Insight to Blu-Ray Players & Speaker Systems



  • Do you know how the inferior VHS format by JVC won against Betamax (Sony) or V2000 (Philips)?
  • Do you know what DVD stands for?
  • Do you know why is it called Blu-ray not Blue-ray?
  • Do you know what is meant by BD-Live?
  • Do you know good speakers can cost you more than your TV?
In this post, we will discuss about Blu-ray players, speaker systems. I will start with little bit of history of Blu-ray (I love history!)

Brief History of Blu-ray:


After the years of successful run of DVD format which was introduced jointly by Philips and Sony in 1995, there were successive improvements in Video and Audio quality. Initially it was enhanced storage, from 4.7GB single sided single layer to dual layer (DVD9, 8.5GB) and then double sided double layer (17GB) DVDs. DVDs were initially known as Digital Video Disc but over the years when it was used for many other purposes including data it is known more as Digital Versatile Disc.

With the advent of HD TV, a few manufactures started introducing a new feature called “up scaling” basically it upscale the DVD video (576P) to 1080i /1080P using various algorithms (ex: Faroudja)) to extrapolate to fill the extra pixels to paint it in a HD TV. But everybody knew that it is a temporary solution and it is inevitable that it should give way for a better format with much better video and sound quality

By 2002 Toshiba announced HD DVD a format which can store up to 30GB and is compatible with DVDs which was followed by the announcement of Blu-ray Sony and their partners. It is another format which uses different kind of laser and can store up to 50GB. This is announced by a group of 9 companies Hitachi, LG, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, Samsung, Sony, Sharp and Thomson Multimedia. It was called Blu-ray because it uses Blue violet Laser do to read and write. Missing e is intentional since they wanted to patent the name Blu-ray. With this another format war started, Blu-ray vs. HD DVD which reminded everybody of the old format war of early 80s VHS vs. Betamax (vs. V2000).

Initially Toshiba met with considerable success since HD-DVD is much cheaper to make and even they had the backing pornographic industry which tilted the scale in favor of VHS in 80s. But this is not 80s where there was no internet and people had to depend on tapes to distribute media content. We have so many other alternatives to distribute the contents and torrents were already in the horizon! So Toshiba could not get the approval without other CE giants backing them. So Sony decided to force their way through (rumor is that Sony silenced their opponents using muscle and money!) since they were facing serious challenges in their traditional TV business from Samsung and Apple iPod changed the way people listen to music. By 2008 Toshiba conceded their defeat and Blu-ray became the official standard for HD video. One year later Toshiba introduced their first Blu-ray player into the market which sealed fate of HD-DVD.

First Blu-ray player was introduced in Japan in 2003 and by 2006 it became available in international market and became the standard of choice for distributing HD content by 2008.

Region Coding

BD (Blu-ray Disc) has the same physical dimensions of a DVD or CD but a dual layer BD stores up to 50GB. Like its CD or DVD cousin BD also comes in 3 versions, pre-recorded, writeable and rewriteable. Unlike DVDs BD comes with only 3 regional coding, A, B and C. A is primarily Americas, Japan and south east Asia, B is for Europe, Africa, Australia and middle east and C is for Russia, India, China and rest of the World.

Around 70% of the movies come with region free BDs, the rest are region coded, especially what you may get from Region A. So please verify it before buying it from abroad.

BD Live

BD Live enables the BD Players to connect to Internet and access additional content. This allows us to go beyond what is available in the disc and make it more interesting. These can include, chatting with the directors, artists and downloadable contents, quizzes etc. All latest BD players will support BD Live and the current version is BD Live 2.0

BD uses MPEG 4, AVC (Advanced Video Codec) compression. Typical BD English movies comes in 1080P video resolution with aspect ratio 16:9 or similar with audio and subtitles in multiple languages. It also comes with Dolby True HD and DTS Master Audio which are lossless audio formats and can run up to 24Mpbs data rate giving both video and audio nirvana one can hope for with the current technology.

Pricing:

Typical BD English movies cost you from Rs 799 to Rs 1299 in India. There are a good number of Hindi movies in BD and a few in Telugu and Malayalam. These can cost you from Rs 599 to Rs 799/- . To my surprise I have not seen a Tamil BD movie so far in Bangalore! Those who read this can correct me.

