How to Avoid Being a Casualty of the Blu-ray Vs. Hd DVD War

By: Andrew Regan

With the advent of a new generation of high density discs to replace DVDs, it is easy for consumers to be confused about which format to upgrade to. The two competing formats, Blu-Ray and HD DVD, both offer a significant upgrade in video and audio quality; but as standalone players for both formats can retail for several hundreds of pounds, it is understandable that consumers do not want to end up buying the new Betamax.

In terms of technical performance both formats are similar, and show little discernible difference to the average consumer. A dual-layer Blu-Ray disc offers 50GB of storage space, compared to 30GB on a dual-layer HD DVD disc, but as of yet, only 40% of Blu-Ray releases are dual-layer, with the remaining 60% being single-layer discs utilising 25GB of storage space. Still, even when comparing a 50GB Blu-Ray disc with a 30GB HD DVD, the difference to consumers will be minimal. Both formats support the MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 formats for video compression, and Dolby Digital, PCM, and DTS for audio compression. As a result, this battle of formats is going to be waged mainly via the titles available and the price and quality of players.

Initially, both formats were supported by all of the major studios, but as different studios have different stakes in the two formats, major studios started to drop formats. For example, Sony, owner of Columbia and TriStar Pictures, is one of the major developers of the Blu-Ray format, and has decided to drop HD DVD for its releases. Thus, Spiderman 3 is only available for Blu-Ray, something which will surely irk Spidey-loving HD DVD adopters. Releases on both formats tend to be priced similarly, a little more than their standard DVD counterparts.

When it comes to the players, a lot has happened, even in the past year. The first generation of standalone players for the two formats, released last year by Toshiba, Samsung and Panasonic, were seen as pricey and more aimed at early adopters than the general public, and have already been discontinued.

The latest generation of players have generally been seen as more value for money, but the smart money says to look elsewhere for now. Sony decided to include Blu-Ray playing capability for the Playstation 3 Console, which was undoubtedly a wise business move. It means the 5 million current PS3 owners already have a Blu-Ray player and gives those unsure which format to switch to an incentive to buy a PS3 as a low-risk option - even if Blu-Ray does go the way of the Betamax, they still have a state-of-the-art gaming console. In a similar tactic, consumers can now buy an HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360, which can also connect to a high-end PC via a USB connection.

As for now, Blu-Ray has the edge in the format war. Figures by Nielsen VideoScan, Gfk and the Nikkei, show that Blu-Ray is outselling HD DVDs at a ratio of 2 to 1 in the US and Europe and a ratio of 9 to 1 in Japan. This does not mean the battle is over just yet - a lot can still happen, particularly if Nintendo should decide to throw their hat in the ring by announcing an external player for either format for the Wii (a drive for normal DVDs will be released next year).

Hopefully at the end of the format war, the ultimate benefactor will be customers and not the corporations, but until then alternatives to standalone players can provide an affordable way to enjoy the best video and audio quality available for home viewing.

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