Format fight

Despite the lack of high-definition (HD) content available on TV in this region, HD DVD and Blu-ray home players and optical drives for PCs have now begun hitting the Middle East market, offering movie buffs and PC users the chance to store and enjoy serious amounts of content. So how do these standards compare? Which will win out? And, crucially, which should you buy? Windows Middle East provides food for thought…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  February 3, 2007

|~||~||~|Current DVD discs for home burning max out size-wise at 8.4 gigabytes (for dual-layer), with 4.7Gbyte single layer versions also available. Once upon a time this was enough for even the most demanding video editor. However, as broadband speeds have increased and thus more users have begun to reap the benefits of quicker music and movie downloads, and all of us have grown used to hours of tip-top DVD ‘extras’, the need - or at least the ‘want’ - has arisen for yet more storage. This is where HD DVD and Blu-ray come in. In terms of how these technologies work, Blu-ray and HD DVD both employ blue lasers to write their data to disc. These lasers use lower wavelengths (405 nanometers) than current red DVD lasers (which use 650). That may seem a tiny difference, but it makes a real difference: in short, the longer a wavelength, the more diffraction (spreading out of the waves) occurs, which is not good because it limits each wave’s ability to focus in on a surface. A blue laser’s shorter wavelength therefore allows it to read and write data over a smaller surface area, which as you might imagine, then allows the storage of far more data on one disc (roughly the same diameter of a current DVD). New DVD players and optical drives are able then to handle both old and new DVD formats as they’re built with both red- and blue-laser diodes; this is one of the benefits, alongside higher capacities and HD playback quality, that manufacturers such as Toshiba on the HD DVD side and Sony over in the Blu-ray camp hope will drive sales. Glorious gigabytes Because both formats offer the same maximum native display resolutions (720p, 1080i and 1080p for HDTV), your buying decision will, it seems fair to say, likely be based on two factors: the storage capacity a technology offers, and the price points of its associated products. Space-wise, Blu-ray is the buy of choice as using dual-layer techniques one disc can pack in a whopping 50 gigabytes of data capacity (2 x single 25Gbyte layers). HD DVD meanwhile can manage 15Gbytes per layer, meaning 30Gbytes in total. In the Blu-ray labs engineers are currently working hard to develop discs with several layers that could end up offering more than 100 gigabytes of storage space on a single disc (and Sony’s team is working on double that). In comparison, prototype triple-layer HD DVD discs manage - get ready for the maths - that’s right, 45Gbytes. To give an idea of what one of these potential Blu-ray capacity figures means for you and me, 100Gbytes is easily enough space for several ‘high-def’ (HD) movies, plus special features and interactive content. Alternatively, a content provider such as Fox in the States say, could pop over a hundred hours of standard-definition programming on a single disc; how does every series of TV drama 24 sound? Value thoughts Away from capacity and onto price, HD DVD looks like becoming leader from a product affordability standpoint. Taking the US market as an example right now, you can find HD DVD players in stores at around the US $500 mark, whilst their Blu-ray equivalents (leaving aside the $599 Sony PlayStation 3) retail for roughly double that. Here in the Middle East, we can take as our example the first two ‘new DVD’ laptops we’ve seen here in the WinLabs. Toshiba’s Qosmio G30, with its HD DVD (reading) optical drive, retails currently for approximately US $3300. Compare that to Sony’s Vaio VGN-AR28GP Blu-ray machine, reviewed here, which retails for a wallet-challenging $4441. Of course their specs and positioning aren’t identical, but this price difference is still notable. Aside from capacity and price, gaming might help Sony’s technology in one sense, in that Blu-ray is already gaining an instant user base in the form of PS3 users (as Blu-ray technology being incorporated into these as standard). Why would these users buy a HD DVD drive as well? That’s a rhetorical question. (Interestingly, Microsoft itself sells a USB HD DVD drive that can be connected to the Xbox 360 (and indeed PCs and laptops). As the 360 hasn’t - officially - launched in the Middle East however, you’ll have to hunt it out at specialist gaming stores. Expect to pay around $240.) If you’re a movie buff, it’s also interesting to note that the list of studios supporting the Blu-ray format is currently the longest, plus Sony itself owns the rights to Columbia Pictures and MGM’s movie and television libraries, so James Bond fans with only a HD DVD player might miss out on their fix of high-def 007-style shooting and wooing. If in doubt, spend… If you can’t decide between formats or you don’t want to risk ‘doing a Betamax’ and splash your cash on a DVD standard that, let’s face it, might die a death and leave you both skint and feeling unloved - and you have $1200 to spare, LG has announced it is bringing its BH1000 dual-format (Blu-ray and HD DVD capable) player to this region. This flies in the face of what many tech experts assumed, which was that the cost of manufacturer for such a machine would be too high for any vendor to build and offer one. Finally, I’m not in fact going to tell you which standard to go for, indeed if you’re a PS3 user or plan to save up for one of these over-priced imports, you’ll choose Blu-ray by default. If you like to stretch your bucks, maybe HD DVD is for you. Whatever you decide, let me know, on windows@itp.com. Additionally, you can check out our WinLabs Editors' thoughts on this particular format war, also on itp.net, here. ------------- FAST FACTS Blu-ray Companies involved: Sony, Panasonic, Dell, Mitsubishi Electric, Philips, Pioneer, Samsung, HP, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Sharp, TDK and Thomson Multimedia. Pros Higher disc capacities than HD DVD Cons Products appear likely to be more expensive Products on the market here: Sony Vaio VGN-AR28GP, Plextor PX-B900A PC optical drive, LG Super Multi Blue GBW-H10N optical drive & BH1000 dual-format player, Samsung BDP-1000 player. More info: www.blu-raydisc.com HD DVD Companies involved: Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo, Memory-Tech. Vista OS also supports HD DVD. Pros Products less expensive to buy than Blu-ray kit. Cons Lower capacity discs than Blu-ray, Sony has rights to Columbia Pictures and MGM movie and television libraries, s. Products on the market here: Toshiba Qosmio G30 More info: www.thelookandsoundofperfect. com. ------------- ||**||

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