The Blu-ray Disc, better known as just Blu-ray (as "BD" doesn't roll off the tongue as nicely), is the current consumer optical media format, the successor to Laserdisc and DVD, developed in the mid-2000s concurrently with the mainstream rise in High Definition content (Laserdisc had several Japan-only experimental HD titles via MUSE in the mid-90'snote , but it obviously never caught on because HDTV was nowhere near mainstream yet even in Japan and Laserdisc was already an incredibly niche format compared to VHS to begin with). It was introduced by the Blu-ray Disc Association, an industry consortium which includes Sony, Philips, Apple, Panasonic and many others. The discs are the same physical size as a DVD, but have a capacity of 25 gigabytes per layer, large enough for a feature-length film stored at 1080p, with enough leftover space for additional features and extras. The Blu-ray format was used for the games discs for the PlayStation 3, and for a time the game console was the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market, a factor that helped overcome some of the objections to its high price point. Blu-Ray eventually won the format war between it and Toshiba's HD-DVD format to become the only consumer-facing high-definition optical disc format.
The format's name comes from the blue-colored laser used to read the optical disc. The blue laser used has a shorter wavelength than the red ones used for DVD players (and infrared for CDs), and which allows for more data across the disc. The only drawback of this was that, as early as 2006, Blu-Ray drives were quite a lot slower at reading and seeking than DVD Drives were, though in the years since, the rise of 16x Blu-ray drives have made things a lot faster.
Even 10 years after the format's introduction, due to its lack of adoption in settings outside the home (like in portable devices or car theater systems), many movies are released as a "combo pack" that contains both a Blu-ray and a DVD. The vast majority also include a download code for a digital copy, redeemable either via Apple's iTunes or through systems like UltraViolet and Movies Anywhere, which allow any content purchased on one digital service to be viewable on others.
As time has gone on however, Blu-ray has matured. HDTVs are now very common in households, and pretty much all current media is shot in HD or above. From a distribution standpoint, DVDs are still significantly cheaper to mass-produce, but Blu-ray isn't that much more expensive, which is why movie studios print both. Many older films (such as the original, non-George Lucas Altered Version cuts of the original Star Wars trilogy) are still only officially available on DVD. However, as quality up-converting of older content becomes easier and cheaper, and creating HD content becomes easier (even most cellphones shoot at a level of HD quality now), and demand for back-catalog films increase, Blu-ray should continue to see improved adoption. note
On the technical side, Blu-ray, like DVD, can use region codes (there are only 3, compared to DVD's 7) but most mainstream titles are mastered region-free, and even if a disc is region-locked, Japan and America are in the same region, Region A, meaning that Japanese discs (like hard-to-find anime titles and rare high-end boxsets that cater to the Asian market) are fully compatible with US players and vice-versa. Region B is for the EU, and Region C is for Russia and the parts of Asia west of the Far East.
Another unique feature of Blu-ray is "BD-Live", where discs can be updated via an internet connection to access additional content. Most of the feature's use, however, has been to provide discs with updated trailers from the studio (thus averting one of the major issues with both VHS tapes and DVDs, in that the previews would become quickly outdated).
Blu-rays were expected to replace DVDs as the standard home video format, which Sony happily claimed would be a Curb-Stomp Battle, but the takeover hasn't really panned out due to a variety of factors, both expected and unforeseen, with many of them paralleling the similar issues that prevented the Super Audio CD format from making any major headway.
- The early days of the format were plagued by a format war with Toshiba's competing HD-DVD format, leading many prospective consumers to take a "wait and see" approach that prevented either of them from being an immediate success. With the emergence of later difficulties down the road, most analysts generally agree that Blu-ray likely would've had an easier head start (albeit a still rocky one) if the HD-DVD format never came about to stall it.
- In the early years of Blu-Ray, HDTVs were not as commonplace as they are today, being fairly expensive to buy, and people couldn't justify the cost for switching to the new format. Not a problem since 2010 and onwards as HDTVs became more commonplace and cheaper to get, and all of them have some legacy support for RCA and/ or SCART, specifically to cater to non-HD content.
- Many consumers feel that Blu-rays are not that significant of a technical upgrade from DVDs, not on the level as CDs were an upgrade from cassettes or LPs, heck, from VHS to DVD. And if a film was shot and subsequently mastered carefully, many DVDs hold up respectably well, even before being "upconverted" by high-definition televisions, especially on smaller-sized televisions that are 42" or below, where the detail to screen size ratio comes into play.
