Tag Archives: HD DVD


Blu-ray wins?

So CES hasn’t officially started yet, but the first megaton of 2008 has been dropped as Warner, currently the biggest studio for HD releases, confirmed that in May they’re dropping support for the HD DVD format. With only two major studios now supporting HD DVD, and one of them on a time-limited contract, it looks like the end of the HD format war is in sight.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now. Despite occasional better versions and, for me at least, a number of compelling exclusive titles, that was probably the death blow for HD DVD. It’s being reported as such, and even the comments from Toshiba have an air of resignition to them. There’s none of the bullishness that was usually found in press releases from both sides, and the cancellation of the HD DVD conference speaks volumes. They were blindsided and need a miracle, frankly.

Ultimately it’s good for HD movies. It will bring stability to the market that it hasn’t had and has probably been a contributor to the tiny size of the market for HD movies so far. I still don’t think Blu-ray will ever come close to the popularity of DVD, but now those who have been sitting on the fence can grow the market. Paramount certainly won’t stay exclusive when their contract period is up, and that will leave Universal as the last ones at the party.

I’m keeping my HD DVD player and keeping my collection, but now I’m only buying the biggest exclusive titles on HD DVD. That means Sweeney Todd and…uhh…hmm…

*goes to watch Serenity on HD DVD again*

360 HD DVD Impressions

Xbox 360 with HD DVD Drive

If you thought getting hold of an Xbox 360 late last year was difficult, you should try finding one of the HD DVD drives. The shop where I had my original order didn’t get any and, according to my friend who owns it, Gem (the main UK Microsoft distributor for indies) only had a couple of dozen for the whole country. Gameplay told me that they couldn’t supply my preorder until, after much ado, it turned out that they could.

Obviously an external drive isn’t the most elegant way to play HD DVD but what this does is make an excellent stopgap until the standalones come down in price a bit. How many HD movie players are there for £130 again?

It’s admittedly a bit disingenuous to say that this is an HD DVD player for £130 when you need a £200 machine to run it, but a quick calculation tells me that £130 + £200 = £330, which is significantly less than the £400+ for the standalone HD players or the PS3. It comes with the remote (usually £20 on its own) and the King Kong HD DVD (£14.99 on Play), and when you look at the aggressive pre-Christmas bundling going on with 360 consoles I don’t think it’s a bad deal.

Pricing aside, the most important thing is how well this works. The answer is pretty well. Not perfect, although it does represent excellent value for money and the quality is very high. It’s certainly the best way to play HD movies without breaking the bank. Continue reading 360 HD DVD Impressions

HD DVD Hunting

‘Tis a sad day when you have to jump through more hoops to get a new accessory than you did the console itself, but that’s exactly the experience that I’ve had today while hunting for the 360 HD DVD drive, which neither my friend’s shop (there were around 20 in the whole country for independent shops, according to the distributor) nor Gameplay could supply me with for launch day. I doubt I was alone in this experience, so here’s my day.

I’d heard that a good number of PC World stores would be getting a handful of units each for general sale. Got up bright and early at 8am this morning so that I could be at PC World in Poole, the biggest around, for when it opened at 9. I asked in there and they said they were expecting a few but they haven’t turned up, and they might be in their delivery later that day. Went home via the Christchurch branch (the other side of town) but they weren’t getting any, checking every place that might have had them (Tesco, Currys, Comet, etc) on the way. No joy.

Then I had to go to uni so I checked PC World in Southampton while I was there, along with Gamestation, two branches of Game, Virgin, HMV, and CEX. Nothing.

On the way home I detoured over to Poole again to see if their delivery had arrived. Nope. Maybe Monday, they said. By then I was resigned to getting an import on Tuesday, obviously at a premium but not as unreasonable as the current eBay prices, so I went to cancel my unfulfilled Gameplay order which still said “Ordered” since I’d missed out on the initial shipment. Went through their cancellation process and then noticed – after I’d cancelled it, mind – that it had changed to “Being Picked”.

I rang them up to see if that was accurate and, if it was, to see if I could cancel my cancellation. The guy there informed me that they’d managed to get a few more units and mine had been shipped out this morning via courier, so I should get it on Monday.

