Examining My Love/Hate Relationship with Video Discs

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Examining My Love/Hate Relationship with Video Discs


Pile-of-discs-thumb.jpgIn the past six months, I've reviewed two new Ultra HD Blu-ray players (including last week's featured review, the Philips BDP7501) along with my regular assortment of TVs and projectors. That means I've spent a lot of time with the video disc format--admittedly, more time than has become the norm for me.

Over the past few years, I--like many--have embraced streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Google Play for casual, everyday movie watching. Sure, I've headed over to the local Redbox kiosk to pick up the newest blockbuster Blu-ray release that deserves to be watched in the finest A/V format available, and occasionally I'll purchase new reference-quality discs to help with my reviews. But those are really the only times I've chosen discs over streaming.

The arrival of Ultra HD Blu-ray has brought the disc format back into my life in a major way. And make no mistake, the new format is worthy of much fanfare. If you've got a good HDR-capable UHD TV, movies like The Martian, The Revenant, Star Trek, and Sicario are beautiful to behold in Ultra HD Blu-ray. (Check out my list of 10 Great Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs to Begin Your Collection).

Still, as much as I'm enjoying the wonderful picture quality of the new format, this latest disc revival has also reminded me exactly why so many people have completely abandoned the video disc. In a nutshell, it just...feels...so...darn...slow. Between the speed of disc loading (which varies per player) and all the little annoyances that the studios have built into the navigation experience, the process of getting to the actual film seems to take an eternity by today's "microwave a Pop-Tart" standard. Compare that with the current crop of voice-controlled streaming media players, where all you have to do is speak the name of a desired title into the remote, decide which service you want to use, and get on your way. At least in the early days of streaming media, the process of inputting movie names using that dreadful onscreen keyboard caused some bit of consternation, but that has quickly become a ritual of the past. You see, they evolved in response to consumer feedback. A novel concept, I know.

And what about those navigational annoyances that are put in place by the movie studios? Let's revisit three of the most common offenders and see how much (if any) they've changed in the new Ultra HD Blu-ray era.

Trailers. Oh So Many Trailers.
Trailers are awesome in the movie theater because they're showing you glimpses of movies that haven't come out yet. Trailers are not awesome on Blu-ray because they're usually just trying to sell you more Blu-rays. Why would I want to watch six (or more) trailers for movies that have already been released in theaters or on disc? At this point, I've either seen the movie already or chosen not to see the movie at all. Either way, I don't care. And why are you showing me an advertisement touting the benefits of Blu-ray discs...on a Blu-ray disc? It's called preaching to the choir. Stop it.

Some studios are nice enough to let you skip the trailers entirely by hitting the remote's Top Menu. Then again, it might be the Pop-up Menu. Then again, it might not be either button, since some studios deliberately choose not to let you skip trailers. In that case, try using track-forward to skip from trailer to trailer...or try fast-forward to hurry through the lot of them. If all else fails, try the secret handshake on the remote: stop, stop, play. Or is it stop, play, stop, play, enter? I can never remember.

The good news for UHD fans is, so far I have not encountered a single trailer on an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc. As you may or may not know, every UHD BD comes with a separate 1080p Blu-ray disc, and thus far all of the trailers have been loaded onto those discs instead. Another reason to like Ultra HD.

Piracy-warning.jpgCopyright Warnings
Okay, studios, we get it: piracy is not a victimless crime. It costs a lot of money to make a movie. It costs a lot of money to distribute a movie. People deserve to be paid for their talents, and every time someone illegally distributes a film to other people for free (whether they're making physical copies or ripping the disc and uploading it to a file-sharing site), it affects the livelihood of those who make movies--and not just the mega-stars who are making ridiculous sums of cash. It affects those Hollywood types who live paycheck to paycheck, just like the rest of us.

But here's the thing: I'm not doing that. Most people who purchase and rent home video discs aren't doing that. We're the ones playing by the rules and giving you our money, yet the studios seem to operate under the assumption that every single one of us is a pirate in waiting who needs to be prematurely chastised. As for the people who aren't playing by the rules...well, I'm guessing they aren't terribly concerned by your FBI warnings and your heartfelt appeals. Then again, maybe the hundredth time they're forced to sit through a copyright notice, it'll finally sink in. "Wow, they're right. Piracy isn't a victimless crime. I really should stop doing it."

This little annoyance hasn't gotten better on Ultra HD Blu-ray. In most cases, you'll see both the FBI warning and "victimless crime" notice right after you choose the Play Movie function. LionsGate's new Ultra HD Blu-ray releases might be the worst, as they force you to watch the copyright warnings every single time you stop the disc and try to restart playback.

Have you ever noticed the glorious lack of copyright warnings when you stream a film through Netflix? Probably not. You're probably not thinking about copyright issues at all. You're thinking about the movie that you're excited to watch, which is how it should be. Since streaming services aren't supplying you with a physical copy of the film, there's no need to warn you not to do something you probably weren't going to do anyhow.

The copyright warnings also aren't attached to the digital copies that come with most Blu-ray releases. Once you load the digital copy into iTunes or register it through UltraViolet, the movie just plays when you hit play. It's only on the discs themselves that we see these warnings over and over--almost like we're being punished for choosing the disc format in the first place.

To Resume or Not to Resume?
You want to know another nice thing about streaming? When you're watching a movie or the latest episode of your favorite TV show and you have to pause it--regardless of whether you pause it for 10 minutes or 10 days--you can rest assured that you'll be able to start it at the exact place where you left off.

That's not a given with discs. Most (but not all) current Blu-ray players support the auto-resume function that remembers where you were in a certain disc and gives you the option to return there. But even if the player supports it, not every disc supports it. A lot of them do, but Paramount and LionsGate are two studios that consistently don't support auto-resume. If you pop Mission Impossible Rogue Nation into your Blu-ray player, I hope you don't accidentally hit the stop button when you take a snack break...because you're headed right back to the main menu when you hit play again. Unfortunately it's true of UHD BD discs like Star Trek and Sicario, as well.

This is actually part of a bigger annoyance: the lack of consistency between studios. As I've described, LionsGate discs have their own navigational quirks, different from Paramount's, which are different from Warner Brothers', etc., etc. When you use Netflix, Amazon Video, or Google Play, the user experience is the same from film to film, regardless of which studio distributes it. But in the world of home video discs, that's simply not the case.

And yet, my beloved Blu-ray, despite it all--despite your sloth-like pacing and all your little annoyances--I just can't seem to quit you. Because at the end of the day, you deliver consistency in the one area that matters the most to me: AV performance. You just look too good. You sound too good. And your beauty is not beholden to any Internet service provider, which might just be your finest attribute.

Additional Resources
The State of 4K Front Projection at HomeTheaterReview.com.
What Is "Ultra HD Premium"? at HomeTheaterReview.com.
My Search for Higher-Quality Soundtracks in Streaming Movies at HomeTheaterReview.com.


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