Q: What are your thoughts regarding the new HD-DVD and Blu-ray high definition video discs?
Thaddeus Mark, Castle Shannon
A: HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc are the two new formats competing to be the high-definition video disc of the future. Each promises to provide much better picture quality than standard DVD. The formats are not compatible. HD-DVD players will not play Blu-ray discs, and vice versa. (Think Beta vs. VHS again.) You can buy the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player for $500. The only Blu-ray player currently available, the Samsung BDP-1000, costs $1,000.
I recently saw demonstrations of both. The Blu-ray demo was at a top-notch home theater specialty shop. It used a front projection system and a prototype Sony player, and it was led by Sony executives using custom-made demo material. I saw a regular production HD-DVD player with a 50-inch plasma TV in a Best Buy store. Both looked great to my eyes. Obviously, the Blu-ray demo was bound to be more impressive given the environment and demo material.
Even taking this into account, I was very impressed and left with no reason to think Blu-ray would be anything but incredible in production form.
Given that the demonstrations used radically different equipment, software and surroundings, I did a little follow-up research online and was shocked at what those who own both formats have to say about their real-world experience.
Based on the first round of reports, the HD-DVD format is garnering praise, but Blu-ray is garnering almost universal scorn from reviewers and enthusiasts alike. Reviewer Evan Powell, of projectorcentral.com, commented of Blu-ray: "The image quality does not measure up to what we would expect from a high-definition source, and it certainly falls short of the hype."
At the AVS Forum, home-theater buffs had even harsher reactions. A sampling of their comments: "There's no getting around the fact that, at this time, BD is not as good as HD-DVD"; "I watched one and a half movies when I realized that they look horrible. ... needs to go to the scrap heap"; "This has to count as one of the greatest AV disappointments I can remember!"; "I took it back after two days. ... I just couldn't justify keeping the Samsung when I considered what I'm getting from the Toshiba at half the price"; and "Too much money, too little performance. It went back!" You can read these and more comments under the Blu-ray player and HD-DVD player forums at www.avsforum.com.
The bad launch does not mean Blu-ray is doomed, as more movies and players are to come, and they are likely to improve.
Industry politics and money will play a role in the format war, too. In two weeks, I will discuss more on HD-DVD, Blu-ray and DVD.
Don Lindich is the creator of the "Digital Made Easy" series of books. Submit your audio, video and digital photography questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.