HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

May 12, 2008
From the Video Shop

Blu-ray DVD's

Neil Turner


I have just recently upgraded my television and video capabilities. I'm sure that after spending in excess of $4,000 on all of this latest technology that it will be outdated within a few years, but that's the way of the world nowadays. In any event - at present - I am viewing in the lap of luxury.

Without a doubt, the greatest difference in my viewing pleasure is the television set with its 1080 lines of resolution - a big step up from my seven year old cathode ray rear projection widescreen set - but the subject of this essay is the latest development in DVD's.

Fortunately, the contest between Blu-ray (BD) and High Definition formats had ended before I spent my money. I guess Sony is patting itself on the back as Blu-ray might have gone the way of Beta considering that the HD DVD players were so much cheaper than the Blu-ray players. Anyway, Sony is the victor, and Blu-ray is the latest thing.

Some of you will remember that when CD's were first introduced, the range of the cost of the players was extreme. This is now the case with Blu-ray players. So the first problem is how much to spend. At this writing, the cost of Blu-ray players on various Internet sites varies from $400 to $3,000. I don't really know what would make a $3,000 player basically better than a $400 player. I would guess that the average viewer such as myself wouldn't be able to see the $2,600 difference. For me, there was little question as I don't have the kind of income that would allow me to purchase a $3,000 DVD player. Anyway - after reading a number of online reviews - I decided on a Panasonic with a modest price of $500.

I'll give you the bad news first.

When the industry first started touting the great advances of BD and HD DVD's, there was great talk about the movie starting immediately without menus, previews, and that especially annoying "don't steal videos" PSA and the glorious popup menus that enable you to navigate to all the features with ease. Well, that's all a load! As a matter of fact, I've found that most of the Blu-ray discs have the same annoying features as regular discs and that getting out of them is even harder because most cannot be bypassed by pressing the menu button. As for the popup menus, they appear to be more of a gimmick that anything that increases the viewer's pleasure or access.

I've found the most annoying feature of Blu-ray discs is that each seems to have a mind of its own. Most of them operate in the same way as a conventional disc when you have to stop and then resume play, but I have found a number of BD's that return to the beginning of the film when the play button is pressed. This is really a pain.

With conventional players, all but the very basic allowed you to stop play, turn off the player, and then resume watching from where you stopped when the player is turned back on. With BD, this feature seems to be controlled by the disc rather than the player because some movies will resume play and some with start with the annoying previews.

Maybe if I'd bought that $3,000 player I would be experiencing these problems, but I doubt it.

The good news far makes up for the bad news.

The picture - especially the picture of older films - is extraordinary. Most of the newer conventional DVD's produce a fairly superior picture with the "upconverting" players. Blu-ray discs of newer movies are certainly sharper and have better sound, but the difference - to my old eyes - is not that exceptional. I've found that Blu-ray really shines in showing older films. I've rented a number of old favorites and found that the Blu-ray versions have pretty much astounded me.

So far, I have been most impressed by the Blu-ray version of The Dirty Dozen.  Watching the super-sharp, super-clear production of the forty year old film was a real treat. The picture quality is so much better than the conventional DVD that you wouldn't even think it was the same film if you didn't know better. I would be willing to bet that the quality is superior to what would have been seen in the finest theater when the film was released in 1967.

BD's also have the advantage of being able to pack more material on a single disc. The disc of The Dirty Dozen has the entire film, over three hours of special features - several very interesting - and the entire sequel The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission which is a real bomb of television film made in 1987.

If you are reading this and have had different experiences with your Blu-ray play or you know what makes the $3,000 player $2,600 better than the $400 player, please comment for the education of our readers. If you've been thinking about upgrading to Blu-ray and are on the fence, I recommend that you jump on over.


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