Dollar Store Blu-rays

Picked up five Blu-rays from the dollar store because of a video I saw that tipped me off. In the video he mentioned his local store had movies like Carrie. Mine did not. But mine did have a bunch he didn’t mention.


Surprisingly I’ve never see The Road Warrior, only Beyond Thunderdome back in the nineties and Fury Road a couple times. So this gives me a good excuse to finally see it.

I picked up Magic Mike mostly for nostalgic reasons. Back in 2012 when I bought my first HDTV and Blu-rays player (both 3D), I also bought Prometheus in 3D and we (my girlfriend and I) rented Magic Mike. We ended up watching Magic Mike first since it was a rental. As a result, that was my first experience with a Blu-ray on an HDTV at home. I don’t remember it being a bad movie either, but I haven’t seen it since then. Still, for a dollar, it was worth it alone for the nostalgia.

War Dogs I did see and it was pretty good. Though not a movie I would own if it wasn’t a dollar. Which is pretty true of all of these that I’ve seen, with the exception of maybe Swordfish, which I’ve seen two or three times and generally like. I haven’t seen The House or even heard of Rock n Rolla, so those will also be new.

Six movies on Blu-ray for five dollars. Hard to go wrong with that. Especially movies with known actors in them.

Reassessing my Digital Position

I tell myself I’m a big fan of physical media and large cameras. It’s true that I am sweet on those things. But if I’m being honest with myself, truly, I may like those things, but I barely use them. A lot of it is just living out nostalgia. I grew up with SLR film cameras and VHS tapes and cassette tapes and CDs, among other things. It reminds me of my younger years. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for those things. But by the end of the 1990s, I was ripping my CD collection to MP3 format to store on my computer hard drive, and later to load onto my iPods and eventually iPhones. Today, outside of using my car stereo, I don’t really touch CDs. Most of the photography and even video recording I’ve done over the last six to seven years has been on my iPhones or other smartphones. I shoot a lot of random stuff. I’m noticing just how much at the moment now that I’m in the process of uploading them all to Google Photos for the first time.

As for DVDs, Blu-rays and UHD Blu-rays. I do still pop them on every so often, but I’ve also spent the last couple years ripping discs to my computer for use with my Plex server and before that my PS4 as a media player. I’ve also been doing the whole video streaming thing since I first signed up for Netflix back in 2011.  Though currently I don’t have Netflix. I cancelled it at the beginning of this year. Just have Prime now and Apple TV+ that I got for a year for free with my new iPad. Which I just started a couple weeks ago. So I’ll have that until next August. But I did have Netflix for nearly a decade. I’ve had Hulu once or twice and HBO a few times. As well as HBO Max recently. Also Funimation a couple times. But the streaming service I use the most is Youtube. Just regular good old (free) Youtube.

I use these services (along with my Plex server) way more than I touch discs these days.
In fact, just a few days back I put on my blu-ray of the movie Oblivion. The reason I watched it on blu-ray rather then Plex, was because I was testing out the audio. Turns out Roku (my Plex player of choice) doesn’t support any uncompressed audio standards. It only supports Dolby Digital and DTS, no Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA, which my AV Receiver supports. So that’s a downer. That said, considering I’m just noticing it now and I’ve been using this setup for the last couple years, that means it’s not such a big deal to me. Though, now that I know, it does give me reason to pop on the Blu-ray if it’s a movie with one of those surround sound types. So I may be doing that more often.

I also have to watch my UHD Blu-rays off the disc because I don’t have a way to rip them yet. My Blu-ray burner doesn’t read them. I would need to drop some coin on a new drive. But I also only have five movies and two seasons of Stranger Things on UHD Blu-ray, so it’s not like I have a lot of movies on that format. Which is why I’m not running out to buy a new drive. In fact after buying that initial handful of movies, I stopped buying the UHD Blu-ray format because of the added cost and the inability to rip them… yet. Mostly the cost. While some movies look better with HDR, 4K UHD doesn’t do a lot for me. At this point the cost-to-benefit ratio isn’t right for me. The quality isn’t that much better to pay that much more for the 4K UHD version. Once the cost of those discs drop to where current Blu-rays prices are (if they do, I hope they do), then I will start buying more. In fact, for the moment I’ve stopped buying altogether unless I find a good price on a used Blu-ray. Nothing brand new for a while. I think the last brand new Blu-ray I bought was Legend (1985) and that was September 19, 2019, almost exactly one year ago.

The point is, I use digital files way more than I use physical media. I also use my smartphone as a camera way more than I use dedicated cameras. Pretty much all of my family photos and home videos are shot on my current smartphone and have been for over half a decade or more now. It’s just easier and the quality is good. At the moment I’m using an iPhone 8+ which is a model that is a few years old at this point. It shoots great 12 megapixel photos from one of two lenses and it shoots 4K video at 60fps. Which is the frame rate I prefer to shoot home videos at.
Stereo audio might be nice and maybe a few other features. Much of which I could get right now by just buying one of the newer models.
As it is though, the quality is great given enough light. So I use it and love using it. I’m also a big fan of the portrait mode it offers.
In truth, the iPhone is just more fun to use than my bigger cameras and certainly more handy. There, I said it.

