Blu-ray: Is It Time To Make The Move?

Blu-ray players have been around for 3 years now - Is it finally time to buy?

Our desire for new technology continues to be stoked from every direction: The internet, store sales on every shelf, magazines and postal bombardment abound. While "big box" stores are closing their doors left and right, the unmistakable, always-anticipated internal screams of "time to upgrade" continue to echo throughout consumer minds everywhere. It opens eyes, web browsers and imaginations soliciting the question: What's next?

So I've decided to take you on a Screen Rant-based Tech and Opinion Hunt not only to find out the direction of my next home theater acquisition, but to ask what will make YOU decide when the time will come to "go Blu-ray." Be sure to chime in with your comments below and help round out the perspective on an often fiery and opinionated discussion that we hope will educate many.

DVDs have been pushing the movie landscape for a good long time now, offering up home-based versions of what you saw in movie theaters, including commentary tracks and special features galore. DVDs recently gave way to HD-DVD and Blu-ray - two formats which had their strange, bitter, little technology war (ironically, just as VHS and Betamax did) as the holidays arrived last year. Ultimately Blu-ray survived as the format of "choice." As I survey the components beneath my plasma television in my Lord of the Rings-inspired home theater (which I like to call "The Shire"), I see an oft-used but beaten HD-DVD player from Toshiba and wonder... When will the time come to go Blu-ray?

My acquisition of the HD-DVD version of Transformers was my "make a move" moment which (looking back now) was poorly conceived. The price point, with my wife working at Walmart, the pounding "need" to experience high def on my plasma, idiot friends letting me spend money on things I didn't really need - the reasons are many... However buying that HD-DVD, I saw true high definition for the first time on my plasma screen TV - and it was glorious.

Then came the deciding tire-iron-of-a-headblow to the HD-DVD format.

And so it's time to consider buying again. A favorite website, The Digital Bits has a great article on the beginning flood of sub-$100 Blu-ray players - which instantly makes me think that the buying point is in my very near future.

Or IS it?

Sub-$100 Price Tags

Last year we were still looking at Blu-ray players that cost $300 and up even after the demise of HD-DVD (of course the fact that they were the only HD game in town probably kept prices up for a while). But now we've got players knocking on the sub-$100 door.

Something to consider when seeing these "cheap"(er?) players is that while they'll play many Blu-ray offerings, will they play them all? "Formatting of the discs based on the built-in active java menu systems is something that needs to be truly considered," mentions Twisted Lincoln's Tony Lovasco. "Getting one of the cheaper el crappo players might get you into Blu-ray, but if it's a unit that doesn't allow for a firmware update, you could be SOL on some of the Blu-rays that you buy that have updated coding."

Drat, the always-present spectre of "tech to dollar" ratios. Getting into one of the cheaper available Blu-ray players might not be the way to go, because they're not capable of being "tech ready" enough.

Who'd have thought that? Did you?

Make a Game of It

Ah ha! I know, I'll purchase a Playstation 3 and get not only the juicy, technological goodness of a Blu-ray player, but also a game system that will take my mastery of MLB 09's "The Show" skills to an all new level! And the PS3 has the necessary tech to "upgrade the firmware" because the system was MADE to download stuff. Surely a great benefit. But what about price point?

The price tag of $100 on the "might not work with all formats" player suddenly jumps to $340+ for the PS3. That probably doesn't include the cables I need to have luscious, high-definition goodness on my plasma after the buy. Add to that the fact that I don't have - in general - the TIME to play games on something like the Playstation 3, much less the cost of purchasing not only the more expensive Blu-ray discs, but the very expensive growing-variety of games available for the system.

Dammit! What's a high-def movie buff to do?

