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Blu-Ray

Posted on Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Dave!For better or worse, I'm an early adopter.

I love tech gadgetry, and have always put myself on the bleeding edge of new technology... from computers, phones, and cameras, to stereos, media players, and video games. I am always seeking out the newest of the new to play with. Sometimes I get burned (MiniDisc Music Player, Apple QuickTake Camera, Panasonic Recordable DVD Player, to name a few) but overall I've been happy with my decision to be first out of the gate (and so are my friends and family, because they get the "old" equipment it replaces).

I was one of the first people in Washington State to own a DVD player. It was one of seven Sony reference players sold in Seattle, and cost just under $2000 once I got everything I needed. Sure that's a lot of money, but when a friend and I were invited to a technology demo of DVD in early 1997, I simply could not resist. The quality was such a huge leap over VHS tape that a total movie whore like myself was compelled to purchase it. As it turns out, this was money well-spent. My Sony DVP-S7000 player has been in service for almost 11 years now, surpassing the PIECE OF SHIT Panasonic Recordable DVD Player I bought a while back which never once managed to record a single DVD, despite two trips to the repair shop (which is why I will never buy from Panasonic again). I still curse director Kevin Smith for that mistake, because it was his advertisements that led me to buy Panasonic.

Buying into DVD was an easy decision. It was superior to anything else out there (including my LaserDisc player... also an early adopter purchase), and was clearly the future of the home theater experience. I wasn't the least bit worried about investing in the technology, because all the major manufacturers and studios endorsed it. This was probably one of the safest bets I had ever made.

Buying into Blu-Ray was not an easy decision. Mostly because manufacturers and studios are split between endorsing Blu-Ray and a competing format, HD-DVD. Choose wrong, and it's the Betamax vs. VHS tape format war all over again... and somebody is going to lose. That time, it was Sony's Beta that lost, so jumping onto their Blu-Ray format was not a sure bet. So I waited.

But soon it became clear that there wasn't going to be an early victory in the format war. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD were both surviving at a near-equal pace. This was going to be a long, very stupid, drawn-out battle, and if I didn't choose a side I would be waiting quite a while. So a few weeks ago I decided on Blu-Ray, because that's where Disney-Pixar was at. I wanted to buy their brilliant new film Ratatouille in Hi-Def, and you couldn't get it on HD-DVD. So I ordered a Samsung BD-P1400 player at $369 (which has subsequently dropped at many vendors to $339 because of Black Friday).

The player itself is good, but not great. The biggest problem was that the BD-P1400 did not come with an actual hi-def cable! So right out of the box, I couldn't see the Blu-Ray movies I bought in the way they were meant to be seen. This brought up the nightmare of cable-shopping, because they are SO FREAKIN' EXPENSIVE! The cheapest HDMI cable I could find locally was $79! Fortunately, the good people at Optimized Cable Company had what I wanted at $19.95 (quick shipping...highly recommend). A few days later, and I was in business.

PROS...
The picture and sound are incredible. The clarity and detail in the picture has to be seen to be believed. This all came to light when I watched Terminator 2. At first, I thought the picture was just a little better. But then I played the same movie on "regular" DVD and started switching between the two. The difference was astounding. Tiny details like hair and other small elements were noticeably blurrier when I dropped out of Blu-Ray. Since I can't do a screen capture of Blu-Ray (yet), I decided to simulate what a very small Terminator looks like when extracted from a scene and blown up. It's something like this...

Bluraycompare
Simulated DVD Enlargement on the left, simulated Blu-Ray enlargement on the right.

Of course, the quality of the picture is wholly dependent on the source material. My Blu-Ray movie of Superman II, The Richard Donner Cut is an older film with noticeable softness and grain. Blu-Ray actually seems to make this more noticeable, because it presents such flaws so clearly. On the other hand, for movies like Ratatouille, which was a 100% digital conversion, there are -zero- flaws, and the picture quality is jaw-dropping spectacular.

CONS...
For reasons that totally escape me, Blu-Ray movies takes FOREVER to start up. Unlike a DVD player where you drop in the disc and can start watching immediately, Blu-Ray has a lot of waiting. At first I thought it was my Samsung BD-1400 that was to blame, but a quick check in online forums shows that this is a common problem in all hi-def players. This is really frustrating, and difficult to comprehend. Three steps forward in quality, one step backwards in convenience. Other than excessive waits for menus and such, the only other quality problem I've noted is occasional stuttering in some movies. It's very quick, so it's not too distracting, but can be irritating. Hopefully a future firmware upgrade will help solve this. But the biggest con? Some hi-def titles are not available on Blu-Ray, the studio having chosen to go the HD-DVD route. This includes many favorites (like the remastered Star Trek: The Original Series) and is kind of a bummer. Not wanting to buy a new film on the older format when not available for Blu-Ray, I've decided to rent them on Netflix until a Blu-Ray version is (hopefully) released. I suppose I could buy a second HD-DVD player (or a new combi-player) but really don't want to divide my media like that.

