Monday, October 27, 2008

Could Bond Put a Sour Taste in the Mouths of Blu-ray Owners?

Is James Bond giving Blu-ray a bad name? Reports are flooding the 'net that James Bond Blu-ray DVDs from a new collection are failing to play in many Blu-ray players, leading to customer frustration and anger. This isn't good news for a format that's only just begun to resonate with the average buyer.

According to various online forums, like Amazon and AVS Forum, the new DVDs, which include titles like Die Another Day, Live and Let Die, and From Russia With Love, reportedly begin to play but then cut out part way through; get stuck in the menu; or just lead to a black screen. This has been reported from owners of a variety of Blu-ray players from a number of manufacturers; although it appears from comments that the discs play just fine on a PlayStation 3 gaming console (which has a built-in Blu-ray player). I can't attest to the issues from personal experience since I haven't tried the DVDs myself. But given the high number of angry customers posting online, it appears that an issue does indeed disc with at least a few of the titles in a few players. However, many cite that a firmware upgrade will rectify the problem.

The Bond franchise is hugely popular, so there have likely been major sales of these titles. Will these issues turn people off of Blu-ray? While a firmware upgrade might eventually solve the playback issue, it doesn't solve the initial frustration of curling up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn only to watch a black screen. Luckily, I gather from sifting through the comments that some consumers are forgiving.

"My positive experience with so many other discs gives me optimistic confidence that the problem with these 6 discs will soon be a fading bad memory," says one commenter on However, he's obviously an early-adopter and technophile, claiming to already own upwards of 100 Blu-ray discs.

Other buyers are unfortunately not so forgiving.

"The end result is a big fat black eye for Blu-ray," chimes in another buyer. "The Blu-ray Disc Association, the hardware manufacturers, and the content producers need to get their act together."

One techy reader on AVS Forum claims that these issues are the very reason he won't recommend Blu-ray to "ordinary people". "The worst part is just because these player's firmware can be upgraded, the studios think it's okay to break compatibility at will," he says. "It's not like they can't test these discs on the available players. There has to eventually come a point where they expect the mass market to be able to buy Blu-ray and they will have to freeze the feature set to what works on all players in the marketplace."

On a positive note, all those who did manage to get the discs playing cite impressive video quality and great sound.

Bottom line: it's clearly beneficial both visually and audibly to make use of the Blu-ray format, despite any one-off issues that might occur during these relatively early stages. Remember: HDMI didn't come out of the gate perfect either, but it has quickly become the de facto standard in home A/V connectivity.

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Lee_D said...

To put this in perspective, early on in DVD's history there were issues with discs that were defective owing to being rushed through production. I don't know if this is a bigger "black eye" than that.

The CE industry isn't perfect, but they do learn their lesson more often than not. This too shall pass.

minimalist said...

I'm the "black eye" commenter from Amazon.

And as much as I love the idea of Blu-ray and appreciate the quality it offers over DVD and digital downloads, I can't agree that DVD had just as many problems in its infancy.

I bought my first DVD player in 1998 (a year and a half after the first player was introduced in the US). Not once did I ever have a problem with a disc. The idea o "firmware updates" or "known issues" on a DVD manufacturers website was unheard of. This Blu-ray debacle makes the Windows Vista rollout look like a well oiled machine.

With Blu-ray, here we are well past the 2 year mark and in the last 9 months I have already had to install 5 firmware updates. The fact that the industry players are STILL futzing with firmware and changing the BD standards this late in the game is simply unconscionable.

And don't forget, the DVD format didn't have digital downloads nipping at its heels during its formative years. I'd say that this time around there is very little margin for error. The whole Blu-ray industry could very easily miss their window of opportunity if they don't get it together soon.