High-tech battle: Blu-ray vs. HD DVD

Everything you need to know on the high-def disc front - in easy-to-digest bytes.

Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD? If you're like most people, you've simply avoided that question. The two high-definition home-video formats, with their dazzling picture quality and innovative features, are battling to succeed DVDs. The problem is that Blu-ray and HD DVD are incompatible, each requiring a dedicated player. Many consumers are waiting for a victor to emerge or, more likely so far, are content with standard DVDs. The din for high-def discs isn't going away, though. You will notice a big push for high-def discs in stores no matter where you turn as the holiday season approaches. You're also likely to hear all kinds of claims about Blu-ray and HD DVD from acquaintances or salespeople, such as the 10 that follow. Which are true? To find out, turn to page E8

ONE LOOKS BETTER THAN THE OTHER

I actually overheard a salesman tell a customer this once in a store. Don't believe it. While Blu-ray and HD DVD technology have different specs, they deliver the same high-def image quality. I've watched the same movies in Blu-ray and HD DVD on a 102-inch screen, and there are no appreciable differences in picture quality.

IF YOU HAVE AN HDTV, YOU'RE ALREADY WATCHING DVDS IN HIGH-DEF

For a true high-def image, you need to play Blu-ray Discs or HD DVDs on their respective players, as well as have an HDTV. However, there are players and other components that will up-convert standard DVDs to high-def resolution, and many DVD players offer something called progressive scanning. Both produce a noticeably better picture than standard playback. For many, that's good enough -- one reason why HD DVD and Blu-ray have been slow to catch on.

HIGH-DEF DISC PLAYERS ARE EXPENSIVE

Not really. Ten years ago, I paid about $400 for a standard DVD player. Today, Toshiba's new HD-A3 HD DVD player retails for $300. A previous model can be found for less than $200. Xbox 360 owners can add an HD DVD drive for $200. Stand-alone Blu-ray players start at $500 for current models, with discontinued ones going for about $400. The best deal is to get the new 40-gigabyte PlayStation 3 video-game system, which plays Blu-ray Discs, for $400. HD DVD and Blu-ray players also play regular DVDs.

HIGH-DEF DISCS ARE MORE EXPENSIVE THAN STANDARD DVDS

Most new movies on HD DVD and Blu-ray retail for $35 to $40, while standard versions typically go for $27 to $30. Older movies and specialty releases in high-def usually retail for $25 to $30.

HIGH-DEF IMAGES ARE BEST APPRECIATED ON A LARGE DISPLAY

The bigger the screen, the easier it is for casual viewers to see the sharpness and clarity of the high-def images delivered by HD DVD and Blu-ray, compared with standard DVDs. Are you going to see the same difference on a 37-inch display? Not as much.

THE HIGH-DEF WAR WILL BE DECIDED THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Unlikely. In September, the market-research firm Forrester Research said it expected the Blu-ray-HD DVD war to continue through early 2009. Forrester added that it expected Blu-ray to win eventually if player prices were slashed. HD DVD could stage an upset, it said, if more studios continued to defect to that format exclusively, as Paramount did recently after once issuing movies in both formats.

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