AUSTRALIA has a reputation for embracing technological developments quickly. We had a record take-up of VHS, DVD and widescreen television, and it is widely claimed that the Land of Oz has more home theatres per head of population than anywhere else in the world.
However, there remains one technology that Australia like much of the world has not fallen in love with: Blue-ray. While it is so obviously superior to DVD in much the same way as DVD was to VHS, it has not generated the same excitement and buzz. People aren't sitting around dinner tables proclaiming Blue-ray's splendiferous visual and aural qualities, even if it is a Ferrari compared with the DVD's Trabant.
You can buy a Blue-ray player for $65 (or $99 for one that plays all the world's regions) and many Blue-ray discs are cheaper than the corresponding DVDs.
Australians are a weird mob. They buy widescreen televisions and then watch almost everything in the wrong screen ratio, with people squashed to the stature of hobbits or stretched to the height of Godzilla. Aussies prefer distorted images to strips of black on the sides, or top and bottom. They somehow feel cheated if the image doesn't spread everywhere.
Australians also love watching films on their phones and YouTube, or via illegal downloads, where the image quality is worse than at any other time in television history. If people have set their visual expectations that low, why would they care about the pristine perfection of Blue-ray? Equally, if they are happy to listen to their music on mobile devices, with a compressed sound quality that makes audiophiles cringe, why expect them to delight at the breathtaking sound of Blue-ray discs.
Devotees travel the lonely Blue-ray road for several reasons. Foremost, they believe passionately in the format's technical superiority over DVDs, and free and pay television. Even a high-resolution download of a film direct to your home set doesn't look as good as a Blue-ray.
Second, the invention of this cutting-edge format has given movies a major new lease of life. Many films were restored for DVD, but mistakes were made (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ should have been released in 2.76:1, but wasn't) and quality-degrading cost savings were often made, as anyone who has seen a DVD of Raintree County or Brigitte Bardot's Vie Privee would know.
Compare any Blue-ray with the DVD and you will be staggered. Walkabout, that landmark of Australian cinema, looks very ordinary on DVD (soft and with the colours blurring), but on Blue-ray it looks and sounds crisp and bright, like a glorious new film. As for the Blue-ray of Ben-Hur, it is a thing of beauty almost too dazzling to behold.
A third joy of the new format is that films that missed being released when DVD reigned supreme are now getting their chance, and often beautifully restored for dual-format release: the long-lost gems Deep End and Joanna, for example. One prays that 1949 masterpiece The Secret Garden and Robert Bresson's more recent Four Nights of a Dreamer are not far behind, because the one thing Blu-ray signifies for all film lovers is hope.
If there is a flaw with Blue-ray, it is that it aids modern televisions in their sinister plan to make all films look as if they were shot on digital video. The Blue-rays of My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music (which were photographed on the very acme of film stocks, 65 millimetre) give the sad impression directors George Cukor and Robert Wise had never even heard of celluloid.
However, there is one joyous exception to this digital homogenisation: black-and-white classics still maintain a noble degree of celluloid "feel", as can be seen in the glorious new releases of Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, to name just two.
Once you embrace Blue-ray, you will be motivated never to return to the bad old days of DVD and VHS.
You might even inspire the younger set to momentarily abandon their mobile trinkets and embrace the glory of movies as they have never been witnessed before in the family-rich sanctity of your home.