Blu-ray discs hold almost 6 times the amount of data as DVDs, and this extra space means that Blu-ray films can deliver unparalleled picture quality and sound. The best Blu-rays breathe new life into classic films, and capture every detail of recent releases.
Whilst most DVDs are recorded at a resolution of 720 x 480 pixels, Blu-rays support up to 1920 x 1080 pixels. This standard, also known as 1080p, is supported by many High Definition Televisions (HDTV) and High Definition projectors and delivers a level of detail that approaches the cinema experience.
By way of comparison, modern cinemas use digital projectors which can display a resolution of 4096 × 2160 pixels, roughly the same quality as projected 35mm film. Although this is four times the resolution of Blu-ray, this will be projected on a screen that may be 70 feet across. On a 40 or 50-inch home HDTV, a Blu-ray film displayed at 1920 x 1080 pixels can deliver the same effect - truly a 'home cinema' experience.
However, the picture quality of Blu-ray films is only as good as the transfer from the original film negative, known as a 'master'. In the past, masters would often be processed to remove fine details such as film grain, which DVDs would not be able to display correctly. This would leave the resulting image looking flat, so a technique called 'edge enhancement' would be used to artificially sharpen the picture.
These techniques are sometimes appropriate for DVD, but are not suitable for Blu-ray, which is able to capture the full detail of natural film. The best Blu-rays have either been re-mastered with the format in mind, or have come from existing masters which haven't had excessive grain reduction or edge enhancement applied.
For example, the BFI have released a series of beautifully remastered classic Blu-rays, including the works of Pasolini from The Decameron (1971) to Salo (1975) as well as British black and white classics such as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). These Blu-ray films preserve all the detail and texture of the original source material, allowing you to enjoy the full 'real film' experience from your living room.
Because of its high resolution, Blu-ray is able to reveal the full scope and detail of classic large-format titles such as The Searchers (1956), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and How the West Was Won (1962), many of which haven't been seen in their full glory since their original release and the occasional 70mm special screening.
One of the very best-looking Blu-ray films is Baraka (1992), Ron Fricke's hypnotically beautiful visual documentary. Filmed in 65mm, it was remastered frame-by-frame to offer astonishing levels of clarity and detail, and remains the high-water mark against which other Blu-rays will be measured.