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16
MAR

Can Apple's New 1080p iTunes Downloads Match Blu-ray's Quality?

Posted by Andy Boxall

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Blu-ray is currently the format of choice for those who want the best possible picture quality coupled with lossless digital audio. However, Apple has announced that its new Apple TV will now be able to stream 1080p video directly from iTunes, so can it match Blu-ray's excellent quality?

Thanks to arstechnica.com, we have our answer. By comparing a downloaded version of 30 Days of Night to the existing (and very impressive) Blu-ray, the team concluded that for the most part, iTunes' 1080p video comes very close to matching Blu-ray, but can struggle in situations where the image has been compressed to meet an acceptable file size.

You can see several examples in the site's study, but above we've replicated the one which in our opinion, best shows the difference between the two formats. In the picture, the iTunes version is on the left, and when comparing the bridge of the nose, surrounding forehead and cheeks, it's easy to see where iTunes stumbles.

Of course, most people won't be pausing a movie and comparing it with another version, but then many will have paid a fair amount of money for a television/projector and media player so they can see the best image possible - and it's still Blu-ray which delivers.

That said, Arstechnica does note that iTunes new 1080p video does improve on the old 720p files. Additionally, it's also worth remembering that iTunes downloads only offer regular 5.1 audio and not high definition, and there are no special features included.

The new Apple TV went on sale this week for $99.

A Close Look at Masters of Cinema's Two Lane Blacktop and Silent Running Steelbooks

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Masters of Cinema has been releasing some excellent Blu-rays recently, and we're going to take a closer look at a couple of its Steelbooks, Monte Hellman's Two Lane Blacktop and Doug Trumbull's Silent Running.

Both films are making their Blu-ray debut here and are available as both standard editions and these limited edition Steelbooks, complete with custom artwork.  The cases are both white - and in Silent Running's case, completely white on the back - and feature subtle, but appropriate cover images.

We'll start with Silent Running, which features a beautifully restored 1080p transfer in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and DTS-HD audio track.  If the loving attention given to the image doesn't inspire you to pick this disc up, then the extra features may do:

  • Commentary track with Doug Trumbull and Bruce Dern.
  • The Making of Silent Running. The 1972 documentary which runs for 50 minutes.
  • A conversation with Bruce Dern.
  • Video conversations with Doug Trumbull.
  • Isolated score.
  • Original trailer.

Inside the set is a small 48-page booklet with interview snippets from the crew, on set pictures and rare artwork.  The disc is labelled as Region B.

For Two Lane Blacktop, the cover art is perhaps less successful than Silent Running's, but the addition of the bold, black text on the rear cover looks great.  It too has been restored, a process supervised and approved by the director, plus in addition to the original mono audio track, it has a new DTS-HD 5.1 remix too.

Here are the extras:

  • Commentary track with Monte Hellman and producer Gary Kurtz.
  • On the Road Again: Two Lane Blacktop Revisited. A 43 minute documentary revisiting the locations from the film.
  • Somewhere Near Salinas.  Monte Hellman interviews Kris Kristofferson.
  • Sure Did Talk to You.  Interviews with the producer, production manager and Hellman's son.
  • Archival Test Footage.
  • Isolated score.
  • Original trailer.

Like Silent Running, a 36-page booklet can be found inside the Steelbook, with an on-set report and a new essay on the movie.  The set is also locked to Region B.

Silent Running appears to have sold out online, although copies of Two Lane Blacktop can still be found.

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Early Release for Star Wars The Phantom Menace 3D Blu-ray?

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With Star Wars Episode One - The Phantom Menace in 3D currently showing in cinemas, it's perhaps a surprise to hear about a potential Blu-ray release, however according to TechRadar it could be coming sooner than we'd normally expect.

However, there's a catch.  Like the Blu-ray of Star Wars, Panasonic is being rumoured to have snapped up the rights to The Phantom Menace in 3D, and will be packaging the movie with its home cinema sets in the spring.

This would be a very fast turnaround, and a massive coup for Panasonic, however a more feasible September date is also being suggested.

At this stage there's no mention of the film being an exclusive title to Panasonic, so fans shouldn't face the same problems as they did with Avatar.  It also means there's a chance it'll hit retail around the same time as it becomes available through Panasonic.

Amazon UK and USA both have place-holder pages for the 3D Blu-ray, but neither have dates attached. This points to a release schedule which will follow the theatrical re-release, in that we'll get one a year instead of an entire 3D boxset at the end. Although don't rule out a deluxe version when we get to Return of the Jedi in six years' time.

