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Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 2

In Part 1, I talked about companies that either currently offer or are about to offer the ability to watch movies at home the day they’re released in theaters. Here, I’m going to look towards “things that are coming,” and discuss a service on the horizon called Xcinex (pronounced See-nex).

 

I’ve already written a couple of posts about this company—you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here—but here’s a quick look at what they’re up to. Xcinex is a Silicon Valley startup that, unlike Red Carpet Home Cinema, is definitely looking to disrupt and change the whole movie delivery model. While Red Carpet requires a hefty $15,000 buy-in, Xcinex wants to sell you its Venue hardware for an almost unbelievable $29.95. (That’s not a typo.) And instead of paying thousands per movie, Xcinex expects its pricing to be similar to what you pay now when you go to a movie theater.

 

It’s been over a year since I wrote my original post on Xcinex, so I reached out to Founder and CEO Cihan Fuat Atkin, to see if they’re still on track for launch. According to Atkin, they expect to begin selling Venue by the end of 2019 at $29.95, and to have content available for purchase at that time.

Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 2

One of the biggest differences between Xcinex and the other options—short of hardware costing fractions less—is its per-viewer pricing model. For example, while you pay $500 to watch a movie with Prima Cinema whether you’re watching alone or with a houseful of guests, Xcinex will follow the movie theater model of charging per each set of eyeballs. This also enables studios to have a more accurate count of how many people are actually watching a film.

 

How does Xcinex do this? The Venue set-top box has a sensor that monitors the room while a movie is playing to see how many people are watching. It also keeps piracy at bay by looking for any devices that could be recording the film.

 

This obviously raises some privacy concerns, since most people aren’t keen on having a sensor keep tabs on them while they watch movies. Atkin said Xcinex has redesigned its hardware since my last conversation to address this. Venue is now 100%

Bluetooth, which means it no longer has a network connection and can no longer be remotely accessed or send any images. All image analyzation is now done locally, in real time, without being stored or submitted.

 

Xcinex is proposing a 95% revenue payback to studios, which can then distribute a share of the money back to the local theater, cutting them into the sale just as if someone had gone there and bought a ticket. Viewers can select a theater if they’re part of its loyalty program or Xcinex can send the revenue to the nearest cinema. 

 

Atkin said Xcinex is looking to “bring the 1% experience to the masses,” and that his company will be applying for app approval on all major services, including Apple, Roku, and Android; smart TVs; and game consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.

 

While he expects to have content available at launch, Atkin couldn’t name any studios that had signed on to support Xcinex. He did say he fully expects to have a mix of independents, foreign, and live content, and that while day-and-date availability will be up to individual studios, that is his company’s ultimate goal. “We wouldn’t have spent the past five years working on this if we didn’t expect it to be a reality,” Atkin said.

 

Over the past year, Xcinex has been busy streamlining the process for using its product, simplifying operation and the movie selection and purchase process, which will now all be completed via the onscreen app instead of requiring a separate phone or tablet.

 

Atkin did share some information that some might find more than just a bit invasive. Xcinex plans to be able to supply data to content providers on viewer behavior during films. To help studios know how content is performing, the sensor would be able to analyze audiences and share whether viewers laughed, cried, or got up during a scene. And while it wouldn’t be sharing specific information such as “John laughed, at 2 minutes 10 seconds in,” it could share information like “two out of four viewers laughed.” He said this feature won’t be active at launch, and users could opt out of sharing this data when it becomes available.

At its bargain-basement pricing, Xcinex could find itself successful even if it never gets a single studio to sign on for early-release windows. In fact, it might ultimately find more success in selling access to live events like concerts, sports, or plays. Imagine being able to buy a ticket to watch Hamilton or see Taylor Swift when the event is happening hundreds of miles away or sold out? Or being able to view indy or foreign films that don’t get a wide release?

 

Finally, you can’t have an article on day-and-date services without mentioning The Screening Room. This was the brainchild of Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame announced back in 2016 that created a wildfire of buzz in the industry for about two months.

 

Parker’s idea was that hardware would cost $150, and viewers would buy films for $50, giving them access to a 48-hour window. Of that $50, an equal share would go to both the studios and the local theater chain, cutting everyone in on the action.

 

Adding to the buzz, the service had vocal support of some pretty big Hollywood influencers like J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, and Ron Howard. But it had an equal if not greater number of people—including Cristopher Nolan, James Cameron, M. Night Shyamalan, and Kevin Tsujihara CEO of Warner Bros.—speaking out against it, not to mention theater chain owners

 

But just like a shooting star that shines bright and burns out quickly, as fast as The Screening Room came to attention, it seems to have completely disappeared into the ether. Since June 2016, there has been almost no news or information on the company. One small update from The Wrap in March 2017 said the company was working on developing new security protocols to address piracy concerns and that The Screening Room planned on attending CinemaCon. There has been nothing about the company since.

 

With companies like Netflix and Amazon pushing release windows and creating Oscar-worthy content directly for streaming, it seems that day-and-date releases are inevitable, and at this point it seems more a question of when and who rather than if.

 

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 1

Day & Date Finally Gets Real

Ever since the home video market was effectively born in 1977 with the launch of the VHS player and the release of The Sound of Music, M*A*S*H, and Patton, people have been eager to watch movies at home as soon after they appear in movie theaters as possible. While it used to take months or even years for a film to see a home release, the theatrical window has been increasingly shrinking.

Movies now typically play exclusively in the theater for a month or so before going to premium video-on-demand (PVOD) services such as pay-per-view or airlines, then to an online digital release such as Kaleidescape or Vudu, then a disc release about 14 weeks after the theatrical run, then to home video services like HBO a couple of months later, and then finally to non-pay TV services. For example, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was released theatrically on February 8 2019, and was released for digital download on April 16, with the disc release scheduled to arrive on May 7.

