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Upgrading from DVD to Blu-ray: The Movie Collector's Dilemma

Jan 20, 2009 9:05 AM, By Jason Bovberg


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Chances are, if you're reading this, you're a movie collector. And if you're like me, your movie collecting really began in earnest with the introduction of the DVD format. That's when the very notion of home theater began to realistically dawn on us. Of course, film projectors at home were never a truly viable option for most of us, and VHS (and even Beta) always felt like a compromised medium, with its cropped image and degrading delivery mechanism. Some of us remember laser discs fondly, but most of us never thought those giant, analog, LP-sized flipper discs quite hit the home-theater sweet spot. No, it was DVD that revolutionized the market—old news, to be sure, but worth repeating now that we're wandering a strange purgatory between DVD dominance and Blu-ray emergence.

I've loved films for as long as I can remember. I have vivid memories of watching Disney reissues and Star Wars on the big screen before I was 10, cringing to the Alien chestburster on a giant screen when I was 11, and rollicking with Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark as I entered my teen years. Oh, I was hooked. And it wasn't long before I was trying to find ways to bring movies into my home. I received a film education thanks to VHS, but even at an early age, I recognized the format's limitations. I never amassed a large library of VHS movies. I always considered it a rental medium (and I still maintain that VHS was a better rental medium than DVD is). Briefly, the VHS format went widescreen, and I purchased some favorite films, but I never got excited about it. (The one moment of VHS excitement I can recall was somehow getting my hands on a widescreen, very-low-quality pirate tape of The Empire Strikes Back long before the film officially hit VHS. Even though the quality was in the toilet, I was a hero among my geek buddies.) Laser discs never seemed quite right either, so I let me friends obsess about those while I awaited something better.

The life of this movie lover was pretty sweet for the next 5 years. The DVD gave me everything I wanted in regards to "the movie experience at home—with the exception of truly HD image quality. The format made some sacrifices in its attempts to squeeze so much information onto a CD-sized disc. But these storage shortcomings were quickly forgiven, because everything else about the DVD was perfect: image quality far beyond that of VHS or even laser disc; big, rich surround sound the likes of which we'd never seen in home video; and film-school-in-a-box special features, such as audio commentaries, deleted scenes, making-of specials, and gag reels, all of which enriched the experience of the film. If little image problems—say, aliasing or ghosting or haloing—cropped up here and there, they were quickly forgotten in the face of everything that was so very right about DVD.

Now, Blu-ray—the next-generation DVD format that essentially resolves regular DVD's storage concerns and image limitations—is on the verge of entering its big consumer phase. And I'm left feeling a bit stranded between full-scale, enthusiastic adoption of the new format and a sort of techie denial. I've got upwards of 500 DVDs in my library, and I don't think that's an uncommon situation among film geeks. The notion of starting from scratch on Blu-ray is quite daunting.

One of Blu-ray's big challenges as it enters this new phase of its lifecycle is to appeal to consumers who are already heavily invested in DVD. Making that appeal in the midst of a bleak economy will be something of a magic trick. I know many film collectors who remain perfectly content with DVD, particularly considering Blu-ray's mostly steadfast refusal to come down in price, for both hardware and software. These people can happily walk into Wal-Mart and find special-edition DVDs for $5. (Just last week, I myself found the 2-disc director's cut of David Fincher's Zodiac in the Wal-Mart bargain bin.) Why start buying $20 to $30 discs all over again when they can find the same film for $5? Most people have TVs that simply aren't really going to take advantage of the extra resolution that Blu-ray offers.

Obviously, you count me as one of those film lovers heavily invested in DVD. Over the past year, I've experienced a drastic change in my buying habits, not only because of the depressed economy but also because of this period of change in the home-theater market. I've stopped most of my new-release-Tuesday purchases (and in doing so, probably put Circuit City out of business), opting to wait the few weeks for the price to inevitably start disintegrating. At the same time, though, I've begun purchasing Blu-ray discs when they go on sale. I know my future home-theater setup will greatly benefit from Blu-ray's advantages, but today it's difficult to justify rebuying my library's worth of DVDs for an image benefit I won't realize for a while. As I write these words, I buy occasional bargain DVDs, wondering even as I plunk down my $5 whether I should be holding off.

Of course, Blu-ray could (and probably will, this year) start making things easier for its potential customers by getting some real introductory deals going. We'd all like to see Blu-ray prices begin to regularly rival those of DVDs. We'd also like to see the prices of players come down drastically. In this economic atmosphere, money will be the prime deciding factor. Even those of us who aren't convinced of Blu-ray's superiority to DVD would happily make the switch if everything cost about the same.

My goal is to start buying Blu-ray discs exclusively—not to rebuy my existing collection but to start fresh with movies new to disc. I keep searching for better-than-half-price bargains, and sometimes I get lucky, finding a deal posted on a bargain here or there. Blu-ray, I challenge you to make it easier for me to get fully onboard. The future, after all, is yours.



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