The worst part of switching from DVD to Blu-Ray is my existing library of now-antiquated DVD movies, because it's not like I am going to run out and re-buy my entire collection again. Fortunately, the BD-1400 has "upconverter" technology which makes my old DVDs look pretty darn good, so this is not much of an issue for me. I'll re-buy some of my favorites, and absolutely buy new titles in Blu-Ray... but the bulk of my collection with remain in "regular" DVD.

In the end, I am happy to recommend Blu-Ray over DVD. I am not, however, ready to recommend Blu-Ray over HD-DVD. The quality is reported to be about the same, so it's a personal choice as to which road to take. Many people might want to wait for the "combi-players" to come out so they can play either... but if you want to go with a single HD format, the choice will have to be made as to which has more movies and studio support that you're interested in.

Am I happy with my decision? Sure.

Am I confident I backed the right Hi-Def format? I have no idea.

In the meanwhile, I'll be enjoying the stunning quality and terrific sound that Blu-Ray offers. Movies at home have never looked better.


Categories: Movies 2007Click To It: Permalink
   

Comments

  1. Kyra says:

    I’m just waiting the battle out. I’d like to say I’m an early adopter, but I’m not when it involves a lot of risk as movies will be to us since we’re total movie-freaks. It’s hard resisting though, I have seen both blue ray and HDdvd playing on an HD screen and been amazed at the quality.

    Have you played a Hurley blue ray yet? ;)

  2. Dave2 says:

    But that’s my point… I waited a year and there was no win for either format. They are both performing nearly identical. So if my option was to wait for an eventual victory that could take years, I’d be stuck investing in the older “regular” DVD format for my collection… and I’m just not going to do that. Anything I buy from here on out is going to be in high-def or I’m not going to buy it. I’ll just rent until it’s available in the better quality format. I honestly feel that anything less is a waste of money.

  3. kapgar says:

    You had a DVD player for 20 years or is that a typo?

    I’m still not going to make the leap over simply due to the war. I refused to do it with DVD until its war with DivX was over. Oh well. The tech companies are shooting themselves in the foot by not deciding and the U.S. government’s demand for competition in the marketplace is adding to this battle and it pisses me off. Let’s decide already.

  4. Dave2 says:

    Oops! I’m thinking I bought it in in March of 1997… so that’s actually closer to 11 years (I can’t add!). I’m pretty sure that it was the first commercial DVD player available. And, since it is a reference player, it has features and quality that is superior to anything you can buy today, which is kind of ironic. And even though I now play DVDs in my Blu-Ray player because of its upscaling technology, I’m still hanging on to the Sony just in case my Sansung up and dies on me like my Panasonic P.O.S. did.

    It’s your choice not to make a choice, of course. But by continuing to invest in the older “regular” DVD format for your purchases and missing out on the superior quality of HD that’s available now, it’s you who is suffering… not the tech companies or studios. :-(

  5. Avitable says:

    I think I read somewhere that Betamax actually had superior quality than VHS, but the studios were sold on VHS.

    I’m holding out until there’s a winner. I think it’s going to be HD-DVD and for only one reason – the name. People are going to react more favorably to that name – it sounds simpler to use and less complicated to set up.

  6. Dave2 says:

    Entirely possible. But you have to also consider content. A parent wanting to buy Disney cartoons for their kids won’t find those movies available on HD-DVD… they’re only available on Blu-Ray for the time being. In their mind, Blu-Ray is already the winner, because what they want is only available in that format.

    But, as I said, you’ve probably got a very long wait on your hands until an ultimate victor is decided. In the meanwhile, making a decision now at least gets you a 50% chance of investing in the future, whereas holding out and buying current “old” DVD stuff for your library gives you a 0% chance of coming out ahead.

    Ultimately, whichever format “loses” is still going to be supported for backwards compatibility, the same way that “regular” DVD is supported now… there just won’t be any new material released in that format. So regardless of who wins the war, there’s going to be enough of the “other stuff” out there that it will be supported in players.

