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The Beginner's Guide to the Great Superbit Scam

Discussion in 'Movie Forum' started by the_pauley, Oct 1, 2005.

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  1. the_pauley

    the_pauley
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    This post was prompted by a post in the Hi-Definition TV forum, alerting us to the existence of a stunning new development in DVD technology, Superbit! The forum member excitedly described Superbit as the nearest we’ll get to Hi-Def DVD, etc, and even posted a link to Sony’s Superbit website to alert us to this "new" technical innovation.

    Let me make it clear that the above is not a dig at the person who posted it – we’ve all been newbies to the AV game at some point and many have been taken in by the claims of Sony for Superbit. If anything this is a criticism of Sony’s deliberate marketing of Superbit in an attempt to bamboozle consumers -particularly the inexperienced newcomer to AV- into believing that this is some kind of technical upgrade of the DVD standard and better in terms of quality than everything else out there.

    First and foremost Superbit is a brand name owned by Sony/Columbia, nothing more. It is certainly not a technical standard like HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. It falls within all normal technical DVD Forum parameters for a normal DVD and is inherently capable of no better quality than any standard release from other DVD companies.

    Superbit even in its early days was very publicly blown out of the water and shown up for the marketing scam that it so clearly is.

    A few years ago in a technical test of 20 Superbit titles, DVD Review concluded that 19 of the 20 had inferior or at best equal picture quality when compared to standard releases from other companies.

    In addition the much vaunted strength of Superbit, namely utilizing the disc space in order to maximize the bit-rate for picture and sound quality by leaving off extras, commentaries, etc, was shown to be totally bogus by this test. Only one Superbit title out of the 20 tested displayed a higher than average bit rate than all of the non-Superbit tiles, and even then by just a decimal point or so. In addition most came nowhere near maximizing the available disc space in order to improve sound and picture quality.

    One of several non-Superbit titles in the test that came out as a top performer and trounced the Superbit competition was Moulin Rouge, a disc that managed to include both DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks as well as extras such as an interactive behind the scenes feature, audio commentaries and multiple language tracks. All of these on the same disc as the movie and the disc displayed a higher than average bit rate than most of the Superbit titles.

    The technical analysis showed that this disc, as well as titles from other companies, showed objectively superior picture quality and a higher bit-rate than the Superbit titles and yet all still managed to include a range of extras. As I stated above, this was exposed several years ago, yet people have continued to buy into the scam.

    Superbit is quite simply a pretty insidious marketing ploy by Sony. They deliberately hold back on the picture and sound quality on their initial releases that all other companies give us as standard. Then they charge us an extra premium if we want the better quality sound and vision that other companies give us as a matter of course.

    Technical tests of many of Sony/Columbia's standard releases have shown that they are utilising less than half the available space of a DVD9 disc to accommodate their movies. Less than half. If proof were needed that they are deliberately compromising the quality of standard releases, this is it.

    Their rationale is blatantly transparent. If you're a fan of the movie, you'll want the version with all the extras, but if you want the best picture and sound quality you have to buy a Superbit copy as well.

    Even by the standards of the major distributors, this is a cynical and exploitative marketing ploy. We live with the fact (albeit reluctantly) that companies will bring out director's cuts and expanded multiple disc sets to try and tempt us to double-dip. But what is truly despicable is Sony/Columbia deliberately manufacturing inferior quality DVD product in order to market a Superbit version of the same disc a few months later.

    Round about this point in the debate someone usually weighs in with a post along the lines of “Well I’ve got 10 Superbit titles, and every one is superior in quality to the standard releases!”

    No one is disputing that this is indeed the case.

    There's no doubt that most Superbit versions of Sony/Columbia releases are better than the standard issue versions. But the only reason for this is that Sony/Columbia deliberately hold back on the quality of their non-Superbit releases, precisely because they want to sell a Superbit version a few months later in the hope that we will double dip.

    Is the penny dropping Superbit fans? Superbit is not in itself "better", it's just better than the deliberately sub-standard product they issue first time around.

    But occasionally Sony/Columbia has been caught with their corporate pants down, most famously when they withdrew the Gladiator Superbit from sale. The reason? This Superbit title was withdrawn from sale when it transpired that the company had inadvertently used the same video master for both the Superbit and standard release. They are exactly the same.

    Except of course for a better soundtrack and a disc full of extras on the standard release… :D

    Other manufacturers manage equivalent and quite often superior picture quality to Sony's Superbits on their standard releases, and include lots of extras without feeling the need to dress them up with a new brand name like Superbit and forcing you to buy the same movie twice if you want the best quality and the extras.

