Bonus Feature: The Corpse Bride – Deleted Scenes

While researching for my previous two-part article (Part 1, Part 2), I stumbled across something interesting that I hadn't encountered before. It ended up on the cutting room floor due to space, but I thought it was worth exploring further in this diverting little side topic. If you could just scooch over a bit closer and allow me to whisper conspiratorially in your ear: the MIL-CD enhanced audio disc might not have been the only special multimedia format that Sega invented especially for the Dreamcast - they may have also toyed with the idea of snubbing the DVD Consortium by producing their own proprietary digital video disc format for movies and films. Hush, stifle your gasp, they'll hear you.
N-n-no Mr. Bighead, I didn't tell them. Honest.
You may have noticed some logos during the start up sequence of many Dreamcast games for ADX and Sofdec. These are the CRI developed middleware tools for sound compression and multi-streaming video respectively. ADX allowed for CD quality audio to be compressed and encoded into the high-density GD-ROM layer (as opposed to standard 'red book' audio tracks). Sofdec was an enhanced version of the MPEG-1 video standard which not only encoded standard FMV cut-scenes into games, but was also tailored towards providing 3D game designers with access to some pretty swish graphical trickery. Video files could be rendered as textures over 3D objects and they could also utilise full alpha blending for effects such as explosions, fire and smoke. Multiple video files could be played synchronously or asynchronously and they could also be looped and stitched together seamlessly. All in all, Sofdec is probably a substantial reason as to why Dreamcast games looked so good (and have aged well like fine wines too). CRIWARE, as they are now known, continue to flog their wares to this day, proudly waving their flag in recent games like Bungie's Destiny.
Look familiar?
The seamless transition from one video file to another implies that FMV games or interactive movies were tailor-made to take advantage of the Sofdec toolkit, and that they could be made better and more dynamic than the old and much maligned Mega CD and 3DO titles of yore (better being a subjective term). These features were put to good use in games like D2 and other lesser known Japanese FMV titles like es and Dancing Blade. However, this leads us to an interesting hypothetical - what if we wanted to publish an interactive movie, but without the interactive bits?
See! Look how dynamic and interactive this scene is!
Possibly hidden away in the Dreamcast's Software Development Kit (SDK) is a reference to a propriety disc format known as DcVD – Dreamcast Video Disc. If someone who is more technically skilled and resourceful than I am can confirm this, I'd really appreciate it, as there is very little information about it online. Assuming that this is true, the idea was to encode movies or films using the custom Sofdec format and publish them on GD-ROMs, resulting in a brand new digital video standard for Dreamcast as an alternative to DVD. The following table compares the digital video formats of the time, and where the DcVD would've ranked in comparison, based on fairly typical NTSC settings.
As you can see, the DcVD compares very favourably against the CD based formats, and is just a stone's throw away from DVD quality. I don't know if the format may have even benefited from the Dreamcast's inherent filtering and anti-aliasing techniques to help smooth out the compression artefacts that are found in many first generation DVD releases. The only downside is the limited capacity of about 1 hour per disc. This could be overcome by using multiple or double sided discs (which was a common solution in the VCD and Laserdisc era) or by trading lower quality against higher capacity and reducing the bit rate and/or resolution to squeeze a typical 2 hour-ish movie onto one disc. These 'Compressed' Dreamcast Video Discs would be known as CDcVDs (try and say that acronym 5 times fast!).
This is an extreme example of a very poorly encoded DVD, highlighting the
pixelisation artefacts.
So far, I have to yet to find a single movie commercially released on Dreamcast Video Disc, which is hardly surprising. It's laughably unlikely that Sega would've convinced any film studios or publishers to support the format's rather specific and limited market share (although not inconceivable). Most likely it was merely intended to be used for demo discs and non-interactive gameplay videos. One example might have been the non-playable, 'White Label' demo disc of Half Life – I don't have a copy myself, so I'm not sure whether it was a DcVD or not. Another piece of weird Dreamcast paraphernalia that I do actually have is this credit card sized demo disc that featured non-playable video demos with a navigation menu, although in this case the format seems to be designated 'DC&WinCE' on the security ring.
A mini GD-ROM in 'DC&WinCE' format. This is the closest I could find to a DcVD.
In any case, I can't even find any official announcement about the format, or in fact any acknowledgement of its existence by either Sega or CRI. Most references to the format online look a bit questionable and amateurish. I even emailed an inquiry to CRIWARE, to see if they could shed some light, but they haven't responded yet. So, with all cards on the table, this could all just be completely unfounded rumour and speculation, with no actual basis in reality - but it feels like it could be true (investigative journalism at its finest).
Colbert Approved!
Sega would flirt with the idea of providing DVD playback to Dreamcast owners at some stage in its projected lifespan, although it was never really clear whether this would be achieved through a Mega CD style add-on, or just a new replacement model. At the 2000 E3 trade show, Sega displayed a Dreamcast branded DVD player as proof of the concept, although it was later revealed to be a non-functioning shell, and this is probably as far as the idea ever went. Sega of Europe bundled new Dreamcasts with a multi-region DVD player in the lead up to the 2000 Christmas season in a valiant effort to stem the tide against the rampaging PS2 juggernaut. With this in mind, there probably wasn't a lot of faith in the DcVD format, if indeed it was ever even considered as a viable option.
Would this monstrosity have made a difference to the Dreamcast's (mis)fortunes?
Industrious hacker OVERRiDE would pull apart the Dreamcast SDK to make these ADX and Sofdec tools accessible to us mere mortals, and crafted some software for making self-booting movies using the hacked MIL-CD format. The imaginatively titled 'Dreamcast Movie Creator' is still kicking about online, although it only works in Windows 98 (or XP in 98 compatibility mode). At the maximum bit rate of 3.2Mbit/s, a 700MB CD could hold up to 38 minutes of near DVD quality video (with 480p progressive scan available via VGA output). To squeeze a 2 hour movie onto one disc, the recommended settings were 352x288p with an average variable bit rate of 0.66Mbit/s. I'm in the process of building a souped-up Win98 machine, so I'll be sure to give this a go once I get a chance.
Where did you want to go yesterday?
Nowadays, there are a number of unofficial software packages and some dubious Chinese hardware available to playback VCDs or CD-Rs loaded with videos encoded in modern codecs such as DivX, Xvid, MPEG4, and AVI. Ultimately, this is all a bit of a useless frivolity, as we have plenty of devices today that can playback movies without resorting to our humble Dreamcasts. However, there's something romantic about the idea of the DcVD though, using the Dreamcast's native architecture and SDK to create a video format that was on par with the unfairly expensive to license DVD. In some wacky alternative universe, we'd be thumbing our noses at the PS2s inferior artefact-riddled DVD library while we all basked in the glory of our Sega-licensed, gold standard, pixelisation-proof DcVD movie collection.
Haha! You backed the wrong pony, sucker!
I have half a mind to do a kickstarter to bring the DcVD format to life, using OVERRiDE's self-booting MIL-CD method and getting them pressed professionally instead of burnt to CD-R, just to show that it could have been done and that the concept was sound. There are a number of public domain films out there that could be used, most of which are in black and white, so with optimum bit rate settings they might even compress favourably to fit onto one CD. Some suggested favourites below:
Three top-rated public domain movies, and Robocop, because Robocop is awesome.
What do you guys think? Worth considering?