    Until, of course, everything hi-def is delivered and distributed digitally. Then none of it will matter anymore. In fact, I have a feeling that digital is going to be the REAL winner, and BOTH Blu-Ray and HD-DVD will go the way of 8-track! :-)

  7. Hilly says:

    do you know if hd-dvd has that same sort of converter available for our old movies?

    i’ve really been torn on what to buy next, especially since netflix keeps adding more blu-ray movies when originally it seemed like more hd-dvd. i wish i had balls like yours to make the decision but uh….my balls seem to be in the shop.

  8. ajooja says:

    Ooooooooooo, we have another rare difference between us. I almost always wait for technology to flesh out before jumping on the bandwagon. I’m almost never on the cutting edge.

    BTW, I’ve heard that some of the porn companies have embraced HD-DVD over Blu-Ray, but I’m out of the loop on that one these days. It’s just hearsay.

    Back in the day, of course, Beta was supposedly better than DVD. However, once the porn industry embraced DVD, Beta was toast.

    I’ve heard a theory lately that neither format will “win.” Supposedly,a third format will show up to the sound of trumpets and glittery, flashing lights.

    But, like I said, I’m not on the cutting edge. :)

  9. Dave2 says:

    Hilly…

    I think that most of the hi-def players contain upconverting technology to make older DVDs look great, whether they be Blu-Ray or HD-DVD. It would seem it’s not that much extra cost to add it once the HD circuitry is already in place? I dunno. Be sure to take a look at the specs for any player you buy though to be sure! And can’t you rip the balls off some poor unsuspecting bastard on the California interstate? :-)

  10. Dave2 says:

    Ajooja…

    Ooooooooooo, we have another rare difference between us. I almost always wait for technology to flesh out before jumping on the bandwagon. I’m almost never on the cutting edge.

    You’re probably smart that way. I’m single with no kids, so my priorities with my money are usually different than most people. :-) Yet, as I said, continuing to invest in “old” DVD technology is probably not a smart move… it has 0% chance of winning the war, whereas Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are split 50/50.

    BTW, I’ve heard that some of the porn companies have embraced HD-DVD over Blu-Ray, but I’m out of the loop on that one these days. It’s just hearsay.

    I don’t think it’s hearsay, I think it’s pretty much fact at this point… the porn industry went with HD-DVD because the cost was far less money to re-tool their DVD manufacturing equipment for HD-DVD than to start from scratch with Blu-Ray.

    However, porn’s most rapid growth comes from digital distribution. Apparently people feel much more comfortable with the relative anonymity that comes from logging on to a porn site for product as opposed to having physical product shipped to them. In this respect, porn is once again leading the industry as a whole.

    Back in the day, of course, Beta was supposedly better than VHS. However, once the porn industry embraced VHS, Beta was toast.

    This is a very, very good point! The future of video has long since been driven by the porn industry.

    Many people forget the interim format between tape and DVDs though… LaserDisc. It was somewhat successful in that most all home video releases were available for it. I still maintain my LD collection because I have some stuff on it that’s not available on DVD.

    I’ve heard a theory lately that neither format will “win.” Supposedly,a third format will show up to the sound of trumpets and glittery, flashing lights.

    Yes, that would be digital distribution. It’s where everything is headed, as much as the movie studios and record labels wished otherwise. For physical media, I can’t imagine anything superseding Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. There’s just no point in it.

  11. Bec says:

    We had a BetaMax player back in the day… Ridiculously expensive and boy were my parents pissed when that fell off the edge. After that disaster it took them forever to buy a DVD player – they have had one for exactly 4 years. So, they will buy a HD format about the same time we are all watching movies that have been downloaded straight into our brains!

    Me? I want to go Blu-Ray… It’s your fault.

  12. teebopop says:

    I’m one of those people who has a membership in consumerreports.org so I that I can research something to death before I finally decide. Usually just in time for a product upgrade that makes my purchase obsolete.

    But, I still haven’t been able to decide between formats. Here we have this beautiful 42″ crisp, clear, widescreen HDTV and an old DVD player. If everything looks good now, I can’t even imagine how it’s going to look once I either sh*t or get off the pot and just buy Blu-Ray or HD-DVD!

    And as far as I know, there are only two available, Sony or Toshiba (I’ve not seen anyone else’s).

    I need to just get off the fence and jump in, finally. I’m just so confused!

  13. ssp says:

    In a way that Terminator image (assuming that you’re not trying to fool me) tells me more about the DVD vs DVD-2 difference than the gazillion words that have been written on the technology in the past years.

