High Definition and the future of viewing
By Screen Digest (feedback at theregister.co.uk)
Published Tuesday 8th March 2005 13:57 GMT
Analysis Over the past 20 years, the potential of high definition (HD)
has seen development in a number of interlinked fields - broadcasting,
consumer electronics and pre-packaged content.
Although definitions vary, the term HD itself generally refers to a
television screen offering at least double the resolution of the
highest quality standard definition TV screen—that is, a screen
resolution of 1920x1080i (interlaced), or 1280x720p (progressive
scan), versus the current European PAL standard of 720x576 at 50 Hz
picture refresh rate (or NTSC standard at the lower picture quality of
648 X 486 at 60 Hz picture rate).
There is also a ‘true HD’ resolution, referred to as 1920x1080p, where
each image is refreshed one at a time progressively in maximum
resolution, rather than refreshed in two stages as happens with the
interlaced system. By definition, the latter provides the best
available visual quality that current technology restrictions allow -
although today its primary role is as a picture acquisition (ie,
In any event, the crystal sharp image of HD means films can be viewed
as the directors and cinematographers had intended them to be, with
the visual quality matching (if not surpassing, on the right home
entertainment system) that offered by a theatrical screening.
The implementation of HD takes place at several stages. In the first
instance, there is the production stage, where content is shot and/or
mastered in an HD format (either HD video, or simply 35mm film). In
the second instance, there is the distribution level. HD content can
be broadcast via either digital or analogue TV signals, or sold
prepackaged as consumer media on either tapes or optical discs.
Although the D-VHS format, which gained some limited studio support,
was an example of consumer HD media, DVD has been unable to fulfil the
requirement. With current MPEG2 compression, and the codecs used by
consumer hardware, standard DVD cannot store significant amounts of HD
data even on a dual layer 9 Gb disc. To provide HD content on an
optical disc, there is a need then for a product able to offer a high
storage capacity - considerably more than the maximum 9 Gb capacity of
However, to reap the visual benefits of HD content, the consumer will
need an HD home entertainment system. An HD optical disc device to
play the discs, and an HDTV set to view the content at full
resolution. In the US digital TV set/display market, there are three
categories of product for sale:
* SDTV: standard definition digital TV displays with a resolution
* EDTV: enhanced definition digital TV displays with a resolution
of at least 480p, but below 720p.
* HDTV: high definition digital TV displays with a resolution of
720p or above.
Why HD packaged media?
It may seem somewhat absurd to discuss what will replace DVD at a time
when DVD software and hardware sales are continuing to grow. However,
as with all rapid growth, early maturation follows. From a hardware
perspective, although the number of DVD households is continuing to
rise, the rate of growth has already begun to slow down. In 2003,
there were a record 28m new net addition DVD households in Europe. In
2004, this has already dropped to 22m, and the decline in hardware
growth rates is expected to follow as the market nears 80 per cent
penetration by 2008.
The same argument is borne out worldwide. In the 2003-2006 period,
annual hardware growth will decline from 66m to 58m new households a
A similar trend is evident in consumer spending on software. In 2003,
the European DVD software market grew by almost €5bn. In 2004, this
growth has dipped below €3bn and is expected to continue to fall, to
somewhere around €500m a year by 2008. According to some studios, DVD
software growth has already peaked in terms of the number of hit
release titles that can be sold, with the business currently thriving
off the back of growth in the deep catalogue and TV/entertainment
Although the end is far from nigh, there is an issue in how to inject
new impetus into the packaged media market - a sector that constitutes
the major US studios’ single biggest source of revenue. In other
words, HD discs, as a new mass-market proposition, could create a
natural migration path for packaged media growth, possibly in line
with the eventual phasing-out of the VHS as a home entertainment
At present, other than a few titles available on the sidelined D-VHS
format, the only way consumers can view HD content is via broadcast
signals. In the US, almost every major cable and satellite pay TV
operator is offering an HD tier in their services. HD movies and
sports have been particularly important, with all premium TV and movie
services (such as HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and Starz) offering an HD
variant on their standard definition packages.
From a content owner perspective, however, there is no additional
incremental revenue being generated from these HD services. That is,
once the pay TV rights are sold, the pay TV operator is generally free
to transmit it in whatever definition/ format they please. As a
result, the HD unique selling point is currently only of financial
benefit to the pay TV platforms, as the content owner will usually
have already been paid once under the blanket window deal. With around
10 per cent of US TV households now capable of viewing HD signals
(though not necessarily receiving them) and rising, this is a
Moreover, these are HD consumer households that if served solely by
the broadcast market for any significant period of time, may come to
most closely associate the HD format with the pay TV window. Given
that there is a huge financial interest for content owners to maintain
the primacy of packaged media, simply in terms of the revenue
generated and the rate of return, it makes sense that if a desirable
HD packaged media format is to come to market, it needs to arrive
sooner rather than later. In this respect, at stake is who gets to
generate incremental revenues from HD content - the pay TV
broadcasters or the content owners.
