Apple's new iMac all-in-one desktops impressed us, especially the massive 27-inch model we reviewed this week. But we're left wondering what happened to the rumored Blu-ray drive option. Playing HD optical disc content on that big 2,560x1,440 screen seems like a no-brainer, so we set out to see if we could successfully hook up an external Blu-ray drive.
First we connected a USB-powered external BD-ROM drive from HP to the new 27-inch iMac. The iMac's OSX 10.61 operating system allowed us to explore the file structure of the Blu-ray disc, but there's no official Blu-ray software available for Mac, so we were unable to actually play it.
Our next step was to create a Boot Camp partition so we could install Windows, an operating system compatible with most Blu-ray playback software. In this case we installed Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit, along with Cyberlink Power DVD9. After creating the partition and installing Windows, we ran the boot camp software on the Mac OS X Install DVD, another necessary step that allows Windows to identify our hardware.
Finally we loaded in a Blu-ray disc into the slot-loading external drive. Through Cyberlink, it played back well, at least at first glance. The picture looked as crisp as we' d expect from a BD disc, and definitely seemed much sharper than a DVD. To delve a little deeper we also checked out some specific video quality tests along with CNET HDTV reviewer David Katzmaier.
First we checked a helicopter flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend" and it was clear the setup couldn't properly handle the 1080p/24 content--we saw the halting, stuttering motion in the conning tower and the wings of the airplane, for example.
The next thing we looked at was picture quality using the test patterns on the FPD Benchmark Software for Professional Blu-ray disc. Overall it was good; during the motion blur test it performed poorly, with the onscreen test patterns (letters, numbers, etc,) hard to make out. But this problem can be caused by a number of sources--Windows Vista running on Mac hardware, the USB Blu-ray drive, the Cyberlink Power DVD9 software or all the above. Suffice it to say that average users probably wouldn't notice these issues if they weren't looking for them.
In the end, Blu-ray is still a distant dream for iMac owners, but if you absolutely, completely need to have this feature, it is technically possible--even if the results aren't perfect.
Note: If you're wondering about the Apple Magic Mouse in the photo above--we did get it to work in Vista--but just the basic, not the "magic" finger gestures.