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.
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.
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!