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How do Blu-ray discs work?

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Even though DVD technology has been around since 1997, the industry was revolutionized in 2006 with the introduction of Blu-ray discs. With movie theatres still recovering from a post-pandemic slump, you might’ve started turning to some of your old favourite DVDs. But what’s the difference between DVD and Blu-ray? In this guide we’ll look at how exactly these two seemingly identical types of discs operate and how you can use them at home.

What is Blu-ray?

Also known as BD, Blu-ray discs are simply the next generation optical disc format from DVDs. With a storage capacity of 100GB, these discs offer more than five times that of traditional DVDs.

At 12cm in diameter and 1.2mm in thickness, they’re exactly the same size as DVDs, CDs, and HD-DVD discs, so it’s easy to get mixed up. The main benefit of Blu-ray discs and their increased capacity is the ability to store longer, high-resolution movies and episodes in box sets.

The technical stuff

All discs have tiny grooves known as ‘pits’ in which to encode data. In BDs, these pits are smaller and more closely packed together than those of CDs or DVDs. This higher number of pits translates to higher storage capacity, and these smaller areas of data can in turn be interpreted by a shorter wavelength blue laser.

That’s where the name Blu-ray comes from: blue laser diodes are small devices similar to a light-emitting diode (LED) and are frequently used to read information in Blu-ray disc reading and recording equipment. The pits are too tiny to be detected by the human eye.

DVD vs. Blu-ray disc

As a result of those minor differences in construction and operation, Blu-ray discs can’t be used on all devices. You can’t play a Blu-ray disc on a DVD or CD player unless it’s designed for both formats, like this one. You might pay a little more for a player that accepts both disc types, but once you see your favourite movies in Ultra-HD from the comfort of your own home, it’s totally worth it.

Loads of modern computers come ready with Blu-ray drives installed, and any PlayStation model later than PlayStation 3 should also be Blu-ray enabled, perfect for using your console as a movie player for your friends and family.

Who makes Blu-ray?

The Blu-ray Disc Association is a group of manufacturers and brands with big names including Apple, Dell, Hitachi, HP, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and many more.

You can rest assured that if you’re buying a new device – or even one from the last few years – it should come equipped and ready to play any disc format, including Blu-ray discs.