Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Blu Ray - What's The Big F*ckin' Deal, Bitch?

Although I have long been a keen retro gamer, it’s not just video games that I'm lagging behind on. Much of the music I listen to is by bands I enjoyed in my youth, or even from earlier than that, and I'm happy to wait to see most films and TV shows, even ones I've dying to see (which is probably why there are few 'new release' film reviews here at Red Parsley!). It also takes me much longer than most to embrace new technology. I still don't own a tablet (and have no intention of getting one) and I didn't even get my first mobile phone until about six years ago; even now I've only had three different ones.

Most of my Blu Ray collection (and PS3 too!)
With all this in mind, it's probably not surprising that it's only been in the last year that I finally got around to replacing my trusty CRT television with a flat-screen model, and as I've mentioned here before, I complemented this purchase with a PS3, primarily for its ability to play Blu Ray discs. This obviously facilitated my introduction to 'High Definition' entertainment but I've recently found myself wondering... is this it? What’s the big fuss all about? Ironically, one of the few times I've 'converted' quickly to a new technology was when the DVD format was unveiled. During the height of my irresponsible credit card days I bought my first player for £600 at a time when there were only around 10 films available on the fancy new discs (and half of those were single layer 'flippers') of which I bought three – Contact, Assassins, and Face/Off. The latter was the first one I watched and the difference in picture and sound quality was immediately obvious.

I soon started to amass a sizeable collection of films on the new format (without worrying too much about their expense, obviously) as more and more were made available, replacing my meagre VHS collection as well as enthusiastically acquiring many new releases, and I was almost never disappointed. Well, some of the actual films did indeed suck donkey balls of course, but their aesthetic qualities rarely failed to remind me of the splendour the new format offered.

I, umm... just happened to be watching this...
After having invested so much time and money in my DVD collection, I greeted the news of the impending arrival of HD DVD and Blu Ray with less excitement but, even so, the promise of a further improvement in picture quality, and quite a substantial one if the marketing blurb was to be believed, was at the very least a rather intriguing prospect. As mentioned, however, it took me a while to get around to converting this intrigue into a purchase, despite mostly positive opinions on the format coming from some friends as well as magazines and stuff. Fast forward a few years and I'd finally upgraded my TV and bought the PS3 as mentioned, along with two films - Deception (my wife's selection) and Mission Impossible 4 (my selection). Would I be as bowled-over this time as I was the first time I saw a DVD?

The first film we tried was unsurprisingly Deception. The film itself is a bit ropey but the quality of the picture was again noticeably sharper than that with which I was previously familiar. The opening scene features Ewan McGregor as a businessman of some sort in his office, and the detail, just in this unspectacular setting was superb. Success, then? Well, that's what I thought at the time, and I was eager to confirm this belief by watching some other films. Which meant more spending!

MI4 was next up, of course, and this also looked mighty nice (and was a much better actual film!), though the difference was less pronounced that before. I was still hopeful for the future of the format though, and started slowly buying a few other titles such as The Amazing Spider-man, Marvel's Avengers, The Hobbit, the Bourne series, and the Fast and Furious series - all pretty decent films (at least) and all ones that would surely benefit from the optimum picture quality. And yet, most of them looked no better than a DVD, at least to my possibly-deficient eyes. The menu screens always look ultra-crisp, sure, but the actual films? Perhaps if I had them running side-by-side with the DVD version there might be a small difference but watching the Blu Ray on its own usually yielded undazzling results. The Fast & Furious films in particular were a disappointment - what better opportunity to show off what HD can do than a whole series of films whose emphasis is based purely on the aesthetic? Some films even look worse (Horrible Bosses being a prime example) since the higher definition can reveal otherwise unnoticeable flaws in the picture.

Of course, if this lack of improvement was consistent; if it always seemed the case to me, the problem must surely be with me, perhaps my eyesight. But it's not always the case. The aforementioned Deception, for example, looked great and still does, and so do a few others, so perhaps it's instead the case that the studios and/or publishers (or whoever is responsible) often simply can't be arsed to put the effort into the quality of the transfer, and that would enrage me.