    How clearer does it have to be stated people? Superbit is not a technically superior standard. It's a marketing scam, and a scam that results in reduced product quality for those of us that refuse to be ripped off by Sony and swallow the Superbit line. It is a plain, bog standard DVD, inherently no different or superior to non-Superbit titles from other companies - end of story.

    When I posted on this topic before I was admonished and told that if people want to spend their money on Superbit titles then it’s none of my business. I often hear a similar argument from smokers, and my answer is the same. It is my business because what you are doing affects me.

    So long as some people continue to support this shoddy marketing exercise, Sony will continue to screw you for every last penny, and meanwhile the rest of us who refuse to buy into the Superbit scam will have to put up with inferior quality product in the form of this company’s standard releases.

    All that it takes is for people to stop buying Superbit titles for six months or so and send an e-mail to let Sony know why. Then perhaps they'll start giving us the picture and sound quality (along with the extras) that other distributors give us on their standard releases.

    Otherwise they continue to shaft us all.
     
  2. Shakey_Jake33

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    Interesting post man. I must admit to being unaware of the Superbit range, though given I don't think I even own any DVD's by Sony or Columbia, this is not to suprising.

    The concept itself is, IMO, a positive one, and one I've been wanting for a long time. I've always been supportative of removing the fancy filler such as extras and menu's from at least the main disc if it means we'll end up getting a superior copy of the film. The better image quality, the better. Higher bitrates can only be a good thing.
    As you say though, these discs don't even seem to use the entire disc, which seems to defeat the point as far as I am concerned.

    As I see it, a special range such as 'Superbit' should not even exist. The best scenario would be for standard retail DVD's to contain 2 discs, one for the film, the other for the extras for the completists. This would be the ideal solution. Of course, that seldom happens.
     
  3. kenji-san

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    although never bought a superbit, i've occasionally been close to buying one, and i've also had this idea of superbit as being something elusive and fantastic hd-ish pq disc.
    Well, no more.
    thanks for the info, pauly, i'll steer way clear of both superbit and normal/degraded sony colombia dvd releases, and encourage my peers to follow suit.
     
  4. FoxyMulder

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    You forgot to mention the fact that many films from Columbia have had their higher frequencies filtered off, its not all about bitrate but i agree that Columbia/Sony should get their act together and release every title with "Superbit" quality but without the edge enhancement that Columbia titles usually have on them.

    Columbia actually shot themselves in the foot with their bold claims regarding Superbit as they don't use all the disc space ( Charlies Angels - Superbit barely uses half the available disc space ) along came a spider aka Spiderman - Superbit and lo and behold theres a commentary track on it, thus there is no reason why other Superbits don't contain commentary tracks.

    The bottom line is that Superbits all have a nice dts track and have unfiltered higher frequencies which owners of projection systems can and will testify gives better results than the bog standard releases which look great on smaller televisions but don't hold up to scrutiny on projection systems.

    There is no reason why every single title from Columbia/Sony should not utilise the same high bitrate and unfiltered high frequencies and indeed dts track, its all a marketing ploy and unfortunately the consumer suffers, having said all that i will still opt to buy the Superbit version as the standard editions sometimes are severely lacking when it comes to picture quality, its not that i'm being suckered into buying them as lets face it there isn't that many Superbit titles out there but i do prefer quality, the fact is most Superbits are decent when it comes to the picture and sound department but other companies have produced and still produce on a daily basis superior titles without all the labelling.
     
  5. Miyazaki

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    Post time: 05.33am

    You an insomniac Pauley? ;)
     
  6. smashed

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    Its not his fault.. judging by the length of his essay he may have started typing it at 11pm :D
     
  7. the_pauley

    the_pauley
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    :)

    I was last night - sick doggie kept me up all night. :(
     
  8. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    I like the simple menus, lack of filtering, simple audio choice, and VERY easy to navigate as they are all similar. The price is low as well. Of all the superbit I own (loads) I have yet to find one that isn't better than the original release and I am now not talking about sound or video quality for once. I never view this as a scam, I never felt Sony columbia were selling these to me as anything other than another range of DVDs like ultimate editions etc.

    Never viewed it as a scam or cynical and exploitative marketing ploy. It is simple easy to use and cheap to buy range in DVDs with decent audio and video quality.
     
  9. Nic Rhodes

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    and we haven't talked about copy protection either
     
  10. the_pauley

    the_pauley
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    Yes just like the audio and video quality that other manufacturers give you as standard and still manage to include extras, and don't need to hang the title Superbit on them to attract unsuspecting punters.

