Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sloppiness in the face of Blu Ray

I remember when DVD first came in - in fact, in all honesty, my VHS still hasn't conked out and has its uses. DVD was shiny and new, it was a slimline format - where one VHS box was, you could have two and a half DVD boxes on your shelf. The compact disk had more longevity than the VHS, which could go flickery and ''old'' after one bad summer or extremely cold spell. You didn't have to rewind them, you could get special features, and it was just all very impressive.
Especially with the way Disney drew in the younger audience using a 3D and flying Tinkerbell, lauding DVD up as the biggest improvement since sliced bread. (My 1990 copy of Snow White on VHS is actually pretty good, so I'll be surprised if they've restored that mammoth-aged film all that much)

The only problem was that you'd have to buy a whole new media player, and they were far more expensive than videos and VHS players, and if you wanted to keep your videos, you'd have to keep the VHS player, or rebuy your favourites on a new medium, and hope that that VHS you really liked wasn't too new a release.

Now, blu-ray, a smaller version of the DVD and with greater visual capabilities, is being phased in. That's right; phased. The difference with this change in medium is that the blu-ray player can play your old dvds - if you're happy with the quality of a dvd, which are still relatively new, then you don't have to worry about having three players clogging your television area (VHS, DVD and Blu-ray) - though I should want to get a blu-ray player with freeview AND a recorder included, so that my DVD player can be made obsolete properly - and you don't have to rebuy your films onto yet another medium. Something which for some has taken years to do with the VHS.
Blu-ray copies of new films tend to be somewhere between £5 and £10 dearer, rather than the initial £15+ difference between DVD and VHS, but their low-effort capacity for recreating a HD film on such a small disc is apparently fantastic.

I can't wait to get a blu-ray player when I have my own house, but it's not because of its ability to play HD films. It is because of my experience so far this year with new DVDs that have been released on Blu Ray as well. The Blu-ray reviewers are more than happy with their copies. Those that got the DVD+Blu-Ray packs of new releases are very happy with the Blu-Ray copies as well. But those with DVD are left with the stark laziness and consequently poor quality dvd copies.

I ordered Inception on dvd, after seeing the film at the uni cinema - I liked it that much. I knew that transferring it to dvd would lose *some* quality - but considering that there have been quite a few such films that have converted to great DVD quality, I wasn't worried, until I read the complaints in the Amazon reviews.
They weren't complaining about the snow. No, they were complaining about the quality of the dvd - fuzzy images, pixellated effects. Possibly they were exaggerating. I emailed Amazon asking their policy for DVD returns where poor image is concerned - they assumed I'd opened it, and therefore made an exception and prepared me a returns label.

I watched it, therefore, and I was optimistic - the advert for the other films that came out that year were sharp and clear, and looked perfectly normal. Then the film menu came up and my heart plummeted.
The image behind the menu options was fuzzy and the menu buttons were pixellated. I thought that this could be the worse that it would be, so I watched through the film, skipping through it a bit.
The main talking scenes were passable - it wasn't quite HD, it was true, but it wasn't horrendous.
Then when running through Mombassa, it was hard to tell, as I could barely keep my eyes on that scene. I ignored that - I can be like that with too-fast movement on a screen.
Then they were in a dream, teaching Ella Page about their work. It was pixellated. The mirror scene was awful and with that I switched off the film, repacked it, and returned it. I have now received my refund.

I've also ordered two dvds, which are of my favourite anime series - I have the fan subs, and I thought I'd like to transfer it to hard copies, with the fancy boxes.
I was disappointed again - not only have Funimation used Ariel as the font (could get used to it, I suppose, and the colour) but the area around the subtitles is fairly pixellated and the quality of the image in general is just... old looking. On top of that, the subtitling is poorly done - often the subs are wider than the screen and main image. Whilst you can override that on the computer, possibly, what's the point when first and foremost, it is a DVD, something to be enjoyed in the living room on a television screen?
The improved grammar of the subs (since they're professional, not speed subs) and the hilariously bad American dub is not enough to make me keep the DVDs.

I am all for updating to Blu Ray. Change happens, and usually it happens all in one swift and clean movement. But in such a change where DVD will take a while to be phased out completely, I have to express my deep disappointment in the film industry for simply not bothering to keep their DVD releases up to the quality and standard that they were less than 5 years ago. It's as though in the last three years since I last bought a new release, dvds have been dropped as a format, and are only made because they have to be.

But RE Inception: You should be thoroughly ashamed, Warner Brothers.

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