And on the other TV is Kaley Cuoco, looking... nice...
Conversely, some of my recent DVD purchases have featured a noticeably impressive picture. Game of Thrones, for example; I bought the first series on DVD and it looks... amazing! I actually had to check that I hadn't mistakenly bought the Blu Ray version, but I hadn't! "Just imagine what it does look like on Blu Ray!" I exclaimed with excitement and expectation! In the hope of finding out, I patiently awaited the release of season two. After a day hunting around in shops (I don't buy stuff online much - see the characteristic backwardness mentioned earlier) I finally found it in the amusingly-named CEX (pronounced 'sex' - snigger) but this, too, was a disappointment. I don't mean the show which is effing awesome, but the quality of the picture once again failed to impress. It looked nice, sure, but no better than the first season, plus it had the added inconvenience of my PS3 not remembering where I got to in each episode (unlike the DVD version).

So, to not put too fine a point on it, after the HD war, all the pesky intrusive adverts on DVD's (which were completely pointless when you think about it), all my holding off on buying films until I had a Blu Ray player... the HD revolution has ended up being a bit of a damp squib as far as I'm concerned - potentially fantastic but actually only occasionally so. There have so far been only two things my TV has displayed that consistently demonstrate the qualities of a high definition picture - video games and CG-based animation (such as Pixar films), both of which use similar technology. Is that a coincidence? All I know is, I still mainly buy DVD's (or use Netflix) for my viewing pleasure with only occasional, special films deemed worthy of a Blu Ray purchase in the hope that I might strike it lucky (such as Star Trek Into Darkness - bought recently and not seen yet).

What I now find myself wondering, however, is what you lot think. Not people involved in the industry, not hardcore enthusiasts, just normal(ish) film fans like me. Do you make a point of buying HD versions of films and TV shows, even when they're more expensive (and Blu Ray's cost around £5 more than DVD's here) than their 'standard' definition counterparts? Am I alone in my increasing indifference toward HD? Am I just not seeing it? Or is HD rarely what it's cracked up to be?


  1. Just an normal opinion like yours. I don't know as much movies as you do but I we share exactly the same opinion about Blu Ray. I'd insist on the argument that from VHS to DVD was "woooooahh" and from DVD TO blu-ray was like "yeah,ok. Great picture but nothing so special". That's it. I still buy DVDs but I only buy my favorite movies on Blu-Ray. When I bought the Box "Home Alone 1 & 2" I found out that I maybe I'm going to buy just three or 4 more Blu-rays and that's it . I ordered Godfather, the new "restoration" but I've seen it so many times on my great Toshiba HDMI upscalling dvd player that the blu-ray release won't be any "woow" for me

  2. Just an odd fact about myself: I watch blu-ray and dvd movies on stereo setting. Always! I know that many dvds even doesn't have AC3 stereo or LCPM (lossless) and well.. blu-ray standard is DTS 5.1. So I got to the point where I was so upset about losing volume power from lame TV speaker and most LED and LCD TVs are just bad convering 5.1 or 7.1 to Stereo , I bought an audio converter. Wow that was one of the smartest thing I've done for the past 3 years. I just connect HD to my HD TV and use the digital out from my PS3 (blu ray player) or my coax from Toshiba DVD player directly to the converter. The converter makes 5.1 or 7.1 digital to analog 3.5mm headphone jack or coax out to a receiver which is always on stereo mode. For games sometimes I try the surround (some SNES and PS1-PS2 games have amazing surround track) feature but most time is the old and awesome 2.0 stereo. I tried 2.1 but I don't see any point using woofer. Instead of buying an expensive home theater, I spent on headphone and on a cheaper old-good receiver that can handle prologic II and surround, as well the all time favorite stereo :)

  3. I honestly don't care about Blu-Ray or HD or anything like that. If I can get my hands on a copy of something I want, then I'm satisfied. DVD is fine with me.

  4. I'm like you and wasn't blown away by blu-ray and up until recently bought most stuff on DVD. You may not have noticed as much difference comparing films on the PS3 as it upscales DVDs.

    1. Actually most people tend to like to play it on PS3 because of HDMI connection - or component - which is way better than the old-but-classic composite connection. Most DVDs does have a component connection and I've had 5 different DVD players in the past 9 years and I can assure you that the difference between them and PS3 is close to 0. Of course there're some very good upscalling dvd players - I do own one and it's better than the overscalling done by PS3.

