informa
/
News

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.
Then there's the question of the cost of blank media. At NewEgg.com, a blank single-layer (25-Gbyte) Blu-ray disc costs anywhere from $10 to $14, depending on which manufacturer you choose. A dual-layer (50-Gbyte) disc is only around $16, so if your drive can write to dual-layer media, there's little point in buying single-layer discs since you can double the capacity for only a few dollars more.




The freeware program ImgBurn can use Blu-ray drives as read/write devices.
(click for image gallery)

This works out to about $0.32 a gigabyte. (Not all drives burn to dual-layer BD media, which is another gotcha.) There's also the possibility that future iterations of writeable BD media could contain more than just two layers (Sony has talked repeatedly about 200-Gbyte discs being a possibility), but there's no guarantee such discs would be compatible with existing players.

At current market prices, assume $600 for a dual-layer drive and $16 for each piece of 50-Gbyte media. Compare that to a 500-Gbyte SATA hard drive from Western Digital, which retails for $100 -- that's $0.20 per gigabyte. To get the same price per gigabyte for BD, you'd have to discount the cost of the drive entirely (for instance, if you were buying it anyway as part of a system) and have blank dual-layer media drop to $10 a pop.

On the plus side, a BD drive means being able to add storage in 25 to 50-Gbyte increments without having to buy a whole new drive. It's in many ways a redux of the same dilemmas that cropped up when DVD and CD drives themselves first appeared.

BD-Compatible Burning Software

When it comes to the software used to burn data to Blu-ray discs, the good news is that support for BD burning has crept into most popular CD/DVD burning packages over the past year. A new BD drive will typically ship with software of its own for writing to BD, but even many freeware programs now support burning to BD. The popular burning suite Nero, for instance, writes to Blu-ray discs natively, and the freeware application ImgBurn (a favorite of mine) is also BD-aware. Linux users are not out in the cold, either: Nero's Linux edition supports BD burning, and some open source tools also exist to do the same. (Many popular burning suites also now support video authoring in HD to boot.)

Longevity And Reliability Of Media

A question that remains unresolved in many people's minds is the longevity and reliability of the media. Because Blu-ray is still new and relatively untested, and because there are already concerns about the longevity of burned CDs and DVDs, people may be understandably reluctant to commit irreplaceable data to them. I have read claims to the effect that BD-R/RE media can last for 30 to 50 years under "ideal conditions," but again, given how new the format is, that sounds like shooting in the dark. To that end, don't trust the only copy of anything you have to a Blu-ray disc -- but then again, that's probably a good rule of thumb about any backup media.

Another question that's been asked a great deal: Are discs still a worthy content delivery method in an age of increasing bandwidth? The short answer seems to be yes. For one, a manufactured disc tends to be far more durable and persistent than downloaded content, which you'd need to restore from a backup or tediously re-download if something goes wrong. Also, while there may be more bandwidth to go around, it's still generally less onerous to have 50 Gbytes delivered to you on disk than it is to pull it down from the Internet at large, BitTorrent or not -- and that probably won't change any time soon for most people.

Conclusions

Despite the boom in popularity Blu-ray has enjoyed as of late against its immediate rival, it's still a niche format in more ways than one. It's not going to displace conventional DVD, either as a content carrier or a data-storage medium, for a while yet -- with "a while" being calibrated in years, not months.

Unless you're determined to watch Blu-ray-exclusive content on the PC, it's a luxury option and not a requirement. It will probably remain that way until Blu-ray titles begin selling in numbers that stack up in a major way against conventional DVD -- which, by all accounts, still has a good, long lifespan.