Yeah, What They Said 4/17

Yeah, What They Said, links to interesting stories that I don’t have time to write about. Some people call it “link sharing.”

In television and movies, “sourced” music is music that is heard by the characters in the scene. That’s opposed to the underscore, which is heard only by the audience. StarTrek.com has a series of articles on the source music used in:

Need to identify a song? Play it for Tuniac.

For something cool, spy these intricate and detailed models made entirely out of paper.

Also, here’s a chimpanzee playing Pac-Man. Seriously.

Finally, since both Ratatat and Nine Inch Nails have made appearances recently, here’s a video mixup. It features Ratatat’s Wildcat played to the video of NIN’s The Hand That Feeds. Enjoy:

Thoughts on the Apple TV: A Possible Alternative

Part of the Thoughts on the Apple TV Series

  1. Thoughts on the Apple TV: Hard Drive Perils
  2. Thoughts on the Apple TV: Format Woes
  3. Thoughts on the Apple TV: A Possible Alternative

Philips’ DCP850 DVD player with iPod Dock

Though sold and marketed as a portable device, I’ve recently been intrigued by Philips’ new DCP850 DVD player with integrated iPod dock. It boasts support for standard DVD, DVD+/-R(W), VCDs, DivX files, MPEG-4 files, compact discs, MP3s and photos. It also features an SD/MMC card reader for playing movies and photos via a memory card. The iPod dock, of course, charges the iPod and allows access to and playback of all the content on it.

It’s not fancy wireless like the Apple TV, but the DCP850 certainly seems more versatile. At $199, it’s $100 cheaper than the Apple TV as well.

Using standard A/V cables, the DCP850 can be connected to a television and I’m thinking I might eventually replace my DVP642 with it in my set-top setup. Being portable would just be a seldom-used perk. The device will accept and play all the DVDs and DivX files I currently have in my collection, plus any videos on my iPod, which tend to be transitory M4V files. And the SD card reader opens up a lot of possibilities for replacing the CD-RWs I currently use for temporary AVI files and non-H.264 M4Vs as well.

At the moment, the DCP850 is so new that there’s not a lot of real world reviews of it, but I’m certainly keeping my eye on it.

More Info:
DCP850 at Philips.com
Review at ilounge.com
Get one from Amazon.com

Thoughts on the Apple TV: Hard Drive Perils

Part of the Thoughts on the Apple TV Series

  1. Thoughts on the Apple TV: Hard Drive Perils
  2. Thoughts on the Apple TV: Format Woes
  3. Thoughts on the Apple TV: A Possible Alternative

AppleTV

So the much-anticipated Apple TV has shipped and, of course, the extreme early adopters are having a field day tearing the thing apart to find out what it can do. Some clever folks have already been able to install larger hard drives, more video codecs, and even the full version of Mac OS X, rendering what Cult of Mac calls a “Mac Nano.”

To be sure, it looks like an impressive device. But I probably won’t be buying one for two principal reasons, neither of which is the fact that I don’t have an HDTV set.

Reason 1: The perils of hard disk storage

Having been a participant in the digital media revolution for 10 years, I see some parallels between the state of video today and the state of audio in the late 90s. A decade ago, you were lucky if you had more than 10 GB of internal storage in your computer. With the overhead of operating systems and applications, there was a limited amount of storage on that drive for the MP3 scene’s early adopters. Even at just 3 MB per song, that drive would fill up fast. An external drive would cost you $300-400 for 6 GB of space, but that too would fill up before too long. At the time, one solution was the small, but growing market for writable CDs, which cost about $2 for a single 650 MB disk (in addition to the several hundred dollars for the 2X burner itself).

Similarly, while storage conditions have kept pace with growing file sizes, today’s digital video market faces some of the same logistical hard disk challenges for the end user. Apple’s own estimates say that a 45-minute TV show will run you 200 MB and a full-length movie is 1.0-1.5 GB. A modest collection of 100 movies will cost you 100-150 GB of hard disk space. Add to it complete TV seasons and expect that to grow substantially. Using Apple’s numbers, the entirety of the Star Trek franchise would use ~155 GB of disk storage.

