“Is Blu-ray an Inferior Format to DVD?”
David Chen of /Film asks this question in a follow up to a controversial piece written by former New York Times design director, Khoi Vinh. The short answer is, of course, no, the format itself is not inferior. Not by a long shot. But the user experience is, in many cases. And just about everyone from the hardware manufacturers to the Hollywood studios are to blame.
Amongst his many observations about the Blu-ray experience, Vinh describes his frustrations with firmware updates and all-around issues with speed:
Both Vinh and Chen continue, describing such a level of dissatisfaction with their Blu-ray players and the media they’ve purchased/rented since investing in the format that they’ve found their hardware languishing, their disc collections sitting upon the shelf, unwatched and unloved. For them, Blu-ray has effectively killed the casual joy of putting on a movie, sitting back and enjoying the entertainment. This is a sentiment I hear time and again from friends and colleagues as they give away, sell and bin their disc collections in favour of streaming and downloading. (This image, posted in the comments section of Vinh’s post, sums up exactly why consumers often prefer alternatives to the optical disc experience.)
While the complaints and arguments are valid here and should be heeded by studio execs and hardware manufacturers (forced trailers suck, FBI warnings only punish those who’ve acquired their media by legal means, nobody really cares about network-connected bonus content, DVD/Blu-ray player owners aren’t engineers and can’t be bothered managing their hardware), there’s very little in either Vinh’s or Chen’s list of complaints that sets one format apart from the other. A menu-lite, ad-free Blu-ray like Robinson Crusoe on Mars from The Criterion Collection will load ten-times faster on my 3-year old Playstation 3 than a DVD copy of Fox‘s recent The A-Team does on my parent’s DVD player. My first DVD machine from 2001 won’t play certain discs beyond the layer change (my Criterion copy of Insomnia went only partially viewed for years.) There are still no firmware updates to fix incompatibility with that machine. Most, if not all points of dissatisfaction are hardware and software relative. Very rarely is one issue specific to a format.
The fact of the matter is that films look and sound so much better on Blu-ray. DVD can’t hold a candle to it. It simply can’t compete. The image on a Blu-ray disc offers more detail, truer colour and contrast than its standard-def progenitor, while the sound on a BD can finally be presented uncompressed, in a manner that isn’t chopping away at its fidelity. The further fancy features of the format – the network connectivity, BD-Live, Java-powered interactive features like games – are just bells and whistles that are quite often getting in the way. They don’t make Blu-ray inferior to DVD by any stretch of the imagination but studios need to recognize that in a lot of cases, their window dressing is getting in the way of the window. We consumers just want to see your movies. Don’t make it difficult to do so!
Despite my love for Blu-ray, I always recommend it to people with caveats in place. Taking the sentiments of Chen and Vinh into consideration, I would encourage anyone intent on investing in the format to choose their player wisely, if speed and ease of management are concerns (read: The Top 10 Reasons the PS3 is the Best Blu-ray Player). And if I could, I’d love to point out to Khoi Vinh that despite initial enthusiastic reviews from CNET, his Samsung BD-P3600 player has been consistently hammered by consumer reviews as a buggy, slow machine often not recommended for purchase. It’s not really fair to claim that a horse-drawn carriage is all-around better than a car just because you happened to buy a lemon from the lot.
I hate award shows. I was almost able to avoid the whole Academy Award fiasco last night. Sadly, I caught the opening few minutes of this years self-congratulatory Hollywood travesty, like a stray botox-bullet to the face. I’ll no doubt spend the rest of the week recovering.
I caught up on all the Oscar award winners afterward and I can’t say I was surprised or delighted by much of the news. I am happy to tell you though, that most of the films that took home a statue are either already available on Blu-ray or have been announced to be released on the format soon. Are you more apt to pick up any of the following titles, now that they are Academy Award winners?
AVATAR – ART DIRECTION, CINEMATOGRAPHY, VISUAL EFFECTS
Available now in 2D movie-only Blu-ray and DVD and 4-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray sometime in November (unofficial) from Fox.
THE BLIND SIDE – SANDRA BULLOCK – BEST ACTRESS
Available now from Warner.
THE COVE – DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Available on Blu-ray only in France and Germany with no domestic release pending from Lionsgate.
CRAZY HEART – JEFF BRIDGES – BEST ACTOR; ORIGINAL SONG – “THE WEARY KIND (Theme from Crazy Heart)”
Available now from Fox.
