Vitamin C - More Audio CD Review

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This review was originally written on May 5, 2005
Great Music, Outdated & Crippled Enhanced CD Portion

Vitamin C's "More" was originally released in 2000 by Elektra Entertainment Group (a division of Warner Music Group). "The Itch" music video on the CD-ROM portion of the disc ("Enhanced CD") is crippled using HyperCD technology. (HyperCD is the brand name for a way of removing a small slice of meta-data from a digital file such that the file is made unreadable. This process is called "encrippling." Only when the "encrippled" file on a computer is linked with the piece of meta-data on a web site can the user view the content.) Unfortunately, the video will NEVER be playable because the website was taken down a long time ago.

HyperCD technology absolutely sucks and would have given me a good reason NOT to buy anymore CDs had the technology not already gone the way of the Dodo.

Let's see, where should I begin...

1. Running HYPERCD.EXE from the main/root directory of the CD installs files to C:\HYPERCD and puts an icon on my desktop without telling me it's doing this, and for no real reason anyway. This is the first instance of my hatred for HyperCD technology. Spyware does this kind of behavior. (I'll let it slide that this menu exe doesn't contain any real content, and is really pointless to have anyway.)

2. "The Itch" music video is located on the CD here: \content\Vc01.hlk. However the "content" directory is set to be hidden by Windows. There's no reason to hide the file like that. People who bought the CD don't have to be treated like pirates, though that's the basic premise for HyperCD technology when used in a manner like this.

3. The HyperCD browser plugin installer is located on the CD here: \SETUP\SETUP.EXE. However, the program runs in an endless loop on my computer. When it starts to run the second time, I quit it.

4. The plugin gets installed for IE (C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\PLUGINS\nphcd32.dll), but not for Mozilla. I had to manually copy/move the plugin to my Mozilla plugins directory. (The installer gives no indication of what the plugin is named or how many files it installs. The HyperCD.com website gave me the file name.)

5. Since I had to manually quit the install program, this of course means that my default browser (Mozilla - which the plugin was not automatically installed to) won't be launched, and I won't be taken to the site through which I can view the video. Thankfully, I found the URL of the website in this file \SETUP\HCDSETUP.INI on the CD. The website is: http://elektra.broadbridge.net/vitamin_c_001/index.html

6. If I try to go to that site, I get a "server not found" error message as that server, much less that page, was taken down long ago. This is why the internet should not be relied upon to provide exclusive content for a physical item. For example, the Jurassic Park DVDs gave you an exclusive "weblink" to online content on the making of the then in-production Jurassic Park 3. Needless to say, that "bonus feature" is non-existent now. Of course, that case is drastically different from this one. In the case of any CD using HyperCD technology, the content actually exists in the CD itself, but is crippled unless viewed from within an online webpage. It's one thing to have a link to content that can't be viewed, it's quite another to have the content itself but not be able to view/hear it.

7. Using the Internet Archive, I was able to get a copy of the files on that page: index.html, all images, and MOST IMPORTANTLY VitaminC_Vc01.hlq (which contains the missing portion of the video file already on the CD itself). Unfortunately, VitaminC_Vc01.hlq is set to *only* work if it's on the original web server (elektra.broadbridge.net). So even having an archived copy on another website or on my own computer won't work (Mozilla reports: "Error in server identifiers(008)").

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Thanks to HyperCD technology, it looks like I'm going to be forced to buy the DVD for the movie "Get Over It!" which contains "The Itch" music video as a bonus feature. I shouldn't be forced to buy an additional product, at a cost of $10 more, for something that was advertised as a "bonus feature" of a product I already bought. That is just plain wrong!

By the way, the other content on the Enhanced CD are outdated copies of Java Environment (JRE13I), Netscape 6 (N6SETUP, N6UNINST, SETUP), Real Player 8 (NSRP8), Direct-X 6 (\SETUP\ DXM6PTCH, DXMEDIA), Spinner internet radio service (\SETUP\INSTALL SPINNER FREE), WinAmp music player - with Vitamin C skin (SETUP\INSTALL WINAMP FREE), ICQ Plus 2.05 instant messenger (SETUP\IPLUS205), and AOL 5 (\SETUP\AOL\).

Vitamin C - Vitamin C Audio CD Review

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This review was originally written on May 5, 2005
Two Minor Cuts, But Overall Very Enjoyable

Since Vitamin C's "Vitamin C" CD has been reviewed to death on Amazon (143 reviews as of this writing), I'll just make this short and simple, only adding what little information I can.

Two of the songs have minor cuts at the end.

Track 6 - "Do What You Want To Do" - cuts off at the end as the next track starts.

