Ray of sunshine?

Is now the time to finally ditch your DVD? We look at the formats that could soon become essential collector's items for film buffs.

In the beginning (well, some time during the late 1970s) man created a tape-playing machine that could display pictures and sound on a TV, and it was good. VHS not only revolutionised the way we viewed TV programmes, but also allowed us to watch movies from the comfort of our armchairs. Then, about 15 years ago, some clever clogs presumably looked at a CD and thought: Hey, do you think we could fit a whole movie on a disc like that? Lo, the DVD was born.

The quality of picture and sound on DVD was a vast improvement on VHS, as was the packaging. Moreover, the machines’ innards were simpler than VHS and therefore it was a lot cheaper to manufacture. It was a three-way win situation for manufacturer, consumer and the film industry alike (especially for the film industry because we had no choice but to buy our top movies over again). But, just as we were settling into a new digital lifestyle, along came an upstart with a name more tantalising than a three-letter abbreviation: Blu-ray launched in autumn 2006 and continues to lure us with its sci-fi specs – and it’s an enticing offer.

Blu-ray gets its name from the colour of its laser beam, which is far more concentrated than that of a DVD’s standard red laser. Consequently, the average Blu-ray disc is able to hold five times as much information as a DVD, and this in turn equates to improved picture and sound quality. The financial catch, however, is that you need a high definition TV to see the results. Characters seem to leap out of the screen, while edges of objects and landscapes appear razor sharp. To watch a film like There Will Be Blood in HD is a stimulating experience, especially when seen on an LCD or plasma TV. Even older classics like Bonnie & Clyde look and sound superb in HD. And because Blu-ray players are ‘retro-compatible’, they’ll still play your existing DVD collection and ‘upscale’ the picture quality in the process. However, it has to be said that the difference between DVD and Blu-ray isn’t as substantial an improvement as it was between DVD and VHS. Many current DVD players have built-in ‘upscaling’ devices that make ordinary movies look amazing on a modern flatscreen HDTV, particularly if the screen size is less than 42 inches. True, the picture isn’t exactly HD, but it’s easily good enough for most of us. Do we need to fork out to upgrade to Blu-ray when the cheaper alternative satisfies most tastes and pockets?

New technology always costs more in the early days, but this writer feels the price of Blu-ray players (around Dhs1,500) is still too much to encourage the masses to make the switch. Blu-ray discs themselves are also pricey (on average about Dhs40 more than the DVD). As the UK’s Video Association rather ambiguously puts it, ‘Blu-ray discs are flying off the shelves, although DVD is still very much at the forefront.’

And what about the internet alternatives? The Apple TV is a clever Dhs1,850 box that allows you to download movies from iTunes’ huge selection of standard and HD films. True, the picture quality isn’t quite up to Blu-ray’s standard (720 lines of resolution instead of Blu-ray’s 1,080 lines), but it’s early days yet. You can bet that, sooner or later, we’ll be waving goodbye to tangible audio-visual products of every variety. Sad, but true.

So, the million dollar question: Blu-ray or not Blu-ray? Well, if you’re an ardent film fan who insists on the best possible quality, there’s every reason to jump onboard. But if money’s tight and you’re a casual movie watcher then you may as well stick with what you’ve got. It’s that simple, really.

Blu-ray buys

If your pockets are deep…
Panasonic DMP-BD30
Dhs2,099 from PlugIns, BurJuman Centre (04 351 3919 www.pluginselectronix.com)

Panasonic’s black beauty is a fast-loader, impressive in its performance and it even features the latest Blu-ray profile with picture-in-picture commentaries on selected discs. An outstanding choice if you’re building a home cinema to rival Gold Class.

If you want a cheaper one…
Samsung BD-P100
Dhs1,299 from Jacky’s Electronics, Deira City Centre (04 294 9480 www.jackys.com)
The very first consumer Blu-ray player, Samsung’s original is still going strong. Sure, there are no frills, but in our book that’s always meant there’s less to go wrong.

If you want one that’s got game…
Sony Playstation 3
Dhs1,799 from Jumbo (04 295 3915 www.jumbocorp.com)

Sony’s shiny black dream machine is not only a top-notch games console, it’s also up there with the best-value Blu-ray players on the market. This special edition comes with Gran Turismo game and a joypad.

…and one amazing TV
Samsung 6A50
Dhs7,000 from Harman House Deira City Centre (04 295 0030 www.harmanme.com)

Great, detailed resolution on a stunning, all-round excellent 40inch LCD screen. Dubai’s next top model? We’ve called off the search.

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