Destruction of the picture is ever evolving

Back in the day when we only had square screens and movies were wider than they were taller, home media releases tended to butcher the image. Not only were wider images often just cropped to fit the more square screen, but pan and scan was applied to showcase and focus more on certain parts of the picture. Take a look at the comparison video how pan and scan was made with Ghostbusters and how much the intended picture was lost, or how extra editing had to be done.

This isn’t just something that was done throughout the existence of mainstream home media. Even Laserdisc, the format that was touted as the film fanatic’s choice, suffered greatly for many releases being pan and scan. The reason is the same why older media that was produced before the HD media hit around the corner is being cropped and slapped with some effect on top. The resulting ruination removes information on the screen, causing actors’ and surroundings to go unseen. In comedic media, you often see jokes and even scene important elements lost to pan and scan as the focus has to be on the speaker. To use Ghostbusters as an example, Spookcentral has a good three-point comparison what’s the core issue.

At the top, we have the original picture, with a cropped version to fit a different aspect ratio, and then at the bottom a pan and scan. The pan and scan version would have to move the image left and right to cover the whole scene to show all of the picture. Sometimes it simply doesn’t, which results in static cropping. This results large areas of information being lost to the viewer, in this case, we either lose Winston, or both Egon and Winston. This isn’t a single case; almost every single movie released on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD have pan and scan version out there well into the mid-00’s before HD screens took over. You would think this issue would be solved. After all, all modern screens are wider than they are taller by standard, but that’s not the case. The pendulum has swung to the opposite direction.

As older televisions programs use older standards for the screen size, they don’t fit modern screens without empty space. Hence, shows like The Simpsons are being cropped to fit the new standards, losing large amounts of information and destroying the scenes’ layout. Bart and Lisa on the above shot lose all of their torsoes and the luxurious house is almost completely gone. The scene has become too cramped, there’s less room to breath. Here’s an example how cropping removes whole jokes from scenes.

Nabbed from Tristan Cooper’s Twitter

The whole joke about Duff Classic, Duff Lite and Duff Dry all coming from the same pipeline got axed. This repeats throughout the whole show on Disney+, and worse all, Fox has been selling these versions to overseas markets to be rerun on television. This means the only way to see The Simpsons as it was meant to be seen is on DVD or VHS. In one of the DVD commentaries Matt Groening mentioned that there will never be Bluray realease of the show, because the DVD is already at the resolution the show was made in. However, as you can see on the cropped version, they’ve upscaled the image and applied some smoothening effect to it. Recently I watched half an episode of the show on local television, and witnessed how a classic episode was effectively ruined by cropping and by this smoothening effect, destroying detail and sharpness of the picture. This was made in order to make the show look like modern contemporaries or newer episodes, as no line ended in a sharp stroke but to a round end. Colour variation and balance had been destroyed in an attempt to move any sort of grain or scratch off the screen and making things higher in contrast. Tristan also pointed out how in certain scenes you don’t only get cropping, but stretching too.

The Simpsons is the most cited example of this, but it is far from the only show that experiences this. The He-Man Official Youtube channel has a long history of stretching and cropping full episodes they upload, with all episode of The New Adventures of He-Man being cropped. Originally, their He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episodes were both stretched and cropped, but after someone kept bitching at them episode after episode they slowly began to upload episodes in proper aspect ratio, only return to stretching and cropping. Take a look at how Castle Grayskull looks between their normal and stretched videos.

As you can see, the image was simply stretched to fit the new standard’s width without any consideration what it does to the image. Everything is simply wider with no reason behind it. There’s no lost information in this way, but it’s not how it should look like. At least there isn’t information lost. There is also no rhyme or reason how or when Filmation’s cartoons get what treatment, as an episode of Bravestarr that was uploaded a month ago still has its proper aspect ratio, but every upload after that suddenly begun to be cropped or stretched, starting from this episode, from 25th of July onward.

There are massive amounts of shows in streaming services and on home media that does these exact same things, cropping and stretching. In effect, it is the same fear of the empty screen space that was driving cropping and pan and scan. Both the game and film industry, television included, are too fearful of those black bars. This may be because some of the home consumers think the picture has been cut off or their screen is broken. Sony even has a support article explaining that there are media in a different aspect ratio, and even recommend zooming or widening the picture via TVs own settings, something now self-respecting consumer would do. The results would be as you see above; lost information and screwed-up picture. I’m not sure if it’s just inbred stupidity or lack of education that makes people think something is wrong with the picture if they don’t have their whole screen filled, or if it’s simply sheer ignorance.

