So last week, Warner made what was for many, the biggest announcement of CES - Warner Bros., dropping support for HD DVD. From May 2008, it will only release movie discs in the Blu ray format. Almost everybody thinks this is good news. This really doesn't have anything to do with HD DVD being a bad format, it's just that this two format thing really was irritating to everyone. It's clear that it was stunting growth in High Definition formats and if Warner's move turns the tide in favour of Blu ray then so be it.
Bottom line then is, if Blu-ray wins, then fine, we'll be able to get on with this HD shebang. And for those who say that both are irrelevant and that we'll all be downloading HD content soon anyway, I say that that scenario is just not realistic. The bandwidth into people's homes is just not there for high quality HD movies to be accessible on demand. On demand is key there - not press play and wait for five hours while it downloads. Even more so, the downloads are likely to be â€˜only' 720p and perhaps even more importantly of a much lower bit-rate and without any of the high resolution that you'll get on a silver platter. Yes, downloads are the way it will go eventually, but I think that HD optical market has got a few years to earn itself a pile.
If we do, as most suspect, end up with Blu-ray as the winner, a lot of that will be down to the Playstation 3. Sony seemed to have bet the farm on getting Blu-ray into PS3, so much so that it was delayed and very expensive when it finally did appear, seemingly giving Microsoft's Xbox an unassailable lead, only for Nintendo's Wii to whizz past both of them.
But while Sony might possibly have won out in the HD wars, it has had to make sacrifices to get that win. It had to make the PS3 cheaper. As we all know, it reduced the hard disk capacity, removed the card reader slots, and ditched backward compatibility - but it also did something else - it took out SA-CD compatibility. The original 60Gb PS3 will play SA-CD, but the 40GB version will not.
Now what's really sad, nay, slightly tragic in my view, is that many of you reading this will be saying, - what's SA-CD? Ed, our technical staff writer, had never heard of it, and our Editor Riyad, wrote a 15 page review of the console, but didn't actually realise it offered SA-CD support. Way to go on your advertising Sony.
Now I recommend you read the Wikipedia entry on SA-CD and the extensive FAQ at www.sacd.net, but in a nutshell SA-CD stands for Super Audio Compact Disc and was a format created by Sony, and was meant to be a successor to CD.
It's based on a fundamentally different approach to capturing and representing audio. Rather than the CDs limited 16-bit 44KHz, samples and a frequency range limited to 20Khz, SA-CD used an encoding technique called DSD - Direct Stream Digital. This is a 1-bit signal that captures samples at 2.822 MHz, 64 times the sampling frequency of CD. The dynamic range is also far in excess of CD, with a frequency range of up to 100KHz. While 20KHz is meant to be the limit of what a human can hear, since the introduction of the CD psychoacoustic engineers have understood that what we can't hear directly has a strong influence of what we can hear and SA-CD takes account of this. Another benefit of SA-CD is that it could provide all of this â€˜super'ness in full fat 5.1 surround sound.