Reviewing Blu-ray: The Process

With little content to offer over my Christmas vacation, I thought some people might be interested as to the process of reviewing Blu-ray. As I went through The Dark Knight Rises, I chronicled the effort put into each disc here on DoBlu.

Bear in mind, I only speak for myself. Christopher certainly has his own methods, and I’m sure other sites do as well.

Step 1: Securing the Blu-ray

Blu-rays come to DoBlu in a couple of ways. First, there are PR contacts who offer materials we accept, deny, or ignore. It all depends on how much time we have and what we’re interested in. That also means wading through an infinite number of theatrical press releases, screening invites in locations I’ll never visit, and requests for other stuff we don’t cover. Some studios won’t send us anything, so that leads into the back up plan.

The second route is to buy the disc outright. For Dark Knight, I grabbed the trilogy box set out of pocket on Amazon. The third is the rental option via a local Family Video whom without, DoBlu probably wouldn’t exist. Whether they know it or not, they were the source for everything in DoBlu’s early days before PR people came into play. While their necessity is lessened now, they still play a key role when materials don’t arrive, and yes, this is out of pocket too. Online rentals don’t provide the needed speed to keep up with the influx of movies and proved too expensive. We’ve tried.

Step 2: Ripping the movie

In preparation for screen shots, I find it easier to rip the movie to the hard drive. There are a couple of reasons for this, one being wear and tear if I grabbed screens directly from the disc. Skipping back and forth to find a correct frame means the disc drive is working overtime. It’s much easier to let the disc spin consistently, then work from the hard drive. Also, when ripping, I don’t include audio. This lessens the need for hardware power and I can have more things open while I take screens. If a studio wanted to challenge the legality, it would be funny to see them state that I was stealing movies without sound or subtitles. I like purty pictures.

There are three programs used in this process, the first being a DRM remover, graciously donated by a reader. BD Info then scans for the correct playlist file to rip, and then tsMuxer takes care of the ripping itself. This is not a foolproof process. BD Info is spot on 98% of the time. The other 2%, DRM intrudes and makes finding the correct playlist file almost impossible. There are further issues I’ll get into down the line.

Also note I’ll have the disc ripping in the background sometimes while I write. It just depends on how the day goes.

Step 3: Watch the movie

Duh?

Step 4: Decipher notes

My process is specific. I write the review immediately following the end of the movie and running through the extras. I don’t wait a day, or even an hour. I’ll take a break to stretch, let the dogs out, respond to email, etc., but I’m always right into the mix. That means cutting upwards of a three to four hour block of my day for an average length movie. My Tuesdays have been dedicated to DoBlu since I began the site for this very reason.

While I’m watching though, I’m jotting things down. For the most part, it’s time stamps and notable issues/praise. Extras will also be in ink. For Dark Knight Rises, I already had the movie section completed; I saw it in IMAX and wrote that part of the review when I came home from the theater. Normally, the bottom of those legal pads have notes on the film itself. Extras take up the middle, video above that, and audio notations squeeze in above the lines. You can also see that I scratched some stuff out. One of them was a Bane close-up, but 30 seconds later, there was a better one. That was chosen instead. It’s about getting what best conveys what I’m seeing.

Step 5: Writing

This varies in length, but I’d say the average time for writing a 1,000 word review is about 60-90 minutes, longer with editing consideration. I start in Open Office with basic HTML tags included, making the transition to DoBlu’s back end easier. That way, I’m sure not to miss any italicized titles. Once the review is in DoBlu, I read the text out loud. It’s an editing method that makes sure pieces sound right, and when you’re doing all of this yourself without another person editing, that’s the way to go. Of course, mistakes still happen (lots of them) which I can readily attribute to this rushed process on the whole. Four reviews a week minimum (sometimes more) means 12-18 hours spent on a passion project. Anymore takes a cut into other stuff that, you know, pays well.

Step 6: Taking screens

I used Media Player Classic. Believe it or not, you cannot simply take a Blu-ray screen shot. The DRM needs to be defeated first and you cannot hit print screen in most programs. Even if print screen worked, the resolution would be locked to the screen size, not 1920×1080. MPC has an internal screen capture function (a life saver). That ensures proper resolution and an accurate grab. The problem? MPC doesn’t respond well to jumping all over the movie looking for my written times. It becomes out of sorts, displays the wrong scene at the wrong time stamp, or stumbles over itself into a crash when I’m trying to be specific. Out of this entire process, this is the one that will most likely be frustrating. I’ve lost hours fighting with this thing, but it remains the only definitive method for ensuring the screens are 100% accurate without any custom software.

After that, images need compressed. When you’re DoBlu, server space and bandwidth cost control are crucial, so the .png images MPC takes are compressed into .jpeg ever so slightly. It cuts 80% of the space and only about 5% of the image quality. The aptly named (and free!) Batch PNG to JPEG program pulls the workload here.

From there, the process turns server side. Images are uploaded in one shot, then individually tagged, time stamped, and given a short tag line. There are other image galleries for Word Press, but none of them support the resolution needed, so the stock, built-in image gallery is used.

Step 7: Publishing

It’s live! It’s done! No, actually it isn’t. While WordPress automates publishing to Twitter, the rest falls on me. This means submitting to Facebook, IMDB, AVS, and more, all while hoping someone gives a retweet, a Facebook like, or a link back on a forum (or anywhere for that matter). Follow that up with possible PR contacts to let them know the review is live, and we’re close. Some menial back end work is stuff I’ll spare you.

I have a separate hard drive partition given to screens. While I capture them for immediacy on my C: drive, they eventually have to make the trip over to D:. There, they end up sorted by type and alphabetized for easy access. This way, if anyone calls into question the quality of .jpeg captures, I have .png images at the ready. They’re also saved for the day DoBlu blows up and can support hosting files of that size. Hey, it can happen!

I hope that rundown enlightens you on the process and what goes into almost every review on the site. I’m sure Christopher can relate to how much time is invested too. It’s a lot of fun and the community is a blast to interact with regularly. That makes it all worth it.

Grabbed from my TV as the movie kicked off

Editing, writing in Open Office

Converting images to .jpeg

Working with the screens in WordPress.

The submission form for IMDB.

  • Christopher Zabel

    I think Matt covered everything I would want to say on the matter very nicely. Since I don’t have a Blu-ray drive on my computer, Matt is the one that does the manual process of extracting screenshots for my reviews. While I largely pick out which shots are used, it is Matt’s witty comments under the screenshots in my reviews.

    In preparation for each review, I will try to hunt down the film’s history from both a production standpoint and its releases on prior formats like DVD.

  • Robin Løvli

    I think it was interesting to read.

  • Really interesting article Matt. Just keep up the good work. You’re doing a great job, always a pleasure to read your reviews.