Finally taking the Blu-ray plunge

17 Jan

January 17, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

Last week, I finally invested in a Blu-ray DVD player. It’s a top-of-the-line Sony, purchased at Future Shop for $170.

Yes, I have written about Blu-ray before, and actually reviewed one, back in March of 2009. However, at the time I was testing a different TV as well, a loaner model, because my Sony XBR 50” was in the shop for repairs.

The Blu-ray player looked great back then – breathtakingly so – but the units were still a bit expensive. In fact, the player I bought was priced at $300 less than a year ago, so it never hurts to wait, if you can.

When I purchased the Blu-ray player, the salesman thrust an HMDI cable at me, reminding me that it was necessary to connect to the TV. At $45, it’s an expensive bit of cable. (Think of it as the theatre popcorn of the home entertainment industry – a ridiculously over-priced necessity.)

Purchasing new technology is always a learning experience, and this was no exception.

The first, most obvious problem was the age of my television, which was purchased in 2004 and is now a museum piece. (Oh, for the good old days, when TV technology didn’t change every two years.) When I attempted to connect the player, I was startled to note there is no HDMI input on the back of my TV. I was forced to use the component inputs, which are fast becoming ‘old’ technology as well.

This prompted another realization: my Sony TV has a 1080i display, whereas the Blu-ray player outputs in 1080p. Now, there is not a lot of difference in the two – they contain the same number of pixels – but the 1080p does deliver a sharper, clearer image.

With this in mind, and knowing I would not be experiencing the absolute best in high definition, I connected the new player, set it up and inserted a Blu-ray DVD. Would there be a noticeable difference, between the image quality of my old, standard definition DVD player, and this slightly compromised Blu-ray signal?

Hell, yeah – a noticeable difference, indeed. For this review, I purchased “Planet Earth”, well known among videophiles as a ‘must have’ Blu-ray DVD series. The imagery was jaw-dropping, the writing so spellbindingly good, that I watched three episodes in one sitting. Several days later, I am still watching, and nearing the end of the 11-episode series. When finished, I will probably watch it all over again. Or perhaps I will rent some new titles…

The Sony S770 also up-converts regular DVDs to something approaching high definition.  I watched a few, and there is no question that the quality is better. It’s reassuring to know my existing DVD collection is not obsolete; that, if anything, I will enjoy them more than ever.

I can safely say that this player won’t be made obsolete by the forward march of innovation. It has built in wireless Internet, which enables connection to a number of online services and sites. More importantly, it automatically updates its operating software to incorporate new advances (which happen as much or more to software as they do to hardware).

Best of all, it can play 3D discs as well. This is important, because I have already decided that my next TV will have 3D capability. I could write a column about this topic – and certainly will, when I get the TV – but I will say this much. If you, like me, were disappointed with the 3D experience in theatres – for movies like “Avatar” – then don’t let that predetermine your opinion of 3D TV.

Indeed, I was convinced 3D TV would be a disappointment. Then, I dropped by the local electronics store, put on the glasses and was… well, you should try it for yourself.

Your appreciation of Blu-ray will increase in proportion to the size of your TV screen. And if that screen is, say, 36” or less, I probably wouldn’t bother. The natural compression of the signal will make for a pretty sharp picture anyway. (I connected my old DVD player to a 26” hi-def TV in the kitchen, and it looks stunning.)

One final thing. The price of new releases in Blu-ray is still too high, at between $24 and $36 each, depending on where you shop and how new the title. Blu-ray discs cost a little more to produce, but we’re talking pennies in the difference, not dollars. Manufacturers have done their part, by reducing the price of Blu-ray players. It’s time for Hollywood to get on board, and lower the price of its movies.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got some DVDs to watch…

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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