THE HURT LOCKER – DIRECTING; FILM EDITING; BEST PICTURE; SOUND EDITING; SOUND MIXING; ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Now available on Blu-ray from Summit.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS – CHRISTOPH WALTZ – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Now available on Blu-ray from Universal.
PRECIOUS – MO’NIQUE – BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS; ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Available now from Lionsgate.
EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS – BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM (Argentina)
Blu-ray announcement pending from Sony. Available in Spain now.
STAR TREK – MAKEUP
Now available on Blu-ray from Paramount.
UP – ANIMATED FEATURE; ORIGINAL SCORE
Now available on Blu-ray from Disney.
THE YOUNG VICTORIA – COSTUME DESIGN
Available now from Sony.
With thanks to Blu-ray.com.
“Missed it by that much!” – Maxwell Smart, Get Smart
Huh. Yeah. That new Apple iPad is full of potential. I really want to want one but it feels like it’s just missing the mark by a hair. And that hair is going to keep this writer from buying. At least for now.
I’m not going to run down all the details of the iPad. I’m sure you’ve read an article or watched a newscast that’s covered the tablet in-depth. If not, watch Apple’s overview video above. That should do the trick.
You see? It’s not a smart-phone and it’s not a laptop. Apple claims it’s a whole new category of device. I get that. And I think the devices it’s directly competing with are the Amazon Kindle (a dedicated book reader) and the netbook (crippled, mini-laptops). But the iPad doesn’t offer the easy-on-the-eyes ePaper screen of the Kindle, making eye-strain a probable issue when reading ebooks. And it doesn’t have the ability to multi-task or the extensibility of a mini-laptop. The iPad only has one port and it’s not standard. If you want to plug anything into it, you’ll need a handful of adapters.
So, it’s not the best eBook reader and it’s not the best mobile workstation. At the end of the day, it just comes across as a big iPod Touch or iPhone, right?! Another window to consume media. Well, here’s where Apple missed the boat. They focused on functions that we see everyday on our phones, and functions that other, cheaper devices do better. They spent their keynote speech demonstrating the devices ability to read text and create spreadsheets. They should have shown us new things. Things that this device can do better than anything on the market. Like comic books. Like magazines. Any two-bit e-reader can handle text. There isn’t anything on the market at the moment that can allow a comic or magazine as printed to resonate with a reader in digital form. The iPad can do that. It can display full, large coloured pages as they were designed. As they were meant to be read. And I’m certain it will, through applications like ComicZeal, Comixology and iVerse.
But more exciting to me is the potential for this device to become something new in my home. Like, for instance, to become my media controller. I can envision myself sitting on the couch, leaning back with my iPad, scrolling through all my music, movies, TV, books, comics, magazines. The access is all there in my hands. But I imagine some of this content living on my Macbook Pro hard drive, on an external HD networked through my Airport Extreme or on another dedicated media device like Apple TV or PS3. I should be able to find a movie, no matter where it’s living in my house and click play on my iPad. And when I want to share it with others in the room, the iPad should be able to move the film to my 40″ LCD display, whether through a media centre like the Apple TV or directly through a wireless DLNA connection. All of these things are possible with the hardware built in to the iPad.
When I say that the iPad misses the mark, it’s really in relation to our expectations of the product. We were hoping for something revolutionary and transformative but were shown more of the same. Only bigger. In hardware terms, it fails to make the grade by not including a more universal port (like USB) and a webcam to video chat. I’m not sad that it doesn’t include a Blu-ray drive. I think it’s ridiculous to expect a thin, handheld device to contain a spinning optical drive. I got over carrying my discman around with me about fifteen years ago.
In terms of the software, the sky is the limit. Anything is possible. So, to my mind Apple really missed out on impressing its consumers and critics by failing to provide an example of the potential of the product, leaving it up to application developers to dream of new directions for the product. It could be so much more if Apple will only allow it to be. If they have the vision to take it there.
Will I buy an iPad this year? I’m still undecided. Do I hope it succeeds? Absolutely. I look forward to owning an iPad that proves itself to be more than my iPhone. And more comfortable on my lap and in my hands than my Macbook Pro. And if it manages to somehow become interoperable with my Blu-ray player so much the better!
