Blu-ray Blues [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] May18

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Blu-ray Blues [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

Blu-ray discs – the little brother of DVD discs with a bigger punch. The latest fad in home movie viewing, allows movie companies to release a high definition picture and tons of bonus features onto a single disc. They’ve mostly replaced DVDs in stores and allow consumers to turn their homes into a personal movie theatre. While Blu-rays are jam packed with fun bonuses, they’re also full of downfalls.

Blu-ray discs were officially released to the public in June 2006. The first films to be sold were: 50 First Dates, The Fifth Element, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, Underworld: Revolution, XxX, and The Terminator. Now, most movies and TV shows are available in the format.

The discs, which contain greater storage than a standard DVD, allow movie companies to release films in high definition picture quality to the home consumer market. With the addition of a high definition television, Americans can now get a movie theater experience at home. Many older films and TV shows are being remastered for re-release in Blu-ray, adding more bonus features, interactive chat and online connections to enhance the film experience. A standard DVD can hold 4.7GB of data, while Blu-ray begins at 50GB and up. But, all of these additions come at a price.

When DVD’s hit the market in the late 90’s, they replaced VHS tapes as the preferred home video format. It’s hard to find VHS tapes still on sale in stores. Now, Blu-ray is doing the same damage to DVDs.

A special Blu-ray player is required for playback and most are backwards compatible, which means they will allow playback of standard DVDs. Most of the players on the market also allow connection to the internet. Many of the newer films offer the ability download interactive features such as games or even a chat with other moviegoers online, all without having to leave the movie.

The first Blu-ray players went on sale at around $699, but the price has dropped dramatically, just like HDTV’s when they were first sold. Amazon.com has currently has players selling as low as $59.

When the new technology became available for home use, a disc format war immediately broke out.  Blu-ray and rival HD-DVD fought to become the high definition disc for the masses.  Sales of Blu-ray discs outsold HD-DVD and studios began to quietly drop the format. HD-DVD was officially dead in February 2008, when the last manufacturer, Toshiba, stopped producing new players. I was eager to upgrade, but I waited to see which disc format would win before I made any investment. This same exact home video turf war took place in the 1980’s, with VHS knocking out Beta of most living rooms.

Unlike a DVD, Blu-ray players are basically little computers and use a different beam of light to read the disc data.   While all the information downloads, viewers get to stare at a bar or icon on the TV screen.  On older players, this can take up to a few minutes.

After finally getting the disc booted up, most viewers are nearly locked into watching several minutes of movie trailers and commercials.  On many discs, the chapter forward button is useless, leaving the viewer to fast forward through all of the trailers – just like in the old days of VHS.  The menu button is often worthless at this point.

After running through all the trailers – the disc has to boot up again.  That’s right, on most discs and players; you are waiting again, while staring at a bar for the main menu to boot up.  It’s like the old days of America Online – waiting forever for the constant downloading of artwork.

A Blu-ray disc rented from Netflix.

If you are renting a Blu-ray disc, you will find that costs extra as well.  Netflix charges a couple of extra dollars per month to add the Blu-ray option to your monthly plan, whether you rent any Blu-rays that month or not – you pay for the option. Blu-ray movies will also cost you a few dollars more in the store, although they are often bundled with a digital copy that you can download to a portable device like an iPad.

While the picture quality is a can’t miss – the ads at the beginning of many of the movies are beyond frustrating. I love movie trailers, but I should have the option to bypass them, when I just want to get to the film. If it were one or two, that would be one thing, but some movies pack more than a half dozen trailers that can top over 15 minutes of fast forwarding. By the time I get to the end, I usually don’t remember what the first couple of trailers were for, anyhow. Add in the boot up time and you can be in for quite a wait.

I’m also freighted for the day they replace these trailers with full blown commercials, like they currently do in the theatre. I’ve actually scaled back seeing first run movies theatres – there’s no reason to go, anymore. The ticket prices are high, the concessions are expensive, and people with their cell phones are just idiots. With the big screen TV’s, it’s just easier to wait a few months, and watch it at home.

THE 411

Name: Blu-ray discs

What: high definition movie discs for home consumers

First released: 2006

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:  I like Blu-ray discs; I don’t like all the garbage it takes to load up a movie.

If you’re looking to save a few bucks and want to see the newest films, skip heading to the movies, and rent the newest releases when the come out on disc to watch at home on your big screen TV. You will have to wait a few months, it’s much cheaper and you can stop the movie if you need a bathroom break, or rewind to catch that hilarious scene all over again. It’s just frustrating to have to fast forward through all the crap at the beginning. Just let me hit the menu button and that’s it.

You definitely want to connect your Blu-ray player to the internet, if possible. Not only for the interactive disc options, but most manufacturers regularly send software upgrades that your player can download automatically. Blu-ray is still an evolving technology and many of the older players will not play the newest discs. But, by having your software and firmware up to date – you can eliminate most of those problems. If you’re dropping the cash for a player and a big screen TV, you’ll want your software up to date – so you don’t miss out on the full experience you’re paying for!

Recordable Blu-ray discs and players are slowly making it to stores, but they are a slow and expensive rollout, just like recordable DVDs were. It is nice to know that we will have this as an option for everyone, soon.

Just like VHS and DVD, Blu-ray will eventually became obsolete too. I’m sure it will stick around for at least a decade, until everything becomes completely downloadable over the web.

My current Blu-ray player makes this a reality with the Netflix Instant Streaming service. For a couple of bucks more per month, I can download an ever growing selection of movies and TV series directly to my player. Many studios have withheld their rights to permit their movies to be streamed or sent online, but the library of what’s available is growing. This is where technology is going and it will most likely make most discs obsolete in a decade.

Image credits - pltzyper!, downbeat, & nipotan