All the modern conveniences

I discovered the other day that my standalone DVD recorder had made the Q sign since the last time I used it years ago, possibly due to a blown capacitor, apparently a common problem of aging with the model I had. Rather than just replace it, I thought, “Maybe video capture on PCs has come a ways since I last looked into it.” Years ago, video capture most often involved a PCIe card in the PC and the results could easily be mediocre, with dropped frames and other artifacts if you didn’t have quite a powerful and therefore expensive PC. It was more reliable to instead plug the VCR into a standalone DVD recorder, so that’s what I did back then.

And so video capture has improved, to the point of being ridiculously easy. For US$23 – a couple hundred dollars less than capture cards of years ago – I now have a much more convenient way to digitise VHS tapes, bypassing the old DVD recorder middleman and directly producing MP4s. It comes with editing software and works very nicely indeed.

There are no worries these days about performance and poor quality captures. Yesterday, my four-core/eight-processor/16GB machine – US$900 two years ago – was simultaneously doing all of the following without any performance degradation. In fact, the CPU usage hovered around 25-30% throughout.

  • Downloading 11GB of a TV series at about 3MB/second
  • Continuing the BitLocker encryption of all of my 5TB offsite backup drive, including unallocated sectors for safety
  • Writing 20GB of a few series of another programme to a Blu-ray data disc
  • On the 2nd optical drive, ripping the last 100 CDs I’d never gotten around to digitising, about one every four minutes; they’re all in the dumpster now along with the DVD recorder
  • Merging seven parts of one episode of “The Story of English” I’d downloaded from YouTube (eight episodes are there in full, but episode 3 is split up); five more old tapes went into the dumpster
  • Capturing audio/video from a 2-hour VHS tape to test the TOTMC device and saving to an MP4 file

The first major project will be to digitise W.C. Fields and Rita Hayworth films I have on the VHS tapes pictured below. To that end, my VCR is now on a short bookshelf shelf right next to the PC for maximum convenience. I believe I have about a third of the films below in digital form already and will investigate before I start.

How’d I get so many W.C. Fields films? Well, it certainly wasn’t because they were all available on video. A good number of these weren’t ever released on tape but were broadcast regularly on Sunday mornings by a local TV station many years ago. They had some rare ones and I got every one they aired during that run, editing out commercial breaks in real time.

Digital film evolution

“Tampopo” Blu-ray on my TV – click for 1920×1080

Previously, I’ve compared an ancient “Tampopo” DVD release with one remastered six years later, and I can now compare those to the Blu-ray release eight years further on. The difference is eye-widening. The comparison here is not completely direct; the Blu-ray screens in this post are photos of my TV because I don’t yet have a BD drive in my PC. I colour-corrected those photos in Photoshop so they appeared identical to what I saw on my TV, then adjusted their perspective and size to 1920×1080. The older ones are unretouched frame stills done with Media Player Classic – Home Cinema. Clicking on any of these will show you the native resolution of the respective discs.

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1998 Fox-Lorber DVD

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2004 remastered DVD

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2012 Blu-ray release (Germany) – click for 1920×1080

Some Blu-ray transfers come across as a little strange, at least at first. For me, “Patton” is a prime example where the Blu-ray release makes the film almost seem like it was shot on video even though I know it was 65mm/Dimension 150. It’s a bit hard to describe, but the transfer seems too crisp, what you might expect if you applied a skosh too much sharpening filter to the entire film. I’ll admit that it’s amazing to see, say, the minute texture of fabrics, but it’s a little off-putting when you clearly see the fronting lace underneath George Scott’s false eyebrows – viz.:

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Click to see a larger size

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“Ack!” said I

The problem with that particular shot from the opening is that the makeup was simply inadequate for such a close-up – “No, not ready at all, Mr. DeMille!” – but that video feel is there in much of the film. You do get used to it after a time.

I’m happy to report that the “Tampopo” Blu-ray is in the better category of transfer. Rather than turning shot-on-film into shot-on-video, the Blu-ray transfer of “Tampopo” turns it into the equivalent of being front and centre at a stage play. There’s a distinct feeling of being there which I find delightful.

