The annual CEDIA Exposition is going on in Denver this week and the big buzz continues to be the ongoing format war between Blu-Ray technology - backed by Sony, and HD-DVD technology - backed by Toshiba.
As I said in this post last January, the consensus at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was that it was quite possible that HD-DVD would eventually be the winner. The discs were cheaper, the equipment to play them on were cheaper and it seemed to be a more widely accepted format among video aficionados.
While HD-DVD seemed to be in the lead since Toshiba introduced the first player in March of 2006, Sony silently made partnerships with a number of motion picture studios to distribute Blu-Ray discs exclusively. In addition to their own movie production company, Sony has forged alliances with MGM, Fox, Disney, Lionsgate and Warner Brothers studios.
Earlier this summer, Blockbuster announced it will only stock and rent Blu-Ray discs at their 1700 locations in the U.S. Their reasoning was that in test marketing in 250 Blockbuster stores, 70% of the high definition discs that were being rented by their customers were of the Blu-Ray format. The reason is clear - Sony's PlayStation 3, which uses Blu-Ray technology, is driving the market place at this time.
And considering a large number of movie titles are more readily available on Blu-Ray than HD-DVD at this time, suddenly Sony and Blu-Ray has the clear lead.
Or does it?
Sony is kind of getting a big head about Blu-Ray. The release of Spiderman 3 has caused an outcry from consumers as Sony's asking price of $49.95 for the movie has been deemed outrageous. That's the downside of Blu-Ray. Their players and the movies are more expensive than HD-DVD.
Prices on machines have come down since they were first introduced, but Blu-Ray machines are still higher than HD-DVD machines. Sony's Blu-Ray player retails at $499.99, while Toshiba has a player now at $299.99. Of course, there is a universal player now available from LG which retails at $999.99.
So you're probably asking, "OK, what's the big difference? Why the discrepancy in pricing?"
The biggest difference between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD is the amount of information that can be stored on one disc. While most DVD's offer 10 gigabytes of information that can be stored on them, HD-DVD offers 15 to 30 GB of information, depending upon whether it's a single layer or double layer disc.
Blu-Ray, on the other hand, has the capabilities of storing 25 GB of info on a single layered disc, and up to 50 GB on dual layered discs. This is more desirable for the gaming aspect of Sony's PlayStation 3 which has dynamic and stunning graphics when game discs - basically Blu-Ray discs - are played on them.
Why Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs can't be played on each other's machines is simple. The optical pickup between the two - the mechanism that reads the digital information on the discs - are set at different angles. The difference only .2 of a degree, but when you're talking about billions of bytes of information in a microscopic area, 2/10ths of a degree is akin to a mile.
Plus, Blu-Ray has a tighter track groove than HD-DVD. That's one of the reasons it allows for more information on a disc that is the same physical size as an HD-DVD disc.
What makes Blu-Ray more expensive is that their formatted discs do not share the same thickness layer as DVD's. Production facilities have had to be modified or re-manufactured to produce Blu-Ray discs. And because their surface thickness is thinner than HD-DVD, a special coating must be applied to the Blu-Ray disc to protect the information that is stored just 1/10th of a millimeter below the surface. But because of this, Blu-Ray discs can have multiple layers that could theoretically boost their total capacity to 200 GB of information.
A number of "mid-fidelity" to "upper-mid-fi" companies have been taking a "wait and see" approach as to where the format wars will end up. Denon was the first of the "upper-mid-fi" companies to announce a Blu-Ray player that will be released this fall. The only problem is that the unit will retail for $1999.99. However, it is the first machine to employ the 10-bit Silicon Optix Realta processor chip - a truly high-end videophile chip that offers outstanding video playback for both Blu-Ray and DVD discs. (All other processors in Blu-Ray players employ an 8-bit chip.)
I'm sure a handful of other upper-mid-fi companies will be announcing which format they'll be supporting shortly - possibly even before the CEDIA Expo ends this weekend. The electronics company we distribute in North America - Cambridge Audio - is still taking a firm "wait-and-see" approach in regard to the battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.
And the battle isn't over by a long shot...