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Introduction To Blu-ray Players - High-Definition Heaven

So here we go again - Blu-ray players and discs. Another new format to spend our hard-earned money on!

We turn our backs for five minutes and they're trying to get us to ditch our precious DVD collections. So what's all the fuss about Blu-ray then?

Well, many people don't seem to understand exactly what a Blu ray player is - or why they should make the switch.

That's a big problem, because Blu-ray is great - but isn't it just high definition DVD?

Well, sort of. Let's have a closer look.

Blu-ray player and discs

DVD for me

I've got a big collection of DVDs at home and I think they look pretty good (after all, I'm old enough to remember VHS video!) - they sound great too.

I'm definitely not interested in changing to a new format again.

No way. Absolutely not.

Never!

Well, that's what I thought until saw high-definition TV! Once I'd seen how fantastic a high-definition source looked on my flat screen TV - I was hooked.

They've gone and done it to me again!

If there's anything certain in this world - once you've seen a high-definition picture - and heard an HD 5.1 digital audio soundtrack - you are going to want to watch as many things in high-definition as you can.

And what's the best way to see the highest quality high-definition movies on a regular basis?

That'll be a Blu-ray player then. Ah, so that's what's so good about Blu-ray technology!

What is Blu-ray technology?

So let's look at some details about Blu-ray.

A Blu-ray disc is an optical storage disc similar to a standard DVD.

It's the same size as a CD or DVD (looks pretty much the same too on the outside) but it cannot be played in a conventional CD or DVD player.

The laser inside a Blu-ray player is different from a normal DVD. It is a blue coloured laser (ah, that's where the name comes from), and this has a shorter wavelength than the traditional red laser found in DVD and CD players. This reduction in wavelength allows it to be focused on a smaller area, which means the data on the disc can be stored closer together - resulting in more data on a disc.

Therefore, the advantage of a Blu-ray disc is that it can hold about six times the amount of data compared to a dual-layer DVD - or 25GB on a single layer and 50 GB on a dual layer Blu-ray disc.

Ok, big deal, so why is that important?

Well, it means a Blu-ray disc can store video and audio in high resolution formats that wouldn't fit on to a DVD.

When you connect a Blu ray player to an AV receiver, or display device, with an HDMI cable - the digital data can be sent at a much higher rate than any other format (e.g. broadcast HDTV or DVD).

Therefore, a movie can be watched in 1080p high-definition video and heard with uncompressed multi-channel Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio.

So you can think of it as high definition DVD if you like.

Bottom line? It looks and sounds fantastic!

Falling prices

The good news is that the price of Blu-ray players - and the Blu-ray discs themselves - are getting cheaper all the time.

Up until early 2008, there was a format war between Blu-ray DVD and HD DVD (isn't there always a format war?).

This meant that manufacturers were split between which type of player to make, and which type of disc to produce. The poor old consumer was left with the choice of gambling on which horse to back - or to stay away from the racetrack completely and stick with their DVD.

Denon DBT-3313UD Blu-ray playerDenon DBT-3313UD Premium Universal Disc Blu-ray Player

Consequently, the price of the discs and the hardware remained high as there weren't enough people buying the new formats - and not enough people were buying the new formats as the price remained high.

This technology was going nowhere.

Fortunately for everybody (except those who had bought an HD DVD player), the issue was resolved when Toshiba withdrew HD DVD from the market.

Now there was only one format to produce hardware and discs for. Therefore more people were confident in buying a new technology they knew would be around for a while.

So Blu-ray began to take off.

Why should I buy a Blu-ray player?

It can be a tough decision to switch from a DVD player to Blu-ray.

If you've invested a lot of money in DVD technology and discs you may not want to start spending more on another format.

A good DVD player will also be able to upscale the picture to a 720p or 1080p output - and these can look pretty good on a high-definition TV.

So why spend more money on Blu ray technology?

Well, if you compare an upscaled DVD to a proper 1080p Blu-ray image I think most people will see the difference in quality.

Upscaled DVD can look good - but proper full 1080p HD looks amazing.

Try going to a good audio-visual store and see for yourself (a good store should allow you to compare different sources side-by-side).

Sony BDP-S3700 Blu-ray playerSony BDP-S3700 Blu-ray player with built-in Wi-Fi

Depending on the hardware you buy, you will also get the ability to play the soundtrack with lossless multi-channel Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio - which is an improvement on the standard surround sound you get with DVDs.

For example, the Sony BDP-S3700 Blu-ray player pictured above supports all the latest high-definition audio formats, plus it will play some more modern video formats like mkv files.

With the latest profile 2.0 machines you will also have the ability to connect the Blu-ray player to the internet to access extra content for the disc you are playing (this feature is known as BD-Live) - as well as to update the players firmware which can add extra features as the manufacturers release them.

Is Blu-ray compatible with DVD?

Well, that's another good thing, a Blu-ray player will also allow you to play your existing CDs and DVDs (it should upscale the DVD too), so there is no need to replace your entire DVD and CD collection.

Some people will completely replace their old DVD and CD players with one good quality Blu-ray player, which will allow them to play Blu-rays, DVDs and CDs on one machine.

However, if you are very demanding in the playback quality of your CD/DVD player - and you feel the quality of playback of CDs/DVDs will be better on a dedicated player - then you could keep them and just add a Blu-ray player to your existing setup.

Oppo BDP 103D Blu-ray PlayerOppo BDP 103D Universal Blu-ray Player

The only problem with this is your home entertainment system can start to resemble something NASA use to send the space shuttle into orbit!

Most players will also play back many other file formats such as DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG. This will vary between models however so check this if you need something in particular.

Newer models will often have some form of network connection - either ethernet or Wi-Fi (or both). This allows you to stream content via DLNA over your own home network - or access online content such as catch-up TV and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Cheaper models may not have network connectivity, however you may not want these features, so don't buy a more expensive model if you don't need the extra functionality.

Personally I think the bottom line is, does Blu-ray technology improve your home cinema experience?

Do you see a better picture and hear better sound compared to DVD?

For me there is a big improvement in picture and sound, but this is something you need to decide for yourself.

What is the best Blu-ray player?

Fortunately, because the Blu-ray market is really starting to develop, there are plenty of manufacturers building quality Blu ray players.

The most popular makes of Blu-ray players are:

  • Denon
  • Oppo
  • Samsung
  • LG
  • Panasonic
  • Sony

Buying guide - what to look for

As with all technology you will have a dizzying choice of different models with slightly different features.

The main things to look out for are:

Blu-ray Players Summary

So to sum up, Blu-ray players are a must have if you want to watch lots of great quality HD movies.

Although you can get some TV programmes in HD they won't be transmitted in full 1080p - and they won't have HD 5.1 surround sound.

There is a large catalogue of movies and TV shows in Blu-ray now, so you will never be short of something to watch.


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