The acronyms are different, but where High Definition video is concerned the field is set for a rerun of the Betamax vs.VHS battle of thirty years ago. Unable to agree on a single HD format to succeed DVD, the home electronics industry has said it is now up to consumers to choose between the two incompatible formats.
On the one side, is HD-DVD, an uprezed version of the existing DVD technology, being pushed by Toshiba and the HD-DVD Promotion Group. On the other side, the Sony-backed Blu-ray disc (BD) so-called because the technology uses a refined laser for reading the discs that is coloured blue, rather than red.
BDs have the higher capacity of the two formats. Where a traditional DVD can carry up to 10GB, the HD-DVD discs will carry 30GB, the single layer BD 25GB, and a dual BD 50GB. The image quality of movies on both HD-DVD and BD formats compared to DVD will look superb, so long as you have a HD screen to appreciate the added clarity.
So which format to go with? It's still too early to say.
Each format has heavyweight support behind them. The Blu-ray Association comprises of some 160 member corporations, including Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Lionsgate, as well as Columbia Tristar and MGM, both owned by Sony.
The HD-DVD Promotion Group, with 120 member corps, doesn't have the same strength of studio support, but Warner Home Video, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures, HBO Video and New Line Home Entertainment, are planning to release around 50 HD titles with the Spring launch of HD-DVD. Most studios will support both formats until there is a clear winner.
On the price side, HD-DVD looks like it will be less expensive, due to lower manufacturing costs. Toshiba announced its entry level players, coming out in the U.S. in March, will cost $500 and $800. In the BD camp, Samsung is launching the BD-P1000 player at around $1,000 in April. Both players will offer the same resolution . More HD players and recorders are expected out later in the year.
A big driving force for BD is that Sony's PlayStation 3 will include a BD drive. In the HD-DVD camp, ardent supporter Microsoft announced that they will be supporting the HD-DVD model for their Xbox 360, but it will be an extra add-on, probably connected by USB.
As the two camps fired opening shots at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which ended yesterday, it was clear that retailers don't like it. Consumers wont like it if they buy into a format that dies, and that's assuming that they get to the point of purchase: some of the information coming out about the different formats is already confusing. For example, while Sony maintains that BD players are "fully backward compatible with current CD/DVD formats," some reports suggest that you wont be able to watch your existing films on DVD on the new BD players.
All this doesn't augur well for an easy move to DVD's successor. Fortunately, with no European roll-outs announced yet, we may have the luxury of watching from the sidelines for a while.