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What has HD done for us?

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Posted 9th October 2009 at 08:10 AM by BioZombie
Updated 9th October 2009 at 08:33 AM by BioZombie

Hello again, well the second installment of my blog has taken rather longer in coming than I had first hoped, and its on a totally different subject than Iíd intended. Iíve decided to write down my thoughts (as a humble user) about high definition, specifically blu-ray, and list what I have found to be the pros and cons of the format. With the Arrow release of Dawn of the Dead on blu-ray looming hopefully this may help people to decide if the switch to HD is really worth it.

Ok lets start with the cons.

First of all straight off the bat its expensive (as a lowely projectionist living in London IĎm not exactly rolling in the moolah and chose to sell my Wii to upgrade to Blu-Ray). If you donít own a HD or HD Ready T.V then you have to upgrade (between £300-£700 for a decent sized mid range one), you have to buy the player itself (£150 - £200 for a decent model though you can spend a lot more) and then anything you want to watch in HD you have to re-buy on blu-ray (with most decent titles being in the £15-£20 range). Iíve seen some of the pictures of peoples DVD collections on this forum and Iím sure that people with 500+ DVDs do not relish the idea of re-buying everything again on a new format (not to mention a lot of the obscure horror titles are yet to get a release, but hereís hoping). Also if you want to make use of the high definition surround tracks youíll need a 5.1 system (although this isnít necessary and I didnít need to upgrade my surround system to play either the Dolby or DTS HD audio).

The next con is something I did not know about until I had been using my player for a few months. Some disks do not work straight out of the box. The first problem I had was with Terminator 2 Skynet edition. I went thought 2 copies before I found out there was not a disk error but I needed to update the firmware on my player. I had a similar problem with Crank 2 and found out I had to buy a USB memory stick (with some players itís a SD card) to get it to work. Neither of these problems were mentioned on the disks box and both required a lengthy search in blu-ray tech forums to solve, something less tech savvy users may not think to do. The Crank 2 one annoyed me most as I didnít have a USB stick and had to go and out buy one (£10) before I could watch the film.

Another, smaller, but still relevant problem is the load time. Iím not sure if its just my player but some of the disks take an age to load, the already mentioned T2 Skynet Edition is a particular offender along with The Dark Knight.

My final con is a personal one, I donít really like those horrible little blue moulded plastic boxes. Though I have to say theyíve grown on me slightly since I first saw them. I just try to get as much stuff in steel box or other packaging as I can.

Right, so those are the cons as I see them, and keeping them in mind we can sayÖ

What has HD done for us?

I was going to leave my first pro to the end, but I just can hold back, itís the big one, picture quality. When Blu-Ray (and of course the now totally dismembered and rotting corpse of HD DVD) was released I thought to myself, íthe upgrade in quality from VHS to DVD was obviously huge, but HD cant really be that much better than DVDí. I will admit that I was wrong. The first time I watched Halloween on Blu-Ray I was completely blown away by the image quality. Every little detail is unearthed, stuff that I thought was down to the quality of the original film print is shown to be because of the limitations of the DVD format. Iíve always maintained that Halloween is on of the best crafted, best shot horrors of all time and the Blu-Ray format hammers this truth home.
Its not just Michael Myers who gains from the astounding picture quality of blu-ray, John Carpenters The Thing is an equal beneficiary. Rob Bottins special effects have never looked better and the snow scenes look so crisp youíd be forgiven if you mistakenly thought Carpenter had gone back out and re-shot them with the latest HD camera. Another film that has cleaned up astonishingly well is Army of Darkness, the film prompted me to write this blog. Bill Popes cinematography looks stunning, the colours are so vivid, and who doesnít want to see old three stooges jokes in HD?
There is a slight problem though, just because a film has been released on Blu-Ray doesnít necessarily mean its going to look its best, the people releasing it need to do their part with a great transfer too. My suggestion is to read one of the many online reviews that go into picture quality specifically before buying any disks. As an example I held of buying T2 until the Skynet edition came out as I heard the first version was quite frankly shit, but if you choose the right film Blu-Ray cannot be faulted on picture quality.