This becomes even more imperative when considering that in the US, the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that all
over-the-air broadcasts be fully digital by 2007 - a definition which
largely encompasses HD since many US broadcasters have decided to
transmit a considerable portion of their digital TV content in a high
There is also a requirement that all TV sets over 13 inches in screen
size sold in the US market post 2007 have an integral digital tuner -
although this does not necessarily mean that they be HDTV tuners.
(Some digital TV sets on the US market are simply either standard
definition (typically 480i) or enhanced definition (typically 480p).)
Of course, if HD is successful, it can also raise the bar of consumer
expectation from the home entertainment experience, with a particular
focus on the visual quality of content. Although maybe not a
completely convincing argument on its own, an HD format may work to
differentiate the packaged media business from online downloads,
digital TV and other ‘inferior’ modes of distribution.
At present, for example, internet HD services are focused on
delivering content in a 720p or 1080i format due to bandwidth
limitations. Downloading a 5 Gb-10 Gb video file on even a 10 Mbps
consumer broadband connection can take more than two hours to
complete. Increasing content resolution to 1080p will also cause the
file size to increase, and hence becomes even more problematic for an
With the two main formats both aiming for large-scale hardware
shipments in 2005, the stage is set for a potential format war. As
with DVD, it is anticipated that the packaged media industry will
determine the eventual winner, whether in the consumer marketplace or
prior to launch. As such, both the BD and HD DVD camps are actively
attempting to woo the Hollywood studios to release content on their
respective HD formats.
Where Hollywood stands
Rumours have abounded as to likely support for the formats, especially
from the HD DVD camp that has so far leaked information on alleged
content support from Warner Bros, Universal and Paramount. But with
the exception of Sony’s Columbia-TriStar - firmly behind BD (as is
expected will be MGM once the takeover is complete) - the general US
studio stance seems to be undecided.
One possibility is that the US studios will hedge their bets and back
both formats. However, every studio is clear that a format battle
played out in the market would be a disastrous scenario. Some studios
are waking up to the fact that it will ultimately be they, the
customers of the formats, who will have to exert their leverage in
order to avoid a format war.
Consequently, we believe that some studios may attempt to seize the
initiative and force the issue - ahead of a commercial launch - by
strongly supporting only one of the format rivals. This would appear
pretty much the only way to drive the battling consortia to the
negotiating table to work out some compromise single format.
However, even apart from the biggest issue of agreeing a single
format, there are still a number of issues that need to be resolved
before the major content owners concede to release packaged HD discs
at all. These issues include concerns of resolution (visual quality),
copy protection, manufacturing costs, storage capacity and
interactivity enabling new business models.
Screen resolution: is it true HD? Does it matter?
The general line from several studios is that an HD disc format will
be mainly competing with the delivery of HD movies by pay-TV operators
and broadcasters, who are by and large delivering HD programming in
1920x1080i (or its progressive scan equivalent 1280x720p). Therefore,
HD packaged media can, and should, deliver as good a visual experience
if not better (just as DVD offered a better quality experience than
standard definition digital TV). This is the unifying ‘true HD’
resolution referred to as 1920x1080p.
Technically, this is not an issue as far as the individual formats are
concerned as both are capable of storing HD movies at full resolution.
Admittedly, BD has a theoretical advantage in that its dual layer 50
Gb disc - once proven - can also provide a great deal of extras in HD.
However, the real concern is that none of the HDTV displays currently
in people’s homes in the territories that have HD broadcasting, such
as the US and Japan, are able to show this true high-end HD.
According to Screen Digest’s analysis of data compiled by the US
Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), there were nearly 9m US
digital TV (DTV) households in 2003. Screen Digest predicts that this
will rise to 48m by 2008. Of these, most can be categorised as
HD-enabled - that is, homes with an HD-display able to resolve
720p/1080i or better. In 2003, there were around 8m such homes,
predicted to rise to 45m by 2008.
However, of the 500+ digital TV sets listed by the CEA as being on the
market in Winter 2004, only two can display the true 1080p HD
resolution, retailing at $8,999 and $20,999 respectively, with another
16 offering ‘virtual 1080p’.
