DVD battle goes high-definition

Discussion in 'DVD Video' started by Allan, Feb 1, 2005.

  1. Allan

    Allan Guest



    DVD battle goes high-definition

    New York Times News Service

    UPDATED AT 3:53 PM EST Monday, Jan 31, 2005


    Jordan Greenhall sat before a flat-panel television that glowed with
    remarkably crisp, bright images, offering it as evidence that he could
    put a full-length movie in high-definition quality on a standard DVD,
    with room to spare.

    Neat trick.

    So neat, in fact, that it would seem to upstage the efforts of the
    biggest consumer electronics companies and Hollywood studios, which
    are choosing sides in a battle between two high-definition DVD
    formats, Blu-ray and HD DVD. Those formats, expected to reach North
    America late this year, will require ultra-high-capacity DVDs and a
    new class of expensive players.

    The advent of Blu-ray and HD DVD may give rise to a format war
    reminiscent of the Betamax-VHS contest in the early days of
    videocassette recorders. At stake are potentially billions of dollars
    in hardware and discs as the demand for high-definition content grows.

    In the midst of the battle, for which the two sides mounted elaborate
    floor displays this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las
    Vegas, Greenhall is asking, Why wait for the giants to sort it all
    out? There's a little guy, he said, with a high-definition solution
    right now: his own company's DivX 6 software.

    "We're just going straight to market," said Greenhall, the 33-year-old
    co-founder and chief executive of DivXNetworks. "It's cheap. It's
    great, and it's going to be in the DVD players."

    The first DivX-capable DVD player is the $250 (U.S.) Avel LinkPlayer 2
    by I-O Data. Greenhall and his DivX team, based in San Diego, said the
    company hopes to see DivX high-definition players for as little as
    $100 by late fall. (Toshiba, in contrast, recently announced an HD DVD
    player to be brought market late this year for about $1,000.)

    In short, Greenhall said, he wants high-definition DivX to be to video
    what the MP3 audio format was to music: a "grass-roots movement that
    breaks above ground." But if you're thinking about joining the
    movement, there is a major vulnerability: No major studio is marching
    along. That means those buying DivX players, for now at least, will
    lack prerecorded high-definition discs -- like major Hollywood movies
    -- to play in them.

    All the talk of high-definition DVDs, no matter which approach
    ultimately prevails, may seem premature in a marketplace saturated
    with standard-definition DVDs. According to industry analysts, most
    consumers indicate that they are satisfied with the picture and audio
    quality of standard DVDs, and they are growing accustomed to finding
    the players an inexpensive commodity, priced as low as $40.

    Nonetheless, as television picture quality evolves with high
    definition, many consumer electronics makers expect substantial demand
    for DVDs and players that can use that quality to advantage.

    Consider, for example, the consumer who just spent thousands of
    dollars for the latest big-screen high-definition television, only to
    find that a Bon Jovi concert on a high-definition cable television
    service looks vastly better than a standard DVD of Zhang Yimou's
    colour-drenched "Hero."

    Besides, said Andy Parsons, senior vice president for advanced
    technology at Pioneer Electronics, a major backer of Blu-ray
    technology, consumers are already outgrowing traditional DVDs, which
    were first introduced in 1996.

    "If you look at most of the 'A' titles coming out now -- 'Spider-Man
    2,' these sorts of things -- they're two discs," Parsons said.
    "There's one for the movie and there is usually one for the bonus

    Parsons said next-generation DVDs must offer much more storage than
    today's five to nine gigabytes. HD DVD, backed primarily by Toshiba,
    NEC and a number of studios -- including Paramount Home Entertainment,
    Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema -- is capable
    of storing 15 gigabytes of data on a single-layer disc. A Blu-ray DVD
    can store up to 25 gigabytes on a single layer and 50 gigabytes on a
    dual-layer disc. Both formats use blue lasers rather than the regular
    red one.

    "It would be, I think, foolish to limit ourselves in terms of capacity
    unnecessarily," Parsons said. "Why not do the very best we can do as
    far as today's technology?"

    Backers of HD DVD say making discs in their format will be much less
    difficult and expensive than Blu-ray DVDs, which are supported by
    Sony, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, LG Electronics, Sharp,
    Mitsubishi, Dell, Walt Disney Pictures and Television, 20th Century
    Fox and others.

    For Greenhall of DivXNetworks, much of the debate between Blu-ray and
    HD DVD misses the immediate point.

    "The essence is that DivX makes you realize that high definition and
    blue laser are not linked at the hip," he said. "Blue laser means lots
    of storage; high definition means good quality. With DivX you don't
    need lots of storage to get quality."

    Blu-ray and HD DVD partisans would disagree. In all these approaches,
    a significant factor is the way the video file is compressed to make
    it fit on a disc. While DivX can compress video to a greater degree --
    hence its use of conventional DVDs -- it makes compromises in picture
    quality, its rivals say.

