Is Blu-ray worth it?

Is Blu-ray worth it?

Summary: Now that Netflix and Best Buy are in the Blu-ray camp and Toshiba is reportedly admitting defeat, you may be thinking about buying a Blu-ray player. I've been using a Blu-ray disk player and a half dozen Blu-ray movies for a couple of months.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

Now that Netflix and Best Buy are in the Blu-ray camp and Toshiba is reportedly admitting defeat, you may be thinking about buying a Blu-ray player. I've been using a Blu-ray disk player and a half dozen Blu-ray movies for a couple of months. Is Blu-ray worth it? The short answer: not today.

Knowing what I know now I wouldn't have bought a $300 Blu-ray player. Instead I would have bought a quality upconverting DVD player from Oppo Digital and saved a few bucks and a lot of hassle dealing with an unfinished product.

My setup I'm not a videophile. I have good quality consumer components and a 700 DVD movie library, but I don't know what my tweeters are made of and I can't see the difference between plasma and LCD.

Picture I love the 50" Panasonic plasma 720p display. I found that on displays less than 54" I couldn't tell the difference between 720 and 1080. It's physics: your eyes can't resolve the difference unless you're too close to the screen. Check it out at the store before assuming 1080 is worth several hundred dollars.

Sound I also love DTS sound, which I get from an Outlaw Audio receiver delivered through Dynaudio 5.1 bookshelf speakers. Good medium-priced kit.

Then there's the new Sony BDP-S301 Blu-ray disk player. More on that later.

Blu-ray movie quality The good: At its best, HD movie quality is almost crystalline on a big screen. You can see wrinkles, pores on skin, tendrils of smoke and individual leaves on trees. The detail is amazing and involving.

Even better: high-quality DVDs - like Superbit - up convert to HD beautifully. The last bit of detail is missing - skin looks softer - but even visually busy scenes are rock-solid. The chips that generate the added pixels are amazing.

The bad: only newer movies, shot with transfer to high-def in mind; or older movies with very good production values that are well-mastered will give you full HD quality. If the original source film was grainy and muddy, if the sets weren't well-finished, if it wasn't recorded in surround sound, there simply won't be the HD experience you'd expect.

For example, low-light scenes where the film is grainy. On a big screen you see the grain as flickering specks. Watchable, but not the pristine high-def shots you see in the showroom.

Sound quality Same deal with sound. If the original flick was stereo, it can be re-processed to simulate 5.1 surround, but the quality varies. The most immersive sound experience I've found is DTS.

Even though Blu-ray supports DTS, many movies weren't recorded with it or the studio may omit it from a disk. So the high-def promise - great sound - isn't always kept.

Player quality Blu-ray players start around $250 on the net. I got a Sony BDP-S301 at Costco. This model isn't listed on Sony's BD product page but it is in the support section. It appears to be identical to the BDP-S300 model.

Beware: this is an absolute bottom of the line player. While the high-def video and upconversion work well, this player is a mass of compromises.

  • Slow everything - almost a minute before the disk tray opens, 10-15 seconds of "loading," and about 5 seconds to open the tray. Bring a book.
  • Flaky upgradeability: theoretically you can download firmware updates, burn the installer to a DVD, and then install. I haven't been able to get it to work and I've been playing with computers for over 30 years.
  • No disk memory. The player won't remember where you were on a disk or that you've already watched the stupid FBI warning unless you keep the player on all the time and don't open the tray.
  • Certain Blu-ray audio formats, like TrueHD, aren't supported - by the leader of the Blu-ray pack!
  • Other annoyances: occasional freezes; play button doesn't close the tray.

It is as if Sony took everything it knew about DVD players and threw it out the window to design this beast. At least they included an HDMI cable. BTW, get HDMI cables online for about 80% less than in stores.

Knowing what I know now, if I had to have a Blu-ray player, I'd buy a 40 GB PS3 instead. It is another $100 and most reviewers agree that's the best Blu-ray player with great Java BD performance. And it plays Ratchet & Clank!

The Storage Bits take The bottom line is that Blu-ray isn't compelling. When we moved from VHS to DVD we got a better picture, random access, more convenience, more content and sometimes better sound. All Good Stuff.

With Blu-ray and a big screen HDTV we get a better picture - usually - and sometimes better sound. The added content can be a bonus, but I don't watch most of the add-ons today unless I really like the picture. And it is less convenient.

A better picture is worth something, but you'll get 90% of that with a good upconverting DVD player. And you won't spend more for new disks either.

Blu-ray technology is a great idea with a seriously flawed implementation. Everything about it, from the wildly varying quality of source materials and mastering to the ever-evolving Blu-ray spec - now at a version my player won't support - it feels more like a buggy computer than a consumer appliance.

And I spend enough time with buggy computers already, thank you.

Comments welcome, as always. Is Blu-ray worth it to you? Why or why not?

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

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  • Agreed

    I'm glad this didn't degenerate into something about bitrates, etc. :)
    • Speaking of...

      I've noticed Blu-ray bitrates are usually in the same line as HD-DVD's but what really surprised me? A bitrate of 37 mbps being used on a movie like the Simpsons! Where is all that data going???? It can't be going into the picture! After all, it's not like it's Shrek or anything.
  • RE: Is Blu-ray worth it?

    I don't even bother with the upconversion! I bought a Sony XBR tube TV with fantastic upconvert circuitry - my Onkyo DVD player's upconversion isn't nearly as good as the native Sony circuitry. I gotta agree on the superiority of DTS sound (I've got a mid-line Denon/Boston Accoustics setup), but there's really no difference between DTS on DVD and Blu-Ray...

