The picture quality is great, but the new format has come with a cornucopia of downsides. Here are a few:
- Got off to a bad start with the format war with Toshiba. Customers hate format wars as much as manufacturers. Nobody wants to be stuck with a Betamax. Uncertainty means that wallets stay in customers’ pockets.
- First players were buggy, sometimes turning themselves into doorstops.
- Long start-up times are a big step backwards from DVD. It was a real drag to put your first Blu-Ray disc into your $1500 player and have it take three minutes to load. Things are better now, but the early adopters really got abused by the manufacturers unleashing the players before they were ready. Blu-Ray players still don’t start up as fast as DVDs.
- Allows content creators to block perfectly reasonable operations, like fast forwarding through trailers. Sometimes it’ll let you fast forward through a trailer, but will start playing the next one, making you press the FF button again. This sometimes continues for five or six trailers. Flexibility given to disk authors has created impatience and anger for disc viewers.
- No standardization of menus. This is probably a feature if you’re a studio looking to put your own stamp on the on-screen design of your product, but, if you’re a user, it’s no fun at all to try to figure out where the cursor is in a totally unfamiliar graphic scheme.
- Won’t reliably allow you to turn off the player and automatically resume where you left off, something DVD did quite well.
- Blu-Ray players built after January 1 or sold after the end of 2011 will convert HD content to standard definition at their component video outputs, forcing purchasers to update their ancillary equipment to HDMI. A plus for studios worried about people re-digitizing analog HD content; and a major expense for some consumers. What if you shelled out $20K for a fancy HD projector a couple of years ago, before they all got HDMI inputs? Stop upgrading your video player, or else.
- Blu-Ray players shipped after the end of 2013 won’t allow any content that was encrypted on the disk to appear at the analog outputs, even if the program material is standard definition.
- In current, and presumably future, Blu-Ray players, the creator of the disc can, by setting something called the ICT token, force the player to down-res component video to standard definition. So you can get a Blu-Ray movie from Netflix (paying extra for the privilege), slip it into your player, and find that your high-buck projector is looking as fuzzy as standard TV. I don’t know if any disc creator has actually implemented this option.
I said I’d wait ‘til the end to discuss common threads. I can’t wait that long on this one. Maybe there were even more excruciating customer abuses proposed and rejected, but it seems to me, looking from the outside, that every time a tradeoff had to be made between what the content providers wanted and what the customers wanted, the customers lost. Is it a coincidence that Sony is itself a content provider, having purchased CBS Records, Columbia Pictures, and part of MGM? I don’t know.
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