Oscars, HDTV, Linkplayer

by Robert Nagle on 2/3/2006

in Video/Multimedia

John Scalzi on the Oscar nominations:

Numbers: At this moment, the three highest-grossing Best Picture nominees (Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Munich) have done less business in aggregate than the single Adam Sandler film The Longest Yard, and only barely edge out the terrible Superhero film Fantastic Four. All five combined made less than Madagascar — or the 2000 Best Picture, Gladiator. The average domestic gross of the Best Picture films this year at the time of their nomination is $37.1 million; adjusted for inflation, I suspect strongly this is the lowest-grossing class of Best Picture nominees in the entire eight-decade history of the Academy Awards. Whichever film eventually wins is very likely to be the first Best Picture in a decade not to crack the $100 million mark — the last Best Picture to fail that was The English Patient.

Just how uncommercial is this crop of nominees? Consider this: a nominee for Best Documentary — March of the Penguins — has made more money than any of the Best Picture nominees. I guarantee you that has never happened before, ever. When Hollywood’s best films can’t compete with chilled, aquatic birds, there’s something going on.

This is not to say that box office should be a factor in deciding which films should be most honored. The money isn’t actually the point. The point is that the “best” movies of the year are profoundly alienated from what Hollywood is actually selling at the moment. When the highest grossing Best Picture nominee (Crash) is only 48th in terms of yearly grosses, what you’re saying is that the film industry is failing at the task of marrying art and commerce — or, at the very least, failing at the task of convincing moviegoers that art is worth seeing. Among the top ten domestically-grossing films of 2005, there’s not a single acting, directing or screenwriting nomination; the most significant Oscar nomination among that pack is Cinematography (for Batman Begins). You have to go into technical and wardrobe awards before the films in the top ten show up in any appreciable quantity.

Maybe film companies don’t care — but on the other hand remember that the film industry (rightly or wrongly) perceived itself in a slump last year; the $8.8 billion total gross was the lowest since 2001, and 2005 was the first year since 1991 that there was a shinkage rather than an expansion of total grosses. The general chatter on the ground was that in 2005, Hollywood wasn’t making films that people wanted to see; based on the Best Picture nominees, you could additionally say that Hollywood also recognizes that the best work of the film industry was not what it was actually busy selling to all of us. This damn well ought to be a teachable moment for someone.

Lee Kazimir quotes Warner Herzog:

The legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog once said that if you wanted to become a filmmaker, you should skip film school.

Instead, he said, you should make a journey of 5,000 kilometers alone, on foot, “let’s say from Madrid to Kiev.”

Kazimir’s new video project Madrid to Kiev will detail his walking journey to do precisely that. Also cool: a long discussion about things he should pack for his trip.

We Buy HD asks for HDV videographers to submit 31 minutes of a nature setting for an upcoming nature show. I’m seriously tempted to do it.

Speaking of which, here’s an incredible panoramic view of Paris .

Over the last two weeks I have been busy doing a lot of research and equipment buying. I bought a Samsung 42 inch DLP HDTV from Circuit City. Here’s three extremely valuable bits of data for HDTV buyers:

  1. Power center, power schmenter. Don’t listen to the salesman. Resist the inclination to buy $200-300 power centers from Best Buy. Entertainment system experts say all you really need is a good UPS (and some even say a surge protector is sufficient). Read this thread for more. Current building codes are designed to ensure proper grounding, and power spikes in big cities just don’t happen that often. At the very least, check to see whether your property insurance covers damage from lightning strikes or power surges.
  2. Order over the phone. I made my purchase over the phone to Circuit City when on-the-spot the salesman offered me a 10% across the board discount. Who knows how many telephone reps are authorized to do these kinds of things!
  3. Watching HD on your HDTV. I learned that it is next to impossible to use your HDTV as a broadcast monitor for HDV footage in a Vegas editing environment. Some cards exist with this capability, but 1)they are all PCI Express and 2)they are supported in Adobe NLE’s, but not Vegas.

Fortunately there is a solution, and a whopper of one at that.

Did you know that DivX has a special compression scheme for HD, so a semi-HD video fits in a normal DVD? Did you know that some high end DVD players can play this special DivxHD format? Do you know that a certain DVD player not only can do that, but has a USB 2.0 outlet that lets you connect a USB hard drive to your HDTV? In other words, using a USB hard drive, your HDTV can play both divx-HD and also native HD footage? (and Windows Media files 9!)

The name of the device that does this is Linkplayer 2 , and it costs $250, and it’s been around for more than a year. (Apparently, Linkplayer 3 is coming out later this year). What a nifty solution.
Footdragging about the next generation of DVDs makes these esoteric solutions more attractive. It’s  plain  that Hollywood dropped the ball on DVDs. Consumers are hungry for DVD movies in HD format and buying HDTVs like crazy. They are eager for HD content, and yet there is nothing. This is a case of how squabbling over standards ends up hurting everybody.

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