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And that was 2006…

It was the year of Jack Sparrow, Clark Kent and cowboys... but was the year when movies and DVD began to compete?

Life was simple when I was a teenage film fan. Either I went to the cinema, or waited about a year for the VHS version to reach the video shop and whacked it into my huge silver top-loader. Obviously, for the really great movie, it would be the double whammy. In 2006, the choices for the film connoisseur are growing a lot more complicated and diverse. Cinema or DVD? Original version or extended director’s cut? Rental or retail? And what format to upgrade to next: High Definition DVD or Blu-ray? Via a dedicated player or a games console? And what about the option of movie downloads for my PC or MP3 player?

Like the singles which are used to arouse interest in their CD album of origin, the cinema release is fast becoming a promotional tool for the home version. Even before movies are first released, a film-maker is often quoted as saying that edits were made for the right running time or rating to appease the studio and we’ll get the full picture on the DVD in five months time. By the superior standard of the latest High Definition technology and multi-speakered Surround Sound, the cinema experience is starting to resemble those crappy old videotapes we all used to watch once upon a time.

Cinema is in danger of facing its biggest crisis since the ‘50s, when the explosion of television audiences forced cinemas to create new audience grabbing gimmicks like widescreen and 3-D (the IMAX is perhaps the equivalent technological trump card today). With the big screen style and quality of the very best TV shows like Lost, CSI and 24, audiences don’t even need to go out any more for fresh cinematic thrills.

The current big noise in the world of TV, cinema and home cinema is High Definition. Two new rival formats, HD DVD (led by Toshiba) and Blu-ray (led by Sony), have just begun a VHS vs Betamax style battle to win the hearts, minds and wallets of the consumer. They have basic similarities: both use a thin blue laser with a shorter wavelength than previous technology to store far more data (up to 30GB on a dual-layer HD DVD, 50GB on an equivalent Blu-ray) and thereby a substantially more detailed image and the potential for a load more extras.

Naturally there is a downside. Over in the US, where the first players were released early in the summer, you’re looking at a $1000 price tag, plus you’ll need a massive High Definition TV to see the benefits of the extra screen resolution and some decent leads too. Their supposed backwards compatibility with normal DVDs is all very groovy (hands up who wants to replace their entire movie collection, again?!), but you’d have to be a movie star just to afford a top of the range HD package.

by Jason Caro

Read the full feature and a year's-worth of film reviews in
Ultimate DVD #81

Image © Visual Imagination Ltd
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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Ultimate DVD #81
Film Yearbook 2006
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