Before home video

In the days before home video, we had to resort to other means to re-live movies and TV shows.

Novelisations of productions were common. I knew people who had hundreds of Doctor Who novelisations — virtually every story had a book published. I had perhaps a dozen.

WarGames book coverOther books made it into publication — scripts, programme guides, and spin-off material. Of course these are still common, but perhaps only for specific “cult” titles that the makers think will sell really well.

I used to have the script for The Singing Detective. At home I still have two books from The Goodies, which have a wealth of quite amusing material. I didn’t bought them, but acquired them both from the primary school library during clear-outs.

Some people would record TV shows onto audio tape. About a hundred 1960s Doctor Who stories are still lost — but audio recordings exist for every single one. (It’s perhaps a sign of the priorities of big bureaucracies like the BBC that paperwork exists for all the stories, despite the actual stories having been thrown out.)

In the 80s before I had saved up for a VCR, I recorded some stuff onto audio… from memory by just putting a tape recorder close to the TV, though I may have later rigged up a cord connecting the two directly. The Young Ones was an example — I had most episodes on cassette, and listened to them regularly for a while.

One of the movies I bought the novelisation of back in the day was WarGames, which as I’ve written about before, was very influential on me. As I recall it follows the movie script closely, but has a few extra titbits: such as that after the movie ends, David gets a summer job doing computer work at NORAD, and his school is convinced to buy some computers to teach computer studies to the students.

I don’t know what happened to my copy of the book. Presumably I got rid of it during a house move at some point. So in the best traditions of nostalgia, when I got curious and looked on eBay the other week, I found a copy for under $10, and bought it again.

I still love the movie. I bought the 25th anniversary Blu-ray release recently as well — it looks great in high-definition. I’ll probably re-read the book at some stage. It’s only 220 pages — it’ll be a pretty quick read I’m sure.

Nowadays, people can record anything off TV easily using cheap technology, and perhaps every major TV show and movie is released on DVD and/or Blu-ray, and (eventually) repeated ad infinitum on one of the many TV channels. No wonder novelisations have mostly disappeared, and few people record audio off the TV anymore.

  • Ever wondered about the term “Wardriving“, meaning to look for open Wifi networks while driving? It’s derived from “War dialling“, meaning to ring lots of phone numbers looking for computers answering… the word came from the movie.)
  • Speaking of scripts, there are over 80 made freely (and legally) available for download here: Go Into The Story

Physical wreck: There will be snot

I’m a physical wreck this weekend, from head to foot.

Some new shoes are fine for me, but the ones I wore on Thursday resulted in three blisters: one on each heel, and another on one of my toes. I’m sure the shoes will settle down after a couple of wears, but in the mean time, I’ve got bandaids on every time I leave the house.

And I’ve got a head cold. It’s not at the top of the scale when it comes to colds and flu, but it’s not very pleasant either.

The movie In The Loop (which is a spin-off from the TV series The Thick Of It) has some very funny deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray disc. In one, Jamie (aka The Crossest Man In Scotland) rants to Malcolm about going to see the movie There Will Be Blood… he complains that there’s hardly any blood in it.

My weekend so far could be called There Will Be Snot. On Saturday I went through an unbelievable number of tissues, thanks to an alternating blocked/sneezy/runny nose. The house sounded a little as if someone was doing a day-long really really bad trumpet rehearsal.

So far Sunday is looking like it might be a day for a sore throat rather than lots of nose action, but we’ll see.

Hopefully this cold will be on the retreat by tomorrow. I’ve got important things to do during the week.

Here for your enjoyment is Jamie McDonald, the Crossest Man In Scotland. (Coarse language)

Finally, what is amazing about In The Loop is that they managed to construct a trailer with no swearing (apart from one bleep):

The Hobbit part 1

Finally got around to watching The Hobbit part 1.

I thought being the first of three films, and at 2 hours 45 minutes, it would drag a bit, but it really didn’t. Nicely done.

Cumberbatch really nailed Smaug, didn’t he. I can just see him going into a studio to record his voice for part 1. “Okay Benedict!” “Rrrrroooooooaoaaaaaaaarrrrr!” “Excellent, thanks very much — see you next movie.”

(Yeah yeah, I know, he also played the Necromancer.)

And 7th Doctor Sylvester McCoy as Radagast was good. No spoons to play though, thankfully.

The Hobbit: Gandalf and Radagast

It all looks gorgeous on Blu-Ray, of course. One notable thing though, it’s one of a small number of discs I have which drops a few frames in some scenes on my setup. Might be an image correction/quality setting on the TV which isn’t handling the throughput — perhaps I can switch it off.

Anyway, very much looking forward to part 2.Thumbs up!

Given the price differential, it’s hard to see that GST on imports would make any difference

AU cash and JB cardAmong the presents I got for my birthday was a JB Hifi gift card. This always presents a challenge: what bargains can I pick up?

Browsing around the store one day, I found the two Harry Potter movies we don’t already have — the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2 — on Blu-ray, for $14.98, and on a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. Sold.

But what to spend the remaining $14.02 on?

Here are the prices of some movies and other discs that are on my To Buy list… with a comparison between Amazon UK, JB Hifi and Ezydvd.

