Iowa Public Television

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

High Definition Disc Players

If you have been holding off on the purchase of a high definition DVD player to go with your new HD television set, the choice just got a lot easier. For a couple of years there have been two competing versions of high definition DVD players available. There is the "Blu-Ray" system from Sony and the "HD-DVD" system from Toshiba. Both manufacturers have been promoting thier products and working on securing strategic alliances with other manufacturers and content creators. Well the battled all but ended on Tuesday, February 19, 2008 when Toshiba announced that it will no longer develop, manufacture or market HD-DVD machines.

The HD-DVD format had one ket advantage over the Blu-Ray format and that was that the machines were cheaper to manufacturer. Unfortunately it had the disadvantage of having lower disc capacity which limited the amount of content that a disc could store. Obviously Sony still remembers the lesson it learned in the early video cassette format war where the Sony Beta format lost the battle to the Panasonic VHS format. Comparing the two VCR formats side by side would show that Beta was a better looking format, but the tapes could only hold 90 minutes of content while VHS held 120 minutes. The better video quality was not significant enough to overcome the the advantage that an additional 30 minutes on the tape provided. In the case of the high definition DVD formats, there was no perceptable picture quality trade-off for the additional space.

It also didn't hurt Blu-Ray's chances that Sony was able to secure agreements with most of the major movie studios to release content on Blu-Ray while Toshiba only had a couple of studio agreements. Obviously there is a lot more content available on Blu-Ray then on HD-DVD.

The final straw was last Friday when Best Buy and Walmart announced that they would only carry Blu-Ray products. I am sure that the HD-DVD content shortage and trying to explain the lack of any significant differences in the technologies were key drivers in the decision to only deal with Blu-Ray. I don't think anyone wanted another 1080i versus 720p debate to muddy the waters.

The only remaining issue is what about the existing HD-DVD customer base which include the XBOX 360 game platform. In January of this year, Microsoft indicated that it would be open to supporting Blu-Ray technology for the XBOX and it appears that support offer will be tested.

So if you're thinking about a new high definition disc player to add to your HD home system, think Blu.