The consumer, ultimately, is not responsible for these despite there being a group that doesn’t apparently understand aspect ratios. However, we have all the information we could hope for at the tip of our fingers, this information is readily available for anyone who wants to see what’s with their picture. Then again, almost all home media, at least physical media, lists the aspect ratio at the back of the box. This, of course, would mean the consumer would need to learn something about aspect ratio. Not everyone is interested in that, but really, it’s one of those little things everybody should learn about as part of their normal media education.

After all, film and television are considered a form of art. Consuming both in their proper, intended format is necessary in order to fully experience the effects and intentions the creators have used the screen for. Be it Jurassic Park‘s higher than standard screen or TV’s square-ish format, it’s all about what it has been designed and intended to be in. We should not hammer a square peg into a round hole, like so many studios and services are at the moment.


Slaves to the Screen

Modern gaming doesn’t know how to use the screen. Whatever game you pick up from the store shelf, you know you’ll get a game that fills your screen of choice. The size of the picture doesn’t change, it’s homogenous in whatever game you choose. Resolution between 720p or 1080i might be different, yet the aspect ratio is always the same. Be Call of Duty or latest Digimon game, wherever you look, almost all games outside indie titles or specific vertical titles simply opt to fill the while screen in its wide-screen format. This has gone to the point where the aspect ratio of older games, which are not in wide-screen format and were designed for various full-screen ratios, get mangled and stretched to fit format they were not intended to be in. This isn’t a topic about the screen aspect ratio, however, but how poorly the current developers are utilising the screen and its aspect ratios overall. Compared to other media, television, film, photography, and painting, video games simply don’t use the screen, the canvas to which games live in. If games were art, you’d think there’d be more ways to use the canvas instead of slapping the exact same size view every single time

Vertical shooting games like Truxton had to section off the screen for the play area and for the statistics area in order to emulate the vertical nature of the arcade original’s screen, something modern vertical shooting games opt to fulfil with junk nobody looks at while playing the game. The wider nature of our screen forces games like DonDonPachi SaiDaiOujou use the empty space for the aforementioned, though in home ports you see that space for character portraits for story sequences as well as for numerous other statistics, though due to the way the player’s attention and eye movement has to concentrate on the smaller play area means it’s waste of effort. At least it looks nice for those who are watching the play. RPGs used to have to section graphics into their own windows too for a multitude of reasons, be it performance or simply because it was a game design decision. Games like Psychic War section the screen in what we’d nowadays consider a mess.

This unconventional way to use the screen wasn’t exactly uncommon. Here we have a screen dedicated to the characters and their battles at the bottom. The bottom-left corner functions both as the dungeon exploration screen and as the enemy screen. Player characters are then on the middle and right. Top left, the one with the logo, shows item information and maps. It also serves to showcase special graphics, like when the player is playing slots. The black region between the monster and the logo houses a scrolling text screen. To its right, in the middle, is an item screen. You can see a keycard there against the mechanical background. More to the right you can see an energy counter, currently standing at 340 units. The rest of the top right and middle are dedicated to explaining the controls, which also serves as a selection screen for items and such and that pin-up shot. Fun fact; the DOS version of Psychic Soldier censored that image. This might seem a convoluted way to represent the game and its play, but everything is laid out for the player to see and interact without extra menus or such. The use of dynamic screens like this is effectively dead nowadays. There aren’t even attempts to make a game that would split its play into smaller sections of the screen. You could make an argument that the main play, the dungeon crawling, has been relegated to the small screen at the bottom left and the rest is information that could be laid out better around the rest of the screen.

Ultima Underworld and its sequel, from which the above shot is from, follow the more conventional dungeon-crawling aesthetics. The main play area is larger and the important stats are relegated to the side with the text scroller being at the bottom. The bottom right shows icons that rotates the stats window to show items and such. The two examples play very differently from each other as well as use their screen estate in a completely different manner.  I really mostly wanted to talk about the two as a tangent and to show that games have used wildly different ways to achieve the same effects, to different degrees of success. However, out of the two games here, only Psychic War can be said to “waste” space with the pin-up. Of course, this is by intention and design, as the game’s designed play doesn’t need the whole screen. The effect and how things are laid out are all intentional to drive in a certain kind of effect and method of play, multiple screens changing to something else to keep things on the same visual field all the time makes the Cosmic Soldier series of games unique with no real points of comparisons. To the modern audience, it is far more alien-looking interface than Ultima Underworld‘s.

The one thing in common with both of the examples is that they still opt to use all of the screen. They’re at the maximum screen resolution and size their respective systems can put out, despite the methods of sectioning it into chunks. However, the aspect ratio is still the same across the board on the games on these systems. Whatever the standard is, that is being used. If the standard screen resolution is 1280×720, all the games’ screens will be at that size no matter what. No deviation. It’d be like if all the movies and TV-shows used the same size aspect ratio. You could play with the screen’s size for effects, just like many games attempt this by limiting how much certain region the player can see on the screen via in-game assets, sometimes making special rooms that are vertical only.