CD ageS said...

No. I just want my little white box to do what I originally intended to use it for and that was simply to play video games. Interesting article nonetheless.

doceggfan said...

On balance, this is probably the correct answer. :) Cheers.

blatz42 said...

I'm incredibly curious. I would love to see at least more information on the topic.

doceggfan said...

Yeah, I'll let you know if CRIWARE ever gets back to me to confirm or deny.

If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that OVERRiDE's movie creator may have been mistaken for being related to something official. The wording on the wikipedia page implies that is was an official sega proprietary format, but I think that might be a mistake, and it was only ever used for bootleg CD-Rs.

Happy to be proven wrong, and it's an interesting hypothetical regardless.

Mongroovy said...

As always, interesting article.

Lorfarius said...

Robocop? Get it sorted!

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Unknown said...

It wouldn't totally surprise me to find out that if dcvd is even real that it wasn't intended to be a serious contender to the dvd format but something for non playable demos and fmv cut scenes to take advantage of . However if it was intended to be a something that was to compete with the dvd formt then its just another example of sega's innovative ahead of its time thinking and another reason sega needs to jump back in the console market as soon as the 9th of gaming starts

noiseredux said...

"I have half a mind to do a kickstarter to bring the DcVD format to life, using OVERRiDE's self-booting MIL-CD method and getting them pressed professionally instead of burnt to CD-R, just to show that it could have been done and that the concept was sound. There are a number of public domain films out there that could be used, most of which are in black and white, so with optimum bit rate settings they might even compress favourably to fit onto one CD."

^Please do this. Seriously.

Mooglamachuck said...

I actually have some movies for the Dreamcast, one of which is The Ring, and it comes on 2 GD-Roms. I have no idea how it works, it just does. Never actually watched it all the way through to compare the quality but I may have to try it now!

Savlon said...

I found this quite interesting. My interest in DC has come up again (like my interests in everything, they come and go and come back again at high frequency) and I was dreaming about how it could have been saved, and one of the things I thought of was films on GD-ROM (to combat DVD). Of course all of this is useless now, but alternate history fantasies I have found are a significant part of the Dreamcast experience at least for me.

