Scan's TekSpek

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To provide you with an overview on New And existing technologies, hopefully helping you understand the changes in the technology. Together with the overviews we hope to bring topical issues to light from a series of independent reviewers saving you the time And hassle of fact finding over the web.

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TekSpek Optical Drives


Date issued:

What is Blu-ray Disc and how did it come about?
Blu-ray Disc is an optical medium that's used primarily to store large quantities of data or video. But how does it differ to the traditional DVD?

Well, Blu-ray Disc, also known as simply Blu-ray, utilises a blue laser to read and write data to and from the disc. The blue laser operates at a 405 nanometre wavelength - considerably shorter than the 650 nanometre wavelength associated with the red laser used on traditional DVDs.

As a result, and despite measuring the same 12cm in size, a single two-layer Blu-ray disc can store a substantial 50GB of data, significantly more than the 8.5GB capacity of a single two-layer DVD.

But why would we need so much storage on a disc? After all, DVDs have served us well for over a decade. The answer is high-definition movies. DVDs have become the medium of choice for standard-definition movies, but they simply don't provide the capacity required to store high-definition material.

Approximately two hours of high-definition video at a 1080p resolution (1,920x1,080) can consume around 25GB of storage capacity when encoded in MPEG-2 video. It offers greatly-improved image quality, but brings with it the need for larger-capacity optical discs.

In steps Blu-ray and HD DVD. The latter, as you may be aware, was developed by Toshiba as a similar blue-laser alternative to Blu-ray. Having launched in March 2006, HD DVD competed bitterly against Blu-ray until poor sales and lacklustre studio support led to Toshiba announcing the discontinuation of the format in February 2008.

The news left Blu-ray as the sole mainstream successor to DVD, and the format has since grown rapidly to offer over 1,000 movie titles since November 2008.

Developed and promoted by the Sony-led Blu-ray Disc Association, Blu-ray technology has reaped the benefits of being integrated into Sony's PlayStation 3 gaming console. With a Blu-ray drive available in each PlayStation 3 console, the numbers of global Blu-ray users rose rapidly and many believe this to be the deciding factor in HD DVDs demise.

Today, Blu-ray remains the sole consumer option for high-definition movies on an optical medium. Despite higher-than-DVD prices, sales of both Blu-ray players and Blu-ray discs are steadily increasing.

Is it just more storage and better image quality?
Blu-ray is most commonly associated with high-definition visuals and improved image quality, but there are other benefits, too.

The sheer capacity of a Blu-ray disc also allows for improved audio. Although Blu-ray capable devices are required to provide support for only Dolby Digital, DTS and linear PCM, there is optional support for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

Furthermore, Blu-ray movies can take advantage of the extra capacity to include extra bonus material, and in order to protect a Blu-ray disc from everyday wear-and-tear, each disc features a hard-coating polymer layer on its surface.

Then there's a little something called BD-J, which stands for Blu-ray Disc Java. BD-J makes use of Sun Microsystems' Java software environment to create more sophisticated menus and superior special features than those available on DVD. These include interactive menus, picture-in-picture and internet-based bonus material.

Consumers should be aware, however, that not every Blu-ray player can provide all of the aforementioned functionality. At present, Blu-ray players are distinguished by three specific profiles; 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0.

Early Blu-ray players labelled as 1.0 don't include on-board memory and support for features such as picture-in-picture. Whilst Blu-ray profile 1.1 remedies these omissions, it itself is lacking support for internet connectivity. Blu-ray profile 2.0 - at present the most up to date - requires a player to include the capability for an Internet connection, often via a single Ethernet port. By doing so, it allows consumers to take advantage of Blu-ray's complete feature set, including the web-based BD-Live.

Are there any disadvantages?
We've established that Blu-ray is bigger and better, but what else do you need to know? First and foremost, both Blu-ray players and media tend to be more expensive than their DVD counterparts. Secondly, should you happen to take the plunge and opt for a Blu-ray device, you'll require a HD-ready television to take advantage of that increased resolution and image quality.

There's also a matter of region coding. Although most Blu-ray discs from the major Hollywood studios are launched without region-specific restrictions, users should be aware that the restrictions do exist and should you happen to come across a Region A disc, it's unlikely to play on a Region B player.

Blu-ray's region coding is designated as follows:
Region A: East Asia (except Mainland China and Mongolia), Southeast Asia, North America, South America and their dependencies.

Region B: Africa, Southwest Asia, Europe (except Russia), Oceania and their dependencies.

Region C: Central Asia, East Asia (Mainland China and Mongolia only), South Asia, central Eurasia and their dependencies.

What does the future hold for Blu-ray?
As is often the case, each optical medium is eventually superseded by a superior format. For Blu-ray, that threat appears to exist in the form of digital distribution - a method of delivering services via the Internet. Sounds interesting? You can learn more about this technology in our digital distribution TekSpek.

Today, Blu-ray is the de facto standard for high-definition material via an optical medium. If you're looking to watch the latest movies in full high-definition quality, it could be the right technology for you.