WTF: Blu-ray Blues

Ever since I was a pre-teen in the early 80s and VCRs hit the market, I have been in love with home video. Screw commercial television! Why not watch what you want when you want, unedited, in the comfort of your home.

Since those early days of home video, the market has just gotten better and better. Today, we have DVRs that will literally allow you to pause live TV. We also have video on demand options on our home cable systems and over the internet.

But even with all this digital downloading available, there is still nothing as awesome as holding a disc in your hand that you can load up into your player and watch at home, complete with special features.

DVD was excellent, introducing us to a non-linear video system that didn’t require any blotchy “Be Kind, Rewind” sticker. Bonus material, commentary tracks, a freeze frame that doesn’t get dorked up with video static. This was the first incarnation of home video awesomeness.

For many people, the next incarnation of home video awesomeness was Blu-ray. Some might argue it was HD DVD, but let’s forget about that right now since that has gone the way of Beta.

I joined the Blu-ray fold finally, after waiting out the aforementioned format war, and I got my Blu-ray set up. And yes, the high definition picture and sound is quite awesome. But there is a downside to Blu-ray, which I discovered when I put in my first disc months ago…

…and waited for like 10 minutes for the damn thing to boot up.

What the format?

Like I said, the hi-def picture and sound is awesome. I’m not denying that. Getting the latest blockbuster on Blu-ray can be a great experience once you get things up and running. But the Blu-ray format can be a real pain in the ass sometimes. It’s supposed to be superior technology, but the damn platform has more bugs, problems and annoyances than DVD ever had.

So here’s my official bitch list about why Blu-ray is, in fact, not a superior platform…

Slow load – I understand that a Blu-ray disc is loaded with like 10 times the data of a DVD. But why does it take so long to load? If the video and audio image can be pulled from the disc at such speed, why can’t the machine process the damn main menu faster?

Recall – When I pop a DVD out of my machine, I can put it back into the player days or even weeks later, and it remembers where I was? Not so on any Blu-ray disc I have watched (and I have watched dozens). Heck, here’s a place where VHS actually trumps Blu-ray, and that’s just crazy talk.

Navigation – Top menu? Pop-up menu? Home? Options? Why are there so many choices to get back to the menu screen. And depending on the studio, these options do different things. And woe to anyone coming out of the movie and going back to the boot-up screen, ‘cause like I just said in the previous point, your player can’t remember that.

No Features – This isn’t a coding problem as much as it is a studio problem. Too many discs are released without any special features. You can’t tell me there isn’t even room to put the damn trailer on the menu. And some releases – like the relatively recent I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry BD release – doesn’t even have the same special features that are found on the original DVD release.

U-Control – Yeah, this can have some nice features that embed into the film itself. However, depending on the authoring, the branching features aren’t always easy to access. Call me an idiot, but I can’t get my U-Control features to work on Coraline at all. Oh, I can see the picture-in-picture mode, but for the life of me, I can’t access the audio… even though there’s an “audio” toggle button on my remote. The Lost: Season One and the Finding Nemo DVDs have similar features that can be accessed without a problem. Why is it so complicated on Blu-ray?

BD-Live – Here is the motherload… the most staggeringly worthless feature I’ve ever seen on Blu-ray discs. First, a lot of players require you to plug in your own flash drive for an extra gig or two of cache storage. But since I just spent $300 on the player, why doesn’t it have its own factory-installed external memory, which is only a couple bucks wholesale. Then, when you finally get that installed, depending on who authored the disc, it can take several minutes to even access the BD-Live server. In one instance, accessing an external BD-Live server crashed my machine so hard that I had to unplug the machine and give it a fresh reboot. (Thanks, Warner Bros.)

And after all this, the features found on BD-Live are, let’s face it, hella-stupid as Eric Cartman would say. If you’re lucky, you might be able to share your favorite scenes with your friends that you can’t find on the online platform. But even then, most of the time when I access the BD-Live feed, it’s nothing but crappy trailers for other films being released by the studio.

Even when there are extras to be downloaded, these are short video segments or additional episodes of a show. But this begs the question that with all that storage space on a Blu-ray disc, why can’t they have just added that ten minutes of video to the disc itself? You know there’s room.

So, there you have my rage against Blu-ray. Sure, I love the surface features, but the functionality of the machines and the discs themselves are a bit of a step backwards in my book.

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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