DVDs are being replaced, but they won’t be obsolete.

July 6, 2008 at 10:39 am | Posted in technology | 14 Comments

If you want Star Trek movies on DVD, but just never got around to getting them, then the DVD box set, Star Trek – The Motion Pictures (Special Edition) is for you. Actually, it’s for me. But maybe it’s for you, too.

Unlike some box sets in the past, every one of the ten movies in this set is the 2-disc special edition. And the first movie is the Director’s Cut which is, from what I understand, a significant improvement that makes the movie at least watchable if not great. And it’s less than $70!

This is a great time to pick up movies like this, because Blu-Ray is coming, and regular old DVDs won’t be made in the near future. (Less than 5 years, I’d guess.) And since Blu-Ray players also play DVDs, you won’t be stuck when buying DVDs on the cheap, unlike the folks who bought cheap cassettes in the late eighties, or cheap VHS tapes in the late nineties. The new machines will still play these babies.

So scarf ’em up! And keep your eyes out for other great DVD collections at low prices in the next year or two.

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  1. July 7, 2008. Derek has said Blu-Ray (never mind DVD’s) won’t be obsolete.

    What do you think 5 years? 10 tops, and Blu-Ray will be history too. Maybe less.

    Not that it means I don’t want to stock up on some DVD’s on the cheap. Heck. I still have 3 working VCR’s, and at my mother’s, a working 8-track.

  2. What I mean is that Blu-Ray won’t make DVDs obsolete now. Blue Ray players play DVDs, and HD tvs will still show old DVDs just fine. So when your current DVD player breaks, your DVDs won’t be useless when you upgrade to BluRay.

  3. Sorry. I understood. I was just taking it to extremes. Still. It’s amazing how fast obsolescence comes, and I suspect Blu-Ray’s life span might be shorter than some technologies.

  4. Well, CDs have lasted quite a long time, and though they are on their way out, there is not obvious physical medium that will replace it. Sure, DLing MP3s is the way now, and perhaps in the near future you will just bring your iPod into the store and buy a song or an album and they’ll put it right onto your iPod. Still, I wonder what the next physical medium will be for distributing recorded music.

  5. CDs had better not go anywhere. All of the downloadable formats are lossy-compressed. The audio quality markedly inferior to CD – in many cases, they sound worse than cassettes and vinyl did.
    Any musician willing to switch exclusively to a compressed format is one who doesn’t care at all about what he sounds like, and assumes that none of his fans care either.
    CDs had better not anywhere until some other medium of equal or better quality becomes popular. Once upon a time, there were several alternatives, but the only one that is still being published is Sony’s proprietary SACD. DVD-A discs were also promising, but I don’t think anybody is publishing them anymore.
    The problem with both SACD and DVD-A is that you need a new special-purpose player to take advantage of the special features and superior sound, and most people can’t hear much difference (especially if they don’t have high-end amplifiers and speakers.) These discs will play in standard CD and DVD players, respectively, but only at CD quality (or below – most DVDs have compressed audio.) Nobody is going to pay extra for a new format that sounds the same.
    The only reason SACD isn’t dead yet, is that most albums shipping in the format are priced the same as the CD version, but there still aren’t very many titles.

  6. You post about Star Trek DVDs but don’t mention the amazing, awesomely priced, Fan Collection that you JUST purchased?!?!?!

  7. Speaking of which, does this collection include any bonus materials? I’ve already got all of the TV episodes for TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise.

    I don’t have the original series yet. I’m hoping the new remastered version (with all the exteriors re-rendered using modern CGI) will be released in Blu-Ray format (for when I eventually get that PS3). Paramount bet on the wrong horse and released it in a hybrid DVD/HD-DVD format: http://www.amazon.com/Star-Trek-Original-Complete-Standard/dp/B000VDDDY6

    WRT the movies, they are not all director’s cuts, but they are all (especially the old ones) massively cleaned up. In the case of “The Motion Picture” they actually re-rendered many things with modern CGI – adding windows with starscapes to corridors that were once blank plastic. Most of this is to put back things that they had to originally cut, due to budgetary concerns. The later movies are pretty much as they appeared in the cinema, but with lots of bonus materials.