A DVD accessory needed to play certain games would only reduce customers' faith in the longevity of the products they are buying (and the other Mega CD problems like having to buy loads of gear), and if you didn't release many games that required it, then you would just have the chicken and egg problem where few people buy the accessory and then few games are made for it because of that and so even fewer people buy the accessory, though maybe i suppose it could draw people to the Dreamcast with just the knowledge that they could get it if they ever needed it even if they never do. And of course, if it only plays DVD films, then it is pointless and may as well be a standalone DVD player (I have no idea how the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drives are as common as they are), unless it features special zooming and smooth rewinding functions like the nuon, or lets you look at extra content that you are meant to use a PC to access and stuff like that, though I don't know how many people care about that (probably only existing DC owners would bother). I think probably the only viable solution to DVD on Dreamcast is to just include it in new units or maybe jsut a higher end model for those that want it, that just has DVD playback as an extra built in function like the PS2, but all games are still released on GD-ROM so existing user base is supported, consumers aren't so scared of obsolescence and people who don't need it can buy the cheaper model. The lack of DVD games would be invisible and irrelevant to the average consumer. Most DC games even fit on a CD. Shenmues and soul caliburs are just exceptions. Only problem is that the DVD model would probably be more expensive than the PS2 because of the DVD format royalty that Sony probably didn't have to worry about (the reason why the Xbox can't even play DVDs without the special dongle containing the software even though the hardware is perfectly capbale - to avoid the royalty on the console itself).

Savlon said...

Continued because I didn't realise there was a character limit at first and didn't want to rewrite:

So, now I'm done with that worthless paragraph I can get onto VGD, as I would have calld it, or DCVD as it apparently was more likely to be called. I never would have imagined that it may have been a thing that they might have considered. The first advantage is over VCD which is obvious: almost double the space with GD-ROM. You could compensate against DVD space by having double sided discs and maybe 2 discs per film (as with Laserdisc and VCD as said in the article, and as said in the article directly, also the first thing I thoguht of). This probably sounds a bit vague but a standard just for DC would allow use of much more processing power for more complex compression algortihms that would be too much for the VCD and DVD standards to demand as every player would have to be like a Nuon. So maybe you could compensate for the missing space with less space than 2 double sided GDs. Of course, if the Dreamcast was designed with video playback as a feature to begin with, it would have built in support for playback of ordinary VCDS (unless they wanted a walled garden for films) and it probably would have also played DVDs to begin with, though maybe that could have been omitted for cost I suppose. The main draw of the DCVD would be that it could be made without the machine being designed explicitly for it. Because it's just for Dreamcast, nothing else, it would just be a software GD that plays a film. The DC doesn't need to be already programmed with any video playback stuff. And of course newer films can include newer improved playback software. It is not like DVD or VCD where it has to be played by loads of non-standardardised hardware and software.

Maybe my thoughts about the idea also surfaced from hearing tidbits about it in the past? Maybe from some YouTube video or maybe this is just not my first time reading this article?

I would like to point out, though it is not particularly relevant, that the early JDM PS2s also need special software booted from a memory card that you buy in order to play DVDs, though that is different to needing an entirely separate drive and more like the Xbox dongle (maybe for the same reason - maybe Sony was affected by the royalty but just decided it was worth it after some experimentation without it?).

Savlon said...

continued again:

But it is also worth remembering that UMD video is a thing that exists and was relatively successful (compared with HD-DVD), and is only compatible with PSP. That, even though only PSP uses it, is even recognised as a video rather than software and the GUI even has it in the video section. I suppose it was probably intended to be used by other products as well, hence "universal", though that probably just means that the disc can have anything stored on it, thought that isn't really much different to DVD and CD. But UMD also had the draw of being portable, which I suppose GVD/DCVD wouldn't, though it could potentially draw with lower price and maybe lower hardware price too.

Nice article by the way! Maybe one day we will have someone producing proper GD-Rs and GD burners, and pressing GDs too!. And of course an affordable Dreamcast ahrdware clone. It is probably in a better position than all of the other systems from the same time to have one made. There already an open source version of the Sh2, with SH2a and SH4 on the way according to wikipedia (look up J cores if you don't already know about it), though it has said the same for quite a few years. Patents have expired. I don't know how easy it would be to copy the CLX2 and if patents are still renewed for it - i doubt it - its not like an old film or game, its just obsolete technology. Probably no patents are held for N64 but I don't know how close any part of that is to being re-implemented in hardware. sounds like their SH4 implementation might not be 100% compatible with the original, just good enoguh for new software designed for it specifically, so might need a bit of extra development to work in a DC clone. The Yamaha SISP would probably have to be emulated by something new, I don't know. ARM7 is still popular today so I'm sure all the patents are renewed when they need to be.