Telling BluRay from DVD at a glance

Telling one disc from another

Many movies these days are released as BluRay / DVD combo packs, meaning that there are two discs in the pack, one DVD and one BluRay, with the same movie on both. The problem with this, and I know this from experience, is that many people don’t know how to tell which disc is which, and run a 50-100% chance of picking the wrong one.

On each disc is a small logo which tells you what type of disc you’re looking at:

The disc with this logo is a traditional DVD, with comparatively low picture detail.

The disc with this logo is a BluRay disc, with far better detail and colours.

That should be fairly easy. Mind you, the size of the logo may vary between “so big you can’t miss it”, and “could I have a microscope, please?”.

Another question is, will you notice the difference when you watch it on the screen? That depends on a few things, such as the quality of the DVD, the size of the TV, and the viewing distance.

The picture difference

Normal TV viewing distance is 2–3 meters from the screen (7–10 feet). On a small TV, like 20″, you probably won’t notice much difference. On a medium size TV, like 32″, there is noticeable difference, but depending on the DVD quality you may still feel that you get a reasonably good picture*. A larger TV, say 40″ or bigger, the difference will vary from clearly noticeable to totally unbearable.

*) My “Lord Of The Rings” DVDs look fairly crisp on my own HD-Ready 32″ TV. My “Alien” DVDs, on the other hand, along with the “Men In Black” ones, look downright awful. Plus my “Fifth Element” and “2010: Odyssey Two” discs are letterbox versions made so badly that they look like the picture is built from LEGOs, and have been swiftly replaced with BluRays already.

Now, unless your computer screen is full HD, it is pointless to show you how a full size HD image would compare to lesser images, because it simply wouldn’t fit on your screen. Instead I’ll simulate a comparison by showing you a smaller cut-out section (crop) from this photograph I took of a butterfly, and modify it to show the difference between Full HD, HD-Ready, and DVD quality. Rather than sit with your nose to the screen to see the detail, which you wouldn’t do while watching TV, lean back a little. If your computer is, say, a 15″ laptop, you should put about 1.5 meters (5 feet) between the screen and your eyes.

Full HD – 1920 × 1080 – high detail

HD-Ready – 1280 × 720 – medium detail

DVD – 720 × 576 anamorph – low detail

DVD – 720 × 576 letterboxed – horribly low detail

Also keep in mind that this is a static picture where nothing moves. Once things are moving, though, the comparison takes on a whole ‘nother character because you simply won’t notice the finer details in the same way. Still, that’s not to say that you won’t notice at all. And if you’re watching together with others who do notice, they’ll probably never let you hear the end of it, at least for the duration of the movie.

Anyway, the bottom line amounts to something like this:

  • You don’t necessarily have to replace all your DVDs with BluRay versions yet.
  • You may consider replacing those extra poor quality DVDs that look awful on your new and bigger TV screen.
  • You ought to consider buying BluRay versions instead of DVD versions of new movies, but it may come down to price.
  • You definitely should pick the right disc from a BluRay / DVD combo pack.
  • If you don’t have a BluRay player, everything you’ve read thus far has been either a waste of your time, or food for thought 🙂

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