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Technology Synopsis - Blu-ray

Blu-ray is the name for the next generation disc-based optical storage system.  It is ultimately designed to replace DVD but the reality is that, just like video after DVD came out, DVD still has many years in it before being replaced.

If Blu-ray is just a replacement for DVD, what are the advantages?  The advantages can be summed up by one word - capacity.  Blu-ray will offer a huge leap in capacity over DVD, with capacities starting at 25GB (two and a half times the capacity of a dual-layer DVD disc).  25GB is just the start - it is likely that Blu-ray will be able go up to 200GB a disc - phenomenal storage in a medium no bigger than an existing CD or DVD.

As Blu-ray is seen as a replacement for DVD, it will be used as a storage media for computer data and high-definition movies.  Computer drives supporting Blu-ray have already hit the streets, but at around $1,000 they aren't for everyone.  Discs are also pricey, and expect to pay around $1 per GB (that is, a 25GB disc is around $25 while a 50GB costs about $50).

As with any new technology, there's a learning curve that anyone wanting to stay cutting-edge has to climb.  The different media formats seem to be causing some confusion.  There are four formats:

  • BD-ROM
    Read-only discs for movies, games and so on.  Think CD-ROM or DVD-ROM.
  • BD-R
    Recordable discs that can be written to once (think CD-R).  This can be used for movies or data.
  • BD-RE
    Re-writable discs that can be written to and erased multiple times (think CD-RW).  This can be used for movies or data.
  • BD/DVD hybrid
    This is designed to work with both Blu-ray and DVD drives

With Blu-ray also comes new security and DRM features.  It seems that Hollywood is keen to tighten up on pirates and those that tinker with their systems and Blu-ray might have a hardware kill switch that can be triggered over the Internet.

There's no doubt that Blu-ray is heading mainstream, and it is likely that games consoles will be the way that most home users will get their introduction to the system, in particular PlayStation 3 users who will be buying a cutting-edge games console with a built-in Blu-ray player. 

How long Blu-ray will take to become as mainstream as DVD is hard to tell, especially since to it depends on consumers making the leap to high-definition TVs.  It's likely to be a tougher sell to consumers, especially given the current prices and poor range of movie titles, but in the long run it's a safe bet that it will be a winner.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
Last updated: Sept 4th 2006
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