Ride the Blu-Ray Bandwagon?

A recent article on the Electronic House website offered three reasons to avoid jumping onto the Blu-ray bandwagon—at least for now. One of the arguments—that Blu-ray quality is still inconsistent—read as follows:

Most movies made over the last 60 years were not filmed with HD formats in mind. It’s possible to re-process a film into HD resolution, and the studios are doing so with many movies. However, it’s a manual process, and the results for older or less popular films are mixed. So, before you run out and buy a player, read some unbiased reviews for the titles you plan to re-purchase. Also, keep track of which of your favorite TV shows were recorded in HD, as there’s little benefit to buying the Blu-ray version of a show shot in standard-def!

The recommendation to check the reviews is a good one, but otherwise much of this commentary was either poorly phrased or badly misinformed. Film is inherently high definition. A movie doesn't have to be "filmed with HD formats in mind" to transfer beautifully to high definition disc.

Apart from faster lenses and finer-grained, more sensitive film stock, the state of the art in movie photography hasn't really changed much since the 1960s—and perhaps even the 1950s, when widescreen became dominant. In fact, one could argue that today's use of digital intermediates, and the digital processing of filmed elements prior to production of release prints, has sometimes degraded the final result. I don't agree; these tools have offered filmmakers impressive new creative options. But digital manipulation can be overdone.

One problem with older films is that they aren't always in good shape and often need restoration. But that's usually a problem only when a studio must dig back more than 30 years into its catalog. Since home video got off the ground in the late 1970s, film studios have taken better care of their film and television libraries. They're now revenue generators. Before then, and particularly before television, movies were perceived to have little value after their theatrical runs were complete, apart from the occasional revival-house showing.

Certainly not all Blu-ray discs (BDs) are equal; some are better than others. But that depends on the quality of the HD source and the skill of the video transfer technicians. To give an extreme example, most of the film Cloverfield was shot to simulate standard definition camcorder footage. Does it benefit from a high definition transfer? Not much. At best, it can more closely recreate the grungy, cheap videocam look without the additional degradation of standard resolution video playback.

While some television programs were shot on standard definition video, virtually all dramas of the past several decades, and most sitcoms from I Love Lucy to Seinfeld, were shot on film. For them, my earlier arguments still apply. Yes, they may be 4:3, just like most pre-1953 films. But there's no law that says a 4:3 source can't be transferred to high definition with windowbox bars on the sides.

I understand the logic of holding off on BD for now. Any new product will mature over time. But only if it succeeds. If enough potential BD buyers hold off, the format will fail and we'll be left with a decreasing stream of new, and possibly more expensive DVDs. Our HD appetites will have to be satisfied with broadcast, satellite, or cable HDTV (which could well get worse as demands increase for limited pipeline space), supplemented by mediocre "HD-quality" downloads.

And for now (in the U.S., at least, thanks to the copy protection police) neither those downloads nor programming saved onto a PVR can be archived onto a collectable and transportable HD format such as recordable BD. Happy thoughts, perhaps, for the consumer who doesn't mind paying again (and again) if they want to see a film more than once in so-so quality. But not for the collector who likes the current system of pay once for a pristine copy on BD, where it can sit on the shelf ready to be experienced again, in whole or in part, whenever temptation calls.

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Allan's picture

why this constant slam on Blu-ray? It offers the best audio and video experience, period. Jump in, it is well worth it. Also why aren't the Blu-ray hardware companies marketing the product better? It's like you have the DVD is good enough crowd (computer companies and Toshiba) and Blu-ray must be defeated, sad.

tom Norton's picture

Who is dissing Blu-ray here? I'm arguing against the argument that you should wait it out on Blu-ray. I'm very high on Blu-ray, but that doesn't mean that a little (hopefully) constructive criticism isn't in order. Including what I have to say in the next blog.

Michael Schmidt's picture

I'm into Blu big time. I already own 20 discs and will add many more. I also have a handful of DVD-audios and SACDs. I am starting to get worried Blu could go the same route if they dont get some positive press out there. Even though they see the difference a lot people are fine with the dvd picture because the price for players is a big jump to blu. Also the superior sound quality doesnt apply to a lot of people because they either dont have a setup or they have it setup wrong. I have many friends who are wowed by blu-rays on my KURO and 7.1 setup but are still hesitant to jump in for some of the reasons I mentioned.

Rich Ellis's picture

This article in American Cinematographer will interest you. It's about the painstaking efforts Paramount has made to restore The Godfather, in preparation for its Blu-Ray release. This movie, at least, is definitely getting a good transfer! http://www.ascmag.com/magazine_dynamic/May 2008/PostFocus/page1.php

Ron Warren's picture

I am in full agreement with Michael Schmidt's comments and also as much as I hope Blu-Ray is a success, everyone knows it cannot be done without a considerable amount of mass market acceptance. The problem is, in the eyes of many, there just isn't the upgrade between standard DVD and Blu-Ray that there was when comparing VHS tapes to DVD. Add to that with very good and inexpensive up-converting players through HDMI connections, the video performance gap is closed even further between the two formats. There is also the issue that with most people unless their TV monitor is of considerable size, usually in excess of 50 inches, the "average joe" just doesn't see that much of a difference to make them go out and buy a new player. Until the players reach a competitive price point, improved performance(especially playing standard DVD's well along with Blu_ray) as well as reduced movie prices and availability, I must admit, for me, the jury is still out as to Blu-Ray's REAL long

Mike Dell'Arco's picture

Ron Warren summed it up best. I have been on the Blu-Ray sidelines, since I just don't see THAT big a difference between a Blu-Ray player and how my Sony DVP-NS90V upconverts standard DVD via HDMI on my Panasonic 42" plasma. I consider myself a videophile, but Blu-Ray over DVD, truth be told, is NOT the quantum leap that DVD was over VHS.

Robert Dreher's picture

My remodeling company in Boulder specializes in home theaters. As such, I have many friends and associates bring up the subject of Blu-ray, LCD vs. plasma, etc. So I have some insight into consumer thinking. It is frustrating for me as a video/ audiophile that the CE industry keeps on being so incapable of coordinating a good solid product launch of some great new technologies. They just don't seem to get the mindset of the average consumer. Stupid. There are several major problems for most potential buyers with Blu: Most don't see enough of a difference between Blu and upconverted standard DVD's. All Blu players are overpriced and have major inconvenience and complicated setup problems. Not ready for prime time. Blu discs are way overpriced. At my local big box yesterday most Blu discs were $30- $40 each. Yikes! Standard DVD's at the local grocery store display were $8- $10. Blu disc quality is inconsistent. People don't have the time or care enough to research the dif

Dan Eickmeier's picture

In the world of high end two channel stereo reproduction, the comparison of the reproduced sound to an "absolute sound" if often discussed. This absolute is usually live music. I wonder if some peoples feelings that movies on DVD are fine is related to not having an "absolute picture". It seems that no one actually goes to the theater any more to actually see a movie on the big screen. Even if you do go to the movies, the print is often of poor quality with little attention to its projection. Most people have never experienced just how good a picture can look. They think that DVD is fine because they have no frame of reference for anything better. May be the best way to get people to buy Blu Ray is to get them to go to the movies so they can see just how much they are losing on a standard DVD. Unfortunately even that would only work if the theater companies and the studios themselves would begin to put more emphasis on the quality of there visuals.

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