Blu-ray is the next generation of optical disc technology and supersedes the standard DVDs we’re all so familiar with presently.

Greater Capacity

The biggest difference between a Blu-ray disk and a standard DVD is that the Blu-ray disc can hold a lot more information (25Gb on a single layer Blu-ray disc as opposed to just under 5Gb on a standard DVD).

And why is this important? Well, there are any number of uses for this greater storage capacity, but the one most of us will become increasingly familiar with over the next few years is high definition visual entertainment – in other words, movies and TV shows.

Greater Viewing Pleasure

High definition televisions are able to provide pictures of far greater detail, contrast, sharpness and colour because they have many more pixels (the little dots that make up your TV picture) than standard TVs (2 million vs. 350,000). But, of course, pixels by themselves don’t do anything, you have to fire them up with information – and with 2 million of them for every frame of picture, you’re going to burn through an awful lot of information.

Blue Laser

Fortunately, Blu-ray discs are up to the task. But, to get the information off that Blu-ray disc and on to your high definition TV you need a Blu-ray player. Blu-ray discs will not work on standard DVD players as the technology is completely different – Blu-ray players use a much finer “blue” laser to read the disc than the “red” laser used in standard DVD players.

Similarly, it is pointless trying to play a Blu-ray disc over a standard TV – those 2 million pixels per frame are going to be wasted on something that only has space for 350,000.

What to Look For in a Blu-ray Player

So, you’ve got your high definition TV and you want to fully exploit its capabilities, you want to watch those crystal clear movies everyone’s talking about. What do you look for in a Blu-ray player?

Connection

Your player (and TV) should have an HDMI (High Definition Media Interface) port. HDMI is the standard connection for high definition formats. It allows streaming of audio and video over a single cable and support’s Blu-ray’s maximum video resolution and all audio formats.

So, unless you have an older high definition TV that does not have an HDMI port (you might be using a Component Video connection instead), insist on an HDMI output. In practice, it is unlikely you’ll find a Blu-ray player without one.

Upscaling

Although you’re moving into the brave new world of high definition, you’ll still want to be able to watch your old DVD collection. Check that the Blu-ray player you’re contemplating can “upscale” or “upconvert” standard DVDs and to what level of picture quality it does this. During upscaling the player adds more information to the signal from a standard DVD so that it can be displayed on a high definition TV (it needs all those extra pixels adding to it).

Load Time

How long does it take from when you insert the disc to when you get a picture on the screen? Some models of Blu-ray player have annoyingly long load times.

Region

Like the irritating region system used on standard DVDs, Blu-ray discs also suffer geographical restrictions (though the number of regions has been reduced to three). While some movie studios release their movies in unrestricted Blu-ray format, some don’t. So, if you plan to get Blu-ray discs overseas (via the internet, for instance) check whether your player will be able to play them.

Compatibility with Your TV

All Blu-ray players output 1080p – this is shorthand meaning the resulting picture has 1080 pixels down its vertical axis and 1920 along the horizontal. This level of resolution is known as true high definition (True HD). Some older high definition televisions are not capable of this level of resolution and display 720p images instead (720 pixels down the vertical axis).

While you won’t get true HD playing a Blu-ray disc over a 720p TV, you can still get a far superior picture to that from a standard DVD. Your Blu-ray player should be able to “talk” to your TV via the HDMI connection and adjust its output accordingly. If you aren’t using a 1080p TV, though, it might pay to check before you buy your player that there won’t be any compatibility issues.

Profiles

There have been three generations, or profiles, of Blu-ray player. These are designated 1.0, 1.1, 2.0 and each has greater capabilities than the preceding version. Versions 1.1 and 2.0 are known commonly as “Bonus View” and “BD-Live”, respectively.

Basically, Bonus View allows picture in picture (PiP) and enhanced menu functionality and requires that the player be equipped with a secondary audio/video decoder, while BD-Live supports PiP and allows internet connectivity for downloadable multimedia content e.g. games, cell-phone ring tones, chats with the film maker, interaction with other fans, trailers, even whole movies.

Whatever version of Blu-ray player you buy it will be able to play the main feature on a Blu-ray disc. However, if the disc is, say, a BD-Live Blu-ray disc, and you only have a Bonus View player, you won’t be able to access some of the extra features and capabilities of that disc.

It makes sense, then, if you want the latest generation technology and the most features to buy a Blu-ray player that is rated BD-Live.

Audio

Blu-ray discs offer not only high definition video, but also high definition sound. There are a number of different types of these high definition audio tracks (e.g. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) and each is encoded differently when set down on a Blu-ray disc.

In order for your TV (or home entertainment system) to play these audio tracks they must first be decoded. This decoding can happen in either of two ways. The audio track can be decoded by the Blu-ray player and then sent to the TV as a signal that requires no further decoding. Or your Blu-ray player can send an un-decoded bit-stream of information to your TV or entertainment system and your TV must then decode this itself.

If your Blu-ray player employs the second of these modes (i.e. does not decode audio itself) problems will arise if your TV does not have the ability to decode a particular audio format.

So, when buying a Blu-ray player, the safest option is to choose one with onboard audio decoding (check that it decodes all current audio formats). That way you won’t find yourself watching silent movies if your TV doesn’t recognise a certain audio format.

A Careful Choice

Paying attention to the points listed above, thorough questioning of sales staff and perhaps a little comparison shopping on the internet, will result in the purchase of a Blu-ray player that embodies the latest technology, provides the widest range of features and meets your high definition viewing needs for years to come.



Learn more about Blu-ray in this video.

What You Need to Know About Choosing a Blu-ray Player, 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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