[Update: December 4th, 2020]
I think it’s hilarious that not even twenty days after writing this I pick up five new blu-rays from the dollar store. Granted they were only a dollar and I mentioned price was a factor in whether or not I purchase physical media. Yesterday I also made it to my local Best Buy and picked up the steelbook of Transformers The Last Knight. I own all the other Transformers movies (yeah I like those movies, even if they aren’t great) on blu-ray that I bought used or new on sale. That was the last one I needed to get. At only $8 to complete the collection, plus being a steelbook (which I like), it was hard to pass up. So apparently yeah, I’m buying blu-rays again. At least when the price is right.

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.

Building a Windows Editing PC and Bootcamping my Mac Mini


I’ve been thinking about building a new editing PC for a while now. I want something with a good GPU. I have a 2012 Mac Mini I use for editing right now and also a 2017 15″ Macbook Pro I use as my daily driver for everything else. I also have an old 2008 Macbook I don’t really use any more (on occasion for something if needed) and just for fun I have an old graphite G3 iMac currently in the closet.

I have been consistently a Mac user at home for ten years now. Since 2010 when I traded my PC to my girlfriend for her late 2008 aluminum Macbook. Before that, I had a couple white Macbooks for a year or so that I used along side my PC tower. But I never went fully Mac up until then because I always had that PC I leaned on.
That said, up until a couple years ago I still used Windows PCs at work to do all my at-work editing. I am a videographer/editor by profession. I used to work full time for a company doing it while also freelancing at home on the side. I was using a PC at work and macs at home. So it has only been a couple years (since leaving that company) since I have touched a Windows box.

I just found out my 2012 Mac Mini can’t be upgraded to OS11, which kinda sucks since I like the look of that OS. I know I’m probably one of the few that do. Of course I don’t know if I would run it anyway, depends if it’s stable. I’m running Mojave on it right now and even that was a recent and unexpected upgrade. I was running El Capitan for years and happy with that, but then my drive crashed and I needed to reinstall and all I could get was Mojave. Which killed my 32bit support in Premiere Pro and I was upset about that, because now I have to recapture or convert all my old DV tape captures I did a few years ago.


(Unboxing my Mac Mini in 2013)

I thought about maybe just getting another new Mac instead of building a PC. Since everything else I have is Mac right now. Maybe get a Mac Mini with an external GPU, but the price of that is about as much as an iMac and I need a new screen anyway. So I decided to wait for WWDC to see if there was a new iMac announcement. Nothing. But with Macs now in flux do to the architecture switchover, it probably isn’t a good time to buy a Mac anyway. I’m sure Apple will support these recent machines for the next 5-8 years, maybe. But how much support? Will they be treated like the red-headed step-child? Will they get all the features of the new OS upgrades? Who knows?

It feels like I just bought my 2012 Mac Mini (bought it in 2013) and already it’s no longer allowed any new OS upgrades. Do I sound bitter? I kind of am. Even though I know Apple has to cut machines off at some point, I can’t help but think Microsoft would happily allow me to install their new OS even on a decade+ old machine.

It seems like, if I’m going to go the x86 route, I’d be better off on Windows at the moment. With so many Wintel users out there I doubt that even if Microsoft starts to make a move toward ARM again, it will be anywhere near as soon or as quick as Apple. Not to mention I’ll get a lot of bang for my buck building a PC tower for editing versus buying a Mac Mini or even an iMac (despite its nice screen – it’s still at least twice the price).

Which leads me to my 2012 Mac Mini. I’m sure it will run for years and years without a problem on Mojave. But I also use it as a file server and not just my current editing machine. Which means it has all my hard drives hooked up to it. In order to bring it into sync with my new PC build, I’m thinking of bootcamping it into Windows 10 and just using it that way. I’ll try it out anyway. See how that goes.

I still like Apple products for the most part and as I said, OS11 looks cool. I’ll also have my current Macs for years. I’m also an iPhone user and have been for a long time. A couple of stints with Android aside. So I don’t think Apple is going away in my life. But I’m also not as enamored by what the company is doing like I was in the days of Steve Jobs. Although ironically I’ve used a Mac for consistently longer in the post-Jobs era than during it. But that mostly had to do with getting older and acquiring the financing to be able to finally afford the Macs I had always wanted during the Jobs era. There was no shortage of Mac lust during the 2000s on my part. Although unfortunately they got a lot more boring looking and less-inspired overall after losing him. Not to mention increasingly less upgradable with an OS that used to be rock solid and has become ever more rough to say the least.

So I’m not as in love with the Mac as I used to be. I still enjoy it, but I don’t love it anymore. Which means it’s probably a good time to save some money and risk and build that PC.

Is Physical Media Worth It Today?

Yes. Of Course. But let’s argue why and why not anyway.

I love physical media. I grew up with all kinds of it. Vinyl, 8 Track, Reel to Reel Tape, Cassettes, CDs, VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, MiniDisc, DAT, DCC, DVD, Blu-Ray and now UHD Blu-ray. While I didn’t own all of these formats, I was aware of them and got to play with them at least once or twice. At some point they all fascinated me. I’m sure I’m leaving a few out as well. There were so many over the course of the last forty years. Not to mention all the video game cartridges or one-off formats made for kids that I’ve probably forgotten existed.

While most people have never heard of all of these formats, some did have a lifespan and purpose that made them popular in certain circles, even if they weren’t well known or used at all by the masses. Such as DAT (Digital Audio Tape). A popular format among audio recording professionals, like those out on location recording sound for film.

But is any of this still worth it today in the age of the internet and solid state memory cards?
Well first of all, we have to recognize that solid state memory cards, no matter which kind you’re using, are in fact a form of physical media. They just aren’t the kind you typically keep media on for long periods of time as a storage device. They’re typically used as an intermediary for recording files (video, audio, or other data) and then dumped to a larger capacity solid state drive or hard disk drive. Either locally and/or in the cloud, which is really just some else’s hard drive. Let’s not forget that.

