Video standards continue to evolve. From VHS and Betamax tapes to DVDs to Blu-ray discs with a few other variations along the way (remember HD-DVD?). Blu-ray, also known as Blu-ray Disc (BD), is the latest generation optical disc format for displaying the highest quality video on high definition televisions and monitors.
This format standard was jointly developed by the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) which consists of a large number of the world’s leading consumer electronics, personal computer and media manufacturers. Driving this new format was a need for significantly greater amount of data storage in a form factor that was the same as CDs and DVDs. High definition movies and video generate dramatically larger files than the older standard definition movies. To take full advantage of high definition video much more data needed to be stored on the disc. Enter Blu-ray discs.
A Blu-ray disc is the same physical size as a DVD or CD but can store significantly more data – 4.7 GB of data on a standard (single-layer) DVD, 9.4 GB on a dual-layer DVD; compared to 25 GB on a standard (single-layer) Blu-ray Disc (BD) or 50 GB on a dual-layer BD. So Blu-ray discs can store roughly five times as much data as a similar type of DVD.
Optical drives such as CDs, DVDs and BDs use a laser to read and write data. The name Blu-ray comes from the type of laser used in the Blu-ray drives. Standard DVDs rely on a “red” laser to read and write data, BDs utilize a blue-violet laser. The color designations stem from the wavelength of the light that the given laser emits. Despite the different type of lasers used, Blu-ray products are backwards compatible with CDs and DVDs and are able to read these discs. There is quite a bit more technical information available about Blu-ray discs and Blu-ray equipment. If you are interested a good place to start is www.blu-ray.com.
Do I Need a Blu-ray Player?
Maybe or maybe not. To really take full advantage of the Blu-ray discs you need to have a high definition television or monitor that can display “1080p” or true high definition video. The number “1080” refers to the number of horizontal scan lines on the screen. The “p” indicates that television is “progressively” scanning all 1080 lines each time it refreshes the image on the screen as opposed to using an “i” or “interlaced” scan where every other line is scanned each time the screen is refreshed.
So if your television or monitor only displays 1080i or 720p (another common but slightly older HD resolution) you won’t get as great a benefit between Blu-ray discs and standard DVDs. Another part of the technology mix is something called upconverting or upscaling. This technology allows a device to take a lower resolution source such as a standard DVD and fill in or interpolate additional pixels to generate full 1080p high definition resolution.
There are standard DVD players that can do upscaling and some high definition televisions will also provide this feature. Some people will claim that the quality with upconverting/upscaling is almost indistinguishable from Blu-ray quality on most televisions. Some people will argue the opposite. There are a number of other features such as Blu-ray Live, Bonus View, Blu-ray audio, and Internet capabilities that are available on some BD players and not on any DVD palyers.
Cost of Moving Up to Blu-ray
As with most new technologies, cost figures into the equation. When Blu-ray players were first released they cost over $1,000. Prices have dropped significantly and brand name Blu-ray players are now in the $250 – $400 range. As always you can spend more for units with additional bells and whistles. Another factor in looking at cost is the discs themselves. Movies in Blu-ray format generally will cost roughly twice what a standard DVD costs. It is quite likely that the price of both Blu-ray discs and players will continue to decrease over time.
So in the end making the move to a Blu-ray world will most likely depend on the resolution and size of the high definition television you have, your budget, and your preferences in the quality of the movies and videos you watch.