Memo to the Studios Revisited: Our Readers Speak Out

Posted Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 01:02 PM PDT by

Editor's Note: A long-time movie buff and collector of video discs from laserdisc to DVD, Josh is a staff reviewer at DVDTalk, and an enthusiastic supporter of all things High Definition. In his twice-monthly column here at High-Def Digest, Josh discusses a broad range of topics of interest to other early adopters.

Commentary by Joshua Zyber

In my first commentary for High-Def Digest several weeks ago, I wrote a Memo to the Studios with a list of ten small suggestions that I believe can help make discs on both the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats better. The focus of the article was not on broad, sweeping, or expensive changes that would be a burden to implement, but rather little things that could use some tweaking to make the disc releases more user-friendly and appealing to consumers. At the end of the piece, I asked our readers for their feedback, and to weigh in with their own pet peeves and suggestions for change.

We received some tremendous feedback both on our forums and by email. So much so, in fact, that I've decided to dedicate today's column to your thoughts.

Quite a lot of people voiced their agreement with my complaints about the hideous swooshy cover art that some studios are inflicting on High Definition discs of either format, and those annoying beeping and clicking noises used in too many disc menus. Not everyone agreed, of course. There were a few who liked the swooshes and the beeps. And there were some people who thought I was being petty to even notice such things in the first place. So be it. I certainly don't expect to speak for every early adopter. But I do have to ask if there is there anyone who would actually be upset if the swooshy cover art and menu beeps went away? Anyone at all? I really doubt it, and I think that there are enough people bothered by these things that it would benefit the disc releases to just get rid of them.

By far the biggest point of disagreement voiced over my article was the suggestion that every disc should start with a setup menu before the movie. It seems there are a lot of people who prefer the movie to just start automatically with no menu, as releases from Warner Bros. and Disney do. I made a case for why I find this problematic, especially on Blu-ray discs where pop-up menus don't work when the movie is paused, forcing the viewer to make their audio and subtitle selections as the movie begins, and then skip back to replay the movie again afterwards. Again, I truly find that a terrible user experience. Still, even though main disc menus have been a standard feature of the DVD format for a decade now, there are some people who really just want the movie to start automatically. So how's this for a compromise: instead of forcing a setup menu, why not have the disc open with the choice of going right to the movie or going to a dedicated setup menu instead? If no selection is made, the movie would just start after a predetermined amount of time. I've seen a few discs designed this way, such as 'Dirty Dancing' from Lionsgate, and it seems like a pretty reasonable middle ground.

So now we come to the list of reader pet peeves and additional suggestions for High-Def discs of both formats. There were a lot of them, some that I wish I'd thought of myself. Let's get right to it:


Previews should always be skippable with the MENU command.
Personally, I find trailers and promos before the disc menu or movie just obnoxious, and it seems a lot of people share my opinion. So studios, if you really must put these advertisements at the start of your discs, please allow us to skip them with the MENU button. Right now there doesn't seem to be any standardization for this. On some discs MENU works, on others we have to SKIP past each ad, on really annoying ones we're forced to FF through the spot, and on the worst discs there's just no getting past them by any means. Using the MENU button to bypass the trailers is a good idea that your customers will appreciate. Please make this standard. Or better yet, just put the trailers in the supplement section of the disc where they belong, not forced at the start of playback every time.


Forced anti-piracy ads are insulting to honest customers.
Hey, Mr. Studio Executive, you may not be aware of this, but not everyone on Earth is a thief. Most of us pay for your movies with our hard-earned dollars, and treating us like criminals is insulting. Here's a tip: real criminals don't watch your ads. When they strip all your precious copy-protection and rip the data off the disc, they dump those files, and then they laugh at you for putting them on there in the first place. The only people actually forced to watch the ads are those of us who have no intention of bootlegging your movie in the first place. Stop treating us like we, the people who support your business, are objects of contempt. We don't appreciate it.


Make the security stickers less intrusive.
As if the anti-piracy ads aren't obnoxious enough, before we can even get to them we have to pry the disc out from its cocoon of 12 dozen security stickers. Isn't this overkill? At the very least, could you stay away from the glues that leave a nasty tacky residue all over the case?


Enable the "Resume" function on all High-Def discs.
On standard DVD, the ability to stop playback and later resume from the place where we left off was a regular feature on almost all DVD players, yet on HD DVD and Blu-ray that function must be actively enabled in the disc authoring itself. For whatever reason, it often gets forgotten, and it's really annoying to viewers. This is a big step backwards in convenience from what we're used to with DVD, so please put some effort into including this feature from now on.


