Heard about the Dell laptop that is a mere $879 including a built-in Blu-Ray drive? Well, let’s explore this further, and also explore my reasoning on why NOT to get it at this point in time.
First off, the format war has ust ended, discounting the HD VMD people over in India, who will probably convert eventually. That or be of no consequence. What we have at the moment is the equivalent of a 2.4x DVD burner drive and an 8x DVD ROM drive, at about the time that those came out, in terms of price and format maturity. Though it seems that Blu Ray hasn’t quite caught on the way that these formats had at that point, and it seems as though it won’t for awhile, even though there’s no such thing as the +R/-R weirdness that was eventually mitigated by the inexpensive inclusion of both formats into a single drive at very little extra expense.
Anyway, right now the best Blu-Ray readers and writers can slurp data off the discs, or burn the data onto them, at 18 megabytes per second. This is on a desktop drive (laptop drives are, as usual, half the speed) and, I’m pretty sure, at the outer perimeter of the disc, meaning that the real burn speed will be slower. Granted, this may seem astoundingly fast, considering that DVDs’ write speeds in similar terms would be 14x or so, close to the 16x generally accepted as the “mature” speed for the spec. Pretty good, right? Well,the same could be said of the DVD technology when it came out, as compared to CD burning, though to a slightly smaller extent; a 2.4x DVD burner was faster than a 20x CD burner (this was the first real burn speed as far as I know), a 4x model breaking 32x CD-speed-wise, and an 8x burner outpacing the CD burning ability entirely.It looks lik, between formats, there’s a bit over 2x in speed advantage between one and another, on maximums. Problem is, storage capacities increase by much more. A typical CD can be burned in well under two minutes by the top-speed burners. A DVD is, at minimum, four minutes. Dual-layer DVDs aren’t even a perectly max’d out technology yet, though their storage capacity pales in comparison with that of Blu-Ray…you see, Blu-Ray discs hold 25GB of stuff. It will take, at best, nine or ten minutes to write all that stuff to disc, or read it out linearly. But we can’t complain, since DVD-ROM drives take longer to read the whole disc than CD-ROM. Right now, DVD is the faster technology outright, while DB is still very much in a development stage, with the discrepancy in media costs reaching as much as two orders of magnitude for a little over 5.3x the storage density.
Now we come to the other, big, consideration: price. Both in computing horesepower and in cash money, which go hand in hand anyway. Dell wants $280 over the price of the baseline combro drive in its Inspiron 1525 in order for a combo Blu-Ray reader and DVD\CD writer to be put in the laptop. For the same price the processor on the laptop could be upgraded from a measly Celeron M to a powerful, new-generation Core 2 Duo, with $5 to spare. If you want the BD burner, shell out another $200, versus the $30 difference (for a slim drive) between a DVD combo and a DVD burner. But that’s not all; even though the Inspiron has to have a dedicated media accelerator card just to render the BD video (Intel’s current-gen integrated graphics, the X3100 set, can’t do the job), it’s time to pay $100 to up your processor to at least a “real” Core 2 Duo, which has to have 1.83 GHz of dual core processing power; the Celeron M that comes stock won’t work, and neither will the next level up, a 1.73 GHz “Pentium Dual Core”. This is after the format wars have gone on for a long while…my guess is it’ll be a year before all computers are powerful enough to even play the gosh-darned tings. Whereas, once DVD-ROM drives were made available in PCs, practically anything could play a DVD and midrange rigs were able to burn them in short order. You could even outit an older machine with a burner and have it work nicely…anything lower than high-midrange a year and a half ago probably can’t do Blu-Ray in any shape, form or fashion. $880 plus tax (making the total more like $940 or $950) for a computer that can play HD movies is just pathetic. $400 for a player (PS3) worth its salt…same thing. Keep i mind that right now you can buy a laptop that will play DVDs admirably for $400, and burn them for maybe $450..or take the Dell at $500 or $530 plus tax, respectively. Versus $880 or $1080 plus tax if you want your shiny new format.
If you’re wondering, there are cheaper deals to be had on Blu-Ray as well. A desktop-size reader is $130 on Newegg. A combo reader\DVD-burner is $180. A burner is $330…sounds like the early days of DVD burning, doesn’t it? Again, horsepower required, as well as a flawless chain of secured computer components in order to make sure that you get video coming out from that hot new Blu-Ray title you just got. Yeagh.
Sure, businesses may pick this tech up as faster than tape drives and lower in cost, but for the same price as one Blu-Ray drive and 250 GB of write-once storage right now, you can get two terabytes worth of external storage, on rewriteable media (aka hard drives). Or upload, download and online storage for that same data for a whopping eleven months via Amazon S3, or close to that
Of course, prices will come down and Blu-Ray will eventually become the media of the present rather than the future, but right now I wouldn’t buy it unless you’re getting the Nine Inch Nails deluxe package and want to remix the content to your heart’s desire. Then you need the Blu-Ray reader to get all that loevly data off the disc. But otherwise, I don’t think anyone is going to see widespread adoption of Blu-Ray until 2010 or even 2011, another twenty or thirty months, at which point internet connections will be nearly as fast as disc reads (if latency isn’t too bad on the ‘net connection and you’re doing random BD reads, which take awhile), and flash disks will offer value similar to what Blu-Ray does now at speeds that will trump Blu-Ray then. Who knows…people may end up downloading more real movies to their combo set-top box\Blu-Ray player over the interwebs than they will consume by the box’s physical media slot, especially if things keep moving as slowly as they are right now. Even if HD movies on AppleTV lok like creepin’ crud versus the beauty of minimally compressed (comparatively) 2-megapixel-per-image content sucked off a metal disc by a blue laser.