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The Spiral: Rob's blog [part 2]


12/15/06 : CLAMSHELLS

...Okay, so they're just crappy production mock-ups, and don't have actual discs inside. But still, one step closer to this thing being a reality.

EDIT: Forgot to mention - we're investigating the possibility of selling empty packages of the regular DVD (the considerably nicer cardboard affair) for a buck or whatever it ends up costing, via The Spiral. That way people buying the HD versions who hate clamshells as much as I do can stick their HD-DVD or Blu-Ray disc into a better package. Don't quote me on it, as I'm not sure if the logistics will allow it to happen or not. But it's a nice thought.

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01/08/07 : HD-DVD OR BLU-RAY?

With the impending multi-format release of Beside You In Time, a lot of people have asked me whether I personally prefer HD-DVD or Blu-Ray as a video format, and which I think will succeed.

The truth is, I really don't know. Having worked on this project and learned a lot about the capabilities of both, I have to admit that on a technical level Blu-Ray seems a tad bit more future-proofed, at least initially. But that's nit-picking, and these are the early days of both formats. As we quickly discovered in the authoring process, many of the capabilities these discs will eventually have are still in development - hence, as I've said, why HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs released a year from now will have some cooler stuff like Javascript integration which simply aren't ready yet. I did, however, hear that one of the guys from Dolby (who have been very helpful in working with us on BYIT) saw a build of our Blu-Ray and said it was the most technically advanced he'd yet seen - and that's nice to hear, especially considering it will probably look fairly primitive in six months' time.

The bottom line: I don't really have a preference. So far I've enjoyed both of them, although I personally own more HD-DVDs because the selection has been better. But as fun as it is to play with new technology, and as much as the videophile in me loves sitting down to a gorgeous, crisp high-definition movie with the digital surround sound cranked, I can't help but feel that both of these high-def formats will likely fail - and, more importantly, they deserve to fail.

DVD has been a hugely successful format - moreso than anything before it. It brought a great technology to consumers, it had a cool "collectable" vibe to it, and most importantly, it was the only format available. If you're old enough to remember the days of VHS and Beta, you understand what a huge relief that was. My family owned a Betamax player - I remember excitedly scooping up $1 movies in the bargain bin after the format fell to VHS. My mother wasn't nearly as excited about having to buy a whole new player. Thus, not having to worry about investing in the wrong technology was a major benefit in the DVD era - consumers enjoyed the format and movie studios made millions. How, then, have we gone back to the 80's with two competing formats for home movies? It's absurd, insulting, and ultimately comes down to corporate greed and arrogance. The hardware companies and the movie studios (sometimes one in the same) were all fighting for the biggest slice of the pie, and that led to a split down the middle - the last people considered were you and me, the consumers. And for that reason, I kind of hope that both these formats fail - just to send a simple message.

The reason I think they actually will fail is a bit more practical: Most people don't really care that much about high-definition. Yes, HDTVs are selling like hotcakes, but for the average consumer, having a big screen HDTV is all they need. They watch regular, standard-definition television on their 60" plasma, and it stretches out and fills the whole screen, and gets pixellated and makes everyone look distorted, but they don't even notice. It's BIG and it's bright and as far as they're concerned, it's glorious high-definition. And if that's good enough for some people that's perfectly fine - but it's an important issue to recognize, because when you ask that person to spend up to six hundred dollars on a new player, for which he has to re-buy all his movies at a higher price, only to get a bump in quality that he considers marginal? He's not exactly rushing out to Best Buy. Top that off with the confusion over the two formats, and the knowledge that the player he buys will only support half of the movies, and has a 50 percent chance of being useless in a year or two, and then you've really lost him. Hell, even people who do appreciate the quality difference are avoiding the HD formats for all those reasons.

Thankfully, some new innovations coming in 2007 are aiming to make the high-def wars a little more consumer-friendly. At CES this week, LG announced a combination Blu-Ray/HD-DVD player, due out early this year. If it's priced reasonably, it could be a huge product and force other companies to hop on board with combo players. Meanwhile, Warner Bros, one of the few studios remaining platform agnostic with its releases, is coming out with "Total HD" discs which will play in either Blu-Ray or HD-DVD players. It seems absurd to me that everyone should be jumping through so many hoops to solve the compatibility issue, just so the companies behind Blu-Ray and HD-DVD can stuff a little more in their wallets.

