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Editorial: Going Digital

By Chris Beveridge     August 31, 1998

Going digital

You just might have to bear with me this month folks. It's anime related, but it goes the larger scope of things.

The two words above reflect my state of mind these days. Going digital. It's a motto. It's a way of life. It's the future.

Last month I managed to get an invite to the first broadcast and demonstration of HDTV here in New England by the fine folks at Tweeter (a chain of stores that actually know what they're selling, and what's coming down the road) and Samsung.

I can sum up my feelings about the demonstration using this analogy. Steven Spielberg was recently interviewed by a Chicago paper that had heard he'd seen some footage of George Lucas' upcoming Star Wars Episode 1 movie. Asked what his opinion of the footage was, Spielberg could only say "Oh my god!".

It was simply amazing. The main floor had the 40" set hooked up to a Samsung DVD player showing various demo clips of DVD from MGM. I just stood there gaping at it. It was just gorgeous. It's the future.

The nice thing about the event was before they showed off everything, they had a lecture of sorts explaining how it's all done, much of which is very technical, but fascinating. The amount of effort that went into the overall project is staggering, and the results show. We've been watching basically the same thing since the 40's with the only major advance being the introduction of color. HDTV, much in line with the hype, is revolutionary.

I've heard many people in the newsgroups, both anime and DVD and laserdisc, say to hold off on DVD because of HDTV. HDTV won't play DVD's they scream. Untrue. You'll need all new players and discs. Untrue. HDTV comes in three main flavor resolutions: 480 (what DVD is), 720 and 1080. 480 is going to be referred to as Standard Definition TV. Yup, what we're watching is going to be the low end of the spectrum. But here's the kicker that I didn't know until this event:

You can upconvert the image. Yeah, I may be behind in learning that compared to some, but I figured that I'd be watching my DVD's on it in simple 480 and still enjoying them. But the Samsung HDTV set was upconverting the image from 480 to 1080! It was stunning!

So yes, odds are there will be HDDVD players coming out not longer after the 50% broadcast market hits. It's natural. The plus side is the large libraries many of us are acquiring now will not only work flawlessly, they'll look better than ever before. And when the studios start offering 1080 DVD's for the HDDVD players, I'm sure to buy those as well, but it doesn't negate the library I have.

So what does this have to do with anime?

Ghost In The Shell, 16:9 anamorphic on a 55" or larger set in fully Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Think about it for a minute. Picture the image on that size screen with full digital clarity. The gorgeous sounds coming out of each of the speakers.

Going digital. That was all I could think of when watching the demo. I wished I could have brought a disc to have them demo it for me. Picture the Pioneer Tenchi movies on there, practically life size. How can one not drool?

That's where it's all going folks. The digital future is starting soon, and yeah it's going to be stuck to a lot of early adopters. I've spent the past year before this show looking at the TV set of my dreams to buy when I get a house. I settled on a gorgeous Toshiba 16:9 65 inch set. List price? 7299$. It's a complete bells and whistles set though. Even my wife was very much for it, knowing what it would do for my major passion/hobby.

So naturally, the question always comes up of how much will the HDTV sets cost? I'd always heard 10K+ prices for the start, and figured that in a lot of respects, it does make sense. It's a new technology, it'll take time (2+ years) to reach the 50% broadcast market, and that's if everything goes according to schedule. So when the gentleman from Samsung said the 55" set that will play all the flavors of HDTV and all the gorgeous bells and whistles it has, said that the cost would be about 8000$ for these first generation models, I was floored.

That's so close to my original list price for a non HDTV set. Yeah, a lot of people will be going "too much!", but look at the dramatic drop in DVD player prices over the last year. Near reference level quality players are dropping below 400$, excellent standard models can be found for under 300$ at CompUSA and other places. If that price drops in half after the first year for that set, as many are predicting it will when the 50% broadcast market is achieved, it'll be in my living room.

The networks are going full fledge forward. The studios are making digital product on DVD now that will look gorgeous on those sets. The first true radical change in home entertainment is coming up fast, and a lot of companies are quietly getting in now and learning the ropes. A lot are either going to fall by the wayside, or take a lot of effort to catch up.

I'm damn well supporting those that are making the effort now. Among the main DVD groups, you hear people talking about how they'll support companies like Warner and Sony unconditionally. Universal is making excellent efforts, and if the Paramount rumors run true, their commitment to 16:9 shows a true forward thinking on their part.

Anime companies? They're being spotty at the moment. Pioneer is the obvious one to reap the benefits. Their alliance with Viz to bring the product out could be a major plus if they follow though. Manga Entertainment has shown us some excellent product, though a larger commitment is necessary. U.S. Manga, as with laserdisc, is leading the way, though they're suffering from the "Gits" syndrome as it's now being called. They're in a learning curve now, and hopefully we'll see some amazing things in the near future from them. Animeigo is testing the market as well, and if the quality we've always seen from them carries over to DVD, they'll have some serious supporters here again.

The sad part is that this leaves us with the one. You knew it was coming. AD Vision. Could the "A" really stand for analog? I've seen many call them the Fox of anime now. They have a lot of favored shows. They have a lot of fans, and they have a lot of product coming up. But, they're not going digital. They're sticking to the analog VHS market, which is still quite large of course, but will begin to fade off in the near future. Those who've seen DVD generally do not go back to VHS afterwards.

And their laserdisc commitment has been sad, which is strange. I've heard several people say that the president of AD Vision has a large 2000+ laserdisc collection. Of course, that could also be a reason for not wanting to get into DVD, a reason that you'll find commonly on the laserdisc newsgroup.

But a lot of people getting into DVD are VHS people - their bread and butter! I bought my second to last laserdisc last week, completing my El-Hazard TV series collection. The only one left that I'll probably end up buying is Kiki's Delivery Service if no DVD is announced from Disney. After that, I'm done. I haven't bought a VHS tape in 8 months except for the Disney animated ones for my kids to watch someday. Anime VHS just isn't done anymore in my house. I can't even bring myself to watch any of the 100+ anime VHS tapes I do have.

And a lot of those are ADV tapes. I've been a good consumer and given them my money. I even want to buy the same product from them again on a different format, but they just won't do it. Are they afraid of the future? Maybe.

All I know is this: I'm going digital and not looking back.


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