Practical Technology

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It’s all but Official: HD DVD is Dead


Toshiba executives haven’t made an official statement, but the word is leaking out from multiple sources: HD DVD is dead.

The hand-writing has been on the wall for months now. Any doubt that HD DVD was losing to Blu Ray should have been removed last week when both Netflix and Best Buy announced that they were moving away from HD DVD.

The final nail in HD DVD’s coffin came when Wal-Mart, the 500 gorilla of retail with abut 20% of all U.S. DVD sales, announced that it was switching to Blu Ray. The hammer blow fell when Susan Chronister, a Wal-Mart DVD buyer wrote in Wal Mart’s Check Out blog that, “By June Wal-Mart will only be carrying Blu Ray movies and hardware machines, and of course standard def movies, DVD players, and up convert players.”

And, for those of you who already bough HD DVD, as Chronister’s husband did, “I’d retire it to the bedroom, kid’s playroom, or give it to your parents to play their John Wayne standard def movies, and make space for a BD player for your awesome Hi Def experience.” I’m not sure this kind of spin is going to make to the Wal-Mart buyers who picked up rock-bottom priced HD DVD players for Christmas 2007 feel any better about their new door stop.

Personally, I’ve always been a Blu Ray supporter. Technically, it was just better. Blu Ray discs holds from 25GBs (gigabytes), Single-layer, to 50GB. Dual-layer. HD DVD held 15GBs, Single layer to 30GB Dual-layer. Blu Ray had a 36 to 48 Mbps (Megabits per second) average data throughput, HD DVD tops out at 35Mbps. Either format held more than enough data and delivered it fast enough for HDTV, but at HDTV’s current high-end, 1080p, Blu Ray could more easily deliver the visual goods and is posed to be able to handle even higher future resolutions.

Now, just being technically better is never enough. Just ask the scarred vets of the Betamax side of the ancient VHS/Betamax wars. However, the movie studios always tended to support Blu Ray over HD DVD. Even though HD DVD players were cheaper, if you don’t have movies to play on, why bother?

There was some talk about how porn or the first vendor to get inexpensive recordable HD discs out could still save HD DVD. Both ideas were out-dated. When VHS came out, we didn’t have the Internet for porn customers and we didn’t have VDRs (video digital recorders) like TiVo. Today, if someone wants to see Debbie Does Dallas 2008 or the like, people go to the Web. If someone wants to record a show, they’re much more likely to use a DVR than they are a DVD recorder or an old VCR.

HD DVD only had one thing going for it. Cheap players thank to Microsoft’s support. Neither was enough.

Blu Ray’s victory may not last for long. VHS rules home movies for about a decade. Blu Ray will be lucky to hang on for three years. That’s because of the powerhouse trio of high-speed Internet, cheap high-capability external disk drives like the Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 1 TB External Hard Drive and the rise of media extenders like the Apple TV. In the next few years we’ll be renting our movies from our couches and keeping our ‘taped’ or bough movies on our home network hard drives.

That won’t stop me from getting a Blu Ray. Unlike HD DVD, it will last long enough to be a helpful part of any home entertainment center. It’s also going to take some time for both the Internet and media extenders to ramp up to handle Blu Ray’s 1080p. For now, 720p is the best you can expect from the combination of Internet, home hard drive media storage and media extender. Come 2011, it will be a different story, but we’ve only just really gotten into the first chapter of that tale.

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