Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Making Blu-Ray Relevant Again

Keith Phipps makes the argument for the Dissolve that Blu-Ray discs are the new vinyl records:

In a piece headlined, “Who are the 6 million people still getting Netflix by mail? I’m one of them,” Guardian tech reporter Alex Hern lays out the most compelling arguments for films on disc, particularly on Blu-ray. They look better—even a 1080p stream can show signs of compression—they sound better, and they’re not dependent on the reliability of an Internet connection. Beyond this, they still make money, even if it isn’t as much money.


There were better 2014 films than Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, for instance, but few as fascinating, controversial, or so famously the product of a clash between a director and a studio who didn’t always see eye-to-eye. And while it’s probably too soon to perform a full look at the whole, uncensored story, surely the film’s Blu-ray—which lists at $41.99—should have included more than three 20-minute making-of featurettes. Part of what made DVDs so exciting in their golden age was the wide variety of features found on many discs—and expected of high-profile releases of Noah’s scale. Why should a superior technology be giving viewers less?

Even though I’m an avid collector of physical media, I never hopped on the Blu-Ray train. The artifacts in a 1080p stream aren’t noticeable to me at typical viewing distance, and the typical convenience of a $5 rental1 or Netflix stream outweighs the slightly better quality of a $25-plus Blu-Ray. And many purchased iTunes movies now come with extras, too.

Vinyl isn’t just experiencing a resurgence because of a better perceived quality;2 it’s also about the experience of the product. There’s the careful balancing of the needle on the record, the requirement of flipping it over partway through, and the generous space afforded to creative artwork and packaging. There’s also the warm, analog sound, which isn’t better by any technical merit, but which sounds more human, or just a little bit less precise. Even if they had beautiful packaging, Blu-Ray discs don’t really have any of this. They’re still crisp, digital movies, placed into a mysterious box that reproduces the image in silence and darkness. It’s too cold and too calculated for a vinyl-style resurgence, with the exception, perhaps, of the most dedicated cinephile.

  1. Speaking of which, I tried to rent “Rosemary’s Baby” last night on iTunes and it took several iterations of quitting the app and restarting it to make it work. I kept getting the most perplexing errors, like that my iTunes Library file couldn’t be found, to my momentary panic. ↩︎

  2. See also Hydrogen Audio’s vinyl myths article↩︎