The screen in games is treated something that can’t be touched, apparently. There’s a fear of empty screen space to the extent every corner has to be filled with something. This has extended to the younger generations breaking the aforementioned full-screen aspect ratios by forcing them into widescreen. However, this is about the developers not taking the full possibilities of the medium like how film directors can choose to. After all, films have multitudes of aspect ratios the director can choose from depending on the effect and intention he has behind. A well-known example is Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which uses a somewhat odd aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This means the picture has more height than by standard, leaving some empty area on your screen. The height of the screen allows emphasising the size of the dinosaurs and how utterly small the humans in the movie are in comparison to the rampaging nature. There is less need for vertical movement when you already see that utter majestic destruction a T-Rex can do.

Jurassic Park makes many of its moments work because of the height of the picture. It makes a permanent effect throughout the whole movie. Ever since Jurassic World movies rolled around, they abandoned this ratio and favour of something more generic, which also meant the movies lost the same kind of touch. This is the same kind of thing painters think when they choose what size of the canvas to use. Sometimes it’s ultrawide and the viewer is meant to walk across the painting to see it in its whole glory. Sometimes it’s a whole ceiling intended to showcase a full scene. There is an infinite amount of possibilities on how to utilise the canvas to its fullest extent as intended by the creator.

With video games, you see no creativity at all. All screens you see are the same, there is no deviation outside specific cases, like one or two screens intentionally made different from the rest of the game, or if the game is intended to be vertical. Gaming may portray itself as a field of art, yet it lacks the first touch of artistic mind to consider possibilities what aspect ratio and screen size to use. In all effect, there is no good reason not to experiment with different aspect ratios under whatever standardised resolution. Majority of the modern game design takes the standard picture aspect ratio and design everything around that rather than considering what that does to the game. For example, perhaps a fighting game could emphasise on the close-combat nature of the game and make the screen higher than its width, forcing the two contestants to have a much closer fight. In turn, this might make projectile moves less necessary due to lack of space to escape to. Racing games have been good with this in the past, where split-screen multiplayer between two players could be done by splitting the screen horizontally, allowing both players to have a much larger vertical view over horizontal, something most racing games don’t need.

2D games suffer perhaps the most from sticking with standard aspect ratios. For example, Rayman Legends is a game that could be described to have dead screen space at all times. Rayman itself is an extremely small character on the screen, while all the User Interface elements are at the top corners, necessitating the player’s eyes to move large distances. UI elements are often relegated to the corners of the screen, sometimes bringing something in the middle. There is surprisingly little consideration given how much the player has to keep an eye on various elements, and in games with high-speed play, the necessity to keep track on various bits and bobs forces the player to take their eyes away from the play. Hence you have sound effects for low health and such to help players in being aware of their status. The amount of dead space on the screen, meaning everything that doesn’t have to do with the particular moment of the play, or even with the upcoming challenge. Imagine watching a hockey match or F1 racing on television, or football, and the only thing you were shown all the time was the whole field and track. That’s the same effect, you don’t get the focus on the action itself. The horizontal space is poorly utilised, sometimes filled with the background or the ground texture and nothing else. It might make the game look larger and grander than what it really is, yet playing the game is like watching someone playing soccer five hundred meters from you. If the game had used a higher aspect ratio, closer to the traditional full-screen, the game would’ve looked and played better, especially considering how many of its puzzle challenges are vertical in nature rather than horizontal.

Classic Mega Man games had a level design that was around ‘a per-screen challenge’. Even when you moved onwards, all challenges you was were the size of a screen. Often a more challenging version of that screen would follow up, but that’s the method in which the game taught its player how to handle a specific kind of challenge, be it vanishing blocks or enemies shooting from the walls. The full-screen aspect ratio made the picture work extremely well as it allowed challenges to come from every direction and kept the game’s challenge and play fair and consistent. When a modern game tries this in wide-screen format, the camera has to pan out unnaturally, making the player character smaller than intended compared to the rest of the picture and thus showing more of the area and ultimately needing a whole new kind of stage design paradigm, something we haven’t seen yet. In the case this isn’t done, the balance in game design goes whack and the designers have to work with a far wider screen. If they can’t make use of this wider screen, like in Mega Man Zero games, you’ll end up with a vertical movement that makes cheap deaths and jerky camera movement. This is worsened if the player character is designed to sit in the middle of the screen, which results in camera movement that doesn’t concentrate on showing the play area, stage design and intended challenges, but rather whatever movement the player is doing. In effect, this sort of hyperactive camera that doesn’t concentrate on the field causes more misses than what a static camera could avoid, but this is more an issue of the camera rather than the picture.

