Monday, January 3, 2011

Is Blu-Ray Worth It? My Cynicism Converted to Obsession.

Well, it finally happened, after all my hatin' and denials and bold bluster on the matter; I got a Blu-Ray player.

When Blu-Ray was initially announced, I read the specs and articles about the new format war; HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray; and thought, "Oh, God, again? Didn't we just go through all of this with VHS vs DVD?" Every article arguing the merits of HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray also read like a thinly veiled obituary for the DVD format, to which I thought, "Ok, seriously, how much better could it be?"

When I got my first DVD player, during my second or third year of college, I was initially skeptical over whether DVD was even worth it, though I was more influenced by price point and the daunting task of having to replace my collection (I collect... EVERYTHING. It's part of why I have stopped playing video game, because it's just another thing for me to collect. I have very little impulse control and a collector mentality; these things do not mix well) of VHS movies on DVD than the technical aspects; it wasn't hard to convince me that DVD was indeed better, with it's digital picture, no longer vulnerable to wear and tear or cel-dirt, the ability to skip ahead or backward faster rather than awkwardly rewinding you tapes, and the inclusion of supplemental features such as making of featurettes and audio commentary tracks (I LOVE commentary tracks... when done right. Some people, like Robert Rodriguez, Guillermo Del Toro, or Kevin Smith know how to do commentary right, others not so much).

DVD was an easy sell, because it was inarguably better. They took up less room, looked better, and had added entertainment value to round out your entertainment experience; in short VHS just couldn't compete. The jump from VHS to DVD was a drastic step forward in terms of entertainment value. But DVD to HD-DVD or Blu-Ray? I just didn't see how they could significantly improve on what was already pretty much perfect.

In the end, HD-DVD was quickly subdued and then dismissed, much like the Beta-Deck from the long gone Beta/VHS wars of the first home video format wars of decades past, and Blu-Ray proved triumphant; but DVD still lingered. Once again, price point played a factor in creating a bias in me against Blu-Ray; it felt like I had only just made the jump to DVD, and invested a lot of time and money hunting for the best value on DVD (one of my favorite past times is hitting used CD/DVD stores looking for bargains, and I had gotten quite good at it), and now was expected to jump on yet ANOTHER new technology?

It had taken almost 20 years for DVD to slay the VHS dragon, but in less than a decade yet another new technology and format had come to replace DVD, and both the hardware and the discs were quite significantly more expensive. Not only that, but what did Blu-Ray actually offer, as a stop up from DVD? Slightly better picture quality? A questionable increase in supplemental content? I was skeptical.

Driving my skepticism further was what I'd seen of Blu-Ray on display in various electronic boutiques; I didn't like what I saw. Yes the picture was clearer, but something about it didn't look right to me. Blu-Ray seemed to expose all the imperfections of a film as much as enhance it; foreground elements looked separated from the background elements, like they had been matted in badly against a badly painted backdrop. Movement looked awkward and unnatural; things seemed to move to fast. The slightest jerk of the camera seemed grossly exaggerated and nausea inducing. This was especially pronounced in 3D-Animated movies, which looked like ham handed claymation to my discerning eyes.

"I don't like it," I told myself, "And I don't need it."

And that was the position I took for the past few years; much to the frustration of my media-buddy Jerry, who was one of the first converts. We'd argue back and forth, both siting the pros and cons as we saw them, trying to convince the other that his position was wrong, and finally agreeing to disagree, neither able to convert the other, and both too pig headed to concede the others point.

Until this Christmas that is.

I suppose you can actually owe my decision to get a Blu-Ray player to SCOTT PILGRIM; a movie that I already knew I'd want to get, but upon seeing how much more desirable the supplemental material that would grace the Blu-Ray release was, and having a hook-up from my good friend Kai Boysen, I bought the SCOTT PILGRIM Blu-Ray before even buying a Blu-Ray player. My reasoning was that I'd eventually have to get a Blu-Ray anyways, given that the studio's seemed to be working hard to phase DVD out of the market by making the DVD less desirable through the exclusion of certain features which are being made increasingly more exclusive to the Blu-Ray release; features such as commentary, or in the case of SCOTT PILGRIM, the coveted ADULT SWIM animated special.

