Is the Day of the Disc Done?

The other day I bought a new Sony BDP-S5100 Blu-ray player to replace the old LG player that was having a lot of trouble playing Blu-ray discs.  Strangely, two of my friends separately asked me the same thing, “Why did you do that, isn’t Blu-ray dead?”  Then my friend Mike wondered if it was possible to give up his Netflix disc account to just live with Netflix streaming.  My wife has already given up her disc account, and so have many of my friends.

I’ve wondered about cancelling my Netflix disc subscription, but there are still plenty of movies, television shows and documentaries that aren’t available on streaming.  In fact, I recently joined ClassicFlix to get old movies Netflix doesn’t offer on disc or streaming.  And often I recommend films and TV shows to friends and they often report back they aren’t  on streaming, like Project Nim.

bd

Yet, I’ve got to wonder if the writing is on the wall, and if the disc isn’t under Hospice care.  I hardly ever play my CDs anymore, preferring to stream music.  And my DVD/BD collection sits ignored in a dark closet because I stream or rent.  Since the quality of streaming is constantly improving, I feel less and less need to buy Blu-ray discs.  I dropped my Blu-ray option on Netflix because the LG players was giving me so much trouble, but at ClassicFlix, Blu-ray discs are not extra, so I started getting them again.  They are wonderful, but some some HD streamed movies are nearly as good.  Movies like The Big Trail and The Apartment were just stunning in Blu-ray, so I want that quality if I can get it.

If I dropped Netflix discs and ClassicFlix discs, a whole world of video would be cut off from me.  I have added Warner Instant Archive streaming, which is like Turner Classic Movies.  I also get Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime.  I have years of streaming content waiting to be watched, and by the time I finished them all, years more of viewing would be added, maybe even the stuff I now get on discs.  If I was patient, everything will eventually come to streaming.

And then there’s the question:  Won’t canceling disc rentals and not buying discs speed up the move to everything being streamed?  Isn’t it a kind of protest against discs and a vote for streaming if people shun discs?

Blu-ray isn’t quite dead because if you want the best possible picture, Blu-ray is it, but streaming technology is nipping on its heels.  Netflix is even working on 4k streaming.  I probably shouldn’t have bought that Sony BDP-S5100 player, but hell, it was a good deal at $79.  It’s a marvel of technology, and about 1/3rd, or even 1/4th the size of the BD player.  Plus it plays BD discs MUCH faster, and it plays the discs the BG player wouldn’t.   And it also plays CDs and SACDs, and it has Gracenote built in, making CD playing more visual.  There’s even more, it has a host of smart TV features with many channels that I don’t even plan to use, because I own a Roku 3, but if I didn’t they would be very cool.

Yeah, I think, the writing is on the wall.  This will probably be my last disc player.

Back in the 1960s I often wondered what life would be like in the 21st century.  I never imagined living without LPs, or even conceived of the CD or DVD.  Yet, many science fiction books and movies imagined a future where we’d be less materialistic.  I guess that’s coming true.

JWH – 1/28/14

When I Was a Remote Control

If the remote control had been invented before 1951 I’m not sure my parents would have had me and my sister Becky.  As toddlers, my parents taught us how to change the channels on our Sears black and white TV, so they could laze on the couch smoking their Camels and Winstons and drink Seagram 7 and Canada Dry ginger ale while we twirled the knob to locate Topper or Have Gun Will Travel.

tv-1950s

Kids born today come out of the womb with giant IQs, able to handle hundreds of stations and dozens of gadgets.  I wonder if my four-year old self from 1955 could have competed with a 2012 four year old at all?  If my parents were still alive, I wonder if they’d long for the days when things were simple without all these goddamn gadgets.  Life was easier with a Kid Channel Flipper, or the Rug Rat Reciting TV Guide.  Oh yeah, that was another childhood duty – to memorize the TV schedule and let my folks know when their favorite shows were on.  It’s also why my parent’s generation had so many kids.  We baby boomers were conceived to manage TV technology for the Greatest Generation, or the radio generation.

Today, anyone with a finger can change the channel, and onscreen guides have made the Rug Rat Reciting TV Guide go the way of the Bad Child Switch Fetcher.  If political correctness had been invented before 1951 and my parents told that kid herding couldn’t involve belts and switches, they’d definitely been willing to get off their Brooks Brothers covered butts and do their own TV knob twirling.

