Welcome to the New: Advances in DVD

"Welcome to the New" is a peak at some of the changes in store for DVD. This week we're going to look at the new Blue laser DVD recorders, jump to something cool in the present by recording our own commentary for a DVD, and then see what should have been settled a long time ago with HDTV.

The Recordable DVD

Since dropping below the $200 price point a few years ago, the DVD player has become a major success for movie buffs, home electronics retailers and, despite their own paranoia, the major studios as well. There have been some bumps in the road—the rise and fall of DIVX, half-hearted attempts to bring the format to the PC, and the utter dud that has been DVD audio. While DVD has lived up to the hype for the most part, there has been a nagging problem with the players: you can't record a show with one—until now.

Three formats have come to provide DVD the recording skills they have lacked. So far no one format has come out the clear-cut winner. However, the true coolness is found with the forthcoming Blue-ray.

While the current DVD recordables are aimed at the high-end home theater geek or the PC user, they're limited by their two-hour recording limit. The new generation of DVD players will be based on blue lasers as opposed to the current red-based players. These blue ray players offer more than 13 hours of recording time per disc. They also include HDTV capability and the TiVO-like feature to record a show while simultaneously watching something else on the same disc. The other good news is that your current collection will play just as well with the blue laser as it does with the red.

ETA: 3 years to the $200 price point

Record your own DVD commentary

When it comes to DVD commentary, a staple of the format for film buffs since first introduced, the future is not good.

In order to maximize profits and to duck paying additional Screen Actors Guild performance fees, a few studios have started to skimp on the number of movies that get a commentary track. But never fear...you can do it yourself! Here's how.

You'll need these itmes before you start:

  • A microphone that can plug into your soundcard
  • Sound editing software (often included with your soundcard)
  • MP3 encoder (many can be found for free on the Net)
  • Your favorite DVD
  • An opinion
And now for the technical stuff:
  1. Plug the mic into the soundcard.
  2. Start up the sound recording software.
  3. Start up the DVD to the chapter you'd like to talk about.
  4. Press record on the sound software and play on the DVD at the same time.
  5. Speak up, speak slow and speak your mind. Be sure to introduce yourself, give the name of the disc and the chapter before you say anything else.
  6. When you're finished, stop the recorder and name the .wav file something you'll remember.
  7. Use the MP3 encoder to convert the .wav file to an .mp3
With that you're done. Now you can upload your masterpiece to a site like DVDVerdict.com!

You should also check out this column from Roger Ebert that gave birth to this idea. It even has a sample of Ebert's self-made commentary for Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious."



One of the great myths about DVD is that it is the best picture available for home use. The honor actually belongs to HDTV. With more than 1,080 lines of resolution vs. DVD's 480, HDTV can be breathtakingly clear, when done right.

The availability of HDTV has been hindered by a lack of programming, the misuse of the word "digital" by cable TV, and the US Congress being influenced by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Allow me to sort this out.

First available wwwaaayyy back in 1987, HDTV got hot about the time Congress figured out that if we switched from an analog broadcast signal like we have now, to a digital signal that could carry HDTV, they could then resell the analog radio spectrum (home to broadcast channels) to the new and increasingly powerful cellular service providers. They picked May 2002 for the first switch where broadcasters had to offer both analog and digital signals. Then by 2006, we'd all be getting a digital signal. With me so far?

What's kept this from happening in most places is cost. The equipment price for broadcasters has been high and so are the HDTV-equipped sets. Only about half of the stations were ready this past May Day. Cable has stepped up to offer HDTV-equipped boxes for the tons of HDTV "ready" sets being sold, but while the price of both the equipment and TV's are dropping, the MPAA has leveled its guns and is about to bring the whole mess to a stop just as it's ready to roll.

Think back to the days of Pac Man and the BetaMax. Back then the current president and chief "Chicken Little" of the MPAA, Jack Valenti, testified before Congress that: "This new technology [referring to the VCR] threatens the future of a complete industry. This [VCR] means, for the American film producers and the American public what the Boston strangler means for women." Jack was wrong. Home video now makes up to 1/3 of all studio profits. Now Jack wants to "plug the analog" hole that allows you and me to tape stuff off the TV without permission. Jack's idea would require a new kind of copy protection format to be handled inside the TV.

It works like this: A bit would be passed in the digital broadcast stream of the show you're watching. The copyright owner would then set the bit to tell the TV if you can record the show or not. What this means is that unless that new Plasma HDTV you just bought has a digital port capable of reading the copyright bit, it might have less than HDTV level quality. Worse still, the MPAA and the home electronics industry can't decide what this digital port will look like. Will it be Firewire or DVI?

Oh by the way, Congress is considering a bill that is being pushed by the MPAA to make this a reality.

For more check out this related article.