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Déjà vu

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There’s no doubt that 2006 has been the year of high definition in the UK. No longer is the prospect of HD a pleasant daydream, it’s finally here and making inroads into more and more households. In fact I expect high definition TVs to be the biggest “family” Christmas present this year, as consumers jump at the chance of having a flat TV at an ever more affordable price.

Of course HD televisions have been available for quite a while, but it wasn’t until the end of 2005 that any content appeared, and even then that content came in the form of a gaming console. The Xbox 360 did a lot to aid the HDTV cause, since once a seasoned gamer had seen an X360 running in all its high definition glory, it was just a matter of time before they started saving for a new TV.

Next came the introduction of high definition broadcasts, with Sky kicking off its HD service in May – just in time for the extremely disappointing World Cup. Although the initial cost of a Sky HD setup is high, the results are pretty damn impressive if you’ve got a decent TV. If you’re in any doubt about the benefits of HD, just take a look at a Premiership football match on Sky Sports HD, or an episode of Planet Earth on the BBC HD channel and you’ll either be converted or booking an opticians appointment.

But even with an Xbox 360 and Sky HD box sitting in my living room, there’s still a distinct lack of high definition content available to me. You see, once you get used to watching HD, you really don’t want to watch standard definition anymore. Of course this is a little unrealistic since we’re going to be watching standard definition content for a very long time to come. But regardless of this somewhat depressing fact, I find myself constantly looking for HD content to watch, rather than just looking for something good to watch.

The biggest casualty in this situation is my DVD collection. I have around 400 DVDs sitting on shelves in my living room, but unfortunately I have no desire to watch them anymore. I have become such an HD snob that even watching a good DVD on a great player with progressive output just doesn’t cut the mustard. I know that I could just hook up an upscaling DVD player and watch my movies in pseudo high definition, but it’s just not the same. So the only solution is to start rebuilding my movie collection yet again – not something that I relish after switching from VHS to LaserDisc to DVD already.

Unfortunately replacing my movie collection isn’t that easy – even if I take the excessive cost of the exercise out of the equation – because once again there is an issue of competing formats to deal with. Now, I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of moaning about the Blu-ray versus HD DVD situation, but when I’m personally affected by it, I can’t help but get involved. You see I’m well aware that being an early adopter, I generally have to pay a lot of money for hardware that will cost a fraction of the price a few months down the line. But what we’re talking about here is the potential of buying into a format that could reach the end of the road far sooner than I’d like!

One of the most common questions that I get at the moment is “which high definition optical format will win?” – and unfortunately I don’t really have the answer. Taking the Japanese and US launches out of the equation and concentrating on Europe, both formats are very much in their infancy. Blu-ray broke cover in September, while HD DVD has recently joined the party. That said, there still aren’t any consumer HD DVD players available, since Toshiba pushed back its scheduled November launch by a few weeks.

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