DVD Savant Blu-ray
March 16, 2009
By Glenn Erickson
Last fall DVD Savant (fallible ME) wrote a number of editorials expressing frustration and dissatisfaction when my new Blu-ray copies of MGM's James Bond movies failed to play in my first-generation DVD player. In fast succession I discovered a number of things not divulged in Blu-ray promotional materials. The players aren't so much disc decks as they are computers, a minor revelation that accounts for my sturdy Sony machine's slow start-up. Blu-ray discs contain media but also software programs to enable the playback of said media. The next generation of players are meant to connect to the Internet, not only to enable BD-Live interactive features, but to allow the player to automatically download new firmware updates.
None of that made me feel any better when faced with expensive discs that wouldn't play, and paranoid Me was quick to invent any number of reasons for it. From the consumer's POV, it appeared to be the perfect responsibility dodge. If a disc won't play, the disc manufacturer can place the blame on the maker of the player, and vice versa.
About two weeks later Sony came through with a firmware upgrade, and my MGM discs played without a hitch (only those tiresome menus got in the way). Being an easy-going guy except when it comes to holding a grudge, I expressed suspicions that this sort of musical disc game could damage the growth of the format, should consumers take home major releases -- "Here kids, it's WALL-E!" -- only to be forced to wait weeks for an upgrade that would make them play properly. I'm sure Charles Dickens and Emile Zola would grieve for this social injustice, if only they were here.
Well, the pleasant truth is that since clearing up my mini-debacle with the Blu-rays of Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball, I haven't had a single new disc refuse to play. Every once in a while the Sony will burp and a disc will freeze in mid feature, requiring me to shut down and try again. This has happened only two or three times, and the problem didn't repeat. Normal DVD players were just as finicky.
Sony just sent out (on request) a new firmware upgrade for my machine, which I'll dutifully upload. Seeing that I had done the format a disservice last fall by hitting the panic button, I decided to ask DVD Savant readers to write in with news of their experiences on this particular subject, and anything else that pops into mind regarding their satisfaction or lack thereof with the new format.
Here's what came back, mostly positive feedback. My thanks to all who wrote in!
Hi Glenn. Happy to report that I haven't experienced any more Blu-ray problems either. Here's hoping that was the end of it since I don't think I could cope with installing even one more firmware upgrade. On the plus side, films now look better at home than they do in most movie houses (my new local AMC complex excepted). -- Jon Lidolt
Hi Glenn, recently took the Blu-ray HDTV plunge. Nothing short of amazing! I did buy Thunderball and have no problems playing it or any other Blu-rays. I did check and I have the latest firmware for my player, the Philips7200/37 (huge sale at Radio Shack). The Blu-ray shelves at my local Best Buy are depleted, so maybe BR is taking off. Players seem in short supply there and at the local Wal Mart and Target. Valley of Elah also played flawlessly as did Pineapple Express (Funny flic). I think if movie prices come down and the players are priced at 150 or so for a decent one, the format will really take off. Happy Viewing! -- Larry Heard, Warrington PA
PS: Rented the Blu-ray of Blade Runner, awesome!!!!
Dear Glenn, I am responding to your question about trouble with Blu-ray disks. My player is a Samsung BD P 1500 and like you I found that one of the six Bond films released last fall would not play regardless of what I did. In my case the movie was For Your Eyes Only. Since then I have encountered two other disks --- Casino and The Mummy Returns -- that gave my player problems. Although the previews and menus would play, the main feature would not. At my request Samsung sent me a disk with the latest firmware update in mid February, but it was evidently lost in the mail. I called Samsung today and they will be mailing me a replacement copy. -- Bill Fuller
Hey, thanks for the entertaining reviews. As usual, they're the tops. Very interesting news bits about new to DVD features and again, your reviews are the very best yet. As for Blu-ray, I have not got a Blu-ray disc player, but I know someone who does, and is not all that thrilled with it. She says it takes forever to load most discs and while the picture is in fact a bit better than regular DVD, she said it's not worth the extra money on rentals and sales to use it. She's back to using her old STANDARD DVD player and wants to sell her Blu-ray. Also heard that Blu-ray discs are not selling all that well. I know there is a difference in picture quality, but I'm happy with my Sony standard player.
