Now playing: the current state of high-def movies

After Blu-ray's victory

It was only a few months ago that Blu-ray emerged as the victor in the hotly contested war against the forces of HD-DVD. While HD-DVD is vanquished, Blu-ray can't rest on its laurels for too long — the high-definition war is far from over. Both Internet streaming and digital downloads will compete with Blu-ray as time goes on — with each offering different advantages and disadvantages in image quality, content and features.

Before you buy a Blu-ray disc player, you'll need to understand all the appropriate terminology. Even though Blu-ray's been out for two years, disc and player producers were not previously required to support some of the extra capabilities that transform the Blu-ray experience.

BonusView is also known as Blu-ray Profile 1.1, and supports supplementary content like making-of documentaries, and cast and crew interviews. This means that any player with the BonusView feature supported can process two audio streams at once (for overlayed interviews during movies). In addition, this means that menu sound effects and other incidental noises can be played during the soundtrack of the film if needed.

BD-Live, Blu-ray Profile 2.0 by another name, is an expansion of the Blu-ray device into a convergent digital world. The device must be connected via an Ethernet port into your home network, allowing for Internet-connected activities like interactive gaming, social networking and comparative movie reviews. At the moment BD-Live is in its infancy, with the only content available being trailer downloads and the like. One stumbling block is BD-Live's need for a minimum of 1GB internal memory in the player — which the manufacturer doesn't need to provide (so you may have to go and buy a USB memory stick or flash memory card).

While Blu-ray and HD DVD were battling it out, plenty of players were released into the market fighting for each side. With Blu-ray supreme, the market is currently stagnating slightly as manufacturers spend more time refining and updating models to compete directly with one another.

We had a look at the Blu-ray players currently on the market, as well as deciding which 5 would be best for consumers. The DMR-BW500 from Panasonic was a standout performer for its ability to record TV on to rewritable Blu-ray discs as well as watch the latest high-definition movies. The Sharp BDHP20X was good for budget shoppers, the Pioneer BDP-LX70A was the best pure-bred, and the ever-present Sony PlayStation 3 was best for a versatile gaming and movie-watching experience. There are only a few models that have been released that support the BonusView profile, and at the moment only the Playstation 3 has full BD-Live support.

However, new players are scheduled to hit the market soon, with new ranges from companies like Pioneer, Sharp, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic expected within the next few months. All of these players are likely to support BonusView, thanks to the increasingly large number of discs that can take advantage of it. However, it's unknown which models will have BD-Live functionality included.

There is an alternative to Blu-ray. High-definition movies can feasibly be delivered by Internet, although the bandwidth costs are sizeable — standard-definition feature-length films are over a gigabyte when downloaded through most services. Telstra's Bigpond Movies service is the main contender in the market at the moment, though it'll face competition from the recently announced EzyDownload service from EzyDVD, the country's largest online DVD store. In addition, Apple's iTunes Store has just started offering several TV shows for download, ranging from Scrubs to Pimp My Ride. Anyone seeking Full HD content will be disappointed: the resolution is only 640x480.

If it is high-definition game trailers you're after, then you'll be pleased with the breadth of content available on Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace. The downside? You have to own an Xbox 360. A similar service is expected to be released when PlayStation Home is switched on for PlayStation 3 fans at the end of this year, although limited downloads are available via the Playstation Store.

In reality, there's not a large amount of online content available for high-definition aficionados. At the moment, Blu-ray remains the clear choice for anyone seeking to make the most of their Full HD televisions. All you can do is keep your Blu-ray player hooked up and turned on, and continue to be blown away by the quality of features like Planet Earth, Casino Royale, The Fifth Element and Ratatouille.

Additional reporting by Melissa J. Perenson, PC World (U S).

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Campbell Simpson

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