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How to get Patlabor on Blu-ray without losing your shirt

One-Hundred and Eighty dollars. That’s roughly how much it costs to purchase both Patlabor films on Japanese Blu-ray from Bandai Visual and that doesn’t even include shipping and other fees you might incur. Sure the discs have English subtitles and dubbing, but $90+ per film? If that sounds like a bit much, there’s a reasonable English-friendly compromise courtesy of Proware out of Hong Kong.

Proware released Patlabor Movies 1 & 2 on Blu-ray last year. I had a chance to watch the first film, and I’ve checked out the second, and I must say the quality is rather solid. The discs are Region A coded, which means they will play in any North American Blu-ray player. Provided in a 1080p/AVC transfer framed in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, both movies look great. The clean-up work that was done is not the picture perfect remasters classic Disney films get, but the color correction is excellent and elements like film grain and visible paint strokes help give the image a nice sense of texture and a human touch. I haven’t seen a comparison to Bandai Visual’s Blu-rays, but I would not be surprised if it turned out to be the exact same encode. Anime releases in other asian countries, especially Hong Kong and Korea, tend to take the same audio and video streams from the Japanese DVDs/Blu-rays and I have a feeling that’s what we’re getting here.

The discs also includes the 5.1 Sound Renewal audio in Dolby TrueHD and a stereo Cantonese dub. Early listings for the discs indicated the English dub would be included, but that didn’t come to pass. That’s fine for me as Patlabor is a show I associate strongly with it’s Japanese cast. Speaking of, back in 1998 that cast was brought in to re-record their dialog for the surround sound mix so it’s a tiny shame that the original stereo mix isn’t included. That tends to be how these kind of releases work; in order to incorporate the Japanese video encode on a smaller Blu-ray (25GB vs. 50GB) things like additional audio tracks and special features are dropped. Sadly that keeps Proware’s releases from being as definitive as I was hoping. Can’t win ‘em all, and besides, the Japanese voice actors sound as lively as ever in the re-recorded version.

The most important part of the BDs for English speakers is the subtitles. As far as foreign English-friendly releases go I’d say these subtitles are among the best I’ve come across. I’m not entirely sure where the subtitles came from. They don’t appear to be the same as the subtitles Manga Entertainment produced years ago and I’d be surprised if Proware commissioned an original subtitle script. My guess is they copied the subtitles from Bandai Visual’s Blu-ray. There’s the occasional typo and grammatical error but my main criticism is that the timing is occasionally awkward and imprecise. However for anyone who has dealt with English translations on foreign DVD releases there are no deal-breakers to be found here. And if the subtitles are indeed an original translation then I have to hand it to Proware; this is not a turkey translation.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Patlabor movies are really good? The first film feels like an expanded and extended episode of the original Patlabor OVAs, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a well put together film that drags a little at times but is a worthy addition to the franchise. The second film however is very intelligent science fiction with themes that may resonate even deeper now than they did back in 1993. The third movie, Patlabor WXIII is… well, it is what it is but since Proware didn’t release it on BD I don’t feel any particular need to talk about it.

Proware’s Patlabor Blu-rays will run you about $25-$30 per film not including shipping. There are also no special features included, not a one. Still, getting both films for around 2/3 the cost of one of the Bandai Visual Blu-rays is a steal, especially if the video was taken right off the Japanese versions. I tend to use www.yesasia.com for importing asian releases however you can also probably find it at www.play-asia.com and www.dddhouse.com. If you’re interested, I wouldn’t dawdle. These kind of releases can go out of print at the drop of a hat and when they’re gone, they are *gone*.

Now Proware, how about releasing the spectacular looking Patlabor OVAs and TV series on Blu-ray with English subtitles? Hey, a fan can dream.

Amazon Blu-ray Sale (and our coming reviews)

I’m hoping to add a number of blu-ray reviews to the site in the very near future, but I want to get it right before going live. I’m hoping to do some side-by-side image quality comparisons with the DVD version, so you can get an idea if you’re actually paying for some improvement or just for the fancy box. (The Gunbuster “movie,” for example, is remastered but has absolutely no business being on blu-ray—it just looks extra-blurry in comparison; Akira actually has something to gain from the added resolution of the format, plus the uber-fancy audio they spend several pages of the booklet talking up.)

However, the actual purpose of this is to mention that Amazon is running a big blu-ray sale for the next couple of weeks, and I didn’t want to let the good anime buys mixed in to go unmentioned.  The best deals (at least 40% off, which is about as low as I can find them anywhere, plus free shipping if you spend at least $25): Paprika ($23.50), Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles ($15, good movie!), Vexille (Special Edition) ($17.50), plus Afro Samurai ($15), Dead Space: Downfall ($15.50), and all of the Dragon Ball Z double features ($17.50 or less). They also have Tekkon Kinkreet at 40% off, but you can probably find it cheaper elsewhere.

