Saturday, February 25, 2006

My new remote

I've been considering getting a fancy remote for awhile, but the one I wanted (Harmony 880) was a bit more than I was willing to spend. I couldn't justify spending $300 CAN on a remote, so I kept my eyes open for a sale. Last week I spotted the remote on for $180 (CAN), still a bunch of money, but luckily I have some money from Christmas that I haven't spent yet. The remote arrived on Tuesday, and now I'm in heaven.

I was able to get rid of 6 remotes with the arrival of the Harmony 880. My coffee table looks a lot cleaner, and my girlfriend doesn't have to ask me which buttons to press to get things to work (though I think she was getting the hang of it). The Harmony works using "Activities." You select "Watch DVD" and it'll turn on your TV, set it to the "DVD" input, then do the same with the receiver, and finally turn the DVD player on; it's almost foolproof. The remote is configured through a website, and the commands are uploaded to the remote through a USB connection. The first time you log onto the website you're asked to list the equipment in your setup (make/model). The site pulls the remote codes from its database and then allows you to assign them to any key. There are defaults, but you can tweak these until you have the settings you want. The LCD screen allows you to assign other commands to 8 buttons along the edges, but you can have multiple pages of commands as well. This probably sounds more complex than it really is. I discovered that the Harmony remote includes remote commands that aren't on my original remote, which makes the remote even handier. If, for some reason, they don't have a command that exists on your original remote you can add it yourself by holding the two remotes a few inches apart and then uploading the command. It's very, very cool.

My other remotes are off my coffee table, and have been for 3 days. Now that I have the Harmony configured to my satisfaction I haven't had to get one of them. It took me a few days to configure, but I'm alot happier having one remote.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Useless bonus feature?

I'm watching an unnamed set (don't want to offend anyone), and I started thinking about what the worst bonus feature is on a set. I'm talking about the thing you could care less about, and never watch. I'm going to remove two things from the list; Interactive Menus and Scene Selection - those aren't bonus features. A non-interactive menu is simply a still frame; companies that put "interactive menus" on the packaging drive me crazy.

I think my useless bonus feature would be "storyboard to screen" features. They're usually found on animated shows, but I have no interest in looking at crude still frames of something that was eventually animated.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Olympics

Ahh, the Olympics are on! I'm interested in hearing what you think about the coverage by NBC. In Canada we have coverage on a few networks, the largest being CBC. They've virtually wiped their slate clean so they can bring us the latest from Turin. We get stuff broadcast live, as well as stuff broadcast in primetime. Do you enjoy the recap in primetime on NBC, or would you want to watch everything live?

I haven't watched a game yet, but the Canadian women's hockey team is destroying the competition. 16-0 against Italy, 12-0 against Russia, and 8-1 against Sweden. Sure, Canada is winning, but I doubt it's very interesting to watch the games, at least until Canada and the US meet in the golde medal game.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

When Good Sites Go Bad

I'm not sure where to start with this story, so I'll try to start at the beginning.

I got interested in DVDs late in 1999, or early in 2000, and one of the first sites I went to was; I actually bought my first DVDs because of them. I found their list of "Out of Print" titles, and noticed Army of Darkness was on there. That was one of my favorite movies, and the thought that I could miss owning a movie on DVD prompted me to buy Last of the Mohicans and The Abyss: SE a few days later. I didn't own a DVD player, and wouldn't for awhile, but I had just gotten a new computer at work with a DVD-ROM drive. I would spend my lunches sitting in front of the computer watching the bonus material (at least on The Abyss). I started buying more and more discs, and still didn't have a player at home. DVDReview was the site that I checked for news and reviews, and I didn't really see the need to look anywhere else. They had a forum, which was small, but...."quaint." Eventually I discovered some other sites, but I still thought of DVDReview as my "home" for DVD news; It was a site I had great respect for. I still check in on the site from time to time, but I don't have as much time to browse DVDs sites as I used to, and when I have the time I'm hitting up sites like

Last year I was in Vegas for the VSDA show (Video Software Dealers Association) and someone told me that Guido Henkel, the person behind DVDReview, was at the show - I was eager to meet him. I've met a few others that run DVD sites, and we usually have great conversations, so I wanted to meet the person behind the site that helped get me interested in DVDs, and prompted me to make my first DVD purchases. Guido and I didn't meet up at the show, and I left Vegas a bit bummed.

