Last month, Disney released it’s first classic animation title on Blu-Ray, Sleeping Beauty.
The Pixar Blu-Ray releases (Ratatouille and Cars) look awesome, and I had high hopes for classic Disney animation in all its high def glory. Plus, with Sleeping Beauty, they have finally mastered the movie in it’s full Super Technirama 70 aspect ratio.
Usual complaints about over color timing issues aside, the disc looks beautiful. (The complaints may be justified, but I don’t think anyone really knows due to the nature of the mastering process.) And there are some great new special features.
The downside to Blu-Ray is the requirement of a $400+ machine (and a high def monitor) to play it back. We do not (yet) have portable Blu-Ray players. And if the format does not takes off, we may never get them.
Disney did a smart thing with Sleeping Beauty – they included a DVD with the Blu-Ray disc. This way, you have a HD copy for the home theater, and a regular DVD for the kids’ room or the car. You cannot easily (or legally in some countries) play this on your iPod or portable media player, so it’s still not ideal.
Wall-E came out this week, and like the previous Pixar releases, it is beautiful. But instead of a bonus DVD, they included a “Digital Copy”, which lets you (in theory) watch the movie on your computer (Mac or PC) or iPod.
I don’t like the digital copy solution as much as the DVD approach. The digital copy is highly compressed, so the quality is far worse than the DVD. But perhaps more importantly, I’ll still be able to play my Sleeping Beauty DVD a couple years from now, when the digital copy disc will be useless.
The digital copy is an iTunes file, using Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) scheme. To watch the file, I have to use an activation code, provided on a piece of paper inserted into the Blue-Ray case. The small type reads “expires November 18th, 2009”. I’m sure that if the file is activated it will continue to work after the expiration date. But don’t try to replace that computer or iPod. They’re taking the activation server down and you’ll be out of luck. And that third disc that came in the big fat Wall-E case will be useless and can only contribute to the landfill that the movie warns about.
The bonus DVD and digital copy files may be considered by Disney as an interim step until Blu-Ray players are more common. But unfortunately, that may never happen. Blu-Ray adoption has been significantly lower than DVD at the same point. The reasons for this could fill an entire post (and perhaps will), but they will have significant repercussions for the future of home entertainment.
If we go away from movies and television shows on physical media, what does the future hold?
(continued in part 2)