    Greenhall said his company was pursuing an aggressive DivX
    certification program to help more DivX-capable players get to market
    this year. It has also received an investment from Samsung.

    But, he added, he has no illusions. While DivXNetworks says that more
    than 160 million people worldwide have downloaded and used its
    video-compression software since the company was founded in 2000, the
    lack of studio support is a major handicap. "Very frankly," he
    conceded, "the studios are tough to crack on the high-definition
    front. They're kind of standing away."

    Meanwhile, he said, DivX is "concentrating on all the other content in
    the universe," notably independent movies. He also noted that
    consumers with high-performance personal computers could record
    high-definition television broadcasts in DivX 6, then burn the
    broadcasts onto blank DVDs. High-definition home movies can also be
    burned onto DVDs using DivX, available as a free download at

    "They have begun to build a significant presence among PC users," P.J.
    McNealy, an analyst for American Technology Research, said of DivX.
    "They have become a nice alternative to HD DVD and Blu-ray, and more
    readily available. But the question is, can they get significant
    content from the major studios and television networks?"

    The reputation of DivX (which is unrelated to a defunct video-rental
    format of the same name) has also suffered because of its early use
    for pirating. And after having their content on commercial DVDs
    illegally copied and distributed, studios have said they are less
    willing to take additional risks with next-generation DVDs.

    So far, the studios have entrusted DivXNetworks with a few
    high-definition movie trailers, available from the DivX site; they can
    be played on a PC if a free DivX software player is downloaded and

    Greenhall said he was aware of whispers of the use of DivX as a piracy
    tool, but said it would take time to distance DivX from that image.
    "Dastardly deeds were done," he said, adding that such incidents
    happened long ago. "We've been getting away from that image for almost
    five years now."

    He said DivX 6 provides strong digital-rights-management safeguards.
    He attributes the studios' caution to DivX's late entry into standards
    talks that gave way to the adoption of the Blu-ray and HD DVD
    technologies. Blu-ray players are being sold in Asia.

    "We were very late to the game," Greenhall said of DivXNetworks. "A
    lot was going on before we matured enough to know what was going on in
    this world. They were in the endgame by the time we were ready."

    Nonetheless, he said, as DivX high definition becomes more available
    in players there will be more content, and more content will help
    usher in more DivX-capable players. "Ten million people later," he
    said, pausing, the studios will have little choice but to take DivX

    But Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at the NPD Group, a
    research firm, said there was probably no rush to adopt any of the
    formats. For consumers to play high-definition DVDs, they need
    high-definition-capable televisions.

    "The installed base right now is quite small, certainly under 10
    percent of the population," Rubin said. "Consumer electronics makers
    probably don't want to confuse the marketplace, which is already
    confused enough."

    Almost lost in the one-upmanship of announcements, claims and
    counterclaims in the DVD format skirmishes at the Consumer Electronics
    Show this month in Las Vegas was the mention that a leading video-game
    developer had joined one of the competing high-definition camps.

    Electronic Arts, the maker of such blockbuster game franchises as
    Madden NFL and Tiger Woods PGA Tour, joined the Blu-ray Disc
    Association as a contributing member. The move heightened speculation
    that the generation of consoles succeeding Sony's PlayStation 2 and
    Microsoft's Xbox will offer high-definition gaming for playback on
    HDTV sets, as well as play high-definition movies.

    "The delivery of high-definition games is becoming increasingly
    important to us," Scott Cronce, chief technology officer for
    Electronic Arts Worldwide Studio, said in a prepared statement.
    "Blu-ray Disc has the capacity, functionality and interactivity we
    need for the kinds of projects we have in mind."

    Only PlayStation and Xbox consoles play games and movies on standard
    DVDs. Nintendo's GameCube uses a smaller, proprietary disc for game
    content only.

    While Sony and Microsoft have closely guarded plans for their
    next-generation consoles, which are expected to be released as early
    as next year, company officials have acknowledged that high definition
    is likely to be part of the new offerings.

    Bell Globemedia
    © 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

    "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, Feb 1, 2005
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  2. Allan

    RichA Guest

    Divx as a movie software? What Divx could do is find movies in the
    public domain and make their own to jump-start the process. But how
    will retailers feel about properly segregating Divx discs so that
    consumers don't mix them up with current DVDs leading to
    discontentment issues?
    RichA, Feb 1, 2005
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  3. Allan

    Robin Guest

    But how
    Maybe by separating them and labeling them. Like with PS2
    games or XBox games. CD's or DVD audios. etc, etc, etc
    Robin, Feb 2, 2005
  4. Allan

    Robin Guest

    Movie companies need to embrace the DivX format. The PC is
    becoming a central part of home entertainment, and people
    want to be able to store all of their media in one central
    location in their home, and then access it from all of their
    screens. Current PC's are more than capable of HD output to
    your HD screens.
    Robin, Feb 2, 2005
  5. Who are these people? Most (mainstream) people I run into are still
    awed that they can play a DVD on their laptop. What you're describing
    would be Star Trek technology to them. Sure, there's a market for that,
    but I don't think it's gonna be The Next Big Thing(TM).

