July 10, 2006
Many of you are closely watching developments in the face-off between HD-DVD and Blu-ray, the two competing high definition formats representing the future of disc-based digital video storage and playback. We have been experimenting with both formats since they were released, and have formulated some initial impressions, as follows:
1. HD-DVD as a format is performing beautifully. ProjectorCentral enthusiastically endorses HD-DVD for anyone who wants to experience a major step forward in video quality for a nominal cost. The Toshiba HD-A1 player is slower to load that anyone would like, and the non-backlit remote is difficult to get used to. But the picture is worth suffering through these quirks. HD-DVD represents a dramatic improvement in picture quality, and for $500 there is simply nothing else like it.
2. Blu-ray is, as of this moment, not as impressive. It delivers a noticeable improvement in image quality over standard DVD, but the difference is not as dramatic as HD-DVD. We believe that this is a short term problem related to the fact that Blu-ray discs are not yet being manufactured in their dual-layer, 50 GB configuration. With only one layer available, the maximum capacity of a Blu-ray disc is 25 GB, compared to 30 GB on the HD-DVD. Furthermore, the Blu-ray discs that have been release thus far are in MPEG-2, which is an old and inefficient video codec. The combined limitations of MPEG-2 and 25 GB of storage translate into a less than ideal image on the screen. HD-DVD's current storage capacity of 30 GB plus the use of the more efficient VC-1 codec produces a much more dramatic HD image. So we have the odd spectacle of the $500 HD-DVD player actually outperforming the $1000 Blu-ray player.
3. We believe that the deficiencies in Blu-ray performance are related to the discs and not the Samsung BD-P1000 player. There are rumors circulating that the Samsung's HDMI circuitry is defective. We are not ready to give credence to that rumor. It is true that many Blu-ray discs look marginally better when using component video as opposed to the HDMI output on the Samsung player. However, there is a Blu-ray demo disc being used by retailers that looks sensational over HDMI. So at this writing we have no reason to suspect a design flaw on Samsung's part. Meanwhile, there is plenty of reason to conclude that Blu-ray discs were hurried to market before they were ready for prime time.
4. We believe Blu-ray's defects will be resolved and that eventually the image quality of Blu-ray will match that of HD-DVD. However, there is no reason to expect that Blu-ray will ever exceed the quality of HD-DVD. Contrary to widespread rumor, both formats will contain transfers of films in 1080p/24 resolution. As noted in an earlier article, the actual transmission of the signal in 1080i vs. 1080p is not going to produce any visible differences in image quality to the vast majority of users.
5. We expect that higher quality Blu-ray discs will eventually come to market. Once they do, we think we will be able to endorse Blu-ray as enthusiastically as we can HD-DVD today. We are anxious to see that happen, as we want both formats to flourish. Healthy competition between HD-DVD and Blu-ray is the best way to drive down the prices of players, and that in turn will make HD movies on disc accessible to the largest number of consumers.
We are attending a Blu-ray presentation tomorrow and will have more to say about the situation later this week.
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