Round Rock (TX) – The high-definition war is over and it suddenly appears that Blu-ray is becoming much more affordable, with more products supporting the technology surfacing every day: Dell is the first major notebook vendor to offer Blu-ray capability for less than $900 in one of its notebook models. But a closer look reveals that Blu-ray is still very expensive and you have to be cautious about what you are actually purchasing.
The offer looks enticing, at least if you have been waiting for Blu-ray capability in a notebook. Dell’s Inspiron 1525 can be ordered with a BD-ROM/DVD-burner drive for $879. It looks cheap, but, of course, this is a very basic configuration that is based on a notebook that can be bought for $499 without the Blu-ray drive. The price increase is caused by a $280 premium for the Blu-ray drive (a Blu-ray burner is priced at $480 extra) as well as a required processor upgrade to a Core 2 Duo T5500 for $100.
HP, by the way, also requires an upgrade to the T5500 CPU in its cheapest notebook that is offered with Blu-ray (dv6700t). HP’s Blu-ray notebook will cost buyers more than the Inspiron 1525 – at least $1029. But besides the fact that the base price of the dv6700t is higher ($630) and the Blu-ray drive is slightly more expensive ($300), HP also requires consumers to upgrade the notebook to discrete graphics when they choose a Blu-ray drive. A GeForce 8400GS upgrade is priced at $49.
Dell’s Inspiron 1525 can only be ordered with integrated graphics – Intel’s GMA X3100 – in its base configuration, which some users may consider a tough compromise, especially, if they a Blu-ray burner doubles the price of the notebook. The X3100, part of Intel’s Santa Rosa platform, is equipped with HDMI/HDCP support and supports HD movie content, but the hardware acceleration is limited to MPEG-2 and WMV9 (VC-1) – which is sufficient for the current generation of movies. However there is no acceleration for H.264 and the chipset will only support playback of low bit-rate 1080p H.264 movies. The editors of Hardware Zone, for example, observed that low bit-rate H.264 content will consume about 80% of their CPU on the X3100, which means that it is rather unlikely that higher bit-rates, beyond 18 Mb/s will play on such a notebook.
While jumping on Blu-ray for a sub-$900 price tag sounds enticing, it seems that we will have to wait for Blu-ray drive prices to come down until these notebooks become a bit more future-proof.