 

But these shrinking release windows still haven’t been enough to satisfy the desire to see movies soon after they’re released in theaters. The biggest thing keeping windows from getting even shorter is the delicate relationship between the movie studios and the theater owners. Studios make millions—sometimes billions—from the main commercial release, and they don’t want to do anything that might hurt the goose that lays their biggest golden egg. Regardless, a few companies have been working hard to have movies available at home the day they’re released.

 

Bel Air Circuit

At the top of the pyramid is the Bel Air Circuit—an invitation-only group of individuals consisting mainly of Hollywood A-list actors, directors, producers, and studio executives who receive just-released movies to enjoy in their personal screening rooms. While this used to require delivering film reels via courier and having a projectionist on site to handle 

the reel-changing chores, members now receive the same digital files sent to commercial theaters. The upside is that most studios make their films available for viewing to Circuit members at no charge. The downside is that unless your name is Spielberg, Tarantino, Stallone, or Cruise, you won’t ever be invited to join.

 

Bel Air Cinema

Very similar in concept to the Bel Air Circuit is Bel Air Cinema. The biggest difference is that unlike an invitation-only, private club comprised of a Hollywood who’s who, anyone with a big enough checkbook can inquire about becoming a customer.

Bel Air Cinema requires the kind of commercial cinema
projection equipment shown here

But your regular home theater need not apply. In fact, even high-end, luxury home theaters aren’t compatible, because Bel Air Cinema is less about home theater and more about creating a commercial theater in your home. That requires a Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI)-compliant projector and movie server costing $100,000 or more. (Feel free to read the latest Digital Cinema System Specification, Version 1.3—it’s only 155 pages.) And expect to shell out $5,000 or more for the privilege of watching a film, plus annual fees.

Prima Cinema

The first company to make a real go of the day-and-date concept was Prima Cinema. Launched in 2012, with financial backing from companies including Universal Pictures, Best Buy, and IMAX, Prima lets you watch movies at home the day they hit the theaters.

 

Unlike the Bel Air systems, Prima’s hardware works with any home theater technology, providing an HDMI output that can be connected to any brand of AV receiver or processor and any TV or projector. The system includes a massive array of security features, including accelerometers to prevent moving the hardware, unique watermarking for every viewing, and a fingerprint scanner with “liveness” detector. 

Day & Date Finally Gets Real

CLICK THE CHART TO ENLARGE

Prima initially had agreements with just Universal, Lionsgate, Focus Features, Cinedigm, and Magnolia. But after a couple of years in operation, this list expanded to include Paramount, The Weinstein Company, Relativity EuropaCorp, Roadside Attractions, Gravitas Ventures, Samuel Goldwyn Films, IFC Films, and Open Road, meaning a far larger number of titles was available for viewing. 

 

But Prima isn’t cheap. The hardware alone costs $35,000, with movies running $500 per viewing. I have the unique experience of having been the only reviewer to live with Prima—not once, but twice—so I was able to experience the system 

firsthand. And I can confirm it has a wonderful interface for browsing and choosing movies, and delivers pictures in beautiful, better-than-Blu-ray 4:2:2, 10-bit quality.

 

Unfortunately, around 2016, Prima seemed to fall off the map. Movies stopped downloading, and dealers couldn’t get a hold of the company. Prior to this post, I reached out to a new contact listed on the company’s redesigned webpage: Richard Jenkins, Head of Content. According to Jenkins, “We are still operating and hoping to close our current

Day & Date Finally Get Real

investment round by the end of June; once new funding is in place we will then be making an announcement in early July, so please standby—we will update you as soon as we can.”

 

Red Carpet Home Cinema

Earlier this month, the New York Times ran a story heralding the launch of a brand new company in this space: Red Carpet Home Cinema—the brainchild of Fred Rosen, the man behind Ticketmaster, and Dan Fellman, past president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Red Carpet is more Prima Cinema (of which Rosen sat on the board of advisors) than Bel Air Cinema since it will work with any traditional AV system but requires a $15,000 piece of proprietary hardware (loaded with security provisions to keep Hollywood content safe from piracy). According to the site’s FAQ, “Movies will be variably priced with the most current films in the low thousands—no movie will be priced below $500.” The Times article mentioned that films will cost $1,500 to $3,000, which will include two viewings within a 36-hour period.

 

I recently spoke to Mr. Rosen, and found him incredibly forthcoming and straightforward about his new company’s plans. He repeatedly said Red Carpet isn’t looking to disrupt the current cinema model, but rather wants to provide a luxury option for

Day & Date Finally Gets Real

Red Carpet Home Cinema co-founder Fred Rosen

home viewing to people willing to pay for it.

 

Rosen said: “We asked the studios, ‘What will it take to make this happen? You set the price and terms.’ The studios said I was the first guy to come in and not try to tell them what they could charge, not tell them how it was going to be.”

 

Red Carpet lists studio support from 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, and Annapurna, with five titles currently available for viewing: Pet Sematary, Missing

Link, Hellboy, The Curse of La Llorona, and Shazam! But Rosen says he feels pretty comfortable they’ll be able to add more studio partners.

 

“This is a luxury product, of something that is very limited and difficult to get,” he said, “and our customers are willing to pay for the convenience and privilege.” The company isn’t looking for mass sales, but would like to sign up a limited number of affluent clients, saying it would be happy to have hundreds of members in New York and LA, and about a hundred more in each of the largest cities throughout the US.

