Casual music fans appreciate what’s available on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, even YouTube. But for the committed fanatic, nothing matched physical media, but matters of quality can differ wildly from release to release.
MusicTAP sat down with Bill Hunt the Editor-in-Chief of the website The Digital Bits. For over two decades, The Digital Bits has been the go-to source for information about DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K home entertainment. We asked Bill where music on video disc is right now as so much visual media continues to leave disc-based platforms for streaming. Also, what’s on the horizon for concerts and music videos shot in standard definition (SD) in the brave new world of 4K high definition (HD) presentation.
MusicTAP: Aside from an appreciation for the artist, what are some of the elements that make for great music-content DVDs/Blu-rays, etc?
Bill Hunt: I think quality of the recording really matters. It really doesn’t matter as much who the artist is—great music recorded well in a great venue is a thrilling experience. I think after that, the quality of the mixing and lossless audio matters.
Do you have any go-to releases that you tend to recommend to others most?
That’s a BIG question. Go-tos would include Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live, Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds at Radio City, and David Gilmour: Remember that Night.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a favorite, but what is a reference-quality release that you lean on when you want to show off an audio-video system’s capabilities?
Video is a different issue. I find to really demo HD and 4K quality I rarely go to a music title. But for music, I almost always pop in Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds at Radio City.
In terms of music-related documentaries, have there been features that changed the way you think about an artist?
Not so much unique special features, but I find that any great documentary on an artist I love is compelling. There’s always something to learn about them. It Might Get Loud is a perfect example of a documentary I found unexpected and pretty wonderful. Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways series was great too.
Are there any music-related discs that you had high expectations for that the final offering failed to deliver on?
I guess I tend to find that disappointing music releases rarely cross my notice. I’m sure there are some. I tend to be more disappointed that a title I may want or wish for isn’t available on Blu-ray, for example.
Music licensing is complicated and expensive. It was the reason that, for the longest time, the animated Heavy Metal movie wasn’t on home video – because the movie contracts were made before home video was a reality, so those deals had to be reworked. What other reasons are there for different features to be out of print or not available at all?
Yeah, certainly rights issues are a problem. The good news is that a lot of those rights can be skirted if the release is a limited one—say, to less than 5K copies. That kind of thing.
Another problem is that original film or video materials, or audio masters, may have been lost, damaged, destroyed, or poorly cared for. The Universal vault fire back in 2008 is a perfect example. We STILL don’t have a full tally of everything that was lost as a result of that. And then there’s the issue of titles that may have been shot in SD that can’t really every be upgraded to HD.
In terms of music videos on 4K, there is a common misconception that remastering can be accomplished for all media. The problem is that videos shot on film can be rescanned in the telecine process at a higher resolution, whereas video is a case of upsampling, smoothing, interlacing…what would you want audiences to know most about this process so that they approach vintage video media with reasonable expectations?
I think with music titles being remastered, the audio quality has to be paramount. The video quality might be less than you expect, but it’s the audio quality that really matters most. That said, remastering and upscaling technology is improving very rapidly—especially now with deep learning AI algorithms being used more and more for such things. I’ve been very surprised at the quality of some recent remasters of SD material in HD for example, and HD or film to 4K. So you never know what might be possible in a few years, as long as a decent source/master exists.
What is your wish-list title that is not available on Blu-ray or 4K right now?
Well, I’d kill for U2: Elevation 2001 properly remastered on Blu-ray (I believe that was shot in SD video). I’d love to see more Police and Foo Fighters concerts on Blu-ray. A film I would love to see get a proper Blu-ray or 4K remastering is D.A Pennebaker’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, with David Bowie. I’d also love to see Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd: The Wall in 4K. There’s other music I would certainly like to see in 4K too, but it’s probably not realistic—there just might not be a good enough film source to make that possible. I’d certainly love to see more concerts shot in 4K and released on physical 4K UHD. But with the pandemic that might be a while. And of course, physical media is on the decline, so expecting some of these things to ever be released on disc is probably asking too much.
One last note for completeness’ sake. If I were to make a list of my favorite concert or music documentary releases on physical media, it would include the following: