The Future of Home Entertainment Is Here!

(Editor's Note: We here at sympathize with those who can't make head or tails of the latest doodads. Neither can Andrew. He only hopes to know enough to ask the right questions when something doesn't work right. Even so, we apologize if this post is a bit more technical than usual. Or if he got something wrong...) Sreenwriter John August elaborated on Khoi Vinh's venting about Blu-Ray players on his blog. My experience with Blu-Ray discs and HDTVs is limited, and I had no idea how buggy these systems seem to be. I figured it was a super DVD player, but according to Vinh, an Internet connection and loads of special features mean lots of software updates, slow load times, and finnicky playback.

For the uninitiaed: A Blu-Ray disc (also the now defunct HDDVD) is read by a blue laser, as opposed to a red laser for ordinary CDs and DVDs. A blue laser has a shorter wavelength than a red one, allowing for more compact pits on the disc, which means a buttload more storage capacity. This allows for a full HD picture, a bigger soundtrack, and more special features. The Other Wiki has this to say on the subject.

I've never felt a strong urge to jump on this bandwagon- most movies I see are DVDs on my laptop, with a 15 inch screen and a pair of stereo headphones. For one or two people watching a movie, this is fine. The truth about Blu-Ray is that unless you have what amounts to a fancy home theater system, you don't need all the extra information on the disc. A regular DVD will do just fine.

If I could play back an HD picture on my 15-inch laptop, it wouldn't look any better than a DVD. Why? The dimensions of the picture are larger than my screen, so it would be shrunk to fit. A standard def DVD already fits on my screen, so we're not even using most of the new resolution. I snicker whenever I see tiny little computer monitors and TVs marked as HD resolution- you're not getting your money's worth.

"But wait!" you cry. "My SD DVD looks all pixelated on my tiny HDTV!" Yes, because the HDTV has smaller pixels. They're crammed into the tiny TV. The DVD picture is getting blown up bigger than it should be.

And that's the only advantage of the bigger resolution: You can blow up the picture larger than what a regular DVD will tolerate. I don't know what that cutoff is, but it's probably in the neighborhood of a 52-inch TV. So you need something at least that size to use all the picture real estate the Blu-Ray disc is giving you.

And if you're getting a super-awesome big screen TV, you should probably get a super-awesome sound system to go with it. Because a flat screen TV is going to have really tiny, tinny speakers. Plus, the Blu-Ray disc can support lots of audio tracks that a DVD can't. Don't you want to hear "THIS! IS! SPARTA!" in 5.1 surround sound?

But not every movie needs to wake the neighbors like 300. While I appreciate seeing a movie projected on film, The King's Speech isn't going to lose much in the transition to my 15-inch laptop. The advertising tells us that we're getting better picture and sound quality, which is technically true, but you have to spend thousands of dollars in order to get the most out of it. For the rest of us, we just want to watch a movie, and a standard def DVD will work just fine. [ref] There are lots of other issues surrounding the transition from theater to home video, like widescreen vs. fullscreen releases, and the impact seeing the whole screen at once makes. Hopefully I'll be able to talk about these in later posts.[/ref]

And actually, now that I think about it, most movies I watch on my laptop aren't even on DVDs. Which makes even more sense out of John August's final remark:

Remember the showdown between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray? Streaming won.