Remember the good ol' days when you couldn't pick up a techie magazine without finding some article about the intense battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD? When people actually paid attention to the studios that were behind their favorite movies, and the battle for your HDTV involved something other than video games?
Yeah, yeah, those days are all behind us now and Blu-ray is slowly being assimilated into our media consciousness. Just because the high-def format war is over, though, doesn't mean you should stop focusing on the latest developments in this medium, because Blu-ray is poised to make a big splash for the holiday season. We may very well be able to look back in media history books in the future and find the 2008 Christmas period to be when Blu-ray officially hit the kick pedal for its ride to HD format dominance, and we have everything you need to know to be a part of that.
1080p Exists For A Reason
Look, if you have a high-end HDTV and don't have a Blu-ray player, you're missing out on virtually the only medium out there right now that takes full advantage of your hardware. Those high-def TV channels you have are only presented in 1080i, which means that every pixel is only refreshing at half the rate that your TV can handle. Now, of course, it's still churning out an amazing picture and most people say the human eye can't really tell the difference between 1080i and 1080p.
But if you want to know for sure that you're getting the best picture possible, then you have to go with Blu-ray. It's the only current entertainment medium that requires all titles to have 1080p output. Not only that, but all Blu-ray movies support at least 5.1-channel audio output and a capacity that dwarfs that of DVD.
Call it a gimmick if you want, but having the integration of the Internet into your movie-watching experience is one of the biggest trends over the past five years. Whether it's watching a flick over Movielink, downloading a new release on your Xbox 360 or nabbing an illegal copy of The Dark Knight online (don't tell the MPAA we said that!), the World Wide Web is crucial to all facets of getting and watching a movie.
Making its way into the Blu-ray scene right now is a feature - a platform, really - called BD Live. BD Live is the catch-all name for Blu-ray features that seamlessly connect through your Blu-ray player for next-gen interactivity. Disney's re-release of the classic "Sleeping Beauty" is one of the first to really push this next level of media innovation.
One feature is the ability to watch movies with other Blu-ray-connected friends. All users need to have a Blu-ray Disc player and the same BD movie, but once they're wirelessly connected the movie will play for everyone simultaneously. One person will be in charge of all controls, so if he/she pauses the movie, it will pause for everyone else.
Additionally, users can send instant messages to each other that pop up on the screen, during the movie. And you know those little games they pack in on DVDs as bonus features? They're usually pretty pathetic. The power of Blu-ray makes these mini-games a little more enjoyable, and with BD Live you'll be able to play them in online multiplayer mode.
Other touted features of BD Live include being able to download new bonus features, which can be constantly added to the server even after the movie comes out, the ability to buy movie-related products right from the BD disc, and other social interactions.
Is it gimmicky? Perhaps. But it's a start, and this is the wave of the future for home media.
Sony's Media Convergence
Alright, Sony haters. Let's get all that angst and outrage out of the air before we go on. "Sony is an evil corporate conglomerate looking to replace every part of your lives." There, now that we've covered that, let's look at why cross-media integration is a good thing.
If you know anything about Blu-ray, then you have no doubt heard a resounding opinion that the Playstation 3 is the best Blu-ray player out there. For over a year it was the cheapest player available, but even at a premium it is worth the added features of a complete gaming system, large capacity hard drive and all the other multimedia features contained in the system.
Some Blu-ray titles already available download minor amounts of data to the PS3 hard drive to make playback a bit more fluid. Plus, in the future, imagine being able to download a movie's soundtrack right to your PS3 hard drive directly from the movie's Blu-ray Disc. Or perhaps even get an exclusive demo of the Wall-E PS3 game from Disney's BD Live space. Buying a PS3 not only makes sense from a cost/benefit standpoint, but also from a functionality standpoint. Also, don't forget that with the PS3's built-in Wi-Fi, it's the only Blu-ray player right now that will be able to get future firmware upgrades and actually connect to BD Live.
For the true Sony die-hards, also take a look at the PSP. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show the Blu-ray Disc Association announced that by the end of the year, if you have a Blu-ray movie in your PS3, you'll be able to watch that movie from your PSP, anywhere in the world.
Sure, there are reasons to still be leery of Blu-ray. After all, you have your entire movie collection on DVD, the prices for Blu-ray Discs are higher and there's still no guarantee that Blu-ray will stand the test of time, especially with the emergence of digital downloads looming darkly over disk-based media.
The counter-argument to that is that there are already hundreds upon hundreds of Blu-ray titles available, and the Blu-ray Disc Association, made up of some of the most powerful movie studios in the world, is focused on the success of the format and will not dwindle without cause. There's really very little turbulence in their way at this point in time. Digital downloads are many years away from posing a serious threat to physical media (just look at CD sales, which are still beating out MP3 sales handily).
In short, if you're a fan of movies, a high-def nut, and/or a die-hard tech freak, well, then you probably already have a Blu-ray player, but go convince your friends to buy one.