Much Ado About Blu-Ray

The holidays are long over and I bet some of you are enjoying brand new anime you received as gifts.  For me, this year meant a leap from watching anime on my tiny computer screen to watching it on a beautiful LCD TV.  Along with my new TV, I was also excited to pick up a Blu-Ray player.  I was all ready to join the 21st century of video until I forced myself to step back.   Are Blu-Rays worth the extra cost?  Are they worth buying a disc that I can’t watch on my latop?  Or should I keep buying DVDs and risk having to repurchase every series I own again in 10 years when I get tired of the poor video quality?

So far the answer to the Blu-Ray question is no.  Blu-ray has higher resolution and the sound is uncompressed, but these technical advantages of Blu-ray are less important than the lack of practical advantages.  I bought CDs for practical reasons: they were easier to store, harder to damage and they sounded better.  Blu-rays don’t sound better to me.  From my couch 10 feet away from the television Blu-rays don’t look better, either.  Nor did Funimation add extras to the Blu-ray disc that might not fit on a dvd.  For all of Blu-rays technical superiority, in the real world it did not impress me.

Even though I was not impressed by Blu-ray I was aware that my view might not be shared by everyone.  So, I conducted the most scientific test at my disposal: the girlfriend test.  I let me girlfriend watch an opening scene from East of Eden on both DVD and Blu-ray.  In order to prevent the nicer menus of the Blu-ray from influencing her decision I had her close her eyes while I prepared the video.  I then disabled the subtitles so the sharper Blu-Ray version wouldn’t give the right answer away either.  After watching both video clips my girlfriend thought the clip from the DVD was of higher quality than the clip from the Blu-ray.  That result doesn’t speak highly of Blu-Ray’s increased video quality.  I’ve attached a Youtube clip below (you’ll have to supply your own girlfriend/boyfriend) so that you can perform a similar test yourself.

Of course, even if the quality is similar, I’m sure some people still want the best that is available.  Plus, soon enough the disadvantages of Blu-Ray will go away.  Blu-Ray will become standard on Laptops, just as DVD is now.  For now though, unless you like nicer menus and sharper subtitles, DVD is not a game changer.

16 thoughts on “Much Ado About Blu-Ray”

  1. That was an interesting experiment…and probably a lot fairer than many since you had an impartial judge on hand! I daresay it depends A LOT on the equipment you’re using though; I can’t really comment on your experience since I don’t know the specs of your TV, player or cables that connect them up. I will say though I was initially unconvinced too but after seeing the opening scene to Blade Runner on a friend’s 42″ LCD I agreed that it looked noticeably sharper than that of the DVD I have at home.

    On the other hand my own 22″ monitor is capable of full 1080p video and I ensured that my PC’s specs were high enough for blu-ray playback when I put it together. Fortunately my living room is fairly small so I’m close enough to the screen to appreciate any improvement. Sadly my hi-fi system is still 2.0 stereo so I can’t vouch for similar advantages in sound quality. I don’t have the same movies on both formats so I can’t do the same experiment as you on my own setup, but my blu-rays *generally* look sharper on screen. Even so, I’d like to try a more scientific test on my home system as you did to check.

    Since the improved quality is subjective in many cases, the RRP is a deciding factor. With one (rather special) exception I’ve yet to spend more than £15 on a blu-ray disc, which is a fairly reasonable sum for standard definition DVDs. In other words, I’m not really paying more for my movies on discs than I did a year or two ago. To look at it another way, blu-rays are around the same price as DVDs used to be, but the humble DVDs are slightly cheaper now. Which means, if DVD quality is still good enough for you, it’s more affordable than it ever was!

  2. You’re doing something wrong if your DVD’s are looking better than your Blu-Rays. This should never be the case. Most Blu-Rays are uncompressed 1080p video whether 4:3 or 16:9. When displayed through HDMI to a 720p or 1080p television this should look far sharper, brighter, crisper than a compressed or upconverted 480p DVD. Viewing distance, HD connections, electronic interference, and television setup all need to be considered to give yourself the best possible viewing experience. The new FLCL discs look absolutely amazing compared to the DVD’s albeit a little to much sharping has taken place.

    tl:dr – Get at least a 40″ HDTV connected by HDMI to a Blu-Ray player and sit at the right viewing distance and there is no possible way DVD’s will look better than a Blu-Ray movie.

    1. Well, right now I already have an LG 47” LD450 1080p TV and a Blu-Ray player (Samsung BD-6500) connected by HDMI. Its true that the image is sharper when I stand right up close, but I still think that sitting on the couch it looks almost the same. What do you consider the right viewing distance?

      1. Typically with HDTV’s viewing distance is 1.5 to 3 times the diagonal size of the television. 47″ is about 4ft so a good viewing distance would be anywhere around 6 to 12ft away. I wonder if maybe you have a problem with the settings on your BR player. Make sure it is outputting full 1080p video to the television with full pixel support.

        1. The outputting is fine, and as I mentioned below it does look better up close. But if you are sitting on the couch, around 10 feet away, you can’t really tell the difference.

