Shoot the robot dog. This is an HT gamer's new best friend.
It's just so beautiful. I realize that's a pretty shallow initial evaluation of Sony's much-hyped super-fun-happy-smile machine, the PlayStation 3. But the lines are so bold, the shape is so commanding, and it's all just so. . .shiny. Of course, it's what's inside that counts, and, in this case, that would be the imposing new Cell Broadband Engine, which Sony developed in collaboration with IBM and Toshiba. The Cell engine features a mind-blowing eight processors working in parallel—a main CPU, plus seven Synergistic Processing Units. It's 40 times as powerful as the PlayStation 2's processor, performing 208 billion floating-point calculations per second. This translates to highly detailed, highly interactive environments, complex effects, and bigger battles with a greater number of enemies. Backing this is the RSX graphics-processing unit, which is capable of 4X antialiasing. This can be a real boon in the large-format high-definition universe. The games themselves spin on the PS3's Blu-ray drive and arrive on high-capacity BD-ROM discs.
People seem to love bashing the last great format war—SACD versus DVD-Audio—in which, of course, there was no real winner. My personal opinion has always been a little different. I consider it a unique pleasure to bask in the warm embrace of 5.1 high-resolution channels of some of the best popular music ever. I continue to do this, as I always have, by way of an affordable universal disc player, as one could fairly call it in the days before HD DVD and Blu-ray. I'm glad to see that manufacturers are still supporting the high-resolution audio formats, helping the consumer take advantage of all the great software currently available, much of it heavily discounted in the aftermath of the conflict.
Games and movies collide, again, this time in high-def.
Microsoft's Xbox 360 HD DVD player is targeted specifically at the owners of the Xbox 360 gaming console—or those on the fence about purchasing one. It's an affordable way to bring HD DVD into your existing multimedia system. This small disc spinner will not work by itself; rather, it will only operate in conjunction with one of the two available versions of the Xbox 360, or with a PC (sort of, as you'll see later). It's another box (which will of course take up more space), and it lacks the sleek approach of a single-chassis solution. But the easily replaceable USB cable that connects the HD DVD player to your Xbox does offer a bit of placement freedom. This in turn makes the drive's integrated USB hub potentially more versatile.
Bose recently invited us by their Columbus Circle store in Manhattan to give a listen to their in-ear headphones. While not a new product per se, they wanted to discuss some new and upcoming enhancements that I'll touch on in a moment, but this was my first chance to really evaluate the 'phones and, as someone whose been using earbuds extensively for a decade now, I was genuinely impressed by the sound. While not noise-canceling or sound-isolating, they incorporate the same Bose Tri-Port technology as in their QuietComfort line: small ports in the earpieces that help in bass reproduction without adding great size, so they're a handy accessory to iPods et. al.
It’s curious timing for a new PS2 accessory, but this one is a dandy.
For those of you who just couldn’t wait for the debut of the PS3, or, more to the point, couldn’t afford to buy one of the scarce wonder boxes off of eBay, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your favorite PlayStation titles in high definition right now, thanks to the Xploder HDTV Player for PlayStation 2 ($40).
For prolific director Michael Apted, the Up series continues to be a lifelong labor of love.
Before he embarked on a distinguished career in feature films (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, The World Is Not Enough, and many more), director Michael Apted was part of a revolutionary British-television documentary project. It was called Seven Up, and it profiled a group of children in 1964. Apted took over from director Paul Almond starting with the first follow-up, 7 Plus Seven. He rounded up the same subjects at age 14 and has gone on to shepherd the series through to the present day. The films have become increasingly powerful for their ever-expanding scope and their ability to effectively condense entire lives of everyday citizens in a matter of minutes. 49 Up is the most recent installment, on DVD from First Run Features. All of the previous iterations are also available in an extraordinary boxed set.
Peter Jackson not only creates elaborate special editions of his movies, he lets audiences know that bigger, better versions are in the works when the initial theatrical cuts first hit the store shelves so we can choose wisely. He did it with his Lord of the Rings trilogy and now with his King Kong remake, offering a subsequent director’s cut with new extras that complement the original release.
A 1950s sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet is a futuristic spin on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Fifty years later, it remains a fun and frightening cautionary tale of fathers, daughters, and hubris, replete with flying saucers, ray guns, and other technology far beyond our own.
A new Bond benchmark has been set.
James Bond has saved the world time and again, but where has the appreciation gone? True, MGM Home Entertainment released those three comprehensive boxed sets a few years ago. They worked from the best possible masters available at the time and added a host of special features. But even those discs went on moratorium, relegated to big price hikes on eBay. But, now, as the culmination of two-and-a-half years of audio and video restoration by DTS, the 20 Bond films from 1962 to 2002 are available again as part of The James Bond Ultimate Edition. The four volumes include Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Living Daylights, The World Is Not Enough, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, A View to a Kill, Licence to Kill (sic), Die Another Day, GoldenEye, Live and Let Die, From Russia with Love, For Your Eyes Only, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Tomorrow Never Dies, You Only Live Twice, Dr. No, Octopussy, and Moonraker. Working from the original camera negatives, John Lowry’s process has reduced the grain and generally removed dirt, in addition to digitally repairing scratches and other incidents of damage. The color has also been retimed under expert supervision. The goal was to remain authentic while making the films as visually appealing as possible to the modern eye. The discs include new DTS tracks, along with Dolby Digital 5.1, plus the original audio in most cases, although Spy is missing its theatrical mix.
Christopher Reeve flies again.
Perhaps never before in the history of home video has a studio crafted months of releases upon a single theme, as Warner has in 2006, “the year Superman returns.” No doubt tying into that new feature film, all manner of Super movies and TV shows have been issued on DVD, some for the first time—new seasons of Smallville, the classic Adventures of Superman, Lois & Clark, Superboy, The Animated Series, and even the cartoon adventures of the Dog of Steel, Krypto. But we can never give enough credit to Christopher Reeve and his dual role as the impossibly awkward Clark Kent and a gentlemanly savior in a red cape. Reeve’s electric screen presence was born of classical acting training, an understanding of how to fly under his own power—from his experience as a glider pilot—and a willingness to bulk up his lean frame under the tutelage of Darth Vader himself, trainer David Prowse. The later of Reeve’s four franchise films were not an ideal stage for his inspired thespian stylings, but his characterization was a high-water mark for the timeless hero, as celebrated in Warner’s new boxed set, The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection.