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Blu-ray on the PC: A Slow Start
Blu-ray Disc playback on PCs--laptops and desktops alike--seemed a no-brainer. Thanks to powerful processors plus high-resolution (even fully 1080p-capable) screens, as well as the increasing viability of using a computer as the center of an entertainment system, Blu-ray appeared destined for great things on the PC. After all, you could play a movie and burn up to 50GB of data with the technology.
The reality has proven somewhat different. While we are seeing a larger percentage of desktops and entertainment-centric laptops coming through with Blu-ray Disc drives, the drives typically just read Blu-ray content, and cannot write to the discs. (Prices for desktops with a Blu-ray reader start at $399; laptops, at about $750.) The trend developed in part because of the lower cost to manufacture Blu-ray Disc readers, and the ongoing high cost of media (25GB single-layer media ranges from $10 to $15 dollars, even if you buy a spindle; 50GB media costs $30 to $40).
Blu-ray writers have dropped from their initial lofty four-figure heights, but they're still pricey, running between $200 and $500 for internal and external models. And only a handful of manufacturers--Buffalo and Lite-On among them--are even bothering with writers.
External, add-on Blu-ray drives are especially scarce, since the complexities of viewing Blu-ray movies on existing desktop-PC gear pose a problem. Does your current graphics card support HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) security? Does your older monitor? Instead, Blu-ray has taken off in laptops, where the monitor is integrated with the components, and in new desktops, under the assumption that the buyer will likely purchase a new HDCP-capable monitor along with the PC. Even there, however, the number of systems getting Blu-ray is small: Research firm IDC estimates that no more than 5 percent of PCs shipped worldwide this year will have Blu-ray.
Nevertheless, if you want to watch discs on your system, getting Blu-ray on board remains the easiest path to doing so that we can recommend.
--Melissa J. Perenson
This story, "The Best Blu-ray Disc Players: From Blu-Plate to Blu-Chip" was originally published by PCWorld.