Blu-ray Disc is the standard and technology that provides high-definition DVD and significantly larger optical disc storage for computers. A standard DVD typically contains 8 GB of data (some formats hold more); a Blu-Ray disc stores 25 GB or 50 GB. Panasonic has developed a technology that supports storage of up to 500 GB on an optical disc. Blu-ray Disc technology uses a 405 nanometer (nm) blue light laser that supports much finer granularity when reading data encoded on an optical disc compared to a DVD. (For you really geeky people, it’s actually a violet wavelength, but stay with the crowd on this one.) By the way, a DVD uses a red light laser at 650nm. Since most of the people reading this article are concerned with the high-definition application of Blu-ray, a standard DVD only contains enough storage space for a movie image of around 350,000 pixels. Blu-ray, by comparison, supports images with a resolution of over 2 million pixels, giving you those great, sharp images we all love to see. So much for technical geek stuff: If you want to know more, Wikipedia has some great articles on DVD and Blu-ray.

This is a great time to get into Blu-ray. Over the past year, HDTVs and Blu-ray players have come down dramatically in price. Most (all?) Blu-ray players are backward compatible and can play your DVD collection. For your audio files, some of the mid-range Blu-ray players have better audio sections than many of the top-of-the-line DVD players. Now it doesn’t make any sense to buy a DVD player. Of course, you also need your means. Fortunately, you can now get Blu-ray discs at very reasonable prices. New releases still tend to be a few dollars more expensive than DVD (they should, it costs more to master and provide Blu-ray). However, you can get Blu-ray discs for sale at prices that are almost as low as DVDs: at your local supermarket, online (Amazon anyone?), and elsewhere.

What are some of the key features you want to look for?

Great video processing — Processing the information on the disk to produce the great images you see is serious business and requires a lot of computing power. Getting a player with an updated video renderer will give you a better, more vibrant image with fewer artifacts (bugs).

great audio processor — One of the great benefits of Blu-ray is also an improved standard for audio information in your movies.

universal disc — Blu-ray is the ultimate in video and audio playback. However, there are many formats with great content. DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, WMA, MP3 and many more. A great Blu-ray player will apply its fantastic technology to these formats so that you have a wide variety of videos and music.

connections — There are four key things to note for connections: Dual HDMI (High-Definition Media Interface) ports are really nice; multi-channel audio output; ethernet; and digital SPDIF. Dual HDMI is good because it will allow you to have one HDMI interface for your TV and one for your audio receiver. If you get a great player like the Oppo 93 or Oppo 95, you may want to use an analog audio output (5.1 or 7.1 channel RCA audio connectors) to take full advantage of the audio processing the player provides. Ethernet is essential for streaming over the Internet (WiFi is good, but it also has an RJ45 connector). And finally, relying on SPDIF optical digital audio is fine. These four options should give you a lot of flexibility in how you use your Blu-ray player.

Web or Internet Features — Netflix, Block Buster, Yahoo TV, Google TV, YouTube — all of these great web services can be viewed on your TV using a streaming-compatible Blu-ray player. Unfortunately, this is an area that still has a lot of evolution to go. Web applications on HDTVs and Blu-ray players can be buggy and proprietary: they’re not computers and they don’t have browsers. To make sure you get the most out of your player, you want to get one with upgradeable firmware.

Blu-ray 3D — This was the hot topic for home theater for the 2010 holiday season. There are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, there are not many media available yet, only a few titles, and they are a bit expensive. Second, you’ll need a Blu-ray 3D compatible HDTV and Blu-ray 3D glasses. It is highly recommended to use those brands. Third, those glasses are expensive and not exactly childproof.

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