PS3 firmware 2.20 due soon. Adds Blu-ray profile 2.0 support.

The PS3’s usefulness as a Blu-ray player and media hub is part of its growing success and Sony know that. Which is probably why the upcoming 2.20 firmware update is almost all about media playback as opposed to gaming:

Most notably, the update enables the PS3 to support Blu-ray Disc Profile 2.0, also known as BD-Live. You can connect now to the Internet while playing discs that support BD-Live to obtain additional content and special features. These features vary from disc to disc, and will keep your BD discs fresh with new content and in some cases exclusive content only accessible to owners of BD-Live enabled discs. On April 8th Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release The 6th Day and Walk Hard on Blu-ray; these titles will be among the first to take advantage of BD-Live. With this update, the PLAYSTATION 3 becomes the first Blu-ray player on the market with BD-Live functionality.

Here are some of the other new features/enhancements that will be included in Firmware v2.20:

  • The ability to copy PS3 Music and Photo playlists to a PSP system. We introduced the ability to create Music and Photo playlists on the PS3 in firmware update v2.0. Now you can easily export your playlists to your PSP.
  • You can now play DivX and WMV format files that are over 2 GB. In addition, you can now display subtitles when viewing DivX files.
  • Resume Play – begin playing a DVD or BD disc from the point where you previously stopped it, even if you eject the disc and insert a different movie or game.
  • Use your PSP as a remote control to play back your music files on your PS3 without turning on your TV.
  • The Internet browser now displays some web pages faster. In addition [Save Target] has been added as an option under file. This option lets you save a file that is linked to a web page to your PS3 hard drive or storage media.

With only two games under my belt at the moment my PS3 gets used more for its media capabilities than its gaming prowess whether that’s in the form of Blu-ray titles from Netflix or streaming episodes of Torchwood and Doctor Who in DivX format. It’s definitely been a worthwhile investment.

It’s official. HD-DVD is dead. Blu-ray wins the format war.

Toshiba put out a press release this morning:

TOKYO—Toshiba Corporation today announced that it has undertaken a thorough review of its overall strategy for HD DVD and has decided it will no longer develop, manufacture and market HD DVD players and recorders. This decision has been made following recent major changes in the market. Toshiba will continue, however, to provide full product support and after-sales service for all owners of Toshiba HD DVD products.

HD DVD was developed to offer consumers access at an affordable price to high-quality, high definition content and prepare them for the digital convergence of tomorrow where the fusion of consumer electronics and IT will continue to progress.

“We carefully assessed the long-term impact of continuing the so-called ‘next-generation format war’ and concluded that a swift decision will best help the market develop,” said Atsutoshi Nishida, President and CEO of Toshiba Corporation. “While we are disappointed for the company and more importantly, for the consumer, the real mass market opportunity for high definition content remains untapped and Toshiba is both able and determined to use our talent, technology and intellectual property to make digital convergence a reality.”

Toshiba says they have no interest in producing Blu-ray players at this point and it sounds like they may try to pull a sour grapes by focusing on HD video downloads instead. Which is fine as some folks are predicting that as being the Next Big Thing sure to make Blu-ray’s time at the top a short one.

Death watch for HD-DVD in full swing.

Update: Gizmodo is reporting that Wal-Mart will be dropping HD-DVD in June. That’s pretty much it for HD-DVD then. Put a fork in it, it’s done. Wal-Mart is huge and losing them as an outlet is very bad indeed.

An article in The Hollywood Reporter says that rumors are swirling that Toshiba is poised to announce the death of HD-DVD in the coming weeks:

[…] Officially, no decision has been made, insists Jodi Sally, vp of marketing for Toshiba America Consumer Products. “Based on its technological advancements, we continue to believe HD DVD is the best format for consumers, given the value and consistent quality inherent in our player offerings,” she said.

But she hinted that something’s in the air. “Given the market developments in the past month,” she said, “Toshiba will continue to study the market impact and the value proposition for consumers, particularly in light of our recent price reductions on all HD DVD players.”

[…] But in the end, sources say, the substantial loss Toshiba is incurring with each HD DVD player sold—a figure sources say could be as high as several hundred dollars—coupled with a series of high-profile retail defections has driven the company to at last concede defeat.

“An announcement is coming soon,” said one source close to the HD DVD camp. “It could be a matter of weeks.”

