Straight Talk with Nate Boss
Blu-ray has been on the market for over four years now, and the usual growing pains have mostly come and gone. Yet some studios are still making mistakes that simply should not happen, mistakes that are easy to correct, or avoid altogether.
Here is a list of flat out blunders that studios commit, to show that no company has the perfect business model quite yet. Please note that player issues are not touched upon here, unless it is a problem caused by a spec on a disc itself. Player compatibility and playback issues are a whole other beast.
Television support - Are you a fan of 'Burn Notice' 'Prison Break,' or 'How I Met Your Mother?' What about 'Rescue Me,' 'Nip/Tuck,' or 'Damages?' Surely, if you are, you picked up the releases of these shows when they hit Blu-ray, but then something happened. The next season appeared, and it was DVD only. Suddenly your collection is DVD, DVD, Blu-ray, DVD. That's pretty freaking hideous. That's the boat you're stuck in, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Poor sales have caused studios to axe certain television releases from the Blu-ray schedule, leaving single seasons of a show available, with none of their companion pieces. This doesn't exactly make consumers happy, studios. If you commit to putting a show on Blu-ray, you need to follow through. Who knows, maybe your MSRP was too high and you doomed your own release. Maybe you created a hideously ugly release ('Burn Notice: The Complete Second Season,' I'm lookin' at you!), or simply overestimated your target audience's interest in the show. Just remember one thing, studios: you released previous seasons on DVD, and now you're putting out a show, but not starting from the beginning. Consumers may be more interested in a purchase if you release the whole show up to that point (if possible).
Has this problem been fixed? No. Fox and Sony have made some serious blunders in this regard by not even making announcements, leaving fans totally hanging. It seems only Universal is on the ball when it comes to television shows, bringing us each successive release, regardless of sales. I can't imagine the second, third, and fourth seasons of 'Heroes' sold all that well (especially considering ratings and word of mouth), but Universal still did fans a solid. Now they just have to go back and give us all of the previous seasons of 'The Office!'
Early Fox/MGM catalog pricing - Lately, MGM and Fox have been one of the best studios in terms of pricing their catalog titles, with many topping out at 19.99, including DVD copies of the film. This may be an attempt to make good for the way early titles like 'Hoosiers' or 'Behind Enemy Lines' debuted with an MSRP of $39.99 (!), the standard price point for new releases from many studios, for years. This helped propagate the theory that upgrading to Blu-ray would be too damn expensive, and surely scared off some consumers in the format war years.
Paramount says sayonara to Blu-ray - With every major studio releasing titles on Blu-ray these days, it's funny to look back and see those that held out for the longest time, with Universal single-handedly keeping a competitor format alive for a few years, and the Criterion Collection sitting out the format war altogether. Paramount struck possibly the only major blow to Blu-ray during these formative years, going from releasing on both formats to HD DVD only...until HD DVD folded. Released titles went out of print (with a few reaching insane price points...imagine spending $80 on 'Shooter,' or 'We Were Soldiers' nowadays), and even with Paramount back in the fold for some time now, they still haven't 100% caught up on titles they released on “the other format” (though they are damn, damn close).
Has this problem been fixed? Almost.
Missing Supplement packages - Film collectors often buy and re-buy titles, sometimes solely to get new, extensive extras. Some are amazingly deep, while others obviously are thrown together by a blind editor working in part with a publicist. DVD editions of films are often two or three discs, so that they can get the entire package of goodies to the customer, yet with Blu-ray, many times this extra content disappears, often so the studio can use a smaller (less expensive) disc. 'The Thing' and 'Man on Fire' are just two examples of when the studios decided to go it on the cheap, and MGM/Fox's recent wave of DVD/Blu-ray combo packs don't fix this issue. To listen to a commentary, one shouldn't have to put in the DVD. This is just getting rid of old stock, allowing them to skimp out on the Blu-ray editions, and sets a dangerous precedent moving forward. Imagine two generations from now, the same damn 1997 DVD being put in releases so we can see a damn theatrical trailer. One could also single out the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy in this issue, as they recycled old as hell DVDs for the second discs for each film, but since those discs are 100% extras, this isn't as major an issue.
Has this issue been fixed? No, in fact, this is one matter that has gone from a minor nuisance to a major pain within the last year. Packing a DVD in a release for bonus value/portability is great, but it is not a way to not have to put extras on the Blu-ray. It's just tacky. A bonus DVD should be exactly that, not a portion of the release to be relied on to get the full experience.
Early upconverts - Full disclosure is a great thing, particularly when throwing down the money for a complete series on Blu-ray, yet early FUNimation anime titles did not clearly indicate on the packaging if they were truly HD, or merely HD upconverts. Additionally, many of the early anime series releases were quite poor in video quality (and featured large discrepancies between audio quality between the native track and the dub mixes).
