Blu-Rays Make Me Blue

Posted Saturday, May 19, 2012, 11:34 AM

Early last year my TV ran out of steam. It was on its last legs for quite a while, but a few kludgey fixes via my technologically minded friend Adam, and a couple of judiciously placed bangs to the case seemed to fix it, until one day nothing I did worked anymore and it was consigned to the forever after. At that point I had no job and even less money, so I just had no TV for what turned out to be around 8 months, and I watched all my TV online instead. I don't actually watch that much free-to-air TV locally anyway, I download it all. It may or may not be legal, but they get more real money from my DVD purchases than they ever got from my watching an ad. Plus my watching does not affect ratings measurements, so whatever. In the end, no TV wasn't too much of a loss.

Eventually I got a new job, which is still going very well, thanks for asking, and could afford a new TV, which I purchased late in 2011; as this time it was an HD set I figured the least I should do to take advantage of that is buy a BluRay player; there certainly isn't any HD content to speak of on TV, which is ridiculous, so this is the only way to see HD in all its glory.

I made a decision pretty early on that I would buy most new movies as BluRays, unless there was no advantage from them, such as a comedy or romance, something without interesting visuals. And I would purchase only a few of my existing catalogue in BluRay, movies that I love and watch repeatedly. For the most part I have kept to that, especially when they're at affordable prices.

But it wasn't long before I began to suspect that BluRay wasn't all that special. I had always had doubts that higher resolution was all that much of an improvement over DVD, but now I saw that I was right. There is an increased sharpness, no compression artefacts, better range of gradient colours (no banding), and some extra detail in shadows, but in the overall scheme of things those are very minor improvements, and in some cases even those don't apply - the DVD copies are plenty fine. BluRay players and HDTVs both "upscale" a DVD, the higher spec components improving the image quality.

So I have made a second decision, and that is BluRay is only worth it if it's on sale. Otherwise I'll most likely get the DVD every time. If it wasn't for the fact that some BluRays have better Extra Features (a conspiracy they've implemented to encourage BluRay purchase) I wouldn't even hesitate. And these days I'm getting a bit bored with Extras as they are usually three minute sound-bite patronising self-congratulatory crap in fast cut edits. Ugh.

When they created the BluRay standard, it was competing directly with HD-DVD, a system that arguably would've had better features, but eventually capitulated under pressure from Studio support going to their competitor. I think BluRay rushed their development, and missed a lot of useful features that could've made the system robust and future-proofed. Instead they concentrated only on slightly more dynamic interactive menus and stupid interfering crap.

Here are a few things wrong with BluRays:
  1. When one starts, it asks for a language setting. That should be a default setting in the player, so the disc automatically plays in the language of choice, instead of just sitting there waiting for input.
  2. Many BluRay discs have copy protection, which slows down startup to sometimes as much as five or six minutes of pissing about. I don't know what it's actually doing, but it's the most annoying crap ever. Plus copy protection is a waste of time, it doesn't stop the Pirates and only inconveniences the legitimate buyer. Just stop it, already.
  3. Trailers are still sometimes unskippable. Fuck that.
  4. There should be a way for the player to detect the current date, and change the trailers to adjust their "Only In Theatres" to "Now Available On Disc" after six months.
  5. After the second time you've played the disc, the trailers don't need to play automatically anymore. Or those stupid disclaimers. Or any of the other crap that clutters up startup of a disc. We've seen them already, no need to subject us to them forever.
  6. BluRays have 25GB of space on the disc, single layer. A Dual-Layer disc has 50GB. You could store two entire seasons of a TV show each made up of 22 x 42m episodes, in 720p HD, and yet the box-sets come on as much as five discs per season. It's bullshit designed to make it seem like you're getting what you're paying for, but it's just an absurd hassle to be forced to get up and swap discs all day.
  7. BD-LIVE is a joke. You need an absurdly good internet connection for downloading, which I do not, and a home theatre system that works in tandem reliably, which is an almost impossible task, and in the end all you get out of it is nothing anybody could possibly find entertaining.
Here are a few things worth getting BluRays for:
  1. The image is prettier.
  2. The menus are easier to use, though they are a little bit confusing occasionally.
  3. If you want 3D, this is the only format that can do it. But 3D is a fool's errand.
  4. Apparently the sound is better. I am not very good with audio so I can't tell.
  5. That's about it.
Here are some good things about my new home theatre arrangement, though.

HDMI, which is the cable connections between an HDTV and the BluRay player, via the AV Receiver as the main unit, makes for interactivity between all the devices. I can turn the TV on and my AV Receiver will turn on and switch to the optimum settings I've preset. I turn on the BluRay player, and the AV and TV turn on. Same when I turn one off. At first I had bought a universal remote to do all that, but turns out I didn't need to, and in fact it was more annoying than just swapping remotes anyway. Plus I can adjust things like channels and audio on one remote because of how HDMI works.

I download a lot of TV, and they come in two formats. It used to be only AVI, compressed in DivX, but recently they've added MP4, compressed in H264, which makes for smaller file sizes, faster downloads, and better quality image. However, there's a problem. The only way to reliably watch the AVIs on my TV is to save them to a USB stick and watch them through my BluRay player. Whereas the only way to watch the MP4s is to connect my TV directly into the Network. Any other method for each causes glitches. This is because of the brand of my devices, in this case Panasonic. Other brands do things slightly differently.

I admit these are 21st Century Problems. I live in a future arguably better than projected by science fiction. My ability to watch any TV shows from around the world, any movies only a short few months after cinema release, under my personal control, is an incredible situation that if I could've imagined it when I was a kid would have blown my mind to smithereens. But really it is a shame that a few missteps make the whole thing that much more irritating than it needs to be.

1 Reasoned Responses:

Louisa Hemstreet said...

I, too, just added a BluRay player to my home theatre system, but I find that I don’t want to get rid of my DVD player just yet, mainly for the same reasons you’ve stated here. Definitely, the picture is much better on the BluRay HD, but it’s only worth it when it’s a big epic movie, or 3D cartoons. Those are the best movies to appreciate the true power of BluRay HD. I’ve got “Thor” on loop on my BluRay because the Asgard scenery is just that much more amazing in HD, but the DVD version isn’t bad either. I’m also a little bitter that most movies put more special features and behind-the-scenes stuff in the BluRay versions than in the DVD versions, since I’m interested in all the stuff that goes into making these awesome movies.

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