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It's a Knockout - Blu-ray vs HD DVD

Additionally, there’s no doubt in my mind though the presence of the two formats at launch will really hurt its uptake. I know there were two rival recordable DVD formats but that was really not as bad a situation. Prerecorded DVD was already well established and with both types of recordable discs the aim was to end up with a disc that was compatible in a playback device, it didn’t put off consumers from DVD Video.

Having two HD formats from the beginning is far more damaging. Take, DVD-Audio and SACD – these have been out for ages but are still niche products virtually unheard of by the general public. At least though both formats live side by side as there are universal players and albums tend to be either on one format or another.

In the US, movies have now come out on both HD formats. The biggest example of this farce is the Terminator trilogy – parts one and two are released on HD DVD while part three is on Blu-ray – so as it currently stands you have to buy both formats to see all three in HD, which is ridiculous.

I can’t imagine that either format will end up the same way as DVD-Audio and SACD- virtually ignored, but it’s unhelpful to say the least. A lot of people thought HD DVD would lose out due to a seeming lack of industry support and lower capacity.

I for one was hoping it would fall on its face, simply so we could get on with the job of supporting one format. However, its US launch has undeniably been stronger. This is certainly down to Blu-ray problems though - the player is twice the price, the discs are less well encoded and to compound it all the early Samsung player suffered from an image quality glitch. The latter has been fixed for Europe with a firmware update – one of the advantages of not being first.

Blu-ray’s dodgy initial US launch has also now been boosted by a second wave of discs that have now moved onto used VC-1 encoding, which is much more space efficient. In addition, the dual-layer 50GB discs are being introduced, which means that there should be bags of space for both film and extras in HD, which might prove to be an advantage over HD DVD. Yoshihide Fujii, President & CEO of Toshiba Digital Media of Toshiba has come up with the quote, “The question is: who needs 50GB?” which surely is just asking for trouble. It’s got to be up there with Bill Gates’ 1981 quote "Nobody will ever need more than 640k RAM!" (Apparently, he never actually said this but you get my point).

I think that that the final factor is more likely to be cost and movie availability. If the Xbox 360 external drive is only £129 then it should be a big shot in the arm for HD DVD.

Pre-launch unification talks of the two hardware formats came to nought but there is a third path – universal discs. According to New Scientist, “Warner… is to create a disc with a Blu-ray top layer that works like a two-way mirror… It should also let enough light through for HD-DVD players to ignore the Blu-ray recording and find a second HD-DVD layer beneath.” On the other side you could put a conventional DVD layer.

Either way the next gen optical formats are in a mess. Hopefully by this time next year a clearer picture should have begun to emerge. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 will be out with integrated drives of competing formats, CE players should be more affordable and far better, and discs should be of higher quality too.

For many though its all moot – once DVD players became affordable you could take one home and plug it into your TV and enjoy the benefit straight away. With HD, you have to factor in the price of a new HD Ready TV as well. Blu-ray and HD DVD can knock each other senseless for all I care right now, as until I can afford to upgrade my TV it’s irrelevant and I suspect that for most of the population it’s the same. I just hoped that when I’m good and ready, the format I go for doesn’t turn out to be a white elephant.

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