To be fair, some of the older physical media was used in a similar way. For example, people using the same VHS or Betamax tape to record their favorite weekly television shows or sports games, simply recording over last week’s episode or game. I’m sure the same was sometimes true of all the re-recordable media on my above list. Though the vast majority of these formats were used for long term storage. With the idea being that you either record something to keep or buy something on that media that is permanently there. Such as a pressed vinyl record, CD, Minidisc, DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-ray or UHD Blu-ray.

At one point physical media was everywhere. I think it probably hit its peak around the turn of the millennia. I remember buying cereal boxes with movies on DVD inside of them. Not something I see today. Nor something I saw years before DVDs existed.
By that point, disc media was everywhere. It was cheap to produce compared to video and audio tape, or large vinyl records. The internet had yet to take off with the masses, nor did it have the bandwidth to handle that kind of media yet. It also wasn’t an always on solution, with dial-up being the most common form of connection, where your computer modem hooked into your home or business phone line, sacrificing your phone usage while you were online. Unless you had more than one phone line.
Ironically it would be CDs that would get many people on the internet, in the form of AOL (America Online) installation discs, which where everywhere in the mid to late 1990s. At one point making up half the CDs that were produced worldwide.

Today most of us have some form of high speed, always connected internet. We also have higher quality, smaller file size audio and video formats. Codecs like AVCHD (H.264) and HEVC (H.265) as well a MP3 and AAC (M4A) and even FLAC for audio. These file types provide high quality while reducing file size. As an example. DVD was built to hold 4.7 or 8.5 gigabytes of data, depending on if it’s a single or dual layer disc. Enough space for a standard definition movie or two using the default MPEG2 video compression codec that was used for DVD video. However if the format were to be reinvented today using the same disc capacity, we could use the H.265 (HEVC) codec instead of MPEG2 and fit high definition 1080p video on it at a quality that most people would be perfectly happy with. In fact most internet video streaming services deliver HD video at around those file sizes today. Typically less. You could even fit 4K (UHD) video in that file size, though very compressed. One would argue if you gained anything doing that over using less compressed HD video.
The point remains that modern video and audio codecs allow for smaller file sizes and higher resolutions, which translates to easier delivery over the internet.

So where are we today?
Today many if not most people stream audio and video over the internet. Especially younger generations. It’s just easier to pay a monthly fee, which is often auto-deducted from a debit or credit card, to a service that will give you access to thousands if not millions of movies and music albums. No matter the device you’re using. Be it your television, computer, game console or phone. It’s hard to pass up. Even for people who do enjoy physical media, such as myself. I’ve been know to subscribe to a few of these pay services in the past. Though only one at the moment.

Increasingly there are more and more free services popping up that are ad supported. The most popular and oldest of which being Youtube. A service I don’t usually lump in with the others since it’s mostly user generated content. But… let’s be fair, some of those users are making their living off the video content they produce. And not just a living, but serious bank. They’ve become celebrities in their own right, with endorsements. In fact when my son told me he wanted to be a youtuber when he grows up, when he was younger, I kind of laughed. “That’s not a job” I said. Yet he was right. Though to be fair, I probably said something more practical like “It’s not a job most people will succeed at” in the way most people don’t become successful film directors or rock stars or athletes. Not that I was trying to knock the kid’s spirit down, but I grew up with parents that told me I could be whatever I wanted to be and I ended up wanting to be a film director. They never tried to persuade me otherwise.
That didn’t really pan out as well as I had hoped. Once the reality of it all hit in my early twenties. Now I look back and wish my parents had pushed more practical career advice on me. Still, I would support my son in whatever he wants to do.

With that little side story out of the way, there is another option besides streaming.
Downloading.

With all the hype surrounding streaming services today, we often forget about digital downloads or just files on a computer you obtain some other way, like ripping your CDs, DVDs or Blu-ray discs. This is really the first way. Before streaming became popular.

In the late nineties it was all the rage to rip your CDs and compress them to MP3 files. You could then load all of those up in a program like Winamp or later iTunes, making them easier to play. You could even create playlists and later burn those playlists to CD-R discs and then to portable MP3 players. Apple’s line of iPods would come to dominate for several years before the transition to smart phones with MP3 and AAC files on them and then also as streaming devices.

With increased hard drive capacity over the last decade or so, along with more efficient video codecs, the same can be said about movies and TV shows. People ripping their DVDs, Blu-rays and even UHD Blu-rays to digital files they then play locally on their computer or over their network (or even the internet) with a platform like Plex or Emby installed on all ends. Creating what is essentially a personal streaming service of their own, using their own digital audio and video files. I’m one of those people. Having had a Plex server set up in my home for the last year or so. Which is super nice.
Now that I’ve had one for this long, I’m kind of shocked I didn’t set up a home media server years ago. Which ultimately leads me to writing this article.