Therefore, not only are around 10 per cent of US digital TV households
not HD-enabled at all, but those sets that are HD capable actually
provide a native display resolution fractionally better than required
by HDTV broadcasting.
But does this matter when selling a new packaged media format?
Some studios have suggested that it does. The argument runs that, if
the consumer is not able to appreciate the visual difference between
an HD disc and a current DVD version on their new display, then he or
she will become disillusioned with the format, and such a scenario
could be a disaster. If anything, the drastically improved resolution
is one of the major selling points for an HD optical disc. If the
consumer cannot view that difference, then it could generate not only
bad press, but result in poor sales (with consumers choosing to stick
to the current DVD format).
Such a line of argument might logically support the delaying of the
full-scale launch of HD packaged media on any format until sometime
post 2007, when hardware prices have come down and true HDTV sets
become more widely available (at lower prices).
Another aspect of this argument is that one of the reasons why DVD has
been so successful in the US market is that it represented such a
quantum leap in picture quality over the NTSC broadcast pictures they
were used to viewing. (It is widely recognised that NTSC is
significantly inferior to the signals that viewers in Europe are used
to with the PAL and SECAM transmissions systems.) Indeed, many
Americans have upgraded their TV sets just to appreciate the quality
of current generation DVD.
Moreover, we calculate that 63 per cent of US households that have
purchased an HDTV display do not currently have a source of HDTV
programming. In other words, they do not own either a set with
anintegrated HDTV tuner, or a separate HDTV tuner or a cable or
satellite HDTV set-top box. This amounts to in excess of 8m households
whom one assumes have so far justified their purchases to get the
maximum enjoyment out of their existing DVDs.
This is a figure predicted to rise beyond 9m by 2008. Indeed, the
lacklustre performance of pay HDTV services in the US to date reflects
this. By end 2003, despite a pay TV market of 96m subscribers, there
were fewer than 1m homes subscribed to specific HDTV packages from the
pay TV operators. The reality is that on most of these HDTV displays
purchased to date, it will be tough to discern a significant
improvement in picture quality with a high definition DVD over current
Others, however, have taken a different view. The argument goes that,
from a marketing approach, it doesn’t really matter whether the HD
displays on the market or in consumers’ homes are able to do full
justice to the next generation DVDs. In the US then, 12m consumer
households are currently equipped with HD displays, and as such have
already bought into the technology at enormous expense.
According to this line of thinking, if the consumer has already paid
upwards of $1,500 for an HD entertainment system, they are going to
want HD content that goes with it, rather than just a conventional
DVD. This is predicated on the belief that these consumers will have
already ‘bought into’ the concept of HDTV and will therefore demand an
‘HD’ label on their DVD entertainment.
In support of this position, it should be noted that, for example,
none of the US pay TV services in operation by end 2004 were offering
anything more than 720p or 1080i, the minimum resolution required to
be called HD. So arguably, the consumer is already being given
something less than ‘true’ HD, but is still buying into it. However,
it is again worth pointing out that picture quality gap between these
services and legacy NTSC broadcasts is greater than it will be over
Most of the major studios have the capabilities to master the HD
content as required, with many already having mastered their last 10
years’ libraries in HD. With the majority of the major studios now
considering 1920x1080p (true HD) as the de facto resolution for HD
video disc content, it is fairly evident that the more true HDTVs
there are in the market, the more likely the consumer is to recognise
the superiority of HD packaged content over other modes of HD content
delivery (such as pay TV and the internet).
Both of the main format groups claim to offer backwards compatibility
with current DVD technology in the sense that Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD
hardware will play back legacy DVD discs. However, there is another
dimension to the backwards compatibility issue that it appears neither
group can address. And that is the provision of high definition discs
that include a version of the same content that is readable in legacy
DVD players. This would involve the inclusion of a red laser DVD layer
on the new disc along with the high definition blue laser layer.
However, this appears to be technically too difficult to achieve for
both groups, although it is not clear that either group had focused on
addressing the issue.
The real world scenario where this issue would come into play is where
a consumer buys one copy of a new title - and chooses to buy the high
definition version. That is fine when playback of this new purchase is
confined to the primary HD display and HD player, but if the user then
wants to view the disc on a legacy DVD player in the bedroom or kid’s
den, they will not be able to.
The only solution for the consumer in this circumstance is to buy two
copies of the disc in question - a solution that might appeal to
studios interested in selling double the volumes of their title, but a
scenario that could be perceived rather negatively by the average
The broadband home
By end 2003, there were close to 25m broadband enabled homes in Europe
and Screen Digest expects this to more than treble into 2008, passing
85m households. In some territories, customers are currently connected
at speeds of over 10 Mbps, comfortably enough to download a feature
film in less than an hour.