Let me preface the next bit with an obvious fact; people on the 'net tend to "borrow" information from elsewhere, and not everyone gives credit to the original source. Dave and I strongly believe that credit should be given to the original source, which is why you'll see us giving it whenever we post news that didn't originate with us. It's our way of thanking the people that send the news in to us, or the other sites and publications that did the work to come up with the story. It only seems fair, and most people seem to think along the same lines, but not everyone does.

The other day we posted news about the episodes that were going to be in the Star Trek Fan Collective - Borg set. It was something we had been working on for a few weeks, and we were quite proud to be the ones to deliver the news. Star Trek has a huge audience (duh), and there were lots of people waiting for that information. A few hours later I got an email from Dave directing me to a post on the Home Theater Forum. Someone there had posted the news about the Borg episodes, but they credited DVDReview with the news. I went to DVDReview and saw the same list of episodes I had posted earlier, and in the same order. A few news posts below that was the news about The X-Files sets being repackaged, and with missing discs, something I got from Fox directly. I realized that DVDReview was "borrowing" news from us, so I sent Guido a polite email asking him to credit us as the news source if he obtained the news from us. I hadn't received a response from him (and still haven't) when I got the episode titles for the Star Trek Fan Collective - Time Travel set. I was curious to see whether these would show up on DVDReview after I posted them to the site. This was another case of something we had worked hard to get, and we were the only ones with the information. I posted the news right before bed on the 9th, then I posted the news to HTF.

One of the first things I did the next morning, after answering emails and brushing my teeth (the emails are always first though), I took a look at DVDReview's news page. It hadn't been updated yet, but I noticed they had posted news about the 3 Superman titles coming in June, most likely "borrowed" from Superman Homepage, or "borrowed" from our news story without giving Superman Homepage the credit for the original story (which we did, especially since Steve sent us the news directly). Later in the day I checked again, and I couldn't believe what I saw. Not only did they list the episodes from our news item, they displayed them in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. That's right, they used the same formatting (link to news, link to news). I completely changed the format the episodes were given to me in; my format looked a lot nicer, and I set it up in the usual way I list the contents of discs in news items. I decided to check the HTML code, and sure enough, it was exactly the same (check it for yourself). We've had news stories "borrowed" by others before (we had a rather long "fight" with another site, which has gone away now), but no one has ever copied the HTML from a story and used it on another site. Since my email from the other day hadn't been answered I turned to the next best thing; the phone. I got Guido's number from a mutual friend, and I called him. I wasn't sure exactly what I would say, but I wasn't expecting to hear the response he gave.

I explained the situation to Guido, and told him I was a bit bothered that similar news stories were appearing on his site. I told him about the most recent case involving the Time Travel episodes, and how the format was the same, including the HTML. His response, "I don't care." I think I was expecting that he would apologize, explaining that he was tired, or simply forgot to credit us with the info, but I wasn't expecting that response. Guido doesn't handle the news on the site, and he defended the person that did saying he couldn't have copied and pasted the HTML into their "system." Now I don't know what "system" Guido has on the site, but if there's an input field that accepts text, then it can accept HTML, and there's clearly HTML formatting in the news item posted to their site. I asked Guido for more clarification about "not caring" and he explained to me his philosophy on information; once it's out there it's free for anyone to use, without giving credit to the original source. He said he wasn't bothered that someone working for him was "borrowing" information from elsewhere and said he had better things to do that to talk to me about the subject. I got off the phone feeling both frustrated, angry and betrayed. This was a site that I had relied upon in the past; it's where I went for my DVD news! Guido was a person that, up until that moment, I respected, and that was all gone with a single phone call. His response to me was far worse than the act of "borrowing" the information. Maybe Guido should re-read the statement on his "Terms of Use" page:

