What is Blu-ray?

DVD’s successor has landed, promising high definition video, richer surround sound and a whole bunch of other neat features.

Another year, another major leap forward in technology. Last year it was high definition displays in the form of LCD and plasma TVs. And this year, it’s a high definition media format that will at last allow you to enjoy everything your expensive new TV has to offer.

It’s called Blu-ray, and while it might look the same as a regular DVD, it’s so much more. But to understand why we need Blu-ray, and why our entertainment experience will be all the better for having it, we need to go back into the distant past – 1985.

Picture a young boy and his even younger sister excitedly watching their father plug a brand-new, shiny VHS recorder into a 21 inch CRT TV. Picture them anxiously loading a rented tape labelled The Secret of Nimh, a cartoon adventure about a field mouse and a bunch of intelligent rats. Picture the children’s crushing disappointment as they realise the tape – already watched hundreds of times over by other adoring fans – has stretched out of all alignment and no tweaking of the tracking knobs can convince it to show a steady picture. This is the cruel prehistory of on-demand entertainment.

VCRs were more convenient (and much cheaper) than owning a 16mm projector, but they gave an inferior picture and they broke a lot. Then, with the coming of the millennium, DVD arrived and saved us all from those shameful ‘Please Rewind Your Tapes!’ notices we kept getting at the video shop.

While VHS showed the market was willing to spend money to watch movies on home entertainment systems, it took DVD – with its relatively low cost, high convenience, and crisp image quality – to revolutionise the way we consume entertainment.

When it arrived in Australia in 1998 it represented the ultimate delivery device: a small, light, cheap media carrier that was easy to use, but at the same time offered so much more than just the movie. Commentary tracks, extended or deleted scenes, gag reels, alternate angles, behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, these are all familiar terms to us now. If we buy an expensive DVD that doesn’t include a decent number of extra features, we complain.