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Sony's PlayStation 3 game console (left) and our Best Buy, Philips's BDP7200/37.
Sony's PlayStation 3 game console (left) and our Best Buy, Philips's BDP7200/37.
Earlier this year, Blu-ray Disc emerged the victor in its hotly contested next-generation format war with Toshiba's HD DVD. Though that competitor is gone, the broader war for high-definition supremacy in the home is far from over. Both digital downloads and video streaming will compete with Blu-ray Disc for viewers in the near future--although neither of those alternatives can stand up to Blu-ray today, in image quality or in breadth of content.

Before you shop for a Blu-ray Disc player, you need a crash course in new Blu-ray terminology. The Blu-ray Disc format has gone through some awkward growing pains, which has resulted in the messy situation we have now of different players supporting (or not supporting) different Blu-ray features. The format has been shipping for two full years; for nearly the first year and a half of that time, manufacturers were not required to support BonusView and BD-Live, two capabilities currently influencing what kinds of extra features a player can enable.

Blu-ray: Two New Features to Look For

BonusView: For fans of supplemental content like director interviews and making-of documentaries, BonusView is a neat feature--even a must-have one. BonusView (at one time referred to as Blu-ray Profile 1.1) lets you play back picture-in-picture content on BonusView-enabled Blu-ray titles. This means players that support BonusView can handle the processing of both a second video stream and a second audio stream. And the latter capability means that the player can perform audio mixing for sound effects generated within the player (such as menu navigation effects) along with the audio sound track of the film.

BD-Live: The other new feature to look for, BD-Live (also referred to as Profile 2.0), may be used to support Internet-connected activities such as interactive gaming and social networking. Players with BD-Live have, in addition to BonusView, an ethernet port for downloading and streaming content via the Internet, and an internal file system for managing that content. Early examples of BD-Live content have been limited (trailer downloads, for example), but studios are prepping more-complex offerings.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray specification allows manufacturers to choose whether to include BD-Live's minimum requirement of 1GB of storage in the player. Some manufacturers will provide storage inside the player itself, while others will require you to supply a flash memory card or a USB 2.0 drive to accompany the player.

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