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War. What is it good for?
January 25, 2008 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Is it finally OK to buy a Blu-Ray player?

Can I? Finally? Is this stupid 'format war' essentially over? I want to enjoy my new television, but I don't want to be the guy stuck with a bunch of DIVX discs.

I know its been asked before, and before, but with Warner going only Blu-Ray, is the question finally answerable?
posted by uaudio to Technology (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It's better, but still not 100%. The major thing to consider is that physical media artifacts are going to become less popular in the future. With increased downloads/online rentals, in a year or two (or sooner, if you have AppleTV), you might not even need a Blu-Ray player to watch HD movies.

In terms of the format war thing, HD-DVD is probably done for. But Blu-Ray players and discs are still monstrously expensive. Unless you're willing to dump a lot of cash, I'd keep waiting for HD downloads to be a solid alternative to Blu-Ray and then see which one you want.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:13 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Get a PS3. Watch movies on it.
posted by null terminated at 10:16 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yes, Blu-Ray is (now) the correct choice. The PS3 advice is also good in a twofer way.
posted by rokusan at 10:17 AM on January 25, 2008


I read that there's a new version of BluRay coming this year, with more features. Old players won't be upgradeable, and may not even be able to play disks that conform to the new standard.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:21 AM on January 25, 2008


If you decide to go Blu-Ray, do get a PS3 or a player with updatable firmware.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2008


I have a PS3 and I never buy Blu-Ray movies. Netflix is the answer. Doesn't cost any more to rent the Blu-Ray movies, but the experience is far superior.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2008


I read that there's a new version of BluRay coming this year, with more features. Old players won't be upgradeable, and may not even be able to play disks that conform to the new standard.

There's definitely some truth to this, but I think I also read that the PS3 is the most upgradeable Blu-Ray player on the market, since it can store a ton of data and has video output hardware far in excess of a BD-only unit, since it has to drive those video games as well.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:23 AM on January 25, 2008


Given that for several years we've watched regular DVDs with our Playstation 2, the wisdom of buying the PS3 as your Blu-Ray player seems unassailable to me.
posted by briank at 10:27 AM on January 25, 2008


Add another vote to the PS3 for Blue Ray advice.
posted by Silvertree at 10:38 AM on January 25, 2008


Blu-ray has beaten HD-DVD, but that doesn't mean it's won the consumers' love. The history of consumer electronics is littered with dead formats. A lot of those came from Sony. In this case, these formats are not just competing with each other but also with online or DVR'd HD content. Blu-ray won a battle, not the war.

I'm not biting onto this hook just yet. But if you got a PS3, you can always play games with it too.
posted by chairface at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Piggy-back: while region coding is less of an issue for Blu Ray (though the potential still exists), what about NTSC vs. PAL discs? We've always bought standard DVD players that are region free and can handle both video standards (yeah I said "both", fuck SECAM). Is this something to keep in my mind when choosing a Blu Ray player? The US PS3 doesn't do it and has no hack around that I'm aware of.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:47 AM on January 25, 2008


Here's a hypothetical scenario, the 50GB+ optical drive market is segmented by the manufacturers into Blue-Ray for 'movies/games' and HD-DVD for computer storage... If Blue-Ray players never become standard on PCs, that eliminates a lot of potential software hackers from experimenting with the formats security features *unless your PC uses Intel ViiV or some other 'trusted computing' 'feature'.
posted by acro at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2008


Here's a hypothetical scenario, the 50GB+ optical drive market is segmented by the manufacturers into Blue-Ray for 'movies/games' and HD-DVD for computer storage...

This is nonsense. A dual-layer HD-DVD disc can only hold 30 GB, while a dual-layer Blu-Ray disc holds 50 GB. Clearly, Blu-Ray would be superior for data storage.

Futhermore, Blu-Ray is preferred by every major computer manufacturer, including Apple, Dell, HP, and Sony.
posted by designbot at 11:01 AM on January 25, 2008


Go Blu-ray.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, folks at the Blu-ray booth AND people in the Blu-ray authoring business recommended PS3s, because they are the most upgradeable.

disclaimer: I am a professional Blu-ray nerd
posted by infinitewindow at 11:07 AM on January 25, 2008


You should feel comfortable picking up a 40GB PS3 (the one that won't play PS2 games). We just did it, and it is life-changingly awesome.

Blu-ray discs are just jaw-dropping*. If you have cable hdtv, it's clearly better than the best shows you see, just because the bitrates are way higher.

The PS3 does a fine job of upscaling regular dvs.

The PS3 is also a media hub. You can easily set up a freeware server on your pc, and listen to your mp3s on your stereo, and watch downloaded stuff. PS3 now does (some) divx/xvid natively, so you don't even need to transcode them. I watched _Beowulf_ the other day and it worked great, except when the bitrate was higher than my ancient wireless router's bitrate.

