4K is Coming

blu-ray-discTechnology changes faster than most of us can keep up. Almost all of us are familiar with regular DVD technology even if we can’t set the clock on it. Blu Ray, the next step up in DVD technology, is now thirteen years old, and not enough people have moved along with it. But you should, especially with Blu-Ray players, fully decked out, costing as little as $49. If you don’t have one, this should be on your Holiday list.

I already have a DVD player. There’s nothing wrong with it. Why would I need a Blu-Ray? I’m not replacing all my DVDs.

Honestly, I never saw a need either, until I got one. I had just upgraded my extensive VCR collection to DVDs, and I didn’t want to start again either.  If you grew up with the old hump-backed TVs and now have an HDTV (the flat kind), if you remember those wiggly VCR pictures, the picture quality of a blu-ray will astound you. But remember: technology often works backward. Your Blu-ray player DOES still play all your regular DVDs, doubling what you can view. It won’t make them miraculously clear like a blu-ray disc, but it will play them just fine. You won’t have to upgrade that DVD of Aunt Bertha’s third wedding.

Thing is, a blu-ray player is SO much more than a lowly DVD player, which is slowly dying away. Not only is the netflix-logopicture clarity far superior, but with the right equipment (cameras, wifi, high-speed cables) you can Skype through it (make video phone calls), surf the internet (yes, order from Amazon right off your TV), access Netflix and other video programs, play music CDs, and flip items from your iPad or phone right onto your Smart TV for large-screen viewing. The downfall: your TV must already accommodate this. If you still have a hump-backed 100-lb picture-tube TV, you’re out of luck for almost everything.

To make it even fancier, there are blu-ray players that can play in 3-D. If you have a 3-D blu-ray player, AND a 3-D TV (AND a 3-D blu-ray movie), yes, you can watch 3-D movies just like in the theater, BUT YOU MUST HAVE ALL THREE. I can’t emphasize that enough. If you don’t have the matching 3-D TV and player, 3-D will not work. But yes, a regular blu-ray disc WILL work in a 3-D blu-ray player; it just won’t be in 3-D. If you think you may ever want to watch a 3-D video, and you have a 3-D capable TV, then get the 3-D blu-ray player. It will play your regular DVDs, your regular blu-rays, AND those fancy 3-D discs.

Now, blu-ray is a double-edged sword. Should you be using it? Yes, if you’re the least bit progressive. The prices are low enough to be a steal, and there’s less of a waiting list for the library’s blu-rays. However, if you’re totally tech and can’t wait for the latest impossible upgrades, 4K Ultra technology is here, and if you’re not building a personal theater room, it’s absolutely affordable.

And the groans begin.  What? 4K what? What the daylights is that?

lg-curved-4k-tv-790x44414K Ultra is the next step in television and DVD technology. 4K Ultra-High-Def (UHD) is mind-blowingly clear television – clearer than looking out your window. If you thought your high-definition TV was amazing, imagine something twice as fantastic – because it truly is working with twice the capacity (1080 pixels for the standard HDTV vs. 2160 for 4K). The picture is mind-blowing, and allows for monstrously larger screen sizes without losing clarity. Next time you’re out shopping, stop by Costco or Best Buy and take a look. If you thought blu-ray was amazing, just wait.

Although your DVD player and your blu-ray DVD player (that one you just went out andindex bought) cannot play the 4K DVDs, a 4K DVD machine will play your regular blu-ray discs (no, they can’t play them as clear as 4K because the discs aren’t coded that way, but they can upscale them so it’s very close). They are absolutely affordable (you can pick up a 3-D 4K UHD disc player with wifi capacity for as little as $119; a 43” TV goes for as little as $379).

Remember though – nothing works in a vacuum. 4K is fabulous, but if you don’t have all the parts, you’re not going to get the right picture. You must have the 4K TV, the 4K DVD player, AND high-speed 2.0 USB cables connecting the two to get the super-quality picture, otherwise it will just revert to regular HD quality. If your cable company isn’t broadcasting in Ultra High Def, you won’t get the super picture on your TV programs. More importantly, 4K DVDs are already available for purchase, so be careful with what you buy. If you buy a DVD that says 4K, and you don’t have a 4K DVD player, it will not be able to read the disc (I’ve tried it, just as a test).

The holiday season often has good sales on TVs and DVD players; this is the perfect time to make that upgrade. While the library isn’t currently offering 4K discs, we’re getting ready for the eventual upgrade. Will you be ready?

Torchwood Comes to CPL

Wallpaper-torchwood-855134_1024_768Back in 1987, when I started watching a strange little British science-fiction children’s TV show called Dr. Who, it was barely known in the U.S. I actually had to pull it in from Canada, which meant a tipsy Rube Goldberg contraption of raising my TV up high, attaching tinfoil to the antenna, wires to the tin foil, a coat hanger, and all this thrown out the third-story window, because my dorm room was on the opposite side from all the TV signals. Merchandising was rare, usually imported, and extremely expensive.