    This site is controlled and operated by "DVD Review". All material on this site, including, but not limited to images, illustrations, audio clips, and video clips, is protected by copyrights which are owned and controlled by "DVD Review" or by other parties that have made their material available to "DVD Review" ("Copyrights"). Material from or any Web site owned, operated, licensed or controlled by "DVD Review" may not be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted, or distributed in any way. Modification of the materials or use of the materials for any other purpose is a violation of the copyrights and other proprietary rights. For purposes of this "Terms of Use Agreement", the use of any such material on any other Web site or networked computer environment is prohibited.
I'm viewing this blog post as a form of therapy for me. Now, a day later, I'm still bothered by Guido's response, but I'm even more bothered that a site I held in high regard "borrows" news from other sources and doesn't give them credit. I won't be back to DVDReview, at least not to use it as a source of information, and if Guido happens to be at VSDA later this year I won't be seeking him out to say hi.

What are your thoughts on this? Am I wrong to be bothered by this? Do you feel credit should be given, or is information free to use once it's out there?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Speed Racer Silliness

Last Friday I reported that Speed Racer - Volume 4 from Lionsgate, which is going to come out on March 14th, is confirmed by information on the back of the box to have only 8 episodes on it.


The "Volume 1" DVD release, from Artisan (now owned by Lionsgate, bought by them back when they were Lions Gate), had 11 episodes on it. Volume 2 had 12 eps. Volume 3 had 13 eps. All three of those were $22.95 SRP.

Lionsgate had 16 episodes left to release. They could choose to put them all onto Volume 4, making it either a double-sided disc or a two-disc set if needed to keep the video quality up to par, and charge a few bucks more (and I do mean just a few) if need be to cover additional costs.

They could choose to put the eight episodes they went with onto that one DVD, but lower the SRP to an appropriate level to make up for only having 66% of the average number of episodes from the previous three releases.

They could choose to keep the price and dig up some extras to round out the DVD with some bonus content. There are plenty to be found (more on that in a minute).

They didn't choose any of those options. They kept the list price of $22.95 and are giving us one third fewer episodes for the same cost. And stretching out the completion of this series on DVD in the process, by a year based on the annual pattern of releases so far.


As I said, there is PLENTY of bonus material that fans would love to have. Back in the year 2002, "Speed Racer Enterprises" released Speed Racer - DVD Collection Signature Edition, a 5-disc set that had lots of extras: a VW TV Commercial centered around Speed and the gang, a Sponge "Speed Racer" music video, a featurette with a breakdown of the secrets of the Mach-5 based on footage from the episodes, a music video compilation of footage highlighting "Racer X", a 2001 interview with Peter Fernandez (the voice of Speed Racer), and "The Silver Phantom": a pilot which was made in 1997 for a new Speed Racer series that wasn't televised in the USA until 2001. There are also episodes of the 1994 "New Adventures of Speed Racer" series and the 2002 "Speed Racer X" series which could potentially be included as bonus material. Or to let Lionsgate give us 12 episodes on Volume 4, and on Volume 5 put the last four episodes of the original series and then pick up the rest of the DVD with episodes from the newer series.

These extras are hard to find, and the 5-Disc box set was limited to only 1000 copies and is not made anymore (I hear it goes for a bundle on eBay). Lionsgate could have made Speed Racer fans proud of them with lots of extras, but haven't given us any except a paltry few on the first volume. Since then, they've strictly marketed these bare-bones releases to the kiddies, rather than to the adult fans who grew up with the show.