  8. If Derek will permit me to continue to dwell on music formats…

    Dave, you said that all current downloadable formats are compressed. Why is that? Would it be possible, either with current technology or something a little new, to make non-compressed downloadable files? Assume disk space and download time are not a barrier. (For even if they are now, which I’m not sure of, surely soon they won’t be.)

    See, I’m pretty sure physical formats are dead. For music now, and for movies soon. As for how to buy music for your iPod, I heard recently you can mark songs on your (sattelite?) radio, and then plug in your iPod to buy them. Distribution will not be a hurdle, it will be an advantage.

    Also, when one copies a song from a CD to a computer, do they suffer the same loss in quality? Just curious.

    BTW, Jenny, I think he did mention that cool new fan collection he just got (from his Dad?) on one of the other threads.

  9. I agree that there does need to be a way to store music recordings as they are, that is, with no loss whatsoever. This is especially true for musicians who record their own stuff, but I know there are many audiophiles that insist that any lossy compression just sucks. Some of these folks even say that anything digital is inferior, and the best way to listen to a recording is the first listen to a 33RPM record on a superior record player.

    But, for my money, MP3s with compression rates of 160 or more, or variable bit rate compression (VBR), are just fine. They sound just fine on my big speakers when playing my iPod through the stereo. And clearly the majority of people agree. This certainly does seem to be the way popular music will be distributed.

  10. To Derek: I rip most of my tracks with iTunes into 128K-VBR (variable bit-rate) AAC format. This is very good, and usually is good enough for my iPod, which I hook up the car. I can’t hear the distortions over the road noise. But at home, with good speakers, I can hear the difference, although it is only objectionable for a small number of tracks.
    256K AAC (used by iTunes “Plus” tracks) is hard to tell from CD, but there are still differences.
    The problem here is that most customers really don’t care. Look at the kids buying music – they like blasting it out of car speakers that are amplified beyond clipping. I have friends that are so tone-deaf that they can’t find any problem with 25K MP3 (they like it because they can cram 800 songs on a CD.) These people will be happy with anything the record labels dish out. But I don’t want to be stuck listening to that.
    It’s worth noting that Amazon’s MP3 download store (the likely winner if the record labels succeed in destroying iTunes) has extremely variable quality. Their bit-rates and encoding quality vary radically from track to track. Some sound very good, and some would make me want to demand my money back.
    To SCD: Yes, all downloadable formats are compressed. Uncompressed CD audio consumes about 10MB per minute. Lossless compression (where all the data is preserved) typically gives you a 2:1 ratio (about 5MB/min). MP3, AAC, ATRAC, WMA, and other popular download formats usually use a lossy compression algorithm – they throw away parts of the sound in order to get better compression. The good algorithms throw away parts you aren’t likely to hear, so you won’t notice the difference, but the more you compress, the more you have to throw away.
    A 128K bit-rate is about 1MB/min, making it very popular for downloads. Using the MP3 algorithm, most people can notice distortion at this ratio. Using AAC, the distortion is much less noticeable. You need to go to a higher bit-rate (yielding bigger files and longer download times) to reduce the distortion to the point where nobody will notice.
    Additionally, if you change the format of a track (say, from AAC to MP3, or to a different bit-rate for the same format) or do any kind of editing, the software must re-compress the audio, throwing away even more sound quality. After doing this more than two or three times, the result is painful.
    Satellite audio is compressed. It sounds better than analog broadcast radio, but it’s not CD quality.
    When you import (rip, copy, etc) a CD to your computer, it may or may not be compressed. It will depend on the software you use and the format you rip it to. WAV files are not compressed. WMA (Windows Media format) has a lossless-compression mode. Most other formats are lossy-compressed.
    Overall, I don’t object to the concept of compressed audio. I use it myself when I rip my CDs. What I object to is paying the same price as a CD (or sometimes higher prices, since I buy CDs from discount stores) for a format with inferior audio quality. I also don’t like it when my master copy (what I purchased) is in a compressed format, because I can’t manipulate the tracks (edit, convert to an iPod-friendly format, etc.) without introducing even more distortion (the effects are cumulative.)

  11. Dave: Just a clarification — when I said that the majority of people find MP3s an acceptable way to purchase music, I was not implying that it must therefore be the correct choice. I don’t subscribe to the “wisdom of the masses” yardstick. All I meant was that since the majority of people will pay money for MP3s, that’s probably the way it will be done.

