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Blu-ray Movies on Your PC: CyberLink BD Advisor

Blu-ray Disc format (BD) is the next-generation DVD, so that once you move up to a beautiful widescreen HD television you can also enjoy high-definition movies on Blu-ray discs -- as long as you upgrade your set-top DVD player to a Blu-ray player (or have a Sony Playstation 3).

The upgrade from DVD works similarly for playing Blu-ray movies on your PC as well -- you need a Blu-ray disc drive and compatible player software. But unlike with DVDs, Blu-ray imposes further constraints on PC playback, both technical and business.

Even if you buy a Blu-ray driver and compatible player software, you still can't play Blu-ray movies on your PC unless you have both a relatively high-end system and a compatible digital display. And there's another wrinkle -- Blu-ray discs and players come in three "Profiles" of advanced features, so you'll need a newer player to take full advantage of the new discs that will be released (see below).

You need the system performance because the high-def video formats used with Blu-ray are just big -- at least 4 times the resolution -- resulting in massive amounts of digital data to move around a PC (from disc to memory), and then to decompress.

And you need a compatible digital display because, when the Blu-ray format was created, the content owners (e.g., Hollywood studios and TV networks) required it to use significant additional content protection technologies, including special digital cabling to protect the video between the computer and the display (e.g., HDMI, as also used with HDTVs).

The best way to enjoy Blu-ray on a PC, then, is to buy a new system designed with built-in Blu-ray movie playback, especially a laptop with an integrated display, from companies including Dell and Sony.

But if you want to upgrade your existing system, it can be tricky to determine whether you've got enough performance for the job. CyberLink, creators of the PowerDVD disc player software (see previous post), is trying to help with its CyberLink BD Advisor software, just upgraded to version 2 and available as a free download.

Designed as a "good faith" reference tool (and not a guarantee of performance), BD Advisor reports on your system configuration, including processor, memory, and graphics card, to check for basic movie playback capability. It also examines support for advanced Blu-ray features, including picture-in-picture and networked interactivity (see Blu-ray Profiles below).

On the other hand, these same video player applications typically can play high-def video clips just fine on reasonably recent systems, including the new HDV (MPEG-2) and AVCHD (MPEG-4) formats. So what's so special about Blu-ray? It's just that trying to be conservative in ensuring reliable continuous playback of a two-hour movie raises the bar a bit in setting system requirements.

So regard a tool like BD Advisor as a useful way to profile your system and provide helpful feedback in deciding whether to upgrade components of your system for Blu-ray playback.

See my High-Def / DVD Gallery for more on the Blu-ray format.

Blu-ray Profiles ...

Blu-ray distinguished itself from the competitive HD DVD format with its larger capacity (25 GB per layer) and more general interactivity (Java-based programming). However, Blu-ray won the "format war" by winning studio support based on shipping lots of movie discs to watch on set-top players and especially the PS3.

But the initial waves of Blu-ray players and discs shipped without supporting the full promise of the Blu-ray format -- what are called the original base "Profile 1.0" players.

The next step up is "Bonus View" -- discs with secondary picture-in-picture (PiP) video and audio, i.e., to show a director's commentary video in the corner while the main movie is still playing. As of November 2007, Blu-ray players support Profile 1.1 (also called Final Standard Profile) with dual video playback.

Finally, "BD-Live" support adds Internet connectivity and additional local storage for downloading new content to enhance the movie -- full Profile 2.0. (See the EMedia Authoritative BD FAQ for more on Profiles.)

New Blu-ray discs will use these terms to identify the level of features they use, but should still at least play the main movie reasonably in older players.

Check the studio sites, including Fox Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures, for more on new Blu-ray releases and support for BD-Live.

New players may support "Bonus View" or full "BD-Live" -- it's not mandatory. Check for updates for older players to support the newer profiles.

And Sony updated the Playstation 3 so that it continues to be something of the de-facto reference Blu-ray player, with update 2.20 from March supporting Profile 2.

Manifest Tech Site


This entry posted on August 19, 2008.

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