Having recently upgraded the fernbyfilms.com home cinema to BluRay, I thought I’d give you my impressions on it as a format, for those of you who haven’t decided to embrace the new technology yet. My highly successful article on BluRay discs and associated stuff can be found here, and it’s worth a quick read if you don’t know what all the fuss is about.
When DVD came along, the significant difference between the new format and VHS was profound. An improvement in picture and sound fidelity offered film lovers and home cinema addicts a new level of entertainment: sharper picture and multi-channel digital sound could only serve to enhance the viewing experience. It was a similar improvement for CD over cassette tape. The era of digital technology was upon us, and as we all now know, DVD became the fastest uptake of any technology on the planet, in the history of the world. It has since become the de facto standard for movie releases to the consumer market.
So what about BluRay, the newfangled technology advertised on TV alongside DVD? Most people either don’t understand it, or don’t care. Fair enough, because it’s only been 13 years or so since DVD was launched, which by most peoples standards is still a “new”technology. Has the advent of high definition disc technology (parallel with HD streaming downloads from the Internet and other entertainment platforms) given us just another excuse to update our movie collection yet again, or is it a case of too much too soon?
I sat down a few weeks ago to watch a bunch of BluRay discs on my nice new 50′ plasma, and I can honestly say that I was blown away with just how much an improvement BluRay is over DVD. I was decidedly impressed with just how much of a difference the switch to HD over DVD was. A comparison test, between the DVD and BluRay versions of Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen, indicated to me just how much difference there actually is. The BluRay far surpassed the picture resolution of DVD by an order of magnitude, the level of detail present just astounding. The DVD, meanwhile, showed it’s obvious compression artefacts, resulting in an image with mild grain and a softer feel to it. The audio, as well, had a much fuller sound going on, a result of the uncompressed (lossless) soundtracks utilised by the format. Rather than compress the sound (which is what DVD does, much the same way an mp3 audio track is compressed from the original CD quality WAV format), BluRay allows for the master audio track to be included, having sharper sound and higher fidelity.
People following tech announcements will have heard recently that the BluRay Disc Association announced the worldwide specs for the new 3D BluRay format, which will debut on disc midway through next year (some titles have already been announced) and with new 3D capable screens released as well. This bodes well for the format, as more and more people take it up as their preferred option for watching movies at home. The current PS3s will also have a firmware update (so I am told) that will modify them to produce 3D images, without the requirement for purchasing a new player. The rest of us who own (or are about to own) a stand-alone Blu player will have to re-purchase a new machine capable of reproducing the 3d images contained therein.
I had a conversation a while back (after a fernbyfilms.com venture to the cinema to watch The Dark Knight I think) with site contributors Mick Kubler, Greg Bowden and a few others about the then impending BluRay/HD DVD battle, and which format would eventually win. I sided with BluRay (and was successfully vindicated) as the superior technology. BluRay technology offers so much integration with your films, using the BluRay Live format and other variations (depending on the studio) which allows you to access the internet via your BluRay player to chat with friends, visit studio websites, special features and other material only obtainable via the new HD format. Now, with the added bonus of reproducing the full 3D cinematic experience, cinema chains are going to find themselves on the back foot of getting people in the door. I know I often struggle to justify the now exorbitant price to go to the cinema these days, even the cheap days are still pricey for a few people. So I now often wait for the DVD/BluRay to be released, and I can sit in the comfort of my own home and have a full cinematic experience without the crowds, the lolly munching teenagers who seem to think chatting through a film is preferable to, oh, I don’t know, watching the film.
For those of you contemplating a BluRay purchase, or a new Plasma/LCD/LED screen for the lounge room, you might very well be asking whether or not to wait and get the new 3D technology compatible versions, or simply get in now and be done with it. It’s a question I’d ask myself, too. Simple fact is, if you wait long enough for new technology to stabilise, you’ll forever be waiting. No doubt in the next 5 to 10 years, a new technology will emerge that will supersede BluRay again…. it’s like most things. If you already have a standard BluRay player, don’t fret; your current player will be able to play a 3D Blu disc, since they’re designed to be backwards compatible with current technology. It will essentially down-convert a 3D signal into a 2D one, and play the film as such on your regular monitor. And of course, the new 3D players will also be able to play your DVD and current BluRay collection. Personally, I wouldn’t necessarily rush out on the day a 3D BluRay player is released to the Australian public: there’s bound to be a few teething issues with the new technology, as well as supply/demand issues, so as somebody who’s been following this with great interest, I’d advise caution before purchase. Wait an extra 6-12 months before your new 3D purchase, to allow the bugs in the system to work their way out.