 

Rosen said there are luxury options available for virtually every other kind of product or service, and Red Carpet wants to provide athletes, movie stars, and just “regular” wealthy people with the freedom to consume content when and how they want. “If a kid can watch a movie on their phone 90 days after it is released for $.99, why can’t there be an early option for the luxury market that is willing to pay for it?”

 

According to Rosen, people last year spent $70 billion on private planes and $60 billion on private yachts. “I’m not saying that’s good or bad, it just is what it is. And if those people want to spend $3,000 to watch a movie in the privacy of their own home, why shouldn’t they have that as an option like any other luxury purchase?”

 

Red Carpet is currently in beta, with several systems installed in both New York and California. When I asked Rosen when the service would come out of beta, he said, “As soon as we make a sale! It’s ready to go now.” For those with the means, Red Carpet Home Cinema is available now throughout the country.

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about the current status of the much-hyped day-and-date startup The Screening Room, and provide an update on Xcinex, which plans to sell its hardware for a mass-market-friendly $30 and charge for viewings based on the number of people in the room, like at a movie theater.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront isn’t Elia Kazan’s best film. I’ll get crucified for admitting that opinion, I know, but compare this effort to Kazan’s next feature, James Dean’s East of Eden, and the uneven performances of Waterfront start to become a little more distracting.

 

But only a little. On the balance sheet, On the Waterfront is a powerful and at times shocking work that, while a product of its time—as any good work of art is—remains vibrant and accessible today. Only Leonard Bernstein’s score, which is often heralded as a masterwork but in truth runs a bit too maudlin and sappy in some of the film’s most poignant scenes, really anchors the film in the past. But that was true when it was released in 1954. Simply put, the score is too often a throwback to the melodramatic orchestrations of the late 1930s, and while I love it as a work in and of itself, sometimes it just conflicts too much with the imagery to which it’s attached. (Incidentally, this is another thing that makes East of Eden work better overall. In the year between, Kazan seemed to have learned when to leave music on the cutting-room floor.)

 

If all of the above sounds overly critical, it isn’t intended to be. I absolutely adore this Marlon Brando vehicle, warts and all. In fact, I may love it all the more for its flaws, since the film is ultimately about flawed humans. It’s also a film about honesty and fairness, themes that also ring through in its presentation, especially in Brando’s intense portrayal of former boxer Terry Malloy, who testifies against a mobbed-up union boss at great personal cost.

It’s a film that I return to frequently, but what drew me in for my most recent viewing is Kaleidescape’s Ultra HD presentation. Unsurprisingly, On the Waterfront only seems to be making the jump from high-def to 4K purely in the digital domain (maybe because the Criterion Collection hasn’t kept up with modern AV standards), which means Kaleidescape is the film’s only opportunity, for now, to shine in all its high-

On the Waterfront

bandwidth 4K glory. Frankly, it’s such a grainy and gritty film that I’m skeptical as to whether or not streaming could do it justice without becoming too noisy—even with high-quality streaming formats like Vudu, which often excel with the hyper-slick, digitally assembled output of today’s Hollywood but struggle with the organic nature of old celluloid stock.

 

At any rate, it takes but a few moments of comparison between the Kaleidescape 4K download and the excellent Criterion Blu-ray release from 2013 to see what a difference UHD makes. In the famous “I coulda been a contender!” scene in particular, the 4K really brings out the subtlest, but most important of details, like the sheen of sweat on Rod Steiger’s face, as well as Brando’s, as the scene ramps up in intensity. It’s true, the 4K resolution also brings with it an enhancement of the film’s prominent grain (which was overly sanitized in the streaming version presented on the now-defunct Filmstruck streaming service), but that’s part of Waterfront’s visual charm, and it’s nice to see it maintained here.

 

Speaking of the visuals, the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release was noteworthy for its inclusion of three versions of the film, all identical in terms of content, but differing in their aspect ratio. On the Waterfront was shot at a time when movie theaters were transitioning from 1.33:1 (the shape of your old standard-definition CRT TV) to wider aspect ratios like 1.85:1 (similar to 

the shape of your new UHD TV). As such, director of photography Boris Kaufman shot the film so it would work on screens of either shape. But he chose to compose the action for the less-common 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray release included all three compositions: 1.66:1 on one disc, and 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 on another.

 

The Kaleidescape download is solely 1.66:1, and if a choice had to be made to include only one version of the film, this was the right call. The

tighter framing enhances the intimacy—and indeed the intensity—of the film, without cutting out key visual details, and the black bars along the left and right of the image are so slight you’ll forget they’re there within minutes.

 

Unfortunately, you’ll still need to download the film twice if you want to see the included bonus features—a short documentary, an interview with Elia Kazan, and a photo gallery—since these are available only with the DVD-quality download. Honestly, though, you’re probably better off skipping these and saving space on your hard drive. Most of the compelling bonus features for the film remain with the Criterion Collection, including the excellent audio commentary by authors Richard Schickel and Jeff Young, as well as a number of wonderful interviews.

 

The goods news is, you don’t even really need those, either. On the Waterfront stands on its own two legs, and forced to choose between the superior presentation on Kaleidescape and the superior historical perspective afforded by the Criterion release, I would opt for the former any day.

Dennis Burger

On the Waterfront

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born (2018)

In one sense, the 2018 version of A Star Is Born is nothing new. This is the fourth version of the film, after all—and countless other movies have borrowed heavily from the basic premise: An aging, addiction-stricken star takes a young, talented woman under his wings, falls in love, and watches her star soar while his comes crashing brutally to the ground.

