November 3, 2007

Considering the High-Def Plunge: HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray

As something of a film buff, I've been intrigued by recent developments in high definition programming, beginning with HDTV and now with high-definition content available in the form of DVD media. I collect DVDs for films I know I will watch again and again, and the availability of high-def players and media makes me think twice about buying standard definition DVDs. After all, why buy technology that will soon be obsolete when a superior technology is already available? And yet, I have not yet taken the high-def plunge and am reluctant to do so.

We are in the midst of a high-def format war where two incompatible technologies, HD-DVD and Blu-ray, are competing to be the accepted standard to replace DVDs. This has created immense confusion for consumers and is often compared to the VHS vs. Beta debacle some of us recall. As a result, neither technology appears to be gaining much traction outside of enthusiasts.

The tech enthusiast in me would love to jump into the fray. For less than $200, I could by a Toshiba HD-DVD player and begin enjoying HD content right away. Sure, I'd miss out on all the films being released in Blu-ray only, but I could enjoy both HD-DVD and standard DVDs at a quality that would be at least as good as my current upconverting player. So why not jump in?
  • Nobody knows how long this format war will last, and the flip-side of this is that nobody knows how quickly it could come to an end.
  • The idea of buying a player that could only handle about half of the films I'd want to see is hard to swallow. This is why some enthusiasts buy both HD-DVD and Blu-ray players. I suppose this might be viable for those who never buy movies, but I'm not sure how I'd deal with knowing that every HD-DVD or Blu-ray disc I bought could be on the losing end of the format war, making such purchases worthless.
  • Both HD-DVD and Blu-ray players will play standard-definition DVDs, but neither can handle region-free DVDs. Adopting either technology would require me to retain my region-free player to handle this portion of my collection. Covering all bases would require me to own 3 players (one for region-free, one for HD-DVD, and one for Blu-ray) in the knowledge that 1 would be obsolete when the format war ends.
  • A good upconverting DVD player (which I already have) can narrow the gap between standard and high-definition programming. Of course high-def would look better still, but the difference is at least reduced through upconversion.
  • The overwhelming majority of the tech-related articles and websites I've come to trust recommend that consumers wait longer and avoid jumping into the fray just yet.
I have little doubt that I will eventually buy a high-def player and begin buying high-def media. But tempted as I might be, such a move seems premature.

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