With all that in mind, I decided that this would be the year to jump on; provided I could get a good enough boxing day deal. While prices have dropped, Blu-Ray players are still as overpriced as the actual Blu-Ray's, especially compared to the price point of their DVD predecessor. The average Blu-Ray, upon first release, is $29.99, as compared to the average $18.99-$19.99 DVD release; and sometimes even less than that, depending on the size of the movies Box Office. Admittedly, the best bang for your buck is to just buy a PS3, but I didn't have the money for that, and rumor has it that they are no longer backwards compatible with PS2 games; the only games I own.

The decision was taken out of my hand at any rate; my parents bought me one for Christmas; lovely people that they are, and tough son I am to shop for.

So, finally equipped with a Blu Ray player, and Boxing Day deals impending, I watched my first Blu Ray, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD... and it was... gorgeous.

Apparently, the reason why Blu-Ray's look so choppy and unnatural in stores is because Electronic Stores boost the frame rate on the display TV's up to showcase HD-Sports, which is filmed at a higher frame rate. This causes the picture to look awkward and unnaturally jerky. On my own home theater set-up, set to factory standards, I didn't have this problem.

The image was crisp and clear; the colors vibrant, the blacks deep, the detail sharp, the audio thunderous. Even the theater print didn't look as good as what was playing on my 46" Sony Bravia. I was... enraptured.

Now convinced of just how much better Blu-Ray looked as compared to DVD, I did other tests; how did DVD look on my Blu-Ray player? Depending on the source, DVD looks much better on the Blu-Ray player, which automatically up-converts the digital information to 1080p. If it's a crappy encode; it looks crappier on Blu-Ray; if it's a solid encode, it looks almost indistinguishable from a distance... the aliasing is only noticeable if you get close to your screen, or look at it from an extreme angle. Some movies look noticeably better on Blu-Ray as compared to it'd DVD counterpart... others not so much.

I, personally, have found that 3D animate films look infinitely better on Blu-Ray, especially the newer films, which are made with HD in mind, and animated films look infinitely crisper and more vibrant on Blu-Ray, though this also depends on their age; older films still suffer from cel-dirt that would require a massive digital enhancement process to get rid of.

I find that Blu-Ray only really serves a purpose for movies that are about visual spectacle; dramas and comedies aren't really shot with an eye for visual stimulation. Action movies, science fiction/fantasy, and special effects blockbusters, all benefit immensely from the improved picture and sound.

The only sticking point with me is the supplementals. While most newer Blu-Rays have more and better or at least exclusive supplemental content, a lot of the earlier releases had next to none; and in some cases the DVD release was actually better than the Blu-Ray (the first two SPIDER-MAN movies, the entire BLADE Trilogy, and the FIFTH ELEMENT, to name a few), which seems to pretty much defeat the purpose of converting to Blu-Ray if you can't even get rid of your bulky, outdated, DVD's.

So, throughout this Boxing Week, I've been making tough decisions on what DVD's are actually worth replacing on Blu-Ray. The fact that most of the Boxing Day sales were so insanely cheap this year made those decisions a little easier, but I could play that game aaaaaaaaaall day really, which is a dangerous thing to me. At this point, I've managed to replace the majority of my comic based movies (SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, BATMAN BEGINS and DARK KNIGHT, etc), and some of my favorite big franchise movies (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, MATRIX, RESIDENT EVIL, LORD OF THE RINGS, and UNDERWORLD), as well as some personal favorites (DARK CITY, DONNIE DARKO, DISTRICT 9, SHERLOCK HOLMES). But, like I said... I could play that game all day. My intent is try turn my focus, now,to new releases that I deem worthwhile to own on Blu-Ray (TRON LEGACY and TRUE GRIT for example; both gorgeous movies in their own, much different, ways).