In short, both the consumers and the game industry needs to consider how their games are depicted and what sort of design is behind it. There are many genres that would benefit from having different aspect ratios than whatever resolutions are about or even use the old-school method of sectioning off information to their own specific parts of the screen, effectively changing the play window’s size. However, the current paradigm across the board is to tow the line and not even think about taking cues after film and painting how to frame and present the picture. Rather than choosing the canvas game designers and producers might find their games working better, they’re blindly choosing the first option without any second thoughts.

Monthly Three: What’s in a name (of a remake)?

Remake get a lot of hatred, overall speaking. Unlike with remasters, remake takes something that exists, and rather than creating something new, it recycles elements of the previous product to create something new. Rather than creating something new or enhancing something old with new techniques and technology. Still, simply using the same core starting point with a piece does not make a remake. For example, the Transformers live action series are less a remake of any of the cartoons and more a different take on the work and story. Their quality is another thing altogether.

In film, remakes have become something to abhor, especially how the 2000’s was largely controlled by panned remakes of reheats of past franchises. From Clash of the Titans to Wolfman and whatever the latest horror movie remake out there is. That actually may be Godzilla Resurgence, which shows that remakes have their time and place as well, and that they can be done well, potentially. 1982 The Thing is an excellent remake that brought the story to a new generation with visuals and tone that still haven’t made obsolete. Similarly, The Fly from 1986 gave David Cronenberg a reason to do further body horror through a classic horror movie, and

That is the core idea of remakes after all; to take the old piece and recreate it for modern audiences. The problem is that not all pieces require a remake of any sorts. Wolfman is an example of an ageless classic that works more as a period piece nowadays, and much like 1934’s Dracula, works the best because of the era they were made in. This particular Dracula has never seen a remake, but further adaptations of Bram Stoker’s original book have been many, for lesser success most of the time.

The 1998 Pyscho is an example of a remake that remakes the original film point by point, almost replicating every scene of Hitchcock’s version. It’s a largely pointless way to make a remake, as it doesn’t do anything on its own, outside one added masturbation scene for shock value. The resources wasted on this Psycho could’ve been used for something better.

While we do expect remakes to do their own thing and add something to stand apart from their progenitor, often they just miss the point of the original piece. 1999’s The Haunting went straight up haunted house with being absolutely explicit that yes, there are ghosts about. The original film from 1963 is very subdued, never defining whether or not the main character is truly seeing ghosts or not, and works in allegories. It’s a subtle piece, something that the 1999 remake is not. It’s completely in your face remake with broken budget and has absolutely no subtely to it, not to mention it lacks any sort of legit scary moment. It stands apart from the original, and outside them idea basis, has nothing to do with the original piece and should’ve been named something else completely. Just like Gatchaman Crowds.

2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street on the other hand is just a bad movie outright, largely having worse special effects than the original 1984 and being explicit in everything it does instead of treating the viewer with respect.

In music, covers and different versions of songs are essentially the industry’s remakes. The basic beats and lyrics are the same, most often, but given completely new sound to them most of the cases, or simply taking it as it is and trying to do it better.

Remakes in music does offer much more freedom, in a sense. While a film remake can aim to change genre and stand completely apart from the previous work, just use it as an inspiration, in music you can take pretty much any song and give it a completely different take without much any hate. Game music is an example of this, with large number of songs being remade in rock, metal, symphonic, jazz and other arrangements. Companies themselves do this very often, Nihon Falcom having perhaps the largest selection of different pieces of each of their songs.

I’ll have to indulge myself just a bit here and list few of Yuzo Koshiro’s Morning Grow from the first Ys game, because the piece is simply one of my favourites in the series…

…Thou this dance pop version confuses me to this day. Provincialism Ys is a strange album

Unlike with films, cover songs in music are often less about the money and more about the love for that a particular song. The other side of the coin there are songs that are remade simply to be sold rather than about the song itself. Still, some authors and studios push remakes and covers of certain songs to ride on their popularity for simple monetary. After all, all remakes, film or music, are meant to be sold. However, in music remakes rarely obsolete the original piece, if ever.

In games all this is a bit mucked because companies tend to use remake and remaster liberally. Ducktales Remastered is an example of this, as it is a full-blown beat to beat remake and not a remaster.

Much like films, game remakes may get a cold shoulder from the consumers, sometimes because they don’t simply play as well as the original, sometimes because they have nothing new to them outside lick of new paint, or sometimes because they’re simply not wanted or needed.

