As we covered, buying an HD set is not that easy – now, our entertainment format is under the same deadly dull cascade of choices.
And I say that because it is tedious and for us consumers, pointless. We have two competing “high-definition” DVD formats along with our original DVD format. The two new choices are Blu-Ray and HD.
The reason there are two choices – because Sony didn’t want to share and work with anyone else on the next gen format – wanting to keep all the royalties (having to share previously with Phillips) – and believing it would tip the balance of the fight not just of the high-definition DVD format but also with the next gen videogaming consoles.
So, surprise, Microsoft lined up with Toshiba, the driver behind the HD DVD format and never the twain shall meet. Okay, they did meet but no one would budge an inch.
Unlike the leap from VHS to DVD, there were some obvious reasons you’d want to change from VHS to DVD’s, DVD’s allowed you to:
Jump immediately forward to another chapter.
Disc more durable (no tape to break, hubs to misalign, etc, etc …).
Thin Digital disc format more portable.
Took up less space (cheaper shipping and display also for stores).
Better picture/audio quality.
What does HD or Blu-Ray offer over regular DVD’s?
True HDTV on a DVD.
More capacity for more extras.
More audio options.
For consumers, that’s pretty much it. For the studios, another reason they want to switch? a) the DVD market growth is slowing so they want a new revenue stream and b) they wanted better copy protection – the new discs have a built in “movable” copy code structure so if the copy protection gets broken, they can actually change it on the fly and render your machine unworkable. The outcry from that would reach Congress so it’s unlikely they would really try that but it’s there if they want to pull the rug from underneath all of us.
As if that’s not enough, the studios have allowed them to be bought like street walkers … okay, it’s not exactly like the Hollywood studios were the last bastion of ethics and morals 🙂 but the movie studios are divided into Blu-Ray & HD exclusive camps where their titles are ONLY are released in one or the other format but NOT both … there are some studios that release on both formats like Warner Bros. I’m not going to bother to list who is on which side because it can change (like a few weeks ago when Paramount got $150 million dollars to switch) but really the overall effect is that it’s tedious and anti-consumer.
HD-DVD is cheaper, you can buy a HD DVD player for $200 and up (well, technically, the $200 player is not coming for another couple months but you can get a Toshiba player for about $250) or if you have an Xbox – for @$180, you can add this external player.
The discs themselves are usually $5 cheaper than Blu-Ray discs and some discs are hybrid discs with a “regular” DVD together so by flipping it, you still have a regular DVD to play in your portable or car player. These discs do tend to cost a little more than plain HD DVD.
Blu-Ray has a little more capacity so there is room for more extras and more interactivity. That doesn’t mean studios have taken advantage of that though. Blu-Ray is built into the Playstation 3, one reason it costs $499 or $599. The cheapest Blu-Ray player will run you about $450 so from Sony’s perspective, we’re being cheapskates for complaining the PS3 is $599.
There are a few players that can play both. They have just started to appear. Right now, I think the cheapest is around $800 or pretty much the price of buying a one of each machine anyway.
Does Blu-Ray or HD DVD look great on a HDTV? Sure but just like a DVD, if your source material is not that clean or nice to begin with, a DVD is just a format. To get a great High Definition DVD, the studios have to go through and clean it frame by frame so like before to the transition from VHS to DVD, there are some movies that look better and others not so much.
The other question is it is way better than SD (plain ole) DVD? Yes but you can cheat a little by buying a DVD player with an up-converter or by adding a line doubler – what is the difference between the new high-def DVD format and the old one? It’s subtle – it’s certainly not VHS to DVD, it’s more like a 1080p set versus a 720 HD set, it’s better but is it worth the extra money and effort?
That is the one advantage of HD DVD over Blu Ray – compatibility with the DVD’s you have now but does spending an extra $200-$250 to buy a new player and an extra $5-$10 bucks on every new disc … AND hoping the movies you want come out on HD DVD?
(with Blu Ray, you have to spend at least $450 plus an extra $10-$15 a disc over regular DVD and an again, hope the movies you want come out on HD DVD?)
Is there a video or audio quality difference between the two high-def formats? Not really. Blu-Ray has more capacity so you can fit more stuff on there and some discs are now taking advantage of that with featurettes and more “interactivity.” While nice, it’s hardly seems worthwhile to spend $475 on a new player and a new movie disc just to get that?
So, where so we stand? We have two formats that are incompatible to each other with the added confusion of which movies will be available on each format. While an improvement over DVD and for the most part great with HDTV’s – is it worth spending $200-$450 dollars plus a whole new library for about maybe a 10-15% improvement over a DVD “up-converted?”
The other problem is that as long as there are two formats, consumers will be reluctant to choose – further extending the life of DVD’s. As long as DVD is around, while blockbuster hits will be out in HD or Blu-Ray, there will definitely be a lot of older titles not appearing in the new high-def format especially TV show seasons … and the longer DVD hangs around, the more likely it is that Blu-Ray and HD-DVD will be replaced by the NEXT generation of high def – with 3 to 5 times the resolution/pixels of this generation … so Blu Ray and HD DVD are nice, they might be like laserdiscs – nice but not mainstream … and for that, the studios have no one but themselves to blame – or perhaps this is just the way they want it.
Here is the LA Times latest update.