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DVD, the Downside – and E-Commerce II, the Upside

An update - and an upchuck

by Jim Bray

Forget what you’ve heard about DVD’s being the greatest.

I’ve said it myself (ad nauseam, some undoubtedly say), and it’s true that DVD’s generally offer the finest audio and video quality you could want. It’s also true that once you’re a “DVD-phile” you can’t take VHS cassettes seriously, except as windshield scrapers.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that every time you play a DVD you’ll reach video Nirvana; the old axiom “garbage in, garbage out” holds as true for the digital disc as it does for everything else.

I bought a DVD from a bargain bin recently, which should have been the first warning that there was something rotten in Denmark, but it seemed like too good a deal to pass up.

The DVD, from Mandasy Entertainment, was of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” the 1926 German science fiction classic that inspired just about every sci-fi flick since. I felt confident about it because several years ago I bought a VHS copy of “Metropolis,” also from a bargain bin, and was relatively happy with its quality. The only thing wrong with that version was that it was silent.

I know, “Metropolis” is supposed to be a silent movie – but it usually has some musical accompaniment. This movie was completely silent, except for tape hiss.

This DVD promised a musical score, plus chapter stops and vintage advertising. So what could I lose?

Well, there’s no lesson to be learned the second time you’re kicked by a mule.

Instead of being high resolution, the DVD looked as if it had been captured by a cheap camcorder that was aimed at a white bed sheet onto which an old print of the film had been projected. It was grainy, out of focus, and it bled off the edges of the screen, which meant parts of the title cards – and of the picture itself – were missing.

It was unwatchable.

The musical score didn’t work either, though this is probably more a matter of individual taste than anything. It sounded as if it were chosen because it was the first public domain recording at hand; rather than enhancing the film, it distracted.

Thank goodness the store took the disc back – and I won’t be visiting that particular “bargain” bin again.

On another topic, regular readers of TechnoFILE (those who get the proper daily dosage of bran) may remember a while back I recounted a tale of e-commerce horror.

I had gone online to purchase “The Who’s” newest live album and found the experience anything but rewarding.

Opting for instant gratification, I downloaded the tracks and ended up with a bunch of files I couldn’t use anywhere except on my computer.

In the interest of fairness, I should give an update.’s people eventually responded to my e-mails and informed me they’d changed their encryption so I could now convert the files to the “wave” format CD players use.

The process was simple, but I couldn’t get it to work no matter how many times I cussed. The problem may have been at my end, what with my PC’s penchant for being temperamental.

So I threw myself on’s mercy and asked them to credit my download toward the purchase of the CD versions they custom burn and then mail to you. They agreed, and they even warned me that burned CD’s won’t play on some DVD players (which is true, though they play fine in mine). I then surfed back to their Web site and re-ordered the compact discs.

They finally arrived in the mail, though the delay (which had prompted me to download the album in the first place) proved that, true to Tom Petty’s song, the waiting was the hardest part.

I’m pleased to report, however, that the discs work fine and sound great.

Buying the mail order version also provided an unexpected bonus: professional packaging and full liner notes!

I ended up being quite impressed with’s customer relations; I don’t think they knew about my earlier rant against them, either, so I can only assume that everyone gets the same treatment.

I even received my credit card credit with efficient dispatch

So there's hope for e-commerce yet!


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Updated May 13, 2006