Blu-ray vs. DVD
In most ways, Blu-ray is fairly similar to DVD. The players look the same, the discs look the same, and even the disc menus are similar. So why pay more?
Blu-ray brings three major improvements over DVD: better image quality, better sound quality, and more special features. All three are made possible by the larger storage capacity of Blu-ray, which is capable of storing 50GB of information on a single Blu-ray Disc, compared with DVDs, which can hold about 8GB.
What's better about Blu-ray?
Image quality: Superior resolution is a big part of what makes Blu-ray look great. In layman's terms, this means you'll see a more detailed image: more clearly defined strands of hair, wrinkles in clothing, etc. The technical difference is that Blu-ray's maximum resolution is 1,920x1,080 (1080p), while DVD is limited to 720x480 (480p). Beyond resolution, Blu-ray also uses better video-compression methods, resulting in more contrast and richer colors. If you like the way HD from your cable or satellite provider looks, Blu-ray looks even better. It's the highest-quality video format available today, and in some ways it surpasses the picture quality of your local movie theater, especially when shown on a good-performing HDTV or projector.
Audio quality: Audio quality is also improved. New high-resolution soundtrack formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, are essentially identical to the studio master, so you'll be hearing things exactly as the director and audio engineers intended. For more information check out the Blu-ray soundtracks section.
Special features: Blu-ray also has additional special
features over DVD. The most basic innovation is the pop-up menu, which
allows you to access the menu functions while the movie continues
playing. Other innovations include picture-in-picture video commentary
and the ability to download new content right from your Blu-ray player,
although your player needs to have the right Blu-ray profile to access
these features. In our opinion, the special features on Blu-ray have
mostly been underwhelming and aren't a good reason to upgrade. For more
information on special features, check out our detailed discussion of Blu-ray profiles.
What's worse about Blu-ray?
Cost: Blu-ray's main drawback is cost. Prices for players are still generally over $200 and movies cost about $25. While the one-time cost of a player isn't that bad, the cost of building up a new Blu-ray library really adds up. At least it's possible to pick and choose which movies you "buy Blu," since every Blu-ray player can also play standard DVDs.
Available titles: Another downside is that the number of titles on Blu-ray is still much smaller than DVD. There are currently about 970 Blu-ray titles available, compared with more than 90,000 (!) on DVD. Depending on your taste in movies, you may only find a few movies you actually like available on Blu-ray.
Load times: When Blu-ray first came out, load times were unbearable; it could take more than 3 minutes to load a movie. Since then, players have gotten much faster, but they still don't compare with the speed of loading a DVD. While simple Blu-ray movies can load in about 20 seconds on a good Blu-ray player, movies with complex menus still take close to a minute and a half to get to the actual movie, regardless of the player.
Portability: Lastly, if you start buying Blu-ray movies, you
may get frustrated that your new movies won't work in places where you
only have a standard DVD player. For example, if your bedroom only has
a DVD player, you won't be able to watch the second half of your new
Blu-ray Disc from the comfort of your bed. Or if you have a car with a
built-in DVD player, your new Blu-ray Discs won't work there, either.
DVD and Blu-ray comparison
|Maximum native resolutions supported via HDMI||EDTV (480p)||HDTV (720p, 1080i, 1080p)|
|Disc capacity||4.7GB (single layer) |
8.5GB (dual layer)
|25GB (single layer) |
50GB (dual layer)
|Video capacity (per dual-layer disc)||SD: approximately 3 hours||SD: approximately 23 hours |
HD: 8.5 or 5.6 hours, depending on encoding method
|Compatible video game consoles||PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360||PlayStation 3|
|Player prices||$99 and less||$170+ for Profile 1.1 players |
$250+ for Profile 2.0 players
$400 for PlayStation 3
|Movie prices||$6 and more (retail)||$20 to $28 (retail)|
|Number of titles available at the end of 2008||90,000-plus||about 1,000|
|Set-top recorders available now||Yes||No|
|Copy protection/digital rights management||Macrovision, CSS||AACS, ICT, BD+, BD-ROM Mark|
|Region-coded discs and players||Yes||Yes|
What about upconverting DVD players?You've probably heard about upconverting (also called upscaling) DVD players. Often they'll promise to take your existing DVD collection and make it look like HD. Sounds like a great idea, but unfortunately, it's not quite true. We've discussed this issue at length before, but the main takeaway is that while it is possible for an upconverting DVD player to make your existing DVDs look a little better, they won't look like true high-definition. If you want HD video quality, you need Blu-ray.
What about my existing DVD collection?
When the home video format of choice changed from VHS to DVD, it was a rough change for consumers whose existing tape collection was slowly rendered obsolete. Luckily, that's not the case with this transition, as every Blu-ray player is capable of playing back standard DVDs. In fact, every Blu-ray player is also an upconverting DVD player, but remember the benefits from upconversion are still minimal. The bottom line is that all your existing DVDs will play in your new Blu-ray player.
Aren't disc-based movies outdated already? Shouldn't I just download or stream HD movies from Apple TV, Vudu, PS3, Netflix, or Xbox 360?
There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to Internet-based movie rental services--which are beyond the scope of this guide--but in most cases, Blu-ray's biggest trump card is that it offers superior quality and the movies aren't locked to a specific device. There are exceptions, though, such as Vudu's new HDX download options, which even the videophiles at CNET admit is pretty darn good on the video-quality front. Check out our full coverage of these devices if you're more interested in being able to watch movies on a whim.