You probably own a DVD player, and likely a number of DVD movies. But if you have or are thinking about buying a high definition television, there is one thing you should be aware of…
Your DVDs aren’t high definition. And in fact, the DVD format (approx 4 GB) can’t store enough data to support a full length high definition movie: you need something in the range of 8 GB for two hours. But relax! The industry has you covered. They’ve been working on a new format for several years, and its about to come roaring in to your nearest Best Buy or Future Shop…Unfortunately, “it” isn’t a single format. Its two formats, and they are incompatible.
On the one hand, you have Blu-Ray: Sony, Hitachi, Walt Disney, and 130 other companies are behind this format. Its totally incompatible with DVD format since it uses a different kind of laser. It comes complete with drakonian digital rights management meant to satisfy Sony and others who want to make sure you have to buy several copies of every movie you might want to watch, one for every device you might want to watch it on. It can currently store up to 50 GB of data on a single disk, and potentially as much as 200 GB. You’ll likely be able to get a Blu-Ray player with or as an accessory for your PlayStation 3.
On the other hand, you have HD DVD: Microsoft, Sanyo, Paramount Pictures, and a couple hundred other companies are behind this format. An HD DVD player can also play DVD disks since they use the same type of (red) laser. It also is encumbered with digital rights management, but has a “guaranteed” level of fair use that allows the buyer of an HD DVD to play the media back on several different devices. HD DVD is limited to about 25 GB of data on a single disk, and potentially as much as 60 GB. You will likely be able to buy an HD DVD player as an accessory for your XBox 360 sometime later in 2006.
For me, the choice is pretty obvious at the moment. HD DVD makes a lot more sense because of its (somewhat) fairer digital rights management and compatibility features with existing DVD content. Ideally, the two formats would somehow join hands and become happy confederates, sharing and caring for all of us consumers to benefit. Realistically, however, I think we stand on the precipice of another VHS versus Betamax war. It won’t be pretty.