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No. 2240:
Home-Video Format Wars

by Regina Scruggs

Today, Regina Scruggs, host of Music From the Movies, looks at video formats. The University of Houston presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

The latest home-video format war is in full swing! With the advent of high-definition video, two competing formats are waging battle for supremacy. In this corner, Sony's Blu-Ray disc ... and the challenger, the HD DVD. Is one better than the other? And will one eventually dominate?

First, the new Blu-Ray and HD discs, which at retail are priced about the same, are incompatible with your present DVD player. Nor will they work on each other's players. However, if you do buy a new high-def player, each will play your old DVDs. So you don't have to replace your old movies ... unless, of course, you want to. And you might want to! Say you're thinking about buying a large-screen HDTV and you want to take full advantage of your new set's capabilities. Your new high-def system will play the high-def movies with a higher resolution which may or may not make much difference to the average viewer. You can visit any high-end electronics store and check out the formats for yourself.

If you decide to go high-def video, which of the competing formats is best? The most obvious difference is storage capacity. HD DVDs can currently hold up to 30GB with a potential for 45, while Blu-ray discs can currently store up to 50 GB with a potential for 200. Of course, the technology that enables Blu-ray to store more also makes the players more expensive.

Play Station 3If you're a gamer, your decision might be easier. Sony, which backs the Blu-ray format, already includes a Blu-ray drive on its latest Play Station 3 game console. Toshiba is the major proponent of HD DVD, joined primarily by Microsoft and Intel. HD DVD capability is available as an add-on to Microsoft's Xbox.

If video games aren't your thing, here's more to consider. Remember the Sony Betamax vs. VHS wars of the 1980s? Sony lost that one, but is pushing hard to win this war. At this writing, MGM, Fox, Disney, and Sony are releasing their high-definition DVDs exclusively in Blu-ray. Universal is releasing only in HD DVD. Warner Bros. and Paramount use both formats. Among hardware manufacturers, Sony, Apple, Hitachi, and Philips favor Blu-ray, while Toshiba and NEC support HD. There is one hybrid currently available -- one machine that plays both formats -- made by LG Electronics. Samsung has announced that they will make a hybrid available by the end of 2007.

Still with me? Yes, I know it can be confusing, which is why many consumers are waiting to see if one format will win out. Who's ahead right now? Well, Blu-ray has far outpaced HD in sales so far. And Blockbuster, which had been test-marketing both formats in 250 of its stores, recently announced that it's going with just the Blu-ray format in over 1,400 U.S. outlets in July 2007. So does that sound the death knell for HD-DVD? Don't be too sure. After all, HD is backed by Microsoft, and it's never a good idea to count out Bill Gates.

I'm Regina Scruggs, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)

A. Gonsalves, Blu-ray Disk Sales Ahead of HD DVD. Antone Gonsalves, Information Week, March 6, 2007.

G. Gentile, Blockbuster move favors Blu-ray. Houston Chronicle, (AP), June 19, 2007.

Regina Scruggs was a long-time producer and on-air host of Music from the Movies, heard Friday nights at 7:00 on KUHF-FM Radio in Houston. She was with KUHF as an announcer and producer, and was formerly Program Director at radio stations WRR and KLEF. She received her B.A. in Music from Beloit College in 1977.

HD-DVD Blu-ray

Duking it out: Left, HD-DVD. Right, Blu-ray