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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 feedback 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 sales lead.

Other Indicators

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 dominate position.

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.

In Summary

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.

Check out these other Birds-Eye.Net papers/products regarding HDTV:

 

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