- Many people interested in Blu-ray early on didn't realize the additional accessories they might need to get to see all the benefits of the format; for a start they required an HDTV, which required newer cables, and depending on how far down the rabbit hole you wanted to go for immersion, decent audio equipment. Composite cables (the red, white and yellow "RCA" cables used on TV sets, DVD players and VCR players) don't work with HD content, and so newer Component (red, white, yellow, green, and blue) or HDMI cables were required for video output, while Optical input was used for audio equipment. It's fair to point out, for maximum compatibility, most Blu-ray players still have analog "RCA" connectors attached as they still function like DVD players, and for backwards compatibility with older TVs.
- As mentioned above, taking advantage of the newer 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound formats available (an area where Blu-ray really shines in comparison to DVD and Laserdisc, due to its improved data capacity) usually requires upgrading your sound system— and a good receiver during Blu-Ray's early days could cost upwards of US$400-500. The poor timing of the Great Recession in 2008 (just two years after Blu-ray's introduction) didn't help matters. And lastly, you'd need the physical room for any new equipment, and to take the time to set it up and calibrate it correctly. Taken altogether, it all created a learning curve that only appealed to the hardcore fans of the format, and not general consumers.
- DVD was (and still is) easy and cheap to convert a movie to for any studio, even the smaller ones, as well as for shooting on. By the time Blu-ray showed up, pretty much all films were on DVD, while Blu-ray's range was far more limited, and everything that was released on Blu-ray was released on DVD anyway. A DVD could hold a DVD Commentary already, the bonus content that Blu-ray could hold simply wasn't being taken advantage of and when it was, the average consumer wasn't really looking for ten hours of extra content anyway.
- Unlike with DVD, support among computer manufacturers has been much lower. While Blu-ray readers/recorders are available for computers, they tend to be more expensive than DVD drives owing to the niche demand caused by the abandonment of physical media by consumers on that platform in favor of Digital Distribution, streaming and USB drives used for OS (re)installation. As such, many PC builders cut costs by omitting optical drives altogether in their builds and PC part manufacturers have responded by not making 5.25 optical drive bays in their PC cases. Laptop manufacturers also make their machines thinner by leaving them out.
- Lastly, and possibly the biggest driving reason of them all, the rise in popularity of online video sales, as well as video streaming websites such as Netflix and Hulu. These services have curtailed much of Blu-ray's potential growth, as many consumers are eschewing physical media altogether in favor of streaming their content. This made physical media like DVD and Blu-ray the best horse-drawn buggy in what became an automobile world. In response to this, and to compete with streaming boxes like Roku or AppleTV, most Blu-ray players have at least some internet television capability to access streaming services, like the above-mentioned Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Blip, Crackle and others. The price of Blu-ray discs are still usually anywhere between 25%-50% higher in cost compared to an equivalent DVD copy, often a turn-off for those who want to switch to the format (US$13 for a DVD copy of a film, US$20 for a Blu-Ray copy of the same film on average). For these reasons, the appeal of Blu-ray is mostly limited to dedicated videophiles and audiophiles for the better picture and sound quality over streaming, as well as collectors who like having physical copies of movies and TV shows. Another market for Blu-rays is people whose streaming access is limited due to their ISP imposing strict data caps (this is particularly an issue for people who want to upgrade from HD to 4K due to the significantly higher amount of data required for the latter) and people stuck with slower connections that, at best, can barely handle streaming at around DVD quality, let alone HD or 4K, if they can even access streaming services at all (which, even now, is a surprisingly high number of households, it's not just limited to rural areas). The format is popular in Japan because the culture there still values tangible ownership, thus physical media is still popular and streaming services have been slower to catch on.
