Impatient to move on from my HD-DVD debacle, I decided to not wait for the forthcoming Black Friday and beyond price drops. I just went out and bought a Blu Ray player.
I decided to get some use from my Amazon.com Prime account and bought the Sony BDP-S350. I paid about $265 for the thing, but rumor says Sears may have it for as low as $180 after Thanksgiving. If notoriously picky videophile Dan Ramer of dvdfile.com is satisfied with the higher-end Sony BDP-S550, then I’m safe to drop down a notch. I did NOT want a Sony PlayStation 3, even though many use it for Blu Ray movies, since I don’t play videogames and I love my Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote. The PS3 won’t take infrared commands, costs more, and I’m sure it is noisier.
It seemed best to get a Profile 2.0 Blu Ray player that could take advantage of online content and firmware updates. I’ll borrow a super-long CAT 5E cable from work for firmware updates. But the online BDLive content sounds less than interesting thus far and has brought user unhappiness with “frozen” players while content is being downloaded, so I won’t bother trying to get the player a permanent wired connection. If online extras are ever to matter, Sony and others will need to invest in 801.11 networking for their living room players. TiVo did it, and so can they, of course.
I’ve only watched one full movie thus far and experimented a bit with a regular DVD. For my inaugural Blu Ray disc I chose from my local Hastings rental shop the visual and sonic feast of Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. (I didn’t yet have my Netflix queue prepared for my jump to Blu Ray.) The film seemed a good test of the Blu Ray format, and I was quite pleased with the quality of the playback. The best part of the movie for me was U2’s Bono playing Doctor Robert and then Eddie Izzard’s unforgettable portrayal of Mr. Kite…you gotta see it, baby!
Now, mind you, my HDTV is an older 30″ CRT from Samsung that takes 1080i signals on analog component cables and displays only 800 lines. At that screen size and resolution, there just isn’t that big a jump in quality from 480p DVD to Blu Ray (or HD-DVD, for that matter). So why make the jump to high definition? I love great movies and I want to see them as clearly and with as many fun extras as is practical. And someday I’ll no doubt invest in a bigger flat screen HDTV that can deliver 1080p images carried on HDMI cabling and also upscale older DVDs. (My defunct Toshiba HD DVD player and the new Blu Ray one can upscale DVDs, but thanks to Hollywood’s paranoia they will only do so over a digitally protected HDMI cable.)
I was worried when I first popped in a regular DVD, one which had both full frame and widescreen versions of a film. I wanted to test how the player would handle a 4:3 DVD video on my 16:9 set since some older movie DVDs and most older TV shows on disc use that format. At first it was squishville with all of the usual horrid distortions when a 16:9 TV stretches a 4:3 image. On my Toshiba HD DVD player, I had to keep re-entering setup to shift it out of progressive and back into interlace mode on such discs so that my poor TV could squeeze the image back to normal. I am sick of that stupidity. But I finally fiddled enough with the video settings on the Blu Ray player so that it properly displayed the 4:3 imagery with pillarboxing in progressive mode, which is a great improvement. Who knows if the luck will hold on other oddly formatted DVDs, but I have hope.
Before settling on the Sony BDP-S350 I had given some thought to buying a Samsung unit that could stream my Netflix Watch Instantly movies. But their silly player also wanted a wired Ethernet connection and I wasn’t about to bother pulling wire into the living room nor was I going to invest in a new wireless router and separate wireless bridge to get a fake “wired” Ethernet connection in the living room.
Now it seems that problem will be solved, since Netflix and TiVo have each bought a clue and teamed up. By early December I should be able to watch my Netflix Watch Instantly movies on my TiVO HD, which has a wireless connection. The quality won’t compare to that of the Blu Ray player, but the instant gratification will come in handy.
So about a year after wasting my dough on an HD DVD player, I’m finally Blu. Now if only CBS would get off their collective butts and put the Remastered Star Trek out on Blu Ray. And we need all of the new Battlestar Galactica on Blu Ray, and Vertigo, and…we get the picture, don’t we?
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