Everything looks great on my 72-inch screen and I will not junk it to buy a Blu-ray. If and when my standard breaks down, yes, then I'll consider buying a Blu-ray, but not until then. I can't believe all the hoop a la on Blu-ray. In a couple of years or so I'm sure they'll come out with SUPER Blu-ray and then a few more years a SUPER, DUPER Blu-ray. Anything to get consumers money. Not a good time in this economic crisis. What's that saying? IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT. As for me, I usually only watch classic films of the 30's -- 60's --- very few recent films. Except for a hand full of classics, the studios just release the new titles on Blu-ray, so it would not behoove me to purchase one anyway.
Again, keep up the good work on your reviews. They are very detailed, incitefull and entertaining. Look forward every week. Also, please keep us advised of any NEW standard DVD classics that will be released. One of my pet peeves is that the studios keep re-re-re releasing the same titles. There are thousands of un-released titles, why don't they release those instead???? Crazy.
Wish I could write the "powers-to-be" and have them explain why they keep doing this. STOP WITH THE RE-RELEASING ALREADY. And why I hell didn't Warners add The Prize to the Newman collection????? They own all the MGMs of that period. Nice to get that off my chest. Lol. Take care and best regards -- Ronald Fernandez
I'm new to Blu-ray bought my player in November on Black Friday, but did not install it until a couple of weeks ago when I bought a new Sony 40" TV. I don't have many discs so far, but 2 new Disney discs give me problems. High School Musical 3 seems to play erratically. It jumps every few seconds, sort of like it is missing frames. It is pretty bad, especially on the musical numbers. The sound seems solid, but the picture jumps a good deal. Yesterday I bought Beverly Hills Chihuahua and it also has a jumpy picture, not as bad as HSM 3 but again distracting. I don't know whether to try the new Pinocchio coming soon, but I sure don't want the jitters on it. My player is a Memorex, so maybe that is my problem. But it does play about 8/10 other discs fine on labels other than Disney. (MGM, Warner, Lionsgate, Fox) -- Ray Munson
Glenn, I'm sorry to report that I have had NO issues with any Blu-ray disc on my Sony BDP-S550 to this point. I'd knock on some wood if I could find some in this office, I don't think MDF counts. -- David C. Cleveland
Hi once again from Australia. Just to let you know that there is a bargain down here, called the Kogan Blu-ray player which retails online for less than $250 Australian -- which is $160 American. It upscales DVDs but the best part for us is that it is fully multi-region, which means of course that we can buy both Region B (European and Australian) and Region A (American) -- a huge advantage over most machines here, given the wider choice of titles in the States. It is burdened with an ugly non-intuitive remote, but that seems a small price to pay. And so far there's not been a hitch with any titles, including the Sean Connery Bonds so far released (though I hate their awkward menus!). I'm just hoping its cheapness doesn't indicate a cheap build -- only time will tell ... The Australian single-disc Casablanca should arrive any day now, then a special parcel later this month from Amazon, with Gigi, South Pacific and The 400 Blows. Blu-rays are here to stay. Cheers Glenn -- Anthony Clarke
While the look of these isn't that great, I had no trouble with them. I really liked Universal's HD-DVD menu design, not for looks, but how easy it was to deal with. You would have one page overlap another, and so on. The Bond ones aren't as easy. Their big problem is the crappy art direction, the cheap new Bond single DVDs have some of the worst covers
I ever saw, and the Blu-rays aren't much better. -- "Peter"
I love my overpriced and oversized Denon 2500 BD Transport even if it is a Buick and nobody else seems to have one. Everybody who has a PS3 says that's the best. It's usually the only player they have, so how can they tell? I did read that Criterion uses PS3 to test their discs. I also heard that upgrades are a cinch. If I ever run into a big problem I think that I'll try a PS3. Then I can make a real comparison. But it will never beat my Denon for SLOW load time (about one minute to turn on, another minute for the tray to open, several minutes for the BD to start, one minute to realize the unit froze, seven minutes to re-boot it and a week in the repair shop just for an upgrade.) To be fair, it has played about 500 BDs with little issue and is supposed to have a much better A/V quality. It also doubles as a weapon. But can a million Elvis, uh, I mean PS3 fans be wrong? -- Lynn Lascaro, Eagle Scout, Retired
I had a strange sound problem with Vicki Cristina Barcelona that I was able to work around. The problem occurred on two copies of the disk, so I am reasonably certain that is is an encoding issue. The equipment used was a Samsung BD-UP5000 player feeding into a Denon AVR-3808CI receiver via an HDMI cable.