As part of playing computer video files, the PS3 also plays *some* hi-res downloads. The annoyance here is that most of those are matroska files, and the PS3 won't play those. But many matroska files are actually just mp4 videos with a wrapper, so you can yank the wrapper out pretty painlessly. I've checked this with a few 720p samples from larger downloads and when it works, it works fine.

Also the PS3 plays video games.

I read that there's a new version of BluRay coming this year, with more features. Old players won't be upgradeable, and may not even be able to play disks that conform to the new standard.

This is "profiles."

Profile 1.0 were the original players.

Profile 1.1 adds requirements for local storage and a second decoder -- to be a 1.1 player, your player needs to have some form of local storage of at least a certain amount, and it has to be able to decode two AV streams at once. PS3 is currently a 1.1 player.

Profile 2.0, coming down the road, will add a few requirements to the 1.1 profile. To be a 2.0 profile, you have to meet all the stuff for 1.1, and (IIRC) have more storage, and have a net connection.

The PS3 already meets the profile 2.0 requirements and will only need a firmware flash to be a full-on no-shit profile 2.0 player. Even if you do not get a PS3, you should expect that the movies will play on all players, but that you won't be able to use the interactive features that might be net-dependent.

*Except for ones that are mastered badly, of which there are a few.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on January 25, 2008


If you decide to go Blu-Ray, do get a PS3 or a player with updatable firmware.

As ROU_Xenophobe points out, this is not a very good suggestion. The newer profiles require new hardware. No firmware upgrade can possibly fix that.

Don't buy a Blu-ray player unless:

- It has ethernet/wireless
- It has internal storage, or USB for upgradable external storage
- It has two tuners so that it can do picture-in-picture

All the news articles say that only the PS3 meets these requirements. So it's probably the only Blu-ray player worth buying right now.
posted by sbutler at 11:30 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't buy any. There's a reason Apple still isn't shipping either one, and here's some speculation about it. There may be a point to it.
posted by DreamerFi at 11:46 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The PS3 strikes me as a sub-optimal Blu-Ray player, actually.

1) It's $400-$450, which I'd say is about $300 too much, unless you want to play games on it too.
2) It doesn't come with a remote; you have to buy that separately.
3) The Sony remote is Bluetooth, so it can't be learned by a universal remote.*
4) Odd, non-stackable size.

*Apparently you can use a third-party infrared remote with it, and I assume a universal remote could learn that. You'll end up with a USB dongle sticking off the front of the unit, though.
posted by kindall at 12:11 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


1) It's $400-$450, which I'd say is about $300 too much, unless you want to play games on it too.

Fair enough, except that there are no BD players that run your suggested $100-150, and there probably won't be for a while yet.

PS3s are now somewhat more expensive than the cheapest players you can find on sale or coming out soon, which run about $299. Or to put it differently, a PS3 costs at most $100 more, and more likely costs no more, but adds in being a game machine and media box. God bless subsidization of game hardware.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:26 PM on January 25, 2008


Plan C. Build a media centre PC, stick a blu-ray drive in it. You can get the drive for much less than the PS3, though the media centre PC will cost a chunk more.

On the plus side, the PC will allow you to rip DVDs and bluray to disk (anydvd hd FTW), pause and record live tv, and stream any damn media file you like from your local drive or cheap NAS fileserver box. You can even play games on it if you beef up the graphics card. Even a cheap laptop with usb tuners will do the job. Just make sure you have HDCP capability on the DVI/HDMI on the PC, and HDCP/HDMI on the TV, so you can carry on playing films after they turn on the image constraint token DRM.

Not as simple as a PS3 or standalone player, and bulkier; but the flexibility rocks so much. Media portal or windows media centre are probably the best choice, though there's a whole bunch of others.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:11 PM on January 25, 2008


Oh you can even get dual-format PC drives that'll play bluray and HD-DVD - if you really want to hedge your bets. Bluray has won though, it's just a matter of time before toshiba throw in the towel - unless they come up with a truly spectacular defection.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:12 PM on January 25, 2008


Someone may have already said this, I didn't carefully read all the above comments.

Blue Ray players are never going to replace DVD's. For one, the type of camera that records in blue ray format is expensive, so the number of things recorded in blue ray is small. Also, the difference in quality between a blue ray formatted movie and a DVD formatted movie, when both played on a high definition TV, is negligible. The DVD's on high def TV's just look so good- blue ray isn't significantly better.