Oscar Blu-ray: The Artist Coming in April

TheArtistAlready having bagged several high-profile awards including Best Actor at Cannes and the BAFTA for Best Film of the Year, The Artist has been confirmed for its Blu-ray release ahead of The Academy Awards at the end of the month.  The film has 10 nominations, and is widely tipped to take home several Oscar statues at the end of the night.

The Artist will be released on the 24th April in the USA, and although it has yet to be confirmed for the UK, it has been speculated it will go on sale on the 7th May.

The disc will be presented in 1080p and will use the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  The press release didn't include details on the audio format, but we'd expect a DTS-HD Master Audio track.

Extra features are as follows:

  • The Artist: The Making of a Hollywood Love Story.
  • Hollywood As a Character: The Locations of The Artist.
  • Blooper Reel.
  • Cast and Crew Q&A.

As that's hardly a stellar collection of extras, it's probably safe to assume we're in for a deluxe version of The Artist in the future.

 

2D and 3D Editions of Hugo Announced Following Oscar Nomination Success

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Martin Scorsese's Hugo has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards in total, including Best Picture and Best Director, and has been cited as the best 3D picture to be released since the format's resurgence.  Now the film has been announced for its Blu-ray release, and will come in either a Combo Pack with the DVD and the Blu-ray, or as a 3D Limited Edition.

The film will be presented in 1080p with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, plus a variety of extras listed below.  The 3D set will add a 3D Blu-ray disc to the standard Combo Pack.  For the US release, an UltraViolet digital copy will also be available to download or stream online.

  • Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo Documentary.
  • The Cinemagician, Georges Melies.
  • The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo.
  • Big Effects, Small Scale.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime.

In the USA, Hugo will go on sale on the 28th February, while it'll take another month to arrive in the UK, as it's set to make its debut on the 26th March.

The artwork comes from the US edition, and the UK set has yet to appear.

Super 8 Steelbook Details and Pictures

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Super 8 was one of the very best blockbusters of 2011, and the Blu-ray release is a must-buy for fans of the movie.  HMV has continued its run of excellent exclusive steelbooks with a special Super 8 edition, released just before Christmas, and we've got all the details and some pictures.

It's an odd release, as the cover isn't especially descriptive, featuring a silhouette of the film's characters looking at a water tower, plus an outline of a super 8 camera below the title.  The tagline "It Arrives" is hidden away in the top right of the cover, while the production company logos - Bad Robot, Amblin and Paramount - take almost centre stage.

What could have been an attractive, subtle steelbook cover, is ruined by a massive barcode in the bottom right though.  HMV had the foresight to add a removeable sticker with the BBFC certification logos on it, but not for the ugly barcde?  What a shame.

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The set is a Triple Play edition with the DVD, Blu-ray and a digital copy, and the disc contains the following extras:

  • Commentary track with J.J Abrams and others.
  • 14 deleted scenes in HD.
  • A total of 8 featurettes in HD.
  • Deconstructing the Train Crash.

The disc is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track, and the opening train crash is a spectacular demonstration of lossless audio performance.

HMV's Super 8 steelbook is still available on the website, and is currently priced at £19.99.

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Hammer Horror Titles to get Blu-ray Treatment

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Some good news for fans of Hammer Studios horror movies has emerged this week, as at least 30 titles will be coming to Blu-ray over the coming year.  Studio Canal is spearheading the releases, which will all receive extensive restoration and remastering, along with help from Warner Bros., Cineimage, Pinewood Studios and Anolis Entertainment.

There's not long to go until the first wave of releases hit the shelves either, as UK Blu-ray buyers will be able to grab Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies on the 5th March.  A complete list of films set to appear hasn't been released, however six more titles have been confirmed as headed our way: The Mummy, The Mummy's Shroud, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Devil Rides Out.

As far as extras go, all discs will have newly-filmed documentaries and interviews, and Studio Canal has been collaborating with the author of the Hammer Vault to ensure they're of the highest quality.

According to the blog Hammer has set up to chart the restoration projects, Dracula: Prince of Darkness has been scanned at 4K and restored in 2K, and it'll be presented in its original 2.25:1 aspect ratio with UK title cards.

It should be assumed for the moment that the Hammer discs will be Region B, however this could change closer to the time of release.  Also, with the involvement of other studios, there's no reason not to expect a Region A release in the future.

CES 2012 Blu-ray Announcement News Round-up

This week sees CES 2012 in full swing, and as always there has been an abundance of new Blu-ray players announced, along with some cool new products related to our favourite disc-based media.  Here's a rundown of the top announcements.

Panasonic.