A happy ending, then. Now I think I need to lie down…

HD-DVD Impressions

Serenity on HD-DVD

The first HD-DVD players on the market, Toshiba’s HD-A1 and HD-XA1, have been out for a couple of weeks in the US now, and although they’re not due for release here until the autumn I’ve just been to see the HD-A1 in action. A friend got one off eBay ($800 including shipping!) so I went to his house to check it out.

While I wouldn’t pay that much, I’ve been considering importing for a couple of weeks since the early players are apparently region free, but also because that old trick of swapping out the $ for £ when setting prices has reared its ugly head again according to HDTV UK. $499 is £285: £214 ($375) less than the UK RRP. Disgusting, even for Serenity and Batman Begins in HD.

But holy crap, HD-DVD looks amazing. Obviously it looks sharper and more detailed than DVD since this is 1080p video (I saw it in 1080i), but what impressed me equally was how fantastic the colours were. It just looks colourful and vivid with a real three-dimensional quality to the picture. No artifacting that I could see either, even during scenes that push DVD like the rainy scenes in The Last Samurai. The landscapes in that movie were absolutely beautiful on DVD, and it was just accentuated in HD.

The menu system is especially cool. After the ubiquitous copyright messages and a good HD-DVD promo (including HD footage of The Matrix, amongst others) Samurai goes straight into the movie – no main menu. Pressing the menu button displays the options for scene selection, languages, and extras along the bottom, and they can be fiddled with while the movie continues uninterrupted in the background. Serenity’s slide out from the left very much like the Xbox 360 guide. Very slick.

The main thing that’s keeping me from getting on board immediately is the hardware. Besides the fact that it has the most godawful remote on the planet which becomes indecipherable in anything less than direct sunlight, the HD-A1 takes around 30 seconds to go from standby to actually playing the movie which is something that will inevitably be improved with future hardware generations. The other thing is that it’s pretty much the same size as my LaserDisc player despite only playing standard 12cm optical discs. Annoying that the only obstacle to HD bliss is my lack of space, but I suppose I’m going to succumb to a moment of credit card-induced monetary inhibition before too long.

HD-DVD or Blu-ray?

With CES going on in Las Vegas at the moment all the news about the next-generation DVD formats is starting to come out and the whole debate over whether the “official” format, HD-DVD, will triumph over the technically superior upstart, Blu-Ray. The last thing anyone really wants is a format war, especially when the early players are so fucking expensive.

I’m a huge DVD buff so I’ve been following this whole thing pretty much since the beginning and know the relative benefits of each format (the respective Wikipedia entries here and here are a good starting point), and really hope that a compromise can eventually be reached because a format war will do nobody any good, but it’s impossible to guess which one of the formats will win out.

The most obvious comparison is VHS against Betamax, in which the technically superior Betamax was beaten out by VHS in the race to revolutionise home entertainment. That shows that even if Blu-Ray is superior in many ways (storage space for a start: 54GB and up compared to 30-45GB) it’s not going to ensure a victory. It could be argued that any technical superiority is made irrelevant by the fact that HD-DVD carries the familiar DVD name which BR won’t be able to use, and to a consumer who dislikes jargon and prefers recognisable names that’s an important coup.

What could make or break them is hardware support, and although much has been made of the PS3’s ability to play back BD-ROMs (obvious comparisons to the PS2’s place in cementing DVD as a mainstream format should be made) you can’t ignore that Microsoft are firmly behind HD-DVD. Even if the Xbox 360 doesn’t have HD-DVD compatibility, Windows is more ubiquitous than even the almighty PlayStation and if they sneak it into homes via the growing HTPC market that’s just as much a trojan horse as the PS3.

Part of me wants HD-DVD to win out for the simple reason that I’m all for standards, and Blu-Ray is another attempt by Sony to establish their own, often overpriced, standard when the current one doesn’t suit them. We’ve seen it so many times – Betamax, Memory Stick, DVD+RW, UMD, MiniDisc, ATRAC, etc – and it just locks people into Sony hardware, undermines standards, and confuses the average consumer.

Coexistence is a possibility like with DVD-RW and DVD+RW which seem to have established some form of equilibrium, but I don’t think anybody thinks that it would be a better solution than one unified standard with all movies on it. Our best hope is just that a compromise is still possible or, if a format war does happen, that it doesn’t undo all the good work that DVD has done in bringing home entertainment into the digital age.