Harlock Space Pirate 3D + The Poor Man’s 3D Set-Up

April 2, 2016 | By


Posted today is a review of Harlock Space Pirate 3D / Space Captain Harlock / Kyaputen Hârokku (2013), the latest attempt to reboot the successful anime franchise based on the manga by Leiji Matsumoto.

Twilight Time released a great Blu-ray edition that sports the Japanese and International edits (the differences in running time amount to 4 minutes, plus language dub tracks), each in flat 2D and robust 3D.

I’ve reviewed the 3D Japanese edit using an unusual setup that works well when the issue of finding an affordable 3D TV setup is much more challenging.

If you’ve time for some subjective blather on 3D in the realm of home video, I’ve three sections below featuring 1) a brief chronicle of 3D on TV, disc, and tape; 2) what I call my Poor Man’s 3D set-up for those without funds to buy a new TV, new cables, new player, and new amp; and 3) some quirks that I found when using PowerDVD Ultra, including the Harlock disc.


1) 3D in the 80s: in cinemas, on TV, and on home video

The first attempts that I can recall in attempting to present 3D programming on a standard flat tube TV was in the 1980s, which seemed to follow the newfound renaissance of theatrical 3D films like Friday the 13th 3D (1982), Jaws 3D (1983), Amityville 3D (1983) and a wave of el cheapo productions like Parasite (1982), Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983), and Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983).

The few big-budget productions (well, ‘big’ being branded and goosed with perhaps slightly better studio funds) were The Man Who Wasn’t There (1983) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983).

3D TV came not in the format of new TV sets, but figuring out a way to present the red-cyan anaglyph films on the tube, and the results rarely worked because no one seemed to know what the heck they were doing.

Rhino Home Video released The Bubble (1966), a title I’ll soon cover in its restored 3D release from KINO, and Comin’ at Ya! (1981), another remastered title on my docket from MVD Visual. Rhino’s early 3D DVDs had  at best 2 or 3 moments where you’d remark ‘Oh yeah, that worked,’ but for the most part those wretched transfers yielded headache and eyestrain from trying to get a sense of 3D when it seemed the scanner used to record the film to videotape was set for one focal plain, resulting in hazy red-cyan images than anything remotely stereoscopic.

It just didn’t work.

TV broadcasts included a handful of 3 Stooges shorts that accompanied Gorilla at Large (1954) – reportedly in the works on Blu from Twilight Time – and The Mad Magician (1954), plus John Wayne’s Hondo (1953) which was restored a few years ago but still remains unavailable on home video.

The TV airings were sometimes tied to convenience store campaigns where you could swing by and get the glasses, and there were 3D videotape releases of some films, of which Canada’s own The Mask (1961) appeared as part of Elvira’s own brand of ‘Bad movies you’ll love’ series, derived from her successfully syndicated TV show.

Where home video advancements arguably made leaps was in the aborted home video format that remained exclusive to Japan and to a lesser degree the U.K.

Called VHD for Video High Density, the format was somewhat similar to RCA’s CED (Capacitance Electronic Disc) where a movie was encoded in a record-like groove, and the platter – smaller, at 25 cm or just under 10” – was housed in a tough plastic caddie. You inserted the ‘sleeved’ disc into the player, pulled it out, and the disc was left in the player, ready to be switched to Play.



VHD had several technical differences / advances over RCA’s CED system, and perhaps the most unique was the ability to offer both 2D and 3D versions of the same film on one disc.



The high-speed discs used an active shutter system that required special glasses, and one could toggle between both formats. The VHD tribute site offers a more specific, technical breakdown, and also makes note of 3D VHS tapes produced by “3D Magic Corporation” which adapted the VHD stereoscopic transfers for red-cyan anaglyph glasses.

These transfers were reportedly quite poor, and rips of the tapes were floating around the web for several years, allowing one to see kind-of 3D versions of Jaws 3D, Friday the 13th 3D, House of Wax (1953), and Dial M for Murder (1954). I’m not sure if this was part of the VHD package, but there also existed a 3D version of Inferno (1953), which was restored for Blu-ray by Britain’s Panamint Cinema a few years ago.

