Category Archives: HDTV

The War is Over

The format war is officially over. Toshiba announced it was shutting HD-DVD down, but would support all currant players out there. They further said they had no plans of making Blu-ray players, but who really thinks they will stick to that in the long term? Universal also announced it would support Blu-ray. Paramount and Dream Works should follow suit soon since their 18 month exclusive contract is now void.
No word yet from Microsoft when they’ll get a Blu-ray player out for the XBox 360, but they have been hinting of late they would release one of Blu-ray won the war. This is supposedly why they didn’t make HD-DVD built in, to wait and see where the market went, that and cost issues.

HD-DVD Suffers More Losses

A few announcements today make HD-DVD a bigger looser than it already was at this point. Netflix announced that they would go with Blu-ray exclusively and phase out their HD-DVDs and then Best Buy announced they would be pushing Blu-ray over HD-DVD, but stopped short of going exclusive.
Lots of message boards seem filled with people who think Blu-ray won because of Sony’s PS3, but I don’t think that is the case, as most PS3 owners apparently don’t even know they can play Blu-ray movies on it, or don’t care. I think Blu-ray won as it offered the broader studio support, broader hardware support, and is a technically superior format it terms of bit rate and capacity. Unfortunately for the early adopters, the specification wasn’t fully finished when the first generation or two of players were released, though all future players should be upgradeable. Hopefully Toshiba will concede soon and focus instead on other issues, if not them, hopefully Paramount/Dreamworks will stop their exclusive deals soon and go back to format neutral if not Blu-ray exclusive and force the issue with Toshiba’s help or not.

Warner Goes Blu-Ray

I haven’t covered the developments in the format war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray for a long time.
Since I last covered it, Paramount and Dreamworks went to HD-DVD exclusive for 18 months after being paid a great deal of money. Then HD-DVD players went to $100 for a short period before jumping back to their normal prices. Despite the huge increase in HD-DVD player sales, sales of actual movies remained firmly in the Blu-Ray side, especially when titles were available for both formats.
Warner, essentially the last format neutral studio out there announced recently that they would go with Blu-Ray exclusively staring in May 2008. Oddly, all the HD-DVD fan boys are complaining about rumors that Warner took a payment to go with Blu-Ray, which they didn’t seem to mind Paramount and Dreamworks taking a payment to go with HD-DVD. The reality is more likely that Warner saw its Blu-Ray titles outselling the same HD-DVD title by a rather large margin, and decided to make a move to end the format war seeing how customers have made a clear choice in terms of movie purchases, if they got a payment on the side, then all the more reason. The Paramount/Dreamworks move made less sense as by the time they made their move it was clear Blu-Ray was outselling HD-DVD in disk sells. HD-DVD fans also try to say you can’t count PS3 sales as part of the installed base of Blu-Ray players since many PS3 owners apparently aren’t aware that their PS3 can play Blu-Ray… how that is possible is beyond me…
HD-DVD fans confuse me. Sony/MGM/Columbia movies would remain Blu-Ray, regardless of how the war went. Fox would remain Blu-Ray regardless of how the war went. The only big Blu-Ray exclusive studio that HD-DVD could possibly win over was Disney, but Disney stuck to Blu-Ray. How is it that they thought the format could win? A bigger issue to me was the space limits of HD-DVD. Even Blu-Ray’s 50GB 2 layer format hits a wall when you turn down the compression, and people with higher end TVs can tell the difference between the two formats and see a better picture with Blu-Ray.
This isn’t to say Blu-Ray doesn’t have negatives. Sony is a big negative, thanks to their Rootkit issues and other negative moves, it puts some off Sony (oddly, many of those who complain about Sony complain also about Microsoft who would be a big winner if HD-DVD won)… and Blu-ray is seen largely as a Sony product, though more hardware vendors support Blu-ray then HD-DVD. Another big negative is that Blu-ray wasn’t actually finalized before it launched, and many early players will not be able to take full advantage of some disks. This was perhaps the biggest negative for Blu-ray, though most players coming out now, including the PS3 should be able to update to the newest standards. The other negative is that most people don’t have a good enough TV to tell the difference, and probably don’t care if they do, look how popular MP3s are despite being inferior to CDs. You average consumer doesn’t care about the quality, just the ability to get what they want.
Lots of people think down loadable content will win the day. I highly doubt this. Music is one thing, but I think most people want something tangible. Even if not, the problem is affordable broadband access isn’t that available yet around the world. Just a bit ago I noted how in New Zealand that they seem limited to ADSL, no cable modem and certainly nothing like Verizon’s FiOS. Further you have a data transfer limit. People seem to forget there are markets outside the US where broadband is fairly well available and is generally unlimited in data transfers.
There are rumors that the big HD-DVD exclusive (prior to the Paramount/Dreamworks deal), Universal, may start releasing on both formats after seeing the strong disk sells the Blu-ray studios were having and apparently disappointed by the return they were getting from HD-DVD exclusivity (then again, the rumors may be little more then negotiation tactic to get the HD-DVD pushers to pay them a fee). Assuming that Paramount/Dreamworks move back to duel formats after their 18 months are over, I think that would end the war… if Paramount/Dreamworks moved to Blu-ray exclusive, that would end the format war faster, regardless of Universal’s move.
We can’t go without mentioning porn since it was one of the things to help push VHS into the winners circle. HD-DVD has the lean on porn, though there are some Blu-ray. However, the market if far different now, so I don’t think porn will matter as much this time.

