Blue Laser Blues

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There we were, my wife and I, ready to sit down, relax, and watch a good movie from the comforts of home. Our daughter was in bed, our dog was curled up on the rug, and our wine glasses were full. All we needed to do was press "play" on our new high-resolution disc player, and the magic of hi-def home theater would begin.

Earlier in the evening, just to make sure the new player's HDMI and coax cables were hooked up properly, I had watched the disc's opening promotional clips. After an initial clumsy and excruciatingly long "boot up" process to get a picture on screen, I was thoroughly impressed by its dynamic menu graphics, amazing picture, and soundtrack clarity.

Now we all know that the true measure of success for A/V technology is how well it enables its audience to escape into a movie or song. One should never be conscious of the gear that's producing the picture, but should instead become naturally immersed in the world of the movie or melody of the music. Initially, I was pulled right into the action, but then something went wrong.

About 50 minutes into the movie there was an interruption. It was nothing more than a brief pause, much like the common glitch that happens once in every DVD that I've ever watched. But then 10 minutes later, after replaying a section of dialogue that we had missed, the glitch turned into a full-on crash that was only corrected by a total, pull-out-the-plug reboot.

I had been so immersed in the movie at the time of this irritating interruption, that I even tried loading the disc in my progressive-scan DVD player to see if it would play there. Of course it did not. I even checked our pay-per-view channels to see if this particular movie was available. It was not. I was getting really frustrated.

Once I determined that getting this disc to play on this player was the only way I would see the conclusion of our movie that night, I discovered a way to finesse through the glitches. Something new was starting to happen. Instead of completely crashing, the dialogue and picture would fall out of sync, and once or twice a loud popping sound blasted out of my speakers. I found that by rewinding the disc for a couple seconds, I could re-sync it, at least temporarily. Eventually the movie began to flow smoothly, and although we eventually lost ourselves in the storyline again, I never let go of my death grip on the player's remote control as I awaited another annoying snag.

The conclusion to this story isn't, well, conclusive. I'll leave the technical analysis to the Tony Grimanis and Michael Heisses of the world. Was it a problem with the player? Maybe, as neither Blu-ray nor HD-DVD has been immune from trouble since their initial launch. Was it a disc authoring problem? Maybe, as neither formats' discs lived up to initial expectations for either format. Or, was it an HDMI or A/V processor problem? Maybe, given all that's been written on the idiosyncrasies of those technologies.

Does it matter to me what the problem was? Not really, because average consumers who can now buy these products at retail won't either. They just want to hook up their player, pop in a disc, press play, and watch a movie without interruption.

The other night I was just like any other consumer who wanted to enjoy a good movie experience. By the end of it, however, I'd gone from thinking I had to have one of these new players, to wanting to send it back from whence it came. Best of luck to you, Mr. Custom Installer, as the unofficial beta testers for the CE channel. Eventually the pay off for blue-laser disc technology will be great, but for now you will have to deal with the headaches.

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