The aforementioned 3D films are a modest representation of films released on tape or disc in 3D in the 80s and 90s, and some were sourced by enterprising entrepreneurs for DVD editions sold on Ebay, with a few reportedly mastered from proper VHD discs.

Since the 90s, several 3D titles have popped up on disc, but most are indie productions, with few studio titles making the rounds, especially in North America. (Case in point in a loaded special edition of Amityville 3D released by Britain’s Sanctuary Entertainment, versus the flat bare bones edition of the film in the U.S. from MGM)

JTTCOTE_2008These transfers still mandate watching a film using anaglyph glasses, whether they’re red-cyan (Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over), green-cyan (2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth), or amber-blue (Queen Elizabeth in 3D), to cite a few.

The introduction of 3D flat-screen TV sets rode the wave of 3D’s resurgence in the 2000’s, but as happened in the 80s, the films were variable in quality, the sets expensive, glasses were costly and proprietary to specific manufacturers, and some titles that should’ve been widely available were part of a bullshit exclusive deal, like James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), being initially available only when purchasing a Panasonic 3D TV.

Gear requires a wide variety of media to ensure there’s shit to play on your new toy; bundling the top-grossing film of all-time with one manufacturer’s set is inane, especially for a period exceeding 6 months. All that happened is Avatar became the highest-selling disc on Ebay ($200-$400) rather than the best-selling 3D disc sold to anyone with any 3D set. It’s a classic example of studios looking for a quick cash revenue in what appears to be a savvy exclusive marketing ploy, but contributing to a format’s failure.

Cost and poor films ultimately contributed to 3D sets being rebranded ‘smart TVs,’ and at present very few sets offer a 3D option. Some higher-end 4K sets reportedly have 3D playback capabilities, but it doesn’t help when editorials make the claim based on industry mutterings that ‘3D television is dead.’

It’s a provocative headline that’s perhaps having fun with prior proclamations of the format’s demise, but the format is at best in stasis; studios and manufacturers may have written off a format treated (again) as a cash-in fad, with technology mothballed by manufacturers until Round 4 (after its debut in cinemas during the 50s, the 80s, and the 2000s).

So what’s a 3D fan to do when the TV sets and glasses are costly, far and few available in shops, and the need for a 4K set is absurd when one isn’t tied to 4K streaming broadcasts, a new player, and new 4K discs of films that still shine and go kaboom with extra oomph on Blu-ray?

Workarounds. Which is what this lengthy column’s about, although what follows works for my set-up, but may not necessarily work in the same fashion for others. Still, the main cost elements were a BR drive and software.


2) The Poor Man’s 3D Set-Up

Standard Blu-ray players will not play 3D content – if a disc contains 2D and 3D content, it’ll only allow the former, as only 3D players will playback 3D material. The ideal home set-up involves a 3D player, proper cables and amp and 3D ‘smart’ TV with proprietary glasses.

My workaround involves a LG Blu-ray burner with M-Disc capabilities (the thinking being it has the better architecture to handle higher levels of data, more recent firmware, and is less likely to become outmoded than a budget-line BR burner that’s already a few years old).

Windows 7 will recognize the drive, and standard software like Windows Media Player and VLC Media Player will have no problem playing back a DVD using a computer with an HDMI cable connected to a monitor (in my case, a LG 1080p model that’s a few years old).

However, because the BR format mandates a different licensing agreement, neither Media Player nor VLC will play Blu-rays – for that, you need someone else’s software. (VLC’s site says they have a Beta prototype that ‘streams’ BR content from the drive to the computer as a workaround, but it’s not wholly fluid, so I stayed away from something overly complicated. I want to drop the BR disc in the tray, close it, and be able to play a disc. Period.)

