Blu-ray Disc: What The Hell Are You, Really (Part 1)

As usual, this is my learned opinion. While I strongly believe in both my viewpoint and in my knowledge that I have accumulated to reach this viewpoint, I do expect others to feel differently and to challenge and enlighten me. I cannot be right unless I can face the possibility of being wrong.


As a lifelong home video maven and almost as long a member of the home video business, I am one who loves the advances that come along in physical video media. Now you are branding me as a “stick in the mud” old head, because I did not use the words “digital” or “downloads” or “VOD” or “watching a big screen film on your fricking phone”.

And maybe I am, but I believe in the thought that you can only own, hold, library, and treasure something that you truly can actually hold. I’ll get into that later, but for now, let’s look at what was to be the next big thing in physical video media.

Blu-ray disc.

Raise your hands, all of you who have had this more than one year.

Now, those of you who specifically bought a Blu-ray player for the Blu-ray

Now, those of you who know what Blu-ray really is.

Now, those of you who know what 720p, 1080i, and 1080p are.

Now, those of you who actually know which of these numbers your HDTV is.

Now, those of you who wonder what is now wrong with DVD that you need to step up.

Those are just a few of the questions that I ask because I believe that the people behind Blu-ray have pretty much screwed up the process.

Now, it isn’t their entire fault. Sony, Warner, and the champions of Blu-ray, spent the first couple of years fighting a battle with other studios who championed a different hi-def disc, HD-DVD.  In other words, instead of spending the launch shouting about how this was the next big improvement on DVD and home entertainment, they spent it telling people they were better than another rival that the consumer needed to be educated about.

So, this set back the ability to please anybody but the early adopters, who took sides and claimed to be the ones who mattered to the success of the format. This was an asinine concept, since any product that wants to be the next big thing needs to interest those who may not be initially interested, not just the early adopters.

Ok, so HD-DVD drops out, and Blu-ray has the field all to themselves. Now, what to do.

I still do not think that they know.

By the time Blu-ray finally “won”, the industry was facing the sea change that is online. Because Blu-ray spent so much time fending off competition, they forgot the general consumer.

A couple of years ago, I talked with one of the Sony execs about programs to better educate the mass market about Blu-ray. My theory rested on the concept that good independent video stores were built on the concept of customer service. They prided themselves on knowing the customer, remembering their likes and needs, and talking with them to help make choices. My stores always loved the conversation as much as the money going into the till. That conversation improved both the customers’ night of entertainment and our ability to serve them in the future.

One concept explored was a reasonable kiosk set up that would promote Blu-ray in an easy to understand way. Well, I guess the concept was good, because after a few conversations, the studio rolled them out to Blockbuster. Well!

Of course, to Blockbuster, they were just another merchandising floor plan, one more space to compete against what theater sized candy earned per square foot.

At the same time, along came the rise of Netflix and Redbox. (I still for the life of me abhor the thought of films being vended like gumballs). Netflix was the smart one, promoting itself as convenience, even though you had to wait a day or two for the DVD.

More on Netflix later.

The other great change was the studios desire to get into streaming and downloading, while the cable giants try to expand their VOD and other offerings. What was basically happening is that the market, which Blu-ray at first hoped would be sales oriented, and then reluctantly gave way to rental thoughts, was no longer the new kid on the block. Now, newer techs, some of them more like rental than sale, were the talk of the town.

Blu-ray has tried some good ideas  that may be too little too late. The best was the Combo Blu-ray/DVD pack, which allowed the consumer to get both formats for one price. Those who had Blu-ray love it, especially for family films, since they may not have Blu-ray on all the TV’s or computers.

However, is it enough to cause a customer to think forward and say to themselves “Gee, someday I may own a Blu-ray player or computer”. In addition, did the combo pack actually do anything to educate and change consumer viewpoints.

Blu-ray is taking a larger share of the DVD pie, but is that because the DVD pie has hit its ceiling?

I have more on this, but this post is long enough, and as I have said, I really want to hear from others, because I can always learn and reevaluate. All I ask is that your comments focus on Blu-ray for now, and wait for me to get to other home video topics to tear me a new digital asshole.

BTW, did you know that if you have an HDTV, if it is 720p, it will upconvert standard DVD nicely, but that it can only upconvert to a max of 1080i, and Blu-ray uses 1080p for full effect?

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Was Feeling Blu About Blu-ray, But Things Change….

Blu-ray

So much has come around in the last 40 years to change the way you spend your leisure time. The granddaddy of what I am talking about is home video.

It is pervasive, and maybe too pervasive in everyone’s homes (and outside as well now). It actually started when AVCO and Sears introduced a system called CARTRAVISION  in the late Sixties.

After that came the SonyBetamax, followed by VHS and the soon-to-be-forgotten U-Matic (Quasar).

Also, two competing video formats came along and really didn’t survive the 80’s: RCA CED Disc and LaserDiscs.

Of course, we now have DVD and Blu-ray, and my total hated of vending machines for video rental. And I am not a Netflix fan either, but that is for another day.

What each of these shared was that they in some way revolutionized what up to then had to be delivered to the home by antenna and cable. Before then, feature films could take four years to show up on your home screen. However, these  films became events. They became what you planned around. NBC SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES was watched on NBC on Sunday Night, or you missed it.

Many will say that it is great that we don’t have to time it like that anymore, but something was lost in the move to continual access to material at all times. While it is great to be ON DEMAND to watch something, it has become less special to watch a film or an event.

One of the major TV events of my lifetime was THE BEATLES appearing on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. Think about it. So many millions of people would say that they saw history that night, and talk about it the next morning, and not worry about revealing “spoilers”. Sure, there are not so many events that are truly “of the moment”, but sadly, that shared experience is fast disappearing from our lives.

Probably, only the final episodes of LOST approached that feeling this year, and yet, many people watched at their leisure, on their DVR’s, on demand, or on computer. However, for all but the real time viewing, the “event” is lost  itself. Once it is put off, or done later, it may be entertaining, but it is no longer special.

We share by blogging about what we’ve watched, we share by posting comments on Twitter and Facebook, we share by e-mail. How many even really plan a night in front of the TV based in the excitement of what they can watch, instead of by sitting down and seeing what Netflix has delivered or what is on the DEMAND menu?

We even take a film made in IMAX and talk about how exciting it is to watch it on a 4 inch screen. I still do not get that one. I’ve had mini-TV’s for convenience at sporting events and such, but never have I enjoyed trying to watch a film on one. Smacks of gimmick to me.

So, this started out as a chastise to the way the Blu-ray studios are fucking up Blu-ray beyond repair, and has turned into a nostalgic and probably unrealistic return to yesterday, or not yesterday, but a bit more specialness to what was once a special experience.

When I was a kid, CBS would show THE WIZARD OF OZ every year, once a year. They made it a big event. The film was bookended with intros and material, hosted by Danny Kaye or Dick Van Dyke. We would go to relatives or friends houses to watch it, and watched it attentively, knowing that it would not be back until the next year.

Danny stood in front of this long staircase that lead to what seemed like the sky, the skys the limit. Who knew that climbing that staircase would not allow you to turn back to the good feelings of a special event.  Current ways to access films and entertainment are all convenient and available, but they are not special, they are just there.

Yes, they were my life for 27 years, and I hope that it will be part of my professional life soon again. But my interest and love for the home video business was always the shared experience  of both watching and helping to choose. IMHO, that is lost in front of a computer screen.

Update 2/17/12

In the last 18 months, I haven’t changed my opinion. In fact, it has gotten stronger. Unfortunately, things are looking weaker for my thoughts. Bluray and DVD selection is available in fewer and fewer retail spaces, and those selections are much less thorough than before. CD’s are being forecasted to be severely affected this year.

And I even read tweets from independent filmmakers who prefer to watch films on a portable unit, not an HD TV set.

I’m working on a post now that looks at my own perception of the changes in movie going experience throughout my lifetime. I’ll post that in the next day or so.

In the meantime, I take my films on a screen experience that can both be shared with other and be comfortably watched by myself.