 

Generation Xers like myself probably have a strong tie to the 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. It’s one of those “soundtrack to my childhood” kind of movies that I just remember being on my TV all the time. Then there’s the classic 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason. The original version dates all the way back to 1937. When I first heard that Bradley Cooper was going to direct and star in a new version, my reaction was, “Eh, just another unnecessary remake.”

 

But I have to give credit where credit is due. There’s an in-the-moment newness to Cooper’s version, due in large part to a script and a director that seem like they left a lot of room for improvisation. Everything about the film—from its pacing to its performances to its cinematography—makes you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of these people’s lives, right now. And that’s not always a comfortable place to be. In a film era defined by witty repartee and slick editing, you might find yourself growing frustrated as you watch people sometimes struggle to find or at least speak the right words. It’s awkward, but it works.

A Star is Born (2018)

The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is undeniable, and the decision to cast a musician and not an actress in the role of Ally just reinforces that sense of authenticity.

 

All that being said, the glue that really holds this film together is the music. Everything else takes a backseat to the fantastic musical performances, which means there’s some great demo material available in the Dolby Atmos soundtrack to show off your surround sound system. The concert sequences are mixed to sound like you’re listening to a concert, with lots of space and ambience in the surrounds.

A Star is Born (2018)

The 4K HDR image in the iTunes version I watched (it’s available in Dolby Vision if your system supports the format) looked excellent, with rich color and a high level of detail. This isn’t a super-stylistic movie, so the HDR is employed subtly to just flesh out that you-are-there sense of contrast. I didn’t see a lot of noise or compression artifacts in the iTunes version.

 

If you’ve decided that you don’t need to see A Star Is Born because you’ve already seen it, trust me, you haven’t. You haven’t heard it like this, and you haven’t felt it like this. You may know where the story ends up, but this is definitely one of those movies that’s more about the journey than the destination.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

Like most of you, I’ve never put a tremendous amount of thought into the work involved in bringing a film from movie theaters to the home. Sure, I know the video needs to be compressed—more so for streaming-video services than for discs or high-bandwidth downloads, the likes of which you’d buy from the Kaleidescape store. But beyond that basic understanding, the process was a bit of a mystery to me.

 

Never one to let an interesting mystery go unsolved, I sat down with Kaleidescape’s Luke O’Brien, Director of Content Operations, and Mike Kobb, Principal Engineer, User Experience, to pick their brains about the process. I discovered that, in many ways, it’s a far more complicated undertaking than I could have imagined—mainly because there isn’t really

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

Luke O’Brien and Mike Kobb

a consistent pipeline from big screen to home screens. Much of that could probably be attributed to the fact that the home video market is ever-evolving, and that what Kaleidescape is doing—delivering high-bandwidth, pixel-perfect presentations of movies, TV shows, and documentaries—is unique in this era of highly compressed streaming.

 

In short, the files Kaleidescape receives from the various studios vary quite a bit. But they all fall under the umbrella of “mezzanine files”—and if you’ve never heard that term before, you’re probably not alone. To put it simply, mezzanine files are lightly compressed video files that 

are usually indistinguishable from fully uncompressed video. And by “lightly compressed,” I mean that your average movie might arrive in a file that’s ten times the size of a normal UHD Blu-ray disc.

 

So, how does Kaleidescape shrink that amount of data to a file small enough to be downloaded to your hard drive, but not so small that it compromises the viewing experience? How do they ensure that the image you see on your screen looks just as good as—if not better than—the master files delivered by the movie studios? That was my first question.

—Dennis Burger

 

 

Mike Kobb  I think one of the things that is a huge asset to Kaleidescape is the human element that goes into preparing this content. This is done by people who take a lot of pride and put a lot of effort into making stuff look really good and ensuring that everything is right. They sweat the details. It’s not, and I doubt that it will ever be, an operation where a digital file shows up from a studio and gets tossed into the hopper and completely automated machines grind it up and out comes the end product.

 

Dennis Burger  How long does that process take? I mean, let’s take a recent mainstream theatrical movie as an example. Let’s say, Captain Marvel, which I think it’s safe to say is being prepped for home video as we speak. How long does it take you, from the time you’re given whatever files you receive from the studio, to the point where it’s prepared and ready to be released once that digital release date hits?

 

Luke O’Brien  Well, we’re constantly doing things to try and make that process tighter and cleaner and quicker, to shorten the windows. And we have a whole toolset we’re working to go wide with this quarter, which I think will speed up this process significantly. But as it stands right now, the average title takes several business days.

 

MK  Yeah, it takes us about two business weeks to prepare a movie.

 

LO  And we’ve done it faster, in cases where we’ve needed to. And we’ve done it much slower in cases where we’ve run into problems that needed to be addressed. But if we don’t think it’s good enough, we just won’t release it. There’s a quality line we have to defend with our products. And mind you, I don’t consider anything in that state forever. There are files that we haven’t been happy where we landed with them, and I consider them to be still works in progress. And no, I’m not going to tell you what they are. But it will be a happy surprise when they show up on the service looking as great as they should when they’re on the Kaleidescape System.

 

DB  This was honestly a bit of a surprise for me, and I think it would be for many people who just assumed that in this era of 4K, Kaleidescape simply got a copy of the UHD Blu-ray disc, ripped it to your hard drives, put it on your servers, and delivered exactly the same bits that are on the disc via the internet. It’s nothing like that, though, is it?

 

LO  No. The files we get from the studios are raw files in a variety of formats, depending on the studio. Some of them are going to be ProRes files, some of them are going to be MOV files, some of them are going to be IMFs (Interoperable Mastering Format). There’s a variety of base container files they use to send those over, mostly because these files are 

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

ready wildly in advance of when disc files are ready and we’re really aggressive about making sure we’re always hitting the first possible date a digital release can be made available to our customers. So, we need to receive these files in a manner that a lot of the other places in the digital market do take them.

