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No, this is not the standard HD DVD vs. Blu-ray article that you may be used to reading. I am not declaring a "winner" because I think we are at a point now where neither camp is going away. Instead, this article explains which format I believe is the better choice for the consumer (you) this holiday season. Could that change a year from now? Sure, but I want to help you decide what to buy this year.
This article is not written in an attempt to convince anyone who has already made an investment one way or the other, for that is an almost impossible feat. It was written for those that are still "on the fence", as they say. It is for those who are either undecided, or are waiting to see which one will come out ahead (or which will be first to waive the white flag). It's time to hop down off of that fence.
Why Choose Either Format?
First let's take a look at the benefits that these formats have over standard DVD and even HDTV.
- Increased resolution. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray support video at 1080 lines of vertical resolution, compared to standard DVDs' 480. The horizontal resolution is also greater at 1920 lines vs standard DVDs' 720. In total, high definition DVD will display 2 million pixels on the screen at any given time, compared to about 350,000 with standard DVD. That's 6x the resolution in the same area.
- Higher bitrate. Resolution is the easy one to put your finger on, but the secret to better picture quality is in the bitrate, or amount of information sent to your TV each second. Standard DVD is limited to about 11Mbit/s (Megabits per second) while cable, satellite and broadcast (over-the-air) can be delivered at up to 19Mbit/s (although 12-13Mbit/s is more common). Both HD DVD and Blu-ray can support bitrates in excess of 36Mbit/s. The result is a much more detailed picture, even during fast motion scenes that can wreak havoc on the over-compressed signals of cable & satellite.
- Better audio. Next on the list has to be audio. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray support more advanced audio codecs than standard DVD, including the lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Lossless codecs provide sound exactly as the content creator intended, with nothing lost due to compression.
- Features and Interactivity (Extras). Standard DVD has some basic interactivity. I've seen some of my kids' DVDs that include rudimentary games, etc. But with high definition DVD, a whole new world opens up. I'll gloss over the gory details and just say that with these next generation formats it will be more like browsing the web than just clicking the down arrow twice and Play. Another big difference is that these next generation players have secondary video processors. This in essence gives you the ability to toggle on a picture-in-picture display while watching the movie. This secondary video stream can include any number of features like director's commentary, out-takes, unedited footage ... the possibilities are nearly endless.
- What about download? Most download services available today don't support high definition video. Those that do have HD available don't "sell" the content, they "rent" it. And until you are able to "buy" a digital copy to store on your computer and play back to any of your TVs at your leisure, I can't recommend it as an adequate next step for home movie viewing. Another thing to consider is that the hard drive space required to store these downloadable movies in the same quality as HD DVD and Blu-ray would cost between $10 and $15 per movie. When all is said and done, it would cost you almost twice current HD DVD and Blu-ray prices to buy movies via download.
In my searching, I did find one high definition movie download service that allowed you to buy movies. It's called Vudu, and they have a selection similar to most movie stores. With Vudu, you first buy a set top box for $399.99. This set top box can store up to 100 hours of purchased movies, which can be purchased for $20 - $25 (for new releases). Also, in order to have instant viewing of movies, they recommend an internet connection speed of 2-3 Mbit/s. This is a definite step in the right direction, but quite a bit more expensive than HD DVD and Blu-ray, and not very practical if you plan on having a large collection of movies.
- What about combination players? A good universal option. LG has one out this year that is fully compliant with both specifications and Samsung is supposed to have one out this year as well. The problem is that they are much more expensive ($999 MSRP), which is more than you would pay if you bought both HD DVD and Blu-ray players. I therefore cannot recommend dual format players to consumers quite yet.
Now that I've given you a few reasons to consider investing in these formats, let's hear what consumers have to say who have already made the leap to high definition DVD:
- According to our Fall 2007 HDTV Study, more than 42% of respondents have made the investment1
- 90% of consumers who have invested are "highly satisfied" with their purchase2
- Those that have a high definition player plan to replace 25% of their DVD library with their high definition counterparts2
- Another figure from our Fall Study shows that for respondents that are upconverting their standard DVD content, only about 15% think it's "Good enough."
If none of that convinces you that you need to have one of these formats in your living room, you can stop reading. If you want to know why I think HD DVD is the best option, read on dear friend.
Why HD DVD?
My reasoning below is not based on which format has higher bitrate or more capacity, nor is it based on which one has more studios in its pocket, or more titles on the shelves ... as all those are about equal when you're looking at the screen. The reason I am recommending HD DVD is for the benefit to the consumer ... you.
