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Format Wars

HD-DVD took a hit last week when Warner announced that they were going to be Blu-Ray exclusive. This leaves only three major players in the HD-DVD field who are exclusively HD-DVD. Everyone else either releases in both formats or is Blu-Ray exclusive.

To which I express supreme indifference.

This shouldn't be. I should be jumping up and down happy with one or the other, but I remember the introduction of home video cassette players, and the minor war between Betamax and VHS. I loved Betamax but we know how the war ended. In this current struggle I have no idea which format might theoretically be superior to the others -- odds are that Blu-Ray is incrementally superior, but then again it's also supposed to be incrementally more expensive -- because I genuinely don't care.

It's all about the money. When I jumped out of tape to DVD I got immediate benefits at minimal cost. I got a more permanent media (my tapes were dying) and a better picture. The player was only $250 at the time (a Toshiba, best DVD player I've ever seen or used, bar none, and it came with five movies of my choosing; I still miss it). It plugged into my existing TV and stereo. Voila, instant coolness.

Using myself as a simple example, contrast that upgrade to DVD to any attempt to upgrade to HD. My TV is an old-school 32-inch CRT. It can't handle the input from either sort of HD player. Even if it could, the image improvement HD offers would be lost. So I'd have to upgrade my TV. An excellent LCD HD TV, something in the 40-inch range, is easily $1500 or better.

Then there's that matter of the players. I'd have to buy one of the better hybrid models, one that handles all three formats: DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-Ray. That's a thousand dollars right there, almost the cost of my dream TV. (Buying a cheap player for each format isn't that much cheaper and becomes a wiring nightmare.)

I'd have to dump a bundle on a new surround sound system because my current one can't handle HDMI inputs, the (current) connector of choice for HD. This is a minimum of $500, and probably more like another thousand.

So just to think about buying HD content I'm looking at first spending almost $4000 (with cables, odds and ends, and sales tax). In the end I'd have a kick ass gorgeous TV, some ear-bleeding sound ability, and...?

I have no reason to dump my current film collection and start again. HD films cost roughly double a regular DVD. Is the improved quality worth it? I have doubts.

Consider that I can upgrade my existing system for less than $2000. Same TV as above, but instead of an HD player I get one of the better DVD players that "up-converts" your regular 480p DVD to 720p/1080i HD resolution. Such players run less than $100. A friend got a Sony; he tells me it works perfectly. I'd grab a Toshiba.

So for half the cost I keep my current library, continue to buy cheap DVD's, and get most of the benefit of "upgrading" to either HD disk format.

Tell me again why I should spend $4000?


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