DVD Menu Overkill

Previously in My Green Life
‘I own a lot of DVD box sets…’
‘…tediously animated DVD menus…’
‘Worse still are those that drop you straight into a graphical “chapter selection” screen…’

Thank goodness I managed to jump out of the car when it was passing that handy boulder which hid my exit from the camera, just before the car sped off that nearby cliff.

Having escaped from certain death with little more than a cosmetic cut which will be gone by the next scene, it’s time to continue my diatribe against DVD menus. Last time it was the use of spoilerific images that got my back up, but this time I want to talk about the many obstacles that are put between me and the programme I want to watch.

Generally DVDs fall into two categories: features (films, long documentaries and anything else which fills most of the disk with a single programme), and series (several programmes on a disk). In the former case I want to start the feature playing with as little delay and hassle as possible, but I’m happy to accept a few more steps to access the extra features on the disk. In the latter case I usually want to watch a single episode at a time – so I’d like to select and play an individual episode with ease, but don’t mind a few more steps to access the extra features associated with either the episode or the disk as a whole.

In both cases my efforts to get a programme playing quickly are usually thwarted by several interstitial elements which serve little purpose other than to get between me and the content I want to see:

  • Trailers for other programmes. These are usually skippable, but not always. Stick them on as an extra – not something that plays by default. They’re particularly annoying when you forget they’re there, put a DVD in the drive and go out to make a drink expecting to return to the screen showing the DVD’s main menu.
  • The anti-piracy advert. A stock piece of propaganda telling me that piracy is bad and I shouldn’t be a part of it. Often it’s not possible to skip this, even though I’ve seen it dozens of times before. The irony of having to sit through this every time I want to watch a legitimately bought DVD is not lost on me. This is the sort of thing that makes me tempted to download torrents of my DVDs just so that I don’t have to put up with this interfering, accusational, nannying waste of my time.
  • The copyright notice. This is the page of text which tells me that I can’t play this DVD in a hospital or an oil rig. I assume this also prevents me from playing it in a hospital that’s on an oil rig. Do I really need to see this every time I play a DVD? And if you’ve put it on the first DVD in a box-set, do I really need to watch it on every subsequent DVD in the set as well?
  • Das kopyrighten notis. Or something like that. From the general formatting I think this is the same as the previous item, except I get to see it in a different language. Or more likely in several different languages – none of which I understand. Once again there’s often no way to skip these, leaving me to waste another five minutes trying to find the most amusing scandinavian word I can out of the jibberish characters before me.
  • Publisher/Producer/Studio/Tealady Idents. These are the little animations that tell you you’re watching something from Fox, or Dreamworks, or the BBC, or whomever. Then there will be another ident from some other company who had something to do with the DVD, though as you’ve never heard of them before it’s hard to tell what it was that they did. And possibly a third or fourth for good measure.

    I think these are here as advertising – or at least I can’t think of any other reason why they should be put in such a prominent place. If they are advertising, then they don’t work. I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone who buys their DVDs based on studio awareness. Good reviews or previous familiarity with a film, series, actor or director, maybe – but never “I really enjoyed that last 20th Century Fox movie I saw, so I’ll buy another one from them even if I’ve never heard of it before”.

  • Don’t forget the THX ident that might be on the disk. Great for showing off your surround sound system. But you know what else is great for that? Actually playing the bloody film!
  • There! I’m finally at the DVD menu. Oh, hold on, I’m not really. Yes, it’s there, but some pillock decided it would be a great idea to show me their animation skills for a minute or two before I can even interact with the damned thing.

And so, after somewhere between two and twenty minutes (for the full trailers + anti-piracy + copyright + kopyrighten + idents + animated menu experience) you finally get to a point where you can actually choose what to watch. Hurrah! If you’re very lucky the selected item will already be “Play main feature”, and you can just click the OK button to get started. Of course there are likely to be more idents before the film actually starts, but at least you’re onto the home straight.

For series, however, you’ll often find that the default option is to “Play all episodes”. Really? What genius thought that one up? This episodic programme, which was originally broadcast in weekly segments, should actually be watched in chunks of four episodes at a time? I’m far more likely to watch one episode per night than four episodes back-to-back. Why not start with Episode 1 selected but design the menu so that “Play All” is just an arrow-press away?

At this point there’s often another pointless animation before I land on another page whose sole purpose is to let me get to the extras for that specific episode. Couldn’t they have been relegated to an “Extras” option on the main screen? Or shown as a second item alongside the main menu entry? Most of the time I just want to watch an episode with no director’s commentary and no original storyboard pictures, so make that the default.

So there you have it. In my ideal world all the trailers are sent to the “Extras” screen. The anti-piracy and copyright notices are relegated to a line and button at the bottom of the menu which says something along the lines of: “This product is protected by copyright. Select this here menu item to see more details”. The idents can go away entirely, or be moved to the copyright information page. And any animation on the menus should not get in the way of me being able to actually use the thing as quickly as possible.

The likelihood of any such changes are remote at best. In the meantime trying to watch a single 30 or 40 minute episode of a programme can easily take five minutes longer than needed – over 10% of the episode time, and that’s on one of the less obnoxious DVDs! That torrenting option starts looking better and better if it lets me get straight to the action.

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