EDIT: There is a rumor that Paramount has a clause that it can escape HD-DVD exclusivity if Warner goes Blu-ray as it did and that they are going to exercise that option. If Paramount jumps ship, especially if it goes Blu-ray exclusive and not format neutral, then Toshiba should do the good thing, and make a concession speech.

The HDMI 1.3 Connection

Thinking about getting a HD-DVD player, or the recently launched Blu-ray player? Just hold your horses. None of the players currently on the market support HDMI 1.3, which is essential to getting the absolute best in audio and video from a player. The first High Definition player to feature it will likely be Sony’s Playstation 3, with more players to follow. TVs, receivers and the like capable of receiving it will likely be out next year. Hat tip to this article which noted this TWICE article… Check them out for more details.

PS3 to be $499 and $599

There will be two versions of Sony’s PlayStation 3 when it launches in November.
Check the table below taken from Sony’s website (in PDF):

PlayStation 3
Product Name PlayStation 3
CPU Cell Processor
Sound Dolby 5.1, DTS, LPCM, etc. (Cell-based processing)
Memory 256MB XDR Main RAM, 256MB GDDR3 VRAM
HDD 2.5" Serial ATA
I/O USB 2.0
Memory Stick/SD/Compact Flash
Communications Ethernet x1/10 Base-T, 100 Base-TX, 1000 Base-T
IEEE 802.11 b/g
Bluetooth 2.0 (EDR)
Wireless Controller (Bluetooth)
AV Output Screen Size
480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p
HDMI Output
x1/HDMI NextGen
AV Multi Out
BD/DVD/CD Drive (Read Only) Maximum Read Speed

BD 2x (BD-ROM)

Dimensions Approximately 325mm (W) x 98mm (H) x 274mm (D)
Weight Approximately 5 kg

(All copyrights property of their respective owners. The table itself is Sony’s…taken from their PDF sheet and here translated into an XHTML table.)
From this we see there are two versions, one with a 20GB HD, which is the $499 model, and a 60GB model for $599. That $100 gets you far more than just a bigger hard drive though. The addition of 802.11 b/g to the higher end model is nice and I would have to guess it won’t be available with an add-on. The card reader is also a nice add-on, but that one I would guess will become an add-on, if not from Sony,than perhaps from somebody unofficially, perhaps via the USB ports.
The big thing missing from the 20GB version is HDMI output, which will be necessary for proper Blu-Ray output. While most of the studios say they will not use the image constraint token on their first batch of movies, sooner or latter they will turn it on, and then the 20GB version will not be able to output movies at their full resolution. I actually thought HDMI output was a required on the Blu-ray spec. Unless they have a spot there that you can add the HDMI output at a later date somehow, perhaps a plug-in module, then the 20GB version is worthless as a Blu-ray player for the long term. It is definitely worth the extra $100 to get the 60GB version.
The big surprise, for me at least, is the addition of SACD to it. SACD is Sony’s Super Audio CD and was one of two (the other DVD-A), still competing high end audio CD formats. Which is better depends on who you ask. Whichever is the better audio format, both are better than CD, this gives SACD a market edge. Odd nobody seems to be talking about this part of the system yet.
$600 for a Blu-ray player, awesome video game system, SACD player, and whatever other tricks Sony has up it’s sleeves is a heck of deal. Where’s my piggy bank…

Edit: The US release date will be 17 November. It will also have a motion sensing controller that looks and feels much like the current PS2 controller… motion sensing just like Nintendo’s Wii (the bad name for their next console).