    Although there is a noticable visual difference between SD, upconverted DVD, and real HD, it's not the must-have difference we saw with the move from VHS to DVD. I love my Series 3 TiVo with HD content, but right now that's my only HD source... Maybe when Blu-Ray players become ubiquitous and inexpensive, or maybe if I bought a PS3 (unlikely unless Guitar Hero 4 requires one!) I might start with HD discs, but by then I might not care. Give me Netflix or Amazon on demand to the TiVo and I'll skip discs altogether!
  • With my existing collection I see no need for Blu-Ray yet

    Sure it would be nice but I don't even have an HD tv yet so it's not really an issue. If I got a HD TV today I'd get up converting DVD player instead. That is unless the price of Blu-Ray is the same or lower and it would up convert my current DVDs. If it doesn't up convert my current DVD the why bother.

    Personally I don't think the quality is enough to get me to buy into it. Now offer me some like solid state media that take up less shelf space, is not susceptible to scratching, where I can plug in my entire movie library or at least dozen of my favorites, where I can buy a season of TV episodes on one single device, and have all the HD quality then that's something I'd be first in line to buy.
  • i have one, but it's not quite ready

    i have a samsung 1400. i love the quality of the video image, but the thing just feels... janky. it takes forever to start up, transitions between menus are buggy, and load times are excruciating. it just doesn't feel done. updating via ethernet didn't work for me, either. i was able to download the update from samsung's website, burn it to a cd and install it that way. but even that was strange. when it was done it tried to install the update again from the cd instead of just spitting it out.
  • How about the total price?

    Nobody seems to want to talk about the total upgrade price to get all of what BD (or HD-DVD) offers. We go on about $300 players vs $120 players etc. but that's just a drop in the bucket.

    Let me use my lower mid range setup as an example:
    Mistubishi 46" RP CRT 1080i TV (component only pre HDMI)
    Dennon 3805 Receiver (component only pre HDMI has DTS DD etc.)
    Toshiba progressive scan DVD player.
    DirecTV HD reciever.

    So I want to go BlueRay. First I replace the TV (no HDMI). I looked on CNET and picked an editors choice of a Sony 55" LCD RP set. = $1500.
    Next, if I want to have True HD (or even on screen setup) I need to replace the 3805. Current equivalent is a Denon 3808ci = $1500.
    Finally I need a BlueRay player and that probably means a PS3 = $450.
    Add to that I need to replace all my component cables with HDMI cables so add another $200.

    Total cost $3650. For what again? I'll wait thanks.
    • you don't NEED all that

      i have a similar TV, i use the component inputs. 1080i is damn good right now. wait a year, then buy a TV. also, if you really want to you can replace your receiver with a 5.1 sony or oynko unit with hdmi for around $300.
      • Why should I?

        I've got the TV. I wanted a bigger one anyway.

        Tell me what I gain by dropping from a 7.1 system to a 5.1 one? I've invested a ton in speakers. I should ditch the two rear ones? Hardly sounds like an upgrade. Yes, I could get HDMI and TrueHD for less than $1500 but it would be a downgrade from my current reciever. Not the direction I want to go.
        • didn't realize you had 7.1 now

          i guess you'd want to stay there then. still, you could do that for $500.

          (my personal opinion, not that anyone asked, is that 7.1 is kind of a scam as compared to 6.1, but maybe that's just me)
          • 7.1 vs 5.1

            Is about like the difference between 1080i and 1080p. It's there, and you'd miss it if you lost it, but barely worth the money to get it in the first place.

            I had a $500 Yamaha receiver before I got the Denon 3805. I'll tell you that's money well spent. There is no comparison between the quality of receivers in those two price ranges. I might got down to a 2800 series Denon for $1000 but never to the $500 range.
          • Video vs. Audio

            It seems like you would rather have slightly better audio then much better video. Its your choice of course and money has a major impact, but for my tastes I would rather have bangin' picture (and still excellent) though maybe not best audio.
            To each their own.
  • RE: Is Blu-ray worth it?

    Well, since my TV doesn't have HD anything.... the $30.00 DVD player will work for now. It's crap, but then.. when I have to throw it out it won't kill me either. :)

      Except for one thing.

      My $30 DVD player is not crap. It's a fine player with lots of features. And when it dies, I'll replace it with another $30 player. And when they stop making regular DVDs, then I'll [i]consider[/i] going HD....maybe. I just think that you can see too much of a good thing...and I don't want to see skin pores. If I did, I would have gone into dermatology. What I have is good enough.

      I mean, HD is neat and all....but too much for me. I dread the day we have no choice and have to upgrade. It will forever ruin my movie experience, and I am not looking forward to it at all.
      • Well

        My DVD player needed to be small to fit in one tiny little space next to my TiVo. So I went with what would fit, not so much the features. lol
  • Nevermind disc players....

    It looks like what you are after is a media server of some sort like MythTV or Windows MCE. Either will allow you to take your media collection and have it "at your fingertips" and allow you to keep the discs on the shelf.
    • Myth TV is sweet

      Just need a few Terabyte drives to store all those movies on. Well actually more than a few but a few would get me started. With drive size getting bigger and prices going lower the dream is looking like more and more like reality. :)
    • LinuxMCE is the <excriment> Check out the setup video.. just put in the dvd and go. They also sell premade small form factor media centers with tuner cards already setup.

      Good stuff. I had windows MCE and vista.. doesnt compare to linuxmce
  • Even by Sony's own admission ....

    Even Sony's ads have small print exceptions to the hype ....

    2 Certain circumstances may limit/prevent Blu-ray Disc media playback. VAIO computers may not support movie playback on packaged media recorded in AVC or VC1 formats at high bit rates.

    3 Video recording to Blu-ray Disc? media is done in MPEG2 and AVC formats.
  • RE: Is Blu-ray worth it?

    I still hate the fact of HDCP anyone else with me??
  • RE: Is Blu-ray worth it?

    Excellent article.