Title JB Hifi EzyDVD Amazon UK
Firefly (TV series) Blu-ray [1] $36.98 $42.97 £15.00 ($21.93)
Doctor Who (series 5) Blu-ray $133.99 $139.97 £17.00 ($24.65)
Doctor Who (series 6) Blu-ray [2] NA $119.97 £18.25 ($26.35)
Tintin(movie) Blu-ray 2D [3] $49.99 $52.97 £8.25 ($12.72)
The Slap DVD[4] $55.99 $57.97 £6.77 ($10.71)
  • [1] Firefly was recently about double this price in Australia for the Blu-ray. It seems they’ve now brought it down to a reasonable price at last.
  • [2] JBHifi online only lists the part 1 and part 2 Blu-rays of Doctor Who series 6, which excludes extras.
  • [3] The Tintin movie in Australia appears to be only available on Blu-ray with bundled (but in my case, unwanted) DVD and digital copy. Amazon has this edition as well, at 10 pounds more than just the Blu-ray. In Australia, the 3D Blu-ray is another $10, making it around $60.
  • [4] I’m not really in the market for this, but I thought I’d throw it in as an example of an Australian production. In Australia the price of the DVD or Blu-ray seems to be equally high. Amazon UK only lists the DVD; no Blu-ray.

The dollar prices for Amazon UK above are with the VAT deducted, and the £1.49 per item delivery cost added. There is an additional £2.09 ($3.27) cost per delivery, which is why most people try and buy multiple things at once, rather than ordering items one-by-one.

But even with delivery costs, some of these items are ludicrously more expensive buying in Australia. It’s not hard to see why people are importing — and also not hard to see that while some retailers want 10% GST added to imports, it would make hardly any difference at all — not when in some of these cases Amazon will deliver it to you for a fifth of the Australian price.

The rise of the Aussie dollar has obviously played a part here, but this isn’t new… it’s been over 60 UK pence for about two years.

And I’m not saying the retailers are necessarily to blame here, but something somewhere in the supply chain for these products is obviously very fishy indeed.

PS lunchtime. Obviously the price differential is quite different for various products and types of product. I think I actually got a pretty good deal on the Harry Potter Blu-rays, and I doubt they are cheaper via Amazon… this of course makes it all the more puzzling. Ultimately someone in the supply chain believes that Australians shopping locally are prepared to pay higher prices than our UK friends… that, after all, is how the free market operates.

By the way, unlike for DVDs, the UK and Europe is the same region for Blu-ray discs as Australia (region B).

PS 18/11/2012: I did eventually buy a couple of these yesterday during a JB Hifi “20% off DVDs and Blu-ray” sale. Firefly (still at around $37) went down to about $30, which is close to the US price (though still a bit above the UK one), and Tintin now has a new Blu-ray only edition retailing for $19.95. At 20% off that took it down to about $16. I also noticed The Slap has dropped to about $40.

DVD vs Blu-Ray picture quality

I never quite believed I’d see much of the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray on an 80cm (32 inch) TV. But with brand-name Blu-Ray players now below $100, and releases such as the complete set of Star Wars movies out on Blu-Ray, this past Christmas seemed like the right time to jump in and try it.

One of the presents I got was the Blu-Ray of Tron: Legacy, which also included the original Tron movie. Since I already had the DVD of the former, I’m able to compare the DVD against the Blu-Ray versions.

The scene from Flynn’s arcade had a lot more detail on the Blu-Ray, but you can’t really see it in a photo, so I won’t post it here. Jeremy and I looked carefully at this scene and were able to identify the names on some of the machines, for instance, which is impossible using the DVD.

More stark is the difference in this shot from the lightcycles scene, first on DVD:
Tron: Lightcycles on DVD
(See it bigger)

…and on Blu-Ray:
Tron: Lightcycles on Blu-Ray
(See it bigger)

There’s a lot more contrast in this scene on the Blu-Ray version. I think it’s not just a format question, it’s also that they’ve taken a lot more care in remastering the video. But the resolution being better also undoubtedly helps, and this is particularly noticeable (on the TV, perhaps not in the photos) with the grid lines.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The DVD was from before the sequel movie was made, and it’s entirely possible that not a great deal of care was taken in the mastering. In comparison it appears they took a lot of care on the Blu-Ray version. It’s entirely possible that the current edition DVD is better.
  • These comparisons were snapped off my TV with a camera, with the blinds drawn to reduce light. The snapshots were not taken under ideal conditions. (I don’t currently have any Blu-Ray drives in a computer, so I’m unable to grab a Blu-Ray image directly.) As noted above, it’s difficult to convey the difference seen on the TV in a photo.
  • I’ve used the freeze frame, which may impact the picture.

There’s no denying the higher quality of Blu-Ray, even on an 80cm screen.

Question is, which movies or TV would I consider worthy of upgrade, and at what cost? I can’t see myself shelling how lots of money for discs of movies I already own. But for future purchases, I’d certainly lean towards the newer format if the price is not prohibitive.

(I did find The Life Of Brian on Blu-Ray, with lots of extras, for $8 yesterday at K-Mart.)