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Blissed out on Blu-ray

If you have a spiffy home entertainment system with a wall mounted, big screen high definition (HD) television set and surround sound, you might find your DVD player a bit lacking. With all that you have, you might want to watch your movie collection in HD. And if that’s the case, you may be wondering if you should junk your old DVD player and switch to a state-of-the-art Blu-ray player.

For the uninitiated, Blu-ray discs can store about five times more data than DVDs. This also means that Blu-ray allows movies to be stored in the high definition format, as opposed to DVDs that can only store movies in standard definition. Therefore, Blu-ray discs offer a vastly superior movie-watching experience than do DVDs. Moreover, if one wants to watch a home movie in 3D, your only option is Blu-ray.

“Blu-ray is a technology meant for anyone who wants superb picture and sound quality,” says Tadato Kimura, general manager, marketing, Sony India.

Though launched worldwide in 2006, Blu-ray began taking off in India only in the last two years. “Blu-ray is still a nascent technology in India, but it has tremendous potential,” says Rohit Pandit, business head, home entertainment, LG India. “It has a small demand base right now, but the numbers are bound to go up. People want HD content, and that can only come through Blu-ray.”

Agrees Howard Pears, buyer, international movies, home entertainment, Landmark Ltd. “In another year or so, you can expect Blu-ray to become more mainstream in India. Right now, DVDs still account for 70 per cent of the market and Blu-ray, about 30 per cent.”

In the West, though, Blu-ray technology is growing by leaps and bounds. According to a report by Futuresource Consulting, a London-based research consulting group that publishes data on consumer electronics, digital imaging and so on, there was a 60 per cent increase in Blu-ray sales worldwide in 2010 as compared with sales in 2009.

There is, of course, no doubt that Blu-ray will eventually replace the DVD as the medium to watch movies at home. It’s the case with any technology — one becomes obsolete and is superseded by a better one. So the question right now isn’t, “Is Blu-ray here to stay?”, but rather, “Is it worth going in for a Blu-ray setup right now?”

Some big players in the consumer electronics field are sceptical about Blu-ray’s saleability in India right now. Pioneer Electronics, for example, has its own line of Blu-ray players, but is yet to bring them to India. Says Gaurav Kulshrestha, marketing manager, Pioneer India Electronics Pvt. Ltd, “Pioneer is still evaluating if the Indian market is ready for Blu-ray technology.”

Blu-ray discs and players are significantly more expensive than their DVD counterparts. “DVD discs range from Rs 299 to Rs 599, while Blu-ray discs start at Rs 799 and can be as high as Rs 1,499 for a 3D Blu-ray movie,” says Pears.

The prices of the players are just as steep. Take LG, for example. LG has four models of Blu-ray players available in India — two of which are 3D players, and two that are regular Blu-ray. The cost of the regular ones are Rs 8,990 and Rs 9,990, and that of the 3D ones are Rs 16,990 and Rs 19,990. On the other hand, LG has 10 models of DVD players in India and their prices range from as little as Rs 2,690 to a maximum of Rs 7,490.

As for Sony, Kimura reveals that it currently has one Blu-ray player in India, and two Blu-ray home theatre systems. While the Blu-ray player comes at Rs 8,990, its latest DVD player costs just Rs 2,490. Again, while you can buy a Sony DVD home theatre system for Rs 9,990, the Blu-ray home theatre system sells for Rs 29,990. The more high-end model costs Rs 39,990.

If you do decide to invest in a Blu-ray player, you have the added advantage that these can also play DVD discs, and the continuous development of the technology is going to eventually improve the visual quality of DVD movies as well, says Dr Giriraj Nyati, senior vice-president, corp. technology, Moser Baer India Ltd. “Most Blu-ray players will support upscaling of DVDs to HD resolution. So your existing DVD collection will look even better than before.”

Needless to say, the popularity of Blu-ray in India will be tied to the growing popularity of flat panel TVs, says Sachin Bansal, CEO, Flipkart.com, India’s version of Amazon.com. “The penetration of Blu-ray discs among consumers would depend upon the prices of Blu-ray discs and players but more importantly, on the consumption pattern of the HD LCD, plasma, or LED televisions,” says Bansal.

In other words, as flat panels become the preferred TV set, more and more people are going to want to buy a Blu-ray player to make the most of their television.

However, experts say that while the picture quality of Blu-ray discs is much better than what you get on any DVD, unless you’re an absolute movie addict, you may not even notice this qualitative edge.

The other downside of investing in a Blu-ray set-up right now is that there is a lack of true Blu-ray content in India. Compared to DVDs, there are very few movies to choose from on Blu-ray. “Not many Bollywood movies get released in the Blu-ray format,” says Bansal.

Again, Blu-ray isn’t the only way to watch something in high definition anymore. Nowadays, HD content is streamed on the Internet, and is also available on TV through high definition set top boxes of different television service providers. However, if you want to see your home video in HD, you do have to get a Blu-ray disc and player.

So if you are a serious movie buff, Blu-ray may be just the thing for you. It’s yet to catch on in a big way in India. But ultimately, it’s bound to edge out DVDs in the same way that CDs edged out floppy discs more than a decade ago.

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