Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

VHS : Blu-ray :: Betamax : HD DVD?

Well, guys, I don’t want to be premature about this, but it looks like Blu-ray is coming on top against HD DVD in the DVD format wars.

Format wars are nothing new to the movies. A bit before our time, VHS and Betamax had a showdown to be the cassette tape format, and VHS definitively won. I would speculate myself on the reasons for VHS’s triumph, but this topic has been exhaustively discussed by people far more qualified than I. Google it.

Likewise, DVD+R and DVD-R now (mostly) coexist peacefully, as most people have +/- drives that can read and write both.

What’s the difference? + and – have different ways of storing data. The differences are largely esoteric, and have to do with both the physical configuration of pits and the logical groupings of data on the disc itself. That said, those esoteric differences are actually manifested in the performance of the discs, especially with regard to error correction. Both are highly usable, and because they are largely compatible, neither has stomped out the other.

Unfortunately, it seems that 4.7 GB is not enough for people nowadays. Even dual-layer DVDs, which store about 8.5 GB, are somehow inadequate for everyone’s oh-so-sensitive eyes. (I don’t get it. I’m relatively happy with VCD-quality 700 MB movies, and don’t understand why people need such high-definition movies. On the flip side, a lot of people are happy with 128 kbps MP3s, but I myself want at least 192 kbps, and even higher for classical music.)

Anyway, two new optical disc formats have been invented. HD DVD, championed by the DVD Forum consortium, stores about 15 GB per layer. Blu-ray, pushed by Sony, stores a ridiculous 25 GB per layer. Both owe their existence to still-expensive blue lasers which can write data more compactly than the lasers used by DVDs.

Both BD and HD players are rather expensive at the moment; the cheapest HD DVD player retails for $150, and most Blu-ray Disc players are over $300.  If Blu-ray players are more expensive, what’s the advantage, besides higher capacity?

Sony’s PlayStation 3 console, despite its poor showing against the Xbox 360 and Wii, can play BD. While it is expensive, the PS3 is the only example of convergent technology yet to hit high-density optical disc players. No other player can do anything else.

Another, and in my opinion, even bigger issue, is that consumers are unclear about the difference. In particular, in a market saturated with High Definition: HD-upscaling DVD players, HD broadcasts, HD-ready televisions…I think that “HD” is too generic a moniker. “HD DVD” sounds simply like a better sort of DVD, not a completely different format. Blu-ray has a distinctive name and, being backed by Sony rather than a poorly-defined group of companies, just has a sort of presence that HD DVD doesn’t.

Recently, Warner announced that it would start releasing high definition films exclusively in Blu-ray format. They are now the fifth studio to exclusively support Blu-ray, among such giants as MGM, Disney, and Twentieth Century Fox. HD, on the other hand, is supported only by Universal and Paramount.

Blu-ray and HD DVD are too expensive to coexist peacefully, at least for the near future. Each requires a several hundred dollar investment. I am pleased that it looks like one will die out, because coexisting formats just result in a nightmare for uninformed consumers. Good for you, Sony. Ever since Betamax failed, we knew you’d rule video formats again some day.