The recording mode is apparently LPCM 3.0 (only front right, left and center). My player has 3 possible sound output modes:
1) Bitstream (audiophile) -- passes the disc bitstream to the receiver for interpretation
2) Bitstream (re-encode) -- re-encodes the disc bitstream to DTS and passes the DTS bitstream to the receiver
3) PCM -- fully decodes the disc bitstream into PCM streams and passes up to 8 of them (7 + LFE channel) to the receiver
Any on VCB, if I use either method 1 or method 3, the receiver only sees a left channel, right channel, and the LFE channel. Since I am not using a subwoofer, I hear only the left and right channels -- music and effects. However, if I use method 2, the re-encode is successful and I do have the 3 front channels and can enjoy the film.
As far as I know, this is the only LPCM 3.0 film out there. I suspect that there is a problem with specification interpretation here. -- Alan Forkosh Oakland, CA
Hi Glenn, this is a little tidbit. I wrote to you earlier that I was having no trouble with the Blu-ray and movies. Well, not trouble exactly but I saw Stargate at Wal Mart for a measly 10 bucks. There were some others as well. Talk about a lousy transfer. The "model" shots and some close ups were ok. But interior shots with dark backgrounds, tunnels, dark rooms etc. were horrid. All this noise or whatever you call it. Some scenes had good detail (some of the older actors looked really ancient, ha). but on the whole keep your current SD copy. I guess you get what you pay for. There were promos from Lionsgate about other Blu-ray titles. One of Arnie's pics, etc. No more 10 dollar Blu-rays for me. Would rather pay more. Also when Jay Davidson is talking in his language no subtitles showed. Unless I did not have something set properly. Why would they try to flood the market with inferior transfers? Makes no sense to me. Did I tell you I rented the Blu-ray of Bladerunner? I never could get into it ever, but that opening shot of L.A...OMG!!!!! Thought you might like to know about the cheapies at Wal Mart. -- Larry Heard Warrington, PA
Glenn, I saw your comment about readers' notes regarding Blu-ray experiences. It's about all the excuse I need to pass along my own comments, for what they're worth.
Ever since I saw my first Kloss Advent Videobeam system in 1976 I've wanted to assemble a home theatre centered around video projection technology. I bought my first CRT-based video projector in 1996 and soon got into the laserdisc scene. Two years later I bought my first DVD player.
After upgrades we now have a screening room with an eight-foot screen, capable of full-height 2.35:1 presentation; and full surround audio. The projector is of the high-definition, 3LCD variety and I have recently sprung for a Sony Blu-ray player (for which I actually paid less than my first DVD player cost ten years ago).
Finally, we have a setup that can rival the experience of an actual film in a theatre. The Blu-ray discs I've seen have yielded definition beyond my expectations.
That's the good news.
The bad news is, when I go through the list of Blu-ray titles currently offered, I find at most three I'd actually care to own. How long must we wait to see the titles that could REALLY benefit from the Blu-ray treatment? (Titles like Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, Ben-Hur, Vertigo, rather than the second season of Weeds? DVD seemed a bit slow to catch on at first and Blu-ray has seemed even slower. Nonetheless, hope springs eternal. -- D M Arnold
Posted March 16, 2009
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson
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