Track 10 - About Last Night" - end of song fades into track 11 "Fear of Flying."

There's a bonus song which isn't listed in the track listing on the back of the CD case. However, if you buy the CD factory-sealed, there should be an orange sticker on the front with white and yellow-orange text which reads: "Includes the anthem for all friends, for all times Graduation [Friends Forever] and the hits Me, Myself And I and Smile. Bonus Features! Graduation [Friends Forever] (The Student Interview Mix); video and interview footage for your CD-Rom (Enhanced CD)."

So, Track 13 is "Graduation [Friends Forever] (The Student Interview Mix)" (that's the official title).

The Enhanced CD video and interview footage mentioned on the label is for "Smile," though there is one brief clip of Vitamin C singing "Graduation" in a studio with the choir.

Rugrats Holiday Classics Audio CD Review

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This review was originally written on May 5, 2005
I Hate When Great Singers Are Forced To Sing Horribly

I like cartoons and I like novelty albums. Since I also like the Rugrats, I thought I would love Rugrats Holiday Classics. Boy was I wrong.

The background music isn't holiday music, but some lame hip-hop/dance beats that sound like they came from a Casio keyboard or a samples CD ("Tommy's Silent Night" is the only exception).

Some of the songs have religious themes which shouldn't be there. For example, "Toys For The Girls" degenerates from a toy song to a religious song. All of the songs should be about things babies and kids would think about around holiday time, but sung to the melodies of the classic holiday songs. If I wanted to hear the songs with religious themes, I'd listen to an album of the original versions.

Most of the songs have choruses that repeat too often. Although I like the Rugrats voices, listening to them repeat the same dumb verses to the same annoying music several times within a few minutes time, and repeat that twelve times, is too much for me to bear.

BEST SONGS - "Twelve Days of Rugrats" and "Rugrats Chanukah" (honorable mention goes to "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" because I love how Cree performs it as a sort-of rap).

WORST SONG - "Tommy's Silent Night" (hand down winner). You have Tommy singing in baby-speak about baby Jesus backed by the nice traditional "Silent Night" music, which makes this sounds offensive and sacrilegious. To add insult to injury, E.G. Daily is forced to sing off-key in character as Tommy. I know that she can sing this song beautifully if give the original lyrics and the opportunity.

If you want a great Rugrats music CD, get The Rugrats Movie soundtrack (and possibly the Rugrats In Paris soundtrack - I haven't heard it myself). STAY FAR AWAY FROM THIS ONE!

You can listen to two of the full tracks on Spook Central.

More Sun Splashin' Audio CD Review

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This review was originally written on May 5, 2005
Great Collection Of Songs, Too Bad Half Of Them Are Cut Off

First, the track list for the More Sun Splashin' audio CD.

1.  3:45  The Heat Is On -- Glenn Frey
2.  3:24  Listen To The Music -- The Doobie Brothers
3.  2:43  California Girls -- David Lee Roth
4.  2:53  La Bamba -- Los Lobos
5.  2:30  Groovin' -- The Rascals
6.  3:38  Follow Your Daughter Home -- The Guess Who
7.  4:00  Wild, Wild West -- The Escape Club
8.  2:34  The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) -- Harpers Bizarre
9.  2:38  Summer In The City -- The Lovin' Spoonful
10.  4:10  Freeway Of Love -- Aretha Franklin
11.  4:41  The Tide Is High -- Blondie
12.  3:48  Electric Avenue -- Eddy Grant
13.  3:13  Wonderful World, Beautiful People -- Jimmy Cliff
14.  3:37  Good Vibrations -- The Beach Boys
15.  3:15  Sugar Magnolia -- Grateful Dead
16.  4:03  Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) -- C&C Music Factory
(total time - 54:52)

Sadly, eight of the sixteen songs are cut off at end. These songs are tracks 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, and 15. I know this isn't limited to just my copy because I actually bought a second copy of the album and heard it on that one too. The first Sun Splashin' album wasn't like this (all songs were complete). It's really sad because this is a great collection of songs.

Britney Spears - Greatest Hits: My Prerogative DVD Review

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This review was originally written on May 4, 2005
Great Idea Ruined By Poor Menu Design & Non-Standard Bonuses

It's great to finally have all of Britney's videos on one DVD. One video is different from a previously released version. "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman" contains different film clips and some different shots than the version on the "Crossroads" DVD. This means that there are, at least, two different versions of this music video. Also the movie clips on this disc's version are squeezed (they were not anamorphically unsqueezed).