To be sure, today’s hard drives are indeed up to the task of holding a large video library. 500GB disks can be had for less than $200, ensuring plenty of room for an expanding selection of movies. But whether you encode videos yourself or buy from the iTunes Store, that library will represent a hefty investment of time and money. And the most dreaded event in computerdom can wipe it all out in an instant: a hard drive crash.

Any reasonable, non-risk-taking person is going to want to implement (and practice) a regular backup plan for their media. The most convenient choices are to purchase a second (and possibly third) drive to house copies of all the video files, or make regular trips to the DVD-R burner for offline backups. The hard drive option would offer nearly instantaneous recovery to an iTunes+AppleTV-based media system, but it would double (or triple) your upfront costs. Additionally, if and when one of those drives fails, it will have to be replaced at the current market price for hard drives.

True, the arguments I made in defense of digital music can apply to digital video as well. But, for the present, there’s a matter of scale which makes the effort more cumbersome for video. Plus, a music library containing a large number of songs with short playing times benefits more from the instant accessibility and portability of the iTunes+iPod model than a video library with relatively few entries and long playing times.

Thus, for me, the more appealing scenario for personal digital video is that of the burned DVD because, with the right DVD player, your “backups” can double as working copies. Thankfully, it’s also much, much cheaper per megabyte than CDs were 10 years ago.

Which brings me to:

Reason 2: Incompatible video formats.

Star Trek sold out at iTunes Store?

UPDATE March 26: After nearly a two month stint of being offline at the iTunes Store, the Star Trek TOS is back. The complete first season is available in its original broadcast form. Additionally, newly remastered episodes from the first season are available in their own section. iTunes is still the only source for them in their uncut form.

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star trek on itunes

Star Trek tv shows are suddenly missing from the iTunes Store. Both the Original Series and Enterprise are completely gone. The movies are still there though. I wonder what’s up with that.

A quick scouring of the internet doesn’t turn up any information, so who knows.. Maybe the store is just out of stock… 🙂

Seriously though, this is surprising. I don’t have any figures, but I bet the shows were selling well. Especially the new remastered episodes that were available. The iTunes Store was the only place to download uncut versions of select remastered episodes.

According to the boards at startrek.com, the eps were pulled for a “technical reason.” We’re left to speculate what that actual reason was, but it would be pretty swell if CBS and Apple were building a Star Trek portal/store-within-a-store/wormhole inside iTunes.

Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar video: Cleverly Hypnotic

In addition to their world-sized beats, The Chemical Brothers are generally known for their world class videos. I stumbled across this video to Star Guitar from the duo’s 2002 release Come With Us while perusing the ol’ Google Video/YouTube library this afternoon and was quickly fascinated.

It was directed by noted film dude Michel Gondry, who’s done some impressive work, including intriguing videos for Bjork, Beck, Radiohead and many other musicians, as well as numerous innovative television commercials. But he’s also responsible for pioneering “bullet time” cinematography, so negative points there.

Of course, the concept of synchronizing visuals with the rhythm of music isn’t exactly new, but the execution here is clever. Though by the end of minute three, you’ve pretty much gotten the point and are ready to move on.

Star Guitar is an awesome song and the video is pretty cool, so enjoy it:

star guitar at itunes store

come with us at amazon

Separated at Birth: Futurama and Gli Angeli Del 2000

Songs that sound too similar to be coincidence.

This one is quite surprising because I never ever would have guessed the source. A couple years ago, while sifting through the Italian Cinema dump, I stumbled upon a track by composer Mario Molino that sounded just a wee bit familiar, like a demented, psychedelic version of a song I knew all too well.