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1998 DVD

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2004 DVD

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2012 Blu-ray

What I said on seeing this in the fourth minute of the film: “Heh heh.”

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2012 Blu-ray – click for 1920×1080

 

An answer to a twenty-year-old question

I just watched the 90-minute “Making of Tampopo” documentary and thoroughly enjoyed seeing how thoroughly enjoyable the film was for its participants. Unsurprisingly, most of “Tampopo” was filmed on location, with one of the few sets being the interior of Tampopo’s restaurant itself. There were no subtitles for the documentary, but I understood what was going on fairly well throughout, even as Jûzô Itami explained how they edited together the final scenes outside and inside the renovated restaurant, showing four different versions.

I finally found out the answer to a twenty-year-old question I had, too, one of the reasons I eagerly anticipated seeing this documentary. Ever since I first saw “Tampopo” about ten years after its 1985 release, I’ve wondered if the spine-tingling fading in and out of the sunlight streaming through the window in the final ramen reckoning scene was tightly planned or purely serendipitous. I leaned toward the former, but only slightly. I always thought there was a chance he got extraordinarily lucky. You can find out yourself below.

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One of about a dozen takes to get the naruto slice to land on Rikiya Yasuoka’s face just so

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Director Jûzô Itami and Fukumi Kuroda

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Kōji Yakusho and Fukumi Kuroda

The documentary – quite kindly, I thought – showed the filming of three additional food scenes in the on-location hotel room that ended up on the cutting room floor. They involved cream, strawberry jam, and what appeared to be a profiterole. Oh, and the obviously delicious Fukumi Kuroda, of course.

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So the answer is: Anyone who can keep me guessing for twenty years is a damned fine director.

Tampopo redux

I’ve been wanting to see the 87-minute documentary on “The Making of Tampopo” ever since I first read of its existence perhaps fifteen years ago. And now – or soon, anyway – I can. A German special edition Blu-ray of “Tampopo” by the fantastic director Jûzô Itami has been released that includes it. I checked to be sure and it does have English subtitles on the disc, not just German. I found out about it while idly reviewing search results for “Tampopo” shortly after I watched it yet again last night.

Here’s the trailer for the film, which was first released 30 years ago in Japan:

I just ordered the new Blu-ray release from a fellow in Germany, but I’ll have to wait a while before viewing it. While my current internationally modified (read: electronics hacked) LG Blu-ray player can play all DVD regions and convert PAL/SECAM to NTSC, it can only play Blu-ray discs for Zone A; this disc is Zone B. I just found a modified Samsung all-region DVD, all-zone Blu-ray player with PAL/SECAM converter; support for DLNA/NAS/Internet play and search; data discs on CD/DVD/BD-R; support for AVI, WMV, MP4, MKV, MP3, and other files; and DivX, Xvid, WM9, and other formats. All for US$20 less than my modified LG player cost four years ago, but I will resist the temptation to use credit and again practice delayed gratification until I have the cash to get it – possibly in the next two to six weeks.

“Tampopo”, the only film I’ve watched more times than “2001: A Space Odyssey” – that equates to ‘a heckuva lot’ – for the first time in full high definition and with dts-HD audio, plus its “making of” documentary…it’s a dream come true.

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Memphis Belle flies again

After writing about B-17s and the 1990 “Memphis Belle” film the other day, I looked at this video once more, remembering that my takeoff from the National Warplane Museum grass strip featured the same wide leftward swing of the B-17’s tail into the wind that’s in the sequence starting at 2:28 – rather exciting when you’re inside the aircraft:

I lamented that the DVD I have, from the following year, is in that old “widescreen, but not – ha ha!” format, where there’s black stripes not only top and bottom but left and right, just as you see when you play the above, so the actual resolution of the video is horribly limited, to put it mildly – maybe one-quarter of full HD quality. It doesn’t look very good on my 42″ set, where it’s reminiscent of those first postage-stamp videos Windows 3.1 could play. But then I noticed in the YouTube recommended video list Memphis Belle – Take Off – Available May 6, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the film was released on Blu-ray just a few months ago. This weekend, I’ll be able to watch it properly for the first time since I saw it in the cinema.