HD DVD vs. Blu-ray (revisited), 1080i vs. 1080p on a 46″ screen

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 22, 2007

Q: I have a 46 inch Mitsubishi 1080 HDTV an need a new DVD player. Should I get HD DVD or Blu-ray? If Blu-ray, which one should I get, and why? If HD DVD, the Toshiba HD-A2 or HD-A20 and why?

-Al Szczepanski , Minneapolis, MN

A: You ask about the new, high definition DVD formats as if they are your only choice. The fact is that the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray is still far from being decided. It may be in your best interest to sit out this round and wait, perhaps not. I will bring you up to date regarding the two formats and offer my advice, as well as a few recommendations, then you can decide for yourself.

For those of you new to this subject, HD DVD and Blu-ray are two new disc formats that can play high definition content. They are battling to become the replacement for DVD.

About a year ago I reported on the rather dismal picture quality of Blu-ray compared to HD DVD’s outstanding picture quality. At the time I could not recommend Blu-ray at all given the expense and poor picture quality, and gave HD DVD a conditional recommendation for serious movie buffs or those with a large budget. Since then Blu-ray has closed the picture quality gap, though HD DVD is still widely considered to produce a superior picture overall. Another recent development is a combo players from LG that can play both HD DVD and Blu-ray discs.

I still can’t recommend Blu-ray because of the high cost of the players. Blu-ray players start at around $800. A HD DVD player can be had for $400. Given that the battle is far from being decided, I don’t think $800 on a Blu-ray player is a wise investment for most consumers. The LG combo player is marred with functionality issues, so I can’t really recommend that one, either.

The much lower price point of high quality HD DVD players makes them much more viable from my point of view. You can get an excellent HD DVD player for $399, which is only $250 more than my favorite consumer DVD player, the $149 Oppo DV-970HD. An additional $250 to add HD DVD functionality seems like a pretty good deal to me.

This brings us to HD DVD and Toshiba’s $399 HD-A2 and $499 HD-A20. The units are pretty much identical except that the HD-A20 outputs at 1080p, the HD-A2 at 1080i. You did not say if your Mitsubishi was 1080i or 1080p, but it would not affect my recommendation that you get the HD-A2 and save $100. With a 46 inch screen I doubt you would see a meaningful difference between the two, if you could see a difference at all. If you are a serious enthusiast, consider the top-of-the line HD-XA2 with its top-shelf video processing. It’s a far, far better value than an $800 Blu-ray player. One thing I can assure you of is that with any of these HD DVD players the picture will look spectacular!

Which brings us back to the Oppo DV-970HD. It is going to produce a spectacular picture on your 46 inch screen as well, though it can only play ordinary DVDs. You may just want to get the Oppo and wait a little longer for the prices to drop and for more movies to be available on both HD DVD or Blu-ray.

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