So, in the end, is Blu-Ray better? Yes, but not significantly in a lot of cases. DVD still looks pretty good, and only newer Blu-Rays actually have better supplemental material. The other sticky wicket is that Blu-Rays are already set to be replaced by... well nothing; by which I mean, that physical media is already set to go the way of the Dinosaurs within the next few years at the very least as digital content is looming on the horizon, set to take it's place. Within less time than it took for Blu-Ray to replace DVD, digital media will replace Blu-Ray, and instead of filling bookcases with discs, you'll be filling hard drives or streaming media.

I suggest that if you don't own a PS3, you not just wait it out a few years and skip Blu-Ray all together. While Blu-Ray is definitely better than DVD, it will not last nearly as long before it is in turn replaced.

I'm hoping it'll be the last thing I have to collect. -_-

7 comments:

jrloafy said...

I win!

jazzlow said...

Extremely helpful input. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

I agree completely, still on DVD here and moving toward streaming content.

mahlerfan said...

This blog post is filled with misinformation.

"In the end, HD-DVD was quickly subdued and then dismissed, much like the Beta-Deck from the long gone Beta/VHS wars of the first home video format wars of decades past"

The beta-vhs format war was much longer and beta wasn't simply dismissed as was hd-dvd.

"It had taken almost 20 years for DVD to slay the VHS dragon"

Dvd was released in 1997 and took only a few years to beat VHS. It is one of the most successful adoption of a new product in electronics history.

"Movement looked awkward and unnatural; things seemed to move to fast. The slightest jerk of the camera seemed grossly exaggerated and nausea inducing."

You were actually responding to the motion interpolation the hdtvs were doing to the source, blu-rays themselves show 24 frames per second, the same as the film.

"given that the studio's seemed to be working hard to phase DVD out of the market by making the DVD less desirable through the exclusion of certain features which are being made increasingly more exclusive to the Blu-Ray release"

Not true, there are actually five releases these days: standard dvd, special edition dvd, standard blu-ray, rental blu-ray, rental dvd.

The special edition dvd and the standard blu-ray release have the special features. The rest do not. But that means that you can still find special features on dvd, you just have to pay more for the special edition (but still less than the blu-ray).

"Depending on the source, DVD looks much better on the Blu-Ray player, which automatically up-converts the digital information to 1080p."

Your hdtv does that too you know. It doesn't make the picture look better, it can't add information that wasn't there. It simply extrapolates the missing pixels to show on your tv.

"animated films look infinitely crisper and more vibrant on Blu-Ray, though this also depends on their age; older films still suffer from cel-dirt that would require a massive digital enhancement process to get rid of."

Film restoration is done to the actual print as well as finer clean up on a digital scan. If a movie is properly restored and remastered it can demonstrate sharpness, clarity, contrast and color not seen on home video before. For example the Wizard of Oz was scanned at a whopping 8k resolution (blu-ray is a little less than 2k) and is the first in a long, long time to restore the proper sepia tone (not black and white) in the parts of the movie in Kansas.

"Even the theater print didn't look as good as what was playing on my 46" Sony Bravia."

You probably haven't seen many movies on ultra definition digital projectors at the theater then. An hdtv set is good, but it's still not the best. Besides a good film copy on a great projector of a 35 mm film will show much more detail than a mere 1080p picture.

"which seems to pretty much defeat the purpose of converting to Blu-Ray if you can't even get rid of your bulky, outdated, DVD's."

Dvds are not bulky. Oh did you mean the cases? They are just slightly taller and slightly thicker than the blu-ray cases. You make them sound like laserdiscs!

"The other sticky wicket is that Blu-Rays are already set to be replaced by... well nothing; by which I mean, that physical media is already set to go the way of the Dinosaurs within the next few years"

Again not true. It will take more like 10-20 years for streaming to happen, and not a few years. And even then the physical formats will not go away. I know people that do not even have internet connections, and I know many people that have such poor internet connections that not only can they not stream anything, they can't even guarantee being able to get online and check their email.

I'm glad that you enjoy blu-ray, but you would have been better off sharing your experiences instead of half trying to write an article about things you only know in passing or not at all.

Anonymous said...

mahlerfan is my hero

haha

Anonymous said...

10-20 years for streaming? I've been streaming for several years already. I think I had two dvd rentals last year and maybe 3 dvd purchases. Streaming is here.

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