  5. How big is your telly? Like yourself, I rarely notice much difference on my 37" set, but on my daughter's 50" one DVDs look terrible. There's so much artefacting and colour fringing its unbelievable, so blu ray there makes sense. I've not really bought into blu ray except for a few special offers (sometimes its cheaper than DVD) and favourites (Star Wars of course), since in the long term I don't see physical media for movies persisting. I'm not too sad about that since DVD/BR packaging is minimal at best.

    1. Big tvs usually have poor upscalling and some doesn't have any at all.

  6. Hi Everyone, thanks for the great comments! :)

    Lucas - your setup sounds similar to mine. I don't go crazy with millions of speakers around the room and a booming subwoofer and all that stuff but I like to have a nice picture and decent sound quality. My hi-fi has 5.1 and Pro Logic but I mostly just use normal stereo

    Tom - glad to know I'm not alone, I bought Star Trek Into Darkness and Iron Man 3 on Blu Ray recently but I normally don't care about getting BDs either :P

    Wingnut - I didn't realise the PS3 upscaled DVD's, thanks for the info. I guess that could be why the difference is less pronounced. More recent DVD's (such as the aforementioned Game of Thrones) look amazing!

    Mr Ant - thanks for stopping by again, good to know you're still visiting! I have two HD TV's, I believe they are both 32". You're definitely right about the physical media though - I'm sure it won't be too long before some companies stop releasing them... not sure if I'm happy about that or not. As you say, the packaging is hardly amazing (except for the odd special edition which usually costs more) but I'm always suspicious about long-term ownership of downloaded stuff :|

    1. I had a vague memory of being told 37" was the threshold to start benefitting from HD, so I did some digging. Interesting article here: http://carltonbale.com/1080p-does-matter/ giving viewing distance and relative perceptions for various screen sizes etc. Even has a handy calculator at the bottom. Of course, there's no hard and fast rule regarding your perceptions, but does help explain why most of us aren't bothered about HD movies, since we're not really viewing them on equipment or conditions that suit the new media.

  7. Most of my collection is BR now, still got some things on DVD only because its not available on BR or its not worth it. Certain films such as comedies aren't worth it in my opinion, sci-fi's are though.

    I have a 37'' TV so according to that link its useless lol! :(
    You need to sit close to the TV then? cos I notice the difference with BR, especially with animated films, very sharp.

    Didn't know you needed a calibration disc though, what does that do??

  8. An interesting post!

    I am like you - a late adaptor of new technology. I still don`t have a blu ray player or a smartphone and, like you, I only got my first flat screen last year.

    I gave up on collecting movies when my VHS collection became obsolete. I spent a lot of money back in the 90s buying all my favorite movies and then when DVD came around I ended up eventually giving them all away and vowing to only rent from then on.

    Blu Ray strikes me as being like 8 tracks or Beta - a technologly that is going to fade quickly. Rental stores, which must have been one of the main markets for them, are pretty much history by now (Blockbuster officially went out of business just this week) and everyone (including even me) is subscribing to streaming services.

    And, as you aptly point out, Blu Rays don`t really do anything that DVDs weren`t capable of except display a sharper image (sometimes). To me it just hardly seemed worth the upgrade from my DVD player and now that my PS2 is broken I don`t even have one of those anymore and juststream movies. Blu Ray is just one of those generations of technologies that a lot of people are going to skip right over.

  9. Hi Phil - you must have a lot of Blu Rays then! Do you own all the films you review or do you stream/hire some of them?

    Hi Sean, hope you're well? :) I think you're right actually. As I mentioned in the post, I was annoyed HD DVD and Blu Ray came out as I expected them to replace the DVD format entirely, but download/streaming has quickly become the main way for many people to watch stuff, certainly for casual viewers at least. As I've mentioned a number of times now, I've become a big Netflix user. I think you said you don't have that, didn't you? It's pretty sweet! :P

  10. Had to share this on my FB wall. I agree with everything said here. Excellent post mate.

  11. Thank you sir, I'm glad you liked it :)