Whether you’re the gamer who devotes more time to PlayStation 3 than to studying for finals or the film geek obsessed with getting the best picture resolution possible, the newest technology in optic storage is sure to impress. Blu-ray discs, which outshine DVDs in image quality, are becoming the preferred form of media entertainment for both sides of the social spectrum.
Blu-ray discs, or BDs, first appeared on the market in June 2006, and now over 270 film titles are available in the Blu-ray format. With up to five times the storage capability of standard DVDs, BDs deliver superior image and audio in HD, or high definition.
“Basically if you looked at (a DVD next to a BD), you wouldn’t know the difference … but if you rent a Blu-ray movie and play it on your high-definition set, it’ll look four times better than what you’re used to seeing,” said Tom Denove, head of production and vice chair of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and an acclaimed cinematographer.
The HDTV-BD connection is a crucial one, as 65 percent of U.S. TV households are expected to own an HDTV by 2010.
Advancements in laser technology are responsible for manufacturers’ ability to encode more data onto compact discs. While DVDs are written and read with red lasers, BDs use blue-violet lasers, which have shorter wavelengths and can thus be focused more precisely, allowing more data to be packed onto the disc. The blue lasers used to encode the discs also gave way to the product name of “Blu-ray,” according to the Blu-ray Disc Association’s Web site.
Blu-ray discs are not the only product on the market to harness this technology. HD DVD also manufactures discs capable of storing high-definition images and is thus the BDs’ main competitor. While the discs both have increased storage capabilities, they are not interchangeable.
“If you went to buy a high-definition DVD of your favorite movie, you’d have to make sure it was in the right format for you player,” Denove said. “Some people are promoting HD DVD, some people are promoting Blu-ray. It’s similar to the VHS and Beta ordeal we went through, having two competing formats that are not compatible.”
With most major studios choosing to release their films on Blu-ray, and with Playstation 3 utilizing Blu-ray technology, Denove feels that in the end, Blu-ray will be the winning format. “Because of the success of Playstation, there’s going to be so many households … that will (automatically) have a Blu-ray player, so that’s one of the reasons Blu-ray will dominate the market.”
The disc’s ability to broadcast in high definition is due to its large storage capacity. While standard DVDs typically contain between 4.7 and nine gigabytes of information, Blu-ray discs hold 25 gigabytes on a single layer and up to 50 gigabytes on a dual-layer disc, according to Michael McNeff, a graduate student in TFT’s directing program. “The storage is just there to accommodate the fact that higher resolution images take up more space,” he said.
On a standard television set, images are typically projected in a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels. These numbers, which refer to the amount of lines that make up the image, are much higher for high-definition images, which usually have a resolution of 1920 by 1080, McNeff said. “(More) lines of resolution affects the clarity and the sharpness of the picture, that’s why you can see much more detail in a high-def image.”
Just as DVDs slowly phased out VHS tapes, Blu-ray discs are expected to become the dominant product on the market as more and more people get high-definition TV sets. Though right now the technology is much more expensive than for DVDs ““ with a player costing from $400-$1000 and individual discs priced around $20 ““ prices are expected to decrease as Blu-ray discs become more prevalent.
However, don’t expect the Blu-ray to dominate for long. According to Denove, just when BDs effectively eliminate DVDs, something new will hit the market. “Our technology, especially in the electronics digital world, just will not stop,” Denove said. “But the nice thing is that technology advances but the price doesn’t change a whole lot; we just keep getting more for our money.”