Here now in stores everywhere!

We’ve been talking about this one in our annual Video and TV special (the September Issues) for over two years now and now the first offerings are in stores and consumer reaction is quite favorable.

HD DVD is a new, denser, different compression format that allows movies with nearly three times the resolution of conventional DVD to be made on the same media (disk types). The new players, priced at $500 and over $1,000 from Toshiba, one of the inventors of the process, will also play your regular DVDs, although not at the high quality level of the special HD DVDs that won’t play on your older players!

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up on the technologies, old TV (due to die in a few years) had a sharpness rating (in lines you can see with your eye) of 330. Normal vision is better than 400 of these lines. VHS tapes deliver only 240 of these lines. Regular DVDs deliver over 480 of these lines. New digital TV delivers over 600 of these lines and high definition TV (HDTV) delivers 700 – 1200 of these lines. HD-DVD is designed to work with HDTV and provide 900 – 1,200 lines of picture quality, which is two or three times more than the current DVDs you watch!

You can see a difference even if you don’t own a HDTV set. If your TV set is two or three years old then an HD-DVD should look sharper than a standard DVD.

There are two processes in the works for delivering higher quality and HD-DVD is the first and most compatible. The second one, called Blu-Ray, will not be out until late summer or early fall.

Sony is one of the inventors of the Blu-Ray format and they will be supporting it not only with new Blu-Ray DVD players, but with their Playstation game console. The new “PS” systems will play Blu-Ray disks.

The primary advantage with Blu-Ray is the disks and process hold far more data than HD-DVD and if they make home computer burners for Blu-Ray it means you can back up your hard drive with only a few Blu-Ray disks.

On the downside, Blu-Ray systems are not compatible with older DVD disks, unless they make a two system unit that also reads older DVD disks and maybe even HD-DVD. Some makers are planing to do these feats, while others may not.

You won’t be able to play Blu-Ray disks in the current Toshiba offerings, but some HD-DVD makers are also planning to incorporate Blu-Ray technology into their systems, but these won’t be out for a few months or more!

Those who have bought into the new Toshiba systems like what they see on the screen, so the technology works! It is definitely something better for the eye. On the downside there are only a handful of titles currently available and non of them are what one would call “hot” items. There is, for example, no “Lord of the Rings” or “Star Wars” HD-DVDs at the current time. The titles are more like “Phantom of the Opera” which is a good title, but not exactly one that would sell as good as Shrek, which isn’t available on HD-DVD at the current time. Nor are they making any “new” releases in HD-DVD, although by the fall we might see a “hot” title like “MI 3” released in all three formats if it does well at the box office!

The real downside for both of these new technologies is buy-in cost. Currently one can get a DVD player for as little as $29.95, while the lowest price Toshiba HD-DVD player is $500. Blu-Ray will probably cost as much, if not more!

Prices on these new techno-gismos won’t come down for at least 3 years and by then they will start making fewer titles available in “standard” DVD format, which will force you to consider “buying in” to the new concepts.

There is also worries about the old “Beta vs. VHS” war as no one knows which technology will survive. HD-DVD is easily compatible with regular DVD, but they have to do a lot of tweaking to make Blu-Ray work with normal DVDs. Blu-Ray will store far more data on the new disk format. HD-DVD has limitations and for some releases will require two disks, while Blu-Ray can pack everything onto a single disk.

We can’t avoid the new technologies, as the good old DVD will die out by 2010, along with our broadcast television. We, the consumers, must eventually upgrade our home theater systems. It is a reality!

We have a few years left before this reality sets in, so many will simply take a “wait and see” approach to HD-DVD and the forthcoming Blu-Ray.

Let the techno-wars begin!



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