Real home theater: Movie buff
The movie buff
Also known as a cinephile, the movie buff loves watching a wide variety of movies and strives to bring the cinema experience home. They might watch four or five movies every week. The movie buff will prefer a home theater setup targeted at movies with little consideration for video games and broadcast television. A home theater for a movie buff must feature surround sound audio and the largest screen size to fit in the given room.
In addition to the audio/video components a home theater for a movie buff might also include acoustic room treatments, lighting control and even cinema seating.
Tips for the movie buff
The first aspect a movie buff should consider is where the theater should be located in the home. Most people just assume the living room or family room should be where a home theater is set up, but a true cinephile is less concerned about casual viewing and more with the best quality home theater experience. We suggest using a smaller room dedicated to the home theater. But why shouldn’t the big living room be used for home theater? Most main living spaces are large and cavernous with lots of reflective surfaces; a smaller room provides less sound reflections, doesn’t require large speakers, and doesn’t require as large of a screen either. Not only does the quality of the sound improve, but less money has to be put into the equipment – or an equal amount of money can be spent on higher quality equipment. The trade off is you will likely have fewer seats to share the theater experience with friends and family. Continue Reading »
No more doubt that streaming is the future
Streaming is profitable, even unlimited subscription services, while physical disc sales and rentals are falling far behind. Even the convenience of Redbox isn’t keeping pace with streaming services.
Near my home there is an empty building bearing the once-ubiquitous name of Blockbuster. Right next door is a Walgreen’s pharmacy with a Redbox kiosk offering two renting terminals. I thought that was a telling example of how Blockbuster has failed. The convenience of picking up a movie almost anywhere just killed off Blockbuster.
Yet recently I’ve learned the convenience of renting movies from Amazon Instant Video even surpasses Redbox considering the rentals are nearly the same price, there are no penalties for returning the movie late, and you don’t even have to leave the house. Pairing Netflix with Amazon Prime and Amazon Instant Video means most movies are available quickly, conveniently and cheaply.
And it’s not just Amazon; iTunes, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Dish Network, DirecTV, Vudu, AT&T, Verizon, and other services all provide instant rental services at varying prices which can supplement the subscription services of Netflix and Hulu Plus.
I’m not totally over physical media. I love Blu-ray Disc quality, and I prefer to own physical copies of certain movies. I just don’t think every movie is worthy of Blu-ray Disc ownership, and when I’m rushing to pick up my kids from child care right after work, it’s so much easier to just rent the movie once I get home instead of stopping anywhere to pick up a movie, which may already be rented out.
Digital streaming is the future, and the faster the content providers can find out how to make it profitable the better.
Blu-ray Steven Kippel on 10 Jan 2013
Sony scams the public
Aside from the fact that 4K is now called Ultra High Definition so the label will be confusing going forward (“Is there a format war between 4K and Ultra?” some might ask), the fact is these BD movies are still 1080p – or Full HD if you want that term. Additionally, many – if not most – of the existing BD titles were mastered in 4K (e.g. Blade Runner), or even 8K (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia). This is a practice long-held in the industry. Many DVDs were mastered in 2K and then compressed to 480p, which caused a problem for Blu-ray Disc initially because many studios just used that 2K master for their 1080p BD release. But those masters weren’t quite up to snuff, so the BD masters moved to 4K or higher.
Furthermore, some movies filmed in digital were originally finished in 2K, including last year’s Total Recall. Ironically Total Recall is one of the first films Sony announced for this Mastered in 4K promotion, along with The Amazing Spider-Man, The Karate Kid, Battle: Los Angeles and The Other Guys.
That isn’t stopping Sony from putting out marketing text like this:
Get the greatest possible 1080p High Definition picture quality. Using 4K masters with expanded color, selected Blu-ray Discs from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have been optimized for upscaling on Sony 4K TV for 3,840 x 2,160 pixels for a near 4K experience.
But don’t be duped! You’re not getting 4K.
This isn’t to say these movies won’t potentially look better than the standard versions. Sony did something like this with DVD calling them “Superbit.” What it meant was they stripped out the graphic menus, trailers, and special features and used the whole disc capacity for the movie’s video file. This allows for lower compression rates, which can mean some compression artifacts may be abated.
As it is, this is Sony trying to spread their 4K feature around a bit more. They have it on a video projector, a TV, an A/V receiver and on a Blu-ray Disc player. Why not add it to their Blu-ray Disc movies too?
Kaleidescape launches download store
Kaleidescape has launched the beta version of their online retail store for owners of a Kaleidescape System. Backed by a multi-year deal with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, the store is providing bit-for-bit downloads of DVD and Blu-ray Disc content directly to the Kaleidescape server.