CAPCOM tried to reboot the Mega Man franchise on the PSP with Mega Man Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X, but the main problem with both of them was that they were the exact same games CAPCOM had re-released for decade and a half at that point, solid two now. It didn’t help that they were on a system that wasn’t really all that successful, Maverick Hunter X ran slower and had more issues than the Super Nintendo original and only fans really bought MM Powered Up. It looked too cutesy and despite its addons offered nothing of real value, at least according to the bush radio. It didn’t help that it was a game aimed for a younger demographic on a system that was clearly meant for the older audience in the market.

What do the consumers expect from game remakes? The general idea seems to be that keeping it true to the original, refining some rougher elements and adding more content seems to be the right thing to go with. However, with older games this can become a problem, especially if the title is required to move from 2D to 3D, a change that can screw up the gameplay.

a boy and his blob is an example of a remake that took the original game and worked it from the scratch up. It’s a pretty good game on its own rights, and rather than hitting on nostalgia cashgrab, did something good. It largely ignores stages and everything else from the original game. Perhaps this sort of ground-up remodelling of a game is beneficial, as it allows the remake to stand apart from the original game, and act both as an independent piece and semi-sequel/reboot.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Metroid: Zero Mission, a game that remakes the NES original with seemingly the same maze layout while streamlining the experience, adding new content and forcing a story narrative in. Zero Mission is often called the better between the two, but it can’t be denied that it only stands on the shoulders of the NES original, removing large parts of the adventure the original game had going on for it, and perhaps even saying that Zero Mission tries to pander with nostalgia rather than stand on its own legs. It’s speedier gameplay is not necessarily better either, as original Metroid was very methodical, seemingly slow, and required a lot exploration from the player’s part instead of being directed to the next destination. In many ways, the Metroid is similar to Dark Souls in this rather than to its remake. To many the simple fact that Zero Mission is on a better hardware and plays more like a modern game makes it better, despite the fact that as a game it is a simple repeat, just like Ducktales Remasted.

Remakes have a place in every industry, despite their divisive nature. The good remakes show that you can use the same basis and narrative to create a new wholesome piece that can stand against the original without any problems, whereas the bad ones on the other hand show you how much certain works are largely timeless, at least for now. Remakes can work as a vessel for something great, despite their inherent repeating nature. Sometimes, repeating something is required to move forwards.

Review of the month; Pioneer CLD-S315 Laserdisc player

I was intending to do a follow-up review on the ceramic knives I handled last year around this time, but when I checked the post I noticed that it wasn’t a review. Bugger. I’ll have to get back to those some later time with a comparative review, as the ceramic knives I got didn’t serve their purpose too long.

The question then became apparent; what should I review for this month? I’ve been doing too many game reviews in a row as of late. Initially the plan was to review Kettou! Transformers Beast Wars; Beast Senshi Saikyou Keitteisen, a Japan-only GameBoy Colour game, as it is the first honest to God good Transformers game, miles better than anything that’s come before it or than its big brothers on the PlayStation or N46.

So I went back a little bit and remembered that I promised a Laserdisc player review… about two or three years ago. Shit. The problem with that still is that gathering comparative information on LD players is rather hard because setups differ so much across the board. I’m also a horrible little piece of shit and use one of the modern flatscreen LCD TVs for my LD playback without anything in the middle to handle the image quality, so I’m automatically thrown out from the hardcore LD club.

As you’ve most likely gathered, this will be more or less a different kind of review from the other ones, because I honestly don’t have enough base information to go by. This is all my personal experience with this single player and the discs I have. Unlike with VHS, BETA, DVD or BD players, this LD player is the only one I’ve ever actually seen functioning to 95% extent. That 5% comes from the fact that I’ve never seen a VCD disc in nature nor have I managed to make head or tails how to connect that AC-3 to anything at my disposal. I would want to say that doesn’t bother me, but ultimately it does. Let’s move on with the show then.

This particular model was produced in mid-90’s, as the user manual shows printing year as 1996. Not a bad year. For technical jargon, the CLD-S315 is a Dual System player that handles both PAL and NTSC formats, plays LDs, CDs and CDVs, has a 1-bit DLC pulseflow, a D/A converter and has Analogue Sound Reproduction for NTSC side. For video it’s got horizontal resolution of 440 lines in PAL mode and 425 lines in NTSC mode, plus contains a Digital Video Processing system. There’s a lot more stuff that’s more or less relevant, and you can check the complete list on Laserdisc Archive.

Is it the best possible model? Far from it, but it’s a good entry model and for the low consumer group. The reason I went with this particular model myself was that it was straightforward and played both PAL and NTSC discs. I’ve got a collection of 40 LDs at the moment, and only two of them are of PAL format. 22 of them are from Japan, 16 from the US. It does what it’s supposed to do well enough for the time being.