Despite knowing about such things as home media PCs and even having tried out Windows Media Center, I think I didn’t see much point in it in the past. At some point in the aughts (2000s), Apple started selling movies and TV shows through the iTunes store. As did other services. I bought one season of Battlestar Galactica (reimagined) in standard definition, along with another movie and was generally dismayed by it all. While it was nice and easy to download an episode or season or movie, the tight, restrictive DRM (Digital Rights Management) controls in place made it nearly impossible to enjoy that media. There was a time I couldn’t even watch that media on my nineteen inch LCD monitor connected to my Macbook because I was connecting to it with an analog VGA cable rather than a secure DVI cable. iTunes wouldn’t allow it. Most likely because the movie studios wouldn’t allow it. Making sure that content couldn’t be stolen was apparently a bigger priority than making sure people who legally bought that content could easily enjoy it on the device of their choosing. Which is ironic as this was around the same time Apple was unlocking all their music files because people had been complaining about the restrictive DRM on those.

So what did I do? I skipped it. I just stuck with discs and other forms of media that were less restrictive. But it also didn’t make a ton of sense to me at the time to rip my movies to my hard drives, as movies were a lot bigger than music CDs that were compressed to MP3 files. Could I have compressed the movies more? Sure. But I’m more of a cinephile than an audiophile. I would noticed the difference in reduced video quality more than audio compression quality. Plus CDs use uncompressed audio, DVDs are already low resolution compressed copies of films.

Today, with higher resolutions and high quality codecs like H.265(HEVC), or even higher bitrate H.264(AVCHD) files, it’s not so much of a problem. In fact I’m perfectly happy with a Blu-ray that has been compressed to a 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 ratio using 10bit HEVC. Is there a difference? Sure. But I can barely tell on my fifty-five inch TV from nine feet away. Plus I’m getting older and my vision isn’t as good as it used to be. But we also have to remember that in the past I lived with DVDs and VHS tapes for more than the first half of my life, so things have gotten better. Even compressed HD files are better than DVD and VHS.

What changed my mind?
Like most people I chose convenience. The fact that hard drive capacities have gone up and prices have fallen, combined with better video compression codecs like HEVC, it meant that it finally made sense to start ripping discs to drives and putting together a home media server. This may not apply to everyone. For people with thousands of (UHD) Blu-rays and DVDs, it may not be financially sound to do that. Yet. Even if it is, it may not be worth the time and effort to rip and convert (compress) all those discs. Which is probably the more likely case. The time and effort is massive. But I only had several hundred discs, not several thousand. And I’ve done those rips over a couple years. Even now I still haven’t ripped and converted all of them.

At this point though, I’m so used to using streaming services and being able to browse through movie posters on a screen (instead of disc box spines on a shelf) or search something out with a search box, that it just made sense to rip and convert my physical media so I could do the same with it.

Today I barely touch the discs, they just sit on my shelf looking pretty.
I like having them there as a backup in case of a hard drive failure. I also like physical media as a principle. I like something I own and not rent and I like the packaging (well… some of it). A lot of newer discs in those cheap recycle boxes can turn me off. But I have to admit that digital files are easier. I can load up my Plex server on any TV in my house, which all have Roku, and I can pull up any of my movies or TV shows or even home videos. Without having to go out and get a disc and load it up and wait for all the warnings to pass and skip through all the movie trailers and promos. It’s just a lot easier with a file on a Plex server. So much so, that my girlfriend regularly uses Plex as well, and I’m not sure I ever saw her go to the shelf to pull a disc down to watch. Though I’m sure she has at some point.

So is physical media still worth it? Yeah, but only as a delivery method to get it from the distributor to your local media server and only as a backup to said files on said media server and only if the artwork and packaging is something worthwhile, and that’s something you care about (which most people don’t, unlike myself). And the only reason for any of that is because those distributors aren’t delivering Blu-ray quality digital downloads over the internet without DRM at the bargain bin prices you can usually buy movies for in big box stores. If they were, well then, I’m not sure physical media would matter much anymore for most people. It would just be easier, and more flexible, without any quality loss, to buy them as a digital download.

But wait a minute… that’s not all physical media is good for, delivering movies and TV shows and prerecorded music.
What about all our own content? Photos, home videos, audio recordings.

The truth is most people record that kind of stuff with their smart phones today and a lot of times it just sits on those devices and people look at it there. If it leaves those devices at all, it typically goes to some kind of social media account like Facebook or Instagram or Youtube or Twitter or any of the other newer services that have popped up over the years. Often at more compressed (lower) quality than the original file on the device. But people don’t seem to mind much. Some people will back that content up to a cloud server for safe keeping, but those usually cost money every month. So like streaming services, you’re constantly paying.
Sometimes people back those files up to their own computer and local hard drives. Even more rare, some people put that content on recordable physical media like CD-R, DVD-R or BD-R (Blu-ray). But sadly, those formats aren’t the best for long term storage. The dyes on the discs that the laser burns into will fade over the years, making the discs unreadable. Unlike the commercially pressed discs you buy at stores with professional content on them (movies,  music, etc.). Though even they have a shelf life, even if it’s much longer than a recordable disc. All of my oldest pressed CDs play back fine nearly thirty yearly later. Same with my DVDs that are twenty-three years old. But just two days ago I tried to play a CD-R disc I made back in 2003, and it was not having it. Although many of those older discs do still work fine for me. It’s hit or miss.

There is also M-Disc, which is a newer technology for burning optical discs, which is supposed to last longer. So says the US Navy. Though I haven’t tried it and even if I did, it would take twenty to thirty years before I could report back on that for you. But I will probably pick one up anyway at some point here. Along with with an ever increasing number of hard drives as the years go on.

Either way, it’s worth mentioning that physical media still does play a part in backing up our own generated media. Even if the number of people doing that is decreasing rapidly. Personally, I back up most of my home videos to Blu-ray (in the playable Blu-ray format) and put them on my shelf with my other Blu-ray discs, if just for the fact that it’s easier for people to find should something happen to me. It’s that of navigating my endless labyrinth of folders and files on my various hard drives. In that sense, physical media is still easier.