Has this problem been fixed? Yes. FUNimation now labels their releases “Native HD” or “Upconvert” in the technical specs section of the packaging, and includes lossless mixes on both the English and Japanese mixes. Additionally, the upconverts seem to be improving dramatically in quality.
BD-Live - Remember when DVD-rom compatibility was touted as such a great feature on DVD releases? The way BD-Live is going, it's already on the same path to obsolescence. There was a big to-do concerning player profiles, and compatibility by not having a finalized spec, but those who bought players that could “do it all” ended up getting a massive headache. Pre-menu load screens have doubled in many cases (with Universal releases sometimes having three load screens before a menu, which is utterly ridiculous), and the attempts to download trailers pre-menu have created massive issues with users not being able to play the movie they just bought/rented.
Has this problem been fixed? A resounding no. In fact, this issue is only getting worse. It seems less than 5% of all releases with BD-Live have any film exclusive content (sharing bookmarks does not count, folks. No one gives a rat's ass about that), while “enhanced” tracks through BD-Live, like Sony's MovieIQ, are a real pain, and are nowhere near as entertaining as traditional trivia tracks. Every week consumers are having problems with their new releases, and more and more have to disconnect their player from the internet to even get to menus.
Pre-menu trailers and menu issues - Don't you hate buying a release, then having to sit through, or manually skip, up to six trailers before you hit the menu? Isn't it great when they don't allow you to just skip them all with the touch of the top menu button? Fox gave way to James Cameron, and didn't put any trailers before 'Avatar,' but lately more and more garbage precedes the content we pay for.
Additionally, Warner Brothers has received all kinds of hell for having their films play without prompting a menu, often defaulting to a lossy mix if both lossy and lossless were available (a problem that Alliance also perpetuates to this day). Now, they've gone in the exact opposite direction: tons of pre-menu trailers, but no auto-play (thankfully), and a lossless default. Instead of giving consumers what they want, one set of problems was traded for another.
Has this problem been fixed? No. It's only getting worse. A single pre-menu trailer with no “top menu” skipping isn't a big deal, but lately Lionsgate has been more than aggressive when it comes to this practice, and Sony isn't backing down, either. All these trailers are found in the menu, anyways, so it should be our choice whether we want to watch them, not mandated. We don't pay to get advertisements shoved down our throats, studios!
Disc cramming - The audio and video qualities of a disc are directly linked to how much other content is on said disc. A BD25 may be enough for a film with a lossless track to still shine, but throw in four commentaries and three hours of extra features, even in standard def, and chances are the quality of the release will suffer. Yes, this new format can hold more per disc, but that doesn't mean that the quality won't suffer when content is force fed onto the release.
Has this problem been fixed? No. Many studios have listened to consumers and reviewers, and give films ample space to breathe on a disc. However, some discs still get put out that could have been so much better. I have no doubt in my mind that the egregious banding in 'Batman: Under the Red Hood' wouldn't have been an issue at all if the film were on a BD50 disc, and while titles from Troma, or the Roger Corman classics line from Shout! Factory may not have the visual and audio potential mainstream films do, they have way too much content on a BD25 to not affect quality.
Proper Region Code marking - Wouldn't it be nice if all it took was a glance at the back of a package to see whether you could play a disc? Importing would be so much easier, wouldn't it? That isn't the case. Companies like Paramount don't even use the symbols, others (mostly small distributors that don't know any better, or Alliance out of Canada) use the old DVD coding, which is ass backwards, and some mess up even more than that. Fox has a habit of putting the Region A (no B or C) insignia on their domestic releases, even if they're Region A/B/C, even if the Fox releases of these titles from other countries (like 'Kalifornia' in Germany, or 'Elektra' in Hong Kong) are marked properly.
Has this problem been fixed? Somewhat. FUNimation, Disney, and Sony are always on the money with their code marking, but the ones making the mistakes aren't fixing it. In fact, there have been over fifty Alliance releases now, that are exclusive to them, and they still put the Region 1 marking on packaging.
Proper aspect ratio - Speaking of Alliance...there are few things worse than a film being released in its improper aspect ratio. 'Se7en' is meant to be a 2.35:1 film, not a 1.78:1, made from a movie-channel transfer altered to fit modern big screen televisions. 'Gulliver's Travels' was made in 1.33:1, and by no means should the top and bottom of the image be chopped off so that it fits a newer television screen better.
Has this problem been fixed? It isn't a big enough issue that “a fix” is all that possible. In the old days of DVD (man, how time flies), releases would come on a flipper, for widescreen and (improper) fullscreen editions, or even get two editions, so consumers would have to keep an eye out (some not marked properly on the front cover, creating a massive mess). Now, less and less DVDs come out in the wrong ratio. People are learning, but some studios never will. Some are limited to what they get, but if it isn't right, don't release it at all. Doing so only does the format, and the consumer, a disservice.