From the That's-Not-Quite-True Department
There are a lot of "facts" and figures that get thrown around whenever someone sticks their neck out in favor of one format or another. In this case, those that have already invested in Blu-ray may throw up some strongly-worded arguments to my recommendation. Let me attempt to disarm some of them by stating below some things you're likely to hear/read, and why they're "Not Quite True":
- Blu-ray has more studio support than HD DVD - Of the six big movie studios in North America, three of them are Blu-ray exclusive, two of them are HD DVD exclusive, and one (Warner Bros) is producing in both formats. But what we're really talking about here is the number of titles available, not the number of studios supporting it. According to Wikipedia, as of October 31st, 2007, 332 titles are available in the US on Blu-ray and 328 on HD DVD3. And as of November 6th, 2007, Netflix has 378 Blu-ray titles and 345 HD DVD titles. Sounds about even. That being said, you also must take into account whether there are titles available from only one format that you must have. That alone can make all other advantages of one format over the other irrelevant.
- Blu-ray has more manufacturer support than HD DVD - This one is true, but I include it for what it means. Usually, more manufacturers mean more competition, which leads to lower prices. HD DVD is far less expensive than Blu-ray, so what good are all those manufacturers doing for the Blu-ray format?
- Blu-ray has higher capacity/bitrate than HD DVD - I'll give you that. Blu-ray players currently support discs with a capacity of up to 50GB while HD DVD is limited to 30GB (although 51GB HD DVDs were recently approved). Also, Blu-ray bitrates can run to 54Mbit/s while HD DVD is limited to 36Mbit/s. That being said, show me how that makes a difference with a side-by-side comparison of picture quality. I doubt it's $200 better from any consumer's point of view, and that is the guiding principle of my recommendation.
- Blu-ray can do all that added feature and interactivity stuff too - Yes, but only certain players can support it, and only certain disks have it. It should not be up to the consumer to keep track of whether a player can take advantage of a specific feature they see on the back of the package ... they should know it's supported regardless of their player.
- Target went Blu-ray exclusive, the end is near - Actually, Target just bought an end-cap. A quick check in their online store shows that they are selling both the Toshiba HDA30 and the new Venturer HD DVD player. Also, since when is Target a bellwether in retail consumer electronics?
- Blockbuster went Blu-ray exclusive, the end is near - Again, Blockbuster's announcement was not quite that far reaching. The Blu-ray exclusivity is limited to about 87% of their stores, and they are still making HD DVD available via online rental. Also, Blockbuster later issued a press release that indicated that they would continue to stock more HD DVDs in their stores as demand increases.
- Paramount got paid $150 million for HD DVD support - True, but let's not pretend money is not changing hands all over the place in this contest. It's business, and that's how business is done. I hardly think this is a reason to dislike HD DVD.
- HD DVDs scratch more easily because they don't have the hard coating that Blu-ray has - Blu-ray does utilize a hard coating on the surface of their media that resists scratches. This had to be done because the data layer in a Blu-ray disc is so much closer to the surface than in HD DVD. Regardless, this does not mean that HD DVD's are more susceptible to scratching and damage. I contacted a popular online rental company and asked them about damage reports and disc durability of the two formats. According to them, there is no appreciable difference in the number of returns for either format.
I'll restate what I've said above, but without all the detail. Here is why I believe HD DVD is the best choice for the consumer this holiday season:
- All HD DVD players are standard, and you can feel confident that you will not have any issues playing back any HD DVD title on any HD DVD player.
- Since all HD DVD players are internet-capable, any updates that you may have to do to your player can be done without complicated downloads, DVD burns and upgrade routines.
- HD DVD is region-free, meaning that no matter in which country you buy your HD DVD, it will play in your player.
- HD DVD media has less copy protection. Less copy protection means faster disc load times.
- Sale prices for HD DVD players this holiday are around $100-$200, much more consumer- (and wallet-) friendly than sale prices for Blu-ray players, which are around $400.
I expect (dare I say hope) that this will generate a lot of conversation. It remains to be seen how much of it will be in opposition to the recommendation I'm making. I will close this article with a recent quote that I came across that seems to be quite apropos:
Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.
- Laurens van der Post, explorer and writer (1906-1996)
With that said, I welcome your comments.
1 Source: HDTV Magazine's Fall 2007 HDTV Study. The Study is still in-progress, but the data above is based on 1600+ respondents.
2 Source: The NPD Group, a leading retail market research firm
3 Source: Wikipedia article: Comparison of high definition optical disc formats
Posted by Shane Sturgeon, November 26, 2007 5:58 AM
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About Shane Sturgeon
Shane Sturgeon is the Co-Publisher and Chief Technologist of HDTV Magazine, an industry publication with HDTV roots going back to 1984, when Dale Cripps founded The HDTV Newsletter. Today, HDTV Magazine is a leading online resource for HDTV news and information and captures the eyes and imaginations of over 3 million visitors annually. Mr. Sturgeon has a background in information technology and has served in various consulting capacities for Fortune 500 companies such as J.P. Morgan Chase, Verizon Communications, Proctor & Gamble and Nationwide Insurance. He has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Wright State University.