Monday, January 7, 2008

Why Should I Care About Blu-ray And HD?

Blu-ray or HD? Blu-ray or HD? Blu-ray or HD? Who cares?

So Warner's latest announcement that it will back solely Blu-ray has set off alarm bells in the HD camp. But this is yet another part of the ridiculous constant development that is the progress of home entertainment. Every time a new format appears, everyone screams "This is the future!"

But take a minute, sit back, and take heed of Jack Nicholson's advice as The Joker: "Think about the future!"

If we're going to see something new on the horizon every few years, where's it all going to end? Never? I still have friends who're wondering what to do with their laserdisc collections. And then there's that filmmaker who's still in the midst of replacing his entire collection of VHS tapes and laserdiscs with DVDs. I bet he's pulling his hair out now with all this Blu-ray and HD crap.

I've always been late in joining the bandwagon. I bought my first VCR just when laserdiscs were invented, bought my first laserdisc and VCD deck just when both formats were dovetailing in the market, and got my first DVD player some years ago. I still have VHS tapes of movies like White Zombie with Bela Lugosi, and laserdiscs of Days Of Heaven and Blade Runner, plus a couple of limited edition LD boxed sets.

If we look closely at the trends, it usually follows that radical changes in formats, and in the shapes of the carrying devices, are what revolutionises the preferences of consumers. Compact discs stayed on because they were smaller than vinyls, more durable than cassette tapes (which in turn, were smaller than cartridges and caught on) and offered better sound quality (depending on whether you're a digital or an analogue person). Subsequent enhancements of the format, such as SACD, remain a niche. Mini-discs are, of course, a whole different story. The equipment for it was expensive and the sound quality was compressed. Perhaps that's why most labels didn't support the format, resulting in little available music on Mini-disc.

Now, you can probably draw parallel with the whole VHS and Betamax deal. Like Mini-discs, Betamax also offered a smaller version of an existing format. Like Mini-discs too, it didn't catch on at all (although Mini-discs are still popular in Japan).

The laserdisc and the DVD were radical improvements in format and caught on in a big way. Laserdiscs offered digital picture quality and sound, while DVDs improved on that, plus their size is also an advantage. Now, Blu-ray and HD are similar to the SACD or even the Betamax. They're purely technical improvements on an existing shape and format. What am I predicting?

No, I dare not predict anything. But I'm just pointing out the possibilities based on past evidence.

Personally, I couldn't care less about the new formats, because I still use a 21-inch TV, and I don't own, or much care for, an expensive home-theatre system. My basic principle remains that films should be seen and experienced on the big cinema screen, at least once. Once that whole feel has been captured, it's easy to translate it in your mind, or transpose it, onto the smaller screen.

What do I care what the resolution is on a 21-inch TV screen?

For most consumers anyway, portability is a plus factor. DVD already offers that factor, with some opting to watch DVDs on their laptops and other devices while travelling or commuting. Resolution and other technical perfections are the least of their concerns.

How else do you explain the millions of people who are listening to bad quality, compressed music via MP3 files in their iPods and other mobile devices?

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