The first HD-DVD players and movies are out. The Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD PLAYER and/or the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD Player are/is out in limited numbers, or so I hear. I know the movies are out for sure at the very least. I saw an ad for it one of my magazines, and they note that some features may require a firmware upgrade. I would guess most early adopters would feel comfortable with doing a firmware upgrade, so perhaps that isn’t a big deal. My money is still on Blu-ray winning the battle, but regardless, HD-DVD is out on the market now, so we have to deal with it.
Anyhow, on to the important stuff, the HD-DVD movies that came out (or coming out soon) with prices as of this writing:
Continue reading HD-DVD Out

Playstation 3 in November

Sony’s Playstation 3 will launch in November. It was widely expected to be out in the United States here in November anyhow, so this is mostly just a delay for Japan, and an early present for Europe which probably normally would have had to wait a few more months. Didn’t they learn anything from the XBox 360 global launch? I seem to recall them panning Microsoft for trying a global launch, yet here they are doing it themselves. The delay for the launch seems to be related to the final copyright specs on the Blu-ray drive.
The shortages we would have had on the machine will be made all the worse with a worldwide launch, and it will be worse then the XBox 360 launch since the PS3 is wanted in Japan far more then the XBox 360.
I didn’t get an XBox 360 as there are still no must have titles for it yet. Even the HD-DVD drive for the XBox 360 will be external, making it an expensive way to get a HD-DVD drive, perhaps cheaper then stand alone drives at the time it comes out, but still an expensive option. Even without any must have titles, the PS3 will be a something to consider since it comes with a Blu-ray drive.
They didn’t give a price. Last I heard was a consumer cost of just under $500, which makes it a cheap easy way to get a Blu-ray drive. I am guessing final price won’t be announced until closer to the date. In May comes E3, and we’ll probably get more details on the final specs and some expected launch titles. I am guessing the final price will be a tad more then whatever the XBox 360 is selling for, though Microsoft will likely drop the price on the 360 this holiday season to discourage people from buying the PS3. The developer kits with final hardware is also expected this May, so there will be time for developers to polish any titles they were trying to get done for the spring.
Anyhow, a Blu-way drive for under $500. Sign me up… then again, I have just a regular old TV, so the improvements in quality will be lost on me. 🙂

More Bias from the HD-DVD Camp News Machine

A Newsweek story says:

Both sides came to Vegas ready to open fire. Toshiba announced it would ship the first HD DVD players in March, priced at just $499. By contrast, the earliest delivery date for a Blu-ray player is sometime this summer, at a price of $1,800. Sony believes it can overcome its rivals’ head start by rolling out Blu-ray in the hotly anticipated PlayStation 3, due later this year.

I have to wonder why they quote the cheap, cheap, no-frills, player price on HD-DVD and not the $800 price of the standard player? To make things more confusing, they quote the expensive price on the Blu-ray player, not the $1000 price of the cheaper player. The give the cheap price on the HD-DVD and the expensive price on the Blu-ray player. I originally figure it was a biased bit since it is an MSNBC site, which means Microsoft is involved. However, so far as I know, Newsweek has no ties to Microsoft. They also give a vague Summer date for Blu-ray when we know it will likely be May to June, making it seem like HD-DVD will have a larger head start then it will.
Once it launches, I am sure you will see plenty of ads telling consumers that the movies they want will be available on Blu-ray, and in many cases, only on Blu-ray and not HD-DVD. So I have to wonder if the lead time will mean anything.
Anyhow, back to the story. They say later:

Lately the lines between the opposing camps have started to blur as major players hedge their bets. Paramount and Warner plan to release films in both formats. Samsung and Hewlett-Packard, once committed solely to Blu-ray, have hinted they will support HD DVD, too.

Which completely ignores the fact that several studios and manufacturers are committed solely to Blu-ray and not hedging their bets. Fox isn’t hedging it’s bets, nor is Sony Pictures, MGM or Apple.
Toshiba should just bow out of the format war. Let Blu-ray win and compete where they should put all their efforts. Getting SED based TVs out and affordable. If they can get SED sets to work near the promise, then we will have a near unbeatable TV technology.

The end of the article questions if the format war will matter in the end.
I think it will for some time. It will be a while before people around the world, let alone in the US, have widespread broadband access to have content delivered over the Internet. Even then, many of us will want to own the physical disc. The only real question is if one of the holographic formats try to compete in the video market, then the format war may be moot… of course there is a format war coming up in the holographic disc arena as well, so once again nothing is new under the sun.