    As to simple and easy to use, are you seriously going to tell us that you find a standard DVD somehow difficult to use? :confused:

    People keep refering to the higher quality of these discs as if it is a given. Two Superbit titles that I can think of off the top of my head that blow this out of the water are Panic Room and Bram Stoker's Dracula - I'd be very disappointed with this standard of picture quality from any DVD, let alone ones advertised as being somehow of optimum quality. I refer you back to the original DVD Review tests - 19 of the 20 Superbits ranged from inferior to at best equal in quality when compared to standard releases from other companies.

    When these discs were first marketed they came at a premium, all more expensive than the standard releases of the same tiles - around the £20 mark. The only reason they're cheaper than they were is that after the initial brace of titles a lot people were getting wise to the fact that these were just ordinary DVDs, and no more special than releases from any other video company and sales tailed off. Rest assured if there was a sudden upsurge in their popularity, you'd see the price rise too.
     
  11. HMHB

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    I find most DVDs very annoying to use, I hate having to wait for the animated menus to appear after doing some fancy stuff for a minute or so before showing the next menu or option. I'd much rather see a plain and simple menu structure without the poxy animation :mad: Sorry I know that was off topic, but it does annoy me !
    Interesting stuff about the Superbit DVDs being anything but that, has this fact been publicised in the press yet do you know ?
     
  12. Nic Rhodes

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    Like JohnG, I find most DVDs very annoying to use, I hate having to wait for the animated menus to appear after doing some fancy stuff for a minute or so before showing the next menu or option. This is especially true with menus in languages in foreign languages like Korean and Japanese. With superbit I ALWAYS know where to go. If I didn't have young twins, Disney discs woud have been dropped long ago PURELY on the menu thing and all their associated garbage.

    I for one find 'extras' a pain in the arse, fine put them on another disc that I can ignore but I would much rather not have them, full stop. I view discs with 'extras' as a big downer. I want the feature with decent audio and video. PERIOD. Superbit achieves this.

    Re the original review you keep quoting. I was unimpressed at the time and still am. With any debate you can always find arguements for and against with ease. I know what I see here and my experieces in AV in general, I am not one to follow others or listen to magazines views many of which are in error anyway. I am more than confident in my abilities and my test equipment to continue to use and buy superbits along with many other ranges of DVDs. For me they do what the say on the tin. I might like to think I hate Sony as a company but this is not one of their gaffs in my book.
     
  13. Del Boy Smiffy

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    I like my 2 superbit dvds, they do what i want them to do, play the films with better picture quality and all have DTS which helps the movie experience even more.

    How offering better pq as an alternative is a con is seriously beyond me.

    £7.99(or 3.99 what i payed for ouatim) is great value for money imb.
     
  14. Oakleyspatz

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    I think what the initial post was getting at is that Superbit is only better than the original Sony/Columbia release because they purposely make the original release sub-standard to make the Superbit look better. If they used the same quality print on the original release (which our initial post claims is quite possible) then there would be no need for Superbit whatsoever. So basically Superbit exists purely for Sony to generate more revenue by selling multiple copies of the same title under a false pretense that Superbit is the ultimate in picture/sound quality and nothing else can come close.
    In Superbit's defence, I have always checked the bitrate on these discs when I have viewed them and all have a bitrate of at least 8Mbps, this compares well to so many other movie releases which can only muster 4Mbps. Also, the original release of Gladiator had a superb image and a DTS 6.1 Discreet soundtrack so this kind of blows the argument that Sony always release a sub-standard original release knowing that they can then release a better Superbit version theory out of the water....
    The debate goes one......
     
  15. Del Boy Smiffy

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    My 2 superbit dvds have a much better pic than all my other films. So this crap about Sony releasing sub standard dvds imo is crap, my sony dvds(non superbit) are as good quality as my other dvds, so whats that tell you?
     
  16. Nic Rhodes

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    not everyone likes Sony?
     
  17. Del Boy Smiffy

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    Thats what this all boils down to.
     
  18. the_pauley

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    Er, have you actually read the original post? This section in particular...
    Whether they are or aren't is not at issue. They aren't as good as their Superbit versions, for the above mentioned reasons, which if you'd bother to read the post more carefully (or at all), is the issue at hand.

    And please - accusations along the lines of this is because someone doesn't like Sony are asinine and childish and don't help further the debate.
     
  19. the_pauley

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    I think if you trace the history of this particular incident, you'll find that Sony made a little bit of a cock up there by using the same master for each. Hence the withdrawal from sale of the Superbit version.