Let’s not forget all the other formats either. My Minidiscs I love, my MiniDV tapes, Video8 tapes, the endless boxes of VHS tapes I still have for some reason, the vinyl I keep around for hipster cred and a few old audio cassettes I can’t depart with because that just seems wrong.

I could keep going on. This topic endlessly fascinates me (what a nerd!). But I’ve already written a small novel here, so I think I’ll call it a day on this post. Let me know your thoughts below. If I don’t see them for months or even years, forgive me. I tend to miss my notifications here. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I appreciate you taking to time to read my ramblings.

Minidisc 2020

Previous articles (not required reading – but good anyway :) )
First Minidisc article: http://www.roxics.com/ode-to-the-minidisc-the-forgotten-format/
Second Minidisc article: http://www.roxics.com/minidisc-instead-of-vinyl/

It’s been three years since my last Minidisc article (Minidisc instead of Vinyl), so I figured it was time for a new one. Not a tone has changed for me. I got one new portable player, a Sony finally. I also discovered newly prerecorded minidisc albums. Though I have yet to buy any. Both are very cool though.
This post is more of a show and tell, along with a few thoughts on where the format is today.

 

First let’s start with the Sony MZ-E700 which I bought off ebay back on August 5th of 2018, but didn’t get in my hands until September 9th of 2018. Paid $36 plus  $7.90 for shipping. Not bad at all. I’ve noticed these same players these days are way higher. But oh man! What a gorgeous player! Just a player. No recording ability there. But that’s ok, I already have a Sony component deck I can use for recording and my other portable Sharp recorder. I love how tiny and thin this things is. Barely bigger than a disc itself. It uses the gumstick style batteries. I had to find a couple of those new on ebay or Amazon (can’t remember where). Luckily I already had a battery charger that would work for them. There are only two downsides to this player. The first being the lack of a pause button and the second is a lack of screen. The screen isn’t that big of a deal. It’s like using an iPod shuffle, which I spent plenty of years doing.  Both the screen and the pause button can be found on an external wired remote (Sony RM-MC11EL) which can plug into the headphone jack, but I didn’t get that with my player. So I would have to find one separately. Which isn’t that big of a deal to me. For the completeness however, this is what they look like.

 

Sony RM-MC11EL

I have been enjoying that player now for nearly a couple years. It’s become my main portable player. You can also get one of those AA battery side carriages for it. But that just adds bulk. I’m happy with the small gumstick batteries. They’re rechargeable and go directly inside the player.

The next thing I discovered was new prerecorded music on Minidisc. Apparently this is a thing now. Indie bands recording and releasing small runs of Minidiscs. And I have to say, they look better than ever. There is a company in the UK that is doing an amazing job with these UV printed Minidiscs. I posted a few pictures of their work below. Again I’ve never seen these in person. I don’t own any of these, but look at those pictures! Look at that artwork, printing, and packaging. Nice!


That is some gorgeous work. Way better then the pre-recorded minidisc albums that came out in the 1990s.
I know some minidisc fans will come down on me for saying that. But I just think the full disc printing, combined with the newer cassette style jewel case and J-card insert is such a better fit for the minidisc format than the older, bigger, jewel cases they used to come in. This older style case and disc/art. (below)


Granted, you can fit a bigger book and artwork in the older style. I get it, they aren’t terrible. I just think they’re a bit bulky. They’ve never been my thing, even when I saw them lined up on shelves at my local Best Buy in the early 90s.
The older style is more CD-like and I believe that was the goal at the time. Create something that could compete with CDs. But the newer style feels more cassette-like to me and I just think it’s a better fit for the overall aesthetic of the Minidisc format. Of course that might be hindsight kicking in for me. I mostly look back at Minidisc as a record-it-yourself format. Which is how I look back at cassette tapes. That’s how I used both those formats. Granted I owned a couple pre-recorded albums and singles on cassette, but I mostly dealt with the format for recording my own. So I think the feel of the cassette style jewel case and J-card works better for MD. Even pre-recorded MDs.

Speaking of blank MDs for recording, I picked up some myself within the last couple years. The first set were the three Memorex discs you see in the back of this case (in the picture below). I found those sitting on a shelf at a local used record shop and nearly jumped for joy. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen brand new Minidiscs? Probably over a decade. Maybe longer. I also probably paid too much for them this time, I don’t even remember what, but I had to have them. Just for the experience of buying brand new MDs in a physical store again. Plus just having them.
Then, a handful of months later, I found a guy on Craigslist who was selling this seven pack of brand new Sony Minidiscs with the case for $10. I couldn’t pass that one up. He had no idea what they were for, he just wanted to make a quick ten bucks. Talk about a find. I was excited.  I just haven’t been able to bring myself to crack any of these open yet. They all look so pretty in their wrappers and in that case. It was also fate there were three empty spots in the case that could fit my three Memorex discs I bought previously. :)


I realize there are folks out there with huge Minidisc collections. People who have walls (or drawers) full of new discs and collectors discs and so on. Who are overflowing with portable players, recorders, component and shelf units. By comparison my four players (3 recorders – one of which is broke :( ) and 25 or 30 recorded-on discs from years ago (as well as this ten pack of brand news discs), may not be much, but they make me happy. I’m still enjoying the format.