So no, don't buy blue ray.
posted by proj08 at 2:36 PM on January 25, 2008


proj08, that is wrong. Modern movies are either filmed with real film or high-def digital cameras. Film has a much higher resolution than either DVD or HD, so can (and is) transferred to Blu-ray easily and without a loss of quality. The digital cameras used in hollywood are high-def already, so I'm not sure how that isn't "recording in blue ray format". Also, if you haven't seen a high-def movie (Blu-ray or otherwise) already, check it out. Nearly all major releases are now coming out on both Blu-ray and DVD nowadays (also, lots of older movies are being converted as well. I saw Casablanca last week in HD-DVD, but hopefully those releases will be merged into the Blu-Ray lineup soon). And the difference is pretty spectacular.
posted by nervestaple at 2:46 PM on January 25, 2008


To further clarify (and oversimplify) a bit, DVDs have 480 lines of video. Modern HDTVs can display 1080 lines of video. In order to display a DVD on an HDTV, you have to stretch the video out, making it blurry. Blu-ray discs natively have all 1080 lines of video, providing a much clearer picture than DVD.
posted by nervestaple at 2:49 PM on January 25, 2008


Oh wow, that's so wrong.

For one, the type of camera that records in blue ray format is expensive, so the number of things recorded in blue ray is small.

I have Blade Runner on blu-ray, filmed 1980/81. Are you suggesting that they sent invisible blu-ray cameras back in time to get the footage? Most movies will be, like Blade Runner, scanned from film. In many cases, getting the movie itself onto blu-ray is just a matter of transcoding from a high-def master they've already made to any of the codecs that blu-ray supports.

Also, the difference in quality between a blue ray formatted movie and a DVD formatted movie, when both played on a high definition TV, is negligible.

In theory, this is a matter of taste, but you're just wrong. Blu-ray stuff looks clearly, definitively, night and day better. Any of the various SD/HD comparison pages will show this. Or at least should... I gather that people look at, say, the LOTR comparison shots and don't see any difference, but those are crazy people who are wrong for not seeing the difference, and probably worse than Hitler.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:49 PM on January 25, 2008


the difference in quality between a blue ray formatted movie and a DVD formatted movie, when both played on a high definition TV, is negligible. The DVD's on high def TV's just look so good- blue ray isn't significantly better.

You're not seen this then?
posted by meehawl at 3:35 PM on January 25, 2008


10x the capacity, used properly, must result in better image quality. On the other hand, weather that improved image quality is of practical significance to an individual consumer is a very different question.

Consider.. Are your front channel (L/R front) speakers worth more than $300? Then what makes you want to spend $300 on a player?
posted by Chuckles at 4:23 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, the difference in quality between a blue ray formatted movie and a DVD formatted movie, when both played on a high definition TV, is negligible. The DVD's on high def TV's just look so good- blue ray isn't significantly better.

If you think DVD looks better than Blu-Ray (or HD-DVD) on a high definition TV, you either aren't hooking up your player correctly or you have glaucoma.

I'm an Xbox 360 fan, so I bought the HD-DVD player add-on when I bought my HDTV, and I plan on selling it in favor of buying a Blu-Ray player at some point in the indefinite future, and it will probably be a PS3, which kind of breaks my 360-lovin' heart . I'm hoping to make due with HD downloads through Xbox Live and plain old HD cable.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:48 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


High-Def DVD formats definitely look better than standard, but even if they didn't, the fact that you can access the menus without stopping the film is almost reason enough to upgrade.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 11:24 PM on January 25, 2008


Yes. The American consumer has decided that HD-DVD is dead. Recent HD DVD sales grind to a virtual halt
Warner Home Video's defection from the HD DVD camp may have put a damper on hardware sales (see " Warner's Blu-ray Disc move has industry buzzing").

In the week since the studio's surprise early-January announcement that after May it will support only the rival Blu-ray Disc format, sales of HD DVD players ground to a virtual halt, giving Blu-ray hardware a whopping 93% sales advantage, according to data from the NPD Group.

According to raw retail data collected by NPD, consumers bought just 1,758 HD DVD players the week of January 12, down from 14,558 players the week before. In contrast, consumers bought 21,770 Blu-ray Disc machines, up from 15,257 the previous week.
Stick a fork in it, it's dead.
posted by evariste at 1:05 AM on January 26, 2008


Yeah, that Fellowship of the Ring capture comparison makes no sense to me. It has the HD captures (which are presumably from an HD broadcast?) downsampled to DVD resolution for the comparison, illustrating that the HD stream is much sharper and has more detail. But.... isn't that exactly what the producers of the DVD did with the original HD master? Why would the process that this guy used produce such better images at DVD resolution than the actual DVD. which was presumably mastered from what is essentially an HD-or-better original using extremely high end equipment?

