Blu-ray Basics: Using The High-Definition DVD Format On Your PC - InformationWeek

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Blu-ray Basics: Using The High-Definition DVD Format On Your PC

Now that Sony's Blu-ray has won the next-gen DVD war against Toshiba's HD DVD, find out whether it's worth adding to your PC, for entertainment and data storage.

Now that the war between HD-DVD and Blu-ray is over and PC makers are adding Blu-ray as a regular option with new systems, people are asking: What's the big win with Blu-ray?

Cyberlink BD/HD Advisor assesses your PC's Blu-ray and HD-DVD readiness.
(click for image gallery)

Obviously it's being pushed as the next big way to get your hi-def entertainment fix. But it also comes with copy-protection strings attached which may make it a tough fruit to tear into on the PC side. And while it promises up to 50-Gbytes per disc (and potentially more than that), that much storage also comes at a premium cost.

To help answer your questions, here's a review of how Blu-ray shapes up in two key areas in the PC world: in overall content delivery and as a data storage medium.

Video Playback And Copy Protection

The application most commonly associated with Blu-ray is, of course, high-definition video. In order to deliver high-def video reliably, though, Blu-ray (also called BD) requires a whole ecosystem of components: the drive itself, the playback software, the discs themselves, and a video card and display that support certain standards.

In short, it's the sort of investment that's probably best made when buying a whole new system, since some of the pieces (like the video card) require the newest possible hardware. Cyberlink, makers of PowerDVD, one of the most widely-used high-def playback programs, offers an advisor application that can poll your system and determine what's up to snuff and what needs replacing.

As with conventional DVD, you'll need standalone software (typically not included with your operating system) to play back HD video on a PC. Most Blu-ray drives will come bundled with such a program, although the feature set available through the program will vary widely.

My own Dell XPS PC came with an OEM edition of PowerDVD named PowerDVD DX, which bears little resemblance to PowerDVD itself, but is compliant with a player standard known as a "profile" (in this case, profile 1.1).

One feature that is consistently missing from all programs that perform Blu-ray playback, as bizarre as this sounds, is the ability to save screenshots from a content-protected movie. This functionality was deliberately removed to prevent the bootlegging of Blu-ray titles by making frame-by-frame copies of the film. Such a measure sums up a good deal of the ire directed at Blu-ray: digital rights management.

The layers of protection, provided by both the authors of the Blu-ray content and the creators of the hardware and software used to play it back, have been the subject of great criticism on many fronts -- not simply because (in the opinion of the critics) it's only a matter of time before these protections are circumvented, but because they create about as many problems as they solve. It's entirely possible to watch Blu-ray titles on a PC without ever running afoul of its DRM -- many people do -- but it's worth spelling out under what circumstances it can be prohibitive.

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