The Dawn of a New Digital Medium

Average consumers are adopting high-definition televisions (HDTVs) at a higher rate than ever before thanks to new affordable prices as the technology ages, and the entertainment industry is moving forward by pushing high-definition content.

It is possible to get a fairly decent HDTV for less than $1000, and the Federal Communications Commission has mandated that all analog broadcasting officially move to digital broadcasts by Feb. 2009, a new broadcast signal optimized for HDTVs.

With HD entering the home in every form, disc media has to change with the times as well, and while the mainstream adoption of DVDs only started in 2000, DVD technology is almost 10 years old and media companies are already looking for the next disc format with which to push HD content.

The two competitors vying for HD supremacy are Toshiba’s HD DVD and Sony’s Blu-ray disc. The grudge match between the two formats is more even than proponents of both sides would like you to believe.

Consumers had an opportunity to check out the HD DVD and Blu-ray presentations at this year’s DigitalLife event at the Javits Center. Both boasted the in-movie experience they provide in their respective formats.

Because of the similarities in picture quality, it was clear that features are really going to sell consumers in terms of which media to support, and both offer a lot of functions.

Toshiba highlighted the ability to bookmark favorite scenes, go through the menu while movies play in the background, and access special features about a particular scene while watching the movie.

Sony, meanwhile showed off similar features, and even treated us to a working version of the House of Flying Daggers on Blu-ray, something Toshiba didn’t do.

It is difficult to tell who really had the upper hand in the race for the living room by just the presentations alone. Another draw to the new formats is the amount of data they can hold.
HD DVDs can hold up to roughly four times the amount of DVDs, while Blu-ray can hold an astonishing 12 times more than DVDs.

Sony is making the issue of capacity an important topic, while Toshiba is downplaying its viability in the marketplace. Toshiba claims studios will not need as much room as Blu-ray offers, but Sony is already touting that some companies, especially game publishers, are starting to fill the discs with content.
It is an inch for inch battle harkening back to the days of the famed VHS versus Betamax war. VHS reached widespread market sales, while Betamax still exists but only among audio/visual professionals.

As Toshiba and Sony fight for studio backing, the deciding factor will come down to consumer adoption. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray players can play DVDs, but HD DVDs can be double sided with HD DVD on one side and DVD on the other, allowing movie studios to sell completely compatible discs.

In the professional market, Blu-ray has a bit of the upper hand among studio support and the adult entertainment industry, which drove penetration of both DVDs and VHS tapes in the market during their respective eras, has pledged allegiance to Sony’s media.

Toshiba has to create demand for their product over Blu-ray among consumers if they hope to win this war and Sony needs to get over its past commercial failures like Betamax and Super Audio CD to claim victory in the burgeoning high definition world.