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Crossing Lasers: A Tale of Two Technologies

Sean Sweany | Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In this age of technical advancement and weekly technological breakthroughs, being equipped with the most up-to-date gear has become a desired goal. With the arrival of HD-DVD and the forthcoming release of Sony’s Blu-ray system, the next step in technology upgrades has arrived.

Now that these high quality disc players are available for sale, consumers must soon decide which type of player to buy. Will a regular DVD player still do the trick? Is it a better decision to buy an HD-DVD player or a Blu-ray? What is the right plan of action?

One certainty is that regular DVDs will eventually go the way of the eight-track record. Buying a high-end DVD player or thousands of movie titles for a library is a waste of money at this point. The way of the future lies in one of the forms of high capacity DVDs. The multi-million dollar question is now whether to buy HD-DVD or Blu-ray.

HD-DVD has a lot going for it right now. Since it’s already available in stores, it gains a distinct advantage in media attention and advance sales over the Blu-ray player. Another factor could be the price. Blu-ray players will cost about $1,000 while a low end HD-DVD player runs just under $500. Obviously, both these prices will drop over time, but the lower initial price of HD-DVD could help it capture more of the market.

For anyone eager to own one of these systems immediately, the support of various movie studios could influence a decision. Unfortunately, movie studios have split opinions over which format to back in production of their newest titles. Major supporters of HD-DVD are Paramount, Universal and New Line Entertainment, while studios like Disney, 20th Century Fox and Sony Home Entertainment will back Blu-ray. The Blu-ray discs offer more copy-protection features – a factor Sony used to gain support from various film companies.

Currently, the only HD-DVD titles available are “The Last Samurai,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Serenity,” “Apollo 13” and “Doom.” The first Blu-ray movies will go on sale in May, although Blu-ray players are not expected to be available until late June. The first titles that will be sold for Blu-ray include “Hitch” and “50 First Dates.” While more titles will be added to the Blu-ray fold in the future, HD-DVD holds the advantage in terms of availability in the near future.

One of the major selling points for Blu-ray players will be its inclusion in the new Playstation 3, expected to hit stores in November. This will be a huge draw for the college crowd in spite of the total lack of compatibility with HD-DVD. While the XBox 360 will have an HD-DVD add-on at some point, video game enthusiasts should wait until the Playstation 3 arrives since Blu-ray will be integrated into the system.

At this point in time, it’s difficult to recommend either player to the average consumer. It is almost certain that only one format will survive and prosper in the marketplace. Some forecasts predict HD-DVD will win because of its lower price, early release and backward compatibility with regular DVD. Others believe Blu-ray will become standard mainly due to the Playstation 3 and the increased storage capacity.

Undoubtedly, the best thing to do right now is wait. Many HD-DVD players in use have experienced glitches that may require upgrades or recalls to fix. So few titles are currently available that there is no use trying to build an HD-DVD library. Also, these current titles feature very few of the functions HD-DVD is capable of performing since the technology is largely untested. HD-DVD is basically a more expensive version of DVD at the moment, with a barely noticeable quality difference.

Once Blu-ray arrives in stores, the battle will rage until one system achieves dominance in the marketplace. Once that happens, prices will drop and every company will switch to the new standard to take full advantage of the high capacity discs. Only after this will it make sense to purchase whichever player becomes the standard. This new format war will demonstrate that good things come to those who wait.