It seems every time a Blu-ray is mentioned, specifically in the context of a remastered classic film, the discussion becomes an argument over the true benefit of Blu-ray. While nothing will ever put the debate to rest, it is time to clear the air on some misconceptions regarding the wonders of Blu-ray.
There are two sides to every argument, and one of these is that Blu-ray is a waste of money for only a slight improvement in quality. In fact, many argue there is no noticeable improvement at all. It’s hard to sit back and let these people watch their standard definition DVDs without some kind of rebuttal. The anti-Blu-ray corps will give plenty of reasons why the format is not worth their time or money, so let’s debunk those myths right now.
The most important thing to recognize about Blu-ray is its incomparable storage space. The reason the format is called Blu-ray comes from the blue laser used to read the regular-sized disc. The process allows for five times more information to be held on a disc no different in size than a regular DVD. Naturally, this increased storage space gives the disc room for better quality in audio, video and supplements.
But that doesn’t help convince a consumer to dish out a few extra dollars for a Blu-ray and at least $100 for a Blu-ray player. The key is to understand that the enhancement is about more than just pleasing cinephiles looking for crisp picture quality. The format gives every consumer the most comprehensive home entertainment experience possible without forcing a two-month paycheck binge.
Right now, you can start from scratch and get a Blu-ray system ready to go for only a few hundred dollars; some Blu-ray players cost as low as $100 these days. Blu-ray movies are continuously lowering in price – they almost meet the new release price of DVDs. But if you want the optimal Blu-ray experience, you’ll need an HDTV, an HDMI cable and possibly a surround sound system. We’ll get into those details later.
Skip to 1:33 in the following video for a number of examples on the video quality improvement from DVD to Blu-ray.
The most common concern raised about Blu-ray is the actual visual difference. Can a regular home video consumer actually recognize the difference between a DVD and a Blu-ray? There are certain improvements that the untrained eye will not see, but that becomes irrelevant. There is absolutely no question that the Blu-ray format presents the best picture quality of all the options in the home video market.
The best way to prove the naysayers wrong is to simply compare screenshots from original DVD releases to remastered Blu-rays. Look on any message board about Blu-rays and you will see a handful of people complaining that they see no point in buying a remastered print of an old movie. The common excuse is somewhere along the lines of, “It wasn’t shot in HD, so why would it be any better enhanced?” I challenge those people to spend just one day in the laboratories where technicians spend months remastering every frame of classic films.
Countless hours are spent removing dust particles, film strip malfunctions and other miniscule details that are compounded when a reel is projected. Picture quality on remastered Blu-rays are pristine. Films from a time where DVDs were not even in development look perfect. That exhausted film cutter’s eyelash that dropped on a frame in the 3rd reel is now gone. We are literally changing history. Just look at the screencaps below for proof that new technology has given us a brand new look at classic films.
While most Blu-ray transfers bring our favorite movies back to life in a new light, not all showcase the same effort. There have admittedly been some underwhelming transfers. After all, the Blu-ray market is still new and is always evolving, but it is most definitely ready for the consumer. The process is getting better and better every year. The new Alien Anthology release is getting fantastic buzz for its video and audio transfer, which bodes well for one of the most beloved anthologies in film history.
A great example of the latest transfer work is last week’s release of The Thin Red Line. The Criterion Collection is one of the world’s best at bringing classic films to the Blu-ray format with a plethora of new features and enhancements. The new release is possibly the greatest example of the power of Blu-ray. The picture quality makes even John Toll’s brilliant cinematography jump off the screen like never before.
At the end of the day, the argument can be compared to television. HD television is here to stay. Most Americans pay an extra amount of cash on their cable bills to have access to hundreds of HD channels. These channels present the same products as the standard definition counterparts – the only difference is in the picture quality and full utilization of the now-commonplace widescreen televisions. If you are willing to pay for HD television at a marginal extra cost each month, wouldn’t you like to do the same for your home movies?
Blu-ray offers access to true high-definition sound. You don’t need surround sound to experience the improvements of Blu-ray, but without it you won’t get the true theatrical experience. Uncompressed audio gives you sound that is extremely close to the msater tracks. The audio capability of Blu-ray discs provides more of the intricate sounds of the movie. For instance, during the truck flip scene in The Dark Knight, you may hear subtle differences that enhance your overall experience. Still, surround sound is the best way to utilize everything that Blu-ray has to offer.
If you can find a surround sound system in your budget, your home entertainment collection will be complete. Blu-ray discs provide the capability to access 7.1 surround sound, even though few movies actually need that many channels. A simple 5.1 system will give you superior sound to any basic DVD setup.
It’s difficult to get into the details of Blu-ray audio without getting technical. You’ll simply have to take my word on it and either dish out the extra money or accept your improved basic sound setup. Some of the enhancements will be tough to notice, but your subconscious won’t complain as the movies (good or bad) immerse you in their wondrous sound.
