After many long months of pining, I finally have a 40-inch full HD LCD TV and a Blu-Ray player. Although I’d only seen snippets of Blu-Ray in action in stores – and not at optimal settings, I now learn – reading about the technology online and just watching my CRT confirmed that there was much room for improvement. My experience with that technology is akin to seeing a moving image through a dirty beer glass, and these first days with the new TV have proven that.
But Blu-Ray has been the most impressive aspect, by far. Some friends had said they could barely tell the difference, which was a little concerning. Is Blu-Ray, in the final analysis, more for the incredibly discerning home theatre buffs who can tell the difference between a Dolby and a DTS audio track? Would my upscaled DVDs look on-par with the new, much-vaunted, but controversial technology?
No. Far from it.
Don’t get me wrong, DVDs look amazing and better than ever, and I will happily continue to watch them and marvel at the picture. But I doubt I’ll be able to buy a DVD again if the title is also available in Blu (certain low-key titles, such as sitcoms, are a likely exception if price is an issue).
Watching a Blu-Ray is like looking through the cleanest window you can find. Hell, forget the window. It’s like being in the room. You may have thought you were seeing that with DVD, but you weren’t. You can now see every grain of stubble, every blade of grass, every lick of flame. Not only does this look astounding, but it pulls you in to the film, utterly immersing you. It feels wrong to eat your dinner in front of it.
I now honestly believe that anyone who likes movies who sees Blu-Ray will be converted to its value.
I completely understand the skepticism that this is an unnecessary expansion of DVD, and a means to get home theatre fans to buy their discs again, but what’s been underestimated is just how profound the improvement is for any moviegoer. In the cases of a few select films with incredible visuals, you may actually want to buy them again, just to experience them in this way (I think I have to get Blade Runner again…). I now sorta understand why those with such setups can’t be bothered going to the movies anymore (I won’t quite get to that point – I have to see Inception on the big screen).
Extras are a slightly different story. I adore them when they’re smart and comprehensive, and they were usually a key selling point for me for DVDs since picture quality didn’t matter much on a CRT. Now, I’m not as worried. I’ll still be happy to pay for a movie-only disc, because picture and sound quality is now a priority. Plus, I get the impression that studios have yet to fully harness Blu-Ray’s capabilities for unique extras in a manner that isn’t perfunctory. BD-Live may be able to connect my player to the Internet, but I have no interest in making a music video using portions of a film, or getting a filmography on the screen straight away. Such frivolities don’t hold a candle to a great documentary on a film, which DVD has been handling just fine for many years. Such substantial extras are reportedly endangered these days though, with studios unwilling to fork out for feature-length docos – particularly of catalogue titles – when so many consumers just want the film. I used to scorn that, but if those consumers had great picture quality, then I can understand it a little more. However, I want quality extras to survive and prosper. There’s nothing like a great documentary taking you into how a classic or a modern classic was made. They become part of the discussion.
But if you’re reading this and don’t care about extras, then this won’t impact your view of Blu-Ray and its significance, and nor should it. My first Blu-Ray ended up being Avatar, and although the third viewing did not really engage me as a narrative – I doubt it’s a film I’ll revisit much – I was transfixed for all 2 and a half hours at the stunning imagery. I’m considering buying it just to use as a test disc to demonstrate Blu-Ray to family and friends, although I’m sure another great-looking film will come along soon to serve that purpose.
That’s the great thing about this. It may just be the initial novelty, but Blu-Ray is like discovering movies all over again. If you enjoy movies and/or TV and you’re willing to make the investment, I can’t recommend getting into this technology enough. It’s breathtaking and vital and important. Yes, full high-definition digital downloads will come along one day, but it will be a long time before we can download this level of quality, let alone stream it, in anything less than hours upon hours, certainly in Australia (the National Broadband Network is far from complete, after all). Your new TV will be the vehicle for that quality anyway, wherever it comes from, and Blu-Ray players can be had for less than $AU200 now, plus the discs are getting cheaper and going on special more often. Take the plunge and enjoy now rather than waiting years for 1080p downloads. You won’t regret it.
[Damn, this looks like I was paid by the Blu-Ray Disc Association. Oh well, I’m enthusiastic :)]
Also, I will be blogging each day this month, with three today to catch up. I won’t make a big deal about it because down that road lies madness. Whatever happens, I hope you enjoy.