Every time a new media format is release we ask the same questions. Is it enough of an improvement to invest in? Will it become the standard or will something else new and shiny come along in 6 months to supplant it?
Does Blu-Ray have staying power or is it the next Betamax or minidisk?
First things first, you need critical mass to make a new medium successful. Blu-ray has that going for it with major retailers, video distribution services, and manufacturers in the Blu-ray camp. I’ve been using a Blu-ray disk player and a half dozen Blu-ray movies for a couple of months.
Is Blu-ray worth it? The short answer: not today.
Knowing what I know now I wouldn’t have bought a $300 Blu-ray player. Instead I would have bought a quality upconverting DVD player and saved a few bucks and a lot of hassle dealing with an unfinished product.
My setup I’m not a videophile. I have good quality consumer components and a 700 DVD movie library, but I don’t know what my tweeters are made of and I can’t see the difference between plasma and LCD.
Blu-ray movie quality The good: At its best, HD movie quality is almost crystalline on a big screen. You can see wrinkles, pores on skin, tendrils of smoke and individual leaves on trees. The detail is amazing and involving.
Even better: high-quality DVDs - like Superbit - up convert to HD beautifully. The last bit of detail is missing - skin looks softer - but even visually busy scenes are rock-solid. The chips that generate the added pixels are amazing.
The bad: only newer movies, shot with transfer to high-def in mind; or older movies with very good production values that are well-mastered will give you full HD quality. If the original source film was grainy and muddy, if the sets weren’t well-finished, if it wasn’t recorded in surround sound, there simply won’t be the HD experience you’d expect.
For example, low-light scenes where the film is grainy. On a big screen you see the grain as flickering specks. Watchable, but not the pristine high-def shots you see in the showroom.
Sound quality Same deal with sound. If the original flick was stereo, it can be re-processed to simulate 5.1 surround, but the quality varies. The most immersive sound experience I’ve found is DTS.
Even though Blu-ray supports DTS, many movies weren’t recorded with it or the studio may omit it from a disk. So the high-def promise - great sound - isn’t always kept.
Blu-ray players start around $250 on the net. Beware: this is an absolute bottom of the line player. While the high-def video and upconversion work well, this player is a mass of compromises.
Slow everything - almost a minute before the disk tray opens, 10-15 seconds of “loading,” and about 5 seconds to open the tray. Bring a book.
Flaky upgradeability: theoretically you can download firmware updates, burn the installer to a DVD, and then install. I haven’t been able to get it to work and I’ve been playing with computers for over 30 years.
No disk memory. The player won’t remember where you were on a disk or that you’ve already watched the stupid FBI warning unless you keep the player on all the time and don’t open the tray.
Certain Blu-ray audio formats, like TrueHD, aren’t supported - by the leader of the Blu-ray pack!
Other annoyances: occasional freezes; play button doesn’t close the tray.
Knowing what I know now, if I had to have a Blu-ray player, I’d buy a 40 GB PS3 instead. It is another $100 and most reviewers agree that’s the best Blu-ray player with great Java BD performance. And it plays Ratchet & Clank!