Fast forward to 2005. After several years of spotty specials, Dr. Who is brought back to life with actor Christopher Eccleston in the lead role (you might know him from Gone in 60 Seconds, or Thor: The Dark World). This time the BBC has actually put money into it, and it is by far some of the best produced, best-written television out there. Period. And among the recurring companions was the role of Captain Jack Harkness, a mysterious immortal figure from the future, played by actor John Barrowman. Jack Harkness was such a strong character the BBC gave Jack Harkness his own spin-off in 2006, Torchwood (which, by the way, is an anagram for Doctor Who). In American, think X-Files.

imagesThe Torchwood Institute is set up as a present-day agency hunting present-day aliens that threaten (mostly) London and Wales. It is based in Cardiff, Wales, and headed by Captain Jack Harkness, a former Time Agent who operates above the law, with powerful technology at his hands. When police officer Gwen Cooper (Eve Miles) stumbles onto the secret lair of Torchwood, she won’t stop investigating, until finally Harkness allows her to join them. It takes Gwen quite a bit to get used to everything going on around her, sworn to secrecy, which puts her at odds with her fiance Rhys, who thinks she’s going batty. She’s never quite sure if Jack is on the side of Earth or not, and it takes her a long time to trust him (partly because at the beginning he keeps trying to slip her drugs to make her forget). Sometimes Jack does seem to have an evil side, but really he’s more of a devout neutral, weighing the balance of what’s right and what’s wrong in each situation. Sometimes you love him, and, after the Children of Earth storyline, you understand his reasoning but you truly want to hate him.

Torchwood is NOT a children’s show, and was never meant to be. It was meant as an adult show. It is at times tough and gritty, and it deals with some very adult themes and morals, including nudity and violence, besides some episodes being as creepy as the best horror films. Although Jack Harkness would make guest appearances on Dr. Who, Dr. Who never appears in Torchwood (beyond the sound of his ship in the background for one episode), specifically to emphasize that they did not want children crossing over to the other show.

I urge you to give the series a try. It is unlike anything on American TV. Especially check out the episodes Countrycide, Captain Jack Harkness, and Dead Man Walking. If you have a high tolerance for anger and horror, watch the Children of Earth storyline.

Torchwood is a wonderful series, less science-fiction than horror, with a lot of drama thrown in. I’ve met both Eve Miles and John 2606230-captain_jack_harknessBarrowman; they are a delight in person and their on-screen charisma is authentic. Barrowman, a die-hard joker and pain in the neck, had no problem with the nudity on the show, and often used it to shock his castmates; if they look horrified on screen, it just might be an authentic look from something Barrowman had done just as the cameras started to roll. Barrowman is well-known in England, a decent singer of his own with several albums, and was one of the judges of the British version of America’s Got Talent. He can currently be seen on Arrow. Burn Gorman (Owen) has also become a familiar face, in everything from The Dark Knight Rises to Game of Thrones, Pacific Rim, Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, to a current run on the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies.

CPL has the entire run of Torchwood on both DVD and Blu-ray. Check it out, and its wonderful cast of talented stars!

Three Holidays to Celebrate, Three Shows to Binge Watch

There are sparkly decorations everywhere, peppermint mochas are appearing at the coffee shop, and your mailbox is crammed with ads for door-buster sales. Yep, it’s the season for the gift-giving celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah! But you don’t have to belong to any religion to have some fun this season. Here are a few cultural holidays that anyone can enjoy, along with television series to watch for hours on end while you’re off from work and school.

December 23

Festivus

Way back in December of 1997, millions of Seinfeld fans tuned in to watch the episode “The Strike” and were introduced to Festivus, a made-up holiday celebrated by Frank Costanza as a rebellion against the commercialism of Christmas. Fast forward to the present, and lots of people have taken to celebrating Festivus in their homes, dorms, and workplaces. The common rituals of Festivus are as follows:

1) Displaying the Festivus Pole – an unadorned aluminum pole. (You can actually buy these online!)
2) A celebratory Dinner – make anything you like, as long as it’s celebratory.
3) Airing of Grievances – this takes place immediately after dinner is served. Participants take turns complaining about how everyone has disappointed them in the past year.
4) Feats of Strength – after dinner, the head of the household selects a person to challenge to a wrestling match. Festivus officially ends when the head of the household is pinned.

Fun fact: Festivus actually goes back to 1966 when Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe’s father first instituted the tradition to celebrate an anniversary, and the family continued to celebrate it whenever Papa O’Keefe felt like it. Instead of an aluminum pole they had a clock in a bag, and they shared a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&Ms

Binge Watch: Seinfeld. What else?

