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March 20, 2009

Blu-ray — The good, the bad and the just plain ugly


First off, the good:

1. The picture, especially on a professionally calibrated 1080p set, is drop dead sensational. Much better than anything you've seen before even on HDTV and also superior to what you'll see in a movie theater — even if for a change the picture's in perfect focus.

2. The sound, especially on a calibrated 5.1 (or better) system, is blow-you-away awesomely crisp, even cranked up to roomshaking levels.

3. Best of all, no black bars above, below or to the sides of the picture. Watching most regular DVDs on a flatscreen TV, you invariably get black bars above and below the properly displayed picture since the aspect ratio of the film on disc is never 16:9 like your screen. Every single Blu-ray movie I've watched at home has filled my screen, employing every single pixel. Very nice.

Now the bad:

1. They've made Blu-ray players almost impossible to use without driving yourself mad. Just turning it on and getting to where it will open up so you can put a disc in takes forever as the machine starts going through its idiotic paces, opening with a "Hello" greeting on the Blu-ray player screen, followed by message after message before the darn disc holder finally emerges.

2. Then it's time for your TV to start displaying screen after screen of stuff in one corner, including the resolution, frames per second, type of disc (Blu-ray or regular DVD), etc. This takes about 15 seconds but it seems to go on forever since you're already annoyed that it took this long to get to this point (see 1. above).

3. Then the real fun begins. Either some encomium for Blu-ray begins showing or a series of trailers for other movies. The frustrating thing is that there're no on-screen icons to click on to stop the visual spam. Instead, you're forced to confront the real horror, namely, the unbelievably complicated and incomprehensible remote.

Herein begins the really ugly:

1. My (Panasonic) remote (top) has separate buttons for "Sub Menu," "Top Menu," "Pop-Up Menu" and "Display." Next to the "Top Menu" button, on the remote itself, it says "Direct Navigator." When I try these during the previews, usually a box appears on the TV screen that says something like "Button disabled during current function."

2. After trying them all, eventually I get a screen with a number of options, one of which is "Main Menu." When I scroll down to it and press, then — and only then — does the preview stop and icons appear among which is the Holy Grail: "Play." Click on that and the movie starts.

3. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: The fancy-shmancy remote's buttons aren't automatically illuminated in the dark nor does it have a "Light" option to make the buttons visible — you have to turn on a light to do anything with the remote.

4. And don't get me started on the impossibility of fast forwarding or rewinding. The buttons that might do this have double arrowheads on them; above the buttons are the words "Slow/Search." When you press these buttons a menu pops up offering a range of five Forward or Reverse speeds, requiring you to move a cursor along a bar. I stopped bothering with these functions after spending about 10 minutes one night trying to replay a scene and completely losing the thread of the story.

Bottom line: There's plenty of opportunity for someone (Apple?) to come in and fix this mess.

March 20, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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I found the PlayStation 3 to be the best blu-ray player on the market when I bought it over a year ago...looking at the other options, that seems to still be the case. It starts up in a couple of seconds and is ready to start your movie in a couple more. The interface is intuitive, and you can do lots of other stuff with it as well (stream media, play games, install Linux...).

Overall, definitely a win.

Posted by: Nathan | Mar 20, 2009 1:32:07 PM

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