Practical Technology

for practical people.

Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, or None of the Above?

This holiday season, if you have big bucks for your home theater, you’re probably thinking about adding a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD player to the entertainment center.

On the one side, Intel, Toshiba, and Microsoft are pushing HD-DVD while Blu-Ray has the full support of Samsung, Pioneer, and Sony. Or, if you want to look at your television as a gaming platform, you’ve got a choice of an add-on HD DVD player for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console or a built-in Blu-Ray for Sony PlayStation 3 game system.

You could always get both… but with standalone players running from $500 to $1,000, few people can afford that luxury. Blu-Ray, for now, is the more expensive of the pair. Both the Samsung Blu-ray Player: BD-P1000 and the Sony Blu-ray Player: BDP-S1 run a buck less than a grand. HD-DVD players, like the Toshiba HD DVD HD-A1, will set you back around $500.

So, what do you get from Blu-Ray for the extra $500? In two words: more space. Blu-Ray discs can hold 25GBs (gigabytes) of storage on a single-sided disc and 50GBs on a double-sided disc. HD-DVD discs, on the other hand, can only hold 15GBs on a single sided disc or 30GBs double-sided discs.

Even the 15GBs sound like a lot doesn’t it? Think again. 15GBs can handle up to four hours of HD video with MPEG4 compression but with today’s feature-loaded DVDs that’s not much.

Another plus in Blu-Ray’s favor is that, even though HD-DVD has all the first mover advantage of being out sooner and having, for now, more movies out, Blu-Ray has the support of more studios. To be exact, Warner, Paramount, Fox, Disney, Sony, MGM and Lionsgate have all announced titles for Blu-ray, while HD-DVD only has support from three of the major studios, Warner, Paramount and Universal.

Thus, as Blu-Ray’s factories catch up with the HD-DVD makers, Blu-Ray should offer people more movie selections. Will that be enough to make Blu-Ray the player that everyone will have in 2008? Or, will HD-DVD beating Blu-Ray to the market with a lower price keep it in the lead?

My answer? Neither one.

For all the hub-bub about the dueling disc formats, people seem to have ignored a simple fact. In your home theater today you can easily have access to over a terabyte, that’s a 1,000GBs, of media storage. The cost? Just over $500 for a Maxtor One Touch III Turbo 1 TB RAID External Hard Drive C01W010

Video isn’t going to stay on DVDs, HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, anymore than music stayed on CDs. Music has moved to the Internet, iPods and our PCs. The same thing is about to happen to video.

The technology to deliver video to your TV, without having a PC humming in the theater room, is already here. Unfortunately, media extenders, like the D-Link MediaLounge DSM-320 Wireless Media Player, require a good deal of technical elbow grease to get them to work well..

Apple is about to change all that. I expect the forthcoming Apple iTV to do for home video what the iPod did for music on the go.

And, if Apple doesn’t do it with the iTV, Microsoft has every plan to grab the online television and movie market with its new HDTV video services for the xBox 360.

It’s not just the computer companies, though, everyone, and I mean everyone, TV network, movie studios, you name it, are trying to find ways to deliver video over the Internet. Who will win? Darned if I know.

The one thing I do know though is that the future of video lies not on any DVD-format, but on the net and in gigantic hard drives. And, it’s a future that’s far, far closer than most people think.

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