The Lowdown on High-Def Blu-Ray

You've seen the TV commercials and heard about it from friends; but odds are you don't really know what Blu-Ray players and discs are all about, other than a vague sense that they're "better." Blu-Rays are optical storage discs, like CDs and DVDs, and they're poised to become the next standard media format for movies, music and more. But you'll need some tech savvy to really make Blu-Rays sing, so here's the basics of what you need to know:

1) The keyword is "more." Blu-Rays just plain have more room—up to 50 GB of space on a single disc, compared to the typical 8GB on one DVD. And like the jump from cassettes to CDs, or CDs to DVDs, this storage step-up means a higher quality (and quantity) of the stuff you like: More high-definition video, more crystal-clear audio, more special features for movies, more TV show episodes on one disc. And some DVD players can fudge the standard video on DVDs to look better on an HDTV, but only Blu-Rays have the room to offer true high-def video signals and make that HDTV shine.

2) You'll need the right setup. Blu-Rays do pack more punch, but in order to see and hear the entire experience you need an HDTV, a Blu-Ray player (which will also play CDs and DVDs), a good surround-sound speaker system and the right cables and connections. If you've got all of that, then Blu-Rays will bowl you over, but without those components you'll be left trying to figure out what the fuss is about.

3) There's no rush. Technology is always on the march, but because Blu-Rays need a fairly high-end home theater to really show improvements over DVDs, you don't have to worry about DVDs disappearing anytime soon. Some savvy film studios like Disney are even releasing DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs that have both discs, so you can enjoy the DVD now and have the Blu-Ray ready when you upgrade. If you're looking for a new DVD player, though, remember that Blu-Ray players can still play those older discs, so you might want to pick one up and flex that HDTV!