My Two Cents
Monday, 08 September 2014 17:19

A Bit of Release News and Some Thoughts on Blu-ray 4K (or: I Want to Believe, But...)

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We’ve got a couple of interesting pieces of announcement news to report today, and then I have some thoughts on the recent news about Blu-ray 4K. So let’s get to it. First up, the announcement news…

Lionsgate has just set A Most Wanted Man for Blu-ray and DVD release on 11/4 (SRP $29.99 and $26.98), with a digital release on 10/28. Extras will include a pair of featurettes (The Making of A Most Wanted Man and Spymaster: John le Carré in Hamburg).  [Read on here…]

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has just set 22 Jump Street for Blu-ray and DVD release on 11/18, with a digital only release set for 10/28. Both disc versions include commentary with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and actors Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, 5 deleted and extended scenes, The Perfect Couple of Directors, and 2 Line-O-Rama clips. To this, the Blu-ray will add 17 additional deleted and extended scenes, 6 more featurettes (Everything is Better in College, Janning and Chonah, New Recruits: Casting 22 Jump Street, The Perfect Line: Ad-libbing on Set, Don’t Cry Yet: The Mr. Walters Prison Scene, and The Dramatic Interpretation of 22 Jump Street), Joke-a-Palooza, 4 more Line-O-Rama clips, and 2 bonus videos (Zook & McQuaid’s Football Tape and Jenko Split).

Also today, CBS has announced the extras that will be includes on Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Seven and Star Trek: The Next Generation – All Good Things on Blu-ray (both due on 12/2). The Season Seven set will include all 26 episodes, 3 audio commentary tracks (featuring René Echevarria, Naren Shankar, Mike & Denise Okuda, and Brannon Braga), 7 Archival Mission Logs (A Captain’s Tribute, The Making of “All Good Things…”, Starfleet Moments and Memories, Special Profiles, Mission Overview Year Seven, Inside Starfleet Archives: Dressing the Future, and Departmental Briefing Year Seven: Production), 2 featurettes (Journey’s End: The Saga of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Closed Set: A Tour of the Real Enterprise), and promos. All new for this Blu-ray release (and all in HD) are 23 deleted scenes, a gag reel, the 3-part The Sky’s the Limit: The Eclipse of Star Trek: The Next Generation documentary, and the In Conversation: Lensing Star Trek: The Next Generation featurette. Meanwhile, the All Good Things release will include audio commentary by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, 6 deleted scenes, episodic promos, and The Unknown Possibilities of Existence: Making “All Good Things…” featurette.

On a related note, Anchor Bay Entertainment is releasing the documentary To Be Takei, about the life of Trek actor George Takei, on DVD only on 10/7. The key is, it will be an Amazon exclusive.

Speaking of Star Trek, I’ll have more to say on the future of TV Trek on Blu-ray in tomorrow’s post, so be sure to check back then.

Now then… on to Blu-ray 4K…

On Friday, the Blu-ray Disc Association revealed at the IFA electronics trade show that the first 4K Blu-ray players should arrive in stores in time for Christmas 2015 (so not this year, but next year). You can read more on this here at CNet. Naturally, lots of Bits readers over the weekend emailed me to ask what I thought of Blu-ray 4K, and it inspired a pretty good discussion over on The Bits’ Facebook page. So… here’s what I think:

I personally love the idea of 4K. I’ve seen lots of 4K home display demos, including film content mastered and projected at 4K. Indeed, 4K digital projection is common to theatrical exhibition in theaters around the country. And I really love the idea that discs might continue to be relevant for another decade or more. The problem, I think, is two-fold. First, based on my twenty-plus years of observing the home video industry from within as editor of The Bits, and especially considering the directions I’ve seen the industry move in over the last five years or so, I see little reason to believe that Hollywood will give Blu-ray 4K anything other than cursory, short-term support. Second, I see scant evidence that consumers as a whole have any interest right now in resolutions beyond 1080p, which exacerbates that first problem. Let me elaborate on both points.

First, the industry. How many Blu-rays have you purchased recently and been disappointed by? I’m not talking about the fine work of great indie labels like Criterion, Shout! Factory, Olive, Twilight and the rest; I’m talking about the major Hollywood studio releases. How many of those Blu-rays have you seen in the last few years that have been dumbed down, released with badly Photoshopped cover artwork, generic menus, and little but a few EPK featurettes on board? How many times have you purchased one of these discs only to discover problems in the picture and glitches with the audio that have gone uncorrected? How often have you purchased a disc only to learn that some of the special features it should include have been given away to retail partners as exclusives? Or how about this: How many times have you started buying a favorite TV series on Blu-ray, only to discover that the studio has stopped releasing follow-on seasons on the format, opting instead for just DVD and digital? Or heard that a favorite TV series has been remastered in high-definition but no Blu-ray release is planned? And why are so many of these titles released on digital HD a few weeks before the disc versions street? These sorts of things happen a lot, don’t they? Ever wonder why? I’ll tell you.