But the other big problem is that even if we start seeing dual-format players and dual-format discs, by the time two or three years from now when they're cheaper and more standard and the compatibility issues have been fully ironed out, they're already going to be irrelevant. Why? Because in the not-too-distant future, new leaps in internet bandwidth will put every movie in the history of film at our fingertips, in full high definition, playable instantly on our TVs over the internet. Buying physical discs will be as archaic as adjusting the rabbit ears on your black-and-white TV. For a monthly subscription fee, you'll be able to sit down and watch any movie that's ever been made, whenever you want, instantly. No discs, no video stores, no waiting for Netflix to send you your DVDs. The same with music - your iTunes library will be irrelevant, because you'll be able to wirelessly listen to any album that's ever been recorded instantly in CD quality from your pocket-sized iPod-phone-video--gameboy-camera-PDA-internet-vibrator-radio device. We all know that's where everything is going, it's just a matter of how long it's going to take to get there, and how many failed video formats, streaming music services, and mp3 phones it will leave in its wake.

History is littered with forgotten transitional formats - 8 track, laser disc, minidisc, etc - and I think Blu-Ray and HD-DVD will likely suffer the same fate. And, like I said, I think they deserve to. I hope the companies responsible for fucking the consumer by splitting HD down the middle lose millions as a result of their actions. But I, unfortunately, won't be contributing to their losses. My "fuck the man" bravado was no match for my giddy videophile consumerism, and I now own both an HD-DVD player and a Blu-Ray player (in the form of a PS3, which I've heard rumors can also play games of some sort, but I'm skeptical). I also have a small stack of movies, at least two of which are replacements for DVD versions I already owned, just for the novelty of enjoying them in high-definition. It's silly, I know, but I'm an early adopter, and that's how we roll.

If you're a videophile like me, have a kick-ass TV, and want to jump on the HD bandwagon, it's definitely cool as shit being able to watch movies at such amazing quality - just recognize that you'll probably be tossing out your player and discs in a couple years. But if it's not that important to you, or you don't have any plans to get an HDTV anytime soon, then just enjoy your DVDs for now, and let the rest of us charge in at the front lines and get ripped apart by the bloody format war, and when the dust has settled, step over our bodies and reap the spoils of a clear winner or a better solution sure to present itself shortly down the line.

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01/19/07 : FINALLY!

Today I finally received finished HD DVD and Blu-ray discs ofBeside You In Time from the manufacturing plants, so it was the first time I could really sit down and fuck around with them on my home system.

I have a PS3 for Blu-ray, and a Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player. My TV is a very pretty 56" Samsung DLP. After playing around with both versions of the disc for a while, I can safely say that, despite the Blu-ray's slight technical edge, I couldn't tell the difference in quality between the two at all. I went back and forth, and they both looked fantastic. Of course, there's noticeable compression at times on both versions - at least to my anal retentive eyes - but that's to be expected from such chaotic footage. There's also some banding issues, particularly in areas with lots of blue tones - but again, considering our source material and the early nature of the video codecs, I think it came out looking great.

As I play with these more I'll be making some additions/revisions to the HD FAQ, which I highly recommend taking a look at if you're going to be buying the HD DVD or Blu-Ray versions. Since these formats are so young, there are going to be a lot of minor, player-specific issues popping up. For example, my Toshiba HD DVD player does a shitty job with the menu animations, while they look fine on other players. Meanwhile, we discovered that on the Blu-ray version, the button on the pop-up menu that toggles the multi-angle doesn't work on the PS3 (but will work on Samsung Blu-ray players). So, to switch to the alternate angle on the PS3 you have to use the PS3's angle button. Not a big deal, really, but still annoying. Pretty much any player you use is going to exhibit some kind of minor quirks, but many of them are likely to disappear with future firmware updates (and most of them no one will likely notice except me).

