Tuesday, February 19, 2008

War is Over, and an Eclipse Reminder

This is a twofer. A combo post. First off, don't miss tomorrow night's LUNAR ECLIPSE (Wednesday, February 20)!!!! 'Cause I probably will, since it's supposed to snow here.

Now, part two:

If you care about this sort of thing, you probably already know about it. But I'm gonna repeat it anyway.

As I tore into the parking lot at work today, a few minutes shy of being late, I heard a teaser on NPR news during "Morning Edition": "Toshiba waves the white flag!" I knew what that meant, but I wanted to be sure.

Yes, the news confirmed my suspicion: Toshiba had officially announced its capitulation in the High-Definition DVD format war. In case you're not up with the latest technology, here's a brief recap of what's been going on these last few years: There are (or were) two competing technologies vying to succeed DVD as the physical format for home entertainment. Both had vague and deceptive names: HD-DVD was the format proposed by Toshiba and backed by a small group of content owners and manufacturers, while Blu-Ray was the format owned and promoted by Sony and backed by a larger group - many of whose members were actually playing on both sides.

Physically, HD and Blu-Ray (or BD, as its officially abbreviated) look very similar to each other and to standard DVDs and CDs. Both HD and Blu-Ray were high-definition formats optimized for high-definition televisions, and both use a blue-light laser for playback. Technically the two are quite different, and the discs are incompatible with each other's player, though both types of player can play old-school DVDs.

Many people will tell you why one format or the other is technically superior to the other. Both are superior in image and sound quality to standard-definition DVDs, though not by as much as some of the demos I have seen in stores would lead you to believe, which used "dumbed down" DVD images to prove the inferiority of standard-definition DVDs. (Nothing that I ever did the bit budget for, and nothing that our department compressed, could ever possibly look that crappy!) Still, many standard-definition DVDs do not make the transition to HDTV very well. Images that look sharp and crisp on your standard-definition TV can look blocky and blurry on a seven-foot-wide HDTV, though few people who are not videophiles or who have never worked in a DVD Authoring facility would ever notice. (How bad is the image? About as bad as satellite TV. What, you don't have a problem with the picture quality of satellite TV? Well, there you go.)

I am told that that was one of the strengths of the HD-DVD player: it did an excellent job upconverting standard DVDs to something resembling HD resolution. So those people who invested in HD-DVD players aren't completely screwed. Actually, once the prices have dropped, it might not be a bad idea to pick one up as a back-up DVD player...

There are those who say that this is all academic, that round shiny things are dinosaurs, and downloads are the way to go, and the way the public will go. To this I say: not yet. Downloaded video is to a high-definition DVD image played on a high-definition screen on a properly-connected player something like watching a fifth-generation bootleg of a summer blockbuster vs. seeing the real thing in a theater. Or watching a YouTube video of a TV program instead of watching the actual TV program. Or listening to an mp3 instead of a CD. Sure, lots of people do, and can't tell the difference. More power to them. They don't know what they're missing.

But, anyway, HD is out. BD has won. This explains what Tiffany heard about Netflix going to Blu-Ray: it was Blu-Ray instead of HD, not Blu-Ray instead of DVD. Decisions like this one, and the decision by Warner Bros. to release exclusively on BD (leaving HD without its most important ally) that pushed HD over the edge.

Incidentally: I was the first one in my area who knew about this. One of the manger/engineers I told about it came back to me an hour later and said, "Hey, I checked that out, and it's true." To which I replied, "Of course it's true! I heard it on NPR!"


whimsicalnbrainpan said...


Having just the regular DVD player how soon do I have until I have to get a Blue Ray? Will the Blue Ray play regular DVDs?

First I have to get a converter box for my TV, now this.

hedera said...

Actually, whim, if you read his entire post, he answered that question: yes, Blu-Ray (and the other one) both play "old" (aka regular) DVDs. I was looking for that answer too.

I checked out NetFlix earlier this week and so far Blu-Ray is still an option that you have to enable on your account. As long as that's the case, I suspect you'll get regular DVDs. When that changes, time to go get another player...

I'm waiting anxiously to see if we'll be able to see the moon at all tonight - it rained like stink last night, and it's supposed to rain like stink again tomorrow, but tonight is "partly cloudy." Whatever that means. It's "partly cloudy" right now and there aren't many patches big enough for a moon to show through; also they're in the wrong place.

D.B. Echo said...

"...if you read his entire post..."

Heh. I am reminded of a favorite quote from The Simpsons: "Duffman says a lot of things." - Duffman, on being reminded of a promise he has made

Whim, I don't think we have to worry about being forced into the arms of Blu-Ray for a while. For now there aren't any titles coming out on Blu-Ray that aren't also coming out on DVD. And DVD player penetration is deep, while Blu-Ray player sales, while impressive, just aren't what they would be if the economy were anything like what it was back in the early days of DVD.

It was about six or seven years from the introduction of DVD to the death of VHS, when most major studios stopped releasing new movies on VHS. But DVD provided an enormous leap in quality over VHS, while Blu-Ray is a more incremental improvement over DVD with plenty of untapped potential. And the real benefits of Blu-Ray over DVD can only be realized with an HDTV - something that is beyond my financial reach right now, and beyond the reach of many American consumers. Maybe after next January 20th...

So you don't have to worry about your DVD collection becoming obsolete just yet, or about not being able to get new releases on DVD. I would say that will take at least another two to five years, and even then, unless the spec changes, Blu-Ray players will still be capable of playing standard DVDs.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Thanks D.B. I missed that with all the info.

So I guess I'll ask for a converter box for X-mas and a Blue Ray player down the road.

I'll still have to have a VCR though until Lucas releases the original Star Wars trillogy the way it was meant to be on disc.