 

But we’re handling them differently, because obviously our delivery method isn’t to create something designed to be pumped out and compressed and uncompressed to varying degrees for streaming. We actually had to create a way to take the base files they give us and to create a Kaleidescape Container File: Something that is a beautiful package that will serve as

the movie on the customer’s system, that they would then download and have locally to watch and enjoy.

 

DB  The process obviously still involves some careful compression, though. Do you also do your own HDR grading? I ask because I’ve noticed that your HDR sometimes looks more cinematic, more subtle than what I’ve seen on other home video releases.

 

LO  We don’t do our own HDR grade. We don’t do that level of file detail correction.

 

MK  We’re not looking to make any changes to the way the filmmakers intended that movie to look. We always strive to get it to be as proper a representation of that as possible.

 

DB  So, what would account for the subtle differences I saw in, say, Incredibles 2, where other HDR home video releases seemed to focus more on stark contrasts, but the Kaleidescape HDR presentation seemed to err on the side of subtlety and richness of shadow detail?

 

LO  Well, we do have a transcode process that we take the files and run them through. And that will not be identical to what will come through when any other person puts their files together. One thing I can say is that you’re talking about a studio that’s very protective of their property, and between us and the studio there’s often an elaborate process to getting our titles qualified.

 

DB  One of the things that prompted me to want to have this conversation was the Kaleidescape presentation of Blue

Planet II. I thought your HDR presentation of that series was just utterly stunning. Does a series like that—a mini-series that was created for broadcast on BBC, rather than a theatrical presentation—go through a different process than your typical movie release?

 

LO  Oof. That one’s a little bit different, because there are a lot more pieces in the supply chain on that particular title, because it was created for UK television presentation. That was really the intended final target. So, we worked with BBC and BBC worked with some external processing houses to have a regraded, transformed file. But they work with them to make sure they’re happy with all the color corrections as everything goes through to get it to a file format that we can take and transcode and deliver to our customers. But on this end, it just goes through our normal process.

 

I love the way that particular title looks as well, and I want to give Kaleidescape credit for absolutely everything I can. But really, you have to give BBC credit for making such a beautiful, spectacular original source file. I don’t know what process it went through elsewhere, but I do think it looks stunning on our service.

 

DB  Would you say the process of something like that, which was intended for TV broadcast, ends up being more complicated or less so than your typical blockbuster movie?

 

LO  I think the important thing to consider here is that we have a human review process. So, it’s certainly more time-intensive. I don’t know if it’s more complicated, but that series is, like, the equivalent of eight movies. It’s 400 minutes of someone’s time 

How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing

Examples of video flaws that can appear during the transcoding process.

and a lot of Visine. 800 minutes, actually, because every episode requires two passes—because it will get an initial pass through our tools, and anything we see that we’re not happy with triggers a second pass, so it can be finalized and we can deliver it to our customers.

 

DB  What kinds of things might trigger a second pass?

 

LO  It’s all the stuff that you might imagine could conceivably bother you if you were watching this program on a reference-quality screen: Is there any sense that the black levels aren’t staying true? Is there any banding in the transitions of colors? Is the brightness fading properly when it should? Is there any macroblocking that 

shows up? And if any of that shows up, we work with proprietary tools to make sure we’re filtering out anything that’s not in the source file, that was introduced in the process of preparing it for public consumption.

 

MK  One other thing to consider, getting back to our earlier discussion about Kaleidescape versus discs: One area where we have some latitude is that the optical disc has whatever capacity it has, so when the disc is authored, they’re working with that limitation. We don’t have that limitation. We don’t have to conform our releases to something that could fit on an optical disc. We don’t have to worry about adding a second disc for bonus features. So, if a particular movie or TV series benefits from having higher-bandwidth encoding than a disc would allow, we can do that.

 

LO  Yeah, the result is that our files are big. They’re big because there’s all of that delicious, juicy information stacked up and stored in each one of those files.

 

MK  Exactly. But you know when you’re watching one of our premium movies that someone actually took the time to go over it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure that it’s right.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams

Nothing shows you how much time has passed more than when you wake up one morning and see that one of your favorite movies is celebrating its 30-year anniversary! Yep, Field of Dreams turns 30 this year, and as a gift to fans, Universal Pictures has given the movie the full 4K HDR restoration makeover. While disc purchasers will have to wait until May 14 to grab a copy, Kaleidescape owners are able to download and enjoy the film more than a month ahead of time.

 

Field is one of my favorite films, and I’ve seen it multiple times over the years, though I actually missed it during its theatrical release. Perhaps the trailer didn’t catch my 19-year-old attention, or maybe it had a limited initial run,. But I can remember watching for the first time on a rented VHS tape at a friend’s house and absolutely loving it. I bought the DVD when it was released, but that transfer was never terrific looking, featuring a lot of noise and soft images.

 

It’s tough to think any movie lover wouldn’t be familiar with the plot at this point, but I’ll keep it spoiler-free just in case. Baseball-loving Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner, starring in his second consecutive baseball film following Bull Durham) marries college sweetheart, Annie (Amy Madigan), and they move to Iowa where they buy a farm. One day while in the cornfields, Ray hears a mysterious voice. “If you build it, he will come…” Build what? And who will come? After the voice won’t go away, Ray has an epiphany one evening: The voice wants him to plow under most of his cornfield and turn into a baseball diamond where players from the notorious Chicago Black Sox (who threw the 1919 Series) will return to play ball. (My wife was quick to point out how surprisingly supportive Annie was of this seemingly insane idea.) The voice continues delivering cryptic 

Field of Dreams

messages, sending Ray off on a quest to right some past wrongs and meet a group of interesting characters including Shoeless Joe Jackson (an incredibly young-looking Ray Liotta), Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones), and Dr. Graham (Burt Lancaster).

