Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blu in the Face

The good news is I can officially add subtitles and audio tracks to a Blu-ray and keep the disc structure - menus, seamless branching, etcetra - intact. It'll be a while before I can build an entirely new BD-ROM from the ground up with new menus and all that, largely since the software available is still extremely limited outside of professional workstations, but I'm willing to bet that anyone willing to buy Spriggan or Bubblegum Crisis (just as "what if?" titles, mind you!) would be able to figure out how to navigate a Japanese menu if you had to.

A blue squat case is no more expensive than a black tall one, but the BD-R media is exponentially more expensive than a DVD-R, or even DVD+R DL, so I'm going to have to be careful and select only titles I think will sell versus just re-releasing them on DVD, and also titles I probably won't get a C 'n' D over. Considering everything under the fucking sun gets licensed before so much as an official DVD gets released in its' home country, it's a taller order than you might expect.

For commercial reasons we'll be releasing everything on single-layer BD25 for the time being - while I'm all for high bitrates whenever possible, dual layer BDs' cost a small fortune. I know, I bitch about bitrates all the time being too low - but that's on DVD using MPEG-2, which is isn't even on the same planet as AVC in terms of efficiency. We're also blessed to live in an era where x264 is not only the single best AVC encoder available, it's also freeware, so with the proper edumication in video fundamentals anyone with a fast PC, an HD source, and a dream in their hearts could make a stunning Blu-ray transfer.

Just how awesome is x264? Not only did Japanese encoding geekery company TMPGEnc decide to embrace it as their Blu-ray encoding engine for the foreseeable, but Criterion Collection themselves beta-tested the shit out of it until it passed BD compliance with flying colors. Let me be far from the first to say that if it's good enough for those assholes who charge $40 for a copy of Naked Lunch and 120 Days of Sodom at Barnes and Nobles' everywhere, it's probably good enough for me.

To help put my guineapig into perspective, the Japanese transfer has an average bitrate of about 34.5 Mbps, which is damn close to the format's absolute peak of 40 Mbps. Totaling up the meager assortment of extras and audio tracks, which I wanted to leave as they were, I only had to drop the bitrate to 32 Mbps. That's a reduction of only 7% - and gives me a chance to get rid of the stupid windowboxed transfer as a little personal bonus. In my eyes having the full 1.85:1 frame without needing to rely on your TV to zoom in the overscan is worth a minor decrease in bitrate.

The only compromise I've made on the Guineapig is on the "Speed" setting of the encoder. Using 'Medium' nets me just under 6 frames per second, whilst 'Very Slow' is 1.2 frames per second. Having discussed that with someone who's far more familiar with x264 than myself, he thinks using the super-slow setting on something that's already been compressed once is a waste of effort, and having seen test results on faster settings, I believe him.

But, just in case any of you are skeptical...

I won't even say which is the original and which is the re-encode. If you can figure it out on your own, you should be proud; one of these caps was selected specifically as a "gimmie", but frankly the other five are so close to identical I'm hard-pressed to even tell which is which. x264 is fucking amazing, and with bitrates this close to the source, the measurable difference in quality is absolutely negligible.

EDIT: Fuk'n Megaupload. Should work now, at least.

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