With so many households boasting high-definition televisions, the challenge is now on manufacturers to provide high-definition DVD viewing options. A few years ago, Sony stepped up to the plate with its Blu-ray technology, followed shortly thereafter by Toshiba’s HD DVD format. If you’re like most consumers, you’re completely in the dark as to what those terms mean and how to shop for a high-definition video player. Why would there be two video formats, and which one is better? Pronto’s High-Definition DVD Buying Guide will give you those answers so you can choose the best HD DVD player for you.
High-definition DVD displays video at a resolution twice that of standard DVD. High-definition DVDs can also store up to three times more data than standard DVDs. If you own a high-definition television, a high-definition DVD player will let you get the most from the home-theater experience.
Blu-ray uses a proprietary technology developed by Sony. Blu-ray discs store the data in very tight patterns, which requires a thinner protective coating in order for the laser to properly read the disc. The cost of manufacturing these super-thin discs is higher than that of regular DVD discs.
The term HD DVD can refer high-definition DVD in general or to the specific HD DVD format. HD DVD stores less data than Blu-ray discs, but they can be manufactured in the same plants that make standard DVDs, making HD DVD production less expensive.
Both Blu-ray and HD DVD are actively recruiting hardware manufacturers and movie producers. It’s best to wait until a single format emerges, although you can test the waters with a high-definition DVD player that supports both formats or by getting a Blu-ray compatible PlayStation 3 or an optional HD-DVD drive for an Xbox 360.
Look for a high-definition player that plays standard DVD with upconversion to get the most out of your current DVD collection. Look for HDMI connections for the best picture and sound quality. Ethernet or wireless connections will let you watch movies from the Internet or your computer.
Blu-ray is a specific type of high-definition video storage developed by Sony. Blu-ray uses a thinner disc with more densely packed data to store video information.
A standard method of connecting computers and other electronic devices to form a wired network.
A measurement of data storage equal to roughly one billion bytes or 1024 megabytes (MB). One byte is a single unit of data storage or a disc.
One of two competing high-definition DVD formats, although the term is sometimes used to describe high-definition DVD as a whole. In terms of format, HD DVDs hold a little less data than Blu-ray discs, but they are less expensive to produce.
High Definition Multimedia Interface, a new standard for connecting home-theater components that carries large amounts of video and audio data through a single, bundled cord.
A measurement of the display quality of DVDs and home-theater components. The numbers given in resolution measurements count the total horizontal scan lines; 720 displays have 720 horizontal lines of resolution while 1080 displays have 1,080 lines. The letters “p” and “i” describe how the screen is refreshed, with progressive-scan “p” displays offering slightly better picture quality than interlaced “i” displays.
The process of converting standard DVD images to high-resolution outputs. While not capable of truly replicating HD DVD quality, upconversion does improve color consistency and the level of detail.
In the 10 years since their inception, DVDs have captured the home movie market. When the DVD format came out, consumers marveled over the clear, crisp lines when compared to the old VHS format. What looked great 10 years ago on standard-definition television doesn’t look quite as good on HDTVs, so the race is on to improve the technology.
High-definition DVD technology uses short-wavelength blue lasers instead of DVD’s red lasers, making it possible to fit more data on a high-definition DVD and improve picture quality tremendously. A single-layer, high-definition DVD can hold up to three times the data contained in a standard DVD, and a dual-layer high-definition DVD can hold up to six times the data.
In terms of picture quality, standard-definition DVD has a top resolution of 480p. High-definition DVD displays video at resolutions of 720p to 1080p, providing the ultimate clarity. Your current DVD collection is not lost, however. High-definition DVD players will play standard DVDs and offer upconversion or upscaling that improves their resolution. Upscaling cannot change standard DVDs to true HD quality, but it does create more consistent colors and increases the detail.
Blu-ray uses a proprietary technology that Sony developed. Blu-ray DVDs hold more data than HD DVDs—up to 25GB in a single layer, compared with the 15GB boasted by HD DVD.
Because the data on a Blu-ray disc is stored in closely spaced pits, Blu-ray DVDs have a thinner protective coating that makes it possible for the laser to read the disc. The protective coating on the Blu-ray disc is only 0.1mm thick, unlike standard-definition DVD and HD DVD formats that use a 0.6mm-thick protective coating. Opponents of Blu-Ray point out that the thinner coating requires significant changes in disc manufacturing. Blu-ray discs are more expensive to manufacture because of these necessary changes, and consumers bear the brunt of this price increase.
Shopping for a high-definition DVD player can be confusing, because the term HD DVD can refer in a generic way to high-definition DVD or to the specific HD DVD format. Technically, Blu-ray is also high-definition DVD, but it is a specific type of high-definition DVD that uses a unique technology.
HD DVDs store slightly less data than Blu-ray discs—only 15GB in a single layer or 30GB in a dual-layer disc. However, HD DVDs can be made in current disc manufacturing plants with a minimum of changes, making them a cheaper alternative to Blu-Ray.
When evaluating the high-definition DVD format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray, critics and retail observers look back to the early 1980s format war between Sony’s Betamax and VHS. VHS won the battle on the home front, although Beta became a standard for television production and studio work.
Both high-definition DVD formats now face a fight for survival in the consumer marketplace, and both intend to go down fighting. In an effort to win the format war, advocates of both high-definition DVD formats are actively recruiting hardware manufacturers and movie distributors. Dell, Sony, Acer, and Apple all support Blu-ray drives, while Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba and Asus all support HD DVD drives. Hewlett-Packard is the only manufacturer to embrace both high-definition DVD formats, and when it comes to buying a new computer, the brand you choose will determine what type of high-definition DVD drive you get.
Some movie studios have chosen to remain neutral thus far, but many distributors have cast their ballot exclusively with one high-definition DVD format. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 sports an optional HD DVD player upgrade, and Sony’s Play Station 3 plays Blu-ray discs.
What’s a consumer to do? Waiting out the high-definition DVD format war is the best advice, since you don’t want to wind up with a piece of technology that’s obsolete. You can dip your toe in the high-definition DVD waters with an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, or you can hedge your bets with a dual-format high-definition DVD player that supports both Blu-ray and HD-DVD, although these machines are so costly that few manufacturers offer them.
If you’re buying a new computer or optical drive, make sure it’s compatible with the standard-definition DVD format. The majority of home users won’t need to burn high-definition DVDs for at least five years, which is the average lifespan of optical drives. Don’t be swayed by which movies are available in which high-definition DVD format; once a winner emerges, you’ll be able to watch all your favorite films in that format.
Regardless of which high-definition DVD format you choose, there are some common features you’ll want your player to have. Look for a high-definition DVD player that plays standard DVDs and upscales them to a higher resolution so that your current DVD collection isn’t wasted. Both HD DVD players and Blu-ray are capable of playing standard-definition DVDs, but you must check to make sure that the high-definition DVD player you choose is backwards compatible. For the best picture quality, look for a high-definition DVD player that supports HDMI connections.
In addition to video, high-definition DVD players support various types of high-definition sound. For the ultimate theater quality experience in your home, look for a player that supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. Many new high-definition DVD players include network support via Ethernet or a wireless connection that will let you view video files from your PC or the Internet.