 

Field is considered one of the best sports films ever made, and was nominated for three Oscars including Best Picture, Best Writing (adapted screenplay), and Best Original Score. In a time when most movies rely on special effects, 

explosions, elaborate schemes, and confusing plot twists, Field of Dreams is an entirely story and character-driven film with virtually no effects or gimmicks. The movie works because it keeps you genuinely interested, has you caring for the characters, and has so much heart that the ending leaves me teary-eyed every time.

 

As bad as my DVD version looked, I hadn’t been in a real hurry to revisit the movie, so this was not only an opportunity to see one of my favorites, but also the perfect opportunity to share it with my 12-year-old daughter for the first time. Not a sports fan at all, I was hoping she’d be caught up in the story, and she was. (She also now understands why it means a lot to me when I ask her to go and have a catch.)

 

While the new 4K HDR transfer isn’t perfect, I dare say this is the best that Field will ever look. The film has many outdoor scenes, which often exhibit wonderful detail and sharpness. Fortunately, they didn’t take too heavy a hand on the cleanup, leaving enough grain to let you know this is inherently from 35 mm stock. The detail is some scenes is fantastic, such as being able to see the wooly texture in Shoeless Joe’s cap, or the blades of grass and dirt on the baseball diamond, or the clear detail in the rows of corn. As a comparison, I checked a couple of scenes from the DVD, and they were all soft, grain-filled mush. While the HDR pass was pretty light, there are some nighttime scenes in Boston that benefit, as do some of the night ball games. Equally important, black levels are deep and clean throughout. I also noticed that the reds in some scenes were very saturated, likely pushing the color boundaries from previous releases.

 

As I said, the transfer isn’t perfect, and there is still some excessive noise and grain in some of the dusky, twilight sky scenes, when the sky hits a faded, powder blue/grey color that reveals a lot of noise, likely from the original film stock. Also, there were a couple of scenes where faces looked a bit too red.

 

Not much has changed on the audio front from the Blu-ray release 10 years ago, as we still get a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix. (The 4K disc will include a new DTS:X immersive audio mix, that hopefully will find its way to Kaleidescape at some point, NBCUniversal willing.) Even so, I found the dialogue to be very well recorded, important for a film that is entirely story-driven, and James Horner’s score shines through nicely. I did notice that my Dolby Atmos upmixer did a nice job lifting the Voice up into the ceiling speakers, creating a nice, other-worldly effect that worked well.

 

I can’t recommend this movie enough, whether you’ve seen it or not. Field of Dreams is a timeless classic that is suitable to share with family member of all ages, but it especially translates well to watching with your dad or your kids. And at $15.99 from Kaleidescape, it should be a part of everyone’s collection.

John Sciacca

Field of Dreams

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Our Planet

It’s been barely more than a year since beloved natural historian Sir David Attenborough took viewers on another romp around the natural world in Blue Planet II, so for some it may seem a little soon for another such epic journey. After all, Attenborough’s tentpole nature documentary series tend to follow big technological leaps, either in terms of presentation (HD, 4K, HDR, etc.) or exploration (e.g. the Nadir and Deep Rover submersibles employed in Blue Planet II).

 

Needless to say, we haven’t made such quantum leaps in the past calendar year. For the most part, what sets the new Netflix original Our Planet apart from its predecessors isn’t technological (although its heavy reliance on 4K drones does mean that we get to witness the wonders of a natural world from a new perspective at times). No, for the most part, what sets this series apart is its intent, and the prominence of its message.

 

Since the 1980s, Attenborough’s documentaries—at least the big “event” series—have been largely subtle in their environmental and conservational messaging. A summary sentence here or there. Maybe a wrap-up episode that connected the dots and spelled out how human activity has threatened and continues to threaten the fragile ecosystems around our pale blue dot.

 

With Our Planet (and its accompanying hour-long making-of special), that message takes center stage. Which isn’t to say that Attenborough dwells on it constantly. Large swaths of the eight-episode series are devoted to the drama, heartbreak, and 

hilarity of the natural world. Show a ten-minute clip from the middle of any given episode to your dad, and he might be hard-pressed to tell it from an old episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, if not for the stunningly modern cinematography and deliciously dynamic Dolby Atmos sound mix.

 

But Attenborough does a great job of priming the 

pump here, setting the stage in such a way that you can’t help but meditate on how much of nature relies on delicate, precarious balances, and how those balances are undeniably being thrown out of whack.

 

One example: It’s one thing to be told that arctic sea ice is on the wane. It’s another altogether to see with your own eyes how that’s affecting the wildlife in the region. At the other end of the globe, we also see how diminishing sea ice around Antarctica is disrupting eating, mating, and migration patterns of everything from seals to penguins to humpback whales.

Even if that message doesn’t resonate with you, it’s impossible to deny that Our Planet is an absolute feast for the eyes. Presented here in 4K with both Dolby Vision and HDR10 (depending on which HDR format your system supports), the series is one of the most striking video demos I’ve ever laid eyes on—in any format. The high dynamic 

range is used here to enhance everything from the iridescent shimmer of orchid bees to the fluorescent glow of algae growing underneath sea ice, and while we’ll likely never know how much better (if at all) it could look if released on full-bandwidth UHD Blu-ray or via Kaleidescape, one thing is for certain: This streaming series manages to surpass the already mind-blowing video presentation of Blue Planet II on any format, streaming or not, and that’s mostly due to its stunning HDR mastering and grading.