Blu-ray update

I haven’t talked about the war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD for a while now. There was some news at CES. Blu-ray has finally finalized the specification. Missing from the current specification is the 100GB disc format. Prices were also announced. Blu-ray players were announced at $1000. A bare bones, no fancy features HD-DVD player will be out for $500, but the normal players were $800. Remember, DVD was very expensive at launch as well, those prices will fall fast. HD-DVD didn’t make that big an appearance at the show I hear, so it’s hard to say exactly what is going on. Word on the street seems that Toshiba is taking a loss to sell the unit at $500, even being as minimal as it is. The $1000 price for Blu-ray was for a Samsung. HD-DVD will have a 3 month head start in the market.
Let’s see if I can recap the state of things:

Pros: Far more storage space. Many more movies available on it. Potentially the cheaper format in time. Blu-ray/DVD dual discs have both formats on the same side, so their is a nice printed side to hold.
Cons: Will be behind HD-DVD by 3 months. Doesn’t have the name recognition factor of DVD that HD-DVD has. More expensive for the disc replicators at the start.
Pros: Had the average consumer recognition factor by having DVD in the name. Cheaper for replicators at the start. Gets a head start of 3 months.
Cons: Doesn’t hold nearly as much as Blu-ray, it takes 2 layers to nearly equal one layer of Blu-ray. HD-DVD/DVD combo discs have content on both sides, that is a flipper disc with no printed surface to hold.
All that said. I don’t know if the name recognition factor matters since the average consumer that would be swayed by such a thing can’t afford the players at the moment. Actually, this could work against them. Selling a HD-DVD disc, the average consumer may be confused and buy it thinking it will work on their regular DVD. I think by the time the players get to the average person’s price range the war will be largely over.
The head start may or may not matter. The people who can afford it, and would be interested, that is actually have a high definition tv in the first place, may just wait for the war to end. Some early adopters may jump on it just so they can watch a few movies in HD, but I don’t think sells of either will take off until they are both out, and may wait until Sony’s Playstation 3 come out where the real war starts. If Sony can get it out cheap enough, and Toshiba matches with their player’s, actually, they will need to greatly undercut it since the PS3 adds the ability to play games.
I personally still believe Blu-ray is the best format. HD-DVD is nothing more then a stepping stone. Blu-ray has the best long term viability.

Blu-ray 50GB discs in production

I saw in the comments for the previous Blu-ray post, and in the tech news that Panasonic has started actual production on dual layer Blu-ray discs. The current yield is a bit better then 80% (press release) which isn’t an acceptable yield for final production, but is good for a start. They also have until Spring time to get the yields up to the 98% or so that regular DVD production lines currently have. Remember regular DVDs didn’t have double layers available for a while after launch. There is time for Blu-ray producers to get the yields up so that double layer is available at launch. We know that HD-DVD already has yields over 90% on dual layer so their Spring launch will have it for sure.
We probably won’t have good details on anything until January when the Blu-ray companies reveal details at the CES. Hopefully Sony will have more Playstation 3 details, such as a solid launch date and price information. (The PS3 will have a Blu-ray drive built in. Supposedly it will launch in Japan in the Spring. If they can get it out in the US in the Spring to mid-summer and keep the price below $400 or so then Blu-ray will have a huge hold on the market.)

HD-DVD fans and their spin

I first saw this story which had the following blatant inaccuracy:

This news comes on the heels of wavering support for Blu-ray due to recent reports of it’s restrictive copyright protections policy… Only HD-DVD has added Managed Copy and iHD and made the spec part of the mandatory format for their discs, all discs would have to have the ability to provide a copy of the original for private use and the iHD portion is a navigation or menu system to accomplish the goal.

To clear things up, what wavering support for Blu-ray are they talking about? HP asking Blu-ray to add Managed Copy and iHD? I hardly call that wavering support. The only movie studio still supporting HD-DVD alone is Universal, while Fox, MGM, Columbia/Tri-Star pictures are all supporting Blu-ray only. Second thing is Mandatory Managed Copy is part of the Blu-ray spec now, so they are wrong there. iHD is indeed missing from the specification, but this is no big deal. Blu-ray uses a Java based navigation format over Microsoft’s iHD format. While iHD will be part of Windows Vista, seeing how Windows supports Java there is no problem with Blu-ray discs being accessed on Windows. Anyone selling a Blu-ray drive for computers will simply add a player or Windows Media Player add-on that will allow the computer to play Blu-ray movies just as easily as it would HD-DVD. They also miss the fact that HD-DVD’s managed copy isn’t always free, that is you may need to buy the right to stream the movie to your home theater network. As a mater of fact, given the direction studios are going in, I would expect them to charge for Managed Copy period, so even if Blu-ray wasn’t including it, there is little difference since you would have to pay for the rights the HD-DVD fans are so admit about.
Later the same story says:

On the other hand, Blu-ray has left Managed Copy a voluntary decision for the content providers on a disc by disc basis.

Again… oh, just see the part above… Stop lying to the American Public. Even if Blu-ray’s Managed Copy is voluntary per disc, the studios will likely include it simply to charge people just like they will for HD-DVD.
They go on:

In addition, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) are pursuing their own menu system based on Java and have not endorsed iHD.