420 x 120 x 370 mm of full blown disc-on-disc playback action
420 x 120 x 370 mm of full blown disc-on-disc playback action

Let’s go with the overall design first; it’s a box. It’s clean, simple player that is dictated by the sheer size of the discs themselves. All of the design is basically in the front, and it looks gorgeous. The smooth lines it consists of balance the otherwise industrial bulk it has. As you mostly see just the front, it’s a pretty good balance. The Pioneer gold stands out very well, thou the playback details and model number may be a little too small and thing compared to dominate Pioneer logo next to them. The same goes for the control panel text, but all you really need to see are the symbols. The usual Compact Disc Digital Audio logo in the middle of the disc tray is well placed, although that now means the LaserDisc text on the upper right corner of the tray looks haphazardly placed. The LaserDisc logo on the other fits just fine in the upper right corner of the machine. It’s not that you’ll be watching much the front, but it’s still pretty well realized.

It's beautifully simple
It’s beautifully simple, and you most likely noticed that part is cut out. That’s because I’m too lazy to lift the player out of its rack for now

The control buttons feel sturdy and as responsive as ever. They’re clicky, which elevates them to a higher level. The LD and CD tray open/close buttons look similar to the first Sega Saturn model. While they clash a little bit with the rest of the controls, the shape serves them better. They’re distinct and you can’t mistake them for other buttons. When the player is on, they light up too. The main controls contain slight convex spot where your finger naturally falls. The play button is the opposite and simply control the thing. The menu button on the other hand is something I just noticed, to be honest. It should’ve been similar in shape with the LD/CD tray buttons. The power button on the lower left feel right and is as clicky as all other buttons. The digital panel works as you’d expect, and the additional label just under the control buttons look like they’re in their proper place. There’s nothing special to mention about those.

It's classy green, before the days when every single thing was blue
It’s the classy green, before the days when every single thing was blue

Sadly, it’s the remote is where things fall down a bit.

Rubber and largely awful, but has stood the test of time. Can't say the same about all remotes out there
Rubber and largely awful, but has stood the test of time. Can’t say the same about all remotes out there

The remote follows the basic remote rules of the 90’s, it’s nothing particularly special. The rubber buttons are as you’d expect, and feel more or less the same with other its contemporaries, or even with something like ZX Spectrum. Nevertheless, it’s alive and works, I can’t fault that. The construction is sturdy to boot. It feels nice, but I can’t say wholly ergonomic. It’s just kinda there. I have to say that the added red rim on the POWER is nice and draws your attention to it. The same goes to the red underlining for OPEN/CLOSE. A nice detail on the remote is the lighter gray area for the main buttons about halfway down where the buttons become more irregular, but more important for the main playback. The emphasize for the PAUSE and PLAY are as expected, and with very little memory you can use the controller without even looking at it.

On to the playback then, and here we’re going to hit a stop. I don’t have anything to capture the footage out of and make a comparison, but I don’t think I have to.

The LD I’ve watched the most on other formats is Fight!! Iczer-1. When comparing to the DVD version I have at hand, the picture quality is the same, meaning that the Digital Remaster the DVD offers doesn’t have much to offer over the LD version. As a reference, the LD I use is the 1991 release, TOLH-1048. It being CAV format, it offers superb picture quality. CAV and CLV are basically the normal and extended plays of Laserdisc, where CAV could fit 60 minutes of footage on one side, and CLV could fit double the amount, but with lesser image quality overall.

Early DVDs were commonly either direct VHS or LD rips, and it took well into mid-2000’s companies to put out proper digital remasters that could rival the CAV LDs. It’s not too uncommon to see a DVD with less quality than LD if it’s not a digital remaster. It should be noted that the video a Laserdisc has is analogue, but it differs from VHS footage by simply being far more sharper. Higher end models could produce better quality, and using a CRT TV is recommended for this model.

On the sound on the other hand is superb all around. I’m using Onkyo TX-SR308 as my sound system, and with proper settings it offers better sound than our local movie theatre. It can be brutally honest with discs that have awful sound, but those with that have better audio sound absolutely fantastic, better than what most DVDs ever had. This is because LD could carry an uncompressed PCM digital audio at higher sample rate than DVDs. The aforementioned AC-3 format took advantage of this RF modulated audio, and receivers with their inputs slots could decode it into six channel audio. Even in stereo this model sounds absolutely fantastic, and I’m pissed off now that I can’t access the AC-3 audio.

During playback I don’t notice the loudness for this machine, which I guess means it’s pretty silent. Lately I’ve noticed that resonance happening when the disc reaches full spin, and I’ll have to take the top case off in order to secure whatever is causing the noise. I’ll take some pictures of the internals then.

