Blu-ray – the history and the future of home video

The first Blu-ray movies were released on June 20th, 2006. That was three and a half years ago. Amazing how time flies. Feels like I was just reading about it.

As a gadget geek and an indie filmmaker you’d think I’d be all over blu-ray. When DVD first came out in 1997 it was only a year later before I owned my first player and soon after my second player. I was all up DVD’s ass from the beginning, as soon as I could afford it. But the differences between DVD and VHS at the time were huge. My family had owned a VHS player since the early to mid-80’s so I grew up from age 7 or 8 with the ability to pop in a tape and watch movies. My dad was all about VHS. He loved buying used movies from the local video store. As a result my parents created quite a collection of movies. In fact looking back I never anytime even considered my dad being a gadget geek in a slightest. But as I’m writing this it’s dawning on me that in fact if he had a shred of gadget geekery in him, it was for buying movies on VHS.

I up grew watching movies on VHS. If I had any complaints about it there were few. Those included having to rewind the tape (Be Kind Rewind) and the tracking issues with older tapes. Also the rare chance a tape might snap and break. But actually VHS overall wasn’t bad. Since day one we could record TV shows and movies to tape. When you think about it, this is a feature that the vast majority of DVD players still lack today. Which doesn’t seem nearly as odd as it should. I mean yeah set-top DVD recorders do exist and are out there. But even as of this writing a brand new set-top DVD recorder will still run you over a $100 at a store. Contrast that with $30 or $40 DVD players which are all too common these days. The format has been out for 13 years. 13 years! You’d think by now that every DVD player would also be a DVD recorder. But apparently that was never very important to people. Hence the reason it probably isn’t as common.

To be fair though, other recording technologies did grow up around DVD. Digital Video Recorders (DVR’s) like Tivo for instance. A feature that most digital cable boxes come with these days. Plus not to mention the biggest of them all, computers. The ability for people to download TV shows and even watch them online directly.
Plus lets not forget that with DVD came the release of entire seasons of TV shows in DVD box sets. Something you rarely if ever saw on VHS. Speaking of that, lets talk about some of the things that made DVD so great compared to VHS before we move on to blu-ray.

When I bought my first DVD player it was like day and night in comparison to VHS. Not only was it four times the picture resolution of VHS, but it was also better then CD quality audio. By the time DVD was released we had all been used to CD’s and buying our music that way. CD’s had really taken off in the mainstream by the early 1990’s, so we were all used to the size and type of disc. We were also used to the superior audio quality and the ability to skip tracks and not have to rewind tapes. Something I’m sure vinyl enthusiasts were excited to see again.
So it was only a matter of time before we were all expecting to be able to purchase movies on a disc format with similar features and the same size.

With the release of DVD came those features and more. Not only could we skip chapters and avoid rewinding, but we were also treated to menus, special features, subtitles that could be turned on and off, as well as multiple languages and a couple other features that never really took off (bookmarking and multiple angles). Plus the superior video and audio quality I previously mentioned. But best of all DVD (digital versatile disc) was indeed versatile. It could be played in a computer, on a set-top box or in a portable DVD player. Even in a DVD player for your car. DVD’s were also used for software outside of video playback and eventually as a popular data disc format for burning files too. It was also cheap and easy. I remember years ago being in the grocery store and buying a box of cereal that had a Muppets movie DVD inside. Actually strapped to the front of the cereal box. How cool is that! You would have never seen that with VHS. But probably what made DVD really great over VHS from a movies collectors point of view was the fact that it was digital. So there wasn’t any worry about wearing out the movie with more playbacks like there had been with VHS.

Looking at all of that you can see just how revolutionary DVD was over VHS.

However like I mentioned earlier, during the lifetime of DVD other technologies had emerged along side of it. The ability to download movies off the internet and even the ability to steam TV shows and movies off of websites came about. Even the emergence of HD video content being streamed or downloaded online.

The biggest difference with online content versus DVD is that you don’t often get any of the bonus features you get on DVD. You also don’t get the ability to physically own the movie with the box and all the artwork which can be stored on a shelf. So it doesn’t have nearly the fit and finish a DVD would have. Not to mention the fact the files could be accidentally deleted or become corrupted with data or drive errors.
However the benefit is that you can quickly and easy find what you’re looking for if it’s available. So if you get the urge to see a certain movie or TV show in the middle of the night, you can download it in your pajamas without having to find a 24 hour Walmart and hope that they have it on DVD.

