Archive for the ‘home theater’ Category

Why I do not yet love Blu Ray…

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Yesterday, Bill wrote:

My wife is not a fan of Blu-ray, for many good reasons.

Many of you know that Bill is a videophile, and that our household has a well-equipped home theater. Since Bill’s comment might cause you to reconsider whether Blu Ray is right for you, I feel that I ought to explain.

Blu Ray logoIf you really enjoy watching movies, and you have a high-definition (HD) television or projector, then a digital storage medium that delivers “the ultimate hi-definition experience” with “perfect picture, purest sound” is a helpful thing to have. A Blu Ray player will deliver a far superior movie watching experience than a DVD player. It’s the option of choice today. Go for it.

What irks me — and why Bill says I’m not a “fan” — is how we ended up with Blu Ray being the “ultimate” option available. Because this time last year, there were two digital storage options. And I still believe the other one was superior.

HD DVD logoIn April 2006, Toshiba launched the first HD DVD players in the US, and Bill bought one that summer. They promised “the look and sound of perfect.” The first movie we watched was Joss Whedon’s Serenity and it was absolutely gorgeous. I liked it! And the HD DVD player functioned exactly like a DVD player, just with way more content. Very nice!

Blu Ray players hit the market a few months later, and because Bill is an early adopter and tech reviewer, we got one of them, too. There were problems with the hardware: our first player overheated and seized up. There were also problems with the software: the disc menus were always clunky and slow. One — Pirates of the Caribbean — was so badly coded that it wouldn’t make it off the splash menu, and another disc of Pixar shorts wouldn’t play at all. Not very impressive.

Over the next 18 months, a format war — think VHS vs Betamax in the 1970s — ensued, and we had ringside seats. It seemed clear to me that the HD DVD technology was superior. And most importantly, more of the movies I wanted to watch were available on HD DVD. I naively expected them to win, believing competition would give the world the best technology.

Wall-E on Blu Ray, Serenity on HD DVD

But instead, the outcome was decided by business prowess, and two efforts seemed key. First, by including Blu Ray players in every PlayStation 3 game console, Sony created more than 6 million customers, versus Toshiba’s 1 million, in the same time frame. Second, Sony threw hundreds of millions of dollars at movie studios, culminating in Jan 2008 when Warner Brothers announced they would no longer release movies in HD DVD. By Feb 2008, the war was over:

Blaming the loss of support from a key movie studio, Toshiba Corp. said it is pulling out of the HD DVD business, handing victory to Sony Corp.’s Blu-ray technology in the fierce format war over high-definition DVDs

Toshiba said Tuesday that it would cease production of its HD DVD players and recorders immediately and close out the business by the end of March.

Source: Wall Street Journal

All of this concluded a month before we launched our blog, which is why you didn’t hear me groan then. Skip forward a year and the issue should be moot. All new content should be released in Blu Ray, and consumers who care should be satisfied. But I’m not.

It turns out that there’s a scarcity of Blu Ray production capacity. And because Sony uses the discs to drive PlayStations, an awful lot of that production capacity goes to games instead of movies or TV. A lot of content remains unavailable, for example:

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which grossed nearly $3 trillion worldwide, remains available only on DVD
  • Early seasons of the Emmy-winning Battlestar Gallactica shipped on HD DVD, but later seasons are not yet available on Blu Ray
  • Bones broadcasts in HD but only ships on regular DVD
  • The Rush R30 concert feature airs in HD but isn’t available either

So Blu Ray may look pretty and sound nice, but that doesn’t matter if the content you want isn’t available in the format. I especially miss the last one because a $30 concert disc would be a LOT cheaper than an up-close seat at the show.

And that’s why Bill was so smug yesterday: on Monday, Amazon will bring me the newest Rush concert feature on Blu Ray. Whee! I still don’t love Blu Ray, but I do love Rush. Viewing party, anyone?

Bob eats crow…

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

My wife is not a fan of Blu-ray, for many good reasons. However, today I found something that made her say “Oh!” for about three minutes (Jason – Family blog. Remember, family blog.).

Rush - in high-def!

Looks like I can delete R30 from the TiVo now… Or not.

Your cable bill? It’s Comcastic!!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

For those of you who are Comcast victims from Hurricane Ike, check your most recent cable bills. Comcast is not automatically crediting you for any downtime you had as a result of Hurricane Ike. Instead, you have to call into the billing department and have them calculate and apply the credit individually. Wasting 15 minutes on hold? It’s Comcastic!! (713-341-1000)

Oh, yeah, they are also jacking up rates nationwide as of November 1st by 3.7% nationwide. We will have to see with the next billing cycle how much we get hit from this. On the one hand, there may still some protection left from the Time Warner separation agreement*, or we could get hit more as we “catch-up” to those Comcastic! national rates.

