There have been a lot of reports recently regarding Blu-Ray Disc (BD) and HD DVD. As a product reviewer, I've had the opportunity to evaluate both formats. I also have several titles from Warner Home Video and Paramount that are in both HD DVD and Blu-ray. So, I'm in a position to comment on which format looks better to the eye. First, of all, let me say up front that both formats look terrific on a 1080p display, and I've been fortunate enough to use Mitsubishi's WD-57831, which I reviewed for several publications, as a reference display to review several players from both formats.
Recently, in the press, the Blu-ray camp has announced that BD titles are outselling HD DVD titles 2-1. The only way for BD to do that is because of PS3. Now, I've had a PS3 since last November, and think that it's a really good game console that also plays high-definition movies. Initially, it's a little cumbersome to use, but you do get used to it. Also, the remote control is optional. This also shows its mindset because it is first and foremost a game console. It's Sony offering against Microsoft. I have many good things to say about the PS3 from its innovative 'Xross' on-screen menu system to its WiFi capability (802.11g). However, my gut tells me that the bulk of BD player sales are PS3, and not "stand-alone" units. PS3 skews the numbers, and paints, what I suspect, is an unrealistic picture of Blu-ray vs. HD DVD. On the other hand, antidotal data collected from the New York area indicates a somewhat different picture in terms of player sales and movie sales/rentals. Reportedly, the HD DVD camp projects a 25-percent growth in market penetration. And video rental chains are reportedly renting more HD DVD movies than BD movies. Hmm.
As a reviewer, I have not been able to get a stand-alone review sample from Sony, Pioneer, or Philips "stand-alone" players. I did get to look at Samsung's first generation player, and didn't like it at all. In plain English, they really screwed up the video processing making for a very 'soft' image. Ironically, Toshiba's new HD-XA2 added the Silicon Optix Reon chipset, and it clearly improves image quality greatly. It just goes to show the importance of video processing.
The thrust of this diatribe is on 1080p image quality. After several viewings of HD DVD discs and Blu-ray discs (same content, different format), it's clear that HD DVDs look superior to BD. Why do I say that? Well, images on HD DVDs "pop" off the screen. The images are not just sharp and clear, they are very vibrant and robust in contrast to BD. While BD movies are certainly crisp and clear, they don't have the punch that movies or videos do. Don't get me wrong, BD movies are enjoyable to watch. They're just flat. Over this past weekend, I just watched Casino Royale on Blu-ray, and it was good. Of course, I wished that it had been on HD DVD.
The problem right now is that 5 out the 8 major studios are only producing content for Blu-ray. Although, to be fair, each camp has its own 800-lb. gorilla movie studio. HD DVD has Universal and Blu-ray has Sony (Columbia/TriStar/MGM) and Disney. On the PC side, it's Microsoft (HD DVD) vs. Sony (Blu-ray). Will Blu-ray really win? It certainly seems like the deck is stacked in favor of BD, and we've seen from history that the best format (Beta vs. VHS) doesn't always win.
So, is HD DVD doomed? I hope not. If viewers placed BD and HD DVD side-by-side, they would see that the image quality of HD DVD far outshines Blu-ray. But, will they? Probably not. Years ago, once RCA adopted VHS as their consumer videotape format, it was the beginning of the end for Beta. Today, no company has that kind clout, per se. Although, Sony may come close. So, it could win this format war through gaming and not through movies by just selling all of those game consoles. And, let's face it, the price of game consoles will come down. Yes, $599 is pretty steep price for a game console right now, but I'm sure that it will be much cheaper next Fall. On the other hand, HD DVD could be like "the little engine that could," and just keep plugging away. And, maybe, just maybe, viewers will start to see the difference in image quality on their new HDTV sets, and go for HD DVD instead of Blu-ray.