On a related note... I've seen a lot of people talking about the upcoming DVD screenings, being excited to attend, being upset there aren't more of them, and being curious as to what exactly happens at the screenings. Keep in mind that these screenings are organized entirely by Interscope Records - NIN has nothing to do with them. Interscope decided to have them in clubs instead of proper theatres (I guess because clubs are "cooler"), so they'll be playing the standard DVD - no high-def. I've heard horror stories from the screenings Interscope held for And All That Could Have Been, like the one in New York where apparently the DVD was played off of a PS2 and cheapy projected onto a dirty sheet the club had hung up on the wall. So, I have no confidence that the viewing conditions for these new screenings are going to be even remotely ideal. I'm not discouraging people from going, and I very much hope that these clubs do a good job with the presentation - but I figured I'd warn everyone that it might be a bummer first impression of the DVD.

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Currently Listening to:
Year Fuckin' Zero Bitches


I stopped by the LA DVD screening last night just to check it out. I only stayed for the first four songs or so, because I've seen it about a billion times now, and I have a new puppy at home I needed to get back to. But I'm glad I got to check it out. It was exciting to see people lined up so far down the street! But then I went inside - just before doors opened - and I was immediately disappointed with the test footage they were running on the projection screen. It was dark and blurry and washed out - the sound was muddy. I went up on the balcony where the venue guys were running the sound and video, and tried to explain to them how to navigate through the DVD menu to make sure the stereo mix was selected. The guy didn't seem like he'd ever even used a DVD player before - he certainly didn't understand or care about whether the audio was downmixed 5.1 or the true stereo mix. I noticed cheap composite cables coming out of the back of the DVD player, and cringed. And when the screening started, I bit my nails waiting to see him navigate to the setup menu and select the stereo mix before playing the feature as I'd asked - and then, surprise surprise, he didn't. So, what you were seeing was a dupe of the standard DVD output through the lowest quality cables possible into a cheap projector, and what you were hearing was the 5.1 mix downmixed to stereo, which throws off the balance of the mix (hence why we have separately-mixed 5.1 and stereo on the DVD). And it seemed inexplicably out of sync, as well. Could it have been worse? Absolutely. But Goddamn, could it have been better.

Thankfully, the fans in attendance didn't seem to care much, and were cheering loudly after each song, and seemed to be having a really good time. I, unfortunately, was watching from the balcony amidst a crowd of record company people and KROQ people and other industry types, and all I could think about was how cool this could have been, if the record company understood quality presentation or gave half a shit about it. For one, the Fonda could have accommodated a screen twice that size. For two, spend a couple hundred bucks and rent a powerful high-def projector! Hell, I would have gladly donated my PS3 to play the Blu-ray off of! Use good cables, get the sound right, etc etc, and really blow people away with a high fidelity presentation! We went out of our way to make sure this was the best looking, best sounding concert DVD we could possibly create using the latest technology, so it baffles me when the record company doesn't play to such an obvious strength of the product.

Most people, including myself, rarely watch concert DVDs, unless it's of their favorite band. I think a product like BYIT has the ability to hold the non-uberfan's attention for much longer than other concert DVDs, because (aside from the actual performance and stage production, which are amazing to begin with) it has such great sound and rich visuals - there's so much clarity and detail, there are always things to look at. But that certainly didn't translate last night - I was stunned at how little detail was visible on that projection screen.

All in all, there was almost all positive reaction from the screening, and it seemed like everyone had fun, and that's great. The turnout was great, the lithos turned out cool, lots of people pre-ordered, etc. But when I think about how much cooler it could have been with only a little bit more effort, it annoys me that certain people at Interscope just don't care about or understand the benefit of a high quality presentation.

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02/06/07 : CONCEPT ART

While clearing off some hard drives in preparation for our long European trip, I came across this, and thought you guys might be interested in seeing it.

This was a concept cover we were using for internal demo CDs in the early days of recording "With Teeth" - when it was still called "Bleedthrough." It was something we could use for listening copies at the studio to give the rough demos a nice presentation. As the album's identity began to shift, so did the direction of the artwork that was being created around it - but I always thought this was a cool reminder of With Teeth's early days:

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