As if this is a bad thing? Pay Sun for the Java license (if there is a fee at that level) or to Microsoft for iHD, either way who cares? Especially as an end user. As a programmer, the idea of a XML based menu system does have appeal, but it isn’t like Java is that hard.

So after all that I was about to comment to them, then I saw they had a source of some of those inaccuracies, the usually reliable CD Freaks. At this point I may have to research to see if Managed Copy is ineed Manditory or not on Blu-ray. Then again, as I pointed out above, as if the studios will leave it off since it is a chance to make money off the same disc again, just like HD-DVD.

Sadly, it appears this once exciting new blue laser format has been torn from the brilliant engineers grasp, handed to marketing and become nothing more than a tool to wean us off DVD. Soon, the possibility to charge the end user for actions that we now can perform for free will be possible to implement, thereby increasing cash flow to the studios. This is only possible by divorcing themselves from the weak Content Scrambling System or CSS that is present and easily defeated on todays DVDs. The use of a blue laser makes the switch irreversible and complete.

Which one are they talking about here? Blu-ray or HD-DVD? The studios will likely charge for Managed Copy with both formats. I will give that some of Blu-ray’s copy protection features are draconian, but since HD-DVD would have to be replaced so soon and it’s replacement would have those features added anyhow, why not take a format that has a much longer shelf life and is cheaper for the consumer in the long run? HD-DVD maxis out at about 45GB of storage, perhaps 60GB, compared to Blu-ray doing 50GB out the door, with some discs possibly being able to hold 200GB in the not to distant future. Also, Blu-ray has demonstrated far cheaper discs then HD-DVD made out of paper. Imagine a Blu-ray disc being part of your breakfast cereal box, cut it out, put it in the player and there you go…
They quote their source as saying:

But Fox and other studios like the strict technology that will prevent consumers from utilizing future movies as freely as current DVDs. HD DVD employs more lax copy controls and ensures support for streaming movies to different locations throughout the home.

This is fine as Beta News does indeed say that, however, CD Freaks makes it look like it was said by Fox the way they have it placed and the wording following the quotes. Again, Blu-ray will allow for this, just like HD-DVD. Just like HD-DVD you’ll probably have to pay for that privilege.
Beta News goes on:

Bill Gates, however, recently labeled Blu-ray’s content protection as anti-consumer. “The inconvenience is that the [movie] studios got too much protection at the expense consumers and it won’t work well on PCs,” Gates explained.

I have to ask, how is HD-DVD’s sceme of forcing us to pay to steam content around the home any less friendly then Blu-ray’s?
They continue:

The rift in future DVD support could prove damaging to the technology before it even gets off the ground. Consumer electronics companies and computer manufacturers excluding Dell have staunchly backed Toshiba’s HD DVD. Movie studios have pushed Blu-ray, although many have plans to ship films in both formats.

Staunchly backed HD-DVD? Apple is in the Blu-ray camp as is most computer companies except Microsoft and Intel. Most movie studios support either Blu-ray alone or both formats, only Universal supports HD-DVD alone and most insiders expect them to support both formats as well. You likely will not see Fox support HD-DVD and until the format war is over, and then only if HD-DVD wins the war, will you see movies from Columbia/Tri-Star and MGM come out on HD-DVD since Sony owns those studios they will be Blu-ray only. Since Apple’s are used in lots of media production, I would say this gives high favor to Blu-ray.
They then go on about iHD:

One key issue is the use of iHD, which would provide new interactive features to the next-gen DVDs. Blu-ray has rejected calls to utilize iHD, instead relying on a Java-based menu system.
But iHD is already slated to be part of both rival standard HD DVD and Windows Vista. And with sales of entertainment PCs beginning to surge, companies like HP don’t want to miss the boat when it comes to a potentially valuable feature that will be natively supported by Windows.
“Based on that discussion and technical reviews, we decided iHD is a must, if you will, for the PC implementation of next-generation optical discs,” said HP’s director of strategic alliances Josh Peterson.

How is iHD a key issue? Just because it will be included in Windows Vista? It better be since Microsoft invented it. It isn’t like Windows Vista won’t be able to play Blu-ray discs, it just may not be included in the initial release. If Blu-ray wins the format war, then Blu-ray’s Java based menu system would be included, beyond the fact that every Blu-ray drive sold will have the stuff needed to play on Windows based computers anyhow. I haven’t heard if Apple is going to add iHD to their OS or not, which would be no loss if they don’t since again a HD-DVD drive would include the software needed to play HD-DVDs on OS-X.