 

There are times when the contrasts and highlights are so rich and nuanced, and the imagery so detailed, that your brain just can’t help but interpret the picture as glasses-free 3D. Individual snowflakes fall through the back of the frame, reflecting stray sparkles of sunlight, without a hint of lost definition or clarity. If not for the liberal application of slow-motion, you’d swear you were looking out a window. Indeed, only the appearance of some very occasional, subtle, fleeting, almost imperceptible banding in the underwater sequences of the second episode give the slightest clue that this isn’t uncompressed video.

The audio is mostly fantastic, as well. For a nature documentary, the surround effects can be quite startlingly aggressive at times, but they’re never egregious, and such effects are always used for the purposes of immersion, not merely spectacle. If I have a slight beef here, it’s that the Dolby Digital+ encoding doesn’t quite fully capture the nuanced timbres of Sir Attenborough’s inimitable voice in the way I suspect Dolby TrueHD would. But again, that’s a minor nit to pick.

 

As mentioned above, the series is also amongst the rare Netflix offerings to be accompanied by bonus features—in this case, a behind-the-scenes documentary that sheds light on how so many of the stunning images within were captured. The series was four years in the making and involved 3,365 filming days at 200 locations, with a total of 6,000 drone flights and 991 days at sea. With only an hour to play with, the behind-the-scenes doc can’t dig into all of the high-tech trials and tribulations of the filming, but it’s enough to scratch your curious itch and answer most of the biggest “How did they film that?!” questions you may have.

 

In the end, it’s difficult for me, a nearly fanatical David Attenborough devotee, to come to terms with the fact that Our Planet could conceivably be the last of his major earth-spanning natural history mini-series. He is, after all, approaching the age of 93. As such, and when taking into consideration the urgency with which he delivers his message here, it’s hard not to view this series as a potential swan song of sorts. If that be the case, I couldn’t imagine a finer farewell, nor a more fitting final lesson from the man who has done so much to entertain, inform, and enlighten us about the wonders of the natural world for the better part of half a century.

 

To call this one “essential viewing” may be the biggest understatement I’ve ever typed.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Ep. 7: Theo on Theaters

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Continuing the discussion from Episode 6 of how home theaters are now definitely better
than movie theaters, Episode 7 opens with hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger
discussing Dennis’s recent post on how even streaming can be better than a movie theater.

 

At 10:14, Dennis & Michael welcome the father of home theater, Theo Kalomirakis, back to
the podcast to talk about what impact the better-than-movie-theater experience at 
home
has had on both his work and his personal love of movie-watching.

 

At 22:28, the discussion turns to the influence the superior home viewing experience is
having on filmmaking. Theo also provides a brief update on the efforts of his company,
Rayva, to offer simple-to-install luxury home theaters
.

 

Ep. 7 concludes at 32:13 with a survey of what everyone’s watched over the past week,
followed by a guest appearance by Dennis’s son, Bruno.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

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Love, Death + Robots

Love, Death + Robots

The first night I sat down to watch the new Netflix anthology series Love, Death + Robots, I went into it in full binge mode. At 220 minutes total, it hardly seemed a daunting marathon. Four episodes in, though, I was burned out. Overloaded. Overstimulated. Desensitized to the carnage and ribaldry pouring out of my screen.

 

That’s not a knock against the series, which is the realization of David Fincher and Tim Miller’s failed attempts to bring Heavy Metal to the big screen again. It’s simply an acknowledgement of the fact that I think I’ve discovered the first streaming series that expressly discourages binge watching. That could in part be due to the fact that most of the 18 shorts in the anthology are radically different in tone, style, and genre. The collection runs the gamut from dungeon-diving horror to comedy to fantasy to science-fiction, with sprinkles of high-tech action/adventure and steampunk wǔxiá thrown in. The animation is also

quite varied, including a nice mix of hand-drawn 2D animation and CGI that ranges from stylized and painterly to hyper-realistic. There’s even a delightful live-action short that harkens back to Steven Spielberg’s old Amazing Stories series from the 1980s.

 

In short, there’s really nothing tying these episodes together, aside

from loose adherence to the titular theme to one degree or another. Honestly, a better title might have been “Love, Death, and/or Robots.”

 

But none of that should be interpreted as a knock against the series, either. Merely an observation about why I think Love, Death + Robots works better as a collection of disconnected morsels, intended to be taken in one at a time here and there, not consumed in one or two sittings.

 

You almost certainly won’t enjoy all of the shorts, even if this is your sort of thing. (And to gauge whether this is your sort of thing, it probably boils down to your fondness for the aforementioned Heavy Metal, the magazine on which it was based, or maybe even the old MTV/BBC Two anthology series Liquid Television.) Half of the shorts in this first season collection

are downright brilliant, and the other half are a weird mix of puerile, pointless, and outright repugnant.

 

The problem is, although I think most people would agree with that assessment overall, I doubt you could find two people who could come to consensus on which shorts belong in which category.

There are a few objective standouts, though. “Zima Blue,” one of the few 2D shorts, is as profound as it is simple in its storytelling. “Good Hunting,” an adaptation of one of the short stories from Ken Liu’s award-winning The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, is another fantastic vignette that manages to create a wondrously gorgeous and compelling world populated by fascinating characters in its all-too-brief 17 minutes. It’s one of the longest shorts in the series, although it feels like one of the shortest.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, goofy and disturbing romps like “The Witness” seem to have taken the series’ lack of censorship as a mandate rather than a license, and the result is a gratuitous and exploitative nightmare that I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoying.