How the process was described to me by a Kaleidescape representative is that Kaleidescape buys physical copies of the movies for each download and stores them in their own warehouse. This way the copyright license is intact without having to create a new digital version with its own license structure and licensing rights to be negotiated, and the studio gets their “disc” sale. This is also beneficial to the end user who doesn’t have to store the physical discs at home, and the download comes complete with the special features every DVD or BD comes with as well – unlike other digital versions. Obviously this is a hokey legal work around, so hopefully these high-quality, feature-full downloads will be available without the disc ownership issue in the future.
Because the data is bit-for-bit identical to the physical disc, the video resolution is not compromised, and the audio remains high-definition surround sound. Additionally, titles with UltraViolet digital copies provide additional digital access from tablets, smartphones, and computers.
To make things explicit: This is not a streaming service, but a complete digital download. The files are stored on the local hard drive, and played from the local server to the local player. Once the video is downloaded to the local Kaleidescape System, the full HD video will play immediately with no buffer.
The Kaleidescape System features a proprietary RAID hard drive array which prevents data loss, but if there is a catastrophe and the server data is lost, the downloaded titles may be downloaded from Kaleidescape again for no cost. Any titles loaded into the system at home would have to be loaded again from the physical disc.
The store will allow the end user to purchase individual titles, or they can select a complete collection to purchase. The store is smart enough to know what movies you already own so you won’t purchase multiple copies. For example: you can purchase a collection called “Academy Award Nominees — Best Picture” to purchase and download the entire listed collection, but if you already own the Lord of the Rings collection, those titles won’t be purchased.
One interesting collection is the Leonard Maltin Recommends collection, an exclusive to Kaleidescape partnership of movies selected by famed film critic Leonard Maltin.
One feature that isn’t active yet but I’m told will be is the ability to upgrade a DVD copy to a Blu-ray Disc copy. I’m not sure how this would work, and I won’t make any assumptions. The new high-def copy would replace the standard def version, but I’m not sure if the standard def version is completely wiped out or made available through the menu still. Some DVDs have different special features, so some collectors may want to have both. UPDATE: Kaleidescape claims DVDs can be upgraded to Blu-ray Disc for $8 each, to include all bonus features of the BD. This is only available to titles with UltraViolet HD rights.
The Kaleidescape System is expensive, but it’s also the best and only solution of its kind. If you have a few bucks and are serious about movies, find out where your local dealer is and ask for an in-home demonstration.
The affordable Blu-ray Disc player
Some say the largest factor in DVD adoption in American homes was the PlayStation 2, the video gaming phenomenon that has still yet to be surpassed. But another important factor was the sub-$100 DVD player, which put DVD players in the homes of non-gamers. Blu-ray Disc players have recently dropped below $100. Are they worth your time?
I’m going to cover two BD players here. There are more than two in this price range, but these two come from major brands and aren’t the store-brand or generic brand players which may not have enough features to be worth it, or in the least the ability to support a warranty. They can be found online or in retail stores such as Target, Costco, and Walmart at similar price points.
The Samsung BD-E5300 is the entry-level Samsung BD player available on Amazon for $79.99 and is eligible for Prime (free 2-day shipping). I’ve recommended Samsung BD players to everyone who has sought my advice for the fact that they are high-quality and provide the most internet features. However, the BD-E5300 is an austere device. Its features include BD, DVD and CD playback, of course, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio decoding (no DTS HD Master Audio support). Its connections are sparse: only an HDMI video output, a coaxial digital audio output, a USB input and an Ethernet connection. This is fine for most people, but it’s the internet features which are lacking, and out of character for Samsung. Where Samsung BD players have had an App platform providing the widest array of content providers and internet apps, the BD-E5300 only has a selection of five providers: Netflix, CinemaNow, YouTube, Vudu and Pandora. Apart from that, Samsung’s AllShare can link to DLNA-enabled devices to stream local video and audio files. Wi-Fi is not available on this model.
The Sony BDP-S185 is the entry-level Sony BD player available on Amazon for $84.97 and is eligible for Prime. It has the same physical characteristics as the Samsung BD player above: a single HDMI output, coaxial digital audio, USB and Ethernet. The BDP-S185 also includes analog audio and composite video outputs, though that’s useless if you want high-def content. It also plays BD, DVD, CD with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio decoding. The BDP-S185 does have a leg-up on the Samsung when it comes to internet content, and for $5 more seems to be the better deal. Sony gives the consumer a growing list of content sources, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, CinemaNow, Crackle, Sony Entertainment Network, Pandoa, Music unlimited, Slacker, YouTube, Flixster, NHL Vault, and a lot more. They’ve also provided basic social media apps through a service called Socialize, which includes Twitter and Facebook. The BDP-S185 is also DLNA-enabled for streaming files on the local network. This device is not Wi-Fi enabled.
