Monday, 19 May 2014


I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain. - Jane Wagner

When the digital versatile disc (DVD) came out in the late 90s, it revolutionised home entertainment and the features available on this format as well as the quality of the picture and sound have left the old VHS tape system a long way back in the past. A similar revolution was evident earlier when the CD replaced the LP and tape. I must confess to being a little bit of a technology junkie and I tend to keep an eye on new developments and often embrace these with alacrity if they offer better quality, value, ease of use or new features.

When the CDs first came out, I remember beginning to replace my classical LP collection even before I had purchased a CD player, I was so impressed with the technology! I’ll leave the vinyl aficionados to their well-worn rut of objections about the “warmth” of the sound of these old records. I am just glad to be able to listen to the music without intruding hisses, crackles, and other extraneous noises introduced by the damage the LP sustains every time it is played.

Similarly, when the DVD first came into the market, I remember watching a demonstration of this technology at an electronics show and being suitably impressed so that I started collecting these instead of the VHS tapes that I had collected earlier. I now have many movies that I really like on DVD and most of my music collection is in CD format. I still have a few favourite vinyl LPs that I am gradually transferring to CD as they are not available on this format.

Although the DVD is wonderful medium, there are several things about it that I abhor with a vengeance. These relate to the manufacturing and production of these rather than the technical aspect of the DVD. My major bugbear is the zone restriction embedded in the disc. This is to protect the commercial interests of the large film studios, but it is a feature so easily circumvented that it is simply of nuisance value. I have a multi-zone DVD player, so I can enjoy DVDs that I have purchased in USA, Europe and Asia, but some friends of mine had a player that was restricted to the Australian zone and hence they were unable to watch US DVDs. Until they found out on the web that they could reprogram their player with their remote control and now it is converted to a multi-zone player!

An extremely useful feature that I often use is the subtitle option. Even English subtitles on English speaking films is sometimes a boon, as the sound quality, accents or the complications of the script make subtitles necessary. I watched “Gosford Park” (2001) recently on DVD and was livid when I discovered that the DVD did not have the benefits of subtitling. The soundtrack of this movie contains so many asides, so much mumbling, some strange accents and also so much overlapping conversation that it was painful to try and decipher what was being said half the time. This was a pity as the film is a very good one. The other benefit of subtitles of course is that one may turn on the Italian or French or German or Spanish subtitles and practice one’s language skills.

Another thing that annoys me is the excessive piracy and copyright warnings on the DVD. In some DVDs there is even a 60 sec “trailer” about “stealing movies”, as well as the conventional FBI warnings about oilrigs and prisons and how you are not able to show these movies at those venues. I pay full price to get my DVD and then I am bombarded by all this nonsense that I can’t even fast forward through! Add to that the Dolby trailer and numerous company logos, distributor logos, production company animations, etc. It can be anything up to 5 minutes before you actually get to see the film!

Speaking of pricing, most DVDs are excessively priced, especially when first released. If the prices were more reasonable and consistently low, then I think the piracy problem would be minimized. I usually wait until I buy my DVD for my collection and instead of paying anything between $30-$40 for a newly released DVD, I wait for a few months and am able to buy it anywhere between $9-$12. Most people would prefer to own a copy of the original rather than the pirated inferior versions and this would be possible if the prices were consistently low.

Have you ever tried to read the film credits on the back of a DVD cover? The font of the used is so small and narrow that it is often illegible. I once even tried to read it with a magnifying glass on a particular DVD but failed to get any satisfaction. Similarly, the colours of the fonts used are also a rather bad choice as the contrast is very bad and makes reading the synopsis or credits a difficult undertaking. This is simply bad design.

For all their shortcomings, DVDs are much superior to VHS tapes and this explained their popularity. Now, that we have got used to them and grown to love them (and hate them) it’s time to adopt a new technology… Blu-ray discs, officially released in June 2006. By July 2010, more than 3,300 titles were released. During the high definition optical disc format war, Blu-ray Disc competed with the HD DVD format. Toshiba, the main company that supported HD DVD, conceded in February 2008, releasing its own Blu-ray Disc player in late 2009.

Blu-ray discs of course offer higher definition than DVDs and the image quality is striking on a suitable monitor. Add to that now the introduction of 3D on top of Blu-ray technology and one gets a glimpse of even more technological developments that we shall see introduced in the very near future. Although I buy Blu-ray discs if I have the option, pricing is still an issue, with most new Blu-ray discs being prohibitively expensive (especially if in 3D). If one waits a few months after the first release, the prices do drop significantly but are still relatively high, compared to DVD. Most of the criticisms I have of DVDs remain with Blu-ray discs, although the subtitling options are now mostly a standard feature.

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