Saturday, 26 September 2009

Blu-ray: opinions

Six months after buying a Blu-ray player (and recently joining the "full HD" TV club) I thought I'd share my opinions with anyone reading this.

Plus points:
1) On a full HD TV, most films and programmes look and sound better than they do on DVD, considerably better than they do on Freeview TV, and slightly better than on BBC or ITV HD.
2) Given the right kind of connection and TV, a Blu-ray player will “upscale” your DVDs to 1080p (the highest HDTV standard available in the UK) better than most DVD players
3) Blu-ray players are now available at a similar price to DVD players (unless you think that £40 is enough to pay for a DVD player)
Minus:
1) The choice of Blu-ray discs is still small
2) There is usually more than £3 difference (i.e. what I would consider a reasonable differential) between a Blu-ray disc and the equivalent DVD
3) Blu-ray discs can be slow to load and navigation is often more awkward than on DVD. This is hard to forgive, as disc designers have had a long time to get the ergonomics right
I only paid £120 for my Sony 350 Blu-ray player at Richer Sounds and am pleased with it. However, as we had a 32-inch HD-ready TV and I then wanted a 40 inch full HD set (which we’ve just got) it ended up costing my partner and I a lot more money than I first guessed. I really want Blu-ray to take off, but I think they’ll have to reduce the price differential.
Unfortunately, most people are so uncritical that they’ll pay a lot of money for a flash TV and still watch it on “vivid” mode, often with old non wide-screen programmes stretched horizontally to fill the screen. It baffles me that people prefer to watch a programme like that – a bit like the “colour snobs” who refused to watch any black and white programmes when they got their first colour TVs. If the photographer decided to “wide screen” their wedding photos so that the happy couple turned out 33% wider and ended up as happy hippos, would they still be so ecstatic? I think not.
Anyway, my worry is that, because the majority of people don't care about video or audio quality, direct-to-TV downloading will catch on faster than Blu-ray. If it does, this could well be the death knell for HD broadcasting. We’ve seen that ISPs and even the BBC are always penny-pinching on bandwidth, using more and more compression. The Beeb has just got new encoders for the BBC HD channel but simultaneously cut the bandwidth by 40%. Hardly likely to prove that it’s committed to quality… More on this at http://www.avforums.com/forums/hd-tv-programmes/720572-bbc-hd-not-up-required-standard.html (by the way, Ozzzy189 is not me).

In my opinion, Blu-ray has to succeed, or HD programming will eventually die out because “There’s no demand.”

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Windows 7 pricing: a rant

By all accounts, Microsoft's Windows 7, released on 22nd October, is everything that Windows Vista should have been. Why, then, is Microsoft ripping off customers who bought Vista, and not trying to win their loyalty by offering a reasonably priced upgrade?

I forked out a lot of money two years ago for Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Several times I thought of downgrading to XP because it was so sluggish on a dual core desktop machine with 4GB of RAM. I stuck with it, installing a Service Pack that did not speed things up at all, and the frequent security updates that mainly exist to paper over design flaws. I naively expected Microsoft to be reasonable with its pricing when the upgrade to its new OS appeared.

A month before its release, the cheapest I can find an upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate Edition is £169.98 - £10 more than the full version! Just what's going on?

Films That Stick With You

Here are the 15 films I find most memorable. Once again, these are in order by the (approximate) date that I saw them. I should add that I love all of them except number 10. I think this is an awful film that infuriates me in the way it threw out almost everything good in the original novel, and gets universally extravagant praise purely because Stanley Kubrick is treated as a god in the world of film.

Other films to which I've taken a strong dislike are Pulp Fiction (we don't need film-makers trying to make violence seem "cool"), The Evil Dead, The Descent and The Straight Story (the last one for completely different reasons to the others).

1. A Taste of Honey
2. The Knack and How to Get it
3. Bedazzled (1967 version)
4. The Wicker Man
5. Cabaret
6. Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
7. Carrie
8. Pardon Us (Laurel and Hardy)
9. The Terminator
10. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)
11. A Room with a View
12. Pleasantville
13. The Sixth Sense
14. AI - Artificial Intelligence
15. Star Trek (2009)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Books That Stick With You

On ThePickards blog, Jack Pickard suggests we should "name fifteen books that [you] have read that will always stick with [you], and also do the same thing for films that [you've] seen. In each case, we don’t have to be talking about favourites, merely stuff that has stuck with you for some reason."

I've put the books into rough chronological order based on when I read them, rather than when they were published.

1. The Silver Chair - C S Lewis
2. A Passage to India - E M Forster
3. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A Heinlein
4. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole - Sue Townsend
5. The Shining - Stephen King
6. Caution! Inflammable! - Thomas N Scortia
7. The Front Runner - Patricia Nell Warren
8. The Death of Grass - John Christopher
9. Urn Burial - Robert Westall
10. The World According to Garp - John Irving
11. A Smile in his Lifetime - Joseph Hansen
12. The Cider House Rules - John Irving
13. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J K Rowling
14. Darkest Day - Christopher Fowler
15. The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman

I'll post again with my films.