Coming to Terms with Standard Definition


I don’t think I’ve made it a secret that I generally dislike standard definition video these days. If I had the power, I would turn all standard definition (SD) video into high definition (HD) video and all SD formats into HD formats. Native HD that is, not upscaled. Talk about a nerdy superpower.

But I haven’t really been fair to standard definition. The truth is, it’s more of a love/hate thing than a general dislike. I grew up with standard definition, and to be really honest with myself, I was perfectly fine with it up until a handful of years ago. In fact I didn’t even get my first Blu-ray player or HDTV until 2012. Although I had been shooting HD as early as 2007 or 2008. Back then I was fine with watching and distributing content myself on standard definition. I just wanted to shoot in HD to get that better quality image to begin with.

It wasn’t until I got my forty-two inch high definition TV and Blu-ray player that my outlook began to change, and even that still took a few years, because I was still fine with putting a DVD on and watching it.

As time went on I began to really appreciate Blu-ray and high definition in general. And as the price of movies on Blu-ray discs fell to DVD-like bargain levels, I began to feel like DVD had overstayed its welcome. It was time for everything to be HD. Yet DVD persisted. Continuing to outsell Blu-ray on the market even today. Continuing to have more content released on it simply do to its current popularity, historical market saturation and longer time existing. As in, some things will never be released on Blu-ray that were released on DVD (for any number of reasons), just like some things were never been released on DVD that were released on VHS tape. That’s just how it goes.
Yet it all added up to me starting to hate DVD and its insistence on sticking around and being all standard definition-y. I began to dislike the idea that we as a society are trapped with this lowest-common denominator format. Which we kind of are.

But it really is about perspective. DVD is not the lowest common denominator. We can certainly go lower. VHS for example and then VideoCD slightly below that, and then who knows what below that. Early 2000s cell phone footage maybe? Thumbnail sized Windows media player files from that era? Maybe even those old kids cameras that shot video in black and white on audio cassette tapes? I remember wanting one of those as a kid. I thought the concept was so cool.

So yeah, DVD and even VHS is not the lowest common denominator.
I should know that. I remember when DVD first came out and I was really excited about it. I jumped on it within the first year and a half it hit the market here in the United States.
My first DVD player was a Creative brand DVD Rom I had put in a new computer I built in 1998. I had a little 13″ or 14″ Sony Trinitron monitor for that computer, but I would take the computer tower into the family room or living room and hook it up to the bigger 20″ Trinitron TV or the 46″ projection TV to watch DVDs. And we all just thought the quality looked so much better.
I remember demoing a DVD for my buddy Steve and saying to him “you probably can’t see the difference in quality” thinking that he wasn’t much of a techie like me and probably wouldn’t care or notice, but he came back with something like “oh I can definitely see the difference, it’s much better than VHS.” So that kind of surprised me at the time, but vindicated what I was seeing as well.

So it’s amazing how within a span of around fifteen years or so I would go from loving a format and being perfectly content with it, to loathing its existence.
But do I really?
No.
In fact there really is a certain charm to it if I’m willing to admit it. Maybe that’s just nostalgia kicking in. But that lack of detail adds a layer of fantasy or unreality (or whatever you want to call it), that helps the suspension of disbelief in the films you watch. Or at the very least it hides details that might reveal the movie is really just people in costumes doing stuff. In some ways making movies more of an audio format than a visual format, since your brain is relying on more of the audio information in the movie to tell the story than the visual detail. Well, maybe not that far, but closer to that anyway than HD or UHD.

In fact I’ve noticed that the movies I watched as a kid on VHS and even later on DVD had (at times) a certain appeal to them that was slightly lost on HD or higher. At other times I noticed details in the HD or 4K version that I had never knew was there before. Sometimes that was better, sometimes worse. Take your pick.

Personally if I had it my way I would have had Blu-ray released back in 1996/7 instead of DVD. That way we would have been stuck with high definition discs as the default. Despite losing some of that unreality, I think the higher resolution is still the better choice overall.

So no, to be fair I don’t hate DVD. But it’s certainly not my preferred format overall. Blu-ray still holds that title.
I’m still bitter about missing features on UHD Blu-ray to acknowledge its perks. Specifically the lack of 3D and native 48fps support. Despite owning a player and some discs. But that’s a whole other subject.

Anyway, that’s my take for now. That’s as much as I’m willing to concede.

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