Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is Blu-ray Dead?

ZDNews has a column on the impending death of Blu-ray. It goes into some of the problems that Blu-ray faces but he misses a couple of vital reasons why Blu-ray will not take off like DVDs did.

Tiny Market
To play a DVD, all you need is a DVD player. To appreciate a Blu-ray you also need a fairly high-end high-def TV. Not a lot of people have these. This changes blu-ray from an impulse purchase to a major entertainment system upgrade. Conventional wisdom says that the format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD hurt them both but this overlooks how few people had TVs that would show the better picture.

High Entry Cost
Blu-ray player prices are coming down but they are still high. The lowest are in the $150 range (according to the ZDNews column). At this point in their life-cycle, DVD players were already commodity items going for under $100. Just as important, DVD prices were around $5 less than VHS tapes. It didn't take many purchases before you saved the initial cost of the player. Blu-ray disks cost around $5 more so switching to Blu-ray will cost you beyond the initial purchase.

No New Functionality
DVDs offered several advantages over tapes. A better picture was one but the smaller size, the ability to go directly to scenes without having to fast forward or rewind, and the DVD extras made it a completely different experience than a VHS tape. Blu-ray offers a better picture but no other new features. Many people consider the DVD extras the best part of the DVD and that drove DVD acceptance as much as anything.

If Blu-ray hangs in there then it might eventually gain market share as people upgrade their TVs but this will take a decade. Does Sony have the patience to support it that long?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Heroes and Brickbats

I read two columns today complaining about Heroes. Both are complaining that the show is not living up to its initial season. Before I take that on I will point out the places I agree with them.

Time travel has been overused. I lost count of the number of alternate futures the heroes have to avert. There are at least two that involve blowing up cities, one with a plague,  and one where everyone has powers and someone blows up everything. There was one where people with powers are hunted but I think that this was also one of the exploding city ones. You get the idea.

So what about any and all other complaints? I don't think that these people remember what they were watching two years ago. The series up to the December break was slow and confusing. None of the plotlines had been resolved and new ones seemed to be launched weekly. Hiro was the only fun character.

Not that it wasn't engrossing, but as of mid-October all we knew was that they had to save the cheerleader to save the world. We had no idea how that worked. All we knew was the New York was going to blow up. When they finally did save the cheerleader, people were still upset because it happened so fast and because Sylar seemed to get away.

The second half of season one was a lot better and that is coloring people's memories.

In the meantime, the writers are having a lot of fun with the Heroes/villains concept. Most of the characters have jumped back and forth. Hiro is the consummate good guy but he killed his best friend. Except he didn't. His speedster nemesis is a thief but is repelled by her killer associates. Sylar was always a nice guy when he wasn't slicing the tops off of people's heads. Now we see this as an aspect of his power (This makes scense. He didn't start killing people until his power woke up).

The show's producers have promised to end the current arc by the mid-season break. I'm holding off judgement until then.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Looking back at Lost

First season reruns of Lost are showing on a couple of channels. Watching them reminds me why the show was originally so popular and why is seemed to decline, especially in the 3rd season.

One thing that strikes you is how much used to happen in an episode. The episode might feature the person who got the flashbacks but there were usually sub-plots going on, some of them totally unrelated to the person with the flashbacks.

The flashbacks were a lot shorter, also. Several 3rd season episodes were little more than framing scenes for the flashback. In the first season the flashback never dominated the episode. I would guess that they took 1/4-1/3 of the screen time. In later seasons I would put it more like 2/3 of the screen time.

Knowing what is coming doesn't change the experience much. I know that half the first season cast will be dead by the end of the fourth season but the episodes are interesting enough to distract you from this.

There were a lot of dropped sub-plots. A few of them like the meaning of the numbers were resolved in other media. Others might yet be resolved but it is hard to see how. Danielle's entire backstory would appear to have been dropped when she was killed. Then there is the statue and the skeletons in the cave. Some plot points have been contradicted. It was important that Claire raise her child but Kate ended up with him.

Some characters lost their edge. In the first season Kate was secretive and manipulative. At one point she wanted on the raft so she arranged for Sun to drug Michael, drawing suspicion to Sawyer. She regularly lied and tricked both Jack and Sawyer. More recently she has simply become part of a love triangle (or possibly a love pentagram).