This has triggered telcos and ISPs, such as Deutsche Telekom, BT and
Wanadoo in Europe, to explore content delivery business models
bringing together the hard disk functionality of a PVR with an online
distribution platform. These are not isolated instances. In the US,
PVR pioneer TiVo, which now has over 2m customers, is working on such
services in conjunction with online DVD rental firm Netflix.
Microsoft has allied with Internet video-on-demand (VoD) firm
CinemaNow on a similar platform. This is all without even mentioning
the studiobacked Internet VoD service Movielink, and the US studio
game plan. With the first generation of hard disk portable digital
entertainment devices now on the market, such as Thomson’s Lyra and
the Archos pocket video recorder, issues of access to content
andmobility will become as important in some quarters as picture
quality and interactivity.
Therefore, as entertainment business models continue to follow a
course of convergence between content provision and broadband as a
delivery medium, the question to ponder then is not, as the experience
of DVD recorders vs. PVRs has potentially highlighted, what DVD format
will win out in a format war, but does packaged media have any future
in a converged multimedia environment?
Our research suggests that the resounding message from the US studios
in the mid term seems to be yes - packaged media do have a future.
First, packaged media can raise the bar of expectation by offering a
far superior audio-visual experience. HD movies are extremely large
files, and as such cannot be effectively delivered via broadband at
today’s speeds (or perhaps even speeds as they will be by 2010).
Second, a next generation disc, as explained already, can bolster the
better resolution it offers with a combined interactive experience
that takes advantage of a broadband connection in the player hardware.
It should be kept in mind, however, that compression technology is
catching up fast - and as such, so will the pirates. For example, a
variant of MPEG-4 AVC called ‘3ivX’ is already available, able to
compress efficiently an HD file. Moreover, the first DivX Certified
High Definition DVD Player was announced in October 2004 by tech
company I-O Data. The AVeL Linkplayer2 was launched worldwide in
November 2004. It can play back content encoded in the new DivX HD
compression technology - a format that in the standard definition
market has been used by hackers to spawn popular illegal spin-offs for
compressing illegally obtained movie files.
The studios are very much aware of the negative experience of the
music industry. In particular, they are conscious of the all the
efforts that went into developing a successor to the CD as a ‘high
resolution’ music carrier and the consequent format battle that
erupted between backers of the DVD Audio format on the one side, and
Philips and Sony on the other with their Super Audio CD (SACD) format
on the other. They are especially mindful of the fact that this format
war was very much a side issue, while the key developments were the
take-up of MP3 and peer-to-peer distribution networks on the one hand
and efforts to create and deploy legitimate digital music services on
The issue then is not necessarily packaged media versus digital
distribution, but more how the next generation video media formats are
going to interrelate and combined with the connected broadband world.
Further background: The HD contenders
Consumer electronic manufacturers are currently touting two main HD
optical disc formats. The first is Blu-ray Disc, now more commonly
known as BD. The other is HD DVD (short for High Density DVD), an
extension of the DVD format, also sometimes known as its previous name
Advanced Optical Disk (AOD).
However, several other formats are seeking to stake a claim in the
market, most notably the Chinesemade Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD)
Blu-ray Disc (BD)
Announced in February 2002, BD undoubtedly has the biggest number of
supporters in the consumer electronics and PC manufacturing fields.
Its founding members were Sony, Matsushita (Panasonic), Philips,
Pioneer, Samsung, Thomson, Sharp, Hitachi and LG. The format has since
attracted the committed support of Dell, HP, TDK and JVC.
Notably, BD most recently obtained support of sorts from US studio
Fox, which joined the BD Association. However, Fox has been at pains
to make clear that its membership is motivated only by a desire to
learn more about the format and influence it from the inside - rather
than being an explicit commercial vote of confidence in the format.
Indeed, Fox has also been positive about the attributes of the HD DVD
From the outset, the founding members felt that the BD format was a
technical departure from the existing DVD standards, and therefore did
not fall within the ambit of the DVD Forum. The technology is now
being pushed by the recently founded BD Association (BDA), formerly
known as the Blu-ray Disc Founders (BDF).
Though BD, like HD-DVD, uses a blue-violet laser rather than the
conventional red laser found in today’s DVD players, the similarities
effectively end there. The information layer itself gets as close to
the disc surface as possible, with a 0.1mm cover layer to the disc, in
an effort to generate the maximum amount of storage from a 12cm disc.
