Big Blue Meets Big-blu

Movie studios don't miss a thing when it comes to keeping a tight watch on the effectiveness of Blu-ray copy protection. Recently, in an apparent attempt to close an assumed (I assume) breach, 20th Century Fox updated its BD+ copy codes in an effort to keep the door firmly locked. The first disc I noted a problem with was (surprise!) Avatar, which was so firmly locked it would not play. After an inordinately long loading cycle it decided it couldn't get along with an Oppo BDP-83 player, which I've admittedly been lax in updating. The same proved to be the case on another current but not updated model, the Pioneer BDP-320. Same long wait, same lack of a payoff. Or at least not a welcome one. All I got was a bright red screen telling me to update my player.

In a bit of a shocker, however, Avatar did play on my old Panasonic DMP-BD30, which I've had for nearly three years (mid 2007). It took its sweet time to load (and don't push the wrong button in the pop-up scene/setup menu or it will re-load again—the voice of experience speaks). But it played fine once it got past the loading marathon. Which makes me wonder: when Fox updated its codes, did it simply choose those that were already in that 2007 Panasonic player?

I think I know a bit about current technology, though computers often don't seem to like me very much. But I can update a player or two on a lazy afternoon. And I love Blu-ray and have no desire to go back to those fuzzy, low-rez DVD pictures. Yes, I'm fickle. DVD was once a revelation (I still own more of them than I care to admit), and truth be told most of them are still watchable—though now accompanied by a gnawing sensation that something is missing. That "something" is easily satisfied by a great Blu-ray version of the same film, such as the new transfer of Tombstone (my favorite Western), or Armageddon (the best big-rock-the-size-of-Texas-threatens-to obliterate-the-planet-but-we're-saved-by-a nutty-group-of-oil-riggers film that Michael Bay ever made—a movie that looks jaw-droppingly good on Blu-ray whatever you might think of it… (ahem)… dramatically).

One of the few annoyances of Blu-ray, however, is that player updates are even necessary. Another is the unwelcome pile of trailers that open many a disc—Disney, are you listening? But I digress. I can't recall ever having to update a DVD player to watch a new disc, and I've watched hundreds of them. True, such an occurance isn't common on Blu-ray. But if it happens when you're about to show a new film to guests on a movie night….

Not all consumers are computer-saavy enough or equipped to perform an update (which often requires a computer plus high-speed Internet access). If we want Blu-ray to fight off the encroachment of inferior but cheaper and more convenient downloads, the Blu-ray experience needs to be as nuisance-free as possible. That was one of the reasons for the phenomenal success of DVD.

Speaking of Big Blue (Ferngully…er, rather Avatar the movie, not Big-blu the format), on Blu-ray it looks vastly better (on my 60" Pioneer PRO-141 plasma) than it ever did in the theater, even if the home experience is currently 2D vs 3D in the IMAX theatrical venue where I first saw it. Word is, however, that when the 3D version comes out in the fall it will initially be exclusive to those who purchase a Panasonic 3D plasma. In fact there are so many exclusive contracts being cut between set makers and studios for the early 3D titles that it's doubtful if more than two or three 3D titles will be available for the sets from any given manufacturer. I'm not sure that's any way to get folks to buy a ticket for a ride on the 3D railroad. Time will tell if this is a good ploy or, ultimately, a serious drag on acceptance of 3D sets.