Disc dilemma

High Definition (HD) content has me drooling, but why oh why did there have to be competing formats? For consumers, that’s no good at all, WinLabs Editor Jason Saundalkar writes...

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  January 29, 2007

|~||~||~|HD video, whether it is 720p or 1080p (the little ‘p’ at the end signifies progressive scan, which means each line in the video frame is drawn is sequence) looks stunning. It looks so spectacular primarily for one reason and that’s its higher resolutions. Whereas standard definition (SD) content is recorded at a resolution of 720 x 480 pixels (480p), 720p HD ups the ante to 1280 x 720 pixels. Going a step further, 1080p video runs a stunning resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. There is a side effect of these high resolutions, which is that HD content consumes tons of storage space. If you’re wondering about just how much extra space HD content requires consider this; you can fit a full movie such as Sin City with a fair few extras on an 8.4Gbyte DVD disc - if the content is recorded at 480p - but you’ll need at least three DVD discs to store the movie and its extras at 1080p. Of course the industry already has a ‘solution’, or more accurately, ‘solutions’ in the form of Blu-Ray and HD DVD optical discs. These are both next generation optical formats and at present offer capacities of 50Gbytes and 30Gbytes respectively. That’s great right? Wrong! You see while these optical formats will allow movies studios to cram HD content and loads of extras onto a single disc, you and me - the consumers - are stuck between yet another pointless format war because these formats are incompatible with each other. So, you can forget about ever watching a HD DVD disc if you own a Blu-Ray player and vice versa. Think that’s bad? The worse is yet to come. You see, each format has a string of movie studios following in its wake; Blu-Ray for instance has Walt Disney Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Lion Gate Films, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Sony Pictures and Warner Home Video. HD DVD by comparison has only Paramount, Warner Home Video and Universal Studios. This means that if you want to watch a picture that was released by 20th Century Fox, you’ll have to go the Blu-Ray route. Fine, but what happens if there’s a kick butt film from Universal Studios that you’re itching to buy and watch at home? Simple, you’ll have to fork out for a HD DVD player as well. Were next generation players cheap, this wouldn’t be an issue, but considering Blu-Ray players start at the $1000 price mark and HD DVD models at around $600, you’ll have to be either filthy rich or insane to take the plunge and buy both. I should point out about here that LG has released a player that can tackle both discs, however I have my doubts about its estimated retail price of $1300 and whether or not it will actually make it to the market. This is simply because I think other companies from the Blu-Ray consortium, which LG is part of, will ‘lean’ on the Korean manufacturer and get it to dump this marvel. We'll see… All this just wouldn’t have been an issue if vendors in the industry would get together and collaborate on one next-generational optical standard. Now I’m not saying there shouldn't be any competition, I’m saying that companies need to compete with each other (on the same standard) with the ultimate goal being to bring the best in terms of technology, be it vendors offering valuable extra features or cheaper kit. The current situation however has unfolded as a result of one company wanting to make more money by pushing its own standard rather than licensing tech-nology from another. I’m not going to blame anyone but I hope industry players keep one eye firmly on the past (VHS and Betamax anyone?), so we, the consumers. never get stuck in this kind of crossfire again. ||**||

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