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Am I Blu

August 18, 2009 - Dave Hecei
Blu-Ray is THE format for high definition (HD) video discs. In the beginning, there were two competing formats for HD video discs, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. When trying to explain these two competing formats to people they would almost always roll their eyes and say 'Oh, Betamax and VHS again.'

Fortunately, the battle was over quickly. HD-DVD lost the battle when the group behind the format decided to throw in the towel. Blu-Ray became the winning HD disc format and was set to become the successor to DVD. That of course has not happened yet. DVD sales are still strong and recordable DVDs have enough storage at a very low cost – for both the drives and media.

Blu-Ray is finally starting to make a mark with HD movies. Stand-alone Blu-Ray players, which used to be around $1000, are now under $200. HD televisions have now come down in price allowing consumers the opportunity to switch their sets for newer digital models – the fact that the government forced everyone to the new digital broadcast model sort of helped too. One way Blu-Ray has made its way into US homes is with the Sony Playstation 3. This advanced gaming console is also a Blu-Ray player, actually one of the better players available.

Blu-Ray has even started making its way into the computer industry as a data storage device. While a standard DVD holds about 4.7 gigabytes of data, a standard Blu-Ray disc (BD) holds about 25 gigabytes. This may sound great for those who need to backup tons of data to discs, but the prices for blank BD discs are still very high. A blank DVD in bulk is about 25 cents and a blank BD disc is about $6. This should hopefully come down in price, it will just take some time. You may remember, when Apple first introduced the SuperDrive, DVD-R blanks were $5.

Blu-Ray players and burners can now be found in PCs from HP, Dell, and others. With the right software, a PC with a BD drive can play Blu-Ray movie discs. This is mostly due to the plethora of Digital Rights Management (DRM) programming found in the Windows Vista operating system. To play copy protected content from a Blu-Ray disc, the computer, video card, and monitor all have to comply with the DRM. The monitor and video card in the PC must have something called HDCP or High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection or the disc will not play.

At this time there are no Macs with built-in Blu-Ray drives, burners or players. While Steve Jobs called Blu-Ray ‘a bag of hurt’, most surmised that he was talking about the DRM and licensing. Most likely there are plenty of fees involved in licensing the software and hardware to handle Blu-Ray.

Macs have had the ability to edit HD video for some time now. Apple’s easy-to-use iMovie program, included with every new Mac, can edit HD content from most consumer camcorders. The problem was that Macs could not output the finished project to HD media. Only recently, Roxio added Blu-Ray burning to their latest versions of Toast, one of the best burning suites available for the Mac. With the new Toast 10 and an external Blu-Ray burner, the Mac can author Blu-Ray movie discs. Toast can even burn Blu-Ray compatible discs using standard DVD+-R discs. Of course they can only hold 20-30 minutes of video since these discs hold much less than a BD disc.

Rumors have recently started pointing to the next update to the iMac. New iMacs, no date set for release, may include Blu-Ray drives. It is not known whether this will be a new optical drive that just plays BD or if it will also burn. The cost difference between a player or burner drive is minimal so I would hope that Apple would use a BD burner.

If the next iMac does have the ability to burn Blu-Ray it will need updated software. Apple’s iLife suite, which is used to make standard DVDs, will need to be updated for Blu-Ray. This fact points to the possibility that the new iMac will not happen until the beginning of next year when a new version of iLife is more likely to be released.

It may happen tomorrow or next year, but Blu-Ray is coming. Those who need expanded disc storage, whether for movies or just data, Blu-Ray is a winning format. Now we just have to wait for the hardware, software, and costs to align.


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