Blu-ray Disc
Next week, and just in time for Father's Day (Sunday, June 15th), Wal-Mart is making it much easier to afford a high-definition Blu-ray player!

The original standard DVD format went on sale in the United States back in 1997, and consumers quickly shifted over to the new format from VHS. But in 1998, HDTVs went on sale, and every year since then the high definition sets have gained in popularity. But something was missing...hi-def on home video!

While DVD was noticeably better than VHS, it was noticeably not-as-good as the hi-def broadcasts of TV shows and films that people could get from cable, satellite and over-the-air HD. Folks clamored for an HD home video format, and by February 2008 the Sony-developed Blu-ray Disc ("BD") format had just won a bitter hi-def format war. But at the time, prices of a BD player started at $400, and typically ran quite a bit higher.

Beginning this coming Sunday, June 8th, Wal-Mart is kicking off their newly remodeled electronics departments in their stores by offering a $100 Wal-Mart gift card with the purchase of any Blu-ray player in its stores. That offer applies to any BD player that Wal-mart sells, including Sony's PlayStation 3 system.

More to the point, it also applies to the Magnavox NB500MG9 Blu-ray player, which Wal-Mart has begun selling in the past few weeks for just $298.00! Technically, this is a good (but not perfect) BD system, offering full 1080p resolution output and most of the expected bells and whistles. However, the noticeable thing is that this particular player is at the next-highest "profile 1.1" level (which allows Picture-in-Picture), rather than the highest-level "profile 2.0". This isn't a big issue for many consumers, though, as the 2.0 "BD Live" functionality basically involves hooking a network cable into the player so you can pull internet content into the film while you watch it. That's neat, but hardly necessary. And this $100 gift card offer, in effect, brings the total net cost down to under $200, making it well worth it...I'm considering getting one as a spare player to use in the bedroom! The gift card offer runs through Saturday, June 14th.

That gift card is quite a deal, since it can be used to buy groceries, or clothes, or even gas at Sam's Club gas pumps. But Wal-Mart is probably betting you'll want to use it to buy an HDMI cable (which is not included with most players). If you're not in-the-know, an HDMI cable is required in order to get the best possible hi-def picture transmitted from the Blu-ray Player to your HDTV display (and to get the best possible upconversion of your existing DVD collection, when you play them in the Blu-ray system).

You'll probably also want to spend some of that gift card credit on some Blu-ray Disc titles, too. Wal-Mart is going to egg you on by putting select Blu-ray movies on sale for $15 each, also starting on June 8th. That offer also runs through June 14th, or while supplies last. Titles on sale include such hits as 300, The Fifth Element, War, Shooter and 3:10 to Yuma...nice!

So, what "TV-on-BD" titles are in store for you, if you pick up a player? Well, you can already enjoy Blu-ray editions of season sets from such shows as Lost, The Sopranos, Prison Break, Smallville, Weeds, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me. Plus there's an even larger assortment on the way, including programs like Heroes, Pushing Daisies, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, Grey's Anatomy, Stargate: Continuum, Mad Men, Torchwood, Robin Hood and even the animated Justice League series. Of the upcoming titles, not all of them have release dates yet, but most of the ones which do could be pre-ordered from Amazon right now, at a great discount in many cases.

And, if you haven't heard yet, Disney has announced an early October Blu-ray Disc release of Sleeping Beauty: 2-Disc Platinum Edition, the first high-definition home video release of one of their "Masterpiece" animated classics.

It sounds like Blu-ray has definitely arrived! - David Lambert