Preparing for Blu-Ray

by Bob Seidel

Since this column is about high definition (HD) TV, I think it is appropriate to say how impressed I was with the HD coverage of the Super Bowl last night. The picture and surround sound were gorgeous, especially in comparison to the fuzzy TV signals I used to get in upstate NY when the Giants won the Super Bowl back in 1987. Oh, and the game was great too! Even though I was a NY fan for the game, I have many relatives who are die-hard Boston fans; I haven't had any contact with them yet - I bet they are not happy campers, seeing their perfect season ruined!

Now that the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD war is just about over, it's time to start thinking about upgrading your system to high definition (HD). Most people delayed this decision, biding their time until the issue was settled. For many people, upgrading may just mean replacing their current DVD player with a Blu-Ray one, but there are implications further than that.

Before we start, I want to clear up one misconception: There is no such thing as a Blu-Ray TV or a Blu-Ray camcorder. Blu-Ray merely describes the data format for high definition data on high definition DVDs. The same data format is not used by your cable box, or your camcorder. They each have their own way of sending signals around your home entertainment "network". But never fear - they do all work together.

Obviously the first thing to consider is a high definition capable TV. Just about any widescreen plasma or LCD TV sold these days has the proper inputs and can handle the signals, so just go ahead and buy one. What is important is the method for connecting your TV - it should have one or more HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) inputs. HDMI 1.3 is the latest standard and it carries both digital video and digital audio signals in one cable. That is what you should be using.

You may not have to, but upgrading your receiver to HDMI would be a good thing. The receiver becomes not just the sound source, but also will handle switching between sources (DVD player, cable box, camcorder, etc.). Your next receiver will probably also upgrade you from 5.1 to 7.1 channel sound. Instead of three speakers in the front and two in the rear, 7.1 adds two side speakers. It is not mandatory to switch to 7.1, but many Blu-Ray DVDs will support 7.1 sound; they will still work OK on 5.1 systems.

Obviously you will have to buy a Blu-Ray DVD player. These will begin to come down in price soon as volume sales ramp up. Your old DVDs will continue to play just fine on your new system, and in fact one of the things that helped people delay their HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray decision was that the newer regular DVD players that put out HD-like signals (upconverters) actually do show very nice pictures on an HD TV. Oh, Blu-Ray will certainly look better, but you will still be happy with your old DVDs and probably not have to replace them. Just make sure you get the Discovery Channel's "Planet Earth" in Blu-Ray!

You do not have to upgrade your cable box specifically for Blu-Ray, but you should consider getting a box that supports high definition and has HDMI output if you don't have one. I believe that Time Warner will upgrade your box at no charge.

Finally, you should consider upgrading your camcorder if you have or use one. Most of the recent SD (standard definition) camcorders support a widescreen mode, and you should start shooting in that. I began the switch to widescreen over a year ago, and all the DVDs I produce for the family are now widescreen. Widescreen video still looks OK on an old narrow screen set; they will just play in "letterbox" mode. I don't have a hi-def camcorder yet, but plan to buy one soon

So the message of this column is that you may not be ready to buy just now, but it is time to start doing some preparation.

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)