After picture quality the next big thing to judge a format on is sound. Itís true that the quality of youíre home system is going to be a big factor on how good the sound is but Blu-Ray does has a few tricks up its sleeve. If you can play the uncompressed Dolby and DTS tracks you are in for a treat. Every axe chop, every blood curdling scream and of course lets not forget, every chainsaw roar can be heard clearly. Evil Dead II is a good example of this as there are so many layered sounds some of them are lost in a compressed format like DVD, but no so with Blu-Ray. Again if the sound mix was poor in the first place HD cant polish a turd, but for most titles you will hear an improvement (maybe not quite as vast as the picture quality) over dvd.

The next bonus is one that most people probably know about. Backwards compatibility. You do not need any ugly combo drives to play youíre old DVDs and most blu-ray players will even upscale them increasing the picture quality (some people argue about whether up scaling is an improvement as it may not give a true image, Iím not an up scaling expert but there is a good article on it here.)

Finally another great thing about Blu Ray is the huge amount of space on the disc for extras. Like most film fans Iím sure everyone here loves commentaries, documentaries and making ofís and blu ray can offer a (little) bit more. By far my favourite blu-ray enchancment are the Picture in Picture (PIP) commentaries where not only can you hear the film makers talk but you can see behind the scenes footage and other video while watching the film.
Iím not overly impressed with the new menu systems, being able to bring up a menu while watching the film hasnít really been that useful to me and the menu sounds are annoying. (plus these new fangled menus are, I think, the cause of the slow loading time) Iíve not tried any of the downloadable content, but overall I think blu-ray is an improvement when I comes to extras.

So thatís it, my thoughts on HD, hopefully Iíve avoided sounding too much like a Blu-Ray salesman and given fair weight to some of the formats problems (and if I've made any glaring technical errors hopefully someone will tell me). I really think that it is an improvement over dvd in every way (except those bloody cases) and if you can afford it its well worth the investment.
And for those people who say that blu-ray is a waste of money because soon HD downloading will take the market by storm I say, ĎNot if Iíve got anything to do with it!í I enjoy having a physical collection of films, I like the artwork and the booklets and posters that come with them. A file on a hard drive will not replace that in my opinion, and by looking at the pictures of people collections I think people here agree with me.

Thanks for reading my blog. Hopefully the next one wont take so long.

BioZombie

Just to let you know I am in no way using the best possible components for my HD setup and still get a great performance out of it. In fact I only have HD Ready not Full HD so Iím not getting the full potential. (HD Ready has a smaller image resolution that Full HD but is still a huge improvement over SD DVD) For anyone whoís interested Iíll list my equipment below.

Sony BD350 Blu-Ray Player (£179 from Richer Sounds)

Optima HD720X High Definition Ready Digital Projector (£500 from Richer Sounds, will need a new bulb in a year or soĎs time though and theyíre not cheap)

Sony STR DE 495 AV Reciever (£100 from Richer Sounds about 3 years ago doesnít include speakers)
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  1. Old Comment
    Good article. Check out the Oppo BD-83 player (http://www.oppodigital.com/blu-ray-bdp-83), it costs a bit more but it has the quality of players four times its price. It also has seriously fast load times on discs and a development team that react fast to discs that require firmware updates. You can also get a hardware mod cable (no soldering) to make it multi region, or there are also hacked firmwares around you can flash it with, so you can play DVD 1-6 and BD A/B/C. This is all information I have learned, and I will be picking up a player for myself very soon!
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 11th October 2009 at 12:04 PM by Sec Sec is offline
  2. Old Comment
    InDogWeTrust's Avatar
    I really hope Blu-Ray doesn't ever take over DVD, I know eventually it will and will just be as cheap as DVD but I hope that's not in my lifetime. If it does, I'm just going to be old skool with my DVD and VHS collections. I have and will continue to buy some things in Blu-Ray but only if it's one of my all time favourite movies or if it comes in a really great special edition (For Example Sin City Steelbook edition, Blade Runner 5-disc collectors edition and Terminator2 6 Disc Endoskull Bust edition).
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 1st June 2011 at 02:46 AM by InDogWeTrust InDogWeTrust is offline
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