Some have complained about not having a 5.1 audio track. Since most (if not all) of the videos were originally created with a stereo audio track, I'm quite happy with what is on the DVD. Better they leave well enough alone, then use the studio recordings of the songs to make a 5.1 mix, and thus ruin the videos by leaving out sound effects and the such (like Sony did on the Billy Joel: The Essential Video Collection DVD).

However, that's not to say that they didn't mess up this DVD in other areas. The menu design has got to be the worst I have ever seen on any DVD. It's very confusing and hard to navigate. No explanation is ever given as to what the key, dice, and clock icons do. Key gives you a rather unhelpful menu explanation, and dice and clock give you a random video (as far as I can tell). Moving the highlight around is more of a chore than it needs to be. You press Up, only to be taken to the left. You press Left, only to be taken up. It's very illogical. To make matters worse, if you linger for more than a few seconds on any menu screen, it changes to another screen, thus losing you your place.

Who's idea was it to present all of the videos in reverse chronological order instead of forward chronological order? I'd rather see the evolution of Britney instead of the devolution. Would it have been that difficult to present an option to view them in either order?

The enhanced "alternate" videos are a great idea in theory, but they would have worked better as standard bonus features. Some can be confusing with prompts placed way too late (prompts are supposed to tell you to switch angles or audio tracks or to press Enter on your remote) and no clear indication of what the "enhanced features" of each video are (sometimes you're left wondering what the heck it is you're watching). The only one, to me, that truly works is "My Prerogative" (the camcorder clips), though that's dampened by the advertising of Sony's Cyber-Shot camera (including branding the website address on the screen).

In case you need more information before you buy, here's a list of what the "alternate" videos contain.

My Prerogative
* ENTER when prompted on film to view it.
* ENTER, LEFT, RIGHT on camcorder to view clips. DOWN to go back to video.

Outrageous
* NON-INTERACTIVE - Unused footage, dance sequence.

Everytime
* ANGLE 1 - Regular video, ENTER when prompted on paparazzi
* ANGLE 2 - Britney sings to camera

Toxic
[video is of Britney clad only is jewels with lyrics places over her "bare" breasts]
* AUDIO 1 - Instrumental
* AUDIO 2 - Regular Song

I'm A Slave 4 U
[ignore all ENTER prompts as they just switch angles or audio]
* AUDIO 1 - Acapella (vocals only)
* AUDIO 2 - Regular Song
* ANGLE 1 - Britney close-up in front of green screen.
* ANGLE 2 - Regular video, then one long uncut master shot.
* ANGLE 3 - Regular video with one clapboard shot.

Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know
* NON-INTERACTIVE - Outtakes from this and other videos edited together, instrumental audio.

Stronger
* NON-INTERACTIVE - Outtakes plus one home video clip, instrumental audio with occassional vocals.

* Oops!...I Did It Again
NON-INTERACTIVE - One long uncut master shot.

(You Drive Me) Crazy
* NON-INTERACTIVE - Double video and audio, left video plays in left audio channel, right video plays in right audio channel, plus outtakes.

...Baby One More Time
[ignore ENTER-UNCUT prompt too]
* ANGLE 1 - Regular Video (with some outtakes?)
* ANGLE 2 - Uncut Master Shots, ENTER-ONE MORE TIME prompt takes you to the hallway uncut master shot.

There are two hidden features (easter eggs) in the "alternate" videos, which I personally found.

-- My Prerogative (Alternate Version): After you press ENTER at the film projector prompt to see the film footage, press ENTER again *while* viewing the film footage to see black & white footage of Britney singing the song while rolling around in the bed (Title 59). There is no ENTER prompt on screen during the film footage, so this singing in bed footage is hidden.

-- Oops!...I Did It Again (Alternate Version): Press ENTER at the start of the video to go to outtakes from the video (Title 88 & 89). There is no ENTER prompt on screen, so the Outtakes are hidden. (There is an Enter prompt on the Outtakes which takes you back to the alternate version.

All of the videos, both regular and alternate, have fantastic video and audio quality, as you would expect from DVD. I did notice that the "Baby One More Time" audio is a bit lower than all the others. I also noticed two defects, which appear in several different DVD players.

-- Me Against The Music (Title 7 & 26) - At 3:16 as Madonna is on the swing singing "Just work your body and let it go," there is one frame of a man within the shot. This frame is a still from the "From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart" video (Title 18 & 37 at 4:02).

-- Crazy (Title 20 & 39) - At 3:10 is a minor freeze or jitter as Britney puts her hand on her head on the lyric "But it feels alright."

Finally, the 160 minutes run time listed on back seems incorrect. Even with all of the bonus features, I don't think it totals 2 hrs 40 mins. I'm very glad to have all of Britney's videos on one DVD, I just wish they did a better job overall.