By the way, I don't know why some of the studios think that kids don't like extras. My son just turned 8 last week, and he's ALWAYS asking me if I can help him start the bonus features on his DVDs for Scooby-Doo, Transformers, Wacky Races, etc. You think that kids don't care about supplements? Not my son. Wait, you think I turned him onto extras? Nope, wasn't me. He found them on his own! So it's not his TVShowsOnDVD dad that got him into this "I want to see bonus material" mode...he, like his friends, have all discovered the joys of enhanced content by exploring the DVD menus when the features are done.

So, Lionsgate is handling this release with silliness, I say. Bill Hunt, who runs, agrees on how silly this is, and has been even more vocal than I about how silly this is. About how upset he is. The Bits and TVShowsOnDVD has spoken plainly that we object to this release strategy.

How did Lionsgate respond? Defensively.

Trade magazine Home Media Retailing ran a story by Chris Tribbey called " 'Speed Racer' Has Slow Rollout, But Flies Off Of Shelves Fast". In it, Liongate VP of Marketing Michael Rathauser predictably defends the company's strategy, pointing out that Lionsgate knew little of the anime market when it took on the property.

Silliness. Speed Racer isn't your typical "anime". It's a classic American televison program, with a hardcore following that may be smaller that the number of fans dedicated to Star Trek or Looney Tunes or Seinfeld or South Park...but no less serious. This was never a "niche" product. This was a mainstream release from the get-go. If they thought otherwise, then they didn't do their homework.

Rathauser says they've sold over 500,000 units of the first three volumes. That's half a million. Do they really think half a million consumers will appreciate getting less for their money this far into the releases? The words I've heard from fans who are incensed in regard to the "we used to get about-a-dozen episodes per release and are now getting a third less for the same amount of money" issue are crying "bait and switch". Some folks are just hopping mad out there, and intend to wait for a price reduction on this 4th volume before getting it. I may be joining them in that. My son loves Speed, but he'll find other things to keep him busy. Beast Machines, Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt and Super Mario Bros. Super Show are all box sets, loaded with extras. He'll be plenty busy, and so will many adults who wait for a better price.

In the article, Rathauser continues to try to convince retailers that there's no problem with this release, and that they have the winning formula. He says that BECAUSE they were "knowing they had a popular product" (a direct contradiction to his earlier remarks that "initially, we weren’t sure how well it would perform") they skipped doing "simple extras" and instead "added value...and added toys and specialty items to each DVD release". The article cites the specialized packaging as representing that value: Volume 1's rubber tire look (many fans complain that the rubber is pealing off the box after repeated use), Volume 2's theme song and light-up headlights (which no longer work when the battery dies, and no way to replace the battery without destroying the cardboard), and Volume 3's round metal "wheel" package (fans hate the way it needs the decaying cardboard "stand" to stay on the shelf next to the others, and hate how hard it is to open).

So Volume 4's "added value" is a Hot Wheels- or Matchbox-style die-cast car that's probably not going to be as well made as the "Johnny Lightning" brand of toy that you could get in Wal-Mart a while back for under $5. An item many Speed Racer fans already have. Critics do NOT consider this toy Mach-5 to be worth the loss of 4 episodes, and Lionsgate is mistaken to think otherwise. Rathauser says that $22.98 is the right price for this release, a better price than most anime because this has "broad appeal". Too right, Michael, but you're mistaken to compare Volume 4 to other releases. Several years into the release strategy, you're only getting fans who compare it (unfavorably) to the previous three releases.

Knock $3 to $5 off the SRP ($17.95 - $19.95), keep the toy car, and the studio might start to see critics lighten up. Maybe.

The Home Media Retailing story concludes by saying "Lionsgate has spaced out the release of the five volumes, with one each year. Volume Five is due sometime in 2007. 'We have given each volume time in the marketplace,' Rathauser said. 'It’s worked.' "

Will it work this time? Won't consumers feel duped? Will the offline mass-market (who doesn't find about about these issues in advance) even notice? Lionsgate is betting they won't, and that they will make bigger bucks overall from the folks out there who just buy them for the kiddies (or themselves) but are oblivious to how many episodes they got for their money. Sad to say, they're probably going to win that bet.