I found it particularly amusing that in that article they had an ad promoting a contest where you predict who will win an Oscar in hopes of winning, among other things, a Blu-ray player. As for HD-DVD it’s looking more and more like it’s death is inevitable. Netflix just switched to being Blu-ray exclusive and Best Buy announced that, while they’ll continue to sell HD-DVD to folks who want it, they’d be promoting Blu-ray as the format of choice. Even smaller independent studios such as anime-importer ADV Films have gone Blu-ray only.

Netflix to drop HD-DVD, go Blu-ray only for HD.

Toshiba’s been trying to stay in the fight by slashing prices on HD-DVD players, but more and more companies are announcing their plans to drop HD-DVD and support Blu-ray exclusively with the folks at Netflix being the latest:

Netflix has stocked DVDs using both Blu-ray and the competing HD DVD format developed by Toshiba Corp since they first came on the market in early 2006.

Four out of six major Hollywood studios have recently decided to publish high-definition DVDs only using Blu-ray.

Netflix said that with such a clear signal from the industry, it will only buy Blu-ray discs going forward and will phase out stock of HD DVD by about the end of the year.

Make that one more nail in HD-DVD’s coffin.

SEB Review: “Shoot ‘Em Up”

It all starts so simply: “Smith” (Clive Owen) is one bad-ass dude who is sitting at a bus stop minding his own business and enjoying a fresh carrot when a very pregnant and tearfully distraught young woman goes running by soon to be followed by a man with a gun who is obviously intent on causing her harm. At first Smith tries to ignore what he’s just seen, but, being the reluctant, bad-ass, anti-hero in an over-the-top action movie that he is, it’s not long before he sets off to stop whatever is about to happen. The woman manages to break into an abandoned building before she’s caught up to by the obvious bad guy who pulls out a knife and sneeringly says he’s about to give her a C-section, but before he can Smith intervenes and demonstrates why a carrot isn’t always good for your health.

Alas the bad guy is just the first of many, many bad guys that are chasing this poor woman who ends going into labor just as the rest of the baddies show up resulting in the first of many over-the-top scenes where Smith, now armed with a gun from the woman’s purse, shoots a lot of bad men while simultaneously trying to deliver a baby and then make their escape. The leader of the bad guys is a man named Hertz (Paul Giamatti) who is every bit as much a bad ass as Smith is, though in a more calculating fashion, and he’s out to kill both mother and child. A feat he’s partially successful at as the woman takes a bullet to the head leaving Smith to deal with a newborn baby and the mystery of just what the hell is going on.

That’s the plot in a nutshell and a nutshell is about all you’d need to hold it because there’s not a whole lot to it, but then it’s not a deep plot kind of movie. It’s a balls-to-the-wall action movie that assumes what you came to see is Clive Owen racking up a body count of enormous proportions while engaging in outrageous gun fights and spouting classic one-liners about what he hates about over-the-top action movies, and that’s exactly what you get. I wouldn’t have picked Paul Giamatti as a bad-ass villain that’s the equal to Owen’s bad-ass anti-hero, but he manages to convincingly go toe-to-toe in exchanges of quips that’s just a treat to watch.

In addition to Owen and Giamatti we’re treated to Monica Bellucci as a lactating prostitute that Smith drafts to be the baby’s surrogate mother while he tries to figure out why someone wants the poor kid dead. I’m not sure the movie was intended to be a parody, but it works very well on that level and there were plenty of scenes I found myself laughing out loud at for the sheer ridiculousness of what was happening on-screen. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously and the stars are clearly enjoying the hell out of chewing up the scenery and it all somehow works in spite of how silly it is.

The fact that Giamatti is able to track down Owen and Bellucci no matter where they run is passingly explained away as Giamatti’s natural genius in knowing how people like Owen tend to think and that’s about as close to rationalizing anything that happens on the screen as the movie gets. This means that the bad guys are always showing up at the most inopportune times. Such as one uproarious scene where they start popping up while Owen and Bellucci are in the middle of their obligatory sex scene resulting in a sequence even more over-the-top than the one where he kills tons of baddies while delivering a baby. Every time you think they can’t possibly do something more ridiculous than the last gun fight they find a way to prove you wrong.

In the end you won’t believe a minute of it and you won’t care ’cause it’s just too much fun to ignore. It’s definitely not a movie for kids as there’s plenty of blood (some of it seemingly enhanced by CGI) and tons of people dieing in painful ways. If you’re looking for something you can switch off your mind and just enjoy then this is probably just what you’re looking for.

DVD players now outnumber VCRs in American homes.

