Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I hate my Blu-ray player

There are technologies that arrive and turn things on their head, quickly becoming dominant. In that category I'd put VHS, CDs, and even DV video. And then there’s the also-rans, the things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but were never quite as popular as you thought they would be; things like Hi8, mini-discs, Eight-Track, and now, Blu-ray.

I bought a Sony BDP-S560 Blu-ray player several months ago, and though I tried to like it, I find that I remain unimpressed. And it's not just because on my relatively small, 36-inch TV, the resolution difference isn't really noticeable; there are things that I simply despise about the thing:

Load times
My DVD player works like an appliance; the Blu-ray player works like a computer. Turn the DVD player on and hit Eject, and it immediately slides out the disc tray. Do the same thing with the Blu-ray player and it sits there flashing “Wait” at you for about fifteen seconds. Do you know how annoying it is to sit there waiting to stick the disc into the thing? It’s not helped by the fact that there's no eject button on the Blu-ray remote. Not that I thought that was a problem when I got it, but now I wish I could use the remote to tell it to open and then sit on the couch and wait until the thing is finally ready.

Start up times
Getting the disc into the player isn’t the only part of the process that takes forever. Going from “off” to playing a movie is even worse. Ignoring animated menus and automated previews, it takes the Harry Potter DVD a minute to get going. The same release Blu-ray disc takes two minutes.

I can't find fast forward
The DVD remote has Next/Previous chapter and Fast Forward and Reverse. I can handle those quite easily.

The Blu-ray remote has Next/Previous chapter and two sets of buttons, one of which may be fast forward, but I can never seem to find it. I always seem to hit the wrong button! Most of the time I seem to get into a jump-a-few-seconds mode which doesn't work the way I want it to work! It’s not helped by the fact that the remote has no light in it, so the buttons are even harder to find and figure out.

Software updates
My DVD player works the same today as it did at day one. Admittedly it's a later model, but there weren't huge changes in the functioning of DVD drives over the years.

Blu-ray has software updates, and users have to know how (and that they need) to do it, or they can't play the latest discs. The Avatar disc caused problems for some people who didn't have the latest software. The nerds amongst us can deal with that, but can grandma?

Blu-ray Live
I paid a little extra to get a wireless player rather then the wired version, partly because it was cool, and partly because I didn't want to have a cable running to the thing. I'd heard of Blu-ray Live, and the software updates, so figured I’d make use of that connection. I have, but as it turns out, not nearly as much as I thought I would.

I won't mention that I had to add a USB flash drive to get Blu-ray Live working on this player.

A month or so after I got the player I got an email from Warner Brothers saying they were going to have a Blu-ray Live event, and I thought I’d give it a go. The event was really like an audio/text chat on the television, overlaid over the playback of the movie being discussed. It was even more limited than it sounds, because if you wanted to contribute to the chat, you needed to use a computer for that!

Let me say that while I eventually got the thing working, it was not a happy experience. It literally took forever for the process to load up and start working, a period punctuated with uninformative progress indicators; spinning balls that gave no indication of if it was really working or frozen, and how long was left. I actually restarted the process at one point because I thought it was frozen. Big mistake!

And the ultimate result was something you could get on your computer in about thirty seconds. It was so bad, I've avoided bothering to go back again, and they did another one with Robert Downey Jr I'd probably have been interested in if it had been on the web.

Finally, Blu-ray discs are more expensive than DVDs, and what are you really getting? More resolution? The price difference varies substantially too - I’ve seen some priced the same, some a few dollars more, and some over $10 more. If I'm honest, a couple more dollars for improved resolution seems acceptable; $10 per disk, no.

But that’s not really my biggest problem with Blu-ray, it’s the awful performance of my Blu-ray player.

The Future
Is Blu-ray the future? Are all drives as bad as this one, or did I just get a dog? I have no idea. This was a mid-range Sony player - didn't Sony co-create Blu-ray?; would they really sell something that was this bad?

Independent of my own unhappy experience, it certainly seems that Blu-ray hasn’t taken the world quite by storm the way the studios had hoped. Last years combined sales of DVD and Blu-ray fell 10%, though the economy could account for all of that.

Steve Jobs seems to think that the cloud - or iTunes - will be the way to get movies. YouTube is now renting movies, and Google just rolled out their own version of Apple TV. Google's entry is different to Apple's offering as it's a software platform that will run on different hardware - including Blu-ray players! Maybe they'll work out a way to do chat properly through the TV?!

Still, I find it more than a little ironic that we made fun of Steve Jobs “bag of hurt” comment about Blu-ray and complain that Apple hasn't added support for Blu-ray, while we also get paranoid about H.264 licensing (the very licensing bag of hurt Steve was referring to), and cheer on Googles plans for a license-free compression codec.

Apple TV?
Anyone? Anyone? Apple TV is an interesting, but flawed product. I keep hoping Apple will fix it, and then maybe I'll stop buying those silver discs; both DVD and Blu-ray. Google's entry into what Apple still says is a hobby may prod Apple into action. Or maybe the future is Google TV. Or maybe it's YouTube. But I don't think it's the Blu-ray player I have sitting under my TV.

No comments: