High Definition and the future of viewing.

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    Original URL:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/03/08/hd_and_hdtv_analysis/

    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).
    Click Here

    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,
    production) format.

    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
    today’s DVDs.

    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
    below 480p.
    * 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
    year.

    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
    releases.

    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
    format.
    Another issue

    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
    significant market.

    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
    definition format.

    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
    online service.
    Key issues

    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
    DVDs.

    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
    PAL broadcasts.

    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).
    Backward compatibility

    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
    consumer.
    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 other.

    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)
    format.
    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
    format.

    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
    1.2mm.)

    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
    requirements

    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

    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
    actual content).

    NEC is expected to commercialise HD DVD drives in the PC and PC
    peripherals market in the same timeframe.
    Other formats

    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
    manufacturers.

    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.
    HD DVD-9

    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 HD

    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
    television content).

    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
    in 2005.
    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
    world.

    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
    resolution.

    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_
     
    Allan, Mar 8, 2005
    #1
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  2. Allan

    RichA Guest

    Could you put a large enough
    Divx file on a regular dual layer
    DVD that would be HD, given Divx is
    MPEG-4?
    -Rich
     
    RichA, Mar 8, 2005
    #2
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  3. Allan

    RichA Guest

    On Tue, 08 Mar 2005 18:15:46 -0500, RichA <> wrote:

    >Could you put a large enough
    >Divx file on a regular dual layer
    >DVD that would be HD, given Divx is
    >MPEG-4?
    >-Rich


    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.
    -Rich
     
    RichA, Mar 8, 2005
    #3
  4. RichA wrote:
    > On Tue, 08 Mar 2005 18:15:46 -0500, RichA <> wrote:
    >
    >
    >>Could you put a large enough
    >>Divx file on a regular dual layer
    >>DVD that would be HD, given Divx is
    >>MPEG-4?
    >>-Rich

    >
    >
    > 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.
    > -Rich


    The original DIVX (spit) demonstrated MPEG-2 based HD at 720p at near
    10Mbps years ago.

    Matthew

    --
    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, Mar 9, 2005
    #4
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