There is a also a certain bit of ease of use that comes with having all your movies and video on your computer. In fact it may sound incredibly lazy, but I’ve found myself just bored and randomly opening movies on my computer and watching them starting at my favorite scenes. If I would have had to go to my shelf and pull the DVD out and put the disc in and wait for it to load up and get to the menu and then skip chapters to that scene, I would have never done it. I just wouldn’t have gone through the effort.

With more movies being increasingly available to purchase online, even in high definition, one wonders what role blu-ray plays in this new world. Afterall blu-ray is modeled after the old world. The idea of physically going to a store and buying a movie on a physical disc. Then having to store all those movies on a shelf which just takes up increasingly precious shelf real-estate in our increasingly material world. With the whole green (environmental) movement in full swing, one wonders whether the idea of buying digital content on a physical medium is nothing but an exercise in waste. I mean afterall why continue to release digital entertainment on physical discs when the internet is clearly the environment in which digital entertainment should be passed to and from.

What we seem to lack is one standard clear cut digital format for this type of thing. Sure we have a multitude of digital video and audio formats out there. But we don’t have one high quality digital file format that can be easily played on a variety of hardware and passed through the internet. This is where cloud computing is essentially going. The idea of keeping all your media on the internet and then being able to access that from anywhere.

Imagine a car stereo that wirelessly connects to the internet and your own personal music collection. You can easily get to every song or every video you own from your dashboard mounted radio. Then you walk in your house and turn on your TV and get to all your movies and home videos there. You go out for a run and take your cell phone with you and from it you can get to all your music. All of it. Not just what you decided to bring with you. Then you get home again and sit down at your computer and it’s all right there. The portability of digital is really where it’s future lies. Portable beyond a disc you carry with you. But the idea that you can get to your media using all manner of devices where ever you are, even if you forgot to bring your own portable device with you.

There are a lot of people that know this future is coming. It may only be a couple of years away. We’re already seeing it right now, it just hasn’t been made as easy to use. All the ducks aren’t completely lined up yet.
But because of this there are people who are skeptical of jumping onto the blu-ray bandwagon. I would be one of those people.

To be honest, I think blu-ray is really cool. The gadget geek and filmmaker inside me does in fact love it. But up until recently I wasn’t sure the format was ever going to really take off. I was sure it was going to end up being nothing more then laserdisc was in the age of VHS. An uppity expensive format for videophiles who wanted the best of the best and were willing to pay a premium for it.
So you can bet I have been pretty surprised to see just how much blu-ray is actually taking off. Walking though an average retail store like a Target or Walmart these days has been an interesting experience. It seems like in the past 3-6 months blu-ray has just exploded all over the place. These stores now have at least one whole aisle dedicated to blu-ray movies. Then there are all the set-top players and end-caps with players and LCD tv’s showing off blu-ray movies. Even the movies themselves have dropped to reasonable prices. I noticed that one of my favorite movies “Stargate” can now be had on blu-ray for $10. That’s what I paid for the special edition version on DVD the second time I bought it.

The prices will definitely drive more people to buy into blu-ray. But as for myself I’m still holding back. Blu-ray doesn’t really offer a whole lot over DVD. It’s not the dramatic difference DVD was to VHS. Blu-ray is high definition, which is it’s biggest selling point. It also has better audio. But honestly you really can’t get much better than DVD audio. DVD audio as it is, is beyond human hearing. The only other features blu-ray offers are better menus and special features you can pop up while watching the movie. Some movies and most players these days even feature the ability to connect to the internet for extra material. Honestly though, I can’t see that actually taking off. The discs themselves already hold so much there really isn’t much of a need for them to connect to the internet to get more stuff. Plus I question how long content producers will continue to develop new free content for blu-ray movies that are 5+ years old. If anything this will eventually get used for advertising.

But beyond that stuff blu-ray doesn’t really offer anything all that compelling. To even fully take advantage of it you need a high definition TV. Granted most TV’s sold these days are HD LCD TV’s. But for people like myself who don’t own one, there is no reason to run out and buy a player for a TV I don’t own. DVD gave us the ability to take full advantage of the TV’s we already owned. Blu-ray requires us to go out and buy new TV’s to take full advantage of the blu-ray disc. Big difference in cost there.