December 26

Boxing Day

Maybe you’ve seen Boxing Day on your wall calendar and had no idea what it was. Let’s Return Unwanted Gifts Day? A fisticuffs tournament over the last piece of pie? Nope! It’s a holiday in Great Britain and almost every place the British settled, except for the U.S. Nobody is sure where the name originated, though some believe it comes from the alms boxes set up in churches during the Advent season (which were then broken open and distributed on the 26th), or from the gift boxes presented to servants who had to work on Christmas but had the following day off.

Whatever purpose it once had, Boxing Day is now a relaxing day off to visit relatives, sit around and eat leftovers, and watch soccer. Among the wealthy, fox hunting used to be a popular Boxing Day activity before the practice was banned in 2004. Those with disposable income now hunt for bargains instead – it has become a huge shopping day, comparable to our Black Friday.

Binge Watch: If you’re not going to tune in to one of 10 Premier League games, pick up a Blu-Ray of The Paradise, a BBC series following a shop girl in Britain’s first department store.

December 26-January 1

Kwanzaa

Born out of the Black nationalist movement, Kwanzaa is a relatively young holiday, created in 1966 by Black Studies professor and activist Maulana Karenga as a way for African American to celebrate their heritage and connect to their community. It fuses elements from numerous African cultures – the term Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya Kwanza” or “first fruits of the harvest,” and draws from the harvest celebrations of the Ashanti, Yoruba, Ibo, and other West African tribes (from which most African Americans have descended). There’s feasting and singing, of course, but the most important part of Kwanzaa is celebration of the seven principles – things like creativity and self-determination – that are represented by lighting one candle each night of the holiday.

Kwanzaa reached its height in the 1980s and 1990s, and about 2% of the U.S. population celebrates the holiday today. However, Americans of any heritage can set out a kinara on the mantle and celebrate our country’s diverse history.

Binge Watch: Roots, Alex Haley’s award-winning exploration of his family’s background.

 

Which holidays are you celebrating this year?

Coming Soon on DVD

Missed it in the theater?  Saw it but can’t wait to see it again?  Trying to think of something to buy someone for a gift, or what to ask for?  Here’s a list of some of this year’s biggest films and shows being released on DVD just in time for the holiday season. Just remember, while the library orders items as fast as we can, we, too, are limited by the release date, so always allow at least two weeks AFTER the release for us to have the DVD’s out and ready for you to watch.  Until we enter the item into the computer, we cannot place holds on it. Still don’t see it in the computer?  Request that we order it!  We love to know what people are looking for.

 

To browse our online catalog for the latest DVDs, visit our website http://www.cheshirelibrary.org

and select “CATALOG” from the top navigation bar:

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Then select “DVD/Video Search“, sort by “New to Old“, and click “Search

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This Disc Won’t Play! Part II – Scratch That Idea

So you’ve wiped down your CD or DVD, buffed it shiny, but it still skips, chirps, freezes, and refuses even to advance to the next section.  Now you’ve got a problem. Check that mirrored side.  Chances are, it’s covered with scratches.  Small scratches, especially those on audio media like CDs and audiobooks, and those that run outward from the center to the edge of the disc, may not have any effect at all on performance.  DVDs, however, are much fussier, and a minor ding may create havoc.  Scratches that run around the disc like an old record interfere the most.

41I5j7KgWNL Cheshire Public Library has professional equipment for resurfacing media discs.  If simply washing and wiping doesn’t help, we put troubled discs through a three-step process. Seriously damaged discs are scoured smooth with fine sandpaper, then buffed back into shape at high speed, and finished off with a polishing coat of protectant. Usually this is enough to bring them back into good-as-new shape. Small, light scratches will disappear; deep gouges – the kind you can click with your fingernail – are a very bad sign and usually cannot be repaired.

brokenSome damage cannot be fixed. Disc materials are a layer of polycarbonate, a layer of foil, and a layer of lacquer. Any damage to the foil layer, from pen marks, pavement divots, dog teeth, to separation of layers and peeling, is a death sentence for the disc. Likewise, cracks cannot be repaired, because they interfere with that all-important foil layer where the data is stored. Blu-Ray discs are generally much tougher than regular discs, which is good, because they cannot be repaired at all. Blu-Rays have a heavier coating that the cleaning machine cannot penetrate. Amazingly, despite several years of use, we have lost perhaps only two Blu-ray discs because of scratch damage.

The easiest way to keep discs working well is to be gentle with them!  Don’t wrestle them from packaging but press that center hub until the disk releases. Always handle them by the edges, and replace them in their case as soon as you are finished with them.  Make sure they click onto that hub – shaking around loose in the case will scratch them! Don’t let children play with them, and don’t leave them where your dog can chew them. Be especially careful with items you listen to in the car: the sand you carry in the carpeting of your automobile can damage a disc exceptionally fast. If a disc won’t work, let us know, so we can fix it as soon as possible – tell us which disc of a set, which scene or which track if possible.  If the case is broken and the disc is rattling inside, tell us, because those broken hubs are little scratch factories. Disc materials are an expensive part of library acquisitions, and we work hard to keep them in the best shape they can be.