So after the dust of the dust of the HD War has long since settled and been swept up you’re ready to make the jump to the Blu side. Good on ya and allow me to welcome you to the club! As a converted member of the Hi-Def masses (initiated back in Dec 2009) I’ve bought many titles, even upgrading many I already owned, and learned a few things along the way. At the end of the day I can honestly say the switch was totally worth it however it’s not all wine and roses.
Provided you have a sufficient TV and player, the final step is finding titles to take full advantage of HD in all its glory. Below I’ve highlighted 5 points of quasi-overlapping criteria for deciding: what to look for in choosing a title (be it an upgrade or first time purchase), whether the BD edition (picture/audio/supplements) are really worth and, in this shaky economic climate, whether you need really it at all.
1. Detail & Clarity – First and foremost, this criteria is at the top of my list and for good reason. Like any advance in home video technology, each step is noticeably better than the last which finds new technology pretty much trumping the preceding format. In short, I’m a visual nut and I want to see films as clean and slick as possible be it a sc-fi epic (like Avatar) or a slow-paced drama (like Leon: The Professional). With Blu Ray, the depth of field, color saturation, clarity is, in many cases, astounding and it’s evident that Blu Ray is the cats pajamas if you’re a videophile.
Click the image for a hi-res version of the comparison. Photos courtesy of Front Room Cinema from their well written article on the history/benefits of Blu Ray.
Personally I’ve held that buying Blu Ray titles is mainly worth the up-charge for 1.) Films with abundant CG and action pieces 2.) Films with lavish set design, make-up, costumes etc and 3.) New titles that I don’t own (presence of numbers 1 and 2 not entirely withstanding)
Now I must point out that not every film will look as good as that above example or have such a dramatic step up from DVD. Most times there will be a noticeable difference but in the cases where it isn’t a crystal clear reference quality transfer it just really depends on whether the increase in detail is enough to justify you purchasing the desired title. As a rule you shouldn’t expect much with titles like When Harry Met Sally or Twister. They aren’t films I think benefit from a cleaning therefore aren’t worth an upgrade. Now you may love them and they might be worth switching to BD in your eyes but to me I’ll save my money.
Still it’s not just because they’re older titles. Many in films in the The Criterion Collection (e.g. Yojimbo) and films like Gone With the Wind look, how should I saw this, ABSOLUTELY ASTOUNDING!! Also, for those of you weary of classic titles, the Blu Ray versions of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Some Like It Hot look particularly amazing when cleaned up. Who knew something so drab on DVD could look so great on BD? I guess it’s why they developed the technology in the first place right?
2. Quality…and to some extent “Content” – Different from the entry above, not every BD title is a gleaming example of Hi-Def glory. Just because a property gets the BD treatment it’s not perfect by any means. The is especially true of the many titles made available in the early days of hi-def transfers. It’d be nice if a product claiming to be “Beyond High Definition” would have an across the board standard “look” to the titles. But like DVDs have shown (and is due, many times, to source material) that isn’t the case. So we get some high quality BD transfers and some that are not so good making the jump to Blu not a win in every occasion.
While studios were desperately trying to get their titles out to the public (both during and after the HD War) the idea of being first on the block doesn’t mean anything if the process is rushed. Many titles were so eager to put that shiny Hi-Def label on their case that titles in question didn’t produce anything close to the exceptional video quality Blu Ray is or would be capable of. Sure the standard defense is that “it’s better than DVD” but as noticed in films like Wyatt Earp, Predator, Equilibrium and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, it’s nowhere near as good as it could be and in those cases, they were just poor transfers. Insult to injury is anyone who snatched the titles up were quickly and highly displeased when they learned another version would be released which would be done right (utilizing a proper AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50-gig disc or something similar by Blu Ray standards). Further, in rare instances with films like The Thing, fans found the previous supplemental materials mysteriously lacking.
