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A First Look at Blu-ray  Print E-mail
Home Theater News Blu-ray Software News
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Wednesday, 08 March 2006

I was recently invited to an impressive demonstration of Blu-ray technology on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, California. The reason for the event was to celebrate the announcement of the first 20 titles and players but the two hour demonstration outlined much more about the format and what is can do. Take it from me – the format can do plenty.

Titles
20 titles isn’t going to impress anyone even if they are all excellent transfers with killer, 1080i HDTV images. Sony has over 3,000 movie titles already in 1080p and pretty close to being ready for resale on Blu-ray in the coming months and years. Additionally, they have another 2,000 TV shows that can also be ready for Blu-ray without an act of God. They are playing their cards close to their vest as they launch the format for fear of issues and glitches that could leave them with egg on their faces.

Will Sony and the other Blu-ray content partners release enough titles on Blu-ray to temp Joe Average (unlike JVC’s failed D-VHS format)? You bet. With box office sales slumping and HDTV sales booming, Sony knows where its bread is buttered. What will inspire vast quantities of Blu-ray releases will be the eventual 2006 launch of Playstation 3. As soon as PS3 hits the streets Blu-ray will likely become the Christmas “must-have” item bundled with Playstation 3 machines and games. As proven with UMD discs, there is a precedent set for studios to be able to get titles out fast. Releasing a film in HD on Blu-ray or HD-DVD is not as artistically complex as remastering Magical Mystery Tour from folded down four track stereo into 5.1 surround.

Blu-ray Versus DVD
I have talked with some industry types who suggest that the average consumer can not really tell or is willing to pay for the difference between DVD-Video (480p) and HDTV (1080i). They are simply insane (or blind). During today’s demonstration, Sony Pictures was able to graft a DVD image and a Blu-ray image of the same material on a nearly 30 foot wide Stewart Filmscreen being lit up by the commercial D-Cinema Sony 4k video projector. From the front row of this theater, in comparison to Blu-ray the DVD side looked as if you were wearing someone else’s glasses. The Blu-ray side looked so clear that you swear you were actually on the set. The biggest difference was in the textures and gradients. When looking at a phone across the room the keys looked blurry on the DVD side but on the Blu-ray side you could see them clearly. On wallpaper you could see the texture and imperfections of the wall on Blu-ray where on DVD you simply couldn’t resolve such specific details. There is no question that the picture on Blu-ray is noticeably better to not just the trained eye but to the average consumer looking to buy an HDTV system.

Worries About Compression?
In high resolution audio compression is a huge issue related to the quality of the sound of an album. A trained ear can hear compression with ease. In Blu-ray there is 25 to 50 Gb of data space on the disc thus there is plenty of room for audio of all formats. Sony is actually releasing some movies with literally uncompressed audio in surround for some of its Blu-ray releases. Since HDMI can not handle high resolution audio yet, this 24 bit 192 kHz surround feed will require users to revert back to their nasty 6 channel analog connections but they will be treated to the most impressive, high quality sound that can fit on a disc. Audio enthusiasts should be excited as well considering you can likely fit a handful of albums at stunning 24-192 audio with ultra-high resolution still shots for music playback (not that record labels know what to do with Blu-ray or have titles to release to launch the format).

In a perfect world there would be no compression and for audio Blu-ray may allow for less (or no) compression but for video there is no way to get the incredibly large amounts of data from a feature film onto a disc without compression. Compression was the key to the success of DVD as a video source and it is essential to the success of Blu-ray. Sony was able to demonstrate with another split screen demonstration one side of a film completely uncompressed (400 Mbps) along side the compressed Blu-ray side (24 Mbps). From the front row and with 15 minutes of scouring the screen for flaws I can tell you I couldn’t see them. Can I hear audio compression? Absolutely, especially on CDs but with Blu-ray video, I simply couldn’t see any ill effects of the compression needed to squeeze a movie on to a Blu-ray disc.

Is Big Brother Watching?
Yes. Movie studios really want to sell you their films all over again in HDTV but they don’t want you to steal their copy written material. They are rightfully scared of high dollar home video piracy in foreign countries that literally erode entire markets for them to sell their home video products into. What they have done is built in code that can change the copy protection scheme on the fly. DVD’s copy protection scheme (40 bit encryption) has long been broken but Blu-ray’s 128 bit scheme is far harder to break. When it is broken they reserve the option to change the copy protection on your machine. You might not like it but you have little choice if you want to watch movies in HD. That same connection can also add value to movies with additional content, director’s comments, deleted scenes and so on. Blu-ray players do have some storage on them so that you can save additional materials.

Should you be worried about studios tracking what you watch in your player? Not yet but you should also know that they are capable of it if they want. Ultimately, they are far more interested in selling you dozens of HD movies on Blu-ray.

Is Blu-ray Worth It?
With 20 titles coming to market to start, the Blu-ray contingency is really only appealing to the early adopter, enthusiast crowd. In a few short months they will need to be ready for millions upon millions of people to want to play movies on Blu-ray through their Playstation3 players. With many of billions of dollars in new sales from movies that are paid for long ago – count on the studios to follow the money into thousands of titles within a year or so.

Should you be first on your block to buy into Blu-ray? Depends on your system and cash situation. If you are frustrated with the lack of HD content on your digital cable and or satellite – then Blu-ray is a viable option right out of the gate. If you do an A-B comparison you will never want to watch DVD again. For me personally, I am preordering a player today. From what I saw at the Sony lot – I won’t be able to live without that level of video in my new theater.







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