Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blu-Ray Wins High Def Format War

There is big news in the high definition DVD format war. It mostly started in early January when Warner Brothers announced that it would no longer be supporting HD-DVD. They were releasing movies in both Blu-ray and HD-DVD, but will now only be releasing them in Blu-ray. Soon after there were announcements from Best Buy, Netflix, and Wal-Mart. Best Buy announced that they would be pushing Blu-Ray. This meant that they would still be selling HD-DVD movies and players, but when asked for help by shoppers Best Buy will recommend Blu-ray as the preferred format. Netflix has announced that it will drop HD-DVD. They currently carry HD-DVD for rent, but will no longer be purchasing any new HD-DVD’s and will start to phase them out. Then came the announcement from Wal-Mart that they will no longer be carrying HD-DVD. They will begin to phase out HD-DVD players and movies, and will go with just Blu-ray.

When Warner Brothers announced their defection to Blu-ray, Toshiba tried to counter attack by dropping the prices of their HD-DVD players. I think the strategy was to get as many players as possible in the market, and let consumer demand help to bring back more studio support for HD-DVD. But with the announcements from Best Buy, Netflix, and Wal-Mart, Toshiba decided to throw in the towel. It has now been announced that the HD-DVD format is dead. They will cease manufacturing players and movies, and stop marketing in March. Toshiba did say that they would continue to provide support for those of us who have bought HD-DVD players.
What this also means is there are still HD-DVD players in stores being sold. These players will also more than likely be discounted to get rid of them. The good news is that these players also make for great upconverting DVD players. But so is a Blu-ray player. I used to be a supporter of HD-DVD. I preferred that format over Blu-ray. But I cannot recommend anyone buy an HD-DVD player at this time. Have you tried buying a movie on VHS lately? Soon it will be very hard to find an HD-DVD movie, and even then it will only be certain movies since only a few of the Hollywood studios supported HD-DVD, such as Universal. And Universal recently announced that with the death of HD-DVD they are now working on getting their movies released on Blu-ray.

With the death of HD-DVD, it is now safe for those of you waiting for this moment to buy your player – a Blu-ray player, to go out and buy. But you still need to be careful which player you buy. My only suggestion would be a Playstation 3. Why? Because of the history of players that were released, and support for upcoming versions. DVD’s have bonus features, or many of them do. So does Blu-ray discs. Many of these bonus features are found online, meaning you have to be able to connect to the internet. There are also different hardware requirements. There are Blu-ray profiles 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0. The different profiles had different requirements. Profile 1.0 came first. There were secondary audio and video decoders as well as network connectivity, but they were optional. Profile 1.1 came out and the secondary audio and video decoders were now required for newer discs, as well as at least 256MB of local storage for content. Profile 2.0 requires the new secondary decoders, 1GB of local storage for updates and content, and an internet connection. The profile 2.0 is also called “BD-Live,” and brings picture-in-picture and online functionality to the discs. For example, at CES, Fox Home Entertainment showed off a Blu-ray version of Alien vs. Predator that featured an online multiplayer game where you shot at the aliens on the screen using your remote and competing against other players remotely. Profile 3.0 is for audio only. It is believed that this will be somewhat like the DVD-Audio or SACD format.

This is why I say to be careful what you buy, and that I would only buy a Playstation 3 right now. I am not aware of any profile 2.0 or “BD-Live” players on the market yet. If you bought a new player now, it could be out of date in just a couple of months. The Playstation 3 however is unique. Not only does it already have the network connector on the back, it also has a very powerful processor under the hood to handle future updates. Sony’s booth at CES had a Playstation 3 that had been updated to profile 2.0 and showed off its features. The Playstation 3 also happens to be one of the cheapest if not the cheapest Blu-ray players out there at $399. Not only is it a great Blu-ray player, it is a great game system.

So, in a summary, HD-DVD is dead, and I would not suggest buying one of those players. It is now safe to buy a Blu-ray player, but I would only buy a Playstation 3. There are future…versions, you could call them, of Blu-ray coming out and the Playstation 3 will be able to be upgraded to them with a firmware update. None of the Blu-ray players on the market are “BD-Live,” players, and may or may not be upgradeable to “BD-Live,” (for those of you who are not computer savvy, a firmware update is downloading a file from the internet and burning it to a CD that you install into your player, and you need to be careful doing it or your player could be turned into an expensive paperweight). If you do buy a player that is not a Playstation 3, I would suggest calling the manufacturer to make sure it can be upgraded via firmware to “BD-Live.” You may want to take it back to the store before it is too late for returns.