Is Blu-ray Worth the Investment?

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If you’ve gone this long without Blu-ray, it’s time to ask yourself why.

Is it because the price is still too high? Or you can’t see a big difference between Blu-ray and DVD?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, then it’s likely you can live without Blu-ray. But if you’ve already invested in a nice, big plasma TV and consider yourself a snob when it comes to picture quality, then Blu-ray will only enhance your viewing experience.

So, what exactly is Blu-ray anyway?  The format, which uses a blue laser instead of the typical red laser for DVDs, provides more than five times the storage capacity of DVDs even though the physical size of the disc is the same.  It’s also less susceptible to distortions because the data layer on the Blu-ray disc is placed closer to the laser lens than in a DVD, according to the Blu-Ray Disc Association.

For viewers, that means a sharper image on their TV screens. And those bonus features that appear on DVDs? Expect to see more of them on Blu-ray.

With the price of Blu-ray disc players falling to around $200 during the holiday shopping season -- down from a more extravagant $400 earlier this year – the medium is certainly becoming more accessible to a mass audience. But the discs themselves still go for about $30 a pop, double the cost of a regular DVD.

Technology columnist Don Reisinger, says the price of the players needs to drop to $100 if Hollywood studios want more consumers flocking to Blu-ray. But he also maintains that Blu-ray has a window of about two years before everyone completely forgets about it and moves on to video streaming.

“The Web is the next frontier for video,” Reisinger says. “We have DVD and we have the Web. And we had this bump in the road called Blu-ray that kind of helped out.”

Not so fast, says Jan Saxton, a senior film analyst for Adams Media Research. While she agrees that streaming – which allows consumers to stream movies from a set-top box directly to their TVs – is the wave of the future, Blu-ray still has a long life ahead.

“The Internet solution is a tomorrow solution, not a today solution,” Saxton says, noting that studios are still trying to figure out how best to deal with digital rights management.  And she points out that the infrastructure to stream movies to TV on a mass level is not there yet.

Most major Hollywood studios have signed onto Blu-ray, which carries more than 1,000 titles. Much of the current library consists of recent releases like Hellboy II, but there are also a few classics like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Saxton expects the list to continue to grow.

“Every quarter, there is a higher percentage of Blu-ray releases,” she says. “Right now it’s still the top hit titles, but in next couple of years, most will come out with the Blu-ray option.” Blu-ray represents only about 5.6% of consumer spending in the entire $24 billion video industry, according to Adams Media.

Reisinger says Blu-ray is only worth it if you have the right TV. After testing numerous discs, he says he only notices a difference between Blu-ray and DVD on screens that are 46 inches or larger. “The Godfather, for instance, you won’t see a difference” on a smaller screen, he says.

Saxton, however, argues that with the price of flat screen TVs continuing to tumble, you’ll see more households adopting Blu-ray. She adds that consumers are becoming increasingly open to the format because the players are now designed to read DVDs as well as Blu-ray discs. That means you won’t have to dump your five-disc documentary series on the Civil War if you decide to make the conversion.

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