A few weeks ago we did a story on a new service called Zediva. Zediva is a service that wants to bring new releases of popular movies to the Internet at reasonable prices. They have developed a new technology that essentially assigns a DVD player with a physical disc of the movie you want to watch to you. Its the physical disc for each stream that is the loophole Zediva is hoping to exploit for getting around licensing agreements. That point is still under contention and may do in the service. Regardless, the service has become so popular that Zediva has restricted new users. We happen to have been given the opportunity to sign up and so we thought it would be a good time to put the service through its paces!
Who can use Zediva?
You can access the Zediva service with a Mac or PC as long as it has a minimum of a dual core processor with a 2GHz processor and 2GB or RAM. For mobile use you need Android 2.1 or later. The movie player is Flash based. They do not support HTML 5 yet but they are working on it. You need at least 1Mbps for the service and faster speeds equals better quality.
Cost per Movie
Each movie credit runs you $1.99. Most movie cost one credit to rent so if my math is correct, each movie costs $1.99. Zediva runs promotions from time to time so the actual price will vary but figure on $2 a movie. The really cool thing about Zediva rentals is that you have 14 days to complete a movie. Right now Zediva only rents DVDs, they do have plans to rent Blu-ray in the future.
The Flash based movie player lets you control the DVD player connected in the Zediva data center. You have typical transport controls, FFWD, REW, and Play/Pause. They work pretty well but there is a small lag and it takes a little getting used to. They also have a jump back function that goes back 60 seconds. You can cycle through languages and turn on subtitles. You have to be real patient using these. It takes a little time for the language or subtitle to change.
They give you an option to turn on previews, but honestly, why would you do that. That setting is in the preferences portion of you account settings. You can’t get to the main DVD menu so there are no special features available to you.
At this time Zediva has 126 movies available for rent. The service is focused on newer more popular titles. This is Zediva’s top ten movies:
Picture quality is pretty good. You are starting with DVD quality so there is no concept of HD at least now. With our high speed connections at home we had a completely acceptable experience watching on computer monitors. The max bit rate is 3Mbps which for an H.264 stream is pretty decent. Audio is only two channel but since your watching on a laptop or Android device its acceptable.
Should you go for it?
Zediva has similar movies to Vudo, Amazon, and Apple. The alternatives also have HD at an additional cost. The real advantage to Zediva is price and the length of the rental. The SD version of The King’s Speach goes for $3.99. That’s two dollars more than Zediva. Plus you can watch your movie selection for two weeks. That’s 13 days longer than Amazon. We say why not use all of the services.
The Blu-ray Process
Recently we were talking with an old friend of ours who works for a movie studio in the Blu-ray production facility. This got us thinking about what it takes to create a disc filled with all that high definition goodness. Today we are going to take a high level look at what is entailed in producing a Blu-ray disc.
The first and most important part of the Blu-ray disc is the content. Its the whole reason you buy the disc. When most people think of content they think of the movie itself. But we all know that is just the beginning. Regardless of the type of content high quality source is required. For newer movies shot in digital it consists of a file or multiple files that can be up to 1.5 TB of uncompressed video.
Older movies that were shot to film must be converted to digital. More recent high profile films use a process known as the 4K process. The studio starts with original 35mm prints that are scanned frame by frame at 4,096 by 4,096 pixels. Then each frame is processed to eliminate scratches and stray marks. Finally, the color is adjusted.
Its quite amazing how good the final product looks. With that said, some movies were never shot with HD in mind and may have issues. Close Encounters of the Third kind looked fantastic for most of the movie’s outdoor shots. But we found some scenes, especially the final sequence, out of focus at times and it looked cheesy.
Just a point of reference, the restoration of Casablanca cost more than a million dollars so this is not a cheap process. For some less popular films, studios will use a lower resolution scan. In fact some older movies barely show an improvement over their DVD counterparts. There are plenty of lists online that you can reference before buying a Blu-ray version of an older movie.
Now that you have the raw digital files of up to 1.5TB you need to compress it down to something that will fit on a Blu-ray disc. Each disc can hold 25 to 50 GB depending on whether its a single or dual layer disc. Most features are coming in at 30 to 35 GB in size.
This is where the menus, sub-titles, and audio are brought together. Everything from the spelling, text colors, and disc navigation is done in this stage. The mantra for Production Management is “Discs should be easy to use”. But as we all know that isn’t always the case. Some disc are full of so much BD-Live stuff that it takes forever to get the actual movie on screen.
Blu-ray discs are far more interactive than DVD. They have the capability to support the Java Programming Language through BD Live. BD Live requires the player to have an Internet connection and at least 1GB of storage. BD-Live features include chats with the director or actors, games, downloadable featurettes, quizzes, and movie trailers. It is in this stage that BD Live features are added.
This is probably the most difficult stage in the production of a Blu-ray disc. Everything in the previous stages must be validated. The disc can have no video artifacts and the audio must be correct. All audio streams and sub titles are validated. Some discs can have 30 text streams and 10 audio streams and they all have to be tested independently. For a 2 hour movie it would take 80 man hours to validate and that’s if everything passed on the first try. Validating a Blu-ray disc takes ten times more effort than DVD.
Other issues QA has to deal with is that there are a number of players out there and there is no way to validate on all of them. That’s why some discs just won’t work on some players. Sometimes the issue is with the disc and sometimes the issue is with the player. That’s the reason why your Blu-ray player is always updating software. In almost all these cases the issue deals with BD Live. If all you care about is the movie most of the time the disc will play, most of the time. There have been cases where not having an Internet connection caused the BD Java engine to render the disc unusable.
Send to Duplication House
The final step is to send the master to the duplication house for mass production.
The preceding is a generalization of the process the studios go through to make a Blu-ray disc. There are slight differences between studios and mastering houses but regardless of where its being done a lot of effort goes into each disc that may end up costing you as little at $10!
Posted by The HT Guys, April 21, 2011 11:39 PM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.