Now it may sound odd to you being that I am a video professional and I shoot and edit HD video all day long, but I really don’t see a huge difference between SD (standard definition) and HD. Even a quality, well shot DVD (like any Hollywood movie) can look great on a big screen LCD TV at the proper viewing distance. With cheap up-scaling DVD players in abundance, blu-ray is even less tempting. The added resolution and the cooler menus just aren’t enough to push me over the edge yet. Plus I really don’t buy movies very often anymore. I pretty much stopped buying movies on DVD a couple of years ago. I’d rather rent or download. Call me cheap, but the idea of spending $15-20 on a movie I’ll probably watch once or twice in 5-10 years is overkill. It’s too much. Especially when I can rent it for a $1 or possibly catch it online for free when I do feel like watching it. Plus the idea of rebuying all my 200+ DVD’s on blu-ray just doesn’t make me all giddy inside.  

So if HD isn’t enough, is there anything that might eventually get me to jump on the blu-ray bandwagon? Yes actually there is. We call it 3D. If there is one feature that blu-ray is going to have that will truly set it apart, it’s going to be Blu-ray 3D.

For decades and decades 3D has been considered a gimmick. Even today many people consider it a cheap gimmick used by movie studios as a way to get peoples butts back into theaters. Beyond that many people are not satisfied with having to wear 3D glasses and the slightly jarring experience that it offers. But after seeing Avatar in the theater you can consider me a 3D enthusiast. Upon seeing that movie in 3D I realized that 3D really is the future of movies. For the first time in decades 3D might actually stick around permanently rather then just being a passing fad that comes and goes once a decade. Even with the bellyaching that some people have with it, no one can debate that it’s getting better and better. Gone are the red and blue glasses and the expensive hard to shoot 3D celluloid film cameras. Now it’s all digital 3D with advancing 3D digital camera technology and 3D digital projectors. This year we will begin to see 3D capable LCD TV’s and the blu-ray association has finalized the blu-ray 3D specification. That means that this year we will begin seeing blu-ray movies released in Blu-ray 3d format. A format that is compatible with these new 3D LCD TV’s.

Sure it means you’ll need to buy a new big screen 3D LCD TV. Which has got to suck for those of you who already own a big screen LCD TV. But for myself it just means the first LCD TV I buy will be 3D enabled.

This, along with lowering blu-ray prices may very well be enough to get me on the blu-ray bandwagon. That is until movies start being offered online in 3D. But I think that unlike 2D, 3D is something that really needs to be experienced in front of a big screen. Whether that be a movie theater or a big screen home theater. So until I can easily get 3D movies online that I can quickly and easily watch on a big screen home theater setup, blu-ray just might have a chance of sticking around longer then I initially expected.
I realize this is long. It took me three hours to write. I just got on a roll with it and couldn’t stop. I also know it’s a lot of technical talk for xanga. Because of that I’ll probably cross post it to my wordpress blog as well.   


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0 thoughts on “Blu-ray – the history and the future of home video

  1. I liked your history.  I just bought a Full HD 100Hz flatscreen LCD and although I have a DVD player, it’s a cheap one.  I was about to buy a nicer DVD player but changed my mind in favour of a Blu Ray player.  Philips, the brand of my TV, has just released a Soundbar with a Blu Ray player.  A Soundbar is a strip that fits under your HD TV and it has two speakers built in and the player of course.  There’s just one bass speaker that you put somewhere in the room.  The speakers use technology that gives you a surround experience (they call it Ambisound).  The great thing is, no wires and no speakers all over the place – if that’s important to you.  The Soundbar is connected to the internet and also has an FM radio in it.  I think it’s pretty cool, especially since the whole thing is controlled with a touchscreen!

  2. @hundredsongsinhundreddays – I’ve seen some TV’s with those sound bars. I didn’t know they made them with built in blu-ray players though. I’m kinda wondering if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Yeah there are no wires, that would be nice, but what if you blow a speaker or something? It’s probably not going to happen but I’ve always been cautious about one piece stuff.

    I admit though, it does seem pretty cool. How does it sound?

  3. @crystal_air – Yeah beta. My sister and brother-in-law had an early betamax video camera and player. The problem with betamax is that it wears out over time. They went back to look at some of their home video and a lot of them had lost color.

  4. I miss VHS!
    I used to record Spongebob marathons, Disney channel movies uh-dored, an my Daddy used to record Emril Live xD

    hurray for VHS!!!!!!

  5. That was so interesting/informative.

    I never really saw the extra $$ to be worth the extra quality of blu-ray. Plus, my parents are too cheap to buy a blu-ray player, and our TV isn’t fancy enough anyways. 

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