It was the title track to a 1969 Italian film called Gli Angeli Del 2000 plot summary not available and it boggled my mind. Listen to it for yourself and tell me that it’s not uncanny. Go on, I’ll wait….

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All done? Good. Those of you who are acquainted with a device commonly known as a television (or “T.V.”) will most likely recognize some major elements to the theme song from Matt Groening’s Futurama program in that. Those of you who aren’t able to recall that theme, here’s a reminder. It’s an extended version by show composer Christopher Tyng himself.

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Remarkably similar, no?

At the time I first noticed the similarity, a discussion board (or other similar web page) told me that Gli Angeli Del 2000 was a direct and deliberate inspiration for the Futurama theme. I can’t locate that source now, but I’m going to take my memory at its word. That’s good, because no matter how much I like the theme which is a lot, that source is the only thing that’s stopping me from claiming rip off.

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Update and correction 7/19/07: In the comments below, moogaloo, corrects my above assertions. The Futurama Theme song was derived from a Pierre Henry’s Psyche Rock (1967), not the above Molino track.

I had completely forgotten about Psyche Rock, and thus confused it for Gli Angeli Del 2000, which appears to be the true rip off in this case. But now that I’ve been reminded, I recall from the commentary on one of the Futurama DVDs that the producers wanted to actually use Psyche Rock as the theme, but couldn’t get the rights. So the producers decided to “pay homage” to it instead.

For some additional coincidences, check out a universal favorite: Louie Louie by The Kingsmen (1966). You can hear the similarity in the chord progressions and the back beat.

Though The Kingsmen’s version is probably to most well known thanks to its use in Animal House, the song’s origins stretch back even further. The video below compares 3 different versions of Louie Louie by three different artists with early rock n roll and rhythm and blues flavorings:

  • Richard Berry 1957
  • Rockin Robin Roberts and The Fabulous Wailers 1961
  • Little Bill and the BlueNotes

Who would have thought that the humble Futurama theme would have such a long and illustrious pedigree?

Whither TV Themes?

It seems the television show theme song may be dying, or so says this cribbed AP article I ran across in a last.fm user’s journal.

It’s not really surprising, given that show running times are increasingly crunched as the networks try to crap ever-more ads into the broadcasts. And stylistically, many show producers may be trying to “set trends” by breaking away from the decades-long practice of including a show theme.

Then there’s the current practice of using an existing pop song as the show’s main title, as Ed did with Foo Fighters’ Next Year and CSI does with The Who’s Who Are You. That, I say, is an artistically cheap cop-out. If a show wants to omit a theme so it can fit 30 seconds more drama or a couple more ads into its run time, fine. I can respect that. But to borrow someone else’s caché and hope that it rubs off on you stinks of artistic desperation and gives off a whiff of the pathetic. Of course, that doesn’t include established acts that compose original music for TV, as Nerf Herder did with the Buffy theme.

The thing I’ve not seen discussed anywhere though, is how a good, memorable, unique TV theme can add to the appeal of, and build the brand/character of show. The article mentions how hearing the theme to Cheers and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air stirs up nostalgia and memories. But what it doesn’t talk about is how those themes (and related underscore) helped to complete those shows’ universe, filling in the missing atmosphere that dialogue and staging could not. A good TV theme song helps a show build a relationship with its audience and adds to its longevity.

Cheers, Fresh Prince, Night Court, The X-Files, Hill Street Blues, Star Trek, Bonanza, The Simpsons, MacGyver, The A-Team… heck, even Growing Pains, Full House and The Facts of Life. Those are all examples of shows with great theme songs that have endured. In fact, most of those shows still have an active fan base today, partially due to their engaging music.

So, this brings the question: have there been any good, memorable, original theme songs in the past five or so. I must admit that I don’t watch much of the television these day, so I can’t speak for most of the newer shows. Futurama had a nice one and I liked the one for Angel, but both those are late-90s compositions. What’s good today?

p.s., in case you’re wondering, the best tv theme song of all-time is Hawaii 5-0.