    The set-top box is a cultural icon. I think we'll see more and more
    crammed into it in the future, but the Media Center PC is still in its
    infancy, and I don't care how big your hard drive is, a shelf full of
    DVDs will beat it in terms of expandability and reliability.


    Aaron J. Bossig

    Aaron J. Bossig, Feb 3, 2005
  6. Allan

    Robin Guest

    "Aaron J. Bossig" <>
    wrote in message
    In my newsreader, this forum currently has 1919 posts. The
    microsoft.public.windows.mediacenter has 4010 posts. It
    certainly seems a fair number of people are at least
    discussing this option; and as media centers advance they
    will become much more mainstream. Sure there are alot of
    bugs they will need to work out before they can become
    mainstream, like the lack of ability to record HD satellite
    or cable. But I think they will be a very popular option in
    the very near future. Look at this machine and see how
    easily it might fit into your HT.


    Be sure to look at the gallery photos.

    What the media center has the potential to offer, is access
    to all of your music, photo and movie files from one easy to
    use interface. I don't have a crystal ball, but I would bet
    money that the PC will be an integral part of 30-50% of home
    theaters within 7-10 years; and I think that is a
    conservative estimate. How many shelves of DVD's could you
    eliminate when the terrabyte heard drive becomes more
    affordable? And wouldn't it be more convenient to scroll
    through your movie collection onscreen, rather than cruising
    in front of your shelves of DVD's to see what you want to
    Robin, Feb 3, 2005
  7. While I appreciate your point, I don't think judging the number
    of posts on a group is a great measure of how much mainstream appeal
    something has. If you only paid attention to usenet, you'd think
    no one ever bought pan & scan DVDs.

    Yeah, people like the option, but I think it takes a certain kind
    of person to invest in a HT PC. They've already got a plan on how
    to merge it with their exising hardware.
    Sweet. Actually, I've considered doing something similar with a
    Mac Mini, and I know I'm not alone. But that'd mostly just be so
    I could have a decent broadband web browser on my TV.
    Here is where you lose me. I don't see that getting simple enough
    that non-geeks can enjoy doing it. Evne the Windows XP MC Edition is
    intimidating to some people. All in all, if you want to view pictures
    or movie clips, it still makes sense to get a memory card reader for
    your TV.
    How many movies will be lost when that hard drive crashes,
    gets a virus, or gets filled up?
    Not if you want to take that movie to a friend's house or watch it
    on a plane. And honestly, I don't see the big convenience there.
    Either way, I've got them sitting next to my TV, be they on a shelf
    or a HD.

    I'm not denying the appeal to the idea, I just don't think it's as
    attractive as you seem to.


    Aaron J. Bossig

    Aaron J. Bossig, Feb 3, 2005
  8. Allan

    Robin Guest

    "Aaron J. Bossig" <>
    wrote in message
    I didn't say that it was.
    In the beginning only techies got DVD's too.
    A back up hard drive, or the movie files could be sold on
    discs that could easily be transferred to PC, so you always
    have a back up.
    Or a portable hard drive so you can take your whole movie
    collection to your friend's house.
    I think as they become more user friendly and have all the
    capabilities needed, they will become a very popular option.
    Robin, Feb 3, 2005
  9. Allan

    Ed Kim Guest

    MPAA will embrace divx (or any other pc-based video format) as easily
    as RIAA embraced mp3, that is, kicking and screaming.

    I'm interested in seeing if an iPod+video is due out sometime and if
    that will cause another paradigm shift.

    and i'd bet that the format that ends up as the "official" format will
    prolly be some flavor of wmv or quicktime.

    Ed Kim, Feb 3, 2005
  10. Allan

    Steve K. Guest

    Current PC's are more than capable of HD output to your HD screens.
    Make that compressed HD! Most computers in general can't even come
    close to playing back full uncompressed HD footage without the fastest
    processors, hug amounts of RAM and a blazingly fast RAID.
    Steve K., Feb 3, 2005
  11. Allan

    Robin Guest

    And the MPAA needs to learn from the RIAA's mistakes. If
    you don't allow people to purchase what they want, they will
    find another way to get it.
    Robin, Feb 4, 2005
  12. Allan

    dvdguy2 Guest

    The advent of Blu-ray and HD DVD may give rise to a format war
    reminiscent of the Betamax-VHS contest in the early days of
    videocassette recorders. At stake are
    dvdguy2, Feb 10, 2005
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