    And in general I agree, I want my master copy to be CD quality. But I will make compromises in that area. I don’t generally edit music files.

    As for how much to pay, I am very interested in seeing how this plays out in the next decade or so. What business model will triumph? Will local bands with great talent still be able to find their audience? (cf. Net Neutrality) What will people (the masses) be willing to pay? Will artists in general be compensated more or less fairly that they have been? It’s a fascinating time.

  12. Here’s my prediction:
    Bands, like the rest of the population consist of smart people and stupid people.
    The stupid people will still get suckered into selling their souls (and, more valuable, their copyrights) to the record labels. They’ll get big advances and a lifetime of debt.
    But thanks to modern tech, the smart bands don’t need to fall into that trap, the way they used to. It is possible, for about $50k (well within what you can get for a home improvement loan) to build a proper home studio and equip it with professional gear. A band can incur this one-time cost and be able to compose, rehearse and record as much as they want. When it comes time to publish, they can hire a recording engineer for a week or two to record and mix the performance. They now have digital recordings of their work and they own all the rights. With these recordings, they can publish them on download sites (iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, etc.), and they can contract a publisher to make CDs (less than $1 per disc, with jewel case and inserts, if purchased in quantity) that can be sold at live shows and via a web site. Sites like cdbaby.com can do much of the grunt work to make this happen.
    A self-published band will have a hard time getting radio-play and nationwide distribution, but they will keep 100% of their profits. Compared with the typical big-label band, they will probably end up taking home the same amount of money, and they’ll own their own copyrights.
    And if this smart band becomes popular, they can negotiate a publication-only contract with a major label, where the label will publish and promote the album, but will not produce it or own any of the content.
    There are some bands doing this today, so it’s definitely possible. I think we’re just waiting for one such band to make it big for the ice to break, and then the world will recognize this as a viable means of production.

  13. So 5 MB/min gives no-loss compression? OK. So the problem is very temporary. That’s 225 MB for a typical 45 minute CD, or 225 GB for 1000 CD’s. That was a problem 5 years ago when hard drives were under 100 GB, now 500 GB is common. Soon HD’s will be even bigger still. So I predict that even those people that care about compression loss will happily be downloading all their music. Yes, there is still the license issue to work out (I don’t want to get Dave started on that), but it will get worked out.

    I’m telling you physical media is dead. Heck, it may not be long before we loose the compulsion to keep everything on our own computer. What if there was a system where you could play any song you want (or any movie for that matter) from some online source without having to have it on your own computer. Sure some people would still want their “own” copy to modify and such, but that would be a tiny fraction.

    Remember, we’re talking about the mainstream. I’m not condoning anything either, but in any instance there will always be a (relatively) few connoisseurs listening to vinyl LP’s or something, but that isn’t what we are talking about. Is it? We’re talking about what is going to be produced in general.

    Now, it may be that the “record labels” as we know them will disappear, and in future most music will be individually produced. Plausible. But I still don’t think it’s going to be a lot of house bands selling CD’s over the internet or something. It’s going to be downloads or file shares.

    Remember, the next generation of fans (and musicians weren’t raised on CD’s. They are an iPod generation. That is what they will seek. Compression is a temporary quick-fix for capacity and download rate shortages. These issues won’t last.

  14. More precisely, I know of no lossless compression schemes that are better than 5M/min. But a lossy-compression scheme at 680Kbps (equivalent of about 5M/min) will still throw away some data (although you probably won’t hear it). It’s the encoding algorithm, not just the data-rate that determines sound quality.
    Good call on not discussing licensing. That’s a whole ‘nother argument!
    WRT people not even storing their own music, such things exist (more or less) but have not yet been popular. For example, there are a few subscription services – where you pay a flat monthly fee and can download/play everything available. They have never been popular, in large part because you have to keep on paying in order to keep your music files from self-destructing.
    The iTunes Store has proven that the marketplace (at least right now) isn’t interested in renting music. Any kind of remote-storage system would have to involve the same economics.
    But it’s worth noting that the movie business (which has a very different marketplace) is almost there right now. Most cable companies now have a video-on-demand system, where you can watch any movie at any time. Some for free, and some for rent (i.e. pay per view).


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