The HD format war

HD disc logosThe news reported today that the HD format war, between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, is leaving consumers confused. Huh? This is new news? For those of us developing DVD and HD products, the only opinion we have on the format war is “stupid stupid stupid.”

You would think the disk format groups, both backed by Japanese patent holders and Hollywood studios, would know that in order for consumers to adopt a new standard, it must be painless and brainless. But this format war is leeching out bad P.R. to the media, that is making it’s way to every corner of the nation. Even Joe-Sixpack is wondering about this and is keeping his wallet shut. This is NOT the way to start off a new consumer format.

As I have predicted from the start, both formats will fail in the market place. Read some blogs; scan the net. You’ll find people are staying away from purchasing either format until only one remains. This is bad bad news for HD.

You can argue one way or the other, but in the end you have two very stubborn camps that will not budge from their position. Here’s my opinion on various points:

• Blu-Ray has more capacity – I was really thrilled with this point, especially when the head of the HD-DVD camp blasted back to the Blu-Ray camp with “No one needs that much capacity on a disk.” What an idiot. What is too much capacity? When did anyone say “Gee, I have too much empty space on my hard disk.” No one that uses a computer on a daily basis. Which shows just how out-of-touch the HD-DVD group is, or how stupid their spokesman is.

Counterpoint – Capacity was important until I saw just how low you could go with HD material when compressed with h.264. My friends at NTT demonstrated at NAB full HD material at under 2Mbit/sec. It was fantastic. They were showing what h.264 was capable of at various rates, and all of them within the original DVD specification datarate (under 9Mbit/sec). So it is clear you can get full fantastic quality HD encoding at 6Mbit/sec using h.264. With that knowledge, the capacity argument goes away.

• HD-DVD is easier to manufacture – It takes a minimal amount of changes to a regular DVD line to produce HD-DVD’s. Blu-Ray takes a lot more equipment changes to manufacture. This makes it easier and cheaper for existing DVD lines to add HD capacity if they only do the HD-DVD format.

Counterpoint – So this affects the consumer… If the manufacturers pass this equipment savings onto the consumer, then ‘yes’ this would be a positive point. But you and I both know that the equipment cost savings will NEVER be passed to the consumer with cheaper disks. Both formats sell for the same price, so the extra savings to the manufacturers is going into their profit pockets. So this point is worthless to the end user.

• Blu-Ray/HD-DVD are High-Definition so the picture quality is better – HD pictures have a lot more data and therefore look great on monitors that can display HD pictures.

Counterpoint – No one argues that the new HD disks look better on HD television sets. But how much better do you want your picture and how much will you, as a consumer, pay for this? Standard DVD’s, played on a high-quality progressive player, with a HD upconverter looks fantastic. And this is without buying a new player and a new format. The jump from VHS to DVD was a drastic quality change, so this allowed DVD’s to flourish. The jump from DVD’s to the HD format is not that great of a leap. Consumers are not embracing this because the improvements are not cost effective.

I believe both formats will fail in the marketplace. Remember there are plenty of dead formats that were promised to change our lives, but didn’t: DVD-Audio. SACD. DCC. DAT. MiniDisc.

And with a very public battle going on between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, the bad press is leaving consumers cold. Don’t expect a winner in either format for awhile, if ever. Maybe those holographic disks are the future. 1Terabyte on a disc…….

- Mark

2 Responses to “The HD format war”

  1. ahow628 Says:

    I want my movies on an SD card. No scratches, tiny package, no moving parts. 4 GB cards retail for $30 and an 8 GB card will be $30 in a year from now. Discs suck…

  2. Mark Bain Says:

    That’s a great idea. Back when the discs were proposed, memory was expensive and flash non-existent. Now we have a glut of flash products with lower and lower prices. I think SD is a little too small. People will lose them. Maybe CF or some other “Movie Flash’ format will work better. Something along the size of the Memory Tapes on Star Trek. Mini-disc sized.