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Category:    Home > Essays > Video Formats > What If They Held A Digital High Definition Format War & Nobody Came? - Blu-Ray, HD-DVD & The Consumer

What If They Held A High Definition Format War & Nobody Came? – Blu-Ray, HD-DVD and The Consumer



So, television as we know it is supposed to go all-digital and high definition by 2009, but before that, regular DVD is going to have two potential successors possibly battling it out for the consumer dollar and market dominance.  However, there are a few possibilities no one has come up with in all the analysis in print and in the web that is surprising.  For one thing, they look back at VHS vs. Betamax, that VHS won because Beta-owner Sony refused to license the format.  The VHS people licensed it like crazy and consumer Beta was crushed, though it remained the professional standard for analog NTSC used by TV stations all over the U.S. and many other markets.  Few remember the two 12” videodiscs that took each other on, but there was a brief war between CED Selectavision videodiscs from RCA and the DiscoVision format that later went on to become the groundbreaking LaserDisc format.  CED’s used a video needle and the discs quickly became imbedded with dirt or the needle from the machine would skip or stick.  The discs were in a cover you inserted into the machine, but sometimes that did not work either.  LaserDisc was the first stereo home video format and was the one to introduce digital sound to video at home, starting with PCM CD-type sound.  It later added Dolby Digital and DTS to select discs before DVD-Video overtook it.


More recently, the high-definition audio formats Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) and DVD-Audio (DVD-A) took each other on and far inferior MP3s penetrated the market before either could become huge commercial hits.  Still in production, many have tried to declare the formats dead, but that was as premature as predictions about the 12” LaserDisc (before it became a hot home theater item and peaked) and the DTS sound format (which was not available on DVD at first due to brief freeze-up troubles before the logarithm troubles were solved.  That was the Dolby vs. DTS battle and both co-exist.  With machines that can play all both audio signals, machines that could play back both SACD & DVD-A surfaced all over the place and that solved that problem.  If DVD-A had a different name and SACD began with multi-channel sound and always had PCM CD tracks, they could have both been hits before MP3 exploded.  This proves that if something is good and popular, and enough people support both formats, they will co-exist.  In theaters, DTS, Dolby and Sony’s theater-only Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) system also now co-exist with each other.


That brings us to these new HD video formats.  Also 5” each like CD, SACD and all DVD formats, they each offer better picture and sound than DVD.  The high definition audio signal on DVD-A, Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) will get a new life on HD-DVD, even accessible through a downtraded version called Dolby Digital Plus for new receivers.  DTS-HD will also be available on some of these discs.  Blu-Ray, which was in a case like Selectavision and Sony’s pre-MP3 Mini-Disc format, may be available “naked” and can even fit a bit more information on a slightly thinner disc.  It will also be the format for the next generation of Sony’s popular Playstation videogame hardware.  Retailers have considered threatening not to carry either format until Hollywood and the electronic companies can come up with one.  However, what about a machine that would play both?


Of course, that would be expensive at first, but then all the hard ware and software for both is going to be expensive anyhow.  The studios have split almost along the lines of open DVD-Video vs. the idiotic pay-per-view DIVX system that bombed spectacularly.  Warner and Paramount are supporting HD-DVD and supported open DVD in the beginning.  They are joined by Universal, who simply licensed their titles to Image Entertainment until Universal took the plunge.  Sony was also on board, but they created Blu-Ray, so they are on the opposite side, along with MGM (which they just purchased), 20th Century Fox and Disney.  That is almost everyone who supported DIVX.  One side seems slightly more concerned about copyright protection than the other, but make no mistake about it, all the studios are waging the piracy war and that is the number one war on their minds above all others.


DVD was not standardized enough when introduced and even The Smithsonian does not recommend it for archiving, but there are some rare and valuable discs out there that fans and collector’s will not be dumping anytime soon.  There are even old 12” LaserDiscs owners will not get rid of, as DVD versions will NEVER make it to the market for copyright reasons, especially some choice Criterion titles.  It still has bugs and no one disc will play on every single machine.  It is hard to say whether HD-DVD will have some of these same bugs, but Blu-Ray has had enough years to develop in advance, so it will not be just put out there without a history either.  So what should a consumer do?


Simple, as we always do with all the DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and SACD software, we should expect the very best from both formats and really put the pressure on the manufacturers and studios.  For the machines, especially if they can do both formats, they should offer all kinds of fun and exciting features.  That is even if, like multi-angle capacity, it is not used much.  They should also offer many picture and sound adjustment options and extras, though digital HD should be pretty clear and optimal to begin with.  As for the studios, all films, TV series, concerts and even Music Videos should be of the highest quality from restored materials and without cheating.  In the case of anything on film, it should be restored on film, not just in the digital realm only, and have the proper color.  No more bad telecine transfers, especially without the director(s) and/or cinematographer(s) supervising the work.  As for the sound, DTS-HD and MLP/Dolby Digital Plus should be standard on all discs, while films that are stereophonic should not suddenly turn up monophonic because someone was too lazy to track down the original soundmaster.


Like DVD-Audio and SACD, there will be great titles on Blu-Ray not on HD-DVD and vice versa, so that should be the way these HD formats bottom out.  Because I believe consumers will be split on which ones look and sound better, both will likely co-exist with no victor.  That also means they might not be immediate hits, especially since most people do not have HDTVs yet.  Most current models purchased do not have the HDMI input(s) needed to play back the HD signal from HD-DVD, as the makers of the format will not allow playback any other way.  If you have three-RCA component input, you will only get regular definition.  If you only have DVI input, a DVI/HDMI converter cord will not guarantee HD performance.  Blu-Ray will likely do the same thing.  Copyright concerns are the studios, not yours, unless you break the laws of course.


The most important thing is that both visibly outperform regular DVD and that they are an enjoyable step up.  Ask not what you can do for your digital HD format; ask what your digital HD format can do for you.  Very soon, you will get to put that to the test and so will this site.  Stay tuned.




This is the homepage letter by Nicholas Sheffo posted as of mid-August 2005.


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