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article last updated on 10.20.2010 | browser-friendly version   

Blu-ray Disc Tutorial

Seeing and hearing is believing... the difference is clear


 

Introduction

There has never been a more exciting time in the history of home theater than now.  With the advent of HDTV, 5.1-channel surround sound, and now the new Blu-ray Disc optical format, home theater has taken a giant step in the past few years in terms of leveling the playing field with commercial movie theaters.

History: Format War

While the DVD-Video format got off to a very strong start circa 1997, primarily because it was the only new optical disc format, Blu-ray Disc as an high definition optical disc format was not as lucky with its start.  From the very beginning (circa 2006-2008), the Blu-ray Disc format had to complete with a similar format, HD DVD, as the next generation high definition capable optical disc format.  Remember the VHS vs. Betamax format war?  Well, in 2008, Blu-ray pulled ahead and won the HD optical disc format war.

 


Key Points

  • Blu-ray Disc offers a high definition 1080p picture that has six times the picture resolution of DVD-Video.

  • Blu-ray Disc offers the choice of two high resolution surround sound formats.  Either format is a bit-for-bit match of the original studio master and offers up to eight channels of surround sound.

  • Blu-ray Disc content providers can leverage Java-based programs and internet content to create the coolest bonus features.

  • 3D Blu-ray Disc literally adds a new dimension to the home theater experience.

  • Blu-ray Disc players are now very affordable, starting around $130-$140; a nice fully-loaded player can be had for about $200.

  • Blu-ray Disc players can play back all DVD-Videos and up-converts them to near HD quality

Blu-Ray Disc logo... the winning format         vs.        HD DVD logo... the losing format

Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD were competing formats for high definition
optical disc.  Blu-ray Disc eventually won the format war.

Blu-ray Disc Format

The Blu-ray Disc format was developed by a consortium of nine manufacturers called the "Blu-ray Disc Founders".  These companies include Hitachi, LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Pioneer, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, Sony, and Thomson.  The idea behind this format is to use a new blue-violet laser technology (hence its name) to encode much more digital data in the finer pit sizes and tighter track spacing of the Blu-ray Disc compared to DVD-Video.

Blu-ray Disc (right) has finer pit sizes and tighter track spacing to encode much more digital data than DVD-Video.

Comparison of the DVD vs. Blu-ray disc physical formats.
(courtesy of Blu-ray Disc Association)

The table below compares the key parameters of the Blu-ray Disc and DVD-Video formats.

Key parameters of the Blu-ray Disc in contrast to the DVD-Video format
 

  Blu-ray Disc DVD-Video
Data  Capacities
[GB]
Single-Layer 25 4.7 single-sided,
9.4 double-sided
Dual-Layer 50 8.5 single-sided,
17 double-sided
Maximum Recording Time Single-Layer 2 hours 2-4 hours
 Dual-Layer 4 hours 4-8 hours
Maximum Data Rate [Mbps] 54 10
Video Encoding MPEG-4 AVC,
MPEG-2,
VC-1
MPEG-2
Disc Diameter [cm] 12.0 12.0
Video Formats Supported HDTV
720p, 1080i, 1080p
SDTV
480i, 480p
Video Update Rates
[frames per second, fps]
p=progressive, i=interlaced
24p, 50i, 60i 60i, 30p
HDTV Maximum Picture Resolution
[pixels, W x H]
1920 x 1080 853 x 480
Sound Formats Supported 5.1,
7.1
5.1,
(virtual 6.1)
Surround Sound Formats Dolby Digital
Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD (lossless),
dts, dts HD-Master Audio (lossless)
Dolby Digital,
Dolby Digital EX,
dts, dts ES

High Definition Picture

read our Digital TV & HDTV tutorial

To see the difference in picture quality of Blu-ray Disc over DVD, you must have a HDTV, and preferably one that can display "Full HD" 1080p resolution.  In addition to 1080p ("p" for progressive scan), the HDTV formats also include the 1080i ("i" for interlaced scan) and 720p resolutions.  If you are not familiar with HDTV, read our HDTV tutorial.  The "Full HD" 1080p resolution equates to 2 megapixels and offers over six times the resolution of DVD-Video.  Additionally, for film-based sources, Blu-ray can match the picture refresh rate of 24 frames per second (fps) of film.  Collectively, "Full HD" 1080p resolution combined with the film 24 fps update rate is known as 1080p/24.  For film buffs, this is the real deal.  The picture quality rivals that of film and refreshed natively at the same rate as film.

