Lou Pickney's Online Commentary
HD-DVD or Blu-Ray
April 20, 2006
I've been reading about the "next generation" of DVD discs, the so-called "high definition" DVDs. From what I've learned, if you have the proper system, it can look really good. But keep in mind that with technology, quite often the cutting edge is the bleeding edge, and in particular with this latest jump in technology, there appears to be a reprisal of the 1980s VHS vs. Betamax fight brewing.
There are people who know far more about it than I do who have gone over the issue ad nauseum online, but here it is in simple terms: there are two competing next-generation DVD technologies. One is called blu-ray, and it is being developed exclusively by Sony. You might recall that Sony also was the sole company that had Betamax, which was a superior format to VHS, and which was the test case for the fair use law which (thankfully) was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1984 (though subsequent legislation has poked all sorts of holes in your fair use rights, but that's another issue.) The other technology is called HD-DVD, and it is being developed by a consortium of companies.
Personally, I'm inclined to stand pat with what exists on DVD for now. For my money, it's pretty impressive. It's not like video game systems, where technological increases lead to better and better games with more and more capabilities. A game like Champion Wrestler, a Japanese import for the PSX that came out in 1996 that I played the hell out of back in the day, is almost unplayable now due to how bad the graphics look compared to what modern systems can put out. Contrast that with movies, where even a VHS dub is still the same product, more or less.
DVD gives you a much crisper picture, with each frame digitally captured and preserved to not deteriorate over time or multiple viewings, like VHS is prone to do. And while a DVD disc can be damaged by a scratch, they tend to last much longer in prime condition relative to their VHS counterparts. That, in part, is why I put off putting together a movie collection until the DVD era arrived.
I was part of the bleeding edge of DVD; I bought a $300 DVD player in 1999 when I lived in Evansville, one that still works fine, but won't play DVD-R burns or basically anything that's not a standard DVD release. My PS2 will work for things of that nature, but it makes me mad when I think about that.
For me, DVD was a worthwhile upgrade and something that has been a great investment from an entertainment perspective, even if I got rooked in hindsight on the actual player itself. But HD-DVD or blue ray DVD? I really don't see the point. And yes, I've seen an HDTV movie where you get the blow-you-away graphics (on my brother's HDTV set in Nashville), but that movie was a nature scene show specifically for that. Would Boogie Nights or Goodfellas or even an older film like Casablanca look so much better on HD-DVD or blu-ray? I'd tend to doubt it.
I could see how a sporting event, like the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Calgary Flames 2004 Stanley Cup Finals (something I would consider buying... if I could get the ABC version with Gary Thorne doing his final NHL broadcasts), would have a chance to look better on HDTV, but then again HDTV and sports are a perfect match. Watch a game on a data-compressed standard feed on PAX (or the "i network" or whatever it's called now) where you can barely read the names on the jerseys, and then flip over to the SEC CBS Game of the Week in HDTV, and you'll think (for a moment) that you're watching two different sports. So, to that end, I understand the potential appeal, but I just don't see how the great movies (the ones I care about, ultimately) are going to be improved so much to justify the cost of an entirely new library, player, etc. We'll see what I have to say on the subject on down the line, I suppose.