The Future of Home Video

(March 2014)

Blu Ray versus DVD (as of 2014)

I’ve seen people comment that they really can’t tell the difference between DVD and Blu Rays in quality; so here’s some comparison images:

The Hunt For Red October

Dr. Strangelove

The Blu-Ray screencaps were taken from blu-ray.com and the DVD screencaps were taken with an ordinary DVD drive in a computer and then upscaled to Blu Ray resolution via image editing software.

In my own personal experience, I’ve found that if you play DVDs in a modern quality name brand player capable of upconverting video, and you’ve set your TV up properly by turning off all the “motion compensation” features; you’ll achieve video quality equivalent to “medium grade” Netflix video.

With that said, a properly mastered Blu Ray from a high quality negative (e.g. Patton’s 70mm) will look lightyears better than any DVD-grade source, whether it’s on your television or device screen.

Thoughts on the Future of Home Video

Blu Ray is new enough that some of the older video standards holding us back can be dumped – for example, the first Blu Ray player ever released: the BD-P1000 by Samsung – had a HDMI output; which is a lot “cleaner” than the older analog video outputs which had to be catered to when DVD first came out.

This particularly shows up in color grading – look at the Hunt for Red October comparisons linked above. Blu Ray throws away a lot less color information than previous video formats.

However, the current generation of HDTV technology dates back to 1987-1996, so there's still some “legacies” hanging around – remember that back then the HDTV spec was done around CRTs, thus you needed interlacing. Also, HDTV had to be capable of being transmitted through analog cables as HDMI didn’t even come out until 2002.

The new 4K stuff (and higher) coming out in the next couple of years are going to be unleashed into a world of LED Flatscreen LCDs which don't need to be interlaced, and with digital cables [HDMI] as standard; so they can be more aggressive in preserving video signal quality.

Right now, the standard projection system in theaters is increasingly 4K Digital Cinema and that’s good enough for a screen 52 feet wide by 22 feet tall, giving us a resolution of 53~ pixels per square inch of screen.

By comparison, a 102 inch 16:9 TV with the same 4K resolution will give us a resolution of 1,990~ pixels per square inch of screen.

As a bonus, the screen will be much better calibrated than a movie theater projector; because a lot of movie theaters tend to forget to remove the special equipment for 3D movie projection when showing a normal movie, and 3D projection lenses tend to cut the amount of transmitted light by a good amount.

Ultimately, I think we have at best one final generation left for home video because Netflix is increasingly massacring home video sales.

Why spend money acquiring all nine seasons of The X-Files in home video format and filling about 1 linear foot of bookshelf space with the boxes, when you can stream the show and not have to worry about changing discs?

Also, ultimately, very few shows are actually worth re-watching in their entirety. You’ll find that you really like about a dozen or so episodes and Netflix itself caters to this; as you can flip through all 202 episodes of The X-Files without having to change discs to get to the twelve or so episodes you really love.

Likewise, very few movies are actually worth purchasing in physical format – are you going to watch a random Jason Statham movie again? Streaming wins the day once more.

I believe that the final video format is going to be some sort of optical disc format that can hold 150-250 GB of data – as of Q1 of 2014, Sony and Panasonic were working on a optical disc that could hold 300 GB and working around a projected 2015-16 release date for said disc.

There’s still a market for optical discs because a lot of North America doesn’t quite have cheap truly high speed internet access yet outside of a select few markets – DVDs can deliver 1.3 MB/sec throughput, Blu Rays 4.5 MB/sec and a future 200~ GB disc with 5,500 seconds of playtime (1.5 hours) would have a throughput of 37.2 MB/sec.

As of Q1 2014, the fastest speed available from Verizon FIOS (75 MBps) is about 9.38 MB/sec and you pay between $70-$80 a month for that service.

In an age of increasingly multi device households, 9 MB/sec isn’t going to cut it when you want to stream 4K quality video for the big TV and actually still do something else in the house (Internet or stream something to a smaller TV in a child’s bedroom) at the same time.

Large capacity discs like that 200 GB disc might also revive home video collections; because if you held that disc to Blu Ray quality, you’d get 12.5 hours of video on it – if it was down to DVD quality, you’d get 43.7 hours of video. Real world numbers would be likely higher, as the 200 GB discs would be using much more modern video codecs than DVD (codec circa 1996) or Blu Ray (codec circa 2003).

That’s more than enough to put an entire season (HDTV) of a modern cable TV show, or multiple seasons (SDTV) of older TV shows like “Married with Children” on a single disc; making it more attractive against streaming video.

The reason why I think we’ll see more SDTV or 720p HDTV bundle releases of television shows on the final home video format is that bluntly put...there aren’t that many television shows actually worth the cost of remastering them in HDTV (or higher) from their original 16/35mm negatives. In some cases, they may have actually been shot on videotape, making any kind of HD master impossible.

It was cost effective for CBS Paramount to remaster first Star Trek then Star Trek: The Next Generation in HDTV because they’re such cultural icons in American popular culture and for Sony to have Breaking Bad remastered in 4K because it’s so highly rated... but for example, seaQuest DSV is never going to be fully remastered as it’s just too niche and not well known.

Additionally, even with film, you can’t get quite as much detail as you’d like. The 1980s had a lot of films made on cheap quality film with a lot of noise and grain inherent in the picture. Watch Aliens or Robocop to see what I mean.

One example of film quality impacting detail is Sony’s remastering of Taxi Driver in 4K for the Blu Ray release. They found that at best, they were getting around 3K of picture quality from the negatives; but they did it at 4K anyway since oversampling was good.

There are a rare few films that actually can be restored in 8K; but they’re extremely rare because they were shot in 70mm (Patton and Lawrence of Arabia) and that was significantly more expensive than 35mm to shoot in.