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Dune Part One


I’m late to this movie, to be sure: its sequel is about to be released, and I’ve already bought a ticket to see that follow-up in 70mm IMAX—and now I wish I’d seen the original in that format. I won’t belabor this post with a wordy review. Suffice it to say that it’s an absolutely beautiful movie that hits it out of the park on all counts: casting, direction, art direction, score, everything.

Other than being only part one of a multipart movie—something I tend to dislike—Dune imparts the feeling of a galactic scale and convinces one that this is a story that indeed is worth the effort. That’s quite a feat, given that “Part One” is still almost three hours long (and Part Two will be a little longer than the first). Still, it’s all worth it, and this movie gets top marks from me.

Dune on Apple Vision Pro vs. Atmos-Powered Home Theater

I’d read reviews that Dune was a beautiful movie, and given that I never got the chance to see it in a proper theater, I bought the 4K Blu-ray Disc with plans for that to be how I watched it. But as the release of the Apple Vision Pro drew close, I figured it would be a good test for that device’s theater-like presentation.

I was right: Dune is beautiful on any screen, surely, but if one can’t see it in a real, premium theater, the Vision Pro is a great runner-up. As I said in my first impressions about it, the Vision Pro does a great job of making one feel like they’re watching a movie in a theater, with the exception of the sound. The Vision Pro sounds good with Apple’s AirPods Pro, but mere earbuds just can’t give you the grand sound that a good theater can.

So, I watched it again a second time, this time in my home theater. I have a nice—though not extreme by the standards of true home theater aficionados—setup.

My home theater has an Atmos arrangement with four height speakers (technically 5.1.4), powered by a AV receiver that’s good, but not the top of its line. The 65" LG OLED is a few years on now, but still provides a lovely, if small compared to the virtual screen in the Vision Pro, picture. But the sound just blows the Vision Pro out of the water, and I thoroughly enjoyed the second watching because of it. I mention the Atmos speakers in particular because, while I’ve generally been less impressed with the addition of height speakers in my home theater relative to other investments in its sound, the UHD Blu-ray disc of Dune has the best Atmos mix I’ve ever heard. The sound was exceptionally well designed, and the large set piece battles, the eerie score, and the desert storms all sound absolutely enveloping. It’s truly a treat, and must-own disc for any enthusiast.

The second viewing put an exclamation point on the impression I noted in the earlier article: Vision Pro needs a way to AirPlay its audio out to another device—perhaps an Apple TV or AirPlay-capable receiver—so the sound can make its way to a more capable sound system. If that feature were in place, I’d say that an actual theater would only be warranted for the most epic movies, and those with exceptional presentation, like the aforementioned 70mm IMAX arrangement. Given the sorry state of movie theaters these days, that might be justified ever more rarely. Let’s hope Apple makes it happen, perhaps in time for Dune Part Three.

Cutting the Cord, Over-the-Air TV, and DRM

This weekend, I set up an over-the-air antenna and tuner at home. It wasn’t because of the Super Bowl, but because of Jeopardy!.

First Solution at Streaming Jeopardy!: YouTube TV

I canceled cable last year, but Jeopardy! is the one broadcast show that I want—my family watches it every evening. That led me down a path of evaluating streaming options. As a long-time, happy YouTube Premium user, I settled on YouTube TV, a paid subscription service that charges $72.99(!) for what is essentially a cable package of channels with an online DVR. For that steep price, I got a base package that doesn’t even include 4K resolution when it’s available. To add further insult to injury, the interface is truly terrible—I thought it would have the benefit of building on the well-known paradigm used on YouTube itself, but no—it’s nothing like YouTube. So, I got motivated to look for alternatives again. Unfortunately, it seems that YouTube TV is one of the better streaming options that includes the local channel that carries Jeopardy!. Time for extreme measures: I decided to try out an antenna.

Second Attempt: HDHomeRun, Antenna, and Plex

I bought an ATSC 3.0 HDHomeRun Flex 4K tuner and an antenna. The HDHomeRun is a small box that takes a coax cable from your antenna as input and provides a method for turning over-the-air (OTA) signal into digital streams on your home network—connected by Ethernet—that you can watch live or record for later viewing. I’m using Plex for scheduling and recording the channel that carries Jeopardy! on network-attached storage. Plex also provides a player app on Apple TV.

So far, so good. Plex recorded two episodes of Celebrity Jeopardy!, and is poised to get the regular series’ episodes this week. Plex offers some interesting features, like commercial marking and skipping, and its DVR seems to have all the standard features one would expect. The playback interface seems basic, but serviceable. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be a good long-term solution, and I can kick YouTube TV, and its terrible interface and high price, to the curb.

This wasn’t a particularly cheap option: the HDHomeRun cost $199, the antenna another $199, and I already had a lifetime Plex pass, but that’s another $120 (or $5/month) if you don’t. (Plex isn’t required, but the software that comes with the HDHomeRun is pretty barebones.) Still, to get rid of a $73/month subscription, I’m willing to plunk down; it’ll pay for itself in a handful of months.

Gloomy Epilogue: “NextGen TV” and the Spectre of DRM

While perusing the online channel guide, I noticed some channels—including our local CBS affiliate—were marked as DRM-encumbered. A quick search revealed an article by Jared Newman at TechHive:

It’s been more than five years since I first asked whether ATSC 3.0, aka NextGen TV, would spell doom for over-the-air DVR. The answers are coming in now, and they’re not encouraging.

Unfortunately, even OTA broadcasts are starting to be DRM-encumbered. The HDHomeRun I bought is ATSC 3.0 compliant, so I should be fine, but man, it seems that there’s no stopping the march of DRM. I pay quite a lot for my content, and don’t pirate. But I’m frequently bitten by the annoyances of DRM. Just in the last week, I got an HDCP error on a TV, and my new Vision Pro blacked out the screen on a screenshot that I wanted to share with a friend to illustrate what the theater-like experience is like. No piracy was going to happen with a still frame of me watching Avengers: Endgame, I assure you; but a black screen certainly ruined the point I was trying to make.

Anyway, it seems that OTA is safe for at least four years from the time of the article, but it sucks nonetheless.

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