Language issues - This issue is a two-parter. Disney made a terrible mistake with their 'Ultimate Force of Four' titles, by giving each film a lossless dub mix, while giving the authentic language mixes lossy only. In the case of 'The Legend of Drunken Master,' there is no sign of the Cantonese track anywhere.
Additionally, Canada is a wonderful place. When importing titles from up north, there are these small differences that cannot be missed. For example, the way most packages have bi-lingual writing on them, both French and English, due to the country being dual-languaged. That's fine and dandy, but when a country is bi-lingual, so, too, should be the releases. Some titles (such as 'Killshot' or 'The Tournament') don't have a French dub, or subtitles, or even French writing on the packaging, while others (most particularly 'Amelie' and the 'Millenium' films (you know, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,' 'The Girl Who Played with Fire,' and 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest'), have no English options, dub or sub, due to rights issues being split in the country. The thought that a dual-language country needs to split distribution rights based off language compatibility is a joke, if anything, especially when the second releases of these titles, you guessed it, often still have their French options, as well as English.
Has this problem been fixed? Kind of. 'Amelie' is getting another release (yep, folks, a double-dip) that is supposed to correct the language barrier issues, and even include supplements. That said, the 'Millennium Trilogy' films are new releases, so that just goes to show how little effort is being put out by a certain company. As for the 'Ultimate Force of Four' films, and other titles that give priority to dubs, there is no fix in sight.
Forced double-dips - Re-releasing a film after it has been on the market for years, with an upgraded transfer, better audio, or a metric ton of new extras is fine and dandy. What isn't acceptable, though, is releasing films exclusively in box sets, coupled with titles that have already been released. The big stinker here? Sony. There's no way in hell a fan of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' didn't pick up 'House of Flying Daggers' and 'Curse of the Golden Flower' when they were released, but Sony decided that in the USA, 'Tiger' should only be available in a box set with the two other films. Other countries got the release by its lonesome (including a Steelbook in the UK), and only very recently did 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' get a standalone release.
Has this problem been fixed? In the case of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' yes. However, this has happened before, and will happen again.
Where in the world is 007 - Bond, James Bond has found his way on Blu-ray, somewhat, with the two newer features, as well as about half of the catalog. The titles have been put in three packs, ten packs, and an eleven pack, and individually have been priced to move. That's great, and all, but what about 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service,' or 'Goldeneye?' Why are we getting double dips on the 'Rocky' films, or niche horror titles and obscurities, instead of helping fans complete their collections?
Has this problem been fixed? No, and it may never be. However, when/if it finally does find some closure, look forward to the forced double-dip issue, having to buy all the films in one box set, as MGM tries to shovel its way out of the sinkhole they created for themselves financially.
Paramount recalls - What better way to instill consumer confidence than to make them send back every disc they ever purchase? That may be Paramount's new strategy. Hey, they're creating jobs by having to man the phone desks for calls fielding return issues, in this tough economy! 'Iron Man' got a recall, and it didn't affect its street date, but both 'Gladiator' and 'Saving Private Ryan' have had mass recalls after street date. Does “Sapphire Series” mean “you'll get a better disc in a year” series? What about all the consumers who aren't aware of these recalls? Congrats, you just got boned.
Has this problem been fixed? No. Sure, Warner had a similar issue on 'Matrix: Revolutions,' and Disney fixed some framing issues with 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl,' but they aren't constant repeat offenders. Paramount must have laid off their entire quality-control branch.
3D bundle exclusives - Did you plop down nearly three thousand on a fancy new 3D set up for your home? If so, do you like the few family films so much that you watch them over, and over, and over, and over? If the studios and manufacturers get their way, you will end up watching 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' or 'Monster House' thirty-nine times, while you wait for the 'Shrek' films, 'Monsters vs Aliens,' or 'How to Train Your Dragon' to be available to purchase in stores without buying a television or $350 starter set. This new sub-format is being crippled from the start, by forcing consumers to pick or choose their setup based on what movie they like more rather than what player, driving the second hand market for titles (on Ebay, for example) to sky high rates, a poacher's dream, just for a handful of payola. This is one of 3D Blu-ray's biggest hurdle right now.
Has this problem been fixed? A resounding no, and it's only getting worse. At least with store exclusives, consumers could help out their fellow high-def viewer. Here, everyone loses. We have the upcoming 'A Christmas Carol' to look forward to...in November. 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' won't be on home video for probably another half a year. 'Avatar?' Yeah, chances are some hardware manufacturer will get that as an exclusive. Congrats, you just spent three thousand bucks to watch children's films, and only a couple of them.
Of course, there have been more blunders than these, though this list is just what bothers me. Stop button issues, lingering timelines that distract one from the film, and wasted technological investments (PocketBlu, seriously?) are all problems, and there are most certainly more issues than these. Do you feel there's an omission in this article, or something about Blu-ray discs that is bugging the hell out of you? Let us know in the forums!