Back in 1999-2004 Minidisc was a utility format for me. I used it as a way to make mix discs from the MP3 on my computer and take them with me on the road. I also used it as a recording medium for voice memos and an audio recorder for my indie filmmaking ventures back then.
Today it’s an unnecessary luxury experience. It has no real utility for me. I can take my MP3s with me on my smartphone. I have small solid state portable audio recorders for video work. The Minidiscs aren’t necessarily anymore.
So I put on a Minidisc these days to be nostalgic. Because I think it’s fun. I love the way they look and work. I love how small the players are, and I kind of miss playing with them.
But… there is one other reason. Some of my older Minidiscs have music on them I no longer have on my computer. That I haven’t had on my computer in decades. I could put those songs on my computer, but I decided not to. It’s become a treat to listen to those songs on Minidisc. After all it isn’t every day I put a Minidisc on. I even recorded a new disc for just that purpose about eight months ago. I think this is going to become a trend for me going forward. Reserving some songs I really like for just MD and purpose driven every-so-often listening. Not wearing myself out on those songs by keeping them in constant rotation on my computer and phone. It gives me a reason to listen to my Minidiscs occasionally. A reason to dust everything off, put in a disc and hit play.

What about the future of Minidisc in the world at large? I don’t know. It seems like it got more popular in the last few years. I can tell by the prices of used players. Yet the only company producing new media still is Sony and only one kind of blank disc. And for a premium price. At least it’s still out there, new, but at around $5 a disc, it’s not very reasonable. Of course you can still find deals, like I have.
At some point I’m going to pick up some used discs and do some more recording. Just haven’t got there yet. I would still like to pick up another portable player or two as well. Maybe even another component recorder or all-in-one shelf system. I don’t have an all-in-one shelf system with and MD player in it. Also I plan to dig up those photos I shot in that store in Germany back in 1998 where I was so shocked/impressed with the amount of MD shelf units in the store I shot photos of some of them. On film. Back when it used to cost money to take pictures. So you know I must have been impressed. lol I’ll keep you posted.

Half-assed Widescreen

Recently I saw an HD widescreen version of the movie To Gillian on her 37th Birthday. I noticed that something seemed off in a particular scene that I remember seeing more of previously. Particularly the bottom half of one of the girls in a thong bikini. Out of curiosity, I went back to the 4:3 version of the film and sure enough, full-bottom was on display. Resulting in me now referring to the HD widescreen version as the half-assed version of the movie.

While this may be minor, it is nonetheless disappointing to me. The goal of a widescreen high definition release is to have the best copy possible. But it seems to me that if we are missing frame information we previously had in a prior (lower resolution) release, then we are not getting the best copy possible. We are simply having to chose between either greater resolution or more frame information. A tough choice depending on the film.

I’m sure the director always intended the film to be widescreen and simply shot a more square frame (open gate) for breathing room in post or whatever. Having studied film and film cameras I know how this works. But the fact that there was a home video release that showed more of the film frame, that they were at one point willing to put that out there rather than just a pan and scan of the widescreen version, puts us in a predicament. Now I want an HD 4:3 release that gives me the best of both. And that isn’t happening. Sigh.

This isn’t the only film either. Here is the film Idle Hands

Palmetto (widescreen left) (fullscreen right)

I’m sure the next question is, do you even care if it isn’t a woman’s behind that is being cut off? As in, would you care if it was just the top and bottom of a building being cut off or something? The answer is yes I would care. Make no mistake that I value certain content (like a woman’s behind) more than other content (like a building). Yes, I’m biased in that way. That said, the fact that there is any missing frame information we previously had, does irk me. Will I notice it’s missing if it’s just the top and bottom of a building the way I did when it’s a woman’s behind? Maybe or maybe not. It’s more the principle of the matter that we aren’t being given all the frame information we were given before. Especially when I know there is more to be seen, since they previously released it and had no issue with releasing it fullscreen on VHS or DVD. But now in the era of HD and UHD, we get better quality, just not all the image.
This is the same kind of argument people had with pan and scan. We weren’t getting the full natively shot widescreen image with pan and scan. Eventually that got corrected with widescreen releases. But for some reason I don’t see anyone else complaining today when it’s a widescreen release but we aren’t getting the full 4:3 image.

Minidisc instead of Vinyl

Previous Minidisc article (not required reading): http://www.roxics.com/ode-to-the-minidisc-the-forgotten-format/

It’s been twenty-three months since my post titled Blu-ray is the new Vinyl. I’ve stayed pretty true to the things I said there. I still have yet to buy a new turntable or any new albums on vinyl. I cooled my jets on the format. I still think the format is neat, but the cost is really the killer for me. Just today I stopped into the record shop with my girlfriend to see a couple of Tori Amos albums for $25 a pop. That’s a pretty average price for new vinyl albums these days. No thanks. I think it would be great to own them and hear them on that format. I just can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on one album that will only degrade the more and more I play it. That said, I’m still pulled to the format. Part of me thinks that one day I’ll break down and buy a decent turntable and some albums I think would benefit from the character that format offers. But that may require winning the lottery first or at least getting a big raise.

Instead, over the last two years, I’ve turned my attention back to the minidisc(MD) format. This format is a little more my style anyway. It’s small and portable, recordable and still a lot of fun. It offers a character all its own.