    But then again, I doubt I’ll ever buy into it. I love films, but I found that I rarely watch them twice or more often. So cinema or renting just seems a better option to buying the media. Particularly cinema, as I’m still using the 1980s telly we inherited from my grandma

  14. Dave2 says:

    Well, as I was very careful to mention, I don’t have the ability to take screenshots of Blu-Ray (yet), so what I did was freeze the screen and attempt to simulate what I was seeing in Photoshop. Since then, I’ve found screenshots on the internet that pretty much back this up, so I’m fairly comfortable with what I have there.

    As for buy vs. rent, our most popular mail-order services (like Netflix) have added Blu-Ray releases to their inventory so, even if you don’t buy your movies, you can still benefit by upgrading your television and video equipment… no matter if it’s Blu-Ray or HD-DVD.

    As for data… I honestly don’t know. I still use CDs for storage far more than DVDs, so the added component of using HD for storage is kind of beyond my thinking right now. Still, I think it’s logical that Steve Jobs would have Apple go Blu-Ray since Disney-Pixar has gone that route AND he’s known to admire Sony.

  15. Lisa says:

    My husband has been talking about the Blu-Ray for a year. It’s all he wants for Christmas. I’ve been hesitant about buying because of the Beta vs. VHS thing years ago.

    He doesn’t care. He sleeps, eats, and breathes Blu-Ray.

    Now that he found out about my iPhone I have to buy it for him. You just gave me a bunch of information that I really needed! So, thanksomuch!

    At least I won’t sound like a total a** when I go to buy one.

  16. Miss Britt says:

    Much to my husband’s dismay, I cannot tell a difference in any kind of quality. Or rather, I don’t care.

    I can tell who is making who cry in black and white if I need to. :-)

  17. Catherine says:

    I don’t really think I like the name ‘Blu-Ray’. It sounds like a brand, and from what I gather, it is not a brand, but a … a what, a type of thing? a type of format? I wonder if it uses a ray of blue light to read the info on the disc. IS it a brand?

    I saw some clips from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies being shown as Blu-Ray at The Grove, and it was eye-popping, just spectacular. It sparkled with what seemed like absolute, utter clarity. I wanted to see a Seahawks game (where they win) this way. I can’t believe I live in this age. Amazing.

  18. Bre says:

    My brother uses his PS3 for blu-ray discs and that’s pretty much all he’s asking for for Christmas, so your review is at a perfect time – gives me food for thought

  19. kaelb says:

    I’m placing my bets on Blu-ray. I own a PS3, which plays Blu-ray, so I hope that thats the way it goes. I also think Apple will go the Blu-ray. I remember reading somewhere that a company has created a Blu-ray burner for macs, but there doesn’t yet exist a software to use it with.

  20. Glenda says:

    Great discussion! Thanks for the review Dave :) I might just have to buy a Blu-Ray player for myself for Christmas! I would LOVE to see Ratatouille on a Blu-Ray disc..or any Pixar film for that matter, I think it would make it well worth the $.

  21. franky says:

    I got Blu-Ray with the PS3. And now I finally got a decent plasma TV. Yes, it’s awesome!

    I had a Betamax and yes it were better than VHS, but there hardly were any movies on Betamax.

    What I loathe is the thought of updating soon up to 400 movies to Blu-Ray. I bet I’ll have HD-DVD soon as well… I guess Apple soon will integrate HD-DVD on certain models (long awaited MBP update?)

  22. Dave2 says:

    Bec… Yeah, it’s always my fault. Sorry. :-)

    Teebobop… Oh you’re in for a treat. HD televisions are begging for hi-def video!

    Lisa… I think it all depends on which format has the content you want. If most of the stuff you want to see is on Blu-Ray, then that’s probably the way to go. It was for me anyway.

    Miss Britt… Odd. I’d think that if they were side-by-side you could absolutely tell the difference. Hi-def is so much nicer to look at! It’s not a matter of color vs. black-and-white… but clarity and detail vs. a blurry mess. :-)

    Catherine… Uh… yeah, Blu-Ray is the brand of the format and technology which the Blu-Ray consortium uses to promote the format. Does it really make a difference? Hi-def television is wonderful to look at… unfortunately, I can’t get it at my location. Time to move perhaps? :-)

    Bre… Yep. PS3 plays Blu-Ray just like Xbox plays HD-DVD.

    Kaelb… I was surprised that HD data support didn’t come when Leopard arrived. I have no idea what Apple is waiting for, unless they need more burners to come out so they can include them in Macs and not have to support a bunch of third party hardware?

    Glenda… Ratatouille and Cars both look incredible on Blu-Ray. It’s a direct digital transfer, so the picture is pristine and perfect. A really amazing sight, to be honest. :-)

    Franky… I’m not sure I want to update my old DVDs to Blu-Ray. Many of the older titles have enough grain and damage that I don’t think there’s much of a benefit. I’ll just buy new stuff and an occasional favorite rather than trying to convert my entire library.