This is in contrast to a cover layer thickness of 0.6mm for standard
DVDs. (Nb: for CDs - the first generation optical disc - the
information layer is at the back of the disc, so the cover layer is
The difference in technology has meant that BD is able to promise
large storage capacity - 25 Gb on a single layer disc, 50 Gb on a dual
layer. In the long term, the backers envisage the disc will be able to
go up to four layers, offering over 100 Gb space per disc.
Translated into content, a 25 Gb disc with the appropriate MPEG2
encoding will be able to store 135 minutes of an HD feature, and two
hours of standard definition extra features. A dual-layer 50 Gb disc
can store a three-hour HD feature and two hours of bonus material in
HD. For TV programmes, the large capacity can also mean that an entire
series may be stored and sold on one disc - up to 22 hours of standard
definition content on one 50 Gb disc.
A BD-ROM read-only physical disc specification (the format on which
eventual pre-recorded content will be released) was finalised on 11
August 2004 and made available to disc manufacturers and other
interested parties. In terms of compression and encoding, content can
be encoded in MPEG-2, but the format backers have opted to
additionally endorse both Microsoft’s VC-1, and the AVC flavour of
MPEG-4 as mandatory advanced codecs to be supported in all hardware
products, allowing content owners a wider choice to suit their
The BD-ROM application layer has yet to be completely finalised.
Although the specifications describing how linear video content should
be stored on BD-ROM discs are bedded down, there are still some
outstanding elements to the interactive features for the format that
are being refined.
Some crucial issues regarding the implementation of an effective copy
protection solution have yet to be finally resolved. This is a process
that the BD format backers are currently working through with the
major US studios. A copy protection system was developed by some
companies within the Blu-ray group. More recently it appears that
agreement has been reached - in common with the competing HD DVD
format - to adopt the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) developed
by a consortium of studios, consumer electronics firms (including BD
backers Sony and Matsushita) and information technology vendors.
A recent breakthrough for BD was the major improvements made to
strengthen the discs. In the early stages, the BD disc integrity was
prone to damage and therefore had to be housed in a cartridge.
However, TDK’s addition to the BDA brought new hard-coating technology
that has meant the discs are tougher even than existing DVDs (uncoated
- the coating technology is also applicable to them), and all BD
formats are defined without cartridge.
The first BD recorder, Sony’s MPEG-2-based BDZ-S77, was launched into
the Japanese market in 2003, costing $3,830. Mid 2004, Panasonic
started shipping its BD recorder in Japan and LG started shipping a BD
recorder on the Korean market. Most recently, in November 2004, Sharp
announced the introduction in Japan of its BD recorder with integrated
hard-disk drive and DVD player. Launched on 9 December, the BD-HD 100
model had a price tag of $3,000, with the ability to not only record
onto the BD format, but to also store 19 hours of HD broadcasts on its
160 Gb hard drive. The model mimics the red laser hard disk/recordable
DVD combination devices that have proved to be rather successful in
the Japanese market.
Notably, the addition of a DVD player has meant that content from as
many as six DVDs could be archived onto a single BD. However, shipping
of BD-ROM consumer products is not expected to begin until late 2005
or early 2006, by when most of the BD backers will be bringing
consumer machines and PC hardware to the market.
Importantly, Sony has already committed its next-generation
PlayStation 3 games console to incorporating the Blu-ray format, as
well as, it is expected, its Vaio PC notebooks. Moreover, the Japanese
giant’s studio Columbia-TriStar has already pledged its support to the
Blu-ray format, as is expected will the recently acquired MGM.
HD DVD, as its name suggests, has grown out of the existing DVD format
supported by the DVD Forum. In August 2002, DVD founder Toshiba and
consumer electronics firm NEC formalised a joint proposal to the Forum
of a blue laser format based on DVD’s current construction of bonding
two 0.6mm thick discs together.
Later joined by Sanyo, the premise of the format has been very much
cost-focused. Literally billed as ‘next-generation DVD’, the backers
contend that the physical similarity of the HD DVD format with today’s
standard definition DVD means that the cost to disc manufacturers and
replicators will be as low as permissible (an important point when
considering that most manufacturers made their infrastructure
investments only a few years ago). However, critics point out that it
remains to be seen if older replication equipment can really be used
to meet the stricter tolerances required by HD-DVD.
