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The Spiral: Rob's blog [part 1]

09/25/06 : HELLO, I AM A BLOG.

I'm just testing out the blogging feature. I don't really have anything to say. Nope, nothing at all. Just filling up space, really. Fiiiillllliiiinnnggg uuupppppp spaaaaaaacccceeeeee.

I'm excited about the new Spiral, and I'm looking forward to the chat tomorrow. And by "looking forward to" I mean "I'm terrified it's going to be a complete clusterfuck since we've never done it with this software before."

Good times!

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Currently Listening to:
The sound of a thousand Spiral members squealing with chaotic excitement

09/26/06 : WELL, SHIT.

Sucks being right all the time!

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11/29/06 : DVD UPDATE

This morning I got a look at the latest encode of the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray versions of BYIT. They're looking fantastic, the encoders have been working overtime to get everything looking great - they said this is easily one of the most challenging encodes they've ever done, thanks to constantly-changing lighting, strobes, and action.

Encoding, if you're not aware, is the process of compressing video down from its original uncompressed source, so that it's small enough to fit on the discs. The goal, of course, is for the compression to be invisible, so what's on the disc looks just like the source material. It's a very meticulous process, especially with these new HD technologies, and often requires going through the video frame by frame and tweaking the settings for optimal image quality. Extremely frenetic video content like ours is the hardest stuff to encode, so - just like with AATCHB - it took the encoders a few tries and a lot of man hours to get it right.

Later this week we're going to see finished menus for the HD formats, and hopefully - barring any further disasters - we'll be on schedule to have the whole thing finished and ready for manufacturing by the end of December. Fingers crossed...

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Today I got a copy of what should be the final build for the standard DVD version of BYIT. I played around with it a bit to make sure everything was working, and it looks really good.

Personally I consider the high-def versions of this release to be the definitive versions, since the project revolved around the idea of doing it all in HD. But even so, the standard DVD is really nice, and looks awesome on a standard-definition TV. It even looks pretty good on an HDTV - I've been watching it on my HD-DVD player (which does a hell of a job of up-converting standard DVDs for HD display), and it looks better than I would have expected.

For those curious, we were able to get Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1 audio on the standard DVD, and they all sound great. As with AATCHB, the stereo and surround audio are totally different mixes, so if you're only listening to it through two speakers, make sure you have the stereo mix selected.

As we get closer to release, we'll be laying out the exact differences between the three versions. They're very minor, but worth noting for the anal retentive types like me. Due to the more advanced software, for example, the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs have cooler-looking menus than the standard DVD. However, the standard DVD will (arguably) have slightly better packaging. Right now, we are completely restricted to the standard Blu-Ray and HD-DVD packaging: Those gaudy little semi-transparent plastic clamshells that you've probably seen by now. Red plastic for HD-DVD, blue plastic for Blue-Ray. I think they suck, but ALL releases have to be in those packages for a while - probably to help consumers easily identify the new formats at video stores. The standard DVD, meanwhile, will have a cardboard package (think With Teeth but DVD-sized), which most people find more attractive than the plastic clamshells.

More later...

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A lot of videophiles are wondering about the potential quality difference between the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray versions of BYIT. A while back, I mentioned that after seeing a somewhat disappointing early encode of the high-def material, we had been considering bumping the Blu-Ray version up to a dual-layer disc, giving us twice the amount of space to work with in the interest of improving the video quality.

Basically, HD-DVD has a capacity of 15gb, and Blu-Ray has a capacity of 25gb. We're already using a dual-layer HD-DVD, which doubles our capacity to 30gb. The first plan was to save time and money by doing one encode with a target size of 25gb for the whole disc - so it would fit on a dual-layer HD-DVD and a single-layer Blu-Ray. The first attempt didn't look too good, and led to the investigation into dual-layer Blu-Ray. Had that route worked out, the Blu-Ray could have ended up looking significantly better than the HD-DVD. But as it turned out, the people working on our encode seemed to think that raw bitrate wasn't the only issue, and that doubling our storage capacity wasn't necessarily going to help. The more difficult limitation was bandwidth - how much data the disc can process at any given time.

Basically, during a visually intense part of the video, the bitrate increases to accommodate the more complex video imagery. This is the same thing that happens with audio encoding when you encode MP3s with VBR. However, even if you have extra storage space on the disc, you can't just increase the bitrate as high as you want - the format can only have so much information going through its "tubes" at a time (video encoding works kind of like the internets). So the encoders found that they needed to tweak the encode very carefully, and simply throwing more disc space at it wasn't exactly the solution. Good news for us, since a dual-layer Blu-Ray is more costly to produce, and most of the production lines that could make them were booked up by studios (there aren't a whole lot, as the format is still new and people are only just beginning to utilize dual-layer discs).

The result is that the final HD-DVD will be a dual-layer disc, and the final Blu-Ray will be a single-layer disc. And although that gives the HD-DVD a 5gb disc space advantage, it's the Blu-Ray which will have a *slight* edge in terms of video quality, thanks to its higher bandwidth capacities. However, I've seen both encodes and I honestly can't tell the difference. You'd have to have a $10,000 monitor and professionally trained eyes to even begin to notice it, and even then, it would only be noticeable for split seconds at a time, during high-bandwidth bursts of video activity like extreme lighting changes. I haven't yet been able to bring home copies and watch them on my home system to really compare, but I'll post my impressions here when I do.

Anyway, the real world answer is that both versions will look equally as good. Oh, and both are encoded with VC-1. There are some other minor technical differences between the high-def versions - such as the way they handle the alternate angle segment - and I'll detail those later.

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