Saturday, April 07, 2012

From DVD days to today

The DVDs were launched in Spain around the year 1998. Laser Disc never reached here so VHS was the only thing we had. Anyway, I didn’t care much about that on those days because I just   wasn't so interested in movies. I was more in to comics and animation but suddenly everything changed in summer 1999 with the release of Star wars Episode One. I was just 15 and I started to interest and enjoy the movies in a way I never did before and realising that there was a huge work behind every detail even in the smallest movie. I remember walking in department stores and seeing some brand new flat screen but still big butt CRT TVs showing something new, there were some Warner titles like Men in Black and Mars Attacks in a brand new format. The DVD. This new medium was in it's first days and was being announced as "the ultimate format". It really seemed to be. The quality had no precedent. The Yamaha 5.1 Dolby Digital System in which those movies were shown, with it's tinny speakers, sounded in a way I never heard before. The sound was crisp and intense. The quality of the image on the displays was spectacular not a single flick, bright colors and spectacular sound. Sadly everything technology related was unreachable for a teenager those days, DVD prices were around 50€ and of course you needed a player, a proper TV and a good surround sound system. Luckily with 3000€ (back them 500.000pts) you were able to jump to the Digital Versatile Disc. 

Back then, we watched movies rented on the Video Club in VHS format. The only titles we owned were Michael Jordan Above and Beyond, Star Wars Episode One and the original trilogy...and few others. Our parents weren't movie maniacs so we just had a Phillips monaural 21 inch CRT that was a real pain. It didn't had Euro-connector or video inputs of any kind, just an antenna input, so we played in the Nintendo 64 using the VHS Video Recorder as a bridge, and fortunately we found a way, pushing a button for a while on the remote, to freeze the player so that didn't go to standby. Otherwise we would never been able to play more than 10 minutes continuously. I was recording stuff on VHS like crazy this days, I was so interested in NBA that I recorded everything related to Basketball I could. I also recorded documentaries such as related to  Japanese culture. I ended up with more than 30 VHS tapes full of stuff in a format I knew it was limited and destined to die, but that was what we had. Going forward and backward was so tedious, the tape was damaged in every playback and the quality was going decreasing in every view. But nothing could be done. That was the technology at the time. We thought things were going to change someday but we didn't know when and how. 

The changes started sooner than expected (at least from today's perspective) on Christmas 2000 we had the first computer at home so "our" digital age was starting and it came with a DVD-ROM unit so we could try the much desired new technology finally. One of the first movies we rent on the Video Club was The Matrix, and it was a really great experience. All the extra features, English language and subtitles...The DVD was a huge leap, we started to see movies not only as entertainment but as something with which you could learn English or other languages. The first movie we ever bought was Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. We rented first, but we were so mesmerized by it's story, images and music that we decided to buy the special two disc edition at a price of 30€. I was desiring to access to it's bonus content, the making of, the deleted scenes etc. After that I immediately became a DVD addict. 

So DVD was becoming the standard and slowly prices started to go down. We continue buying DVD discs until we bought our first DVD player a Panasonic S35. A pretty good model that is still working at home. It reads all kinds of disc even DVD-RAM and DVD-AUDIO. When we finally bought a decent LCD TV we finally were able to connect it though components and enjoy the quality of the DVDs we already had. In summer 2003 when I bought my first laptop it came with a DVD writing unit so we could start producing our own DVDs. Thanks to DVD-R media, that the standalone players where able to reproduce DVD format rapidly became not only a consumer product but a tool with which everyone could practice. As time passed the TVs turned from CRT to LCD, they became flat and with  higher resolution. European DVDs were 576x720px resolution. The standard CRT resolution was less than 800x600pixels, just enough  for the DVDs. Our new Phillips LCD was HD-ready so it had a 1280x720pixel resolution. That meant that the DVD was up scaled to fit the TV pixels size. In 2006 Full-HD TVs where already in the market with two new High-Definition players and formats HD-DVD and Blu-Ray Disc. Both with images resolutions of 1920X1080px to feed those Full-HD TVs. Finally only the Blu-ray survived and the HD-DVD disappeared. 

In less than ten years the DVD already had an HD alternative and and nowadays is becoming the standard together with the streaming media that is also delivered in full-HD quality though internet. The two only physical formats available in the stores now are the DVD and the Blu-Ray Disc and as the second one prices are dropping down so fast and the quality difference is so big, Blu-ray it’s probably the format that will take the lead. To see the difference in quality from one to another here a comparisons taken from www.hd-compare.de. The images correspond to Studio Ghibli’s Tenkyu no Shiro Laputa Japanese editions. This first image is downscaled to 640x340px, so to make an idea, that would be approximately what you’ll perceive if switching a Blu-Ray disc to an old CRT TV with a low resolution. The image is still better in the Blu-ray but the difference is not so big.



The real difference comes when we feed a Full-HD TV with HD content. The image is so big that doesn’t fit in this blog so here a zoomed pic of how the picture looks comparing the up scaled DVD and a Blu-Ray Disc. Notice that both pictures are compressed as GIF an the loose of quality is big,  but the differences are notable. 




And then what? Bluy-Ray is almost what it's called 2K resolution. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movie due to release on 2013 is already being shot on 5K. So that means that whats happening today with the Blu-Ray Disc taking over the DVD, it will happen again someday in the future with the Blu-Ray and it's successor. Meanwhile, if you are happy enough with your standard resolution content and media. Just enjoy it. But if you have some money you don’t know what to do with and you like to experience  movies at their best, High Definition days are here to stay so it’s a good time now that prices are dropping to renew the player, the Projector, the sound system and of course the titles in your shelves. As OMM000 would say on George Lucas's THX 1138 “…Buy more, buy more now. Buy and be happy…” 


Castle in The Sky
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Available on various editions on DVD and Blu-Ray Disc on Amazon
US / ES / JP

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