More and more, in order to shave costs and increase profitability, the major studio’s home video operations have gotten slashed. Huge numbers of employees have been let go, including many of the very people who understood the home video enthusiast market best, who made sure that problems were corrected before the discs went to replication, and who were actually invested in their own product. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment almost exists in name only at this point. Paramount outsourced their almost their entire home video catalog operation to Warner Bros. Fox isn’t even bothering to send out review product to the press, and even Warner Bros recently shut down their press site. These are all signs of an industry that’s not really interested in promoting physical media anymore. Sadly, most of the studio home video executives who really built the DVD and Blu-ray business are gone – either laid off, downsized, retired or they’ve moved on to other things. They’ve been replaced with personnel from the theatrical side of the industry (which hasn’t exactly been well run of late – see this story at the L.A. Times), who have little experience with the home video business, little connection with the actual product they produce, and little understanding of the audience for that product (in other words… you). These people are naturally eager to make their mark with “the next big thing” while also increasing studio profits. Digital streaming serves both of those needs very nicely. Discs do not.

The impact of this industry-wide brain drain has been felt in a few ways. More and more you’ve seen discs devalued in favor of digital and streaming. You’ve seen your own importance to the industry as an avid consumer of movies on disc be devalued in favor of the studio’s partnerships with retailers. And the industry has had little patience for anything that takes their focus away from the digital goal, which why studio support for Blu-ray 3D is on the decline. Blu-ray 3D is a niche market, sure, but that’s what the home video business is these days. Look at Shout! Factory and Criterion – they’ve built a very nice business on finding and targeting niche audiences with great product. The big studios aren’t interested in this. They can’t be bothered with it.

The home video industry as it exists today is still willing to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks, but when stuff doesn’t stick big the industry doesn’t stick around. So my fear with 4K Blu-ray is that the studios will offer a short-term, half-hearted commitment, encouraging consumers to spend money on new hardware, and then when 4K doesn’t reproduce the massive financial windfall of DVD (which it won’t), the industry will lose interest like it already has with Blu-ray 3D and we’ll be right back to where we started. The unfortunate truth is, Hollywood is just too hell-bent on building a future without discs.

Then there’s consumer interest in 4K. I just don’t see it. Many enthusiasts are excited for 4K, but even in the various enthusiast discussion forums online you see ongoing debates about the value of 4K in the home given typical viewing distances and the consumer viewing environment, etc. Sales of new 4K TV sets have been less than inspiring. Many consumers have only just recently upgraded to HD and regular Blu-ray. Judging by the number of people who continue to ask us questions about DVD releases, many of them still haven’t done so. And we tend to forget that American consumers lived with 4x3 NTSC analog television for fifty years – not because there weren’t better alternatives available but because it was simply good enough for most consumers. I suspect that digital streaming content in 1080p will be good enough for most people. There are many enthusiasts, myself included, who are excited about the idea of watching movies at home in 4K, but it’s probably at best a niche market. In other words, it’s a new laserdisc market. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Except I just don’t see that the major Hollywood studios are all that interested in catering to a niche market.

So I’m worried about the idea of 4K Blu-ray. I want it to be great, I want it to be the next big thing – the thing that saves physical media for another decade or more. But I just don’t trust the home video industry, as it currently exists, to offer the kind of visionary, long-term commitment that would be required to make that a reality.

To put this in a way X-Files fans will appreciate: Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. But like Dana Scully, I need some serious convincing. I’m certainly willing to be surprised. We’ll see.

Speaking of which, where the hell is The X-Files on Blu-ray?

You can expect to read more on Blu-ray 4K here at The Bits in the weeks ahead.

Now then, we’ll leave you today with a look at the cover artwork for both Trek titles, To Be Takei, 22 Jump Street, A Most Wanted Man, and The Signal (click on the covers to help support The Bits by pre-ordering these titles on Amazon)…

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Seven (Blu-ray Disc)    Star Trek: The Next Generation - All Good Things (Blu-ray Disc)    To Be Takei (DVD)

22 Jump Street (Blu-ray Disc)    A Most Wanted Man (Blu-ray Disc)    The Signal (Blu-ray Disc)

Stay tuned...

- Bill Hunt


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