Editor's Note: DVD-Video or standard definition TV (SDTV) has a resolution of 480 lines of horizontal resolution with 704 pixels, or total of 480x704 = 337,920 pixels.  HDTV at 720p has 720x1280 = 921,600 pixels, which is about 2.7 times more resolution than DVD-Video.  HDTV at "Full HD" 1080p has 1080x1920 = 2,073,600 pixels or 2 Mpixels, which is over 6 times the resolution of DVD-Video.

High Definition Surround Sound

Blu-ray Disc also offers a significant improvement in home theater surround sound.  The format includes support for some new surround sound formats.  The two most compelling are Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.  Both of these surround sound formats offer pristine bit-for-bit true to the original studio master surround sound with up to 7.1 channels.  That's 5.1-channel surround with the addition of two back surround sound channels.  To learn more about these high definition surround sound formats and see how they compare to DVD-Video's Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound formats, read our High Definition Surround Sound tutorial.

Dolby TrueHD         DTS-HD Master Audio

BD-Live

Compared to bonus material on the DVD-Video format, studios can add much more interactivity on the Blu-ray format because most Blu-ray Disc players offer BD-Live functionality.  This means that the player has some internal computing capacity that can execute Java-based apps.  Coupled with the ability to access the internet, the interactivity and applications are only limited to the studios' creativity.  Some Blu-ray Disc movies include interactive events with the cast, director, or producers.  Studios can even produce content after the pressing the Blu-ray Disc titles, by enabling that functionality over the internet and publishing that capability to the internet as a new download.  One BD-Live feature allows you to edit clips of the movie and share it with your friends.  Keep in mind that the BD-Live features are specific to each Blu-ray Disc title, as produced for that movie by its studio.  You should not expect the same richness of BD-Live features on every title.

3D Blu-ray

3D Blu-ray Disc is a relatively a new phenomenon, just introduced in summer 2010.  In order experience a 3D visual experience, you will need a 3D-capable Blu-ray Disc player, along with a 3D-ready LCD or plasma HDTV and that brand's active shutter technology 3D glasses.  The HDTV and 3D glasses must be made by the same manufacturer, due to each manufacturer's proprietary timing synchronization between the HDTV frame rates and active shutter 3D glasses.  At about $150 - $250 per pair, the 3D glasses are not cheap.  The 3D capable HDTVs are not cheap either, as they are currently selling at a premium over comparable non-3D HDTV models. 

3D Blu-ray Disc is a relatively a new phenomenon, just introduced in summer 2010.  In order experience a 3D visual experience, you will need a 3D-capable Blu-ray Disc player, along with a 3D-ready LCD or plasma HDTV and that brand's active shutter technology 3D glasses.  The HDTV and 3D glasses must be made by the same manufacturer, due to each manufacturer's proprietary timing synchronization between the HDTV frame rates and active shutter 3D glasses.  At about $150 - $250 per pair, the 3D glasses are not cheap.  The 3D capable HDTVs are not cheap either, as they are currently selling at a premium versus comparable non-3D HDTV models.  If you are interested in 3D Blu-ray, it is not a bad idea to buy a 3D ready Blu-ray player now, since they are reasonably priced without a steep premium over non-3D Blu-ray players.  Read our 3-D Blu-ray Disc player shopping guide.  However, you may want to wait a while before upgrading to the 3D HDTVs and 3D active shutter glasses.  Prices will come down dramatically after the early adopters buy their sets.

