Screener quirks irk kudo voters

Problems arise with Academy's screener 'solution'

In contrast with last year’s furor, it’s been mostly quiet on the screener front this year, but the calm’s been broken by complaints from some Acad members that their officially sanctioned discs don’t work.

Some won’t play at all, according to affected members, while others report discs that play normally at first, only to fail in mid-movie.

The problem, it turns out, comes as no surprise to the studios — and it’s a problem with the players, not the discs.

When the encoded Cinea format proved a nonstarter for this year’s award season, the studios adopted a digital watermarking technology from Thomson Technicolor for this year’s DVD screeners. The screeners look like normal DVDs, but each disc is individually recorded and tagged with the recipient’s name. The recording technology uses the DVD-R format, which some older DVD players can’t play at all.

The DVD-R format is one of three competing standards for DVD recorders, all of which are different from the disc format used for distributing movies on DVD. Since most standalone DVD players will play DVD-R discs, and DVD recorders have been slow to catch on, most consumers don’t know whether their machines will play DVD-R or not.

Even among players that claim to support DVD-R, there are compatibility problems with about 1% of machines, according to Tom Bracken, Thomson Technicolor’s VP of marketing and communications. The compatibility problems usually affect older players, he said, but some “substandard” newer players are involved as well.

“The studios recognized the player compatibility problem with this format and decided it was no big deal, as long as there was a backup system in place and a way to get a replacement out,” Bracken said.

Technicolor, which duplicated about half of this year’s screeners, included information with its discs referring members who have problems to a 24-hour helpline: (800) 99-FILMS. “We will air-ship a replacement DVD-R or a VHS tape for any disc that doesn’t play. We have found that on occasion one DVD-R will play and another won’t,” Bracken said.

Other companies duplicating screeners this year include DeLuxe and Ascent Media, which have made their own provisions for replacing discs, so members encountering problems should check the letters that came with their screeners.

The bottom line, Bracken maintained, is that “we quality-check 100% of the discs, so we know it’s not a problem with the discs.”

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