For those who still think DVD is the way to go, and may be hovering on the fence about BluRay, I would advise you to get yourself a new Blu player as soon as you’re able. The quality is superb, and since you’ll still be able to play your DVD’s in the new machines, you won’t have obsolete technology to worry about replacing. Current pricing on home cinema systems, plasmas and LCD screens, BluRay technology and all the affiliated stuff is quite good at the moment, due mainly to the strong Australian dollar allowing us to import things at a cheaper price… meaning the retailers can pass on those savings to the consumer. If you’re wavering, don’t. Upgrade to Blu as soon as possible. The technology is sound, the software (ie, the discs) is plentiful, with over 1500 titles now currently available in Australia, and more overseas, and the overall quality is astounding.
Recent news out of the USA indicates that several cable television providers are going to begin broadcasting 3D channels in the near future. While Australia doesn’t have the commercial viability to support this here yet, no doubt as more material is released in 3D, things will change. Speaking of TV, the current Freeview campaign is running successfully, with a large uptake in people obtaining either new TV sets or set-top boxes, in order to receive the new digital channels. All local TV channels are now multi-channelling, with the ABC having 3 streams, while SBS, 7, 9 and Ten all streaming 2 unique channels. Nine and Seven, as well as ABC and Ten, all broadcast a full HD channel of content under their own branding, while Ten broadcasts channel One in full HD and regular SD. If you haven’t yet upgraded to digital television, can I recommend you do so as soon as possible. Not only is the picture far superior than regular analogue signals, but the broadcasts are all in widescreen as well, allowing maximum compatibility with the new televisions. For those of you with Foxtel, that service now comes with multiple HD channels (I don’t subscribe to pay television…. why do I have to pay for something with commercials anyway?), so there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the joys of HD television right now.
Snippets of news out of the 2010 CES in the US indicate that new phones are about to come out that are capable of streaming live HD digital TV, so you’ll be able to watch stuff right on your phone like you would at home. No word yet on costs for this. As you can see, multi-platform technology, in much the same way all our phones and iPods etc can all crossover music, video and games, is the way of the future. There’s no reason to think that HD films won’t be a part of this.
Another piece of technology that has film studio’s interested is live streaming from the Web. Many commentators, particularly in the US, are stating that sooner or later, hardware technology will become obsolete, in favour of streaming your films and music and TV shows live off the internet, right onto your TV. The concept of disc technology will eventually disappear as more people look for ease of use and a simplified user interface. Mind you, I don’t imagine this to occur in my lifetime, due to the fact that a large number of industry insiders have indicated that the feedback they are getting is that current Internet speeds don’t make live streaming a major player in the market. People still favor owning a piece of hardware they can pickup and feel, rather than download ethereal content online. Personally, I prefer the disc format for this very reason. Plus, it’s easier to show off an enormous film collection with actual product than a list of stuff stored on a computer somewhere. He he…
So, you may be reading all this and wondering what on Earth it all means for you, the consumer and film viewer. Simply put, BluRay is here to stay, and if current uptake numbers are any indication, will supersede DVD in sales within the next 5 years. Here in Australia, that may take a little longer, but the point is there: BluRay is the future. If you’re on the fence about the new format, I’d recommend it to you wholeheartedly. Your home cinema may require some upgrades, but the result is substantially better than regular 4×3 TV and DVD.
Is it worth the upgrade? Yes. Yes it is.
Rodney T – Director, Fernby Films.
To get yourself the full HD experience, you’ll need to purchase an HD capable television, (preferrably one using 1080p technology) a BluRay player, an reciever/amplifier able to reproduce the HD audio on each disc, and a couple of HDMI cables. Connect your BluRay player to the reciever via HDMI, and then connect your reciever to the monitor via a second HDMI cable. This will give you both full HD audio and picture. Your BluRay player will plug into a normal TV, though, and still give you exceptional picture, as well as sound, if you only have a TV to view films on. Most BluRay players of decent quality here in Australia start at the $280+ mark. Anything less than this and you’ll be most likely buying an inferior quality brand, which may not give you the options you need to accurately play HD signals. Ask your retailer for a player, monitor and reciever that gives you the best sound and picture for your budget.