Blu-ray and HD DVD- some easy to comprehend information for Duncan Chard

Week of July 16, 2006

Q: I read your Blu-ray/HD-DVD article and was staggered at some of your comments. You do not seem to understand digital media at all. Digital media is the same regardless of device. Files and films on HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs are identical- what differs are technical details such as the type of laser used, etc. Comparing the quality of two digital media formats is ridiculous – in fact it’s completely irrelevant – the only difference between HD-DVD and Blu-ray is capacity.

-Duncan Chard

A: I am sorry you were staggered, but help is on the way- a little education should get you back on your feet in no time! You have very limited knowledge of digital media, film production and the various video formats in use today. I had planned on writing about HD-DVD and Blu-ray this week, so I can provide you with some simple, easy-to-grasp information on how these two formats differ and why HD-DVD currently offers far superior picture quality than Blu-ray.

Blu-ray video is encoded in MPEG-2, an older digital video format. HD-DVD uses VC-1, a much newer format developed by Microsoft. The digital files on Blu-ray discs and HD-DVDs are mastered with different equipment and are as different as apples and oranges.

The VC-1 format provides better image quality in less space than MPEG-2. Current Blu-ray movies are single-layer with a capacity of 25GB total. HD-DVDs are composed of two 15GB layers, for a total of 30GB. HD-DVD’s greater capacity and its far superior video format yields much better looking movies. Sony is developing dual-layer Blu-ray discs with 50GB of capacity. The extra capacity will allow the studios to wring better quality out of the less efficient MPEG-2 format, which should help close the image quality gap with HD-DVD.

I saw a production Blu-ray movie and I am sorry to report that the near-universal negativity is well deserved. The movie (The Fifth Element) looked absolutely horrible… soft and fuzzy, with a hint of digital noise that reminded me of an image taken with an old digital camera. It’s an insult to consumers’ intelligence to expect us to accept it as quality. Until the manufacturers can provide something that looks good besides a demo disc, I strongly recommend readers stay away from this format.

At $500, the Toshiba HD-DVD player is worth buying if you are a diehard video fan. It’s the same price or less than an upmarket DVD player so even if HD-DVD loses the format war, you still have a good DVD player for your money. Be warned, however, it is a first generation player, it loads discs slowly, and current movie selection is limited.

Speaking of movie selection, it may decide the format war even if HD-DVD is superior. Blu-ray has the support of more movie studios as well as more hardware manufacturers, which will mean more movies available for the Blu-ray format unless HD-DVD comes out on top. Let’s hope that both Blu-ray and HD-DVD studios produce great looking movies in the future so that no matter what format wins, we do not lose.

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