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Blu-ray Is Worth Fighting For

The next evolutionary step in HD video is upon us … don’t miss it!

Blu-ray Is Worth Fighting For

Sep 15, 2008 12:00 PM,
By Jason Bovberg

The next evolutionary step in HD video is upon us … don’t miss it!

I’ve watched the next-generation DVD format war unfold with great interest. The conflict—which amounted to a couple years of hostile sniping and maneuvering—had many of us on the edge of our seats. From the lowly tape-based VHS format, through the unwieldy laser disc, through the promising but limited DVD, we had been inching ever closer to that Holy Grail: absolutely film-like resolution and presentation of movies in the home. Both Blu-ray and HD DVD promised to achieve that goal.

I sided with HD DVD, believing that its common-sense name and Microsoft allegiance would carry the day. Plus, I got the player for an incredible bargain, along with a bunch of free movies. It was an easy way to dive into high-definition DVD, to see if it was a big deal at all. Boy, did I love it! On my 1080p plasma, the imagery was breathtaking. For the first time, I was watching resolution equal to that of film—in the comfort of my living room—and I was hooked.

Then, abruptly, HD DVD failed.

I’ve been burned before. For example, the home-entertainment industry hasn’t exactly been kind to audiophiles; instead, it has catered more to the casual listener. I bought into Digital Audio Tape (DAT) when that was a rising audio format (it’s now completely dead), and I invested in both DVD-Audio (DVD-A) and Super Audio CD (SACD) when those formats were embroiled in their own high-def war—I purchased a dual-format player, figuring I’d win either way. Unfortunately, both formats died a slow consumer death and are now relegated to the niche market. Instead of high-resolution music thrumming in living rooms around the world, we have a nation of low-res iPod owners.

But there was considerably more strength behind the high-def video movement. We all knew that either Blu-ray or HD DVD would prevail, didn’t we? So, when HD DVD took its sudden nosedive after the format war, Blu-ray was positioned to take the market by storm. It was built in to the popular Sony PlayStation 3, it was bolstered by studio support (with many studios already flooding the market with Blu-ray Discs), and Blu-ray was just about the only viable HD source material with which to take full advantage of those luminous 1080p plasma and LCD displays that were flying off shelves.

I myself invested in a standalone Blu-ray player (to accompany my sad HD DVD unit), eagerly hooked it up, bought a couple of discs on sale, plunked in The Blu-ray Disc of I Am Legend, and found the image to be just as stupendous. The experience hit me in the chest all over again. I knew deep in my heart that Blu-ray’s success was absolutely inevitable. A cinch.

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Blu-ray Is Worth Fighting For

Sep 15, 2008 12:00 PM,
By Jason Bovberg

The next evolutionary step in HD video is upon us … don’t miss it!

But as of this moment, Blu-ray seems to be failing. And regular ol’ DVD might be to blame.

Remember when DVD burst onto the scene? I was an early adopter, jumping on board with great gusto and celebrating each new title as it was released to the format. In fact, DVD is what catapulted me into home theater 10 years ago. It was that format I’d been hoping for after suffering years of low-quality, compromised home-video representations of my favorite films. DVD gave me correct aspect ratios, unprecedented image quality, surround sound, and enticing film-school-in-a-box supplements. It was everything a film lover could want—well, maybe it had some space constraints, and some minor image compromises were necessary, but overall, DVD was a revelation.

Today, Blu-ray holds the promise to erase those image compromises once and for all, adding total, pure, gorgeous film-like resolution (as well as astounding storage opportunities) to the DVD experience …

… and no one seems to care all that much!

Blu-ray players—which continue to come down in price, although not as precipitously as some of us have hoped—are gathering dust on store shelves. Yes, the PlayStation 3 continues to sell in good (if not great) numbers, but Blu-ray Discs themselves aren’t exactly selling like gangbusters. People just aren’t buying into Blu-ray. Why?

One of my own big complaints is the awkward, commercially confusing “Blu-ray” name itself. “HD DVD” is a far more elegant and obvious nomenclature and no doubt wouldn’t have faced as much consumer resistance if it had prevailed. Others speak of the debilitating cost of the discs themselves. No doubt, consumers faced with the prospect of replacing their already voluminous libraries of DVDs are prone to balk—particularly when that prospect comes with a price tag that’s double that of DVD. Why buy a $30 disc when you can get the same movie and supplements for half the price? These simply just aren’t convinced that Blu-ray provides enough of an image improvement over DVD to justify the added expense. I have a few friends who’ve just purchased giant, beautiful 1080p displays but are perfectly content with the upconverting functionality of their DVD player and are therefore forgoing one of the true, currently available 1080p sources that would make that TV truly shine.

To which I say, “What?!”

It’s hard for me to believe, but people seem to be staying away from Blu-ray simply because they don’t see the point.

If that’s the public perception of Blu-ray—that its benefits really aren’t that far removed from those of regular DVD, with which they’re already inundated— what’s the future of Blu-ray? I sincerely hope it doesn’t go the way of high-def audio, doomed to the niche. People talk and talk about the prospect of HD downloads mirroring the online-music arena. Perhaps I’m too old school, but I don’t see it. At least, I want no part of it. I want a library. I value the physical manifestation, the ownership. I even value the packaging!

I have this wondrous dream in which Blu-ray finally gains the consumer confidence it needs, and sales of players and software take off at a rapid clip, and the Blu-ray Disc begins to take its rightful place in my DVD library. In this dream, the world embraces the format for what it is: a final evolutionary step in image quality that presents films as perfectly as possible in the home environment.

Will the dream come true? It will if we make it happen. Blu-ray is out there right now, ready to blow you away. Seek out sales, find the “Buy One, Get One Free” bargains. They’re out there. Dive into the format! We can’t lose the battle to those who just don’t care. Not again.

Dreams rarely come true (or Blu). But this one is worth fighting for.

Jason Bovberg ([email protected]) is a senior editor for Windows IT Pro and SQL Server magazine and a regular contributor to Residential AV Presents Connected Home. He specializes in networking, mobile and wireless, hardware, and home computing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor in magazine, book, and special-interest publishing.

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