Ever since TV shows began to be released on Blu-Ray, I've heard the same chorus of cries over and over again: "Why isn't there a Blu-Ray? I won't buy it until it's on Blu-Ray!" I always found myself wondering, "Is it really that big a deal?"
I decided to find out for myself.
Before I begin, a disclaimer is warranted: as you know if you're a regular reader of my TV on DVD column, I am not an audiovisual engineer or technical expert. That said, I do have the eye of someone who's watched way too much TV over the last quarter century, a reliable Blu-Ray player, and a brand-new 40" television.
Of course, there's a business side to every argument. The truth is that eventually, this won't be a discussion, as more and more releases move away from DVD and to Blu-Ray. Notice how commercials used to say "DVD and Blu-Ray" and now say "Blu-Ray and DVD"? Some releases are even pushing consumers to the Blu-Ray version if they want any special features whatsoever (like Terminator: Salvation, which saw a bare-bones DVD release before there finally was a "special edition" DVD). It may take awhile longer for television, as the TV on Blu catalog is still very small compared to the regular availability of films on Blu, but we're moving to Blu-Ray the same way we moved to DVD a decade ago.
Having established that, I can see both sides of the argument in the present day. Depending on when and where you purchase, the Blu-Ray version of a title (film or TV) can be significantly more expensive. The average difference that I've seen is about $10, which can add up in a hurry. I always think of it as that $10 is about half the price of an other entirely new DVD I could buy. Not to mention that, as I said, the availability of TV titles on Blu is still fairly limited; if you're waiting for a Blu-Ray release of your favorite show, there's no guarantee that you'll get it soon, or at all. You may have to choose between having the show at all, or waiting some time for the Blu version.
Yet is it worth waiting for?
To find out, I sat down with several titles on both Blu-Ray and DVD, to compare the formats and see if it really made any difference.
When I first bought my Blu-Ray player, I had a conversation with my friends about whether or not to replace my DVDs with Blu. As I own close to a thousand DVDs, this would be no small task. One of my friends gave me a sage piece of advice: unless it's an action or effects-heavy show or film, the Blu-Ray format doesn't make enough difference to justify spending anywhere from $20-40 per title (at the time) to upgrade. He was certainly right about it making a major difference in those genres, but Blu-Ray's effects go beyond them.
Battlestar Galactica, for example, looks absolutely outstanding on Blu-Ray. Comparing my new BR version of the complete series to my DVD copy of Razor, it's almost as if I'm watching a completely different series, because the picture is so much clearer. The dark colors no longer obfuscate details in certain scenes; the details are so much sharper in Blu that I can make out the pores on people's faces, and the colors are altogether richer. At times, it's so good that it's as if the people are right in front of me. The sound is amazing; I mistakenly had the volume up too high before an explosion and startled myself pretty well. Having seen the show on Blu-Ray, I don't think I could go back to DVD.
The same, however, could also be said for Dexter. It's not an action- or effects-heavy series, but it likewise comes to life in Blu. While the Showtime series is unsettling by nature, the enhanced video and audio make it downright disturbing at times. The blood in particular looks shockingly real, and the sound only adds to the tension as Dexter stalks his victims. I've got the previous three seasons on DVD, and enjoyed them all without feeling the need to repurchase them on Blu-Ray (especially since that'd come to $160, which is less than my Galactica complete series just cost me), but given the choice going forward, I'm definitely buying Dexter in Blu.
Another favorite of mine is the BBC's Torchwood (well, before Children of Earth anyway). I can report that it, too, looks sparkling on Blu. Torchwood is a show that has its fair share of scenes outside in the dead of night, or in claustrophobically dark places, and the Blu-Ray version helps to make those a lot crisper. I was happy with my DVD versions of the first two seasons, but I'm pleased with the new look on Blu-Ray. It comes with a 'but,' though, as the Blu-Ray versions cost close to $100 per season at list price. Even on Amazon, buying both series on Blu comes to $91, which could buy you two or three other shows. If I hadn't been able to get the Blu copies from a friend, I wouldn't have shelled out the cash for them.
Therein lies the rub. Yes, I've certainly enjoyed how a lot of shows have advanced because of the Blu-Ray treatment, and I own quite a few now. Yet it's mostly because I've been able to get them on sale, or through friends. I don't imagine a lot of us have an extra $50-100 to replace an entire TV season, no matter how much you love a certain show.The only one I was absolutely willing to pay the extra for was Human Target, and only because I knew I'd watch it so often that it would be worth the cost.
Even looking at future Blu releases, it depends on what the cost difference is between that and DVD. Sometimes it's not even an option; remember the Blu version of FlashForward that was planned and then cancelled? I'm certainly not waiting for one format of a show when another perfectly good one is available to me.
There certainly are a selection of shows where Blu-Ray is an improvement. Whether or not you choose to spend the extra money is really not a sweeping question, but a case-by-case decision that has to factor in a number of elements for each title. In no particular order, here are the criteria I consider:
What home viewing equipment do you have? You can buy all the Blu-Ray titles you like, but if you're watching them on a small, non-HD ready TV, you're not going to see much difference. I owned a fair amount of Blu titles before, but now that I have an even larger HDTV, I'm more inclined to purchase future Blu volumes because I have better equipment to view them with.
What's the price difference between DVD and Blu-Ray? This can be as little as $5 but it can be as much as $15-20. Generally, I've seen it's about $10. That might not seem like a lot when you're buying one set, but it can add up if you're like me and buy a lot of TV on DVD. In a lot of cases, I'd rather apply that money to buying a whole other DVD boxset.
Does your viewing experience significantly benefit from the Blu-Ray upgrade? This comes down to two factors - not just the enhanced audio and video, but the special features. As referenced earlier, more special features are becoming Blu-Ray exclusive, and you may have to decide if a feature or two is worth the extra. While all titles look pretty nice in Blu, you might not need that improvement to enjoy your favorite show. For example, I wouldn't mourn the difference watching something like The Office.
There are too many factors that are a matter of personal preference to make a confident selection of either format in my eyes. The best that can be done is making an informed decision on a case-by-case basis. In my personal opinion, I'm just grateful to have a show I enjoy in any format, whether it be Blu-Ray or DVD.