In most cases, when a machine is capable of performing a great variety of tasks, it rarely has the ability to do any one thing particularly well. That’s not the case with Sony‘s Playstation 3. It can do a whole mess of things and amazingly manages to do most of them as well as any competitor. On top of being a technological jack-of-all-trades, the PS3 is the best Blu-ray player on the market. Here are ten reasons why:
10. FAST, ACCURATE, STABLE BLU-RAY DISC PLAYBACK: From the get-go the PS3 was heralded as an amazing Blu-ray player, capable of the fastest load-time of any machine on the market and the ability to playback any type of Blu-ray disc (single-layer, dual-layer, discs with complex BD-Java content, etc.) Several years on, it’s still up near the front of the pack due to the powerful Cell processor at its core and constant firmware updates that assure it stays up-to-date. And just to make sure all its playback-bases are covered, the PS3 is one hell of an up-converting DVD player!
9. BLU-RAY PROFILE 2.0 AND BEYOND: There are still a lot of early profile Blu-ray players on the market. They’re the ones being sold off for low, sub-$100 prices at the moment. And they’re probably great for playing back your favourite Blu-ray films. But players with modern firmware, called Profile 2.0 are capable of so much more, like Bonus view picture-in-picture, BD-Live networking and more! I bought my PS3 long before Profile 2.0 was upon us, comfortable in the knowledge that it was the only player available that could be upgraded when the time came. I am just as confident now that the PS3 can handle anything the future throws at it. Like the ability to playback future 3-D films on Blu-ray (see #4 on the list!)
8. HIGH-DEF VIDEO GAMES ON BLU-RAY: This is a no-brainer. The Playstation name is synonymous with video games. And though the PS3 can do so much more, it is, at its core, a video-game platform. It possesses the ability to deliver cutting edge graphics, sound and gameplay stored on Blu-ray discs and crunched through the uber-powerful Cell processor. And with studios finally becoming more comfortable with programming for the intricacies of the system, the PS3 is exploding with incredible, inventive and graphically sumptuous titles like Uncharted 2, God of War 3 and the amazing Little Big Planet. Oh and don’t forget, you get to play them all online over the free Sony Network!
7. FULLY UPGRADEABLE AND CUSTOMIZABLE: Sick of using your PS3 controller to manipulate the on-screen keyboard? Grab that old PC keyboard you’ve got laying around and plug it in. Voila! Instant PS3 keyboard. What’s that you say? You want to video chat with your pals? Likewise, plug in any-old PC compatible web-cam and you’re in business. The PS3 is not only user friendly, it’s customer friendly. Sony has learned from their mistakes of the past and no longer forces you to buy system-locked hardware to make the most of your machines. In fact, they almost encourage you to upgrade the PS3 hard-drive storage yourself by making it easily accessible and compatible with any 2.5-inch SATA notebook hard disk. Turn that 80GB system into a 500GB system in no time!
6. PSN STORE: Download movies, TV, music, games and more through Sony’s PSN store. With a constantly upgraded line-up of new content, you’ll be sorely tempted to forego watching your latest Blu-ray for the instant pleasures of the PSN download. Keep in mind, these shows don’t look anywhere near as good as the content on a Blu-ray but the convenience is incredible. And, let’s face it, there aren’t many people who’ll pay $40 for The Proposal on Blu-ray but a few dollars to watch a download of it is within the realms of acceptability! Sadly, the store experience differs by region with the USA having the most robust selection.
Continued on Page 2
The Blu-Con 2.0 Presidents Panel included (L-R) moderator Jessica Reif Cohen, Mike Dunn of Fox, Ron Sanders of Warner, Craig Kornblau of Universal and David Bishop of Sony Pictures. Photo: Home Media Magazine
(NOTE: This article was written yesterday, Nov. 4th, 2009. The Blu-ray Blog suffered some downtime offsetting its publishing by one day.)
I really wish I could have attended Blu-Con 2.0 yesterday but I’m playing in a new band and we’ve got a big show tonight. Rushing back to Montreal from Los Angeles this morning would have left me a bit exhausted for our performance tonight so I decided to skip out on Blu-Con this year in the hope that the conference would receive ample coverage from other outlets (I’m really looking forward to Bill Hunt‘s update on the Con on his site The Digitial Bits. He should have it posted later today!) So far, I’ve read a bunch of reports from Home Media Mag, Video Business and The Hollywood Reporter. Nothing too exciting or informative but I’ve got a few comments and suggestions to add to what’s been written, so let’s just dive into my round-up of articles that are out there so far:
Home Media Mag: Best Buy Exec: Portability Blu-ray’s Biggest Obstacle
I’ve got a beef with Mike, (His company, Best Buy owns Future Shop here in Canada. They are liars.) so I’m going to hold my tongue here. But lack of portability is an issue. It impacts me directly. I think it stinks that I can’t get an Apple laptop/notebook computer with a Blu-ray drive in it. Lame!