    This embarassing (for Sony) incident, far from blowing the argument out of the water, actually proves my point. Sony can give us the same picture and sound quality (along with extras) on a standard release as they can on a Superbit release. But they won't. Except -in the case of Gladiator- by accident.
     
  20. the_pauley

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    It depends entirely on the disc. I have plenty of titles from other companies that easily hit 9-10Mbps, and these are discs with extras included.

    The point is that these discs don't proclaim superior quality to other DVDs all over their packaging, nor do they need the label Superbit to achieve this level of quality.
     
  21. the_pauley

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    The article in question was not merely opinion or point of view, it was a report based on thoroughly documented, technical testing.

    Non Superbit titles yielded set of results X - Superbit titles yielded set of results Y. Simple as that.
     
  22. figoagogo

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    Agreed with the supebit scam, but its not just a Sony thing, many other DVDs are released in a substandard form only to be superseded with a better version sometime in the future! Think of all the Directors Cuts / Collectors / Ultimate etc additions, offering more extras, better sound/PQ etc than the original or previous release.

    A most recent example is Sin City, a stripped down DVD only to be superseded perhaps when the sequel is due in the cinema, Gladiator got a new even better release and there are many more. LOTR got further tweaked additions :eek:

    The fact is these distributors are in the business to make money, its a consumer choice whether to buy or not - I myself have never bought a Superbit DVD but I may do if it was cheaper than the non-superbit DVD. I shop based on price, and I have rarely bought a DVD for more than £8.99 (except Starwars and Indiana Jones boxsets)...
     
  23. FoxyMulder

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    There's a difference between new extended editions or directors cuts which have great image quality to begin with and basically a company releasing a film with substandard pic quality ( think Spiderman 2 and then Spiderman 2 Superbit ) and then re-releasing knowing collectors want the best possible picture quality, the sad fact is that most other labels now provide superior picture quality without making us buy the same title twice and Sony/Columbia are in my opinion the worst company when it comes to edge enhancement and ripping people off with millions of versions of the same movie.

    Its a deliberate policy with Sony and they know collectors who are serious about their films will buy the best possible version, like i said in a previous post every single title from Sony/Columbia should be unfiltered and have great image and sound quality ( master copy permitting ) and i think superbit started out as a good idea but actually did turn into a scam as the marketing claims cannot hold up to scrutiny, i wonder why more people don't question the fact they provided a commentary for Spiderman but can't for any other release, i'll tell you why because then they couldn't publicise Superbit the way they want and by adding a commentary which they have shown is feasible they would then have to alter their marketing.

    Superbit was a great idea but i think its been utilised very badly by Sony.
     
  24. the_pauley

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    Agreed Foxy.

    All companies will try to get as many trips to the trough from us on a title as they can, but there's a difference between, say, the 2 disc and the 4 disc director's cuts of Lord of the Rings and Sony's standard vs Superbit releases of a title.

    If I go for the all bells and whistles and extras version of LOTR, I don't have to buy a second extras-free copy of the same title in order to get better picture and sound quality.

    With Spiderman 2 (from Sony), however, I do have to buy it twice.

    The Spiderman 2 disc is a perfect example of Sony deliberately holding back on the quality of the transfer. Consider the rationale behind Superbit. Sony claims that by keeping the disc devoid of extraneous extras, this frees up disc space to maximize the picture quality and to add a DTS soundtrack.

    The standard non-Superbit version of Spiderman 2 is a two disc set with all of the extras on Disc 2, so with Disc 1 we've got what Sony claim we need to maximize quality, namely an extras-free disc. Why then do they not give us, for example, a DTS option on the disc? Worse still, why, with all that available disc space, do they give us such a relatively low bitrate transfer that it results in one of the worst transfers ever of a major motion picture from a major studio?

    There is no reason whatsoever why the available capacity of Disc 1 could not have been utilized to give us the best quality sound and vision possible. Oh wait - there is. They wanted us to pay again for the privilege when they released the Superbit edition.

    After reading this...
    ...and this...
    ...I thought I'd do a little test.

    I took three standard release, non-superbit, Sony/Columbia releases and compared them to 3 releases from other companies. From the Sony camp I selected:

    Black Hawk Down
    Spiderman
    Spiderman 2


    All three are 2 disc sets with the extras confined to the second disc.

    For the other three I chose:

    Star Trek: First Contact (Paramount)
    Paul Simon: You're the One - Live in Paris (Warner)
    Moulin Rouge (Fox)

    Bitrates of the three Sony titles were constantly in the 5-6 Mbps range with the odd peak around 7Mbps.

    The other three titles averaged high 8-9Mbps bitrates, with all three discs frequently hitting 10Mbps.