 

Don’t let missteps like the latter scare you off, though, as long as you’re not turned off by animated violence and sex across the board. Love, Death + Robots is a radical experiment in filmmaking that deserves to be celebrated in spite of its misses. And its audiovisual presentation is utterly stunning. From beginning to end, Love, Death + Robots is a UHD/HDR video torture test that demands to be watched on the best screen in the house. Only a weird sound mix for one of the shorts, “Sonnie’s Edge”—which buries the dialogue and leans way too heavily on the surround channels—keeps this series from being an A+ AV demo from beginning to end.

 

In the end, Love, Death + Robots is, like most good genre fiction, a product of its time. Without the risk-taking attitude of new media outlets like Netflix, it probably wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day. Had it somehow beaten the odds and been made before now, there’s no way it would have snuck under the wire with an R rating without some massive edits. And without the benefit of modern AV formats, it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.

 

But in a weird way, the series also comes across as an interesting rejection of our current media climate and its emphasis on gluttonous consumption. To appreciate the series fully, you really need to treat it as a bag of snacks, not a sustaining meal.

 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Glass

Glass

There was a time when writer/director M. Night Shyamalan was considered the virtual heir to Hitchcock’s throne. He had a way of crafting intricate stories with unpredictable and shocking endings that left moviegoers talking for days afterwards. (He also adopted the Hitchcockian move of including himself in all of his films.) And from 1999-2002 when he delivered The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, Shyamalan was a guaranteed box office draw and one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood.

 

But then . . .

 

Well, in golf we had a saying for what happened to M. Night: “The wheels came off.” His next string of films—The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth—were all critical and box office bombs.

 

He had lost not only his magic touch but also seemingly his way, and now his name was more of a punchline for bad endings you see coming a mile away.

 

But then something truly unexpected happened in 2016—he gave us Split, which featured a fantastic performance by James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder, with 23 distinct personalities known 

collectively as “The Horde” that abducts teenage girls. Beyond McAvoy’s change-on-a-dime performance and an engaging story, Split finished with a total WTF?! moment—an end credits scene that delivered a fantastic callback to Unbreakable, arguably one of Shyamalan’s best films.

 

With that single scene, M. Night delivered Hollywood’s first stealth sequel and placed Split firmly in the  

Unbreakable world, where superhuman vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and his archenemy—criminal mastermind with extremely brittle bones Elija “Mr. Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson)—still live and breathe.

 

This set the stage for the highly anticipated Glass, the third film in the Unbreakable series.

 

Glass takes place 15-19 years after Unbreakable (both times are mentioned in the film), but only weeks after Split. It begins with four cheerleaders being held captive by Crumb in an old warehouse, and with the city of Philadelphia in a panic over a recent string of murders.

 

Dunn now owns a security firm he runs with his son, Joseph (with Spencer Treat Clark reprising his Unbreakable role), where he continues his covert, rain poncho-wearing role as “The Overseer,” walking the city streets looking for evildoers to beat some justice into. (This also sets the stage for a rather forced cameo by Shyamalan, who returns as his role of Jai from Unbreakable.)

 

Dunn ultimately happens upon Crumb, who transforms into “The Beast,” a dominant personality with cannibal tendencies and superhuman abilities that is an amalgam of various zoo animals. After a massive fight, both end up being captured by a special police division and sent to a woefully understaffed institution for the criminally insane. There they are studied by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson, returning in her role from Split) who keeps them locked in isolation cells designed to control their powers. It’s soon revealed that this is the same institution that has been housing Mr. Glass for the past number of years, and that Dr. Staple is working on a special branch of psychology where she tries to convince people who think they’re superhuman that they’re actually normal.

 

While Jackson’s Mr. Glass is the titular character, he spends more than half of the film saying and doing nothing, heavily medicated and slumped in a wheelchair. When Glass finally encounters Crumb, he decides to waken The Beast and have him fight Dunn in a massive public battle that will finally reveal the existence of superheroes to the world.

 

The film has a 129-minute run time, but I felt it was well paced for a long film, with a story that held my interest and attention. Shyamalan also did a nice job of marrying the two stories, coming up with a film that brings the characters together in a believable manner, though the pacing and style make it feel more a sequel to Split than to Unbreakable. The ending was a bit lackluster, but it did pave the way for future spinoffs.

 

McAvoy is again fantastic in his portrayal of Crumb, deftly switching between completely different personalitie, often multiple times within a single scene. These changes are not only in his voice and mannerisms, but in his physical appearance and emotion. It was also nice to see Willis back in his Unbreakable role, albeit he doesn’t get as much screen time as fans of the original would hope.

 

You can’t fault Glass for is its picture quality, which is terrific. Shot on ARRIRAW at 3.4K resolution, this transfer is taken from a 4K Digital Intermediate, and the image is sharp and clear, with tons of detail and definition. Edges are all razor sharp, and fine detail abounds in closeups, showing nearly every hair and pore on the actor’s faces (once revealing too-much makeup on Dr. Ellie), single-stitch fabric texture in garments, and micro-scratches in metal surfaces. HDR isn’t used extensively, but there are several low-light night scenes where its benefits are visible and welcome.

 

Audio on the Kaleidescape download is 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master. M. Night films are not big on typical superhero bombast and explosions, but the soundtrack serves the film well, with some nice directional cues and other ambient sounds and effects to place you in the right sonic environment. Of equal importance, dialogue is well recorded and clear.

 

Glass is available now from Kaleidescape, a full two weeks before its 4/16 disc release.

John Sciacca

Glass

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.