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There is a format battle brewing between the video-disc players and with no clear winner consumers are going to walk out of stores confused this holiday season and not buy anything.

This past weekend I stood in front of a 50 inch Pioneer Elite plasma, toggling between two 1080P stunning video’s with the absolute best and brilliant image quality offered from a video disc player. One is known as Blu-ray and the other HD-DVD. Before I explain how I walked out of the store dazed and confused about how an industry is doing a re-do (or is that Deja Voodoo?) of previous VHS/Betamax format mistakes…let’s back up some and cover a bit of the technical details.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD are new types of optical discs that provide better image and sound quality than standard DVDs. The discs are read by a tiny blue laser at a shorter wavelength than standard DVDs, which means more digital information can fit onto a single disc. The players retail cost is between $800-$1000.

Traditional DVD format manages a resolution of 720 x 480, for a total of 345,600 pixels. Blu-ray Discs for example can pack in a head spinning sum of 2,073,600 pixels for content recorded in 1920 x 1080 resolution. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, I’ll add it up for you: Blu-ray Discs are capable of six times the resolution of standard DVDs. Blu-ray’s higher bit rate also outshines regular DVDs at 10 Mbps and HDTV broadcasts at 19 Mbps.

Blu-ray Stats:

  • Storage capacity: 25 GB (single-layer); 50 GB (dual-layer)
  • Data xFer Rate: 54 million (bits per second)
  • Industry Backers: Sony, Dell, Disney, Fox, Panasonic, LG, Phillips, Apple, MGM, Columbia Tri-Star, Miramax, ESPN, Touchstone, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp, TDK, Thomson
  • Console Support: Sony Playstation 3
  • PC Support: Apple
  • Security: Mandatory HDCP encrypted output, ROM-Mark watermarking technology, BD dynamic crypto (physical layer) and Advanced Access Content System (AACS)
  • HD-DVD Stats:

  • Storage capacity: 15 GB (single-layer); 30 GB (dual-layer)
  • Data xFer Rate: 36.5 million (bits per second)
  • Industry Backers: Toshiba, NEC, Microsoft, Intel, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., HBO, New Line Cinema, Sanyo
  • Console Support: Microsoft xBox 360
  • PC Support: Intel
  • Security: Mandatory HDCP encrypted output (for HD), Volume identifier (physical layer), Advanced Access Content System (AACS)
  • The Consumer Electronics Association lowered (twice) their U.S. projected adoption rate for players this year from their hopeful robust holiday season of 600K units to only 200K units. These numbers don’t include video game consoles.

    Speaking of gaming consoles, Sony expects to ship 2 million PlayStation 3’s (Blu-ray) by year end which is behind the 10 million shipments of Microsoft Xbox 360, however, very few Xbox 360 (1080i) units were shipped with the $199.99 add-on HD-DVD as it only become available in November. According to NPD, HD-DVD had out sold Blu-ray by 33 percent due to an earlier introduction and more vendors selling the hardware. And why does Microsoft put so much “puffery” behind how the 1080i picture will look identical to a 1080p picture? I’ll save details for another post, but trust me there is a difference between i (interlaced) and p (progressive). Historically, interlacing was first used in TV signals because CRT displays built in the 1940s could simply not work fast enough to draw every line in one-sixtieth of a second. So, has HD-DVD has won, correct?

    Not so fast and back on topic. I suspect that a number of consumers are like me. Heads hurt and eyes roll because retail can’t promote the technology without confusion. There is no guarantee that top movies will be released on the format that I want. Not all movie Discs will be encoded at 1080p. I’m fearful of buying an expensive player that may well turn out to be worthless. Remember Laser Disc? And that really smarts…having a lot of $$ tied up in excellent content/movies that become unplayable due to MTBF rates (electronic gear built to fail) and your “format” is no longer supported.

    And what’s behind that HD player pricing. For $200 I can buy the HD-DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 which is already attached to the HD TV or pay 3-5 times that amount for a standalone unit. Huh?! Or maybe I should just take the lowest common denominator approach and buy that $79 “up-converting” DVD player, and with all money left over pass out iPod’s like chewing gum stocking stuffers?

    I’ve just said no, and will work really hard to convince to be happy and content with a low-rez DVD library for another year.

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