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PS3: A Blu-ray of Sunshine

Feature: What Blue-ray really means to you and your games

The Blu-ray strategy has sent manufacturing costs spiralling and provoked industry pundits to suggest that Sony might, just might, have dropped the ball.

If you're reading this then you no doubt want a PS3 for one thing and one thing only: games. But what exactly is Blu-ray and what will it mean for you and your games? More importantly, how can you harness its HD beauty on your home set-up? Read on to find out.

Storage, storage, storage

Blu-ray is named after the blue-violet laser used to read the data off the disk and its shorter wavelength allows more data to be stored (25GB on each layer as opposed to DVD's 4.7GB per layer).

While DVD has become incredibly popular and is now an industry standard, developers and movie studios have increasingly found the format cramped and limited for the kind of big budget projects consumers now crave. To put this in perspective a normal DVD has a playback time of approximately 3.8 hours, a Blu-Ray disk comes in at a whopping 23.8 hours (or 13.3 in High Definition). And that's more Lord of the Rings than even Peter Jackson can make.

Format war!

Betamax or VHS? Whenever you hear or read anything about Sony's new Blu-ray DVD technology the previous battle between the two competing videocassette formats rears its head. This is because a similar situation has arisen where two competing technologies are trying to dominate a market: HD DVD and Blu-ray.

In one corner there is HD DVD championed by Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba and NEC and in the other corner Sony's Blu-ray backed by Sun Microsystems, Philips, Dell, Pioneer and TDK, among others. While it's not inconceivable to see one dying off it's becoming increasingly unlikely considering there's support for both by all the major movie studios.

Columbia, MGM, Disney, Lionsgate and 20th Century Fox are in the Blu-ray camp with Universal Studios and the Weinstein Company in the HD DVD camp. Paramount, DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema support both. Such competition suggests it's unlikely that your Blu-ray disk player is going to become obsolete in a few years time.

Welcome to the HD Revolution

But what does all this mean to the games and movies you watch? Blu-ray linked up to a HD TV is going give you a visual overload akin to looking down a Timothy Leary-branded kaleidoscope. Okay, so we might be exaggerating but the picture quality is splendid and far exceeds anything you can get using a standard DVD player beamed through a Cathode Ray Tube.

This is due to the increased resolution High Definition brings, which is approximately double that of your standard definition (SDTV) analogue signal. Your gaming experiences will be clearer, sharper, more detailed and very life-like. Ask anyone who's got a 360 running on a HD TV.

HD TV comes in three main flavours 720p, 1080i and 1080p (numbers that refer to the number of horizontal lines that make up the picture). Most HD-ready TVs display picture resolutions of either 720p or 1080i but there's really not much visible difference between the two - most HD TV broadcasts are transmitted in 1080i anyway.

Only expensive HD TVs display 1080p but no broadcasts are currently made in this format due to the high bandwith necessary. However, both Blu-ray and HD DVD take advantage of 1080p, which is a consideration if you want the best.

Currently Sony's PS3 is the only console capable of outputting glorious 1080p out of the box. A small update has since been released over Xbox Live to enable Microsoft's Xbox 360 do output at 1080p.

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