Most of the time, when I go to the local shops and look at goods, it lifts my spirits somewhat. For most of the preceding year, whilst sitting around the house, I have been feeling… how can I put it? Out of sorts? Like my baby has died? Like I am stuck in a society that would rather throw me away than expend any effort to help me be what I can be? Like I have a masculine parental entity whom I have recently determined is determined to break my spirit?
Oh yeah, that is how being in the house for a prolonged period makes me feel at the moment. Like I might die of inertia. Like my brain is a car trying to achieve cruising speed with four shredded tires. But that is not the point here. As I often end up doing, I went to the local retailers and had a look around. The important point is not what I ended up buying, but rather the number of occasions on which I observed people either saying they wanted the DVD combo packs or asking why a product was not available on DVD. In the former case, some old cow who should know better was telling the store-hand they wanted the packs of BDs that included DVDs. In the latter case, they were asking why they could not get the Indiana Jones films on DVD.
As I tried to explain to this person, Indiana Jones is not available on DVD anymore because both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have decreed that it will not ever be available on DVD again. Now, as I will likely make clear elsewhere and again, I admire this decision.
In November of 1999 (yes, that long ago), Michael Demtschyna published this article about 16:9 Enhancement. The article, like many of those credited to MichaelDVD, as he was informally known, was overly simplistic to the point of leaving out critical information, but there are two salient points here. Neither of which are directly written in the text, but rather have to be inferred. One was that DVD is made compatible with everything they did wrong when making Standard Definition Television. The other can be understood by quoting Michael D‘s original text:
DVD has been designed as a transition format between 4:3 TV displays and 16:9 TV displays.
That text was written in 1999. Now, this is strictly off-the-record stuff, but several conversations I had with persons at what used to be called Columbia Tristar Home Video also indicated that it was designed to be a transition between Standard Definition and High Definition.
Apparently, I need to keep reminding some people, but it is not 1999 anymore. It is 2012. Yes, thirteen years is a very short time compared to how long it took for home video devices to go from 480 or 576 vertical pixels to 1080. But here is the thing. At the time this article was written, prototypes of high definition television had been in production in Japan for more than a decade. Oh, and whilst we are on the subject, the concept of video on an optical disc dates back to the 1970s. But the point here is that, as per Michael D’s article and unofficial word from the distributor(s), DVD was designed to be a transitional format between Standard and High Definition Television.
That transition is long over. Not only is it impossible to find 4:3 televisions in any place other than a discount store (and likely not even then), but finding a television that only syncs to DVD is becoming less and less possible. I have told people in person, and now I am telling the rest of the world. I am willing to lay out money that if you looked at all of the players to which home entertainment stores like JB Hi-Fi connect every television in their display section, you will not find a DVD or other standard definition source amongst the lot. This is for a reason.
You see, I like to refer to this as the Amiga effect. I call it this because when I was a wee lad and poking around on a Commodore 64, I saw displays of graphics on what succeeded the Commodore 64, the Amiga. The Amiga was so far ahead of its time that it made a little boy who had been having images of the oh-so-bright future beamed into his eyes hopeful that said future would be good. Thing is, the quality of the images visible on a Commodore Amiga were so above and beyond what was available on both prior home hobby computers and business computers for quite a few years after initial release that even nearly twenty years later, I still wish I could have one to play about on.
Much of the enthusiasm I had for DVD was down to what I call the Amiga effect. You see, whilst I loved the visuals and audio that the Amiga could offer me, I am not going to be gentle about this. Basic file operations, making graphics, or anything other than playing games, pretty much, was quite a chore at the best of times. But the thing is, the computers I ended up replacing that with, IBM clones, looked better when they were finally able to display more than 320 by 256 pixels and 64 colours at once. And whilst the quality of imagery has only changed by pixel count, in small increments by year at that (I think 16.7 million colours became the status symbol in the late 1990s), the most dramatic improvement I have encountered since then is that my present computer, an Apple iMac, is able to handle near to thirty-five millimetre quality images without hiccups, and edit them with barely a grunt.
The Amiga effect has also happened with DVD, and to a lesser extent Blu-ray Disc. In a nutshell, the Amiga effect occurs on the first few hundred encounters with a new piece of technology. Especially when there is an existing piece of technology for the new piece to be compared to. And the more experience a person has with the old piece, the better the new one is likely to look by comparison. This is why the Amiga effect nowadays tends to be very diminished at best with computers and mobile ‘phones. Because when you are expected to buy a new iteration that offers no significant upgrade every two or three years, how excited about it can you really get?
My first encounter with Blu-ray Disc was when I was nearly thirty years old. By that time, I had around a quarter of a century with standard definition television and all of the horrors associated with it. Aliasing, a detailed explanation of which is available here, is one of the worst of those horrors, but it is far from the only one that is specific to interlaced transfers. To watch scenes from Kung Fu on a screen that measured at least seventy-five inches from corner to corner, with motion as smooth as a baby’s bottom and not a hint of aliasing, that was the most extreme example of the Amiga effect I have ever experienced as an adult. The only thing I expect will ever surpass that is the emotional response I will feel if they ever announce a cure for diabetes in my lifetime. Or maybe when the U.S. government takes my “suggestion” and puts the management of Autism Speaks on trial for such felonies as fraud and incitement to murder (crimes against Humanity is a sustainable charge, in fact).
All of this is getting back to a point that I am getting annoyed I have to write about over and over. This is the part I want the marketing heads of the home video departments of film studios to read and be perfectly clear on. This is the part I want DVD-pushers to be clear on.