  3. I don’t have a BR player mainly because I don’t have a large enough TV to make it viable (still have an old 20 inch). But sometimes I wonder what is the point of collecting any type of media when in 10 years something new is going to take its place. If my DVD collection is just going to be obsolete in the future what is the point of collecting it all in the first place?

  4. Unfortunately, isn’t it the case that Funimation are really bad at authoring BR and DVDs anyway? From my own experience, the UK’s DVD releases of anime have really poor video glitches; problems with interlacing being the foremost.

    Perhaps an interesting test would be to try out a BR rip of a Japanese release? Some of the 1080p anime I’ve seen have been beautiful (the new Evangelion movies, for one, are scrumptious) :)

    1. An additional thought that occured to me later was that many blu-ray players these days have built-in DVD upscaling so I wonder if it’s possible that the player in question has really good upscaling and comparatively poor HD video rendering? I honestly can’t think of any other reason why SD would look better than HD! I’ve read a few articles where the reviewers found upscaled DVD and genuine blu-ray are virtually impossible to tell apart on certain setups, but this is a new one on me. Interesting indeed.

      And yeah, I agree the mastering job done on the NGE Rebuild movies is superb. I watched 1.11 earlier this week and was so impressed I immediately preordered the next one.

      1. To be clear the Blu-Ray does look better, at least when you are standing about a foot away from the screen. The DVD is much fuzzier up close compared to the Blu-Ray. My point is that from farther away, say 10 feet, it starts to look the same, to the point that if you forced someone to guess which looks better they may pick the DVD.

  5. I invested $150 on a media player because i don’t get dvds or blurays, i get .mkv or .avi…1080p works fine on my TV!

  6. I watch my few blurays on my PS3, one of the few I own on both formats is Watchmen (extended cut is exclusive to bluray here in the UK) and the bluray version is far superior to it’s DVD release. I’ve always thought live-action stuff is much easier to see the difference between the DVD and blu-ray where as most anime does look pretty similar on both formats so I’ve only been buying things I know will look great like Evangelion 1.11. Looking forward to Evangelion 2.22, Summer Wars and Akira on bluray!

  7. Everything I watch, I watch with my laptop, sitting on my bed, a large pillow supporting my back… I appreciate the comfort much more than I appreciate the larger screen of a TV. :P So, for now I’m staying with DVD’s.

  8. Licensed anime in the US sucks, they don’t have a better resolution, they’re resized DVD’s. That’s why fansubs have better material, because it’s copied from the japanese blu-rays.

  9. The rules I have:
    shows prior year 2000: DVD
    Since the remastering won’t change the quality much as they are not digitally produce to begin with.
    OVA and movies: BD
    One good example would be 5cm/sec, the BD shows much more detailed backgrounds. Plus it won’t cost as much since most of these are only one episode.
    If a show stuff 5 episodes into one DVD, I would get the BD version instead, since this usually means crappy quality. Japanese/Korean/Taiwanese DVDs often are of a higher quality because they don’t stuff too much episodes into one DVD.

  10. As Foshi already said: The BD should be far superior to the DVD quality. I don’t know East of Eden, which you “tested” with your girlfriend, so I can’t say anything about that. But I own several “Dual Format Editions” which comprise both a DVD and a BD, like “Ponyo”, “Ghost in the Shell” or “Summer Wars”. Especially the opening of Ponyo with all the tiny fish and other animals swimming around in the sea look spectacular on BD, whereas on the DVD you can hardly distinguish the smaller ones because of all the artifacts and noise.

    When you switch from DVD to watching BD, you should definitely move your couch much closer to the screen, otherwise you’ll miss much of the details.

  11. It’s not just the video resolution, Bluray allows for far less compressed video than DVD’s limited space does, which means far less ugly artefacting/blocking/etc, especially in motion-heavy scenes. Strictly speaking, Bluray should always trump DVD by a fairly large margin. Unfortunately in the real world this isn’t always as obvious as it should be because of unbelievably shitty Bluray transfers and other assorted factors (the fact that a lot of older anime was only animated in SD and has to be upscaled, viewing distance, variable Bluray players/TVs, etc etc). I also tend to be skeptical of Funimation’s Bluray transfers in particular, although they have improved a lot with their more recent titles.

    Also, like the others have mentioned, viewing distance does make a significant difference. If you are viewing from too far away you either need to sit closer or get a larger screen, or you won’t be able to tell the difference between 480p and 1080p video. If I’m not wrong, in order to fully appreciate 1080p from a 10-foot distance, your screen size needs to be greater than 70 inches, so you can see why it would be hard to see any difference on a 47-inch screen. For a 47-inch screen the optimal viewing distance should be approximately 6 feet.

    But then, you’ll need to overspend on an expensive TV/compromise on viewing distance, and then worry about figuring out which transfer compromises the the source material the least (which almost all of the time turns out to be the insanely expensive Japanese release – $300 for a single series wtf – that more often that not comes without subtitles). I would disagree that Bluray isn’t a game-changer, but it also happens to be an extremely inconvenient, extremely costly one that arguably isn’t worth the cost and effort. Funimation is getting better and better at not completely mangling their releases, and TVs are getting larger and cheaper (and better) by the year, but we’re not quite there yet.

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