Picking A Side In The HD-DVD vs Blu-ray War

I’d been sitting on the sidelines of the HD-DVD vs. Blu-rayspectacle, reluctant to sink cash into either hardware or mediauntil the dust settled and one victor remained.

I’m hardly alone in this sentiment: No one wants an expensivepiece of hardware sitting unused, or a media collection that isonly playable on the one TV down in the basement (afterreconnecting the derelict player that had been disconnected to freean HDMI port).

Sales had been relatively slow for standalone players.

Instead the most successful uptake of the new formats has beenvia the Sony PS3 and its built-in Blu-ray player (Sony is theprincipal backer and beneficiary of Blu-ray), accounting for ahefty percentage of deployed Blu-ray players worldwide, whethertheir owners know that they’re being counted as faithful Blu-rayfans or not. For those who were aware of the feature, I’m sure ithelped them justify the purchase to their parents/wives/husbands:”But it’s also a next generation DVD player!” (Countless PS2s weresold on the justification that it could double as a somewhatmediocre DVD player).

HD-DVD vs Blu-ray

This vaulted Blu-ray into an early lead considering thatMicrosoft, despite being an HD-DVD backer, didn’t incorporateHD-DVD into the XBox 360 — there remains widespread confusionabout this — instead offering it later as an add on player.

The boards filled with the Blu-ray faithful, hopeful that theycould help the format succeed to vindicate their purchasejustification.

Not wanting a PS3, the motivation to upgrade just wasn’t asstrong as it was for, say, the desire to move from VHS to DVD.While the new formats technically offer improved resolution, and amuch better video compression technology (greatly reducingirritants like posterization in dark sections), the improvementisn’t dramatic compared to standard DVD run through a competentupscaling DVD player. Audio has theoretically improved on the newformats, but given the sparse availability of DTS-encoding movieson DVD media — DTS being the higher quality alternative to DolbyDigital — the audio capabilities of DVD was barely exploited atall already, so I don’t expect much real improvement with the newformats, beyond looking better on paper.

The interactivity features of the platform have improved (evenseemingly trivial things like accessing the chapter guide while themovie continues to play, the chapter guide translucently overlaid),but until the media makers start fully leveraging it, and unlessyou are the sort to draw a lot of value from the extras, that isn’ta major selling point. DVD was a huge convenience win over VHS,with random access and no be-kind-rewind demands, but the newformats are just minor improvements over what we already have.

Which brings me to my recent desire to buy an upscaling DVDplayer, desiring a unit that interpolated more elegantly to HDTVresolutions.

Then I came across a Toshiba HD-DVD HD-A3 player for less than$200 (with 2 free HD-DVDs in the box, and another 5 via a mail inform).

Toshiba HD-A3

So I picked sides, and chose HD-DVD. I’ve thus declared fealtyto the format, and will now order the loyal minion t-shirt andballcap, and debate the point passionately whenever the opportunityarises!

My purchase justification goes as follows-

  • It’s cheap. Really cheap. Comes with a couple of movies aswell, which is nice. It doesn’t have every feature, but it’s a goodstart. [For instance it’s missing 1080p, but that didn’t disuademe: 1080p happens to be one of the most oversold, misrepresentedfeatures trumpeted today. I’d much rather have 1080/24]
  • We’ll still be largely watching traditional DVDs, with the oddHD-DVD rented from zip.ca. I’m notgoing to cry any tears that some companies have been bribed orcoerced into only supporting one format or the other — I’ll justgo with the standard DVD option.
  • It’s a really, really good upscaling DVD player, so I’mcompletely satisified with the purchase even without playingnext-generation media. If Blu-ray was victorious and tossed theHD-DVD consortium into the dustbin of history, I wouldn’t havepurchase regret (I would feel quite differently if bought one ofthe $700 players).
  • The storage differential between the two formats is irrelevantfor the prescribed use. While the greater capacity of Blu-ray is awin if you want it as a backup format for a PC, it isn’t pertinentfor a 4 hour VC1-encoded motion picture with top quality audio andsound. Indicative of this is the fact that quite a few Blu-rayreleases have been encoded with the vastly inferior MPEG2 codec,wasting the extra space to use an obsolete compressiontechnology.
  • In a few years, this will all be moot anyways, as streamingtechnology and capacity improves. Ultimately these are holdovertechnologies.

I still don’t plan on amassing a media collection, but I havebeen enjoying the higher quality rentals — when a given release isavailable on HD-DVD — for just a small premium over a decentupscaling DVD player.