Regarding Moriarty’s Awesome Non-Stop Blu-Ray Coverage... Or Lack Thereof!
Published at: March 25, 2008, 6:11 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Y’know, some days it doesn’t pay to be a movie fan.
I’ve done tons of DVD coverage over the years here at AICN, and it’s funny... I’ve heard some people actually say, “But you guys don’t really cover DVD at Ain’t It Cool, do you?” I know I’ve been writing reviews for DVD since 1999 at least. And I’ve been a home video freak for as long as there’s been home video. I was a first generation video nerd in the ‘70s.
When I got my Blu-Ray player last November, I fell in love fast with the format and with my PS3, my first Blu-Ray player, and writing about that experience kicked off not only one of the best talkbacks I can remember recently, but my own experimentation with the format.
A couple of studios added me to their reviewer lists for HD content, and Blu-Ray discs started to arrive. I reviewed several, and then about six weeks ago, I stopped suddenly and completely.
Didn’t mean to. It’s just that my PS3 shit the bed.
Here’s the thing... I’ve been positively evangelical about the PS3 since I got mine. I know I’ve talked at least four friends into buying the machine, and I’ve repeatedly discussed my evolving admiration for just how adaptable and versatile machine it seemed to be. There are some sound issues that still need to be resolved, and some interactivity that is still being refined, but the constant stream of firmware updates (something I recall being horrified by when I first heard about them) is one of the things I really like about the machine.
Or at least, I did until today.
About six weeks ago, I was playing HALF-LIFE 2 one night and everything was fine. I’d just watched a new copy of MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN...
... which was so beautiful that I am willing to bet it looks better now than it ever did in theaters. I’ve seen two different film prints of LIFE OF BRIAN, and neither one looked even remotely like the image on the Blu-Ray disc. It’s actually a pretty striking film, one of the more historically accurate Biblical-era films (no surprise given the educational background of the Pythons), and even more relevant now than when it was made. The comedy here is dark and challenging, but it’s not sacrilegious at all. Instead, it has no respect for the various ways we find to kill one another and the ridiculous reasons we manage to make up to justify doing that killing. Brian (Graham Chapman in one of his very best performances) is basically a terrorist trying to run off an occupying force in his Middle Eastern homeland. To call that “uncomfortable” right now is an understatement, but leave it to the Pythons to make you actually think about the human and political and religious underpinnings of their humor and still manage to make you laugh till you cry from the sheer silliness of it all.
I digress. Point is, the system worked. There was no indication of the problem. Then I turned it off and went to bed.
When I turned it on the next day, it came on like normal. The same menu screen as always. The remote worked fine. I was going to watch THE ROCK in Blu-Ray, and when I put the disc in, I saw the familiar blue “loading” circle in the right corner of the screen, like a soothing cigarette burn. Only... it didn’t go away. It just kept loading. And loading. And loading.
I thought maybe it was the disc. I’d just opened it. Just gotten it in the mail a few days earlier. Maybe it was a defective disc. I took it out, looked at the surface of it. It looked fine. So I tried it again. And the second time, it did the same thing. Loading. Loading. Loading.
So it’s the disc. Obviously. After all, I’d just watched a disc the night before. I took LIFE OF BRIAN out of the case, put it in to double-check.
Loading. Loading. Loading. Loading.
Oh, shit. I tried CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. RATATOUILLE. PLANET EARTH. Nothing was working. So I decided I’d try one of the games. I’d just picked up ASSASSIN’S CREED and THE ORANGE BOX, and I’d been playing HALF-LIFE 2, chipping away at it a little bit at a time. I put in the game... and same thing. Loading. Loading. Loading. Loading.
Every other feature of the PS3 was still working. I could play any of the music I had stored in the hard-drive, look at the photos I’d put in. The trailers I’d downloaded from the Playstation Store were still there, and they still played perfectly. I used the wireless connection to download the DEVIL MAY CRY 4 demo, and sure enough, it played. Because there’s no disc in use, it played fine. But THE ORANGE BOX? It wouldn’t recognize it.
The machine had simply stopped recognizing discs of any sort. Seems problematic for a device that is built to play discs, eh?
So I did my reading online about similar examples of this issue, and it seemed like it happened infrequently. It wasn’t like the Xbox 360’s RROD. It wasn’t a widespread gripe or a nonstop problem. It was an occasional thing where it seemed like the laser just stopped working for some reason, and you would have to replace the whole machine in every case.