The HD-DVD fans need to stop putting such a negative spin on Blu-ray. Yes, the draconian copy protection measures are scary, but that is the only bad thing about the format compared to the number of negatives with HD-DVD. The HD-DVD people are nearly as bad with their spin as MS-NBC who is so far to the left you may as well call them Pravda and I am sure they (MS-NBC) would be glad if we all called each other “Comrade.” (And yes, I know and acknowledge that Fox News spins to the Right, but no more so then CNN does to the Left… and if you add the nearly as bad as MS-NBC NPR, PBS and the New York Times which is so close to Pravda and MS-NBC they are nearly kin… you still have a left focused media.)
Edit to add: Note that I don’t think the HD-DVD fans are nearly as bad as the media at large. 🙂

Blu-ray update

I haven’t posted any of the updates on the Blu-ray vs HD-DVD battle lately. There has been a smattering of news, MGM announced it would officially support Blu-ray only, not surprising since Sony basically owns them. The Blu-ray group said yes to mandatory managed copy and no to iHD. Fox’s co-chairman made a statement Thursday about how Blu-ray is gaining an edge…
The really big news seems to be unrelated. Holographic storage has made some big moves, and may make it to the consumer market as early as 2007, much sooner then expected. Capacity at the start will be around 300GB, much more then even Blu-ray at its max can do, with limits over the 1.3TB range. At the moment, they holographic storage people are not marketing it as a next generation DVD, but if they did, it would make moot the whole Blu-ray vs HD-DVD battle since regular DVDs would certainly last until 2007 if they can get the holographic discs to market in time… of course there is a format war going on there as well, with at least two major formats ready to hit the market.

Warner Backs Blu-ray

It’s official, Warner Brothers, one of the early backers of HD-DVD will release movies on Blu-ray as well. This leaves only Universal as the only HD-DVD supporting studio to commit to Blu-ray officially. None of the Blu-ray studios have yet said they will support HD-DVD, which means that, assuming Universal switches to support both, as they are expected to do, that all the movies you could want will be available on Blu-ray, while far less will be available on HD-DVD. Now if we could just get the big retailers to commit to Blu-ray alone. Say Best Buy, Wal-Mart and the like come out and say “we’ll only sell Blu-ray” devices and content. We will not sell HD-DVD devices or content.” The retailers could finish this format war off right now.

Thank you HP

Hewlett Packard has formally asked the Blu-ray Disc Association to add Managed Copy and iHD to the final specs (HD Beat story). The addition of these two specifications, especially mandatory Managed Copy would be the final (or one of the final anyhow) nail in the coffin of HD-DVD. Mandatory Managed Copy, and initial cost savings to the replicators, is about the only advantage HD-DVD has over Blu-ray. Managed copy allows you to copy a disc to your media center PC and distribute the content around your house. It keeps you from sharing it over the Internet however. iHD I honestly never heard of until now, and I don’t know if it is truly needed, and if it indeed can been implemented on Blu-ray. I guess it deepens on if iHD is Windows based, or if it can be ported to Blu-ray’s Java based engine. Certainly Intel would probably support Blu-ray in addition to its already announced support for HD-DVD if Managed Copy was added to the specification, I am not sure if they would demand iHD or not. Microsoft is another story, but if Managed Copy and iHD were added, I would guess the format war would basically be over and they would support Blu-ray if HD-DVD was no longer a viable option. Fingers crossed.
Of course on the bad side, both HD-DVD and Blu-ray will not output their HD signal on the analog outputs. Even if your HDTV has DVI inputs, unless it is a version that supports HDCP, you will still get the same regular def signal that the analog input people get. This is all to protect the content, and personally, I honestly don’t have that much of a problem with that aspect of the move by the two camps. Far more frightening is some of the draconian protection measures in their formats, most notably Blu-ray which can lock a player from putting out any HD signal, or blocking certain discs all together. The threat of having to replace your fancy Blu-ray drive with a whole new one because somebody somewhere hacked on is insane, everyone is made guilty even if they don’t apply the hack. I can see applying the lock if they can detect you adding the hack, but to lock it regardless…

