Hi-def war is over

Ian Yates
19 February, 2008
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Astute readers will have noticed that we didn’t manage to complete our scheduled review of high definition DVD burners. Yet. Now that Toshiba has announced an unconditional surrender in the HD wars, we can claim we held off because we didn’t want to give readers a bum steer to a soon to be dead format. However, we’ll come clean — we didn’t know what Toshiba was about to do until we read about it, just like you.

And so we reach the conclusion of perhaps the briefest media format war. And, just in case nobody noticed, once again it was Sony offering “superior technology” and fighting off the “inferior” pretenders. During the first format war, all the experts agreed that Betamax was better quality than VHS but Sony asked for royalties on every tape sold. So the content providers went with the royalty-free VHS and consumers went where the content was more plentiful. Sony lost.

Next up, the experts all agreed that Sony’s Mini-Disc was way better than the rival Compact Disc, particularly since it was re-recordable from day one, but once again, Sony wanted royalties off everyone so we all went with the CD instead. Then we forked out again to upgrade later to recordable CDs. So that was a war where no shots were fired. Sony just plain lost that one without a fight, and so did the consumers, really. But, hoping for three times lucky, Sony launched another foray, this time for the new title of king of high definition video.

Once again Sony should have won, since its Blu-ray Disc technology has double the capacity of what the opposition had available. With 50GB re-writeable discs on offer BD is very appealing to everyone with a rapidly growing database to protect, and a healthy disdain for tape-based backups. And that’s before we even decide whether Blu-ray is better to look at on the TV. The experts say it is, but getting your hands on this kit — even for review purposes — is still pretty difficult. Now that there’s likely to be just one choice perhaps we’ll see these things finally on the market and inside some Macs.

The major tragedy for consumers with the demise of HD-DVD is that there was no region coding — we can only hope that region coding fades away on Blu-ray Disc. The chance for this technology to make a huge impact on the market, despite being the only choice, still seems slim, as it’s really, really hard to show people high-quality video in an advert being sent over standard definition. It’s going to need a lot more clever marketing in places where people regularly visit. Maybe they could give all the pubs free HD monitors?

As far as most consumers are concerned, huge digital TVs look pretty good in standard definition, and the TV stations are only just starting to broadcast some high definition programs. When every TV show is coming at you in HD, then the market will start to clamour for the same quality on the stuff they rent or buy to watch at home. But seriously, since most of the home market is for animated entertainment for the kiddies, how much better does Shrek III look in HD anyway?

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