Full disclosure: We get a cut if you buy through these links. That doesn’t make them any less good of a deal, though.

How To Get Your PS3 To Output Fancy Sound From Blu-Ray Discs

I started writing a how-to and it turned into an excessively long rant including how much Sony’s UI engineers make me want to never buy a product from them again and/or hit them with something blunt. It’s rather pointlessly self-indulgent, so here’s the bottom line: Make sure “BD/DVD Audio Output Format (HDMI)” is set to “Linear PCM,” not “Bitstream.” It’s the opposite if what I’d expected, but it’s the only way to get 7.1 sound (or extreme high-definition audio, such as on Akira) out of a PS3 playing a Blu-ray disc.

[Addendum: A software update has now rendered the PS3 capable of outputting the bitstream data of fancier audio formats, so this is no longer necessary, although it's still useful to know if your surround sound system can't handle fancier Dolby/DTS sound but can handle fancier PCM audio.]


Despite being a relatively major tech geek I didn’t even touch the next-gen video format wars until more or less the week Sony finally plunged the dagger of fat wads of cash into HD-DVD’s heart, at which point I went and got a 1080p TV and a blu-ray player so I could start buying unnecessarily high resolution anime. I decided on a PS3 as the player, despite the extravagant cost, because at the time it was one of the best for the price (still in the running) and I could consolidate some old game systems, too. I’m thankful, because it later allowed me to play Valkyria Chronicles, of which I will speak on another occasion.

(Side note: Given that a decent amount of modern anime is produced for HDTV you’d think that there would be more high-def stuff on the market, even more so since the US is now in the same friggin’ region as Japan so all they need to do is slap a subtitle track on it and sell it for half what it goes for in Japan. Instead, we get mostly nothing, and the one company that is doing this, Honneamise/Bandai, is pulling the biggest pricing screw since their one-episode-per-disc Blue Subarmine 6 release.)

More recently I upgraded my aging 5.1 sound system to a 7.1 that supports all the fancy new HDMI-only formats. It took a while to get the thing calibrated properly, but it does sound quite nice… except I couldn’t seem to get it to actually recognize more than 5 channels.

Um… Why Isn’t This Working

After some frustrating fiddling with buttons and a lot longer asking Google questions than I’d have liked, I finally figured out (and given that all I could locate were confusing forum threads, I will repeat for posterity), how to get your PS3 to properly output the really fancy high-res, 7.1 channel soundtracks (assuming, of course, that you have the rest of the necessary hardware).

The Magic Setting

When setting up your PS3, you probably went through the “Sound Settings” sub-tab and set it to output all the formats your sound rig can handle. So far so good. What you may have missed (or, as I did, misinterpreted) is in the “Video Settings sub-tab, there is an option for “BD/DVD Audio Output Format (HDMI).”

Now, since my sound receiver knows how to decode DTS Master Audio and Dolby TruHD and all those other high-falutin’ acronyms, I assumed I wanted to set this to “Bitstream,” so that it would spit the audio out exactly as-is off the disc and let my receiver handle it from there.

This is wrong.

In fact, the cryptic warning the PS3 gives you when you select Bitstream (“If you select [Bitstream], some protions of audio from the BD may not be played.”) means the following: The PS3 will not output bistream audio in any of the highest-definition formats. It will instead fall back to the (comparatively) primitive old-style 5.1 audio (in, I assume, one of the lower-fi flavors) and output that. Meaning no fancy 7.1 channel sound and/or lower quality. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, but it’s not exactly obvious.

If, instead, you set it to Linear PCM, you will get the full-definition, 7.1 channel sound. With this setting, the PS3 does the decoding itself, then just feeds the appropriate uncompressed audio stream out over HDMI. When setting it up initially, I’d assumed that due to copy protection (HDCP=evil) you wouldn’t get the best sound out if you used the Linear PCM setting, but I guess it’s not an issue since both devices have to be HDCP aware for it to work at all.

You also want to make sure you don’t have “BD/DVD Dymanic Range Control” turned on (I forget what it defaulted to, but knowing Sony probably “on”). If you’ve got hardware fancy enough to care about any of this you probably already knew that.

While I’m not enough of an audio geek to know whether letting the PS3 do the work rather than a capable receiver is a good thing (since, so far as I know, anything capable of handling 7.1-channel PCM audio over HDMI could), it does seem a little weird that Sony didn’t leave it as an option.

On the plus side, set this way the PS3 will tell you the bitrate and exact format of the audio it’s converting, which is kinda neat. I notice that some Blu-ray discs now have a higher bitrate in the audio stream than most DVDs have in the video.