  23. Catherine says:

    re: Does it really make a difference?

    I’m sure it(?) doesn’t, just curious. I am pretty retarded when it comes to this stuff, so I’m nosing around. Blu-Ray makes me think of a shark wearing expensive sunglasses ;)

  24. Lewis says:

    Or how about my VCR purchased from Sear’s in 1987 for $200…..and that was the cheapest one I could find. And now, in the last two days, we’ve become proud owners of a new HDTV and Sony cool camera. Ugh…..I feel broke.

  25. ChillyWilly says:

    Echoing others in the Betamax vs. VHS, Beta was better. It had more vertical lines of resolution. The crazy part about that whole thing was that Sony was one of the main inventors of VHS, dumped it off to JVC and went with Beta because it was better. Guess marketing the inferior brand won over consumers.

    Hoping that doesn’t happen this time with HD-DVD, which IMO, is not as good as Blu-Ray.

    As with your choice of going to Blu-Ray, I’ve chosen Blu-Ray and buying all new discs in Blu-Ray format over DVD. Replacing the current DVDs with Blu-Ray isn’t going to happen, except with trilogy sets that are on sale (like Spiderman or Pirates).

    So far, the 10 or so titles we have on Blu-Ray are vastly superior to their DVD counterparts, including the afore mentioned Ratatouille

  26. MrKisThatKid says:

    Hey, there’s a third competitor called downloads. I’m pretty sure that next year 720p downloaded movies will be a regular thing. And probabily by the time there’s a format war winner 1080p downloads could be available.

    So glad you mentioned minidisc, I’ve still use my minidisc deck, not for playing minidiscs anymore, it’s just an external DAC for my mac.

  27. Wayne says:

    I’m still without an HD TV, so I’m pretty much not caring too much about blu-ray or HD-DVD yet. I’ve had a 55″ diamondscan for about 7 years now and it’s only needed service once (knock on wood) and it takes component in, and with a decent DVD player, that’s good enough for now.

    We’ll probably get a whole new theatre system in 2-3 years, and we’ll see what’s available then. I can only imagine.

  28. yellojkt says:

    I saw Spiderman on a Blu-Ray prototype at the Sony store in Tokyo a few years ago and it was incredible. I have a lot of infrastructure to buy as far as HD TVs before I can justify that level of movie quality.

  29. Shh… Stop diminishing satisfaction for the rest of us poor folks! I picked up the “regular” Ratatouille DVD as a Christmas gift for the Ninja and am hoping that despite the lower resolution we’ll still thoroughly enjoy what I’m told is a very charming movie. But seriously, thanks for being everyone’s guinea pig for all the fancy new technology.

  30. sue says:

    We had a laserdisc player, too… long before they became popular. Then the machine had some trouble after we’d had it quite awhile and found they were not longer making them or repairing them. So much for those huge discs (movies) we had!

    We have one of those DVD players that is supposed to make a regular DVD look like HD on our HD-TV. I can’t tell a huge difference, but then I don’t study it that carefully. They look good to me either way…

    Be sure and keep us informed how it goes!

  31. Kevin says:

    I wanted to play Rock Band and Grand Theft Auto IV, so I got a PS3. I researched both HD formats before they launched and, on paper, Blu-Ray seemed better, with more studio support and more storage capacity. Bottom line: it has potential that HD-DVD lacks.

    It’s telling that the HD-DVD of Transformers doesn’t have an HD audio track. It was the biggest action movie last summer and the sound is equivalent to a DVD because they didn’t have enough room on the disc for it.

    Plus, I loves me some Spider-man and Casino Royale. You want ’em in Hi-Def, you gotta go Blu.

  32. sadie says:

    I was sitting on the Blu-ray/HD-DVD fence for a long time, but this article pushed me over the edge. If you are still undecided and are contemplating taking the leap, you might want to check it out.

  33. I think I picked mine up in late 97 or early 98. I thought it was earlier than that but I know one of the first movies I rented didn’t come out until Mid-December 97 so it wasn’t before that!

    That, a 5.1 receiver, Bose 5.1 speakers (refurb) and I was about 2 grand into at the time. A new 35 inch Sony TV a year later completed the set.

    I think the Bose speakers speakers are all I still have from that investment :)

    I’m hunting for a blu-ray player now that the winner is clear, and I this post of yours and wanted to remind myself of what you said. I’m not in a hurry but now that the deal is done I don’t really want to buy any old format movies…

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