Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Time to go hi-def

This is my syndicated DVD column for this week. (I feel comfortable calling it "syndicated," since more than one newspaper now runs it.) It's not a review of a new video release like usual, but a meditation suggesting it's a good time to adopt Blu-ray.

Regular readers of this blog will note its similarity to a post I made about three weeks ago, which inspired this column.

No DVD review today, folks. It's a slow week for video releases -- "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is about it, and here's my three-word review: Rent, don't buy.

Instead, I thought I'd use this week's column to talk about high-definition video. I recently took the step of upgrading to a Blu-ray player, and that will be reflected in the video reviews from here on. I also want to suggest that if you've been holding off on making the jump to the next generation of home video, recent developments suggest it's safe to come out now.

I don't blame anyone for hesitating to adopt new video technology, after the death of such formats as Betamax, laser disc, Divx and now HD DVD -- the competitor to Blu-ray that folded in early 2008 after nearly a two-year war for hi-def dominance.

The first thing you need to know is that your old DVDs aren't headed to the junkpile: Blu-ray is backward compatible. So you can upgrade your favorite titles to hi-def if you want, and keep the rest of your DVD library intact on your shelf.

Lately, the price and availability of Blu-ray players and movies has improved significantly. Brand-name players that cost $500 and up in 2006 can now be found in the $200-$250 range, with some basic machines as low as $150. Blockbuster, Netflix and other major video rental outlets are stocking more and more Blu-ray selections (1,000+ at Netflix).

If you want to buy, Blu-ray discs cost a little more than regular DVDs, but you can find plenty for under $20. Recently, Amazon ran a sale on popular titles for around $11.

The biggest factor in whether to upgrade is your television. If you don't have a hi-def set capable of 1080p resolution, you're not going to see much of an on-screen difference between Blu-ray and DVD (which has a resolution of 480).

If you're adventurous, you can opt for a Sony PlayStation 3 game console, which includes a Blu-ray player. My new PS3 Slim cost $300, so for a small premium over regular Blu-ray, I got gaming, too.

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