If you've just bought a new Blu-ray player, you may find that it's not quite as easy to set up as a DVD deck, particularly if you want to get the best possible performance out of it. The problem is that Blu-ray is a relatively young format, which means that over the last few years TVs and AV receivers have been playing catch-up with the technology, and as a result not all of them support the new features found on the latest hi-def machines.
For that reason, we thought it would be useful to highlight a few issues and potential pitfalls you may encounter when integrating a new player into your system. Some can be rectified by a simple tweak in the set-up menu, others may involve investing in new kit, but either way if you follow our advice you can cut out a lot of confusion.
The biggest benefit of Blu-ray is obviously its 1080p high-definition picture quality, and to view HD movies in all their glory you'll need to connect the player's HDMI output to the matching input on your TV. All Blu-ray movies are stored on disc in 1080p at 24 frames-per-second (referred to as 1080/24p), which is the rate at which they're originally shot on film, and by using this format Blu-ray allows you to watch the movie as the director intended.
However, some older Blu-ray players aren't able to output 1080/24p in its native form. Instead, they convert the 1080/24p signal to 1080/60p using the '3:2 pulldown' technique, where one frame is played three times and the next frame is played twice and so on, resulting in one frame being held on screen longer than the other and introducing judder into the picture.
Thankfully, most of the latest models can output 1080p pictures at 24 frames per second over HDMI, but not all TVs can handle them. If you feed a 1080/24p signal to a TV that doesn't support it, then the TV has to convert the incoming signal to 50 or 60Hz which also introduces judder into the picture.
All of which means that to get the smoothest, purest and most authentically cinematic pictures possible, you need a Blu-ray player that can output a 1020/24p signal (usually selectable in the set-up menu) and a TV that can support it. Many of the latest plasma and LCD sets can handle it, but they don't simply display it at 24Hz, which would result in almost unbearable amounts of flickering. Instead, LCD TVs typically use a 120Hz mode, whereby each of the 24 frames is repeated five times (referred to as 5:5 pulldown) and because each frame is held on screen for the same amount of time there's no juddering. Plasmas from the likes of Pioneer usually offer a 72Hz (3:3 pulldown) mode as they don't suffer from as much lag as LCD, but the outcome is the same.
The other major benefit of Blu-ray is the inclusion of 'lossless' soundtracks such as Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, which allow you to hear audio that's bit-for-bit identical to the studio master. However, unlike the regular versions of Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks found on DVD, not all AV receivers are able to decode these newer 'HD audio' formats.
If your receiver can decode them, set-up is fairly simple. Both of these formats can be output from a player's HDMI socket as a bitstream (raw digital data) to the corresponding input on the receiver, where it is decoded into multichannel sound. In this case, set the player's HDMI audio output to 'bitstream' or 'primary'.
However, if connecting in this way there are a couple of things to bear in mind. The HDMI sockets on both devices must be specified as version 1.3, which is the only version that can carry HD audio - check this before buying. You'll also need a second HDMI cable to connect the receiver's HDMI output to your TV - the AV receiver will extract the audio data for decoding and pass the 1080/24p video signal through intact.
If your receiver doesn't decode Dolby True HD or DTS HD Master Audio, things get a little more complicated - but it doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the same high sound quality. One of the options is to make the player decode the audio internally and convert it to LPCM, the uncompressed form of audio that can be carried over any version of HDMI. LPCM preserves the high multichannel sound quality of both formats, but means your receiver doesn't need to do any decoding.
This option is found in the set-up menu and is found on most players, but be aware that many cheaper models only convert the regular 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack or DTS 'core' into LPCM and not the high-resolution data - again it's worth checking the player's specs against those of your receiver if these HD audio formats appeal to you.
Of course using the LPCM conversion method assumes that your AV receiver has HDMI inputs - but if not, all is still not lost. Some Blu-ray players decode these formats internally, convert them to high-quality analogue and output them from multichannel outputs. However, you can't use the optical or coaxial outputs found on most players as they lack the necessary bandwidth to carry Dolby True HD or DTS HD Master Audio bitstreams.
A growing number of Blu-ray discs feature 'BD Live' features, which allow you to download extra content from related websites, play games, engage in web chats with other film fans and much more. To take advantage of this, you need a Profile 2.0 player that sports an Ethernet socket, which you'll need to hook up to an internet router or PC. Be warned that some Profile 1.1 players are equipped with an Ethernet port but use them only for firmware updates and not to access BD Live features.
You may also need to plug a USB flash memory drive or SD card into your Profile 2.0 player, which provides the local storage for extra content and updates from the internet, and it should be at least 1GB. Apart from the PlayStation 3, none of the Blu-ray players on the market comes with built-in memory - although several manufacturers unveiled players at CES with built-in memory and Wi-Fi, doing away with the need for Ethernet and external storage.
When I see articles that imply there is a definite benefit to 8 channels of 192 KHz uncompressed audio I am compelled to comment:
A double blind study proved there is no audible difference in the same audio delivered in a 192 KHz or 44.1 KHz format and the AES felt the findings were valid and published the paper: +++++++++++ Audibility of a CD-Standard A/D/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback - E. Brad Meyer and David R. Moran 775 ++++++++++++++ In the research they started with the 24 bit 192 KHz recordings (both DVD-A and SACD separately) and put them through an A/D/A loop "degrading" them to 16 bit 44.1 KHz.