Panasonic has announced four new 3D Blu-ray players, the DMP-BDT500, BDT320, BDT220 and BBT01, plus two 2D players, the DMP-BD77 and BD87.  They all use an updated UniPhier chip and offer VIERA Connect and support for 3D up-conversion.  The BBT01 and BDT320 both use an unusual slot-drive, while the BBT01 can be mounted either vertically or horizontally.

All the new players offer DLNA support and all but the BD77 have Wi-Fi built-in, plus they all support NTFS-based hard disc drives.

Vizio.

In addition to a standard 3D Blu-ray player, the VBR370, Vizio has introduced the VBR430, a media streaming box complete with a built-in Blu-ray player.  The box streams content from Hulu and Netflix, plus it offers Google TV functionality and integrates with social networking sites.  Once again, like a couple of Panasonic players, the Vizio VBR430 looks to use a slot-loading drive.  Price and availability have yet to be confirmed.

VBR370

Sony.

Sony has given us three new Blu-ray players this CES, with one of particular interest.  The BDP-S590 is a stock 3D player with Wi-Fi and access to various third-party streaming services along with Sony's own network, while the BDP-SX910 is a portable Blu-ray player with a 9" screen and four hours of battery life.

The BDP-S790 comes with the interesting feature of being able to convert standard HD content into 4K HD content.  Wi-Fi and 3D are also featured, but it's that upscaling-gone-mad spec that makes this one standout.  Now you just need a screen capable of showing 4K resolution material.

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Samsung.

Here's a neat little device from Samsung.  The BD-ES6000 is a box just about the same size as a Blu-ray disc, yet it incorporates a 3D player, Wi-Fi, DLNA support and access to plenty of streaming online content and Samsung's app store.  Plus, it can be controlled using an iOS or Android app, or even a wireless keyboard and mouse.  The tiny device happily decodes HD audio too, and won't take up much space alongside your TV.  Pricing and availability has yet to be announced.

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Toshiba.

Toshiba brings four new Blu-ray players to CES.  The BDX3300 and BDX5300 both feature Wi-Fi, but only the BDX5300 has 3D support, while the BDX2300 and BDX4300 both need a wireless dongle attached to use a Wi-Fi network.  The BDX4300 does have 3D disc support though.  All players will be released during April and May and feature the usual online streaming abilities, apps and DLNA support.

Captain America Blu-ray Steelbook and Pictures

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Captain America has been released as an HMV exclusive Blu-ray steelbook in the UK. Available online and in-store, it's another in a line of high-quality limited editions from the retailer, and their second to feature a Marvel character in just a few months.

Featuring a distressed-style front cover image of the iconic sheild, and a rear picture of Chris Evans as the titular character, it's easily on a par with HMV's superb Thor Steelbook. The 'Captain America, The First Avenger' lettering is slightly embossed, and although it came with a dual UK/Ireland certification stamp, it was a removeable sticker.

Inside sees another image of Captain America, along with one featuring the Red Skull behind the discs. In fact, it's only the discs that let this package down, as they have no artwork at all.

This is a Triple Play set, with the Blu-ray, DVD and a downloadable digital copy.  The special features look like this:

  • Audio commentary with Joe Johnston, Shelly Johnson and Jeffrey Ford.
  • Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer HD.
  • The Assembly Begins HD.
  • Six HD Featurettes: Outfitting a Hero, Howling Commandos, Heightened Technology, The Transformation, Behind the Skull, Captain America's Origin.
  • Deleted Scenes in HD.
  • Trailers for the Sega game and the animated Avengers film.

The Steelbook is still available through HMV, priced at £19.99.

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Tiny Pioneer Blu-ray Burner Set for CES Launch

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Pioneer Japan has announced a new Blu-ray burner, named the BDR-XD04J, which will be coming to the US early next year, following a CES launch.  Pioneer calls the burner the 'world's smallest', and at 133mm square and with a depth of just 14.8mm, it's hard to argue with them!  But it's not just the size and 240 gram weight that makes the XD04J standout, it's the comprehensive spec sheet.

All the usual Blu-ray, CD and DVD discs can be burned, with a max-speed of 6x for Blu-ray and up to 8x for DVD but more exciting is the support for recordable BDXL discs of both 100GB and 128GB.  Sadly though, Pioneer hasn't seen fit to use a USB 3.0 connection, sticking to the tried-and-tested USB 2.0, but has given the player 4MB of buffer memory to help avoid errors.

The BDR-XD04J will set Japanese buyers back around 18,000 Yen, or approximately $230.  The burner is expected to make its international debut at CES in January, when we'll get details of the release date and the final retail price.