Sadly my first minidisc player broke. I bought it in 1999 for $200 from Best Buy and it stopped working this year. Still, that’s a pretty good run. So I bought a different one off ebay. Used. Another Sharp brand model. This one a couple years newer than my first. Introduced in 2001. Same color scheme as the old Sharp and the build quality seems about the same. This one only takes one AA battery though, so that’s a benefit.
My goal is to pick up a couple more portable minidisc player/recorders. I’d like to get a Sony and probably a Panasonic as well.

Then of course there are the discs themselves. So many pretty minidiscs out there. A lot of really great color schemes and designs. All of which are out of production now, so the prices are only going up. For some of the nicer designs that are new and unopened, I routinely see prices of $5-$6 a disc. I’m of course talking about recordable discs, not prerecorded albums. I have no interest in those. Never did, even when I bought my first MD player. What always interested me about MD is that it’s easily recordable like a cassette tape, but with the benefits of a CD, such as track skipping and no degradation in sound quality with multiple plays or rerecords. It’s also cool you can label the tracks. Though something I’ve rarely used.

The big downside to minidisc versus vinyl, is that they aren’t being made in any real quantity anymore. Even today you can walk into a chain store like Best Buy and they have a few boxes of brand new vinyl albums for sale and two or three new turntables to choose from. You won’t see a package of blank minidiscs in sight. Same with prerecorded minidisc albums. Same with the players and recorders.
You can still find new packages of minidiscs on Amazon from Sony or Quantegy, but you’re looking at thirty-five plus dollars for a five pack or fifty plus for a ten pack. Long gone are the days you can walk into a big box chain store and grab a five pack of MDs for $10-$12 and have a selection of several brands and designs.
You’ll definitely have to turn to the used market for a player or recorder. Luckily you can still find some of them for pretty cheap. I got my Sharp for $25 on ebay. Some of the more desirable or unopened models can be in the hundreds of dollars. But that’s not unexpected for any niche format.

When you consider all of that, minidiscs still cheaper than vinyl. Even at $5-$6 for a black disc, that’s still cheaper than $18-$35 for an album on vinyl. Plus you can put whatever music you want on that MD. Later you can erase it and put different music on if you like. Sony says you can rerecord minidiscs up to a million times. I don’t know how true that is, but even if it’s only five percent of that, that’s still fifty thousand times. Not a number you’re likely to come close to. But the benefit is that you can easily find used minidiscs for sale online for anywhere from $1-$2 a disc. Just erase and record. If there is even anything on them. That brings down the overall cost of owning minidiscs even more.

I realize that vinyl and minidiscs are two radically different formats that both play audio. So for some, my comparison may seem odd. But in my opinion, both are about experiencing your music in a unique and tangible way. There are other formats like cassette tapes, reel-to-reel and even CDs that are also popular among certain crowds. Often times among the same crowd who enjoy a variety of formats. I personally think they are all cool in their own way. I think the higher end reel-to-reel machines are some of the prettiest designed machines I have ever seen. But that’s another format that would require a lottery win for me to even consider.

Why minidiscs and not CDs?
I do have a ton of CDs. Most of which are boxed up in the attic.
As a teenager of the 1990s the CD was the first format I really started collecting, like most people in my generation did. I owned a few cassette tapes before then, but didn’t get really involved with music until getting my first Discman around age thirteen.
CDs quickly became the standard format for years and their sound quality is hard to beat for something so readily available, even today. You can still walk into a big box store and buy prerecorded albums on CD. You can find inexpensive CD-Rs to burn your digital music onto. You can then take any of those discs and play them in anything from a stock car stereo, to a playstation, to a computer. They are universal, like the DVD is for movies.
I have no hate for the CD format. That’s for sure. But I have no real passion for it either. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it’s still such a common format. I’m still routinely popping discs into my car player and that hasn’t changed in twenty five years. It’s a regular experience for me, whereas even though I’ve owned minidiscs for nearly as long, I took a break from them for many years. I don’t have a car player for my MDs. I can’t put them in my computer or my Playstation and the entire experience is very different. Minidiscs are more akin in experience to cassette tapes for me than they are CDs. Despite the fact they are small digital discs.
When you record to them, you are hitting a physical button on the face of the recorder and letting it record in real time, versus burning a CD, which is a very digital experience of selecting files and then hitting the burn button on screen. I know there are CD-R decks out there that record like a minidisc does, I used to own one years ago before it broke, but the experience is still not the same. Often you burn a disc once and then that’s that. With an MD, you can record a track or two and playback and then record more to it later or erase and record something new. It feels very different to me.

I also think the size of MDs and the fact that they come permanently enclosed in plastic shells just gives them a whole different feel. Add to that the fact they never had much of a run as anything other than an audio format and it just feels like a purpose built format for only audio. Whereas a CD or similar sized disc (DVD, HDDVD, Blu-ray, UHD Blu-ray, etc.) can have anything from music to digital documents to movies on it. While it’s great those 120cm 120mm [Edit: Sep-15-2021] discs are so universal, it also takes away some of that physical format’s uniqueness. Something the minidisc still retains as a mostly audio only format with only a few rare exceptions where it was used for data or pictures.

Maybe I’m just making excuses for the minidisc over CDs. But I do enjoy them for what they are. Maybe I still would even if they were a regularly used format of the masses that played 8K video and stored generic computer data. But I have a feeling that at least the latter would take away some of the appeal. There is just something about being able to store spreadsheets and pdfs of your tax returns on a format that takes away some of the sexiness of it.