Blu-Ray Disk Players

Typical BD Players have the following functionalities
  1. Playback of BD, DVD and CDs, it is backward compatible but do not expect it to play VCDs
  2. Support for 1080P video
  3. Support for Dolby True HD and DTS Master HD audio or HDMI pass through
  4. Photo Album
  5. CD Audio support
  6. Wi-Fi ready or built in Wi-Fi for Internet connectivity
  7. USB interface to transfer / play various media formats
  8. Direct connectivity for YouTube, Pandora, NetFlix etc...
  9. HDMI control
  10. HDMI 1.4 or 1.3a interconnectivity
  11. 1080p up scaling for DVD movies
  12. Easy firmware upgrade
BD players are capable giving a wholesome entertainment as shown above. So look for latest features when you buy a new Blu-ray player. Look for 3D support if you are buying a high end Blu-ray player. 3D is gradually gaining momentum after one year of Avatar's release. China has produced the first 3D XXX movie recently to give another push. Even though 3D tech is yet to mature we cannot ignore it anymore. Expect the debut of 3D TVs without special glasses by the beginning of next year. You can choose BD players with multi region DVD support to ensure smooth play of old collection of DVDs. BD players are evolving so you can expect frequent firmware upgrades to keep it current and it is must you should upgrade your firmware religiously to enjoy your Blu-rays to max.

Pricing:

Sony BDP370/ BDP 470 (3D) are good entry level BD-players which may cost you around Rs 9900/- . Sony PS3 is a very good BD player with lots of other features. It is multi region too for DVDs.

Speakers

This is one of the most crucial and costliest items in the whole Home Theater setup. The thump rule is that matching speakers for an AVR cost 3 times of its own cost. It is better to spend more money on Speakers for a better sounding system rather than spending it on AVR unless you are looking for some new essential features.

It is hard to select good speaker systems by listening to it in a mall since their setup and yours will differ a lot. So it is better to go with a well-known brand with review reports from reputed Audio magazine which conducts various tests and analysis which is not possible for consumers to do at the shopping mall J

Before going for shopping for speakers you should decide whether you need floor standing speakers or Bookshelf speakers, then powered Subwoofer or passive subwoofer etc. Floor standing speakers are the best for FR and FL (front left and right) speakers which carry most of the audio whereas the center speaker carries most of the conversations. Floor standing speakers are generally large so space is at a premium and you have convenient way to tuck in go for bookshelf speakers which are smaller but good enough. There are active (Powered) subwoofer or passive subwoofers and it can be available front firing or down firing. It is better to buy a powered subwoofer 250SW upwards for large room or 150W for a smaller room. Down firing will boost the bass more. Depending on the budget you can decide on one of the reputed brands.

Some reputed brands available in India are listed below which are no way exhaustive list. Indians generally prefer UK speakers for the kind of music we listen.
  1. Monitor Audio (UK)
  2. Wharfrdale (UK)
  3. KEF (UK)
  4. Polk Audio (USA)
  5. Bowers and Wilkins (UK)
  6. Definitive Tech
  7. Bang Olufsen (Denmark)
  8. Dali (Denmark)
  9. Polk Audio (USA)
  10. Klipsch (USA)
  11. Mordaunt Short (UK)
  12. Tannoy (UK)
Speaker placement is very important and please remember that your auto tuning system (Audyssey MultEQ) cannot move your speakers it can only calibrate and tune. So better to read a little bit first before placing the speakers. For better listening experience place all the speakers at ear level except the subwoofer and place the center speaker at the bottom of the TV.

Read the following links for better understanding.
  1. http://www.dolby.com/consumer/setup/speaker-setup-guide/index.html
  2. http://www.practical-home-theater-guide.com/home-theater-speaker-placement.html
Once the speakers are setup use the built in auto tuning system of AVR (ex: Audyssey MultEQ) for tuning the speakers. This may not be perfect but think it as a starting point. Now take a tape and measure the actual distance of all the speakers and correct in the setup menu and use decibel meter (if possible) to correct the audio levels.




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