Thursday, April 9, 2009

Blu-ray at the Library

A little over a year ago, I picked up a Sony PlayStation 3 game machine. While the Nintendo Wii has clearly been the game machine of choice for many households, what tipped the scales for me was the Blu-ray DVD drive in the PlayStation.

With the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray having been won early last year by Sony’s Blu-ray, it was pretty clear that Blu-ray was the format of choice.

Just so you know, not every DVD is created the same. A standard DVD that you will pick up at Blockbuster or NetFlix, while far clearer than VHS videotape, still presents video in standard definition.

Blu-ray DVDs, by comparison, contain video in High Definition, which provides far more data than standard definition DVDs.

By way of comparison, a standard DVD contains about 4 Gigabytes of data while a Blu-ray DVD contains about 50 Gigabytes of data. All of that extra data goes primarily to providing higher quality video and audio.

But, the challenge in playing a Blu-ray DVD is that you have to have a DVD player that knows how to read the Blu-ray disc. For most people, this means buying a new DVD player or, as in my case, purchasing a Sony PlayStation 3 with a Blu-ray DVD player built in.

Unfortunately, most Blu-ray DVD players have hovered in the $300-$400 range. Over the holiday season, I saw Blu-ray DVD players drop to about $150-$200, although the high-end ones are still available.

In most cases, a Blu-ray DVD player will play all previous formats of DVDs, so you shouldn’t need TWO DVD players.

To get the most out of your Blu-ray DVDs, you’ll also need a High Definition TV (HDTV). Most new flat panel TVs are High Definition with a spec of 720p, 1080i, or 1080p, with 1080p being considered “Full HD,” although all resolutions yield remarkable images.

When I purchased my PlayStation last year, I thought I’d see what the Westport Public Library has in Blu-ray. I was disappointed to find out that they didn’t have any Blu-ray in their extensive video collection.

But boy, was I pleased when I went to the library about two weeks ago and found a whole rack of Blu-ray DVDs in their distinctive light blue jewel cases! In speaking with one of the librarians and looking up Blu-ray on the Library’s Web site, I see that the library now has about 90 different Blu-ray titles. And more are on their way.

Most movie studios are publishing DVDs in multiple formats, typically standard definition and Blu-ray. This, unfortunately, means that organizations such as the library must purchase two copies of a title in order to meet the demand for both formats, although this means that the library will have two copies for people to check out.

In looking at some of the Blu-ray DVDs in both my personal collection and from others, the visual difference is stunning – Blu-ray is clearly superior. The impact is far more noticeable with certain genres, such as action, sports, and nature, but even a “date night” movie looks a whole lot better on Blu-ray.

The main reason for the better look is the amount of data that makes up the video stream. As I mentioned, standard definition DVDs contain much less data than Blu-ray DVDs. In addition, watching High Definition movies from cable, satellite providers, or Internet sources can contain compressed video signals that can lose some or much of the crispness. But a video signal coming from a Blu-ray DVD is uncompressed with every bit and pixel in its splendid glory on your screen.

Some have said that online video services that deliver videos to your computer or television over the Internet will sound the death knell for all DVDs, including Blu-ray. I don’t disagree, but know that there are some hurdles to be overcome, especially for the videophiles that like very high quality audio and video quality. To date, none of the online services I’ve seen provide the same level of quality as a Blu-ray DVD.

So, if you have or are considering buying a Blu-ray DVD player, check out the Blu-ray discs at the Westport Public Library. Blu-ray continues to help make the home theatre experience better.

Mark Mathias is a 30+ year veteran of information technology, a resident of Westport, Connecticut, and was named by Computerworld magazine to their list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders”. This column originally appeared in Westport News on Wednesday 8 April 2009.


  1. Blu-ray has changed the way I watch movies that's for sure. The picture quality and sound quality are so good it's unbelievable. The surround sound is so good I just can't believe it. If you can afford a blu-ray player buy one if you have an HDTV because you are only getting half the value of your TV.

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