3D Blu-ray system includes a 3D Blu-ray Disc player, a 3D HDTV,
and a pair of 3D active shutter glasses for each viewer.
(courtesy of Samsung)

 

TIP #1: If you are interested in 3D Blu-ray Disc, it is not a bad idea to buy a 3D ready Blu-ray player now.  3D players are reasonably priced without a steep premium over non-3D Blu-ray players.  Read our 3-D Blu-ray Disc player shopping guide.  However, you may want to wait a while before upgrading to the 3D HDTVs and 3D active shutter glasses.  Prices will come down dramatically after the early adopters buy their sets.  And you can still choose a brand of 3D HDTV and 3D glasses, different from that of your 3D Blu-ray Disc player.  So buying a 3D player now will not lock you into a specific brand of 3D equipment later.  Additionally, if you're buying an HDMI cable to hook your Blu-ray Disc player to an HDTV, do consider buying an HDMI v1.4 cable that supports the 3D signals.

Blu-ray Disc Players

As expected, Blu-ray Disc players have come down significantly in price, while performance keeps getting better and feature sets keep getting richer.  The first Blu-ray Disc players fetched $500 to well over $1000, with reference players costing several thousand dollars.  Naturally, that's how the "Blu-ray Disc Founders" recouped their investment in the new format.

Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Disc reference player
Early Blu-ray Disc players included the
Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Disc Reference Player ($1,000)

The 2010 Blu-ray Disc players range from $130-$180 for entry-level units, to about $200-$250 for mid-level units with a fairly rich feature set.

Sony BDP-S370 entry-level Blu-ray Disc player
2010 Blu-ray Disc players include the
Sony BDP-S370 ($135)

Movies on Blu-ray Disc

You may have a sizeable investment in your DVD-Video collection, but that's okay.  Your DVDs will play in any Blu-ray Disc player, and many of the latest Blu-ray Disc players will up-convert the DVD picture to near HD quality, depending on how well the original DVD was produced.

But looking forward, you may want to start buying Blu-ray Disc titles.  Some "Digital Copy" editions include 3 discs: one Blu-ray Disc for your home theater; one DVD-Video for your vehicle's DVD entertainment system; and a third Digital Copy for your computer, iPhone/iPod touch or smartphone.  Even the basic single-disc Blu-ray Disc movie commands a premium over the comparable DVD-Video version.  For some great deals to get your Blu-ray collection kick started, check out of Discounted Blu-ray page.  Meanwhile, you can enjoy Blu-ray Disc rentals through the Netflix DVD & Blu-ray Disc rental program, by upgrading your membership to include Blu-ray Disc titles.  See the pricing plans for details.  If you have not tried Netflix DVD & Blu-ray Disc rental program, click here to try it free for two weeks.

 The Dark Knight   Avatar (not in 3-D)Star Trek [2010]

Sherlock HolmesIronman 2
Some great Blu-ray Disc movies that will showcase any home theater.

Ready to Take the Leap?

So what are you waiting for, Christmas?  Well, actually Christmas is right around the corner.  If you do not have an HDTV, then may we suggest that you read our HDTV tutorial.  If you do not yet have surround sound, be sure to read our Surround Sound overview, then our High Definition Surround Sound tutorial.  If you have an HDTV and surround sound setup already, then all you need is our Blu-ray Disc Player Buying Guide, Shopping Guide, and a few of our Blu-ray Disc player reviews.

 

For additional info:

Notation: Throughout this web site and in this article, we use 1 GB to mean 1,000,000,000 bytes.  Likewise, 1 Mbps is 1,000,000 bits per second. These are not the computer usage where 1 Kilobyte = 1,024 bytes.

 

Did you find this Blu-ray Disc tutorial helpful?  Let us know your thoughts, send an e-mail to us at Staff@TimeForDVD.com.

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