Ghostbusters 1984

Yesterday my girlfriend and I watched Ghostbusters (1984) for the first time in a long time. I grew up with that movie. It came out when I was five years old. Through I don’t remember seeing it until at least a few years later, not long before the second one came out in 1989. But my friends and I were hooked back then. At some point in the late 1990s I bought the DVD set of both movies. My son even got hooked on them when he was 3-4 years old. Mostly watching them with his grandma. I don’t think I’ve seen them in at least a decade if not twelve to fifteen years.
Last Christmas I was given both movies on blu-ray steelbook and we just got around to opening them and watching them yesterday, eleven months later. lol

There were a few things that struck me about the first movie, having not seen it in so long.

1. Peter is kind of a creep. The way he acts with Dana (his new client). The way he’s coming on to her while on the job at her apartment for the first time. Well that was cringy at best and creepy overall. But she handled it like a champ.
I know he was trying to be silly, and who better than Bill Murray to be able to pull that off? Yet from my perspective today as an adult, after thirty years of feminist social programming since the first time I saw the movie, I see it from a different perspective. I can’t help it. I sympathize more with her than him in that scene.

2. I’m shocked to learn that Bill Murray was thirty three years old when making that movie. Right now I’m thirty-eight, a couple months from thirty-nine and I’m sorry but he looks older in that movie than I do now. Older than most people in my age bracket right now. I feel bad saying this because I love Bill Murray, but he looks like he was born forty-five years old and stayed looking that way most of his life until he turned sixty or so.

3. “I want you inside me” says Dana while possessed on the bed. My girlfriend and I both looked at each other. Somehow we had both missed this line previously when we were kids or later when watching as young adults. Neither one of us are sure how we missed it, but we did. Sure that movie isn’t completely kiddish. There are plenty of adult things said like Peter’s “Yes it’s true, this man has no dick.”  But for whatever reason, Dana’s line caught us off guard. Not that it’s bad, just unexpected and surprised us that we never caught it before.

4. Rick Moranis carries more of that movie than I remember as a kid. I thought his character was funny back then, I just didn’t realized how much he adds to that movie. He’s like the great seasoning on top of an already good steak that brings it over the top.

5. The movie is grainier than I remember. But of course it is. I only ever saw it on VHS or DVD before this blu-ray. But compared to its sequel or other films of its era, there is definitely a lot of film grain. That’s not a bad thing, just an observation as a film geek.

6. The comedy stills holds up. Overall it’s still a movie that makes my girlfriend and I laugh out loud. So many of the older movies from my childhood are better remembered than experienced again, but not this film. It’s still a solid good time that will make me laugh. I’m really happy that’s the case.

Focus on the smaller things

I’m a big thinker. I like to put my mind to work pondering the big questions like the purpose of existence, how artificial intelligence will affect the future of humanity, and what is consciousness.  There are plenty of other big questions as well that relate to world politics, alien life and so on. They all seem to fascinate me.

universe-man

The problem with big topics is that they don’t solve a whole lot for a person like me. Even if they are fun to think about. It’s not as if I need to be responsible for any of these things and most of them I will never find solutions to. They are simply too far out there. For example, does our universe exist as just one of many in a multiverse? I don’t know. I will probably never know. So the question becomes, should I really waste my time?

Granted, even if I tried to stop, could I really? Am I just wired this way? Probably to some degree. Do I need to stop completely or should I stop completely? Probably not. I’m sure some of this is healthy. Plus I’ve always generally believed that people who don’t ask these questions really should. More like, how can they not? But truthfully, those people may live more meaningful lives than me because they are focused on their life and not on things that really have no bearing on it in any practical sense.

This all occurred to me last night as I was comparing the size of countries with one another. Those images that show maps of countries overlaid on top of each other to compare their geographical landmass. I’m certainly not a geography whizkid and was surprised to discover that Australia is nearly as large as the continental United States, and Brazil a little bigger. All at once I was hit with the revelation that I know very little about both of these countries. It gave me a sense of scale I hadn’t considered.

I’ve always known how big the world is, it was the lack of knowledge about these countries that really hit me. The fact that I will ponder big ideas like the existence of God and our robotic future, but I know next to nothing about two countries the size of my own. That struct me as kind of stupid on my part.
I mean, how am I supposed to come up with opinions on these much larger issues about the cosmos while knowing so little about the details of the planet I live on? There is an entire world of things here to discover and think about. Things that I can reach out and touch and deal with.

Beyond that, it struck me that most of these things on Earth are still too large in scale to really affect me personally. Sure I can go to Brazil and travel around or even live there, but will I? No, honestly I probably won’t. I’m not big on traveling to begin with and there are many other places I would chose first. Plus I’ll never get to everything even if I tried. There is just too much here in front of me and most of that doesn’t apply to me.

There are billions of lives on this planet. Billions of stories. Millions of events. Only a tiny fraction of which I will have any involvement with. The same is generally true even of the most powerful and influential people on the planet, of which I am far from being. So what the hell am I stressing out about? Why do I feel compelled to even have an opinion on world issues that will not affect my life? Let alone large universe scale issues I can do nothing about and will never know for sure about. It seems I spend too much time on things that just don’t matter. Things that are really nothing more than mental masturbation, even world events I’ll never have any real sway over. That energy could be better spent, I don’t know, figuring out how to open my own pub or something. Maybe making another feature film. Something realistic that I could actually make happen and will actually have some influence on my life. Something hard enough to do on its own, but at least possible.

I think it’s time to put the big ideas away before they take more of my precious time away from me. They are fun to think about from time to time, but when they become too time consuming, you really have to step back and say “I don’t think this is working for me.”