Ask John: To BD or Not to BD?
As we’re still in the relative infancy of the Blu-ray format, especially regarding its support within the anime industry, the question of graduating from DVD to Blu-ray is largely a debate of practicality and personal preference rather than a clear-cut easy decision. The progression from VHS to DVD was simple, as even poor quality DVDs offered significant audio and visual advantages over VHS. So far, there’s largely not been as big a leap in quality improvement from anime DVD to Blu-ray. The Blu-ray format certainly offers the potential of significant advances over DVD, but few American Blu-ray releases have, so far, fully fulfilled that potential. So the decision to switch from collecting DVD to BD needs to be based on personal discrimination, personal interest, and practicality.
The advantage of Blu-ray is its ability to display resolution as high as 1080p versus the DVD format’s maximum resolution of 480p. However, most contemporary anime is still produced in 480p resolution, meaning that there’s little advantage to high resolution presentation. FUNimation has been the American leader in anime Blu-ray releases, yet many of FUNimation’s Blu-ray releases have been criticized by discriminating viewers. Blu-ray releases including D.Gray-man, Tsubasa Chronicle, Witchblade, Samurai Champloo, and Claymore have all been standard definition animation upscaled to Blu-ray resolution. In the process, Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid & Tsubasa Chronicle, which were both animated with 30 frames-per-second opening sequences and 24 frames-per-second episodes were forced to a constant 24 frames-per-second for their domestic Blu-ray releases, meaning that the opening animation sequences for both series are actually missing frames of animation on their American Blu-ray iterations. The domestic Blu-ray release of Witch Blade reportedly employs so much digital noise reduction that it actually has less fine visual detail than the earlier standard definition DVD release. The domestic Samurai Champloo BD release is likewise critisized for having too much digital noise reduction and edge enhancement. The domestic D.Gray-man Blu-ray release that claims to include Dolby True HD 2.0 Japanese audio, in fact, only includes standard Dolby 2.0 640kb Japanese audio. Bandai Entertainment’s upcoming Blu-ray release of Kurokami will contain fewer episodes per disc than the DVD release and will not include the Japanese audio track included on the DVD release. Manga Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie (included as a supplement with the Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray) has been accused of being a laserdisc source upscale that looks worse than the standard definition DVD release. Bandai Visual’s Blu-ray release of Akira is superior to the previous DVD release, but is still criticized for excessive noise reduction that results in a muddy image.
Apart from the degree to which fine visual and audio details are apparent and bothersome to individual viewers, consumers also need to consider practical availability. While FUNimation is aggressively moving into Blu-ray authoring, few other American anime distributors are following suit. Viz has stated that it’s unable to launch Blu-ray releases in America because its parent companies in Japan have yet to adopt Blu-ray. Media Blasters has mentioned tentative plans to merely experiment with Blu-ray releases this year. AnimEigo, Discotek, Nozomi, and Sentai Filmworks have not announced any plans to offer Blu-ray discs. The current cost of Blu-ray authoring makes Blu-ray releases for all but the strongest titles cost prohibitive and risky. As a result, there are bound to be numerous American anime releases available on DVD which will not make the transfer to Blu-ray. Collectors that want particular anime titles in an archival format should give serious consideration to buying current DVD releases because many current releases may never be available on Blu-ray.
In the case of titles that are available on DVD and Blu-ray, consumers that aren’t especially picky about small visual distinctions like filtered grain, edge enhancement, or off balance luma and chroma resolution may find that there’s little reason not to buy Blu-ray editions. There is a cost difference between DVD and Blu-ray, but that difference is increasingly shrinking. And in most cases, even poor domestic Blu-ray releases are still as good as, or better than DVD quality and are more “future proof.” In practical consideration, if DVD or Blu-ray are both options, why not opt for Blu-ray?
Many of America’s anime Blu-ray releases so far haven’t lived up to the full potential supported by Blu-ray technology. The most adamant cinemaphiles may decide to boycott or simply delay purchasing current American Blu-ray releases in favor of marginally cheaper, comparable DVD releases or hopes for future improved releases. But, I think that for average consumers and collectors, there’s little reason not to transition to Blu-ray. The major exception is the probable large number of anime titles currently available on DVD which may never become available on Blu-ray.