Of course the biggest difference is that in the first season we were still meeting the characters and they were still meeting each other. Plus the island was still new. Now we are familiar with them. Introducing new characters helps a little but the core cast is still there and getting a little tiresome. Especially Jack.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Princess Bride

I see that The Princess Bride is on AMC tonight. That gives me an excuse to write about it. This movie was a modest hit when it came out 21 years ago. According to IMDB, it cost $16 million and made nearly $31 million. At some point in the 2 decades after its release it became a cult classic.

I should mention that I have a Dread Pirate Roberts T-Shirt(I am Dread Pirate Roberts #73249—Ask about franchise opportunities in your area).

  • A few examples of the movie as a cult classic (not counting the special 20th anniversary release they did last year).
  • We had a staff sleep-over on the Columbus Santa Maria in May. It was mainly volunteers in their late teens. A TV was set up for movies as part of it. The two movies shown were Princess Bride and Batman Begins. The teens knew a lot of lines from Princess Bride.
  • Last week we were camping as part of a historic reenactment. Some parents asked their young daughter if she knew what our bellows was for. She remembered Miracle Max using one (and was surprised that I knew about the movie).
  • In the 2nd season of the TV show Eureka!, an Australian character lifted a line from the movie, "He just made a classic mistake. Never go up against an Australian when death is on the line."

Part of the movie's appeal is its timelessness. The only part that looks dated is the video game that Fred Savage is playing in the opening sequence and that lasts less than a minute.

A bigger appeal is that it is one of the few movies that works for multiple ages. The plot is simple enough for a young child but there is quite a bit of depth to it, especially the dialog. There are all sortf of actual historic references (most of them anachonistic). During the duel, they drop the names of real fencing masters. The names of the rival countries (Florin and Guilder) are old currency. The rule about never get into a land war in Asia is a real warning.

Then there is the historic setting. Most of the movie was filmed at Haddon Hall, my favorite English Country House. Parts of it are nearly 1,000 years old including the chapel where they did the wedding. The boat that they used was so accurate that it even had medieval-style teardrop-shaped deadeyes (and I expect that few people reading this will even know what I am talking about which kind of proves my point).

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The new season

The new TV season is off to a good start. All of my favorite network shows have shown at least one episode. Too bad the list of favorite shows is so short. Here's the list.

The Simpsons.
TV's longest-running sitcom, ever. Also the longest-running prime-time cartoon. The show was in a slump for years but pulled out a few seasons ago. It's impossible for it to be fresh after so many years but it still manages to be relevant. The season opener poked fun at Dog the Bounty Hunter and similar shows.

I didn't dislike the second season at the time but the third season feels much stronger. After an early a two-episode premier, we are now three episodes into the season. As always, we don't exactly know what is going on but we have a better idea than at this point in previous seasons. We do know that the heroes are going to save the world again but we also know that there are at least two alternate futures that the world has to be saved from - not counting the ones from the first two seasons.

The lead-in show for Heroes is about an electronics store nerd who got involved in James Bond-style spy stuff. The first season was ok but it always seemed like the show should be better. It either should have taken itself a little more seriously or a little less. The season opener seemed stronger. They seems to have gone for taking the show a little more seriously. It is just as well. The Middleman on ABC Family sets the bar pretty high for over-the-top spy spoofs. There is still plenty of room for a classy crime-solving show with light comedy. There were several of these in the 1980s but they died off in the 90s.

Pushing Daisies.
One of the best shows from last year and one of the most original shows ever. ABC is pushing it hard which is a good thing. The show has a lot of continuity from one episode to another but it also has a narrator who tells you everything you need to know. The show features off-beat plots and stunning visuals. It picked up right where it left off. With the exception of a longer-than-usual opening naration, it felt like the next episode in season one (this is a good thing).

For those who have not seen it, it features a pie-maker who can raise the dead with a touch (they die again on the second touch), his partner, a detective who has a fondness for knitting and pop-up books, his girlfriend who he brought back to life (and can't touch), her aunts (one of them is secretly her mother), and the waitress in the pie shop who knows almost everyone's secrets.