Blu-ray is quickly becoming the standard rather than the “high-end” alternative that DVD was to VHS 10 yeas ago, but it’s not simply the next evolution in modern technology. Blu-ray is raising the bar and setting new standards for home entertainment. Most people may wonder why the big push for HD and Blu-ray really is, and it’s a little bit deeper than simply having extra details on the screen.
Blu-ray was first conceptualized in 2000 when Sony developed a blue laser which was able to read smaller wave-lengths and therefor being able to make the space available on the discs much greater. Quality was becoming the demand in the digital age and many film-enthusiasts weren’t content with a DVD’s low 480-pixel resolution. As HDTV began to become popular and more widespread, Sony began seeing the potential to capitalize and create a high-end video format that would offer home viewers to experience movies and TV at a resolution that is close to a typical Cinema’s 2k resolution (2048 x 1152). Philip’s HD-DVD was first to the market and when Blu-ray was released shortly after, this created a format war as different studios began backing the two formats. Over time though, Blu-ray began winning over the mass market, movie studios began supporting it, and eventually it was the winner. Blu-ray had finally gained a little bit of ground, but most of the average consumers still questioned the format.
As time went on, Blu-ray began becoming more affordable and people began to latch on when movies like Transformers, 300, and The Wizard of Oz were released. The studios were also purposely leaving content off the DVD releases and making them Blu-ray exclusives to push the format as well. Today, Blu-ray disc is only a few short steps away from surpassing DVD in every area, including sales.
I was opposed to Blu-ray myself until I really began to understand what it was truly about. It’s not just some cash-grab by the studios for releasing movies with unneeded detail. Sure, you’ll see things a few things here and there that maybe weren’t intended to be seen, but the beauty of it is that you’ll begin seeing things that were always intended to be see, but never were because of the limitations of the previous home video formats; VHS, Laserdisc, DVD.
If you have yet to upgrade, you may be asking yourself “why should I upgrade? I don’t want to see the pores on people’s faces.” The answer is quite simple. It’s not merely about extra details, it’s about further capturing the Director’s intentions and presenting the film as it was intended to be seen. The color spectrum available on an HD video is also better than that of standard definition. In other words, when movies are mastered and compressed for DVD, the format doesn’t allow for them to be seen in the color spectrum that was intended, and that is why when you view a DVD upscaled on a Blu-ray player, the colors will often seem a little dull and blacks will appear more as a dark grey.
“How are older movies available in High Definition?”
This is a question I get asked a lot and it’s a good one. Film itself has varying resolutions. 16mm film equates to about 2k resolution, 35mm film about 4k, and 70mm to about 8k. Of course, even 16mm film can be scanned and mastered at 8k, but this is usually only necessary for older films where the master print may be damaged. The smaller the film stock, the more “grain” the picture has as well.
Sadly, film decays and studios have to produce new masters over time to keep the film looking as pristine as possible. This is one of the reasons you often see movies re-released and marketed as being “remastered,” which means the film has undergone some sort of restoration. Many of the little black dot and white lines you see pop-up throughout your movies (usually on older films) are there because the film master that the movie was sourced from has artifacts such as dust, small holes, hairs and other things. It’s very time consuming to clean a film print as it has to be done on a frame-by-frame basis. There are 24 frames in one second of video, just to give you an idea. One sad fact is that 90% of the films made before 1950 have been lost or damaged beyond repair or completely lost forever. Blu-ray video is also used as a means of creating a high definition video presentation of these movies before anything like that happens.
Blu-ray is also capable of showing movies in 3D without using the goofy Red-Cyan glasses method. While, I personally am not a big fan of 3D, there are definitely people who will enjoy it and see it as a plus. 3D video itself is also a growing technology. New methods are being developed to make the format more conventional without the need to buy expensive Blu-ray players or glasses.
Another big reason is the audio formats available on Blu-ray as opposed to DVD. I myself am an audiophile and believe that the audio is often-times more important than what is shown on the screen. The audio of a movie is what creates the mood and brings you right in the middle of the experience. Because of the limited space available on DVD discs, most movies use a standard Dolby Digital audio track which has a bit-rate of 448kbps (kilobytes per second). This is almost one-third of the quality used on audio CDs (which is 1411.2kbps). Sometimes you will find a DVD that has an available DTS track, but those are often times 768kbps (very few are at 1509.75kbps). With Blu-ray, you’re getting movies at the quality that they were originally produced and mastered at, which often times exceeds 2000 and 3000kbps. What do these numbers mean? Simply put, it’s the amount of information that one second of audio contains. The higher the number, the more detail. Unfortunately, a small number of Blu-rays still do only offer a DVD Dolby Digital audio track, and this is often because the source master is damaged or sometimes needs more work than the Blu-ray release’s budget allows for.
One more plus for the Blu-ray format is the players themselves. Blu-ray is an ever-evolving format and new methods are being worked on every day. In 2008, Pioneer developed a 500-gigabyte disc that should be available soon if the Blu-ray Disc Association is currently developing a 1-terabyte (which is equal to 1000-gigabytes) Blu-ray disc, having 20-times the available disc space of today’s standard 50-gigabyte disc. Imagine being able to fit an entire season of a TV show on one disc or having the entire series of a standard definition show on one disc, possibly even in HD depending on how much they’re compressed. Feats like these will no doubt be possible in the near future with Blu-ray.
While DVD was great for bringing movies to us on a digital medium for the first time (Laserdisc was analog), Blu-ray has taken it one step further and allows us to truly experience the movie as they were intended to be. They also allow us to see things we’ve never seen before and so deeper into the story that is being played. You’ll see and hear things that you’ve never heard. Some movies that you’ve see 100 times will be like watching them for the first time all over again.
A good website to get yourself familiar with Blu-ray and see the available catalog, as well as see detailed reviews for each individual title, check out www.blu-ray.com.