The connectors in the back seem to be more or less a standard form for this price range; a standard Video Out, 2/R and 1/L Audio out, a SCART Out connector and a control In Out plugs. I’m using the SCART with a high quality cord, so I’m betting I’d get scorned by hardcore LD enthusiasts.

Am I satisfied with the 160€ I put into this one? Most certainly. For a well kept and maintained unit, this particular CLD-S315 plays things just right. All I need to do is to keep the discs in good shape for the player to play them, and if I end up upgrading to a higher end unit at some point, I’m sure to keep this one in good condition as well for possible future use.

LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING! A Mini-CD in the middle for size comparison.
LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING! A Mini-CD in the middle for size comparison. It’s as big as any of your standard size hipster LP, and twice the thickness. In short; these discs feel and look awesome

And before anyone mentions it; yes, I need to clean all that dust away.

The academic good

In school we’re taught how to write proper prose. The structure of the story, how the story should be told and so on. We’re taught by our peers and information sources what it means to have a good story, what it means to be well written and what interesting characters’ properties. Academically speaking, when you’ve got a product that ticks all the boxes correctly, it should be considered a perfect product. Things like three-act structure is an example of how to tell a story properly, but you’ve got all these things that break the act structure, sometimes completely ignoring the notion of having structured acts, only to be considered well done or even great.

We’re taught what it means to make a good product. We’re taught to criticise products based on similar notions of what is, academically speaking, good. You could have a list of matters that a story needs to tick off to be good. It’s sort of standardised version what is considered the ideal form.

This doesn’t really work in real life.

If products would always follow the same guidelines, we’d have no advancement in anything. Breaking the mould and finding the best ways to hit on with the customers seem have always given new and modified rules to the pre-existing academic sets.

Movies have academically set rules of tick boxes that a lot of reviewers tick in order to rate a movie. It’s a very clean and sterile way to see things, and often if something is not personally preferred is called as a inferior product because it does not fill the academic demands. The same can also be said of the crowd who argue for the break downs of the academics, and ultimately the decision is made by the consumer by their wallet voting.

Does that mean that the consumers have an awful taste, or that the academics do not apply or are wrong?

In design schools it’s often taught that finding a want and need of the customers is important, the academically correct thing to do, as the customer will always seek to fulfil their wants and fix their needs. I am an advocate of this to a very large extent. If we take the notion that the academics do not apply here, what does that mean for design?

What does design become when you break down the academics? Perhaps we need to turn the matter other way around and there would be a need to manufacture the demand and want. This is done in marketing based on existing customer needs, but at the same time it’s a very gray zone, and while taught to some extent, can be regarded as academically incorrect.

Yet, you have Apple manufacturing a product that we can argue customers do not have a need for or even want. Yet the notion of making something that customer would want by hitting the rights buttons create a need. Apple watch is an essentially a stripped down version of iPhones and iPads. How many of us have a need for a watch with computing capabilities? Vast majority of us have a some sort of smartphone in our pockets with all the things the Apple watch could do, and even more. Then you have the pads, which have become another common thing to carry around everywhere. There is no need for such a device that is, in all seriousness, inferior to the existing products. And yet, Apple has managed to manufacture a need for its loyal customers, and those who follow their example.

Apple watch has to have the worst battery life and the screen needs to be relatively large to include all the stuff they’re shoving into it.

In the same breath, is there a need for a new iPhone? Some would say yes, and some would say no. The iPhone line has been very much the same. The only thing that makes the previous version obsolete is that Apple will drop the support on relatively soon to move their efforts on supporting the shiny new one, which you should buy in order to keep yourself on the trend boat and get the best support out there.

But right here I am using the academics to criticize Apple’s products and how they are pushing them out, much like a person would voice their distaste on anything else.

A question if academics are absolute is moot. Of course they aren’t, but they are often regarded as such because they are very much rooted to our current society. They’ve been there in many forms for ages. The academic good is a way to standardise what is well made or what should be considered good and a way to make a successful product. Yet the notion is thrown right out of the window when you have a game breaking product that changes how things are made, writing a new text book example of good. Citizen Kane is an example alongside King Kong, where certain academics are simply shattered because they have not only become popular, but made money and made a cultural landmark.

In the two aforementioned case, does that mean that the customer has an awful taste? Does that mean that the academics need to be thrown out because they do not stand against the products that go against them due to their popularity? It’s not binary, no matter how you want to see it.

In linguistics, when a word has gained a new meaning among the population while having a different meaning the dictionary, it is the dictionary that needs to be changed as the meaning of the word has changed. Whilst computer’s first meaning was a person who computes, now the word is mainly, and often solely, used to describe the machine that accepts data and does computing and shows it.

