Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Star Trek on Blu-ray

Live Long and Watch Star Trek

It's been a brutal 6 months, which is rounding down on the amount of time since the release of the JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek to its release on Blu-ray, but it was worth the wait. There was literally a shorter wait for GI Joe and Transformers 2, which I only compare because they were big summer blockbusters (not because I think they ordinarily belong in the same paragraph as Star Trek).

I've already reviewed the movie itself, so I'll direct you to that May post instead of going into all the gritty details about the content of the movie itself. I don't pre-order movies very often at all though (hadn't since literally January) because I'm usually ok with waiting for price drops if I liked it enough that I'll want to watch it again sometime, so the fact that I pre-ordered this should be some indication of how blown away I was by this film. Months after seeing it there were scenes that stuck with me (much like my favorite of the year, Inglourious Basterds) and it proved further to me that this is a really fun film for repeat viewings. It puts together a well-constructed story (despite being controversial) with truly dedicated actors/actresses and grand set pieces that feel really worthwhile rather than tawdry reminders that this is a summer movie (that was actually intended originally for a winter release). If you haven't seen this movie then you really need to put renting it at the top of your list for movies to check out - definitely above pretty much anything playing in your local theater right now (at the time of this posting, at least).

Moving swiftly along: I was a little disappointed with the overall presentation of this set. First of all, the slip case for the Blu-ray box had the back side with the run time and pictures and such just tacked on with the junk that credit card companies use to send you new cards. I like the fact that the Blu-ray case itself is full-on Chris Pine's face (the one peeking through the title on the slip case), and on the other side is a close up of Zachary Quinto's face as Spock. I loved the focus in the marketing of the theatrical release on the characters as being powerful enough imagery to sell the film - it's simple and it works. What I was really more disappointed in was the overall menu system. It's not terrible, but I just expected something cooler given that it's Star Trek, especially compared to Iron Man. There's also like 3 trailers (or ads, as I like to call them) and a video game ad to start the feature film disc, but I actually just figured out today that you can hit the 'pop-up menu' button on your Blu-ray player remote to skip straight to the top menu (I don't recall ever hitting any menu button a DVD and going straight to the main menu until I watched all the ads).

Why am I whining about something so trivial? Because that's about all I can complain about here. I was floored by the ridiculous video quality here. I can't recommend it as a gold standard for introducing people to Blu-ray necessarily because it doesn't have bright colors like Planet Earth, but I think the only Blu-ray I own now that looks better than it is Wall-E. Still, the transitions between dark scenes in this movie and those with color are quite smooth with all the colors looking very true to how they should be (the more vibrant they're supposed to be the more awesome they look on your TV). There are a lot of face close ups in this movie and the clarity in even these shots made me want to get up off my couch and just applaud the folks who did this transfer. If you are disappointed with the video quality of this disc, no matter how big or high-end your TV is, there may be something wrong with you (or your TV video settings). I don't have a high-end surround system so I don't want to pass judgement on sound, but it does sound great as far as I can tell. I can't complain about anything except for that maybe it's a bit soft in some places. Clarity is stellar, even in scenes where I was afraid I would be straining my ears to understand what they're saying.

There are so many special feature videos on the second disc that I couldn't get through all of them. What' truly remarkable is that each and every video you see on these discs is in high definition. I think the movie itself certainly looks better than the special features, but we're really talking about shades of gray here because they still look like you're watching an HD channel and whatever the aspect ratio is on them fits my widescreen TV perfectly (whereas the movie has black bars on top and bottom). There's actual more content here (in minutes) than the running time of the feature film, and this is one of those movies that actually has interesting backstories for how every aspect of the production process came about so they're pretty addictive if you have an afternoon/evening to spare going through them all. The deleted scenes are also more interesting than you normally find on a home video release, including the original opening sequence of Spock's birth. The only other features on this disc are a gag reel, all 3 trailers, and 3-d models of the Enterprise and Nero's vessels with details about specific parts of them. As a cherry on top, these features actually have subtitles (which, in my experience, is pretty rare). On the main disc, there's also commentary, which I didn't listen to a whole lot of it but I have to say that it was hard to stop watching once I did turn it on because it's very much like you're peering into the minds of the writers and producers in the format of a candid, relaxed conversation that doesn't feel forced or scripted at all. I don't usually listen to these, but I think I'll have to make an exception here.

Simply put, if you have a Blu-ray player and liked Star Trek at all, you're really doing a disservice to yourself by not picking this up. The studios are trying this crazy thing now where they price Blu-rays equivalent to DVDs instead of price-gouging, so $20 for this one is more than reasonable. They really didn't put this out there to set up for a double dip, or they're doing so with great stupidity because I can't think of what else you'd realistically want from a Blu-ray set for this movie in any sort of re-release. It's going to quickly become one of favorite Blu-rays, for sure.

More Chrome OS Details

It's been quite a few months now since Google Chrome OS was announced. It was a pretty no-frills announcement since they didn't have anything to show for it and very little to say. To keep interest up in the operating system, Google held an event going into more details about the look and feel of the OS, a few of the applications, and the security model. You can get a pretty brief summary of the event here. I don't know if they fully grasp the weight of what they're trying to do, but this event seemed to really hammer hard on simplicity regarding an idea that's really not that simple. Getting users to trust a computer that is wholly dependent on the cloud is a really hard sell, and I didn't see any remarks about what happens if you lose your connection to the Internet or how they're going to ensure the security, safety, and integrity (i.e. that it doesn't get corrupted) of your data. There was a lot of talk about how you configuration is remote so you don't lose it even when switching computers, but that doesn't explain what happens if they shut down their servers one day. I'll admit that the look and feel is pretty nice - for a netbook. It doesn't look to me like a viable OS still for anything but a netbook. Which is fine, but is that really going to be a strong market once this finally ships?

I don't want to be too discouraging of the idea of Chrome OS because it's ballsy and I like that. The security aspect of it is very bold in that it aims to not only have your computer run in a sandbox (since everything lives in the cloud, after all) but aims to do boot time verification of every system element, which is actually a concept that dates back all the way to the creation of the Java Virtual Machine (I'm sure it's older than that, it's just probably the first big implementation of it). It's a pretty good plan that relies on the idea that valid signatures for infected system components can't be forged, but it's too early to tell if Google is doing everything right here. Even with these two big protections, it probably won't be foolproof (it's still built on Linux, after all, which definitely has security flaws in every distribution), but it sounds like they're really taking security seriously.

Palm Pixi Released

It didn't receive a whole lot of press fanfare, as far as I could tell, but the Palm Pixi is now available on Sprint. I know they're a little biased, but Pre Central had an interesting enough review of the Pixi that I actually read the whole thing on my Pre at the airport last week. Their biggest complaints were that it felt a bit small and runs a bit slower than the Pre. I think it looks really attractive and I love webOS so I can't imagine that it's a bad phone for someone who's not a power smartphone user but wants a smartphone nonetheless.

While Sprint launched the Pixi, Verizon was busy launching more AT&T attack ads, which you've probably seen like a hundred times by now. AT&T is still in a legal battle with Verizon claiming that the ads misrepresent AT&T's network, but they don't since it's clearly specified as AT&T's 3G network rather than their entire data network, and the red map really is Verizon's 3G network - it's just that widespread.

And, off in a corner, Samsung launched a new mobile OS called Bada. It's cute that they still think they're a big player. They took too many gambles that didn't pay off and now they're often an afterthought when people shop for a new phone. Fortunately, Bada is an open platform and I have to give Samsung credit for at least trying something new instead of floundering with outdated phone UI designs. I wonder if they ever considered building Android phones?

Bing Captures More Market Share

Claims of Bing's market share being a fluke are now way past us as they sail into grabbing 10% of the search engine market share. It could be their marketing, it could be the quality of their results, or it could be the new features they keep rolling that keeps them in the news and, theoretically, in people's minds. The new feature last week was integrating Wolfram Alpha results. You have to click on a bar on the left side to get to some of this added stuff, but it is pretty neat.


I have to pack for my trip home, so it's time to wrap things up here with some quick stories.

Google has invented its own programming language called Go. It doesn't seem all that exciting to me, but I'll probably come back to it when it's more mature and see if it's viable as a quick and dirty scripting language since it does run so quickly.

If you're interested in learning to program, Lifehacker has a surprisingly good guide. Knowing how to program is definitely only one facet to being a good software developer, but that article covers great ways to see if you have an interest in it that you may want to pursue with formal education or side projects.

SquareTrade pitted a bunch of laptop manufacturers against one another and found Asus and Toshiba at the top in reliability. I wasn't surprised about Asus since they've been a little-known excellent brand for a while now, but Toshiba has definitely come along.

If you want to know what not to ask in an interview, check out this story from some bad Google interviews. If you're still asking riddles in your job interviews then you need to hop in your time machine and go back to 2006 where those questions weren't considered useless.

The PS3 saw some interesting improvements this month including Facebook support and Netflix support.

If you've ever fallen for one of TechCrunch's crazy stories, you'll like this PC Mag editorial about Michael Arrington.

YouTube is adding auto captions for deaf views - goodonya Google!

Skype bought itself back from eBay.

Amazon Fresh is now more usable on the iPhone - grocery shop on your work commute so you can spend more time sleeping instead of shopping.

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving!

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