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Air Force One Superbit

Superbit DVD's Dazzle

"High End" DVD's look, sound great

By Jim Bray

Columbia Tristar Home Video's new "Superbit" DVD's take home theater to a new level of quality.

I've been auditioning "Air Force One" and "The Fifth Element," two of the first five Superbit titles, and I'm hooked.

Air Force One is an extremely timely adventure. It's the tale of a US president (Harrison Ford) who, when terrorists take over the plane after he declares war on terrorism, is forced to single-handedly fight back and save the lives of his family and the others on board the plane. Well, single-handedly for the most part: the US military is on hand in a big way as well.

The story is gripping, the special effects awesome, and the adventure larger than life. It's a terrific movie, especially in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attack against the US which, except for the nationality of the bad guys, is eerily parallel to events in Air Force One.

The Fifth Element is a big budget sci fi adventure starring Bruce Willis as a secret agent sent to save the universe from an evil force that's been eyeing civilization for millennia. His secret weapon: "the Fifth Element," a perfect being (played by Milla Jovovich). The movie is chock full of great action and eye boggling special effects (especially the ultramodern New York City) and the only thing that gets in the way is Chris Tucker's over the top performance as a deejay of the future. He's even more annoying than the deejays of the present!

Fifth Element Superbit

The Fifth Element has imagination to spare, a good sense of humor, and a wonderful audio soundtrack.

But this review is about Columbia Tristar's Superbit process, not the movies themselves. The Superbit process uses new techniques for the encoding and reallocation processes to supposedly give viewers the "ultimate" in audio and video performance.

According to Columbia Tristar, by reallocating space on the disc normally used for value-added content (like director's commentaries, documentaries and the like) and multiple audio streams, Superbit DVDs can be encoded at double their normal bit rate while offering full compatibility with the existing DVD Video format. The result is picture quality that provides outstanding detail which complements the performance of the latest progressive scan DVD Video players."

What this means in English is that CTHV has dumped the extra features found on most DVD's, using the storage space this frees up to include more digital data that concentrates on upping the audio and video quality.

Works for me. While I love extras, it's the movies that I really want to see and if they can make them look and sound even better than DVD's already do, then I'm all for it.

Besides, if they want to include the extras, and make a true "Superbit Collector's Edition, they could always release two disc sets. Take that as a suggestion, Columbia Tristar!

The original DVD of Air Force One is typical of the format: it's great, but it isn't a really outstanding specimen of the species! But the Fifth Element is. The original DVD release was so good that many video dealers regularly use it as a demo disc. Its audio and video are so spectacular that I didn't think the Superbit process could improve upon it.

But it does!

I tried both movies on a three year old DVD player hooked into a "line doubled" rear projection TV, as well as on a progressive scan DVD player hooked into a DLP (digital light panel) front projector. Both discs are definitely improved in their Superbit incarnations.

The Superbit colors are deeper and richer, and the audio's tighter and cleaner. Fine details are improved and there are fewer digital artifacts, much like the difference between the picture watched on a conventional or a progressive scan player.. And of course Superbit offers DTS 5.1 surround sound as well as Dolby Digital, so you get the best of both audio worlds.

Unfortunately, the difference between standard and Superbit probably won't mean much to many "mainstream consumers," though "high end" videophiles will probably love it. The reason is that, while the difference between the two versions is is definitely there, it's subtle enough that if you didn't run the discs side by side you might not notice it.

And high end videophiles are just the type to run them side by side, and then opt for the superior version, which the Superbits surely are.

Will you notice the difference on a generic small screen TV? Probably not.

Which is yet another compelling reason to buy a good big screen!

Incidentally, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Johnny Mnemonic and Desperado are also available in Superbit.


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Updated May 13, 2006