Considering the standard was only formalized in 1996, a mere 10 years ago, it’s pretty impressive that it’s now in the majority:

During the third quarter of 2006, 81.2 percent of all US households reported owning at least one DVD player compared to 79.2 percent for VCRs. That figure marks a 6 percent increase in DVD player ownership from the same period in 2005, while VCRs ownership fell. It’s a far cry from 1999, when Nielsen first began tracking DVD ownership. At the end of the 90s, only 6.7 percent of households owned a DVD player, compared with 88.6 percent owning VCRs.

The recent surge recent surge in DVD ownership is largely due to falling prices. Early on, DVDs were very expensive compared to VCRs. (Those of us who are old enough to remember the introduction of the VCR in the late 70s and early 80s will also recall how expensive they were at first launch.) Now, shoppers looking for a new DVD are confronted with a dazzling array of sub-$50 players. DVD players are now less expensive than VCRs and DVDs far outnumber videotapes in the majority of video rental places, making the old stalwart VCR an even less-attractive option.

I still have a ton of VHS tapes in my collection so the old VCR isn’t disappearing from my living room anytime soon, but it doesn’t get used anywhere near as much as it used to.

I got me some Star Wars DVDs.

A package arrived from Amazon.com today with the Star Wars DVD collection inside. We popped in the first disk to take a gander at while eating dinner and I must say that the movie has never looked better. Yeah I know all about the changes that’ve been made, but I don’t really care about that enough to let it overpower my love for the original trilogy. Full review later after we’ve made it through the set.

News on what’s in “LotR: The Return of the King Extended Edition.”

***Dave points us to an article on TheOneRing.net that details what to expect in the 50 minutes worth of footage that’ll be included in the upcoming The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Extended Edition. It is labeled as being very spoiler heavy as there are some non-canonical surprises in the additional footage so don’t read it if you want to know ahead of time. Those of you looking for more reasons to be outraged will, of course, want to read it right away so you can get a good start on your ranting.

“Unscrewed” interviews guys behind “Red vs. Blue.”

Was watching TechTV’s Unscrewed last night and they had an interview with Geoff and Burnie, two of the guys behind the hilarious Red vs. Blue animations that I’ve been a fan of for awhile. Looking through my archives I realized I’ve never talked about Red vs. Blue so I thought I should correct that oversight.

Basically, RvB is what you get when you take the game Halo on the Xbox, the ability to voice chat over Xbox Live and a group of fans of the game who like to be silly and put them all together with a VCR. More than just random silliness, the RvB site tells the story of a group of soldiers titled The Blood Gulch Chronicles and they’ve already got a complete “season” of shows under their belt. All of them are free to download in several different video formats and if you get to be a big fan, like I have, you’ll be happy to learn you can buy a DVD of the first season that has over 2 hours of content for $20.

Being a fan of the video game isn’t necessary to enjoy the RvB saga, though it does enhance the experience, as it’s amazingly funny on its own rights. It’s also pretty impressive what these guys manage to pull off considering they’re using a video game as their film studio. Want a taste? Then go download the trailer and see for yourself. There’s some naughty language so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing consider yourself warned. Of course, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing then what the fuck are you doing here??

“Star Wars” trilogy to finally hit DVD this year.

Fans have been threatening gory suicide over it for years now and it looks like it’s finally going to happen. The original Star Wars trilogy of films will be released on DVD on September 21, 2004. Purists won’t be happy about the fact that this won’t be the original theatrical releases, but rather the “enhanced” versions so they’ll still have something to whine and beg LucasArts about for awhile, but most folks should be happy.

Star Wars: Episode IV | The Star Wars Trilogy on DVD

“We know how long fans have waited for this release and how much they have been looking forward to it, so everyone has been working overtime to make sure that the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD is an awesome experience,” said Jim Ward, Vice President of Marketing and Distribution for Lucasfilm Ltd. and the DVD collection’s Executive Producer.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi will be available in a four-disc set that includes a bonus disc filled with all-new special features—including the most comprehensive feature-length documentary ever produced about the Star Wars saga and never-before-seen footage from the making of all three films. Each of the three films in the Star Wars Trilogy has been digitally restored and re-mastered by THX for superior sound and picture quality.

“First and foremost, the DVDs will deliver the very best possible sound and picture and take advantage of everything the medium can offer. On top of that, we are creating added-value material that gets inside the creation of the Star Wars films in a fresh and fun way,” Ward said. “We want watching this DVD collection to be as memorable as seeing the movies for the first time.”

The films of the Star Wars Trilogy will be available exclusively as a collection and will feature Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX. All three films are closed-captioned and subtitled in English, French and Spanish in the U.S. Internationally, sound and subtitling specifications will vary by territory.

Start saving your pennies now.