The good news is that, as far as “extras”, most BD titles these days are jam-packed with supplemental material sometimes including more than the DVD featured. In some cases (like the Sapphire Series from Paramount) titles have massive amounts of content you really need about 3 days to get through it all. I guess that’s what happens when studios have 50GB worth of disc to fill right? Still even though it’s there for you doesn’t mean you’ll ever watch it all and unlike DVDs that offered a stripped down (or Vanilla) version of the film, a BD pretty much has everything you could ever want to know. But it’s up to dive into it all…or not. So on to my next point.
3. Redundancy vs. Necessity – OK, so you’ve bought Star Wars in every format starting with VHS. But let me ask you this: Have you ever laterally bought those films or other titles in a format you already own? (Translation: have you swapped out the “regular” edition for the “Special Edition”, “Director’s Cut“ or Superbit etc.??) Be honest…No matter what your answer is, it’s OK because sometimes if you love a movie enough you’ll double (or even triple) dip from format to format to enjoy the films you love so much.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve done this too but before I do I ask myself: Are the ends worth the means? And is re-buying really necessary? Now provided you have the funds, this criteria really is a matter of personal preference. Having upgraded more than a few titles I already owned, many times, probably due to better judgement, I still balk at many upgrade opportunities.
I’ll give you an example: I own Animal House and Platoon on DVD, but they don’t possess sufficient aesthetics to justify making the jump to BD and so I chose to keep what I’ve got. This is really the biggest take it or leave it criteria in this post as again it comes down to subjective opinions and personal preference if you are considering a replacement/upgrade. But trust me, if you have trouble deciding whether to do it or not, you’re really not alone…
4. Research; Make An Informed Decision – Considering all the above, you think you know the title (or titles) you want to pick up? Good for you, but before you get in your car (or go online) and make your purchase, wait just one more minute. Since this is a new format it pays to do a little homework. Plenty of media outlets exist that can really help you from being disappointed with a blind buy even for a film you absolutely love. Sure, you have a pretty good chance of being happy with your purchase just because it has been released in this new format. Buuut even though Blu Ray is the “newest and best” it’s not an infallible method for attaining films you love or would love to own. As I have been burned plenty of times in the past, the idea of “try before you buy” is a credo that all film fans should have tucked in the common sense portion of their brains…right there next to “get to a theater at least 30 minutes before the start of any film“.
G.I. Joe put it best, “knowing is half the battle“. That said, before I even think of putting walking (or clicking) to the check-out counter, I look to 2 sources to see whether or not a title is worth the upgrade or first time purchase. Blu-Ray.com and DVDTown.com not only provide reviews of the film itself but also very thorough audio/video breakdowns of each title. In short, they’re my “go to” websites. They usually link to places that offer the title in question at the lowest prices. 9 times out of 10 it is Amazon and while I don’t want to seem like I’m advertising, with their prices you can nearly get 2 titles for the price of 1 at a retailer like Best Buy. But that’s jut my two cents for you to consider. Which brings me to my last criteria…
5. Price – Back in the days of the Hi-Def War this was a huge factor (and detractor). Most titles did and still do retail for $50.00 although $40.00 seems to be the standard asking price. Players themselves have broken the $100 ceiling but I’ve found that $150 is a good price which yields a quality player (and these days usually comes with 3D too!). While supply and demand still play a heavy role in the saturation of this new format, many outlets have made it easier than you’d think to pick up titles that might interest you. And, as I wrote above, at places like Amazon have Blu Ray titles that are, most times, even cheaper than DVDs. That kind of makes it a no-brainer to get certain films at such a low (read: dirt cheap) price.
So whether you are reluctant to take the plunge or, like me, have jumped right in, hopefully this list will be of some benefit to some of your future purchases. Now by no means is this a denitive list becasue as I wrote a few times in this post, like opinions of films in general, the reasons and decision to buy a film you want is subjective. But consider the points/criteria above as a word of advice to you all. Best of luck film fans!!
If you have any comments or items you’d like my 5 points, want to add any of your own, think I’m way off base, feel free to leave a comment!