Friday, December 27, 2013

The end of shiny discs

You might not be able to tell. I still have shelves upon shelves of DVDs and for Christmas we got the sixth season of The Big Bang Theory, we got the complete A Very Peculiar Practice and we have the Crackerjack Silents. All on shiny disc.

(Just as an aside, The Big Bang Theory disc comes with Ultraviolet, which should let you get a download version of the series too. But instead Ultraviolet is the quite hilarious work of companies who don't like working with Apple's iTunes Store yet seemingly can't quite work with each other, either. And definitely don't like working for you or I. It's only hilarious in retrospect. Last year I spent an evening trying to get the fifth season Big Bang Theory's Ultraviolet to do anything. Eventually I emailed all the companies and asked them to please use a grown-up system in future. Clearly, I have influence.)

But last night, Angela fancied watching Groundhog Day – and I couldn't find it.

I've actually got it on DVD twice as some anniversary edition came out some time with some extras on it or something, and I couldn't find either of them. The film is on my Mac and it looks slappingly better on that 27in iMac screen than it ever did on our ancient TV, but that's in my office. I'm sure I've watched Groundhog Day on my iPad; I think I've even watched on our TV set via my iPad. I used to stream a lot from my Mac to my iPad and then over a cable to the really ancient TV set.

It's a CRT television. It may have been the last CRT television set ever sold in the world. I knew that salesman looked extra happy when we were leaving.

But I can't stream to it any more as the cable won't fit newer iPads.

So all the bits are in place to mean I never need to play a DVD again and yet they aren't all in the right place, aren't all in the right row, all the time. My once quite substantial DVD collection has been pruned away over the years but still there are times when I need the disc and so that's what I grab off the shelf.

Until last night.

We watched another movie we found during the hunt but it felt like the end of DVD for me. Which is a bigger deal than average because DVD became a very validating part of my career. Somewhere around 1999 I persuaded BBC Ceefax to take a column about weekly DVD releases and that became the most popular page in the entertainment section. I think I then did it for BBC News Online too or perhaps they just took those Ceefax pages. But for some years, that's where you'd see my byline every week: Ceefax and BBC News.

I enjoyed it so much that when I stopped working for them, I took the column away with me and made it into a podcast. I still remember the drive home from London to Birmingham in which I thought of it. I'd read an article about this newfangled podcasting lark by Andy Inhatkho and, sitting at Oxford Service Station, I thought I'll do that.

For five years and I don't know how many episodes, I wrote and presented and produced UK DVD Review on iTunes from 2005. Doubtlessly because I was one of the earliest podcasters, it charted. UK DVD Review was in the top ten of all podcasts, in all categories and genres, across the entire world.

It wasn't entirely a statistical chance of my being early. There really were listeners around the world. I actually was big in Japan. The second greatest time in each year was my Christmas special when I'd pick my top ten DVDs and then the next week would get everyone else's. At least ten listeners on the phone, on the show, it was an utter blast and the sole reason I stopped was because that blast took a hell of a lot of time to produce.

I've often thought about returning to it and I get a gorgeous shiver whenever someone asks me – the idea that they would even remember it after all these years, it's fantastic – but I've also been aware that it does take so much time. I couldn't guarantee to have that time every week and coming back only to fade away again didn't appeal.

Now, though, I think the choice has been taken from me because DVDs are going away. I know they've been declining for years, I know there is a very good argument that download movies lack extras like commentaries – and I love, utterly adoringly love a good commentary – and I know that Blu-ray is doing okay. But I've not bought a Blu-ray player. I'd have to get a newer TV set in order to physically connect one in.

And if I did that, I think I'd be far more likely to buy an Apple TV so that I could stream direct from my Mac again. So I could buy TV shows from iTunes directly on it. I don't think Apple TV is a fraction as useful here in the UK as it is in the States where you can get various and many channels on it, but it's far higher up my wish list than a Blu-ray player is.

I'll miss DVDs. But last night was the first time I actually missed having a specific DVD.

1 comment:

Adam Bowie said...

I suspect this all boils back to your old CRT television. Nothing wrong with them by the way - I only reluctantly replaced mine. That said, my floorboards did heave a sigh of relief. You just need to be aware of the fact that the sound from flatscreen TVs is appalling - hence the recent surge in soundbars.

Anyway, I would say that you should invest in Bluray player at some point. But you're right, you'll almost certainly need a new TV to make it work. But you need only spend about £60 in somewhere like Richer Sounds to get something that will also have multi-region DVD (though not sadly multi-region Bluray). All the better for all those imported discs you bought!

The main reason I still buy shiny discs is that I hate being locked into one digital file system or another. My sister recently bought an Android tablet and asked me how she should go about moving her music and films/TV onto it from her iTunes library. Music was easy as it's nearly all DRM free. Sadly, I told her she had to forget about the video. You can't - legally or easily - do it.

Films and television programmes are still DRM locked. When you get one of those Ultraviolet discs, you have to choose which format you want if you want a download. Once you've chosen, there's no going back. Owning a disc does at least let you have a copy of the title in some kind of neutral format. Yes - you may neeed Handbrake to get it onto your tablet without resorting to studios' arcane systems. But it's doable.

I suppose the reality is that people just want to stream films these days via Netflix, LoveFilm, Blinkbox, YouTube, Sky or whatever. The concept of ownership is dwindling. And there is the storage issue of all those discs...