Given the reliance on a 0.6mm disc, the HD DVD format does not offer
the same storage capacity as BD. A single layer HD DVD offers 15 Gb of
storage, up to 30 Gb on a dual layer. On the 15 Gb disc, using MPEG-2
compression this translates into a 120-minute HD-quality movie with no
space for extras. The 30 Gb disc can, however, store a 180- minute
movie and just under an hour of standard definition extras. In effect,
the dual layer HD DVD format provides a similar storage capacity to
the BD single layer.
Like BD, HD DVD is in the process of finalising its various
specifications. The DVD Forum approved an HD DVD-ROM spec in June
2004, with hardware support given to both MPEG-4 AVC and Microsoft’s
VC-1 compression technologies as options for content providers to use.
The advanced compression is arguably more important to HD DVD due to
the lower storage capacity of the format. In terms of copy protection,
it is likely that the backers of the HD DVD format will - as Blu-ray
is expect to do - adopt the new AACS format, of which Toshiba is one
of the developing founders.
Although Toshiba and Sanyo have demonstrated prototype devices, there
is no HD DVD hardware on the market. Both companies have announced an
intention to commercialise the hardware in late 2005, with Toshiba
also integrating the HD DVD drives into its branded laptops.
At launch, Toshiba’s consumer HD DVD players are expected to retail
for $999 in the US and around ¥10,000 ($925) in Japan. The company is
hoping for 1,000 HD DVD-based movie titles in 2006, and as many as
10,000 titles in 2007 (though this is unlikely to be any more than
speculation at this point). Though no studios had officially committed
by November 2004, it has been rumoured that Warner Bros, Universal and
Paramount are poised to pledge content to the format, whilst Fox has
also given its support to HD DVD (but stopped short of committing any
NEC is expected to commercialise HD DVD drives in the PC and PC
peripherals market in the same timeframe.
The two major formats are not alone in the market. Some manufacturers
have put forward their own variations on the HD optical disc format,
largely borne out of a desire by manufacturers in certain territories
to reduce DVD royalty payments. None are considered serious contenders
for next-generation global packaged markets, although they may take a
slice of their domestic regions.
Enhanced Versatile Disc (EVD)
The EVD caused a recent stir. Initially developed by China’s Beijing
E-world Technology and the US technology company On2 Technologies, it
is supported by leading Chinese consumer electronics manufacturers
SVA, Shinco, Amoi, Xiaxin, Yuxing, Skyworth, Nintaus, Malata,
Changhong and BBK.
The platform was approved by the Standards Administration of China,
and the first EVD devices were unveiled at a special event in Beijing
on November 2003. Put simply, it is widely assumed that the concept
was devised as a means of eliminating royalty payments made to the DVD
Forum by China’s manufacturers in a bid to reduce manufacturing costs.
It is reported that Chinese manufacturers need to pay approximately
$14 in royalties for every DVD player they make.
Technically, the EVD is based on the existing red laser disc format.
However, it uses proprietary compression solutions, developed
initially by On2, with chipsets subsequently delivered by LSI Logic,
to fit 120 minutes of HD content onto a dual layer 9 Gb DVD. According
to the group, the standards body is at present working on a 16 Gb EVD.
The first commercial EVD devices were launched in the Chinese market
in January 2004 by manufacturers Shinco, SVA and Amoi. In a bid to
push sales and raise the profile of the format, Shinco took the
unusual step of announcing negotiations over content for the format
from some US studios, including MGM and Fox, and promised 1,600 EVD
titles overall in 2004.
But plans were scaled back to 300 titles, with the first titles only
appearing in July 2004, and only 50 titles having appeared by the
start of September. The studio titles are not expected to be in HD at
the moment. Unsurprisingly, this has affected sales, as has the high
cost of discs (an EVD movie disc costs twice that of DVD) and players
(an EVD player costs twice that of a DVD player). Alhough a target of
200,000 EVD player sales in 2004 was set in January, the average sales
figure has been around 1,000 players a week.
Ironically, due to the low take-up, EVD manufacturers have had to make
their players compatible with the DVD standard in the interim period,
therefore obliging them to pay the $14 DVD royalty on top of $2 per
player they already pay for the EVD standard.
Forward Versatile Disc (FVD)
FVD was developed by the Advanced Optical Storage Research Alliance, a
consortium of 28 Taiwanese optical storage firms, and Taiwan’s
Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). The platform uses
Microsoft’s Windows Media 9 (WM9) advanced video encoding technology
to store content on a standard red laser disc. It was officially
released in April 2004, and has a 6 Gb capacity on a single-layer disc
and 11 Gb on a dual-layer. This means that a single disc can store 135
minutes of content at 720p (not true HD). Like EVD, it is a localised
effort to reduce the cost of royalty payments paid by DVD hardware
The disc physics have been specifically developed by CMC Magnetics,
RITEK, U-Tech Media and Prodisc Tech, whilst hardware manufacturers
Lire-On Technology, Mustek, Quanta Storage, ALi and BenQ are making
the player hardware drives. Limited supplies of FVD hardware was in
Taiwanese shops by end 2004, with the first main shipments expected -
probably in the Chinese mainland - about now .