THE FUTURE OF BLU-RAY
Earlier I said the Blu-ray format is constantly evolving, but how do you make the best better? Blu-ray manufacturers are currently working on a 200GB Blu-ray disc – four times the amount of space currently on BD discs. Recent developments have found a way to create 1 TB (terabyte) Blu-ray discs and Sony is working on a blue-violet laser to make this possible.
While developers continue to look for ways to enhance the format, Blu-ray is becoming a part of the home entertainment culture. As the 3D market continues its attempt to impact home entertainment, Blu-ray has latched onto the effort. Recent enhancements have given PS3 owners the capability to update their system to watch 3D Blu-rays. Unfortunately, the 3D market is not as exciting as some would lead you to believe.
According to Home Media Magazine, Blu-ray players are now in 1 out of every 5 households. Thanks to Playstation 3, which plays Blu-rays as well as games, DVDs and CDs, Blu-ray players are piled in with the rest of home entertainment. The PS3 was how I was personally convinced to get a Blu-ray player. Now, only a year later I have over 250 Blu-rays. The thought to buy a movie on DVD is not even a part of my consciousness now. It would appear America is on the same path, as Blu-ray player purchases have doubled since 2008.
Just as that Home Media Magazine reports, the only way Blu-ray will truly take over the home video market is to move past the PS3. Netflix currently rents Blu-rays to customers for only a couple dollars more each month. Interestingly, Blu-ray players (17%) are more prevalent in American households than Netflix accounts (15%).
Some are convinced that digital media is the future of home entertainment. Instantly streaming movies to your television is considered the future, and it likely is, but it will not eliminate Blu-rays. Even if Blu-rays are replaced by another format, you can guarantee it will be a hardware format. Digital media is just too unsafe for the movie industry to bank on. Frankly, the numbers above should prove that not enough people are switching to Netflix, even amidst the website’s amazing subscription numbers.
The recent attempt by studios to simultaneously release films in limited theaters and On Demand has proven to miss the mark. Between iTunes and Netflix, the demand is not as massive as the news will have you believe. There will always be a hard disc of some kind for you to watch home entertainment. The only thing that will likely change is the size of those discs.
The best next step for Blu-ray might be to implement Blu-ray disc drives on televisions and computers. While televisions do not typically have a drive for DVDs like they used to, this could be a great way to penetrate that marketplace.
The biggest question is still the portable quality of Blu-rays. While many home video releases now provide Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Downloads in the same package, it is nearly impossible to watch a Blu-ray on the go. The most important thing the Blu-ray researchers can do is find a way to bring the format to more laptop screens, or other portable devices.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOUR OLD DVDs?
Another problem for consumers is their collection of DVDs. Some refuse to make the switch to Blu-ray because of the piles of DVDs in their house. In my opinion, these people are missing the point; they don’t recognize the value of these old DVDs. Let’s say you go to the store and buy a Blu-ray version of a movie you already own on DVD, here are a few things you can do with that old DVD disc:
- Fend off criminals (or zombies, a la Shaun of the Dead) by throwing them one at a time.
- Use as a coaster for house guests.
- Use the back side as a portable mirror.
- Dust off that old shotgun and redefine skeet shooting.
- Give it to a friend or sell it on Ebay.
- Play frisbee with a person who has small hands.
- Grab the attention of a rescue boat in the ocean by reflecting the sun’s rays.
Get innovative with your old DVDs. Some people still have their giant laser discs for nostalgic reasons. Maybe DVDs will make a comeback in a couple decades like vinyl records have in recent years. There will always be a place in your heart for DVDs when even Blu-rays are the former best thing.
THE COST OF BLU-RAY
This is where the problem comes into play. If you want the best possible picture and audio quality out of your home entertainment, you need a television that is big enough to actually pick up the difference. A small television just won’t make a difference in your DVD or Blu-ray. Thankfully, big-screen televisions are as affordable as ever before and can be taken advantage of.
Now that you’ve got your television, you’ll need an HDMI cable to truly bring the quality of the Blu-ray to your television. Regular component cables are nice, but they don’t do the trick. Once that is set up, you really should spend the extra money on a surround sound system if you can. Most people are fine with a television’s speakers, but the moment you hear a movie with surround sound in the comfort of your home, nothing else will live up to your expectations. You’ll see a movie in theaters and immediately anticipate the Blu-ray so you can experience the true surround sound in your home. Yes, DVDs can deliver surround sound, but just give both formats a listen on the same system and you’ll notice a distinct improvement with Blu-ray.
There are plenty of discussion points as to why Blu-ray is the superior format to DVD, but I will leave the rest open to the comments section. Spending extra money on entertainment is a tough sell for many consumers, but if you consider yourself even a moderate cinephile, then do yourself a favor and get a Blu-ray player.
Just remember the HD television analogy: You have access to both platforms now, with only a little extra cost. The most important question may not be how much a Blu-ray player costs, but what you are spending that money on right now.