Home Media Mag: Studios Say Economy Accounts for Majority of Industry Trouble
You know why your industry is in trouble? Because everybody is aware of the price of an optical disc now (I know, Blu-ray discs are more expensive and nobody takes production, marketing and distribution costs into account. But I’ll tell you what – nobody cares. The perceived value is more important to the consumer.) It’s tough for consumers to validate spending the suggested retail price of $44.99 for a rom-com like The Proposal when they can rent it for a couple of bucks or download a rip for free. You guys have got to price media more competitively! And the double-dipping has got to stop! I have so many friends who won’t pick up a title they want because they’re afraid there’s going to be a better, more complete version the following year. Your short-sighted need for cash is killing your consumer’s desire to consume!
In terms of selling Blu-ray, it’s quality that matters. And quality restorations! I can’t tell you how many people I know who have been sold on Blu-ray by experiencing CBS/Paramount‘s dazzling transfers of the old Star Trek series or MGM‘s incredible Dr. No disc. More evidence comes in the new restoration of Wizard of Oz selling out at retail! Warner can’t keep the stores in stock! Don’t just count on the newest, flashiest Transformers film to sell the format. Spend the money on your catalogue films. Restore and remaster for HD. Sheesh. Excuse me while I take a break to watch my North By Northwest Blu-ray disc, newly restored by Warner (Keep up the great work guys!)
Home Media Mag: Scorsese: Blu-ray Is Incredible
“Celebrated filmmaker Martin Scorsese has emerged as one of Blu-ray Disc’s biggest cheerleaders, praising the high-definition format for faithfully recreating the theatrical experience better than any of its predecessors, including DVD. … The director of such films as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed also applauded Blu-ray Disc’s superior audio capabilities, including the option of including the original mono or “crude stereo” soundtracks along with the enhanced sound choices. … Scorsese added that the clarity of Blu-ray allows classic movies to look new and crisp again, making them a lot more palatable to younger audiences.”
I dunno. Scorsese? I mean, his movies are amazing but he wouldn’t have been my first choice to speak about Blu-ray. But I get it. Big name, Hollywood director brings more heat to the Con. The crowd will love it. Press will love it. Me? From the coverage I’ve read so far, I think the keynote was a gimmick. It sounds like Scorsese has a genuine love for the format but, outside of raving about the how great Blu-ray can look and sound, I’m not sure he had a whole lot to add.
The Hollywood Reporter: Martin Scorsese talks up Blu-ray
“Meanwhile, Sony senior vp restoration and mastering Grover Crisp said Scorsese’s infectious enthusiasm for Blu-ray seems has been a boon for Sony and others working on disc remastering and special features.
“It has been great because he has also gotten other directors like Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan involved as well,” Crisp said.”
Okay. I stand corrected. Scorsese did have something to add. I guess he’s roping in other directors to the Blu-ray passion. That’s all right by me! It would’ve been nice if he’d spoken about extending the format beyond the presentation of film on Blu-ray. How about his take on what Blu-ray can do for special features? Or its connectivity – allowing fans direct access to filmmakers/studios? Or where he sees this format existing in a world quickly being overtaken by comparatively poorer quality, streaming or downloadable options? Or how about this…
High Def Disc News: Ultra-High Definition Television Coming as Early as 2017
Uhhh…okay. So, we’re already on to the next format. Guess nobody was really talking about this at Blu-Con, huh?
Further coverage of Blu-con:
Variety: Bullish on Blu-Ray: Confab predicts format’s bright future
Video Business: Scorsese a fan of Blu-ray
Video Business: Streaming content popular Blu-ray player feature
Look, this isn’t really news. Not to any of us who’ve been grabbing up every Criterion Blu-ray for the last year, anyway. But Home Media Magazine has just published a nice, lengthy piece on the glory of Black and White film presentations on Blu-ray disc. When they’re done right, there’s nothing better!
There are a lot of great quotes in the article from the likes of restoration expert, Robert A. Harris to disc producer, Van Ling. Lee Kline, technical director for Criterion gets in on the action stating,
He pointed to the July Blu-ray release of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion as a great example.
“Once you look at Blu-ray, you can’t imagine watching the DVDs of these films ever again,” he said.
The piece gets a little bit more technical, addressing the need for film grain and quality of dynamic range in b&w. Really interesting stuff! Head on over and check out the article. It’s certainly worth a read.
Previously on The Blu-ray Blog: