Choosing High Definition Disc Player: Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD
The "confusion" around competing standards is way over blown.
By: Bruce Bahlmann - Contributing Author (your
is important to us!)
Created: May 2, 2007
Selecting your next purchase of a high definition disc player is a lot
easier than many newspapers and media would have you believe. In fact if you
go to your local electronics store, they may even tell you something
completely different than the media. In this article, we will focus on the
facts and expose that the only real confusion around high definition disc
standards lie not in the competing standards but rather in the media and the
lack of knowledge and experience that exists within electronics stores
regarding these formats.
Media Fails Consumers
If you have followed the media surrounding its coverage of
high-definition disc players, they consistently speak of a "format war" and
stir up the old dust surrounding the previous video tape battle between VHS
vs Betamax. However a majority of the media covering this so-called format
war, have never tried one of these players. Fewer still, have any idea how
many different models support which format or how much content is available
for either format. All they do is talk to some electronics stores, and then
clearly make up the rest. Having tried out both formats with over 50 high
definition discs, I have a hard time believing that consumers are afraid to
buy a high definition player. The quality is crystal clear and the sound has
a depth that rivals super audio CDs. As far as I'm concerned, the same
motivation for people to buy a HDTV set or subscribe to HDTV programming
will drive them to purchase of a high definition disc player. There is no
doubt once they see it they will buy it. In fact, research completed by
Adams Media Research showed that clearly people are buying the players - to
the tune of 695,000 players sold in 2006.
However, in the same report, Adams pointed out that Blu-Ray sales were
greatly enhanced by their inclusion in Sony's Playstation 3 which attributed
400,000 of the 425,000 player sold. So if you only looked at stand alone
player sales, rather than players which were included in either game
stations or personal computers, HD-DVD players outsold Blu-ray by a factor
of 5 to 1. Interestingly, if you look at Microsoft's Xbox 360, that is about
the same amount that it has outsold Sony's PS3. But the facts are not that
PS3 is doomed to fail, but rather that PS3 came out over a year later than
Xbox 360. Similarly, Blu-ray was not widely available till December of 2006.
In fact only 2 models were shipping prior to December 2006 and they were
both over $700 - almost twice that of HD-DVD players which had 4-6 month
The tell tail signs of HD-DVD's early lead is crumbling can be seen on
sites like eBay or on the used equipment shelves of your discount
electronics stores. For example, eBay has over 1330 Blu-ray items on sale
and 92 used Blu-ray players for sale versus 1103 items for sale and 141 used
HD-DVD players for sale - essentially there are many fewer used Blu-ray
players for sale. If you have a look at the bargain shelves at your local
electronics stores you can find very cheap first generation HD-DVD players
lined up - Toshiba's first generation players were absolutely horrible
(unless you only played brand new discs). Many of the first generation
HD-DVD players came with Bright Notices informing consumers to NOT bring the
players back to the electronic stores.
Content sales are perhaps the strongest indication of HD-DVD's future.
Online DVD retailer DVDEmpire reported that in 2006, HD-DVD sales in 2006
represented 59.16% (vs only 40.84% for Blu-ray) of all high definition
titles sold, however in 2007, these percentages have flipped such that Blu-ray
represents 57.7% of sales versus only 42.3% for HD-DVD. In a recent report
by Sony in March of 2007, the total number of titles shipped for Blu-ray
since inception stood at 844,000 units versus only 708,600 units for HD-DVD.
In fact, on more recent releases such as "Casino Royal" which shipped an
attention getting total volume of 100,000 units during that week equally
impressive was Blu-ray outpacing HD-DVD sales by 9 to 2. Clearly with Blu-ray
commanding 100% of all studios and HD-DVD commanding only about 45% of the
major studios is significantly contributing to Blu-ray's rise in to the
Technology Reasoning Flawed
The early HD-DVD players were fundamentally flawed and took as long as 1
minute to power up and load their disc. If the disc had any scratches these
players went loopy and required you to power cycle them. The original goal
of HD-DVD was to build a disc player on the same disc format used by DVD,
but rather than use a robust encoding standard like MPEG2, it required use
of an evolving standard MPEG4 to achieve efficiencies required to fit all
the high definition content on the HD-DVD disc. This was meant to allow
content owners to more easily ramp up releases of their content on this
format. Only some unexpected things have been happening. MPEG4 is great and
all, but its error correction is a long way from being up to par with MPEG2,
so when a disc experiences a scratch or other defect, instead of just
skipping a frame the player can completely lock up. Second generation
players have cut down the power up time delay and can recover from some
minor disc defects, but there are still cases where the only solution is to
power cycle your HD-DVD player and start the movie over. Meaning, you have
to re-watch all the HD-DVD promo stuff or use a subscription from
Netfilx (which is the best way to get high definition discs without
buying them), all the previews, and then once your
movie starts, skip to the section where the player locked up only to go to
the next chapter so as not to repeat the locked up exercise again.
Blu-ray went about things differently. While they did select a different
disc format which encountered many delays, what they did do right is stay
with MPEG2. Since their disc format has more than twice the capacity of
HD-DVD they were able to easily store the high definition video in more
familiar and less risky MPEG2 format. This also allows Blu-ray to be more
tolerant to scratches and other disc defects yet give them the ability to
upgrade to MPEG4 to allow for even more content on the disc. While early Blu-ray
players also featured long start up cycles these where generally half that
of HD-DVD players and ranged from 10-30 seconds.
I believe one can read too much into the hype about format wars to the
point where you can almost believe its really happening. However, the fact
that Blu-ray was late to the game by 6 months yet still has more players
sold, has more titles available, and has sold more titles should make one
wonder, is this really a "format war". Clearly the game is up and all this
talk about needing dual format players and such is absolutely unnecessary.
HD-DVD is no more than a niche solution to the need for high-definition
discs and its limited capacity will catch up with it if its lack of
popularity doesn't. Surprisingly the cheapest Blu-ray player is also a game
station - how can you go wrong with that.
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