HDTV movement

There has been lots of news on the HDTV front of late.
The big current news is that is is looking like date they will stop transmitting regular television signals and move only to high definition signals will be either 31 December 2008 or April 2009 (Yahoo! news). Originally, the end of 2006 was to be the deadline, or when 85% of households could get HDTV. Unfortunately they didn’t define what 85% means, do they mean 85% have HDTV sets or converter boxes, or that 85% could get HDTV right now if they were to get a converter box or HDTV? If it is the former, then we are not there yet by a long shot, if it is the latter then we are there as almost all the stations have an HDTV broadcast. Of course most people get their TV from cable, which for the most part isn’t giving the HDTV signal for the local channels, just the regular analog channel, even on digital cable.
Whichever date ends up being in the final version, retailers will need to let consumers know that if they are buying a standard definition television, the set will become useless without a HDTV converter box, or cable/satellite box capable of doing the converting, before they buy the set. This is good as I still see lots of standard sets being sold and going out the door. For the last few years I figure there is no way I would buy a standard definition set, especially when the cutoff date then was late 2006. Even with the extension to 2009, I would suggest buying the best HDTV you can now over a standard television. With that suggestion is make sure it is widescreen since most of the HDTV broadcast formats that will be used are widescreen.
There are exceptions to the widescreen broadcast rule, TBN for example multicasts all its channels on its digital broadcast, that is, they make 4 or 5 digital channels available in the space it takes to broadcast a HDTV signal. It is still a digital signal, and it still needs a converter box or a cable/satellite box capable of converting the signal to watch them on a regular tv, but simply lacks the high resolution picture one gets with HDTV. It makes sense for TBN, the shopping channels, local access and the like to use multicast over HDTV, as they don’t need the full high definition picture.

On the personally more exciting level. We are finally seeing 1080p HDTV sets show up. 1080p is the highest resolution available in HDTV, and until now, no sets could do it. Most of the sets you see today, while they say they can do 1080i (one step below 1080p), they are actually 702p sets, that down convert the 1080i signal to 720p. It is important when you buy a new set to be sure what its true resolution is. It must do 1,920 x 1,080 pixels to be a true HDTV set, and preferably do that in a progressive picture. (The p in 1080p and 720p is for progressive, the i in 1080i is for interlaced… which I may explain in another post).
The set I am most excited about is Toshiba’s SED sets coming in March 2006. These sets will have a 1080p picture with a refresh rate of under 1 ms (millisecond… that is to say it will take less then 1 millionth of a second to refresh the picture). They are set to have a 100,000:1 contrast ratio (the normal contrast ratio on LCD is 1,000:1 with the original SED examples at 8,600:1… contrast ratio is the color difference between black and white, the bigger the contrast ratio the whiter the whites and more difficult for tv sets, the blacker the blacks). SED is basically a CRT (like a tube tv set or computer monitor), made thin. Think of it as a LCD where each pixel is a CRT screen… CRTs give the best picture quality of any technology out there. SEDs will be many times better then LCD, DLP, LCoS or Plasma, and possibly then OLEDs if they ever get to market in larger sizes.
If you have enough money, and want a good HDTV set right now, you can’t beat a Sony SXRD set, like the Sony KDS-R50XBR1 50″ Grand Wega SXRD High-Definition 1080p rear-projection TV ($3,999.99) or the Sony KDS-R60XBR1 60″ Grand Wega SXRD High-Definition 1080p rear-projection TV ($4,999.99) . Simply amazing picture quality. (Contrast on it is 3,000:1 so still less then the prototype SED, but still better then LCD). They are not flat panel, but it is one of the nicest sets out there. If I was to buy a TV today… and had that kind of money to spend on it, that would be the way I would have to go… it makes my mouth water thinking of those… and they are cheaper then the SEDs are expected to be. One negative about these sets, is while they do display a 1080p picture, they currently do not have inputs for a 1080p picture, so it may be best to wait… odd that they don’t as Sony’s own Playstation 3 will output 1080p.
I am not impressed with any of the flat panel sets available today. Only a couple of the LCD sets do 1080p as a native picture, most at best do 1080i, and almost all the Plasma sets down convert everything to 720p, though there are a couple prototype 1080p Plasmas out there.

Another win for Blu-ray

The Blu-ray disc format got another win today as Paramount Pictures announced they will release movies in Blu-ray as well as HD-DVD if no unified format comes out (which probably would be bad for consumers anyhow, just let Blu-ray win). Warner Brothers and Universal Studios are expected to make the same announcement soon (seems they basically did, but just no official press release yet). Story over at

Let us look at the top 100 Movies and who has them:
Warner: 21 titles in top 100. Currently supporting HD-DVD, expected to support Blu-ray as well.
Disney: 19 titles in top 100. Currently supporting Blu-ray, no expected support of HD-DVD at this time.
Fox: 17 titles in top 100. Currently supporting Blu-ray, no expected support of HD-DVD at this time.
Universal: 15 titles in top 100. Currently supporting HD-DVD, expected to support Blu-ray as well.
Paramount: 13 titles in top 100. Currently supporting HD-DVD and Blu-ray.
Sony: 7 titles in top 100. Currently supporting Blu-ray. Will not support HD-DVD since Blu-ray is their format.
MGM: 3 titles in top 100. Currently supporting Blu-ray. Owned by Sony who’s format is Blu-ray, so will not support HD-DVD.
Others: 5 titles in top 100. Current support unknown near as I can find.

