High Definition DVD – is it ready for you?

Perhaps you’ve heard of Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Bly-ray and HD-DVD are competing technologies for the next generation in home video. The video and audio coming from these technologies is incredible. Can you tell the difference… nope. They are pretty much the same. And as home video tech goes, welcome to the latest format war.

Sony's BetamaxWe all have such fond memories of the Betamax vs VHS format war. Especially those that invested in an expensive Betamax VCR. You’d think the home video industry would have learned from that fiasco.

So what is the difference and should I care? Whether you care or not all depends on what your priorities are. I won’t go into the differences between the technologies, because for the end user, they are pretty much the same. The major difference between the two is that HD-DVD uses existing red laser technology. While Blu-ray uses a new blue laser. As with all new technology, it’s costlier to make right now. But as with all technology, it will get cheaper.

Blu-ray players are more expensive but there are more titles available than in HD-DVD format. The lowest prices I’ve seen for each format is $129 for a Toshiba A3 HD-DVD player (Toshiba is the developer of HD-DVD technology and currently the only maker of the players) and “less than $300” for an announced Blu-ray player by Funai. One caveat about the Toshiba player — it doesn’t actually produce 1080p signals, it upconverts, so you are going to loose a bit of quality. Exactly why Toshiba built an HD player that doesn’t do full HD and produce the full capabilities of the source media is beyond me.

The big difference between the previous format war and this new one is that it appears Sony is going to win this one. Recently Warner Brothers announced that they would switch all their HD-DVD content to Blu-ray and would exclusively support Blu-ray. Warner has one of (if not) the largest collections of films, thus making them the gorilla of the industry and controlling the content. And with the Warner announcement, that means 5 of the big 7 hollywood studios support Blu-ray.

The nail in the coffin would be if Sony would drastically drop the prices on Blu-ray players. One of the main reasons HD-DVD is (was) doing so well is the price of the players. Top of the line HD-DVD players are in the low $200s, while top of the line Blu-ray are still above $400. It’s cheaper to buy the Playstation 3 (which has a Blu-ray player built in).

So what to do? Wait a few more months. Perhaps 6 to 9 months will show us some lower prices on Blu-ray players. Then we can take the plunge and see those crystal clear images race across the screen in the best audio ever heard in a home theater.

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