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Several formats were introduced over the past few years to distribute pre-recorded HD content. Some of those are already discontinued; others were introduced at trade shows in the US (such as the Consumer Electronics Show, CES) but were implemented only overseas.

D-VHS

Pre-recorded HD content was available in the form of digital D-VHS videotapes before Blu-ray was established. The tapes were played on D-VHS VCRs manufactured by JVC, Mitsubishi, and Marantz at 1080i resolution with MPEG-2 compression, and a bit rate considerably higher than the 19.4 Mbps of broadcast HD. When the format was active, D-VHS movies were available for sale and rental.

The D-VHS format lasted just a few years and resembled the laser-disc format a decade earlier, both pursuing image quality and original aspect ratio preservation, typical quality features desired by movie aficionados with home theaters.

Recording of HD content on D-VHS was done using a Firewire protected (DTCP) digital connection. JVC had its proprietary D-Theater content protection, which was incompatible with Mitsubishi D-VCRs. HD consumer recording in digital VHS tapes was pioneered by Panasonic a few years before D-VHS was introduced by the three companies above, but the product was available for very short time, perhaps due to content protection issues at a time when DVI/HDCP protection was being introduced, a digital connection that transported HD in an uncompressed form which made recording unappealing and unpractical.

Blue Laser

Since the early 2000s several HD disc formats tried to establish themselves as the new format of choice in the market, such as the blue-laser HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, and some red laser formats from Taiwan and China, which were not implemented in the US reportedly due to content protection issues which caused the lack of support from compelling Hollywood pre-recorded content.

After over 5 years of seeing prototypes introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in mid 2006 the two blue-laser HD playback formats were introduced in the US, both the best source of HD consumer content, 1080p image quality, high bit rates, 24 frames per second for film sources, new uncompressed multi-channel hi-bit audio codecs, Internet interactivity, and online seamless firmware upgradeability.

After about 1.5 years of competing with each other, due to broader movie studios support and content selection, Blu-ray became the format of choice in January 2008. Blu-ray pre-recorded content distribution in the form of discs is now available for purchase and rental, and judging by the comparative price evolution of DVD players and discs, Blu-ray was reported to have exceeded the expectations estimated when it was introduced in 2006.

Whether one is in favor of Blu-ray or dislike Blu-ray for displacing DVD, the facts are that Blu-ray has accelerated its presence since HD DVD gave in as a competitor, while DVD sales are gradually going down.

Conclusion

HDTV content distribution has accelerated since the cable industry started to participate in the DTV transition, fueling the competition with Telcos and satellite providers to offer more HD channels.

Pre-recorded HD finally got a clear and last push in January 2008 with Blu-ray winning the format competition against HD DVD. Although prices are not yet as low as the DVD market, Blu-ray players and disc prices in 2009 are beginning to be more reasonable to the general public. That factor and the analog broadcast switch-off on June 2009 motivate consumers to acquire more HDTV sets, which will certainly increase HD content distribution.

However, the unregulated implementation of factors such as the “Potential Quality Concerns” mentioned in the part-2-article may further increase the quality gap between over-compressed HD content distributed by cable/satellite/Telco/OTA and high quality pre-recorded HD Blu-ray, which can negatively impact the supply and demand model for distributing HD content and HDTV equipment.

This completes the series of articles about the “HD Content Distribution in the US” subject.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, November 25, 2009 9:35 AM

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.