Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Buying Into the Blu-Ray Bandwagon

I'll admit it. I was one of those who were suckered into buying HD-DVD. After just a couple of months into the high-def gamble, I was suddenly stuck with an obsolete format when Blu-ray won the format war. Until recently, I had no intention in the then foreseeable future to invest in a Blu-Ray player. After all, I had already amassed a sizeable collection of original region 1 DVDs and was not about to double-dip on the titles I already had. Then, while he was in the States, a friend convinced me to get one since he was planning on buying one for himself. At $150 plus free shipping (all the way to Manila), it was indeed a bargain considering an equivalent unit would most probably fetch twice that price if purchased locally (will probably do a review later on the Sony BDP-S360).

After buying a couple of BDs locally for an exorbitant price, I was underwhelmed by my first spin. Maybe it was because I already experienced HD in HD-DVD format and was expecting that it'd be an improvement over that. After extensive tweaking of both the player's as well as the TV's settings though, I can now see clearly why the format is starting to gain ground. Comparing the exact same DVD set at 480p resolution to a BD, the difference is like night and day. I swear that even the sound is better even if my current Onkyo receiver does not have HDMI and is unable to fully decode the high-def sound formats like DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD. With flat-panel prices dropping to half what they were when I first bought one, it'll be a matter of time before DVD gives up more of its market share to Blu-Ray. My only concern is that while newly-released titles sell hover in the $20 range if bought in the States, the same titles are sold here for at least 50% more. Perhaps the local distributors would do well to reconsider their pricing strategies to help the format take off.

As for my friend, he decided not to buy a unit for himself and has decided to stick to DVD... for now.

Boracay The Second Time Around

I first visited the famous island getaway about seven years ago, when my brother and his entire family came home from the States after decades of having built a life there. Armed with mental postcard images of what the idyllic island paradise is like, I went with high expectations despite stories from those who had been there before the island even had electricity of how commercial it had gotten, like a beachfront version of Manila's Malate district. Despite this, it had retained much of its charm to have had me smitten by the third day and made me promise to return when I could.

Fast-forward to 2010, and outsiders who'd been to the island way before it was fashionable would probably not recognize the island from what it was 20-30 years ago. Sure, it still had the soft, white sand but now and then you'd find the obligatory cigarette butt or candy wrapper just lying on the sand within a few meters of disposal bins provided by the local authorities. I've been told that summer would be the worst time to go because of the algal blooms but even that I didn't mind as much as the La-La wrapper floating near the shore when I took a dip in the ocean. "The Rape of Boracay," as a cousin of mine once aptly put it, was well underway. I was particularly appalled by how one resort had cemented the rock formations at the northern end of the island presumably to expand their facilities. Of course, what would development be without the obligatory Starbucks nestled among the bars and restaurants on Station 2?

And yet despite all these, Boracay still draws in the crowds. I was expecting no less than a Galera-esque atmosphere (what with school just around the corner) but was pleasantly surprised to see many foreign visitors. Yes, there were indeed the ubiquitous Chinese and Korean tour groups but also a good number of European and American tourists, way more than when I went there the first time.

So there's the trade-off. While an apparent increase in tourist traffic has obviously been economically beneficial for the native population and the country's tourism industry one can't help but see the toll it takes on the island's natural beauty. During this trip I wish I could've done some snorkeling to assess whether or not all this development has taken its toll on the reefs as well. My bet is that on some level I would've been glad I didn't.

Still, there are stories of foreign visitors coming to the island and setting up shop there after having fallen in love with it. I'm not one to lecture on how I do my part to lessen my carbon footprint (and subsequently how you should lessen yours), yet I wish that more can be done to preserve what people come to visit in the first place.

In The Beginning...

So here it is, at the behest of my friend, my first foray into the blogging world. Unable to focus on a single topic or field of interest, I've decided that this will be a potpourri of thoughts, experiences, reviews and what not from a thirtysomething single male living somewhere in the Far East.

I have no particular field of specialization, nor a mastery of ideas but what one will most likely find is a sporadic output of content from a wide range of interests, particularly those that are of interest to me.

Having recently passed the midway point of being in my thirties, this heralds a new chapter that I hope eventual readers would find engaging. I don't aim to be insightful or authoritative, but here's hoping that it'll at least be a good read.