Give us the Unrated/Extended/Director's Cut when available.
You know what's irritating? Going to buy a movie you like and finding the longer, funnier, raunchier, more action-packed, whatever version available only on standard DVD, and the High Definition release getting the shaft. Why does that happen? Ideally we want both cuts. You can put them on separate releases if you need to, but don't leave us HD buyers out in the cold.


Make interactive and picture-in-picture features also available for separate playback.
Hey, we all think the fancy U-Control, In Movie Experience, etc. advanced features on High-Def discs are pretty nifty, but sometimes rewatching the entire movie just to see what amounts to half an hour or so of behind-the-scenes content isn't what we're in the mood for. How about also making that content available for separate playback in the supplements section of the disc?


Don't waste our time with interactive features if they suck.
I don't have much to add to this reader-submitted suggestion, but it struck a chord with me, and I suspect with others as well. We're all for innovation, but don't bother putting some overly complicated feature on a disc if you're not going to put enough thought or effort into it. What comes to mind for this is Universal's U-Control implementation, which forces a viewer to constantly push buttons on the remote to bring up picture-in-picture content for no particular reason. Either we're going to want to watch the PiP content or we're not. Making us push a lot of needless buttons just for the sake of calling the feature "interactive" is really pointless and frustrating.


Don't be cheapskates with your disc art.
Here I'm not talking about the keepcase, but artwork screened onto the top of the disc itself. Sure, if it's a double-sided disc that's not an option, no problem. But what's with the generic blue design on most Sony Blu-rays? These High-Def formats are supposed to look fancy and high-end, not like a public domain cheapie pulled out of the bargain bin. Don't cheap out on us. Make it look nice. It can't be that hard.


The more subtitle options the better.
Both High-Def disc formats brag about their greatly expanded storage capacity in comparison to DVD. Well, how about using some of that extra room to squeeze in extra subtitles for viewers who don't speak the language of the movie? It seems that English, French, and Spanish are pretty standard, but there are a lot more languages spoken in this country, let alone worldwide. We've even been told about the possibility of downloading extra subtitle tracks into the player that will sync up during movie playback. Innovations like that would be very welcome.


When releasing on both formats, give them the same specs.
For the studios releasing on both Blu-ray and HD DVD, it does not seem fair to buyers when the same movie on one format gets lossless audio or nifty bonus features that the other doesn't. Half your customer base now feels slighted by your decision. We realize both formats have their technical limitations, but whenever possible please try to keep your disc specs even and fair.


Be better about day-and-date releasing.
Considering how often High-Def discs are delayed for weeks or months beyond the release of the standard DVD version of the same movie, we in the High Definition market often feel like an afterthought. Try to get the HD version out at the same time as the DVD. And this applies as much to catalog title reissues as it does to new releases.


Don't be so secretive about your release calendar.
If you want to lure new buyers to your formats, you've got to entice them with titles available and those coming soon. When DVD announcements are made months in advance, why is it that so many studios are tight-lipped about their High-Def plans? Sometimes we don't even know a title is coming until it pops up on retailer shelves. That's no way to build excitement.


Make sure catalog titles have been recently remastered.
I debated whether or not to say something about this in my original list, simply because I feel that matters of audio and video quality are best addressed in reviews of the individual titles rather than in blanket lists of suggestions, but the complaint keeps coming up so I feel compelled to mention it here. Unfortunately, High-Def buyers are finding that certain studios (yes, Universal, this means you -- but no, everyone else, it doesn't only mean them) have been dumping catalog titles onto High-Def discs using video masters that are clearly several years old and don't hold up to modern video transfer standards. There's no excuse for a High Definition disc to be plagued with edge enhancement or excessive filtering, yet that's what we're seeing on a lot of older movies. If remastered under current standards, these same movies would no doubt look a lot better. I certainly don't want to discourage studios from digging into their back catalogs, but could you at least take a closer look at some of these older masters before deciding what makes it onto your release calendars, and put the effort into a decent remaster when appropriate?

There you have it, the voice of the people. A baker's dozen of new suggestions to add to my last list. Once more I'll offer the disclaimer to any studio execs who may be reading this: I can't guarantee that following these suggestions will help your format win the war, but doing so will certainly improve your products, and should make High-Def discs more appealing to your target customers.

This is surely not the end of this topic. There will always be things to improve and more to say, so please join us in the forums to continue the discussion.

Tags: Joshua Zyber (all tags)