Welcome to Connected Homer, a new column in which I'll be exploring hot Connected Home topics from the perspective of the tech enthusiast. So many technologies and products are raining down on the home-computing and home-entertainment arenas that it's nearly impossible to keep up with it all. In that light, I'd like to use this space to toss around ideas, throw opinions around like darts, and—above all—encourage your involvement in the discussion. I welcome you to follow the links to the Connected Home forums to interact with other tech gurus and enthusiasts, and sound off on this month's topic.
This month, I want to talk about HD DVD and Blu-ray, the two bickering rivals in the next-generation DVD format war. We've witnessed the first skirmishes of this battle for HD disc supremacy, and the results have been both fascinating and frustrating. HD DVD struck first, with the debut of the Toshiba HD-A1 ($499) and HD-XA1 ($799) HD DVD players. The consensus seems to be that the player offers wondrous video quality but is a clunky, slow, loud behemoth, looking and sounding more like a home PC than a sleek piece of AV equipment. Clearly, it's a first-generation slab of hardware, but the enticing spark of HD is there.
Recently, Blu-ray dealt its first blow, with the release of the Samsung BD-P1000 ($999) Blu-ray player, a significantly more expensive beast that, if early reviews are any indication, is something of a dud. Image quality appears to be equal to or lesser than that of the HD DVD player. By now, I think we all know about the inherent physical and theoretical advantages of Blu-ray over HD DVD, but Sony's use of ancient MPEG-2 coding standard (even if it's a temporary measure) is a bad idea. Still, even this player reveals its potential for delivering outstanding image quality.
Unfortunately, despite their promise, both players are suffering in a market that was already wary of the format war. We've been burned before. Two years ago, I bought a hybrid DVD-Audio (DVD-A)/Super Audio CD (SACD) player from Denon, believing that one of the formats would prevail and deliver my home theater into a beatific realm of high-fidelity audio—a dream I've held onto for years. Unfortunately, the world turned it's back on high-end audio and embraced crappy 128Kbps digital recordings for portable MP3 players. DVD-A and SACD are now practically dead. (The sad saga of home audio is fodder for a future Connected Homer.) And no one can forget the VHS/Beta war that ended with the inferior format reigning supreme, ushering in years of fuzzy pan-and-scan.
Where do you stand on this debate? Personally, I wish someone, some governing body, would just step in to the fray and choose a format. If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that this silly format war will only decimate wide consumer interest in high-def DVD—and everybody will lose. With sales of regular DVDs slowing, sales of high-def plasma TVs rocketing, and interest in HD exploding, now is the time for one of these formats to grab hold of the public consciousness. But it won't happen inside a state of confusion.
What can we do?
I don't know. Perhaps all this high-def DVD drama is unnecessary in the face of the forthcoming holographic DVD technology, which apparently allows a disc to hold as much as 1.6TB of data, read at 160Mbps—340 times the capacity and 20 times the data rate of regular DVDs and more than 15 times the capacity and twice the data rate of Blu-ray or HD DVD. Of course, prototypes of holographic DVD readers cost $15,000 and prototype discs cost $120, but, hey, that's the price of entertainment on the bleeding edge.
Comment on this article at the Connected Home Media Web site, or give a shout-out at the Connected Home forums.