The ABC Shops to close

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My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

Sense8’s public transport. Can you name the cities?

I’m always interested to see portrayals of public transport in popular culture.

I’ve been watching the Netflix series Sense8 — I’m a bit over halfway through it. (And I just realised the Wikipedia article includes spoilers, so watch your step if you’re planning to watch it).

It’s pretty good — at least, I’m intrigued enough by the story to keep watching. It’s scifi, created by the minds behind The Matrix and Babylon 5, and set in the present day, with eight (hence the name) main characters in different cities around the globe.

In the title sequence they seek to highlight different parts of the world with lots of different shots from the cities featured. Here’s the video if you feel so inclined (it’s about two minutes long).

If you’re trying to highlight different cities, what helps distinguishes them apart from their skyline and famous buildings? Their public transport systems!

Public transport can visually differentiate cities a lot more than, say, freeways, given that motorway signs and cars look pretty much the same across the (western) world.

Perhaps they (at least subconsciously) thought a bit about this, because in the title sequence there are numerous shots of public transport. … Or perhaps there aren’t really that many, and it’s just me that notices them. (Actually there are shots of freeways and road bridges as well.)

Can you guess the cities? Some of them are pretty easy. They’ve doubled up on some, and I think they’ve missed one of the eight cities here.

Here they are in the order shown in the titles:

1.
PT in the Sense8 titles 01

2.
PT in the Sense8 titles 02

3.
PT in the Sense8 titles 03

4.
PT in the Sense8 titles 04

5.
PT in the Sense8 titles 05

6.
PT in the Sense8 titles 06

7.
PT in the Sense8 titles 07

8.
PT in the Sense8 titles 08

9.
PT in the Sense8 titles 09

10.
PT in the Sense8 titles 10

Those who have actually watched the series would know that one of these actually features heavily in the plot.

What are some other TV shows or movies that have prominently featured the PT systems of their cities (without it necessarily being the basis of the plot, such as Pelham 123) ?

Oh damn. Someone’s catalogued all the locations in the Sense8 titles (with assistance from the program makers).

Never mind — have a guess. No cheating now.

Photos from March 2005

In my continuing quest to post ten year old photos, I went looking for good stuff from March 2005. There isn’t much of interest, alas.

It was the month that the new revamped rebooted Doctor Who started — on 26th March 2005 — and I did find this photo of Jeremy — not watching from behind the sofa per se, but close to it.
Doctor Who - watching from behind the sofa... almost

Oh, here’s an (official?) tenth anniversary video:

Small eggs — I think this was on a walk with Marita’s dog at Altona Beach. Any idea what type of bird laid these?
Small eggs near the beach

Finally, I have no idea why I did this, or why I filmed it: shaking up a bottle of Coke in the laundry, and seeing what happened. Perhaps I thought it was past its best by date and needed to be dumped, and decided to experiment with it? I honestly don’t remember.

That’s all I’ve got for this month. April’s looking much more interesting.

The West Wing and widescreen

This is one of those blog posts which is mostly for my own interest.

We’re up to the start of season 2 in our West Wing DVD (re)watching. That season 1 cliffhanger is brilliant… only spoilt by the excessively perky end theme music (I love the opening title music, but I’ve never liked the ending piece, to be honest).

The West Wing is one of those shows that lasted across the transition from traditional 4:3 television to widescreen 16:9, and the DVDs reflect this.

Season 1 and 2 — the episodes are in 4:3, but oddly the menus are in 16:9. Interestingly, the opening theme changes from the first few episodes — it gets a lot more pomp and circumstance at about episode 5. In this Q+A with composer W.G. ‘Snuffy’ Walden, he says: As a matter of fact, the first couple of episodes don’t have the orchestra version, they have a synth version as we had to get on the air and couldn’t get the main title done in time.

It was from Season 3 that they started making the show in widescreen. I found this media announcement from 2001:

BURBANK – July 19, 2001 — NBC next season will broadcast its popular, critically acclaimed and Emmy Award-winning “The West Wing” (Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m. ET) in a special format – “Presented in Wide Screen” – just as the network has done with television’s top-rated drama, “ER” last season.

The audience-friendly process will feature a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (or more commonly known as “16×9″) as opposed to the basic 1.33:1 (or “4×3″) ratio that is standard on almost all television programs. Because the more rectangular picture encompasses a wider swath of action, a narrow black strip will appear at the top and bottom of the screen that is a form of the letterbox format often used to present feature films on television.

So on the Season 3 DVD — the episodes are in widescreen, but letterboxed (“non-enhanced”), which means they need to be zoomed to fill the display on modern widescreen TVs, and consequently you lose some resolution. Presumably they’d fix this the next time this season is remastered.

Seasons 4 to 7 — full widescreen.

Interestingly, the series was made on film, and in 2010 the entire series was re-released in high-definition… but not on Blu-ray, only on iTunes, for $24.99/season, or $3.49/episode.