Digital Multi-layer Disc (DMD)
The DMD HD format is the brainchild of Russian company D Data. The
format uses a standard red laser to read data from specially coated
disc layers. The discs can store up to 30 Gb of data using a twosided
disc with six layers on each side, according to D Data. The standard
single-sided disc, however, will be 15 Gb, four layers, offering 130
minutes playing time. The maximum resolution, however, will not be
true HD - actually only 1920x1080i (interlaced, not progressive scan).
The company has opened an office in New York and is pitching its
technology to hardware makers and content owners. It says that DMD
players could be built using existing manufacturing capacity and would
retail for around $300.
It is planning to build a disc manufacturing plant in Germany with
government backing - reportedly. The plant could produce DMD discs
that would cost content owners only slightly more than conventional
DVDs. To date there has been talk of some limited content support,
purportedly from Time Warner’s Turner Pictures.
According to D Data, it aims to have DMD hardware and software on the
market by the first quarter of 2005 although possibly not in US. This
appears a major oversight given the company’s desire to target the HD
broadcast home recording market. A number of Taiwanese hardware
manufacturers are looking at the standard with the prospect of
developing players for the format.
High Definition Video (HDV)
Another Chinese format, HDV was developed by Beijing’s Kaicheng High
Definition Electronic Technologies, which owns core technologies for
the format, as a rival to EVD. Though Kaicheng contends that its red
laser standard can provide discs with the capacity to store five times
more than a standard DVD (using MPEG-4), the format’s ability to
provide actual HD has been brought into question by engineers working
for the Chinese government (as well as issues of backward
compatibility, amongst others).
Notwithstanding the criticism, Kaicheng has pressed on, with an
aggressive focus on South East Asia. It has teamed up with several
domestic Chinese manufacturers to produce HDV players, including
Shenzhen Utek and Wanlida. Kaicheng provides these partners with HDV
chips, and the first batch of 30,000 Utek-produced HDV players has
already been completed.
It is currently negotiating with large national Chinese retailers to
promote their products. To support the format, Kaicheng currently
offers more than 400 titles in the HDV format, though unsurprisingly
nothing from the mainstream US studios.
Internationally, the company reportedly shipped 6,000 units to France
and in October 2004, Kaicheng announced a deal with an unnamed
European distributor to ship 1m HDV players to Europe.
Though not a specific format in its own right, the Warner Bros backed
HD DVD-9 proposal is worth a mention. The idea is that by using
advanced compression, such as AVC or VC-1, a 120-minute HD movie can
be stored on a standard red laser DVD-9. It’s a proposal that has many
similarities with EVD and FVD, but stays firmly within the ambit of
the technical DVD specs laid down by the DVD Forum.
The business case for this has been that packaged HD movies could be
offered on existing DVD-9 discs, thus avoiding the cost of utilising
new replication equipment. In this respect, some studios feel it is
important to have the option of using HD DVD-9 as a cost-saving
measure on certain highdefinition releases.
To date, backers of the HD DVD format have confirmed that HD DVD-9
will be offered as an option within their specification. By contrast,
the Bluray group has yet to confirm the inclusion of this option
within their specifications.
DivX is a proprietary video compression technology developed by DivX
Networks, which has in recent years used its format to make some
headway in both the online sector and the DVD hardware market. DivX
enables the compression of DVD-quality video to 10 per cent of that of
MPEG-2. Recently, the company announced that its technology will have
been incorporated in over 20m DVD players shipped by end 2004.
Notably, all of these devices will be able to play back DivX encoded
titles downloaded from content partner websites. At present, DivX has
75 content partners, offering around 18,000 titles for download.
However, most of these are lower tier movies with no blockbuster
content to speak of (although there is an impressive mix of well-known
The current content business model sees some titles being available
for download so that they can be subsequently burnt onto a CD or DVD,
to be played back on a DivX-certified DVD player. Unique to DivX’s
plans is true interoperability between an online environment and DVD -
enabling the consumer to transfer secure content freely between the PC
and the TV.
