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December 12, 2008

5 Questions and Answers to Better Understand Blu-ray

By Mona Nomura of Pixel Bits (FriendFeed/Twitter)

I am the odd ball. The nerdy go-to person for my friends' and family's geeky needs. This Black Friday, before Christmas, et al sale holiday season, the most frequently asked question is: Should I buy a Blu-ray player? Since half of my guy friends are non-techies and my girl friends? PLEASE do not get me started. Their tech cred is limited to owning beauty gadgets and high end mobile phones. It is a challenge (and pressure) to simply explain what Blu-ray is and if it is truly a right choice for them; especially since they know where I live.

This is the list of FAQs I e-mail to them (I am too impatient to verbally explain). If any of you (the readers) are considering Blu-ray, hopefully it will be helpful to you, too. Oh - but please do not tell anyone this version of the list is way more thorough with technical explanations.

1. Do you have an HDTV?

Short answer: If no, don't bother.

Long answer: HDTV is not a requirement, but to fully enjoy what you are paying for; the quality and widescreen effect, a Hi-Def TV is highly recommended. As for the resolutions, Blu-ray players connect to a TV by an HDMI cable and sends HD signals to 720p, 1080i, and 1080p HDTVs, respectively, so formats is not a concern. But, if you do not have an HDTV and not planning to purchase one, check the outputs of your current set, since some older televisions are not Blu-ray compatible.

2. Do you have surround sound speakers?

Short answer: No? Are you sure you want to pay more for Blu-ray discs? Part of the pricing is for enhanced sounds.

Long answer: A single layer DVD holds 10 gigs. Both ROM and RW Blu-ray discs nearly double DVD's capacities - which basically means Blu-ray discs holds more data. Aside from bonus DVD features (commentaries, deleted scenes, etc., etc.), the extra storage capacities enable enhanced sound formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) and up to seven speaker channels and a sub - depending on your audio set up. Blu-ray discs are pricey, because we (the consumers) are paying for the production of the technology which enables Blu-ray to be Blu-ray, and sound is included in the package.

3. Can you really tell the difference between Blu-ray and regular DVDs?

Short answer: Just like a fast food burger and restaurant burger, you really do get what you pay for.

Long answer: Blu-ray discs holds double the video, and up to six times the resolution of DVDs. A picture with 1,080 lines consisting of 1,920 pixels redrawn progressively across the screen will clearly be different from a regular DVD's. Distinguishing 720p and 1080p may be a little difficult (screen size 40" + is ideal, viewing distance, etc.) but you better believe you will see the difference.

4. Do I need to repurchase my DVD library?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Blu-ray players play regular DVDs and some will even boost resolution.

5. So why not HD downloads?

Short answer: Do you really want to wait two hours?

Long answer: I am going to quote Bill Hunt from thedigitalbits.com who said it best: "Blu-ray is going to give you to the best-looking high-definition video quality you'll see anywhere — better than video-on-demand or downloading, or HD cable, or even HD satellite," He also says: "Blu-ray simply offers the best video and audio quality available, with the most advanced bonus features."

Since Blu-ray discs have more data = more room to pack enhanced features aside from bonus features = better picture and sound. That said, if you're willing to pay extra for HD downloads, why not pay a little more for Blu-ray. It's worth it.

That, and Dark Knight on Blu-ray is totally worth the investment. Kidding, folks!

Sources: Engadget, CNET, and Blu-ray's site.

Read more by Mona Nomura at Pixel Bits