I guess I really, really hate that Blu-ray player

June 9th, 2012  |  Published in tech

Ben wanted to rewatch Poltergeist last night, which entailed a quick trip into the garage, where all the DVDs live now. We don’t have a lot. There’s just one Ikea Billy’s worth, plus a small amount of overflow on another shelf. The collection consists almost entirely of plain old DVDs, but includes exactly five Blu-ray discs (one Blade Runner plus four Cohen brothers movies from a box set). 

It’s not the most consistently thought out collection in the world. A  chunk of it could count as curated, were the collection not hidden from everyone in the garage, and that chunk represents things loosely classed under “will want to see again and again and again until dead,”  “believed to be important and so need to have on hand,” and “sentimental favorites.”

With the advent of streaming video rentals, the calculus for inclusion has changed some, so the classification “will want to watch again” has become more stringent. An iTunes or Amazon rental is $3 – $5, so for the average DVD under consideration for inclusion, “will want to watch again” has become “will want to watch again at least four or five times.” Probably more, for reasons I’ll get into below. Having no idea how long I’m going to remain alive, but believing — based mostly on the sort of anxious grandparent math people start doing some time in their 30s — that I’m getting close to “over the hill,” there aren’t a ton of movies that can tumble into that designation with much grace or conviction.

The other chunk of the collection — the things that are not Star WarsThe Godfather, or a number of things from 1999 (the year I noticed that Hollywood was suddenly not in the early ’90s any longer) — is less well considered and reflects a period after my four-year-long post-army slump when plunking down $20 for a movie I’d sort of enjoyed in the theaters and figured I might some day enjoy discovering again during a fantasized period of silver-haired maturity seemed like a fine value. An investment, even.

One thing I’m glad of, I guess, is that the collection doesn’t seem to include much of anything I thought I should have, which is maybe surprising when you consider this:

Over the past several years I’ve been periodically taken by how much stuff I’ve got. Lots and lots of it.

I think back to the winter of 1994, when I left for Ft. Knox with a small gym bag that had everything I felt I needed and a number of crates scattered around two houses that had everything I figured I’d get back to some day. I think back to some time in 1995 when I told people we might think of as executors for my last life that I was fine having a lot of that stuff consigned to a burn pile. That was not a bad place to be, where stuff is concerned. In fact, I’d say be that it would be better to be without most of it.

But from 1997 on, I began the process of re-accumulating. Here we are 15 years later and I’m back up to lots of stuff. Well … almost back up to it, because I’ve been shedding stuff again. Nothing like asking people to burn it for me while I hide out in Korea, away from the smoke and flames of burning consequences and encumbrances, but the Woodstock Goodwill has been writing out a lot of receipts lately.

So, for a few years I’ve been thinking about the whys of having all that stuff. One uncomfortable thing I see out of the corner of my eye now and then, when I relax and don’t look for it, is the idea that a lot of things — books, movies, discs — are assertions. “I’m the sort of person who likes this thing.”

That creates complications, because I don’t want to be a person about to whom that motivation can be ascribed.  It’s just a terrible reason to make life harder with the weight of stuff that must be maintained, placed, kept track of and kept out of the way when unneeded. 

Anyhow, that’s not what this is really about. It’s mostly about the fact that  there’s a big, problematic collection of plastic in the garage that takes up space, and Ben wanted to find part of it to watch it. Great. For the record, Poltergeist is a good thing for the collection. I think it’s there honestly. Not for the stilted “you only moved the tombstones! You didn’t move the bodies! You only moved the tombstones!” bit that briefly reminds us that we live in a world where people needed to hear that to better understand a swimming pool full of coffins, but for the better moments before everything goes completely wrong. 

So we went into the garage and started looking. Then we fed the disc to the Blu-Ray player, which spent an inordinate amount of time wheezing and vibrating before actually playing the movie, reminding me that it was only the movie’s relative age and the studio’s treatment of the content as a passing opportunity for a few bucks —not as part of some marketing gestalt—that kept us from being held hostage by no-skip commercials or  a ridiculous and unnavigable menu structure.

There was a moment, too, after the initial moment of “this technology sort of sucks because it exists to do more than just show a movie” grunting from the player that I felt myself become nervous because a number of discs Ben has enjoyed have been handled with less than archival delicacy and I wondered if this would be one of them. It had taken us a while to get around to deciding on Poltergeist, and I didn’t want to have to pick something else. 

So when Ben got up to go the bathroom, I went into the garage and picked out five movies Al and I have agreed we must watch again some time soon and started feeding them into Handbrake, which in turn handed them off to MetaZ, where I could tag them and drag them into the archive drive, where iTunes will serve them up to our Apple TV when we’re ready to watch. It seems to take about 3/4 of the running time of the movie to make a version that will look pretty good when streamed to the AppleTV (I’m still trying to fiddle with the settings needed to get the darker scenes and blacks a little better) and comes in at under 2GB. 

In some ways, this is a project that will complicate other things while slowly relieving me of the weight of physical objects. Instead of imaging a be-sweatered and silver-haired me walking into the library to retrieve a disc, I have to imagine a be-sweatered, silver-haired me noticing that the backup drive is making a funny noise, or realizing that the switch behind the t.v. has blown a port. There are other possible horrors, too: What if a space goat eats all the world’s knowledge of playback of an mp4?

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