Something's not right here.
posted by Caviar at 7:58 PM on January 26, 2008


(Besides my punctutation.)
posted by Caviar at 7:58 PM on January 26, 2008


(And, apparently, my spelling. Argh.)
posted by Caviar at 7:58 PM on January 26, 2008


Why would the process that this guy used produce such better images at DVD resolution than the actual DVD.

Because DVDs are compressed. Think of comparing a jpg and a raw image of the same resolution. Or, think of a large raw image, sampled down to DVD resolution at low quality. Compare that to the same raw image sampled down to HD-DVD at medium quality, and then sampled down to DVD resolution at high quality. That is presumably what you are seeing in that comparison.

It gets fairly complicated though.. The exact details of the mastering are very significant, and the amount of space available determines only part of the final quality. Compare a low quality jpg with a high quality jpg, compare a jpg to the more modern jpg 2000, and compare VCD to KVCD. The algorithm, and the quality of the implementation, can surely make as much difference as the extra size available on Blu Ray. However, 5-10x the capacity, and more modern compression algorithms, does point to Blu Ray being better for all but the worst mastering screw ups.

But, I come back to the issue of playback gear.. The display is the biggest limiting factor. Well mastered DVDs can look exceptionally good.
posted by Chuckles at 11:29 PM on January 26, 2008


There are three things involved here that affect the quality: storage size, resolution, and the mathematical complexity of the compression algorithm.

Original film stock doesn't have pixels as it's an analog medium, but there is a limit to how high you can effectively scan it due to grain etc. Pre 1955 stuff is generally considered to be 2160 × 2970; modern anamorphic is 2485 × 2970 on the original masters, which is 2970 vertical lines. The film resolution is considerably reduced during all the steps to create the prints that go to cinemas.

The best resolution you can get with DVD is 480p for NTSC (that's 480 vertical lines), or 576p for PAL. This is fine if you have a standard definition TV (CRT or digital) as that's the best the TV will display anyway.

If you have a 1080p HDTV, with 1080 vertical lines, the TV or the DVD player has to invent those missing lines that aren't on the DVD, based on what it already has - or display the film in a small box surrounded by black space. Even 720p HDTV sets have this problem, though the difference is definitely less noticeable on a smaller 720p HDTV.

This is where bluray and HDVD come in. They go back to the original mastered film stock, with a high-res scanner (effectively), and get a new digital version of the film at higher resolution. The 1080 lines are detail that was on the film stock, but not got transfered to DVD as it was downsampled out along the way to get it down to 480 lines. Potentially, there's a new HD standard coming in a few years, 2160p or quadHD, that pretty much matches the limit of current film quality. Digital still cameras passed this point a few years ago, now we're getting there with digital video. Of course, films can be shot with digital cameras now; this does simplify a number of the production steps, and is often used on special-effect heavy TV shows, but it does mean there won't be that very-high res analog original master to go back to.

If you can't see the difference between a well mastered 1080p bluray film on a properly setup decent sized TV (37" upwards ish at close range, 50" plus at some distance) and an upscaled DVD, then you probably need your eyes tested. I'm not being sarcastic, this is actually how we found out a friend of mine needed glasses.

The reason bluray and HDDVD can store 1080p films with more than 4 times the pixels of a 480p DVD is because a bluray disc can hold up to 50GB. A DVD, only 4.7GB. More space, bigger filesize.

The other reason is modern compression. MPEG2, on DVDs, is easy. My PDA can decode MPEG2 now. H.264 (mpeg4-avc) and VC1, the codecs* used on bluray and HDDVD are much harder mathematically, and need a much beefier processor or dedicated chip to decode without stuttering. To compare, it takes about 10 minutes for my core2 e6600 PC to encode a particular file into an MPEG2, but it takes almost 3 hours for the same file with 2-pass x264.

bluray and HDVD also have much better quality sound tracks for much the same reason; dolby digital and DTS are compressed to hell with a not very efficient algorithm. Going back to the masters, and creating a lossless TrueHD soundtrack gives you a MUCH better soundtrack, though you need decent speakers and probably a new amp/receiver to play it.

To sum up though; HD-DVD is dead, all films will likely be being released on bluray in a few months. bluray kicks DVDs ass in quality, but costs a fair bit of money. 1080p HD downloaded or streamed off the internet, legally or otherwise will kick blurays ass.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:40 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


* codec stands for compression-decompression. h264 and VC1 standard codecs give much better looking pictures than a faster simpler algorithm like MPEG2, even though they're both lossy codecs (i.e. throw away part of the picture to compress it, like JPEG). Quality always comes at a cost though, and thats the CPU horsepower needed to do the maths. h264 is biased towards making the decode quicker, thus making the encode step even longer, but it still requires an AMD X2 4200+ or better to decode it purely in software.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:46 AM on January 27, 2008


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