I’m thinking about buying a high-def DVD player to enjoy the capabilities of my new TV, but I’m pretty baffled about whether I should purchase a Blu-ray or HD-DVD player. What’s the difference between them and which do you think is going to emerge as the predominant player?
I go to the Consumer Electronics Show every year and have enjoyed the displays of the various high-def DVD formats and the tension between the two major vendors, HD-DVD and Blu-ray. While it’s amusing to see them posture, however, it’s also darn frustrating because just like we saw years ago with Beta versus VHS, we’re again watching a billion-dollar industry unable to decide on one standardized format and us consumers ending up paying the price. One way or the other, some percentage of people who buy either HD-DVD or Blu-ray DVD systems will find their device obsolete. Worse, all those movies purchased in that particular DVD format will be obsolete too.
Makes you a bit leery about buying one right now, I bet.
On the other hand, seeing an HD-DVD or Blu-ray DVD movie on a new high-def video display is stunning, really quite obviously far superior to any regular TV at any price. It’s not a movie theater (no sticky floors!) but it’s really extraordinarily gorgeous for remarkably little money.
But let’s stay on focus. The key differences between Blu-ray and HD DVD are:
Who Supports the Format
Both formats have backing from industry heavyweights in the consumer electronics, computer and video game markets.
HD DVD is supported by Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Toshiba and Microsoft, which will be offering an add-on HD DVD player for its popular Xbox 360 game console. The big movie house that supports HD DVD is Universal Studios.
Blu-ray, by comparison, is supported by Pioneer, Samsung and Sony, the latter of which is going to be building Blu-ray compatibility directly into the Playstation 3 game system. Blu-ray players are shipping from LG, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Philips and Sharp, in addition to the three main backers of this format.
In terms of support from studios, here’s an interesting quote: “Eighty-four percent of all the movies released last year were made by studios that have announced support for Blu-ray,” says Jim Sanduski, senior vice president of marketing for Samsung’s Audio and Video Products Group.”
Reference sites: Blu-ray.com and HD-DVD’s TheLookAndSoundOfPerfect.com.
According to the Blu-ray team: “Because Blu-ray utilizes a lens with a greater numerical aperture than HD-DVD, the laser spot can be focused with greater precision to fit more data on the same size disc. This allows Blu-ray to hold 25GB per layer (50GB on a dual-layer disc), whereas HD-DVD can only hold 15GB per layer (30GB on a dual-layer disc). Blu-ray has also adopted a higher data transfer rate for video and audio (54Mbps vs 36.55Mbps).”
Remember, though, that according to the technical specs, Beta was a better video format than VHS too… More importantly, the 15GB of HD DVD is claimed to be “just enough to fit a high-def movie”, except if you’re a movie fan, you already know that movies can vary in length from 80 minutes to over three hours. Having a movie split onto two disks is a terrible solution, and this is one of the reasons I prefer Blu-ray, personally.
The Cost of a Player
Price-wise, however, there’s also a big difference. HD DVD players are in the $500 range, while Blu-ray pictures are $1000 or more coming out of the gate. The disks themselves should be a roughly similar price but, needless to say, if you buy a movie in one format and put it into a player for the other it’s not going to work (however regular DVD movies will play fine in either high-def player).
Picking the Winner
So which format should you buy at the end of the day? A lot of pundits believe that the lower-cost and first mover advantage of HD DVD will make it unbeatable, but I believe that the wider support and additional capabilities of Blu-ray will cause it to emerge as the winner. It just might take a few years, and when the “losing” format is clear, there are going to be a lot of unhappy consumers, sorry to say.
Take your pick, but you might just consider it a short-term purchase with the possibility that in two or three years you might have to purchase your favorite movies again, in the other format…