March 6, 2008

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Why not to go Blu
Refusing to give in to Sony
By John ďjaQĒ Andrews† jandrews@hippopress.com

OK. I was biased. I was pulling for HD DVD to win.

Regular readers of this column might remember a stubbornly optimistic assessment of the high definition DVD format war a few weeks ago. Fear not, HD DVD fanatics, I said; Blu-ray hasnít won yet! Our format is superior! Blu-rayís higher data capacity is irrelevant! Sony soldiers are impaling themselves on our city walls!

Well, no sooner had I written those words than Toshiba and its partners announced that HD DVD was, in fact, giving up. Surrendering. Spinning down for good.

Itís not like I had any real rational basis for preferring HD DVD over the now victorious Blu-ray. I hadnít bought any discs or hardware of either format; like most consumers, Iíd been waiting for the battle to be over first. Mostly I thought the name ďBlu-rayĒ was kind of stupid, and Iíd long been annoyed by Sonyís tendency to try and make everything a Sony brand, whether it was a genuinely unique format or just a relabeled interface, like a pair of perfectly standard RCA jacks on the back of a stereo marked ďMiniDisc input.Ē

Now that the war is over, I still donít feel any compulsion to start buying all my movies, again, on Blu-ray disc. For one thing, my DVD player is hardly the picture quality bottleneck in my entertainment system. When Iím not staring at the warm glow of my standard definition television, Iím watching a movie in a small window in the corner of my computer screen.

Then thereís price. You can pretty much walk into any electronics outlet, grab a basic DVD player and demand the store pay you for the service of removing it from the premises these days. DVD movies are likewise cheap. Anything over $10 for a single disc seems like a ripoff to me anymore.

Above all, just because this format war is decided doesnít mean there arenít more just down the pike. The idea of buying discs for your movies isnít even the only possibility; many variations on film downloads have popped up. The most obvious is the downloadable movie you buy at iTunes or Amazon or any other Web-based store. The file is saved to your hard drive and you never open a single jewel case. Problem there is, even with the expansive storage capacities of todayís hard drives, ever-improving picture quality eats up more and more space.

Some folks prefer to just click around their cable or satellite on-demand service menu to find films. Still others go the settop box route, with something like Vudu, an Internet-connected device that downloads movies for rent or purchase with no PC required. Just like digital music cut into CD sales, physical discs might not be taken for granted much longer.

And if you insist on discs, well, thereís always VMD, or Versatile Multilayer Disc. It still uses red lasers, so itís basically a DVD with more layers. It has no major American studio support, but a bunch of Bollywood films from India are slated for release soon. It all depends on what you like.