    Leaving bitrates aside and relying purely on the old peepers, the three Sony titles were of noticeably poorer picture quality, particularly Spiderman 2 and Black Hawk Down. However the other three titles were positively eye-popping in comparison with superb levels of detail and resolution.

    In addition to superior picture quality, all three had the choice of DD and DTS soundtracks (and PCM Stereo on the Paul Simon disc). Not only that but in addition to the aforementioned audio options, the Star Trek disc had a choice of two different commentary tracks and an option for an on screen pop-up text based info feature, while Moulin Rouge managed audio commentaries and an interactive behind-the-scenes feature.

    None of these three discs claim (or try to imply) any kind of technical superiority to any other DVDs, nor do they claim a title like Superbit, Megabit or Ultrabit or any such nonsense. They are quite simply called DVDs.

    So if these companies can give us such superb quality transfers, DD and DTS options as well as a range of additional extras, why couldn't the three, extras-free Sony discs even manage a decent quality picture, let alone a DTS option?

    Simple - they didn't want to give us that. If you want a decent picture in addition to your bonus features, you've got to buy again when the Superbit comes out.

    How large does the writing have to be guys? :rolleyes:
     
  25. shaithis

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    I personally don't watch extra very often at all.

    I also like the choice of DTS soundtracks.

    So for me, I only need to buy the Superbit version (if its available) and I am sure there are many like me who feel the same.

    Yeah, Sony are probably pulling one over - but WHO ISN'T? How many times do the people complaining about Superbit titles doubledip? (even on non-Sony discs)

    ALL the companies are doing it, just Sony do it via Superbit instead of "Super-duper Special Collectors Edition with Added Boswollocks"
     
  26. BAN5HEE

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    Well until Superbit dies away I will continue buying it. I don't watch extra's I want a DTS soundtrack and good pic quality. By all means do I understand its a con and frankly I don't care. It's like SACD or DVD-A. You could say you cant hear a noticable diff between the two or their sound while others again say its an ear\eye opening experience. Once again , I don't care. I buy what I think and my ears think is best. Not someone elses. I personally can't wait for the Spiderman 2 superbit version.
     
  27. the_pauley

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    True, but we tend to double-dip for extra features or extended versions of the movie. We tend not to have to double dip purely for decent PQ, except with Sony titles.
     
  28. magicmushrooms

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    I agree that Columbia/Sony should provide the highest quality DVD on every release and in fact in that way their Superbit DVDs can be a con. However, if Columbia/Sony release the film that I want on DVD, I want the best AV possible. Sure I would prefer to have a second disc full of extras as well as the same high quality of Superbit like other companies release but because you can't when the occasion arises I'll buy Superbit editions. I have to admit to not buying that many Superbit DVDs are primarily because there are not that many to choose from.

    I would say that I would boycott Superbits but I haven't purchased a new region 2 Superbit in well over a year, anyway like I said above that is mainly because of the lack of choice!
     
  29. magicmushrooms

    magicmushrooms
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    .....I should add that Fox tend to rip-off people, Alien versus predator for example, by releasing a single DVD edition then several months later a double disc edition, followed by an uncut unrated edition (that the studio claimed didn't exist prior to the original release) six months or so after the 2 disc edition.
     
  30. Seth Gecko

    Seth Gecko
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    Personally speaking, I think to a degree this is a mountain out of a molehill situation - while I understand where the_pauley is coming from, the fact is that I can't recall a Superbit being released since Spiderman 2 a year ago. Yes I bought both on day of release, because, as stated I wanted the extras and the DTS/Better PQ. I personally think, outside of Japan, Superbit is a dying breed (OK Closer was Superbit, but there wasn't another edition available). No I didn't like it, but neither did I like buying Alien Quadrilogy either, or a version of Tomb Raider from Japan for the DTS.

    Having said that - I picked up 2 years or so ago a copy of Resident Evil in Norway - non superbit, with DTS track and all the extras. Now - isn't this even worse that there's fluctuations in R2 (European) titles and not always Sony/Columbia-Tri Star? No wonder people import eh......

    Fact is, we're going to get continually stiffed with double dips from a variety of companies - from Alien box becoming Alien Quadrilogy to Back to the Future being re-issued again, which in some way is worse that Sony and their Superbits. We already know that Fox are re-issuing the Star Wars boxset this year without the 4th bonus disk - why? There's a market there, plain and simple. I don't like it, but by avoiding titles or moaning about it, it's not going to change - but as I said, it really does appear that Superbit is a dying breed, which is why I said it feels like a mountain out of a mole hill.
     
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