The next stage in the DivX DVD strategy seems to be a shift towards
DivX-HD - advanced compression that, according to the company, can
compress HD files to approximately 25 per cent of existing broadcast
HD files. The aim is not only to enable quick Internet distribution
but to fit a feature-length HD movie, a standard definition encode,
multiple audio tracks and bonus features onto a single red laser DVD.
This, however, sees the picture quality pushed down to 720p, with a
bit-rate as low as 4 Mbps.
The company is currently offering movie trailer downloads in HD, and
is planning to work with manufacturers to launch DivX-HD DVD players
Further background: What is HDTV?
There is no universal agreement what constitutes high definition and a
lot of dispute about which image format is ‘true HD’ as opposed to
just tolerated. Broadcasters in the US are evenly split between 720p
(720 horizontal lines progressive scan) and 1080i (1,080 horizontal
lines interlaced scan) distribution formats. While 1080p is
increasingly accepted as a near-universal HD production format, here
too there is dispute about whether capture should be at 24, 25, 30, 50
or 60 frames per second or even some subset of it (such as 59.57Hz).
Moreover, there are today only a handful of displays capable of
showing 1080p at any frame rate. The situation for televisions is
further complicated by the fact that most flat-panel displays are
based on PC and graphic monitor resolution, such as VGA, rather than
on established television format resolutions, such as PAL or NTSC.
In September 2004, the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) came out in
favour of 1,920x720p at 50 Hz as a broadcasting format in an
announcement from EBU’s BTQE committee of public broadcasters. The
statement was later withdrawn, or rather qualified, that it was a
‘work in progress’ and that the EBU had not endorsed the
recommendation. While EBU thus leans towards progressive as a ‘natural
preference’, there are still many in Europe that gravitate towards
1080i as the ‘Common Image Format’ as supported by the ITU
(International Telecommunications Union). Europe is thus no more in
agreement on HDTV broadcast formats than the US or the rest of the
In a forthcoming Screen Digest report on the prospects for HDTV in
Europe we consider a television or display to be an HDTV set if it has
a minimum resolution of 720 horizontal lines capable of being
displayed progressively (ie, 720p) or XGA resolution, which is its
nearest computer graphics equivalent. Sets that have a native
resolution of, for example, W-VGA or are capable of 480p display are
not HDTV sets1.
We have also included two other provisions. The first is that HDTV
sets ought to have suitable connectivity—ie, digital DVI or HDMI
sockets, to be able to connect to digital devices (set-top boxes, next
generation DVD players, etc). We do not consider component input
practical for HDTV viewing and there are no sets in Europe with
integrated tuners for HDTV signal reception.
Secondly, the sets must be a minimum of 20-inch as sets below this are
rarely the primary viewing sets in any television households. This
eliminates dual-use PC monitors in work or study areas that would
otherwise have to be counted as HDTV sets on account of their native
1An exception is made for plasma screens with a resolution of
1,024x1,024, which fall into the grey zone as half field refreshment
means that they have an effective resolution of 1,024x514. These are
still included, though it is worth noting that they are being phased
out as a plasma television source material.
Copyright © 2004, Screen Digest (http://www.screendigest.com/)
"Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker's game
because they almost always turn out to be -- or to be indistinguishable from
-- self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time."
- Neil Stephenson, _Cryptonomicon_
Could you put a large enough
Divx file on a regular dual layer
DVD that would be HD, given Divx is
On Tue, 08 Mar 2005 18:15:46 -0500, RichA <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
>Could you put a large enough
>Divx file on a regular dual layer
>DVD that would be HD, given Divx is
I failed to read the whole article.
Apparently, it is possible to get
"kind of HD" from Divx on a standard
DVD disc. 720p but with a bit rate of
down to 4meg/s. This might be more
than acceptable for some users.
Certainly the HD movie trailers at the
Divx.com site look pretty decent.
Matthew L. Martin
> On Tue, 08 Mar 2005 18:15:46 -0500, RichA <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
>>Could you put a large enough
>>Divx file on a regular dual layer
>>DVD that would be HD, given Divx is
> I failed to read the whole article.
> Apparently, it is possible to get
> "kind of HD" from Divx on a standard
> DVD disc. 720p but with a bit rate of
> down to 4meg/s. This might be more
> than acceptable for some users.
> Certainly the HD movie trailers at the
> Divx.com site look pretty decent.
The original DIVX (spit) demonstrated MPEG-2 based HD at 720p at near
10Mbps years ago.
Thermodynamics and/or Golf for dummies: There is a game
You can't win
You can't break even
You can't get out of the game
|Matthew L. Martin|
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