Consumers Get Unexpected Break In High Definition Disc War
By Jim Bray
It looks as if there may be some common sense breaking out in the home electronics marketplace. And it’s about time!
As you may know, there’s a format war in the high definition DVD world right now. Two competing, and incompatible, high-definition DVD formats (HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc) are fighting for supremacy in a high stakes battle that so far has looked a lot like a replay of the old VHS vs. beta battles. Back when home theater was still a gleam in the technophile’s eye, two incompatible systems of videocassette recorder/players slugged it out for several years before VHS finally won, leaving millions of betamax owners with boat anchors in their living rooms.
But the consumer electronics industry was smart when it introduced DVDs back in the late 90s. There was only one format, so nobody had to choose between two potential white elephants, and that’s undoubtedly one of the reasons why DVDs took off so quickly, virtually killing off the videocassette as a movie watching medium in only a few years.
Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself and it looks as if that common sense standardization may have been the exception rather than the rule.
It's too bad, because high-definition DVDs can look and sound spectacular. But why would anybody except those avant-garde consumers who just have to have the newest things first buy either high-definition disc format right now, faced with the prospect that they might end up with a digital dinosaur in their home theater in a couple of years?
Obviously, what's needed is a single format that everyone can enjoy. But as of this writing, the format war continues as the competing camps try to convince you to part with your hard earned after-tax dollars. And that means nobody’s a winner.
A couple of companies, however, have come up with "workarounds" that should allow consumers to jump onboard either format right now without risking getting screwed over the long term.
The first is Warner Home Entertainment, which has announced that, later this year, it will stop releasing high-definition discs in either format separately and will instead begin offering both formats on a single disc.: Total Hi Def, or THD, discs. These will not only give consumers a break, but will allow retailers to carry a broader selection of titles since they'll only have to carry one version of a particular title instead of two.
This is great idea. When my partners and I operated a chain of video rental stores back in the early days of the video revolution, it was a major pain having to carry two formats. If they had settled on one videocassette format right off the bat, we would have been able to offer our customers twice as many titles instead of being forced into the ridiculous practice of duplicating titles.
Warners’ THD discs are designed as flippers, so one side will carry the Blu-ray version and the other will carry HD DVD. Warners says the content will be exactly the same on either side of the disc, ensuring an identical viewing experience for the consumer.
I’m not sure about the eventual pricing, but Warner has said the discs shouldn't carry too much of a premium.
So much for the software. Alas, it’s the hardware that’s by far the most expensive part of the equation, with the cheapest high-definition DVD players selling for several hundred dollars and higher and players going for substantially more.
Riding to the rescue is LG Electronics with a player that will handle both high-definition disc formats. The BH100 “Super Multi Blue”player should be a really good solution for consumers who want to enjoy the best home theater experience they can get, at least until the next innovation comes along. It should be out shortly, selling for $1100 US.
They’re also taking this "one player fits all" philosophy to the world of computer disk drives with the GGW-H10N, also available in the first quarter of 2007, which claims compatibility with both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. And the Super Multi Blue 50GB drive handles Blu-ray Disc, DVD, CD read/write and HD-DVD-ROM (read), making it about the most universal unit to hit the market so far.
I'm impressed. Here are two companies who've come up with legitimate, workable solutions to an intolerable situation, giving the consumer a break at the same time. I hope they both make bags of money.
Now if we could only see an outbreak of sanity on the connectivity and copy protection/consumer rights issues!
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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