Linguistics is academics, and we can all see that academics change with time as well. It is extremely easy to base our distaste on any product based on the academics, because often we don’t distinguish the two. We saw ourselves as being the ones correct over the other because we have the academics speaking behind us. Gene Siskel used academics to pan Friday the 13th and rightfully so, but was completely wrong as the movie became a massive success and didn’t fit into his view what a good movie is.

As said before, real life doesn’t really work like that.

We have the model what is perfect, and academically speaking, we should be able to make perfect things. Science is about perfection, the ability to replicate same results every time. Reality does not play all the same rules because humans are creatures of preference and disorder. We enjoy the things we do because there’s something we personally care for. We constantly elevate things over our heads despite them being academically bad and trample on things that should be considered good. Of course, it goes the other way around as well, but it’s never universal. There will always be people who dislike Plan 9 From Outer Space for its awful writing, acting and sets, and there will always be people who genuinely love the movie perhaps even for the very same reasons. We can only argue about that subjectively and academics are there to support the side that values it.

However, can we trust the academics when a product that goes against them becomes practically universally regarded as the best mode? Before the smartphone boom happened, they were not considered as the best form of mobile phone; they went against the academic model what a mobile phone should be. Then, somebody rebranded this into smartphone and created the demand. The academics changed and the phones that you can only call and text are considered as inferior products.

It smells like opinions, always. There are some things we can’t argue about, like that 2+2=4. We can argue whether or not Anna Karenina is deathly boring book with pages after pages of useless detail that should have been edited out. Tolstoy was one of the writers who are often used as an example of writing good prose. During Anna Karenina’s serialization in 1877, most reviewers praised the episodes, but there were few who criticised it being sour and smelling like narrow-mindness of the nobility with Slavophilism. I have to agree with the latter to some extent, but I would most likely prefer the book more if I had read it in a serial form like it was originally published as rather than a span of one week.

We end up with a core thing again; we can only argue about opinions. We can argue that being popular does not mean that it’s good, and to some extent that is true. The opposite is true as well. However, we always need to remember that nobody is willing to put large amounts of money into stuff they don’t consider to be good in their personal opinion. When majority regard the same thing as good, you usually get a whiplash from the minority.

VHS was a shit format compared to BetaMAX and Laserdisc, and yet it won because it was considered the better option over the two competitors.

The notion that popular does not equal good is a childish one. It implies two extremes which don’t exist. Is Justing Bieber a good singer? I don’t know, I have never heard any of his songs fully, but I recognize his success. Clearly he is doing a lot of things right in order to garner such a fame among people alongside his infamy. Is Patlabor the Movie good because it’s seen as one by the fans? Perhaps, but it’s a very niche movie with rather small userbase, and the movie can be damn boring, much like other Oshii’s movies. Giant Robot Police movies are such a niche genre, that only fans an occasional stranders will make a review mark of it on Rotten Tomatoes. On IMDB the Patlabor movie has votes from 2 860 users, whereas something like Jurassic Park has reviews from 409 551 users. The 1997 Titanic, the movie I personally don’t care for, has reviews from 601 309 users. We would need to do some serious work in order to properly compare the reviews between the three movies based on IMDB ratings. Is Patlabor a better movie than the Titanic because less people have given it a better rating? Is The Shawshank Redemption superior movie to all aforementioned because of its higher rating with 1 227 123 users backing it, or is it worse because it’s more popular?

Academically speaking all the aforementioned movies hit all the right points and should be considered as good movies. Because we’re largely dangling dolls, played by our preferences, we can voice that, for example, Jurassic Park is the best movie from the bunch because of reason X. Or that is has the most interesting writing that challenges the watchers’ notions of cloning, the nature of the relationship with man and nature as well as the God complex humanity has.

On one hand, we can say that academic good is a standard we can measure everything up and deduce whether or not things are good or not. We just need to remember to throw them to the curb when the numbers start making them irrelevant, despite how much we would dislike badly written movie making millions. Perhaps truly objectively good product is something that fills both academic good and the preferences of the market, but also paradoxically breaks the rules of academics.

Academics, especially when it comes to products like books or games or whatever, can be used to dismiss or support. It is an objective system in its core, created by that era’s ideals. Essentially, we have an ever changing objective system that is highly abusable with bias to support wide range of arguments, and it’s almost encouraged to do so.

Seems like I’ve managed to mangle myself with this subject. It warrants a return at a later date. Meanwhile, have an extra piece of music.

Is this a good music video? Is this a good song? Is that answer you ahve there based on your opinion, or on the notion what a good music video should be? What a good music should be?