Which Blu-ray Disc player should I buy?
Between these two players, I would have to recommend the Sony BDP-S185 unless you are using a complete Samsung setup using their proprietary HDMI control scheme. Otherwise, the $5 premium Sony is charging simply provides more features.
Full disclosure: after comparing the two players, I chose the Sony player for myself for the simple fact that I’ve already purchased content on Amazon Instant Video, and Samsung would not allow me to access it.
The player powers up quickly, plays BD movies and DVDs quickly, responds quickly to commands, and is a small form factor. It’s not quite as fast as the more expensive players, but for most people it works just fine. My only complaints are with the internet video. Wi-Fi wasn’t important to me, but that is necessary for some people. However, even with an Ethernet connection, sometimes the video app has to be relaunched to make a connection. The Netflix app isn’t very elegant, but that’s probably because I became accustomed to the very clever PlayStation 3 interface. The BDP-S185 interface has tiny artwork which makes it difficult to see, and the search function is cumbersome.
Sony has a network video box for just under $50, but for $30 more this box provides Blu-ray Disc playback as well.
I think these price points are absolutely affordable for everyone, even someone like me with three kids and a very tight budget.
Bad news: Netflix burdened with longer DVD window
As if Netflix hasn’t had enough bad news recently, they’re now telling us Warner Bros. has extended the rental window from 28-days to 56-days. This means, instead of waiting a month to rent a new DVD or Blu-ray Disc, you now have to wait almost two months.
Warner Bros., along with many other Hollywood studios, had instituted a 28-day sales-only window for newly released DVDs and Blu-ray Discs in order to encourage disc-sales. Clearly the 28-day window was an homage to Danny Boyle, because sales of movies have not been bolstered by such a stupid plan.
It’s not clear why Netflix is entitled to such a long window as brick-and-mortar renters like Blockbuster (if they’re still into that sort of thing), and Redbox now get the titles a month earlier. Not that this was any different than before, because Netflix usually had long-waiting times for newly released movies anyway due to their demand. From reading the press release, it seems like they might be doing this to give UltraViolet and the Warner-owned Flixster an advantage over Netflix.
Read the press release after the break.
Continue Reading »
Are movies on disc dead?
During the Great Format Wars of 2007, some Outsiders kept their distance from the fray by declaring all physical media a lost cause. In spite of their valiant efforts, Blu-ray Disc sales have grown considerably, and the format is picking up the slack where DVD has left.
But the rag-tag bunch of insurgents would not give up, and now Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, iTunes, HBO Go and other mercenaries have kept their fight up and streaming video has become ubiquitous. Netflix instant-only subscribers far outnumber disc-only subscribers.
Given all that, nothing comes close to the director’s original intention of a cinematic experience like Blu-ray Disc does. Academy Award-winning director Ridley Scott even wrote an article for the Huffington Post arguing this point:
Blu-ray disc, of which I’ve been a supporter since its inception, is the closest we’ve come to replicating the best theatrical viewing experience I’ve ever seen. It allows us to present in a person’s living room films in their original form with proper colors, aspect ratio, sound quality, and, perhaps most importantly, startling clarity.
The problem with an argument like this is that it is directed at the geeks like me who care about quality over convenience. The people who have massive screens at home who can really make use of the higher definition video, and powerful speaker setups capable of delivering the audiophile-quality Blu-ray Disc provides.
The mass market consumer buys eggs at Walmart because it’s more convenient. They order clothes on Amazon without ever trying it on to avoid going to the store. And for years have complained about DVDs presented in their original theatrical aspect ratio, which lead to the horrific pan-and-scan copies that lopped off the sides of the picture.
Even more damning, the younger generation are watching more video on portable 3″ screens than on larger televisions or computer screens. At that size, high-definition really doesn’t matter.
Ridley Scott argues that, “Technology will need to make many more huge leaps before one can ever view films with the level of picture and sound quality many film lovers demand without having to slide a disc into a player, especially with the technical requirements of today’s 3D movies.” The important part of that sentence is “film lovers.” There are film lovers, and then there are casual film consumers. There is the guy who watched The Tree of Life four times in his local indie theater, and then the girl who stayed up all night to watch the latest Twilight regurgitation.
Personally, I spend more time streaming video from Netflix on my computer than I do in front of my TV with a Blu-ray Disc. This is borne out of practically though, as I can’t really blast my surround sound system while my kids are asleep. What I prefer is the high-definition quality and emotional impact of Blu-ray Disc, but what the reality I’ve come to is compromise happens where the rubber meets the road.
And in the end, I feel like going out to the Imax last weekend to see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was the best compromise of all. Big screen. Big sound. Kids at home asleep.