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Behold…! The Power of Blue Lasers!

June 29, 2009
no, not that one...

no, not that one...

Last night, Avrin and I used our Blu-Ray player for something other than watching DVDs, or filling up space on our IKEA table between the cable box and the Wii. We decided, at about 10.45pm, to walk over to TLA Video and rent a Blu-Ray disc. More after the jump.

I do realize that the Blu-Ray medium has been commercially available for over three years now, and that Blu-Ray players are finally reaching a low enough price to attract people looking to replace DVD players with shiny, new BD players. I also realize that our player, is probably nothing special, seeing as it came free with a TV, after all. That’s why this isn’t strictly a review of the player or Blu-Ray discs, but really the experience of watching a Blu-Ray movie for the first time. It felt rather like the early 2000s all over again. I remember going to Blockbuster and noticing how with every new trip there, the walls of VHS tapes were slowly giving way to efficient little DVD boxes, which every other family seemed to be picking up but ours. I also remember the commercials on old VHS rentals that tried to visually encapsulate the wonder that was the Digital Versatile Disc. I believe the experience to have been as useful as trying to describe a Monet painting to a blind man from the Middle Ages; you just had to see it to get it. As such, part of me was hoping, as I stood in the rental store arguing with my friends that we couldn’t get a comedy or an old movie (because how could they show of Blu-Ray’s potential?), I’d get another overwhelming feeling of awe from the moment my rods and cones received their first blast of high-quality video all those years ago when we finally decided on a movie. After I rejected Avrin’s nonsensical choice of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (THE MOVIE IS OLDER THAN WE ARE), everyone agreed on my slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion of WALL-E. It turned out to be a fine choice; lots more explosions than I’d remembered. So as we sat down on our futon / only piece of furniture we own that more than one person can sit on, Avrin fiddled around with the controls and got the disc going.

The first thing we were greeted with was a wonderfully smug commercial (if you can call it that?) about how awesome it was that we were watching a movie on Blu-Ray. It was like an initiation into a really pointless and geeky club, that we’d only had a vague interest in in the first place. After this, we were shown a trailer for UP, and one started for Pinocchio, when Avrin figured out how to just get us to the root menu. I doubt a cartoon that was made sixty-nine years ago would really turn out any better after its nth remastering than it did on DVD, and considering Blu-Ray players are all backwards-compatible with your entire DVD collection anyway, I doubt there can be much of a market for polished ancient cartoons, unless you really feel like seeing the flecks of pencil lead that makes up that puppet’s nose.

I was given a lot of time to think about this, since pulling up the menu on the disc took nearly five minutes. In another way it was like the early 2000s again – back in the days of the original Playstation and Xboxes, when you’d put a game in and it would take what seemed like eons to load, and half the time you weren’t sure if it had frozen or not. Considering we live in a society where shows like Robot Chicken are lauded for their brevity, and our newest way of reading the news is in the snippiest of snippet-form, I can’t see too many people being happy with waiting so long for their movie to load. Perhaps with newer players and discs (WALL-E is already a year old, amazingly), this won’t be such a problem. Or, perhaps, this was a shrewd move by the phalanxes of geeks it took to develop this technology – they make you wait and wait and wait (after waiting for the menu to load, you have to wait again after you press play), but the payoff is quite spectacular. The scenes where WALL-E is clinging on to the giant rocket ship that is taking his dear EVE from him, there are some truly beautiful images of space that struck me in such a way that definitely surpassed DVD-awe, and was up there with planetarium at age 8 levels of awe. Oh, and the aforementioned explosions were cool too.

I can see why Blu-Ray will soon succeed to the throne of home video media – it offers more than the DVD can (50GB vs. 8.5GB max capacity, 1080p vs. 480p resolution, blue lasers vs. red ones), and will soon be as cheap to own as the DVD or even the VHS once was. But, at the end of the day, the experience was not one of those things that me think, “wow, I really do live in the future”, like, say, the iPhone, Microsoft Surface, or even Transitions lenses make me feel. Blu-Ray is a lot like the Toyota Prius; it’s revolutionary, impressive, but still the same type of solution as those that have come before it. The Prius may sound like a vacuum cleaner and be good for Gaia, but it’s still a car with a gasoline engine hidden in there. Similarly, the Blu-Ray is still a 12cm optical disc we use to transport media on. Give me 3D images where I can perceive depth, and perhaps I will jump for joy like I did when my dad gave away our old 1989 Sony Trinitron and we got a flat-screen TV, built in the same decade it was intended to be used in. Until then, each new video format, to me, will feel like buying a new Mercedes every couple of years (if I could even buy one) – it’s nicer, shiner, more powerful, but still the same basic device that hasn’t become much more revolutionary with each iteration.

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