It’s not actually the first time it’s been around in high definition. I seem to recall the later seasons aired on ABC1 digital when there was an ABC1 HD channel (before ABC News 24 launched), and though I didn’t have a digital TV at the time, I did sneak a look on the computer with an HD tuner card. It looked gorgeous.

But rather than buy on iTunes what I already have, I think, for now, we’ll stick to the DVDs.

Related: the conversion of old shows to widescreen can be controversial. This fascinating blog post about The Wire reveals that the whole style of the show was based around 4:3 images, and they stuck with it through the series run — but now the push is on to remaster it into widescreen high definition, which in some cases works well, and in others changes the feel of some scenes.

SVOD: Stan, Presto, Netflix, Quickflix

I’ve been pondering Streaming Video On Demand (SVOD) services.

The thinking goes like this:

Let’s say I want to watch Breaking Bad. I’ve heard great things about it, and I love high-quality long-form drama that good television provides.

Blu-ray is the best way to watch this type of drama, for the ultimate in (domestically-available) quality picture and sound. But I don’t want to buy all the Blu-rays as I’ll probably only watch it once, then will have paid a bunch of money for a bunch of discs I have to find space for in the bookshelf.

And discs aren’t always perfect. I started watching my Newsroom season 2 Blu-rays, which I got last year. The first disc has a fault. Episodes skip. I have no idea if I have the receipt anywhere. Mind you, in a decade of buying DVDs and Blu-rays, this is actually the first time I’ve struck such a problem.)

Presto

The emergence of SVOD services offers a solution. Pay a monthly fee of about ten dollars (even a year’s worth would be a lot less than buying all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad on DVD) to watch video streaming onto my television.

Most of the services will work with computers, and also through Android/iOS apps via Chromecast onto a TV.

As it happens, I just bought a Chromecast. At $50, it’s cheaper than the official WiFi adapter for my television, and infinitely more flexible. Neat device. Youtube looks great on it.

I’ve also tried iView on it. It’s choppy — the ABC know about this, it’s only a beta version. Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.

So anyway, which SVOD service to go for?

Stan (Fairfax/Channel 9)

  • $9.99 per month. Works with ChromeCast. Includes HD. Uses Silverlight if watching on a PC browser — ugh!
  • Includes Breaking Bad and the prequel Better Call Saul.
  • Looks like they’re considering original programming too.
  • There’s a 30 day free trial

Quickflix

  • They make it really hard to find the price, but it’s $9.99/month if you just want streaming, not the DVD rental option.
  • Includes HD. Great content, but most HBO material seems to be premium, eg $2.99 per episode.
  • Trial offer: 3 weeks free

Netflix

  • Set to launch on March 24th, and expected to be about $10 a month — at least for Standard Definition — there apparently will be HD and Ultra-HD plans as well.
  • Presumably will include Netflix exclusives such as House Of Cards — which I’ve started watching on Blu-ray, and am loving. It looks glorious in HD, by the way.
  • Safe to assume it won’t include HBO content, given they are competitors in the USA.
  • Unmetered on iiNet (which I use), as well as Optus and presumably more ISPs to follow

Foxtel Presto (Foxtel/Channel 7)

  • Apparently no HD. $9.99 for TV, or $9.99 for movies, or $14.99 if you want both. (I’m probably more interested in TV than film.)
  • Presumably a lot of channel 7 content will be on here, including a lot of ITV stuff, since they have content deals.
  • Also seems to have some Foxtel-produced television on it, such as the adaption of Cloudstreet.
  • Speculation this will include Game Of Thrones, but that’s far from certain, as HBO apparently doesn’t allow it on SVOD services. If it does I’m probably sold. It does seem to include older HBO material such as Boardwalk Empire, the Newsroom (season 1 only, drat) and The Sopranos (all).
  • I’m quite keen to see Tony Robinson’s (Australian) Time Walks, which was made for Foxtel — I can’t see it on there though. You’d think they’d put on as much Foxtel-exclusive content as they could, to differentiate themselves.

ChromeCast and Presto had a free 2 month subscription offer (it expired at the end of February), so I’ve signed up to Presto and had a little look. The range isn’t huge — there’s probably more shows on iView, though fewer episodes — but is growing all the time.

The playback quality seems okay. The iPad app is a bit beta-ish when using it with Chromecast though — normal playback onto the iPad shows, as you’d expect, a Pause or Stop button. When sending it to the Chromecast, all you can do is Stop Chromecasting. There’s no actual Pause — all you can do is stop, then if you want to start again, it’ll give you the option of resuming. Even skipping back doesn’t seem to work.

Which is/are worth paying for?

HD would be very nice to have, though bandwidth might be an issue with the services that offer it. Stan recommends 3.5 mbps for 720p, or 6.5 mbps for 1080p, and I’d expect the other services to be similar. (Hmm, I just ran a test: line speed 9.2 mbps, download speed 1.12 MB/s).

I’ll keep playing with Presto, and given Stan also has a free 30 day trial, try that out as well. But I’ll definitely try Netflix when it’s available too.

One more thing… if you like House Of Cards, I suspect you’ll love this Sesame Street parody: