DVDs Have Replaced VHS - but why?

I think it’s safe to say that DVD is now the distribution medium of choice for films (and TV programmes, etc.), rather than VHS. Most high street shops, whether selling or renting, stock DVDs in greater quantities than VHS, and some don’t stock VHS at all. This is also true of most online retailers.

But is anyone else surprised at how quickly this change has occurred? Technically speaking, DVDs aren’t that compelling. Sure, they have some advantages: the quality is better, they last longer, they are random-access. But are they that much better? Is the change entirely demand-side driven? Or are there good reasons for distributors to encourage the switch to DVD?

Alien Quadrilogy - 4 x 5

Alien: Nerve-racking, small, polished, gory, and a classic.

Aliens: Exciting, large, loud, glossy, and militaristic.

Alien 3: Awkward, bizarre, surprising, religious, and closeted.

Alien: Resurrection: Laughable, patchy, graphical, vague, and French.

The Outside World is Broken

My ADSL at home is currently broken. Unfortunately I’m with PlusNet, who don’t seem to care too much about their customers: I have had to run the gauntlet of poorly thought-out automated phone systems, long waits to speak to a human being, and support websites that don’t cut to the chase.

It’s an interesting illustration of how much I’ve come to rely on this communication mechanism, however. I’ve already had several instances over the past few days where I’ve tried to use my network connection on instinct - for example, looking up train times last night - before remembering it’s not there. I’m really not sure how healthy this is. Of course, a fast, always-on network connection is useful. But perhaps I shouldn’t rely on its presence as much as I do. What are your experiences of this? Do you feel uncomfortable when part of your connection to the modern world is broken?

Gaddafi: A Living Myth

I went to see Gaddafi last night. Sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment. Poor production values certainly conspired against it: sloppy stagecraft, unadventurous lighting and props, and sound quality that one wouldn’t expect from a theatre like the ENO. It appears it’s their first foray into something so modern and experimental, and it shows. Flaky choreography and a cluttered stage layout didn’t help either.

But the greater problems were in the recreation of the al-Gaddafi story. The script was badly developed, jumping around and never really deciding who Gaddafi was or what the story was about. The historical context was never clear, despite obvious attempts to convey it - apart from when it involved the west, when reliance on pre-recorded TV footage seemed to be the only way the director could sell his message. Apart from some vague sense that I probably wouldn’t like him, I learnt little about Gaddafi or Libya that I didn’t already know (and I’m hardly an expert). Some self-conscious statements about an actor playing Gaddafi, breaking the fourth wall, were arrogant and out-of-place.

The main redeeming feature of the production was the participation of the Asian Dub Foundation to provide its soundtrack: a well-balanced complement to the (intended) themes. This wasn’t enough to recover everything else, however.

Concert Audio and Alison Young

I’ve long thought (I’m aware this will make me sound like a young fogey) that most concerts are way too loud. This is why I tend to avoid them - I’ve seen both the rock music of the Foo Fighters and the delicacy and dynamic range of Sigur Rós spoilt on stage. The only times I tend to attend gigs are when the venue is small and the artist is unknown to me (which helps built the sense of atmosphere and overcome the poorer sound quality). There’s a long discussion on Edward Tufte’s website about the technical aspects of this over-amplification issue.

Because of this, I was blown away when I saw Alison Young performing at the euroGel conference I recently attended. Not only was the sound mix delicate and well-balanced, but Alison is a superb singer who’s become my new favourite artist. She obviously has country and southern influences, but what I’ve heard from her so far has been both emotionally powerful and whimsical. You can download three of her songs as MP3s from her website: she also has plans to record an album, so you can sign up for the mailing list to find out about that if you like what you hear. Highly recommended.

Update 2006-09-14: Alison has just emailed me to say that’s she going into the studio next week to record some more material for her album. I can’t wait to hear it…

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