There's been a lot of talk about Blu-Ray v. DVD v. download lately, but there are a couple things that don't get mentioned often in the debate.
1. Some Blu-Rays aren't really better.
Last week, I got House of Flying Daggers on Blu-Ray from Netflix. The story’s above average, and like Yimou Zhang’s previous film Hero, every shot is a work of art. However, the quality of the video on the disc was lacking. I can’t speak for the original theatrical release, but reviews and forum posts on the disc confirm the poor quality of the transfer. Even on my 32” Westinghouse, I could see lots of noise and was distracted by the lack of clarity within deep colors (a trademark of the director’s style).
More than a few Blu-Ray releases have been scarred by poor video (or audio) quality. Most recently, the Blu-Ray release of Gangs of New York has received some of the worst comments I’ve seen regarding video quality on a high-def disc. The original Fifth Element and Full Metal Jacket releases are examples of sub par releases where the studio has actually stepped up and remedied the situation with a new release.
2. Where are my special features?
One of the reasons I happily made the jump to DVD (other than video/span quality, lifespan, etc.) was for special features: deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentaries, etc. One advantage that Blu-Ray boasts over DVD is the possibility for better special features: picture-in-picture commentaries, internet connectivity, and (with more space) more features.
Hellboy has seen several standard-def DVD releases, with the 3-disc director’s cut containing a wealth of bonus features, including a new commentary by the director. Fans who opt for the similarly priced Blu-Ray version will get a great video/audio bang for their buck, but will miss out on all the features found on the three-disc DVD.
Taking Gangs of New York as a case study again, the disc offers nothing that wasn’t on the two-disc DVD. The only apparent advantage of the Blu-Ray version, which costs $15 more, is the [assumed] jump in audio quality and not having to change discs halfway through the movie.
There are several examples of Blu-Ray releases that get everything right. Jumper is the best example I’ve seen. With next-gen commentary, an “animated” comic, and amazing video and audio quality, this release actually creates a highly enjoyable experience from a mediocre film.
If the big studios really want Blu-Ray to be the new media format (which is debatable), they’re going to have to do more than fatten release schedules and shrink the price gap; they’ll have to make all Blu-Rays obviously superior to their market-penetrated competition.