Tag Archives: HDTV

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 DVDFile.com 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
GPU RSX®
Sound Dolby 5.1, DTS, LPCM, etc. (Cell-based processing)
Memory 256MB XDR Main RAM, 256MB GDDR3 VRAM
HDD 2.5" Serial ATA
20GB
60GB
I/O USB 2.0
x4
Memory Stick/SD/Compact Flash
No
Yes
Communications Ethernet x1/10 Base-T, 100 Base-TX, 1000 Base-T
IEEE 802.11 b/g
No
Yes
Bluetooth 2.0 (EDR)
Yes
Wireless Controller (Bluetooth)
Yes
AV Output Screen Size
480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p
HDMI Output
No
x1/HDMI NextGen
AV Multi Out
Yes
DigitalOut
Yes
BD/DVD/CD Drive (Read Only) Maximum Read Speed

BD 2x (BD-ROM)
DVD 8x (DVD-ROM)
CD 24X (CD-ROM)
SACD 2x

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).

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. 🙂

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 DVDFile.com.

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).