Poor Efforts Make Me Feel Blu (And Broke)


Since the end of the high-definition format battle, there
have been stories in the press that Blu-ray is still not taking off with
consumers. The latest to declare this is Microsoft. Shane Kim, head of
Microsoft Game Studios, told Home Media magazine that Microsoft is “not
seeing the format taking off.”

Sour grapes, you say? Perhaps they do, but they also have a
point. While Microsoft and several other articles I’ve seen always point to the
hardware as the culprit, I believe that’s wrong. Sure, there are DVD players
under $100 while Blu-ray decks are $400 and up.

But I can’t think of a DVD player under $100, or even $200,
worth owning. The best and cheapest is Oppo, the Chinese import that’s taken
the Internet by storm (they have no retail presence and sell direct from a
warehouse in Mountain View. I’ve been there.)

A quality DVD player with good output and a decent decoder
chip is in the same price range as a Blu-ray deck. If you’re in the market for
a new deck, might as well go Blu-ray since it’s backwards-compatible and will
be a well-made player.

No, the problem is the lazy, pitiful effort on the part of
the studios, a problem that has persisted for some time. I was the DVD portal
editor for IGN for two years and saw this problem in the standard definition
DVD space. The studios are their own worst enemy and then point at piracy or
some other excuse to make up for their own idiocy.

Studios were lazy with their DVD releases, putting out poor
quality movies with little or no extras, something people came to expect.
Because DVD was digital video, there was room for error. It wasn’t like VHS, an
analog recording that all looked the same. You could do a DVD well, or poorly. When a DVD was poorly done, people would rent it rather than buy it.

Add to it the unbridled greed of studios. “Double
dipping” was a term used almost daily as studios reissued the same movie
with more extras, deleted scenes, director’s cuts, etc. Some of them came
months after the standard release, others came within weeks. At one point, a
Miramax executive boasted to the New York Times about getting six special
editions out of the “Kill Bill” movies, causing an uproar on DVD
enthusiast sites.

The most egregious example was when Universal Studios
announced a special edition of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind” literally two days after the standard edition came out. Standard
release came out on Tuesday, special edition announced on Thursday. My readers were
furious and vented to me, since they had no one else to complain to, and I
totally understood their anger.

The end result? Sales are falling off. Duh. You can only screw the public so many times before they get sick of it.

Blu-ray offers HDTV-quality video, resolution of 1920×1080.
Standard def DVD is 740×480, which means Blu-ray should have six times the
resolution of DVD. Plus, there are new lossless codecs and audio mixes that are
even better than the Dolby Digital and DTS audio used on DVD.

So a disc prepared for Blu-ray should be head and shoulders
better than standard definition. Instead, we’re seeing laziness again. In the
early days of DVD it was not uncommon for studios to take laser disc versions
of a movie and slap it on a DVD disc. Laser disc was not a digital format and didn’t have the resolution of DVD. The result was a poor quality movie that
didn’t take full advantage of DVD’s capabilities.

While there are some tremendous discs out there that truly
shine as demo discs (the documentary “Planet Earth” and the film “Curse of the Golden Flower” really stick out, as do the Pixar releases), too often the studios
are taking their standard definition DVD master and sticking it on a Blu-ray


The most recent example is the one that set me off to write
this. Fox delayed the release of my favorite film, “Master &
Commander: The Far Side of the World” twice, by almost a year. On picking
it up two weeks ago, I was shocked to see and hear that Fox used their existing
DVD master instead of giving it a full HD treatment.

The end result is a movie that looks and sounds no better
than the original release. What’s worse, Blu-ray discs are expensive, very expensive.
The standard definition release of M&C is selling for $19 but the Blu-ray
release is $39. So I wasted $40 (that’s a half a tank of gas in San Francisco) to
get the same thing I already have.

I am not pleased, and at least in part with myself. Had I
been patient for one or two more days, I would have seen reviews warning me of this
very problem. In the end, though, these poor efforts more than anything else
are the true detriment of Blu-ray. It’s not on-demand and it’s not hackers
whacking away at Blu-ray’s DRM that are hurting the format, it’s a lazy effort
and an exorbitant price tag for it that will cripple Blu-ray when it should be
taking off.

This thread shows a lot of people are holding off purchases due to the high price and not living up to the promise of the format. You can get people to part with their money when they perceive value in the purchase. Paying $40 for something you already have does not qualify as valuable, especially in this economy.

Most of these movie studios also owned record labels, and
look at the sorry state they are in these days. I see the same thing happening
again with DVD, standard and high definition. As Captain Aubrey (Russell Crowe)
said in the movie, “Their greed will be their downfall.”

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