So at the moment it looks like at least 46 titles of the top 100 will not be available in HD-DVD, while at least 95 of the top 100 titles will be on Blu-ray if the above counts hold true. I think this spells the end again of HD-DVD after their good news from Microsoft and Intel, both of which may be forced to change their minds.
Now if only Blu-ray will finalize support for Managed Copy, the last real argument for HD-DVD may go away since as myself and many others have pointed out, the initial higher costs for Blu-ray isn’t reason enough to support HD-DVD.

More on HD-DVD and Blu-Ray

I was going to post a link to a story tonight, but somebody beat me to it in the comments. You can get the link there, or here…
There is an op-ed piece at Ars Technica which talks about the financial aspects of the next generation of DVD formats. They admit fully it is an op-ed piece from a member of the HD-DVD camp, and offer it in “the spirit of discussion and debate.”
Here is my problem with it. The piece is talking about Initial costs, not long term costs, which is actually cheaper with Blu-ray thanks to some cool stuff they have demonstrated in prototype. He says they haven’t addressed the cost issues, but I think Blu-ray has indeed been very upfront about it saying the initial costs are higher to the replicators, but the highest estimate I have seen anywhere on the cost to the end consumer is $5 more per disc over the same movie and features on HD-DVD, and odds are, that $5 would be absorbed by the studio to allow for better sales and to let the format catch on. Yes, it does mean a major overhaul of the line to change from DVD to BD (Blu-ray’s acronym). Yes, it isn’t a simple retooling of the existing line as it is for HD-DVD, but I think that gives it a technical edge. As the guy says, “Basically, HD DVD is a DVD-9—a version of DVD we have enormous manufacturing experience with already—with a denser pit structure.” As I, and many other pointed out, this is the problem, it is just an interim step, not a true revolution in the format, just an evolution, which will need to be done again. Anyhow, how many people will re-tool their existing lines? Why not leave the existing lines for making regular DVDs, then make new lines for the HD-DVD or BD, at which point the costs start becoming the same. You could do it the way the guy advocates, make minor adjustments after you run the HD-DVD line, run your regular DVD line, adjust, run the HD-DVD line, adjust… odds are this will be automated, but the question becomes does his costs include the ability to automatically adjust the line from regular DVDs to HD-DVDs?
The BD format is not finalized, which is why there is debate on the final manufacturing methods. The BD people were not saying they were going to launch this year, but later in 2006, though BD drives would become available widely available as early as the spring of 2006. Even Toshiba had to roll back the introduction of HD-DVD from this year to next spring. New formats get delayed, it isn’t a big deal for either, though it does make it harder for HD-DVD since it will no longer have the bigger launch window.
He says at one point, “it advances the agendas of a few select companies instead of the market’s and that of the consumer.” The thing is, it looks like BD has the hardware advantage, and the tech savvy consumer advantage, so I am not sure what he’s talking about there.
He never addresses the technical problems with HD-DVDs space limitations. The highest theroticial capacity I have seen in print is 60GB, far less then the prototyped 100GB that BD has shown, let alone the therotical limit of 200GB. HD-DVD has room for a movie in HDTV and the special features… using the same number of disks that regular DVD uses. So if they make Lord of the Rings: Two Towers Special Edition for example on HD-DVD, put the special features in HDTV and all that good stuff, you still end up with 3 to 4 disks, where with BD it could fit on one, though at least initially they would probably put it on two. A full season of Lost in HDTV on HD-DVD would still take about 7 disks on HD-DVD, while you go down to about 4 on BD… Yet even more cost savings to all involved.
The bigger issue of the moment is very few of us have HDTV sets yet. You probably won’t notice enough of a difference on a regular TV to see the difference between regular DVD and HD-DVD/BD. I doubt many people will have full HDTV sets with the needed HDCP support (not on early HDTVs… heck some sold today may still not have it, be sure yours does if you plan on getting one, though most if not all, made now do support it) when regular TV signals go bye bye a few years from now. One could argue this is reason enough just to use an interim step, but I don’t want to have to buy my Lord of the Rings collection twice more, if I can buy it just once more.
Others may argue that even HDTV will be replaced by Super-HDTV or something down the line, but I don’t see that as happening for a very long time. HDTV is about the best you can do over the air. When everyone in the world has high speed Internet2 access, then I can see HDTVs replacement coming to the consumer level. HDTV has 1920 pixels across the screen at the maximum resolution, and they have demonstrated digital movie projectors that do over 4,000 pixels across the screen. This super high resolution is meant to help movie theaters compete against HDTV, by continuing to offer higher definition then even the high end consumer can typically get at home.
Anyhow, the point is, BD is our best long term option… at least until holographic technology catches up to the consumer level… or nano-storage, or some other format that is on the longer term horizon (though rumor has it we may see holographic technology sooner then expected).