* I will put my editorial remarks into the comments.

UPDATE (10/29/2008): Comcast just released its third quarter earnings. They’re Comcastic!, too!

Comcast said its net income rose 38% to $771 million, or 26 cents a share. Excluding special items, the company reported earnings of 24 cents a share for the period, beating the average forecast of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters of 22 cents a share.

Revenue was $8.55 billion, in line with expectations and up from $7.78 billion in the year-earlier period. Its free cash flow jumped 77% to $928 million, thanks to reduced capital spending of $1.3 billion as the weak housing market led to lower equipment costs for the company. Capital spending in the year-ago period was $1.6 billion.

Comcast now expects to exceed its previous free cash flow target for 2008 of $2.3 billion, due largely to continued reductions in capital spending. It reiterated its previous forecast for revenue and operating cash flow growth of 8% to 10%.
“It’s good to be a subscription-based business when times get tough,” said Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. “And it’s even better to be the only high capacity pipe into the home — in the overwhelming majority of markets — at a time when people are using more and more bandwidth, and are spending more and more time at home.”

With that kind of earnings, I’m feeling Comcastic! all over.

So DirecTV apparently does want us back

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

We used to subscribe to DirecTV back when they had the uber-cool HD TiVo. However, when Rupert Murdoch finally got control of DirecTV, he consolidated their hardware with a company he owns that also makes the boxes for Sky Broadcasting (his other major satellite television holding). As a result, when DirecTV said “good bye” to TiVo, we said “good bye” to DirecTV.

Well, time has passed, and John Malone got control of DirecTV from Rupert in an entertaining “raid on a raider” type story. For TiVo’s sake, one hoped that the DirecTV decision would be re-considered so that TiVo can keep cranking out a groovy little DVR that we’ve come to enjoy (after you swap the anemic internal hard drive for a 750GB+ one, of course!). Apparently, today was that day where DirecTV realized that without TiVo, their DVR sucks ass. From the folks at the Wall Street Journal:

TiVo Inc. on Wednesday said it has extended its distribution agreement with DirecTV Inc. by five years to Feb. 15, 2015, and the companies said they plan to develop a new high-definition TiVo offering.

Under terms of the agreement, TiVo said it will develop a new version of its service for DirecTV’s broadband-enabled high definition digital video recorder, or DVR, platform. DirecTV will pay a substantially higher monthly fee for households using the new high-definition DVRs with TiVo, compared with fees it paid for previously deployed DVRs with TiVo service, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.[..]

¬†Hmmm… 90+ channels of HD, inluding Sci Fi, for assuredly less than we pay to Comcast now. It may take a year, but this definitely bears watching. Who knows, I may even go pull down the creeping vine that has shimmied up the ground cable to our “old” DirecTV dish that’s mounted on our chimney.

Introducing DOCSIS 3.0

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Most of you have no idea what DOCSIS is, or why you should care. I do because, well, I’m weird that way. For the lay person, DOCSIS is essentially the communications standard for cable television data services (technically: Data Over Cable System Interface Specification, rolls off the tongue, right?). Comcast, our local monopolist, has recently launched 50Mbps down and 5 Mbps upstream service in Minneapolis. Pricing is expensive, $150/month, but it should lead to some interesting competition for real high-speed data services once it gets rolling.


Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Alright, so Samsung means well with their disc players, but after 48 hours of trying to update the firmware on my BD-P1200 Blu Ray player, I gave up. I was lucky in that I did not “brick” the thing (which often happens in these situations), but I’m not giving it a second chance. So what to replace it with? A PS3, naturally. If you want to know why Blu Ray beat HD-DVD, look no further than the PS3. The promise of gamers buying Blu Ray Discs (BD) led to the majority of major movie studios to support the Blu format initially, and when those sales materialized, the end for HD-DVD was inevitable. The irony is that the PS3 was universally criticized for a lackluster game selection for most of the last year, which led many gamers to buy Blu titles to get some use out of their hardware. So, bad game selection equals more movies equals Blu Ray being what will probably be the last physical delivery media for high-quality movies (more on that later). I have little interest in games, either, so it will be interesting to give this thing a workout on all of its other features (Blu Ray player, media hub, etc.)