Now that the high-definition DVD options available to home theater and PC users have narrowed to Blu-ray only, it might be worth posing the question as to whether or not Blu-ray has any relevance to your entertainment and computing situation.
In large part, in fact, that answer depends on the other equipment that you have, or plan to acquire, because Blu-ray puts pretty high demands on its owners for other supporting gear.
Blu-ray Home Theater Playback requirements
On the home theater side, Blu-ray is pretty pointless unless you also have, or plan to acquire, these other components in the playback chain
- A Blu-ray player (or Sony PlayStation 3, which includes a built-in Blu-ray player), preferably one that supports HDMI 1.3 so as to be able to export high-definition audio like Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio to other components (a firmware upgrade to the PlayStation 3 lets it do that, too). Expect to pay at least $300 for such a player, the best players with the most advanced video processing circuitry cost $500 and up.
- A 6-channel or better AV receiver or pre-amp/pre-processor that can handle HDMI 1.3 inputs. Expect to pay at least $500 for such a device; the good ones cost more than $1,000.
- At least 5 surround sound speakers, and one or more subwoofers, to deliver the high definition audio from Blu-ray Disc soundtracks. Expect to pay at least $550 for a capable speaker rig; you can spend as much as you like on speakers (my rig cost $5K 10 years ago).
- A 1080p-capable high definition television set (HDTV) or equivalent resolution HDTV monitor (if you really want hi-def audio, you probably won’t use a true HDTV’s built-in speakers anyway). Expect to pay at least $1,200 for a 1080p HDTV of some kind (LCD, Plasma, RPTV, or whatever); the bigger the set, the more you’ll pay, and you’ll want to go at least 42″ for a decent home theater layout.
That means you must spend, or have already spent at least $2,500, probaby more, on equipment to get at least minimal high-definition audio playback.
Blu-ray Computer requirements
In a PC, there’s also some grounds for considering purchase of a Blu-ray burner, versus a playback-only Blu-ray reader (expect to spend at least $150 for the latter, and $300 for the latter), given that a double-layer double-sided Blu-ray Disc can contain up to 50 GB of data. If you want to play back Blu-ray movies on your PC, you’ll need to purchase Blu-ray capable DVD decoder software ($90-100), and if you want high-def audio output, you’ll need a 5.1 or better speaker rig ($350 and up). Finally, you’ll need a 1080p capable monitor ($300 and up) to see all the pixels that Blu-ray can present on screen. Total cost for a minimal Blu-ray PC add-on: $900 (and up).
Is Blu-ray Really Worth the Expense?
For those in search of the most compelling viewing or listening experience, Blu-ray can deliver something like a real movie theater at home (or on your desktop). But you have to be ready to pay for that privilege. Ultimately, whether or not it’s worth it to you depends on (a) if you can afford the outlays involved, (b) don’t mind spending at least $10 more for every DVD you buy to get the Blu-ray version, and (c) are willing to immerse yourself in high-definition audio and video. If high-quality audio and video matter to you and your family, it may be worth the cost. But if media is merely an occasional diversion, the costs will probably outweigh the benefits.