In 2009, the Blu-ray 3D extension was introduced, allowing stereoscopic movies to be released on Blu-ray discs. 3DTVs and Blu-ray 3D compatible players were introduced into the market after CES 2010, and Sony added Blu-Ray 3D support onto the PlayStation 3 with firmware 3.5 later that year. However, 3DTVs proved to be a gimmick, and sales steadily declined annually. Common complaints include how the active glasses used with most 3DTVs induced eye fatigue due to the rapid flickering caused by the shutters, or how images on "Cinema-3D" TVs look blur and dark, and sometimes had crosstalk. Autostereoscopic LCD TVs that uses lenticular refractions like that of the Nintendo 3DS proved to be too expensive to be produced in large sizes and had too narrow a viewing angle to be practical outside of specialized use note , having the same crosstalk issue as "Cinema-3D" TVs if the viewer sits outside of the optimum viewing angle. As a result, the format sold poorly, and many companies have considered pulling support for the format. Even Disney, an enthusiastic supporter of Blu-ray 3D in its early years, showed contempt at the format in the later years and scaled back releases considerably. Another notable detractor, Paramount, would go so far as to deny their worst performers anything more than a Vanilla Edition for the format, which included giving such films as the Ben Hur remake and Monster Trucks 2D-only and 1080p-only releases.note
In 2011, LG filed a lawsuit against Sony in a patent war regarding certain patents related to Blu-ray technology, going so far that LG tried to get the PS3 banned outside of Japan. Insiders thought it was an Evil Plan by LG to create an illegal monopoly on the Blu-ray industry, as evidenced by LG choosing not to re-sign a joint licensing agreement and pressing the Sony lawsuit. However, the suit was eventually settled, and as time has gone on, having a monopoly on Blu-ray technology has shown to be less meaningful. note
Unlike DVD, which launched with only four movies in Japannote and an even more paltry two movies in the USnote , Blu-ray launched with seven filmsnote that can all lay claim to being the "first Blu-ray title". However, there are considerably fewer films now out on Blu-ray than there are on DVD, and there is not a single film on Blu-ray that cannot be bought on DVD — Blu-ray only boasts 'special editions'. In an attempt to push the format further, studios have been putting the bulk of their special features on Blu-rays, sometimes even things as basic as commentaries, and have been including DVD copies (such as with Frozen and Doctor Who: The Movie) to give more of an incentive/alternative for those who've considered upgrading, but are still stuck with a DVD player for their own reasons; however, this is still showing limited effectiveness.
As there was with CDs and DVDs, some variants of Blu-ray discs exist. Hybrid discs that contain both a game (playable via a PS3 only) and video (playable by any Blu-ray player) have been released, but only a handful exist (most are related to anime titles like the Macross franchise). Record labels like Universal have created a hybrid Blu-ray disc called PureAudio, using Blu-ray's higher capacity to create an audio-only disc, that includes both surround and high-bitrate stereo mixes (and some videos), but like its older cousin DVD-Audio, it too has yet to catch on.note
There are also a handful of Blu-rays that are in standard definition — these are always explicitly pointed out as SD on the box, but that doesn't stop some people complaining in customer reviews. These are usually done by concert videos to take advantage of the superior audio quality and by television series that cannot be remastered in HD to take advantage of the format's storage capacity and fit every episode on far fewer Blu-ray discs than DVDs (for example, Discotek Media released the complete Samurai Pizza Cats — 52 episodes of 25 minutes each — as a DVD boxset of eight discs and as a single Blu-ray disc). Of course, not all standard-definition programs abide by the practice, with the official Blu-ray releases of the first season of Haruhi Suzumiya and the 1963-2008 seasons of Doctor Who choosing to upscale the 480i footage for HD. Mixed-source productions primarily filmed in standard-definition such as Bamboozlednote and the few Doctor Who seasons of its 1963-1985 Video Inside, Film Outside period with surviving film elements by the end of The New '10snote tend to have the film footage remastered in true high-definition and the video footage upscaled to match on their Blu-ray releases, creating a greater visual disconnect between the two sources than on standard-definition formats.
Two contenders in The Eighth Generation of Console Video Games, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, use Blu-ray as their physical storage medium and support playback of Blu-ray movies, while the Wii U used a disc format that is essentially Blu-ray with the Serial Numbers Filed Off to save money on licensing fees, much like previous Nintendo consoles did with DVD, and the Nintendo Switch uses cartridges, thus is outside of this subject matter's scope. All four also have an emphasis on Digital Distribution, however, so whether gamers will prefer to stick with physical copies or embrace downloading games from the Internet will determine the future of the format in the games market.
With the advent of 4K televisions (which can display a resolution of up to 3840×2160, compared to an HD television's max of 1920×1080), a new wave of Blu-ray media and players have begun to see market in the Spring of 2016. Branded 'UltraHD', an initial wave of discs from 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. (including titles such as The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road) and players from Samsung and Panasonic were the first to use the updated format.note Similarly to how Blu-ray releases of films often include a DVD copy, UltraHD releases typically include a standard Blu-ray copy. One snag of moving to 4K resolution is that a large percentage of film and TV were never mastered in 4K and are merely upscaled, leading to labels like "Real and Fake 4K".