cases, like MiniDiscs and those old 3.5-inch floppies that lasted for ever and ever. Some companies already use CDs in protected plastic cases to store their important company information, but that capability – the modified discs and players – was never really made available to the general public. Part of the reason was probably the cool factor – CDs are neat looking, thin, shiny and portable, while clunky looking protective cases are not. I could do without the cool factor.

I know a protective case would restore my confidence in the technology, and I’d be more willing to purchase movies and albums if I knew they were built to last. Right now it’s just not worth it.

Part of me worries that the technology and entertainment companies know exactly how fragile discs are but continue to sell them anyway because they’re secretly hoping you’ll buy them twice once your first copy goes haywire.

As any old-timer will tell you, they don’t build ’em like they used to. Maybe it’s time they did.

Blackberry’s sweet

I don’t own a Blackberry due to various financial constraints, and because I’m hesitant to buy any first or second generation gadgets that I know are going to be obsolete, cheaper or much improved in subsequent generations. But I’ve been tempted.

Blackberry’s are the Swiss Army Knife of electronics, functioning as personal data assistants, portable game consoles, cell phones and wireless computers. Future versions could also come equipped with small hard drives, music and video players, and even built-in digital cameras.

They are a hot item right now and Research In Motion, Blackberry’s creator, has seen profits jump 147 per cent in the last year with 1.7 million subscribers. That growth is not only expected to continue, but to increase as Blackberry makes inroads in Europe, Asia and other big cell phone markets.

The best part of it? Research In Motion is a Canadian company, based in Waterloo, Ontario.

For more on the Blackberry, visit www.blackberry.com.

New film goes reel-less

After years of development, Hollywood is finally getting ready to release its first all-digital major motion picture, The Final Cut, which stars Robin Williams and tells the story of computer chips that can record memories and that can be edited after a person dies.

Not only was this movie completely shot and edited digitally, it will also be released digitally, broadcast by satellite to theatres to dedicated hard drives and screened using the latest digital projectors.

The Final Cut will be shown on 115 screens at participating AMC Theaters starting Oct. 15, according to Vancouver’s Lions Gate Films, the movie’s distributor. Conventional reels of the film will likely follow within a few weeks.

The industry is watching closely to see how this experiment turns out – it’s estimated that physically producing hundreds and often thousands of reels of film costs the industry more than a billion a year and often prevents the wider release of smaller budget films.

Film prints also suffer wear and tear through the use of conventional projectors. As a result, second run movies often have noticeable flaws, and can appear washed out with a degraded sound quality. Digital films stored on hard drives will always look the same, no matter how often they’re played. For more on The Final Cut, visit www.finalcutfilm.com.




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