I did some research on a few boards as to a reliable software that will play BR’s and 3D content, and chose Cyberlink PowerDVD Ultra Version (15.0.2211.58). The software recognizes the drive, the monitor, and has no problem playing BR’s as well as 3D content, although without a proper 3D monitor, you get a flat image.

However, PowerDVD has an option to select different modes of 3D rendering, and in addition to 3D rendering of 2D content (which I’d never bother with), it will re-render 3D content as red-cyan anaglyph.

LifeOfPiI tested the BR’s of The Martian (2015) and segments of House of Wax and Life of Pi (2012), and it worked pretty well. It’s not razor sharp, brightly coloured 3D, but it’s pretty good with the colours being fairly stable.

The reds in Harlock were muted to amber, and that may be due to a variety of issues – Perhaps the type of 3D encoding? The software’s limitation with certain colours? – but the 3D separation did work, with at the worst the image being a little darker, colours less vibrant; details were otherwise neatly separated from the background.

So in a nutshell, it is possible to use a BR burner with 3D playback capabilities + PowerDVD Ultra (vers. 15) + and an old 1080p HD monitor to watch BR 3D, hence Harlock being the first of several roughly monthly 3D reviews at KQEK.com.


3) Audio Quirks: No Audio, and Why All the Reverb?

HOWEVER, one (obvious) caveat: PowerDVD still respects the region coding of your drive, so don’t change it as you’re limited to 5 before the last change becomes permanent (or you could buy another burner for a secondary region that’s oft-used).

HarlockSpacePirate3D_BRALSO: a weirdity occurred with the Harlock Blu-ray that’s never happened with another title. This may be due to a discontinuity between PowerDVD and Window’s sound settings within Control Panel on my machine, but if you start Harlock and discover no audio coming from your 5.1 set-up, this may help.

Go to the ‘gears’ Player Settings icon (bottom far right of PowerDVD’s icon menu), and click on Video,Audio,Subtitles section (left side menu). Then under Audio (right side), look for Output and “More Audio Settings”. Click on “More Audio Settings” and under Output Mode, if it says “No Effect” (or in some cases “PCM Encoded by PowerDVD”) in the drop-down menu, select TrueTheater Surround, and bang, you’ve got 5.1

Now when I did this, ANOTHER weirdity occurred when playing a different BR: I couldn’t switch back to hearing audio through headphones using the monitor’s mini jack. You may have to reboot, but try this first: go back into that audio menu, and select “No Effect.” Also make sure your audio settings in the Control Panel are as they should be.

My set-up may be a bit more unique, but I flip between Speakers for 5.1 reproduction, and my monitor model for the HDMI to monitor and mini audio out for headphones output. These settings reside within Control Panel / Hardware and Sound /Sound panel.

ONE LAST DETAIL: If you hear reverb or an echo when playing back a stereo or especially a mono soundtrack within PowerDVD, go to Video Enhancements (it’s the “eye” icon on the far left at the bottom of PowerDVD’s settings icons). In the TrueTheatre” menu, uncheck “Audio” or if you want to retain some reverb, keep it checked and move the slider bar between 0 and 100, with 0 offering no reverb (identical to the unchecked setting) and 100 adding heaving reverb and boosting the volume dynamics.

LAST POINT: each of these quirks – no audio, reverb – are unique to PowerDVD, so whatever settings you apply within won’t (er, shouldn’t) affect the usual stuff you play in Media Player and VLC.

That said, if you encounter no audio from the speakers or via the monitor / mini audio out jack when attempting to switch back to your main audio settings after a Harlock-type disc, reboot, and recheck your settings. It’s clearly not a good idea to keep shifting settings, but Harlock was the only title so far that mandated activating PowerDVD’s TrueTheater audio option.

Coming next: a review of Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion, and a brief chronology of the movie guidebooks which prospered during the heyday of the home video boom, written by experts, historians, and eccentrics.

And in the works: a review of Twilight Time’s really lovely Blu-ray edition of Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), a really taut procedural noir released in tandem with TT’s expanded reissue of Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953), now sporting a commentary track and sundries.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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