Great. I contacted Sony, and I asked them to send me the free shipping materials for me to send the machine back to them. And then I waited. And more Blu-Ray discs came in for me to review, and now... I couldn’t. They just stacked up on the desk. Taunting me.
I wouldn’t necessarily hunt GATTACA down again, but this is one of those titles that I’ll definitely watch again in high-def because I’m curious how it’ll look. Like THE ROCK, which I mentioned, or like this one...
I’m just curious how they’ll look. They’re not GREAT movies, but right now, the studios are just testing the waters, priming the pumps. The biiiiiig releases aren’t really here yet.
The ones I’m dying to see right now, the ones that just irritate me every day because there they are, on my desk, and unplayable in my house...
That galls me. Seriously.
I really want to see this again, and I won’t watch it until I can watch it this way. Which is also true of...
And there are bunches of others. ENCHANTED. UNBREAKABLE. GONE BABY GONE. SLEUTH. IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH. Freakin’ HIDALGO. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.
You get the point. It’s certainly not for lack of things to write about that I’ve remained mute on the subject of Blu-Ray releases this spring. I want to chime in, certainly.
And then today, the UPS guy showed up, as he is wont to do here at the Labs. Toshi likes to sign for the packages, and today, there was one that looked a heck of a lot like the box I’d sent off to Sony a few weeks back.
Yep. Inside, my brand-new PS3. I cleared the shelf space for it in the family room, plugged it in, hooked up the HDMI cable, then plugged the controller in so it could charge as I set the machine up.
Oddly, it was in “Factory/Repair mode,” which didn’t really make sense to me. That’s not how it was the first time I set up a machine. I was told that it would not be my original machine that I got back, but instead, it would be a brand-new one. That’s why I had to copy all my saved game info and other settings to a USB card when I sent the old one in.
But this machine had obviously been on at some point. I moved through the PS3 menu screen...
... and just did the bare minimum set-up to get started. I wanted to try some discs.
More importantly, I wanted to install the latest system firmware update. And pretty quickly, the PS3 told me I needed to do an update, and directed me to the System Update screen.
I did what it told me to, after setting up the wireless connection so it could access the internet, and it went through the update process.
The last step in the process is for the system to automatically restart.
Which it did.
And when it came back on, instead of the familiar onscreen menu you see above, it was just a red screen with the alarming phrase “A SERIOUS ERROR HAS OCCURRED, PLEASE CONTACT SUPPORT” written in a couple of dozen languages.
Bricked. Fried. Dead.
And when I called Sony Tech Support today, they told me that I can... send it back.
They also made sure to tell me that they have only a 1% failure rate in these machines. And they repeated that to me several times to make sure I knew that only 1% of their machines ever fail like this.
So how many millions of units do they have in the marketplace? And somehow, with only a 1% failure rate, both of the machines I’ve had have failed?
The first girl who helped me today told me that the update can do that to machines. Now, when I first got my PS3, one of the selling points was that the machine is essentially “future proof,” but if these firmware updates might fry your machine completely, then that’s not really future-proofing anything, is it? The girl seemed to be totally nonchalant in telling me this, too, like it shouldn’t bother me.
So suddenly, I’m feeling a whole lot less evangelical, folks. I’m going to call my friends who I convinced to buy the PS3 this week, and I’m going to make sure they know that this might be an issue. I thought I could sneer at the Xbox 360 RROD, but it turns out this machine is just as susceptible to sudden and complete system death. At least in my experience.
When I mentioned to the second guy I dealt with on the phone today that I felt like should write about why I couldn’t write my reviews, and how unreliable my experience with the PS3 has become in the last month and a half, he told me to “go ahead and slander us if it makes you feel better.”
When I asked him to clarify what part of the account I’ve just given you above was untrue, he then said, “Okay, I’m sorry, I guess that was incorrect.” Fucking ay, right, it’s inaccurate. It can’t be slander if it's true, and my personal experience with the PS3 has gone from dream to big fat pain in the ass in one fell swoop. And as a reviewer, that’s got to be the review now.
I still love my PS3 in theory, but if I weren’t sweating my taxes right now, I’d just go buy a stand-alone Blu-Ray player tomorrow and completely remove the PS3 from the equation. When I get it back, if it works, great. I’ll be thrilled. But I can’t rely on it anymore to actually work when I need it to, and I find it both embarrassing (publicists don’t send me these Blu-Ray discs out of general human kindness) and frustrating (I bought a Blu-Ray player because I wanted to watch some goddamn Blu-Ray discs) to think that I dropped that much money on a machine that, at the moment, seems to be worth so very little.