High-Definition DVDs Prepare for Battle

Discussion in 'DVD Video' started by Ablang, Jul 13, 2004.

  1. Ablang

    Ablang Guest

    High-Definition DVDs Prepare for Battle

    Which of the two competing blue-laser formats will find its way into
    your home?

    Lincoln Spector, special to PC World
    Monday, July 12, 2004
    One day, you'll watch movies at home on 5-inch discs that make today's
    DVDs look like VHS. We know the basic technology that will make this
    happen: blue-light lasers that increase disc capacity, allowing one
    DVD to hold hours of HDTV-quality video. But what we don't know is
    which of the two blue-laser, HDTV-compatible formats will make it into
    your living room.

    The two competing formats are Blu-ray and HD-DVD. If you remember the
    VHS versus Betamax war of the early 1980s, be prepared--a similar
    format war may be starting again.

    And the war will be about more than just home video. Today's DVDs are
    a medium for computer software distribution, retail videos, and PC
    backups. So next-generation, blue-laser DVDs will have to do all these
    things as well. The first retail blue-laser units on the market--which
    are currently available only in Japan and cost thousands of
    dollars--are set-top video recorders.

    Meet the Contestants
    Those recorders all use the Blu-ray format; this format is backed by
    Sony, Pioneer, Panasonic, Hewlett-Packard, and other computer and
    consumer electronics companies. The competing format, HD-DVD, is
    primarily the product of Toshiba and NEC.

    Earlier this year, the DVD Forum officially endorsed HD-DVD, although
    the decision was by no means unanimous. All of the major Blu-ray
    companies belong to the DVD Forum, and many of them have no current
    plans to back what they consider an upstart. And no company has yet
    announced an HD-DVD product, though Toshiba and NEC have shown

    Blu-ray was designed with an emphasis on capacity; HD-DVD targets
    compatibility. Blu-ray can hold about 50GB on a two-layer disc
    compared with HD-DVD's 30GB (by comparison, today's two-layer DVDs
    hold less than 9GB). But an HD-DVD disc is physically closer to
    today's DVDs, making it easier to manufacture discs in existing
    factories and to make drives that can also read and write today's DVD
    and CD formats.

    Not surprisingly, each side believes that its shortcoming is the more
    minor one. According to Andy Parson, a senior vice president at
    Pioneer and a major Blu-ray supporter, "The manufacturing process
    difference has been overstated. Sony believes they can use existing
    machines to make the disks."

    What's more, Matsushita (better known by its Panasonic brand name) has
    already announced a Blu-ray recorder with CD/DVD support for the
    Japanese market.

    As for HD-DVD's smaller storage capacity, Toshiba Vice President
    Maciek Brezski says that the designers of HD-DVD "felt [that 30GB] was
    enough to get you what you needed."

    "Both formats will offer excellent quality," says IDC analyst Wolfgang
    Schlichting. He also finds it "questionable whether [backward
    compatibility] will translate into something important."

    Does This Mean War?
    Everyone agrees on one thing: They don't want a format war, which
    would dampen consumer enthusiasm and slow market acceptance. The
    problem is that both groups see only one way to avoid war: Having
    their side win.

    And no side can win without the support of the Hollywood studios,
    which--with one exception--have been reluctant to announce support for
    one format over the other. The exception, not surprisingly, is
    Sony-owned Columbia Pictures, which has publicly embraced its parent
    company's Blu-ray. In any case, the studios definitely don't want to
    have to support both formats, as that would increase manufacturing
    costs and inventory problems. For now, they're taking a wait-and-see

    Bob Chapek, President of Disney subsidiary Buena Vista Home
    Entertainment and President of the Digital Entertainment Group, in a
    speech at Los Angeles's Bel Age Hotel last month, compared the
    situation to an oncoming train wreck. "Will the two trains recognize
    each other? Will they stop before it's too late? Is there an option
    whereby both trains accomplish their objectives without a disastrous

    Will the trains collide? IDC's Schlichting sees two possible
    scenarios. It will either be "similar to DVD, where the two come
    together--forced together by Hollywood--to agree on standards, or one
    camp gives up before they start selling product."

    One solution no one believes likely is the one that ended the DVD +/-
    battle: combo drives that play discs in either format. That was
    possible because DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW drives are mechanically very
    similar--supporting both formats is not much more complicated than
    adding extra firmware and paying another licensing fee.

    But Blu-ray and HD-DVD drives are fundamentally different; a combo
    drive would likely require one set of arms and motors for Blu-ray and
    another set for HD-DVD. It's unlikely anyone will ever make such a
    combo drive that would also be small enough to fit in a computer. Such
    a drive would also be prohibitively expensive: Existing Blu-ray drives
    cost $3000 or more, and a combo drive could cost much more than that.

    Will We Ever See Blue Lasers?
    Whatever format they come in, blue-laser DVDs aren't likely to appear
    in significant quantity before late 2005, at the earliest. And they
    probably won't be common, or inexpensively priced, in this decade.

    The format war and high costs aren't the only reasons for the slow
    roll-out. According to Schlichting, "The market is not really ready.
    DVD is a good enough media technology."

    It's possible that either format will become the laser disc of the
    current decade--a superior, expensive medium adopted exclusively by
    cinephiles. Only when HDTV sets are common, players are cheap, and one
    format is the unquestioned winner will discs in that format penetrate
    the mass market.

    And that's far from a sure thing. "In the worst case," Disney's Chapek
    warned in his speech, "both [formats] hang on, and we utterly confuse
    the mainstream consumer, providing the knockout blow to any hope of
    having a complete format conversion."


    Nicole Richie: "How old are you?"
    Guy: "17."
    Nicole Richie: "Do you love it?"
    Ablang, Jul 13, 2004
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