I’ve seen some real cultural and social changes in my lifetime due to fantastic inventions like the TV clicker and screen guide.  Young people really have no idea how hard life was back in the 1950s.   Toddlers today are whizzes at iPads, but could they have dialed a rotary phone?  OK, I admit they could – modern tot nerds would beat wee baby boomers at any kind of pre-school smack down.  We never had any of those fancy Sesame Street advantages, but we did have to work harder for less rewards, which us boomers like to brag is character building.

TV was dinosaur primitive back then, with small low-rez screens that frequently got out of adjustment so you had to fine tune the vertical and horizontal hold knobs just right to see a steady, but grainy black and white picture.  And that picture had visible scan lines.   There was an array of other knob-less adjustment dials inconveniently located on the back of the set that required a screw driver to twist and mirror to see the results.  If you were too lazy to get the dressing mirror off the back of the closet door you could try to talk someone into describing the picture while subtly adjusting the settings from verbal clues.  What a lost art!

Also, TVs had vacuum tubes instead of solid state devices, and when a tube blew you had to get dad to drive you to the 7 Eleven. While he waited drinking his Schlitz in the Pontiac, you dashed inside to run the tube tester and hopeful find the arcane coded replacement in the test cabinet.  All this just to see some show call Huckleberry Hound that was so moronic you’d poke your eyes to avoid seeing it today but your seven year old self thought state of Eisenhower era pop art brilliance.

But back to the future – or our present.  Even though today’s TV pictures are rock solid, hi-rez, and huge, the show selection takes more brain power to select than that famous wild hair guy figuring out general relativity.

Now this brings us to the greatest invention in television history:  Netflix streaming.  It’s not perfect, but it’s almost as easy as Samantha’s twitch of her cute magical nose.  If they could only combine Siri with the Netflix interface, and we could sit in our recliners like Captain Picard and tell the HDTV what show we wanted and then say the words, “Make it so” we’d all reach video nirvana.

Recently I had to anxiously wait for Netflix to send me Blu-ray discs of Season 3 of Glee after watching Season 1 and Season 2 via their streaming service.  Don’t get me wrong, a Blu-ray picture and sound is Breaking Bad better than the current state of Netflix best streaming resolution, but the convenience of clicking to Glee on the Roku is Friday Night Lights goodness.

What a philosophical conundrum!  Fantastic picture versus fat-ass lazy highness.  Well, you know which one we’ll always choose, don’t you?

Music on iTunes iPhones is 5 transistor* radio crappy, but it’s what people prefer over the pain-in-the-ass fetch the CD and put it in the player hard work.

Streaming video and music is going to kill off the CD, DVD and BD disc.  So it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut used to say.  Vinyl, formerly known as the LP, is making a technological comeback, even through it requires the physical effort of storing albums, cleaning them, and playing them on mechanical players.  I’m sure it’s a passing fad.

If you pay attention to technology there are two consistent trends.  First, the evolution towards fewer moving parts.  Second, the evolution of ease of use.  We’re all heading to a future of moronic simplicity and slothfulness.

I love the CD and Blu-ray disc for their wonderful high resolution music and video, but they are goners.  Resting on my big motionless butt enjoying the brilliance of streaming music and video will always overcome the theoretical desire for high fidelity and high definition.

My wife and I never had children.  We never needed them.  We grew up with the remote control.  If you charted this essay on a graph, it would show the decline of civilization.  Well, like I said before, so it goes.  If you don’t believe we’re actually devolving with all this technological evolution, just picture this:  The Victorians had to play their own musical instruments if they wanted to hear music.  Even cavemen could drum like crazy man.  Imagine what Spotify would have done to the British Empire.

Stream with the flow.  Make it so.

JWH – 10/22/12

* When I was a kid, the cutting edge technology of portable sound was the transistor radio.  They came with a single mono earplug, and you listened to AM radio.  Of course 1961-1968 AM radio was the peak of musical genius in the 20th century.  These transistor radios were about the size of a iPhone (which by the way have millions of transistors) and  a tinny sound.  50 years later, I think portable sound still sounds tiny and tinny.   Listening to The Beatles on an iPhones makes them sound like they are five inches tall.

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