I have heard literally every defence you can imagine of inferior formats. But the most annoying by far is the old “I only have…” gambit. Old bag with no real eyes, you might only have a box TV measuring twenty-four inches from corner to corner. Hell, you might only use the inbuilt speakers thereof for the sound component of what you watch. But here is the thing. You are not the entire world. You are not even a significant minority of it. You, in fact, are nothing to the film and electronics industries. People who upgrade frequently, who adopt new things early in their life-cycle, are literally the bread and butter of the computer industry. The same is true of people who buy televisions that cost more money than I see in a month, who buy audio receivers that cost similar amounts, and buy films on higher-specification formats. But that is only an aside to the main point.
Right now, for reasons I have tried to explain to myself for over a year, distributors are effectively treating purchasers of Blu-ray Disc as second-class citizens. If you think otherwise, try the following exercise. Go into any retailer that sells things on Blu-ray Disc. Look for a title that appears to only be available in one of those “combo packs”. Packs with “Blu-ray + DVD” et cetera printed in big bold lettering on them. And say to the lovely counter staff that you want the title in question just as a Blu-ray Disc. No DVD. Especially not with the DVD’s presence announced in big bold lettering all over the packaging. Just removing that would be fine, as doing so would mean I could just buy the product, rip out the DVD and whatever is holding it inside the case (usually a separate disc flap), then make video of myself smashing them against a wall.
You see, there is a face-saving aspect to this. I told several people, including my male parental unit, about six or so months after watching Blade Runner on BD that I was done with DVD. Done, as in I was never going to watch it again. I did make a liar of myself a couple of times with a couple of films that at the time were impossible at the time to find on BD. Specifically, the Takashi Miike films Ōdishon and Koroshiya Ichi. But here is another thing. The quality of the DVDs I watched these two films on were ass. Neither were 16:9 Enhanced. Both were clearly based on theatrical prints, as reel-change markings were visible in the video transfer of at least one. Subtitles were burned into the video stream. And on and on it goes. So bad were the transfers on both DVDs that I decided then and there: between seeing a long-desired film quickly on DVD and waiting patiently to see a quality representation of it on BD, I prefer the latter.
Note that I emphasised the word quality. You see, that is the reason I do not want another DVD anywhere near me. Let us think of it in bell curve terms. DVD is a mere 720 by 576 (or 480 if you live in an NTSC country), interlaced, and incapable of storing lossless audio. BD is 1920 by 1080, progressive, and capable of storing lossless audio. In sheer quality terms, both have the same low-point, although BD would have to go down a very long way to be similarly bad compared to a bad DVD. But compared to BD, the highest that DVD can go in terms of quality is exceptionally low. It is as a child raising a foot as high as they can compared to a mountain.
But that is not the gravest offense committed by the DVD-pushers. You see, if the distributor would give us a choice of DVD, BD, or a pack containing both, then they would get an accurate picture of the real demand for both formats. They probably do not want it confirmed, however, that the only people who buy DVDs anymore are so old that they think just because their display device is small enough that I can throw it like a ball, everyone else must live like theirs meets the same description. But that is just the point. Without accurate information, every decision you make concerning everything from what to have for lunch to what place to live in is bound to be wrong. But I am getting away from the point here. When you force people who want their favourite film on Blu-ray Disc to buy a DVD with it, but do not do the same to people who want it on DVD, you are in effect treating the former like second class citizens. I am autistic, and I grew up during the 1980s. In addition to this, my male parental unit is a child abuser who wants his conception of me and only his conception of me to rule my life. Oh yeah, and I live in Australia. These things mean that I deal with a level of second-class citizenry as a baseline that is appalling beyond belief. I buy Blu-ray Discs and watch them as a means to escape from that. Your forced bundling, however, is dragging the second-class citizenry into a means I use to escape it.
So, old crusty granny who probably has never really seen a film, and anyone like her, I ask the following. Actually, ask is not the right word. I am telling. The next time you want to buy a DVD, buy a fukking DVD. Do not tell the nice lady at the counter you want the “combo pack”. Until it becomes policy that BDs are always available separately, you make it harder for those of us who want the BD and nothing but to make it this way whenever you do that. So piss off with it already. Oh, and while I am at it, counter staff, when a person comes to you saying “I want the BD” and nothing but, do not trivialise them. You are there to serve them, not vice versa. And the more you talk to a potential customer like a perfectly reasonable idea is a request for you to crawl up your own arse and disappear, the more likely one like me is going to lose his rack and attempt to make you do so.
DVD is yesterday’s news. Believe me, I am just as surprised as you are to hear myself say that. But it is the truth. When Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided they were not going to make their films available on it anymore, they did so for a reason. SDTVs are fast becoming extinct. Did they continue to manufacture LaserDiscs after the DVD-Video specification was finalised, much less try to force them into bundles with DVD-Videos? No. Because there was no need. There is no need to continue producing DVDs in the same amount as BDs. With DVD sales declining at a rapid rate, whether due to piracy or obsolescence, forcing them into packs with BDs and no option to refuse them looks more like the bleatings of a spoiled child than a considered plan from a company with hundreds of millions of dollars to play with.
So in closing, I would like to say the following to the film industry. Devo once had a song proclaiming that freedom from choice is what we want. Not so. You are depriving the people who live in the future of choice. And we are not liking it. Did you not notice that I did not buy X-Men: First Class, a film I found electrifying, for a year after you initially released it because you would not let me buy just the BD? There is a day coming when I will be able to pirate BDs just as easily as I did DVDs. And that day will be the day I stop buying if you keep up with the DVD-pushing.
In other words, do something smart for once.
(PS. Interestingly, the Latin word from which fascism is derived, fascio, has a very specific meaning. Namely, bundle.)