Bit Budget Blues? The Sad Case of the Blood Diamond.
Our new guy, David Vaughn turned me onto this story, so props to him from the beginning.
HD DVD's lower storage capacity- 30GB in a dual-layer HD DVD vs. the 50GB capacity of a dual-layer Blu-ray Disc- hasn't had much if any discernible qualitative impact on the format war. Even long movies like Peter Jacksons's King Kong are among the format's best looking discs seemingly laying that fear to rest. But that may have changed with Warner's recent release of Blood Diamond, and the bit budget issue seems to have hindered the image quality of that same film's release on Blu-ray as well.
Warner as we all know by now release its HD movies to both Blu-ray and HD DVD. In some notable cases, such as Batman Begins and more recently The Matrix Trilogy, Warner has released only on HD DVD in cases which the picture-in-picture driven special features that Warner has dubbed the In Movie Experience (IME) cannot be replicated yet on Blu-ray.
Such would have been the case with Blood Diamond as well, but Warner came up with something novel. Rather than releasing only to HD DVD it released the Blu-ray Disc version first with all the IME video material available as series of indexed video clips that total over 47 minutes that the user can select one at a time and watch. Pretty lame for a format that's supposed to have superior Java interactivity, but pretty smart on Warner's part to make sure Blu-ray supporters had a wel outfitted disc to buy too. The Blood Diamond BD hit stores June 5th, with the HD DVD version set to follow in July.
But this hardly all. Both the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions are to be loaded with all the special features of the two-disc DVD. Among these features are a 50-minute documentary about the conflict diamond trade, and an additional 20-something minutes of featurettes, a music video and a trailer.
So Blood Diamond has a run-time of 143 minutes, and with the IME material nearly another two hours of video content to be compressed.
On top of all of that, the HD DVD version will also feature the debut of Internet-based interactivity of some kind. And it's likely that the HD DVD will also feature a Dolby TrueHD lossless soundtrack. And Warner decided to cram all of this onto a single 30GB HD DVD.
And what's the big deal about that, you ask? Simple- Warner uses virtually identical VC-1 video encodes on HD DVD and Blu-ray. So, if one format or the other has a bit budget issue that affects the image quality both formats would suffer. This apppears to be the case with Blood Diamond Blu-ray Disc in spite of the 50GB capacity used for its release.
Throughout Blood Diamond the image quality is poor compared to the better releases on either format. It's soft, only sometimes looking like real hi-def, and almost never looking like great hi-def. Blocking and other seeming compression related artifacts are apparent at times, something almost unheard of on HD DVD and Blu-ray. If I saw this broadcast on HBO HD I'd consider it disappointing, and HBO Hd at its very best looks like DVD compared to the best Blu-ray and HD DVD transfers.
Looking at the PS3's video bitrate meter as I watched BD on BD, I was stunned to see that the data rate was often well under 10Mbps, frequently going as low as 6-7Mbps, which is decidedly DVD territory.
It's hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that more aggressive video compression was employed to fit this wealth of supplemental material onto a single HD DVD disc.
I think the sad thing is how easily something like this could be avoided. Why not throw the standard-def supplements onto a standard DVD and make this a two-disc set? Planning ahead wold have allowed the same supplement disc to be used for two-disc sets for the DVD and BD and HD DVD releases. And the higher sales of the DVD discs would have helped defray the costs of including the extra disc with the HD disc versions.
Blood Diamond is a worthy film, although flawed. Nevertheless, it and we deserved more from its release on HD. More bits, that is!