The Movie that Will Tip the Scale

All right, so originally I thought it would be Transformers that ushered me into to the hi-def format. And it was. I bought that film on HD-DVD and was given the sweet temptation of high definition video in my home theater. Sadly, I got resoundingly stomped-on by the hi-def civil war. Then came The Dark Knight - the story, the special effects, the resounding performance of a gone-too-soon actor, Heath Ledger, and I thought to myself "Surely that'll be the one to turns me on to Blu-ray." But it wasn't.

Now, Watchmen is on the way (3X) with the standard "movie only" version; the "Director's cut" extended version; and of course, the "die-hard-fan-with-all-the-Watchmen-geeky-goodness stuff" edition. Is Watchmen going to be the film that will help me finally pull the trigger on the next purchase for my home theater? Will that allow me to see Nite Owl II truly test the inertial dampening system aboard his flying lovecraft? Is there a similar movie that has YOU considering the hi-def digital upgrade of Blu-ray?

The Longevity of Blu-ray

The quality is high, the availability and price point of the equipment are both within reach, but just how LONG will Blu-ray be around as the medium of choice? Fellow Screen Rant writer Paul Young remembers, "It took years before people switched from VHS to DVD. In  2002, Best Buy made the 80% DVD and 20% VHS switch and then finally in 2004 they went 100% DVD. It took about nine years for the consumer audience to switch to the new format."

I believe that the changeover to Blu-ray will probably experience a shorter transition time, but the best part of that equation is that you still have a decent presentation even if you only have regular DVD. The conversion from VHS to DVD was - I think - much more significant because even the best edition VHS ALWAYS paled in comparison to the quality and clarity of DVD. I've always been of the opinion that Blu-ray isn't the type of format to make you re-purchase your entire movie collection - it's simply an opportunity to get a higher quality, feature-ridden, ga-ga film experience that's one step better than DVD not only in quality, but also bang-for-your-buck satisfaction. Also, with most (all?) Blu-ray players, DVD movies look better than they do when playing on their native machine.

As far as the longevity of Blu-ray: The HARDWARE is where the question marks are come into play. As features, additions, downloads, content size, etc. all increase and blossom as the years go by, some people speculate that digital streaming/downloading will eliminate the need for any kind of media disc player at all. Of course, others believe that the forecasts on digital downloading are overly optimistic and very premature (bandwidth capacity and cost are two big issues), and that a Blu-ray player is going to a worthy investment for years to come.

Regardless of whether or not the rise of digital downloads occurs sooner or later, for now, having a Blu-ray player with the option of firmware upgrading is simply a MUST for anybody hoping to enjoy long-term returns on their tech investment. LG, the Playstation 3 and the $200+ model  Blu-ray players currently available all offer up the option of firmware upgrade (only further cementing my desire to buy one).

Revving the Pinto, Hard Core...

Our own Paul Young also addresses the required quality of the overall home theater system when considering a Blu-ray player:

"If you hook a Blu-ray player up to an inferior TV and Sound System, (32” CRT with TV Speakers), it’s like putting 93 octane into a beat up Ford Pinto. Sure, it’s higher quality going in but you’re only going to get so much coming out without the proper equipment to fully utilize it."

Thankfully, I've got a great sound system and a high-end 42" plasma screen in "the shire" - everything I need to take advantage of that 93 octane Paul refers to.  He really is giving sound advice: Those of you wanting to make the turn onto Blu-ray boulevard have more than just finding the cash for that sub-$100 player and $30+ for your favorite, most-recently released feature film in Blu-ray format. Getting the most out of your Blu-rays truly IS a bigger investment than most people initially think. A Blu-ray disc playing on a standard-def TV looks no better than a DVD.

So, I've dusted off the empty space where the next component will fit in my golden-leafed equipment rack. I've begun collecting all of the options that I need to start the consideration process and am wondering what YOU think. What am I missing? Is the concern all for naught and is it really time to buy? Or are the holidays and even lower prices around the corner?

Tell me what YOU think or have done in regard to entering the realm of Blu-ray. Help me make the best move for my digital buck!

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