You’ve seen me write in these pages about the allure of the Microsoft Windows Vista operating system for PC, with its integrated Media Center application for serious next-generation living rooms. And you probably have one or more techy friends who extol the virtues of their multimedia PC, with its countless hours of stored music and video, TV recording, and the benefits of Internet access. But beyond custom-building your own rig or buying a traditional tower to stand next to your stylish A/V rack, how can you introduce a home-theater-friendly computer to your HDTV? Several manufacturers offer PCs with a form factor in the realm of traditional consumer electronics, namely a horizontal box with a remote control and a front-panel readout. The release of Alienware’s first such machine, the DHS-321, kicked off an evolution from that “digital home system” to their new high-definition entertainment center, code-named Hangar18.
Miles away from the disquieting cyber-terrorism themes and violent action of director Len Wiseman’s Live Free or Die Hard (now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Unrated DVD from Fox) are its real-life co-stars. The baby-faced Justin Long finds the humor in just about everything, while the hypnotically beautiful Maggie Q is as charming as her onscreen henchwoman is deadly. Veterans of both Hollywood blockbusters and more obscure indies, together they offer a unique exposé of an actor’s life.
The meticulous effects auteur looks back on a career spent creating movie magic.
During a time when movies were made entirely by hand, Ray Harryhausen knew better than anyone how to make the most spectacular cinematic creatures come to life. Inspired, like so many, by the original King Kong, Harryhausen honed his filmmaking skills on a variety of short subjects before he tackled his first feature film, Mighty Joe Young, working alongside Kong's stop-motion maestro Willis O'Brien. For you kids reading at home, stop-motion animation is the painstaking process of moving one or more specially designed models a precise fraction of an inch for each frame of film. Do it perfectly 24 times in a row (which can take a full day or more), and you've created one second of a movie. Along the way, Harryhausen even invented the Dynamation technique to more realistically combine his creations with live-action backgrounds, and his work became the gold standard that continues to stoke Hollywood's collective imagination. His 1957 black-and-white, monster-attacks-Rome opus 20 Million Miles to Earth was colorized and released on Blu-ray disc, the first Harryhausen title in high def, along with a new DVD boxed set that adds colorized special editions of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and It Came From Beneath the Sea, all from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
These guys make the image work: peter nofz, jonathan cohen, and spencer cook.
The most popular movie of the year and breaker of just about every box-office record, Spider-Man 3 owes much of its success to its seamless, high-impact visual storytelling. Vast portions of this were rendered in the computers at Sony Pictures Imageworks, the digital production studio that helped bring life to all three arachno-adventures. On the occasion of the release of this latest chapter on DVD—and the entire trilogy in a magnificent Blu-ray set—Sony invited HT to speak with three of the very dedicated men of Imageworks. Digital effects supervisor Peter Nofz, special projects computer graphics supervisor Jonathan Cohen, and animation supervisor Spencer Cook are all gifted artists and masters of their individual technologies. Each has different responsibilities, yet is proud of his role within the elaborate team. And their work speaks for itself—even when you don't notice it.
Certain catch phrases from my youth have stuck with me more than others. I was never a "Where's the beef?" fan, but lately, the one that keeps coming to mind is, "I want my MTV." It's not so much for the images of hyperactive rock stars and animated moon missions so much as the underlying fervor with which individuals demanded their favorite programming. That could pretty much apply to all TV these days, as well as movies or even video games—and the options for a media-hungry generation have never been as varied, or as powerful. I won't call the Slingbox a revolution for the same reason I won't apply that term to my beloved TiVo. Their uses of technology are bold, but the Slingbox has been a tad slow to penetrate the mainstream, as was the DVR in its early years. The Slingbox, if you don't recall our November 2006 review, is a network-ready place-shifting device that streams the audio and video from a connected home theater component, making it available on a PC connected to the Internet. Rather than start a game of Me Too with the more established Sling Media, competitor Monsoon Multimedia has upped the ante in two significant ways that you can probably figure out from the moniker of this particular model from their HAVA line.
In addition to spreading their technology message and announcing new software partners (Disney!), the D-BOXers brought along their top-of-the-line products, including a motion-enabled loveseat and this little beauty, a recliner with a third actuator for up-and-down-movement, or "heave," hence my raised thumb to illustrate. The heave literally adds another dimension to the interactivity that the chairs bring to DVDs and Blu-rays. If you ever see the D-BOX roadshow truck in your neighborhood, be sure to take a seat.
Last year here at CES I was more excited than anyone about the Nikko Home Electronics' R2-D2 Projector but then, as if swallowed by some swamp-dwelling scavenger on Dagobah, the little droid disappeared. This year he's back and better than ever (like when the Rebels cleaned him up for the big ceremony after The Battle of Yavin, good times...), upgraded to high-definition from last year's standard-def plans. This R2-DLP now puts out 2,000 lumens with an 1,800:1 contrast ratio and a DVI input for good measure. He should be landing at retail within about a month and a half, at a suggested price of $2,799. And no, he doesn't have little rockets that allow him to fly. That would just be stupid.
A small building just outside the LVCC evoked memories of Ralph Kramden in his chef hat, as were were treated to a glimpse of The House of the Future. The man of the house is the Life|media LMS-754, a home media server running Microsoft Windows Vista, available in different configurations that include DVD, Blu-ray, CableCARD, and various processors, either in a rack-mountable form factor or as a set-top box. The Life|ware 2.0 software enables elaborate control of the home entertainment experience, while taking it a step further with a new level of home automation, executing user-defined commands called Life|scenes, in collaboration with everything from Lutron lighting to next-generation smart beds. A 16:9 touch screen displays data and allows access from any room in the house.