The high definition video era has come. VCD and DVD soon will be dropped from the list. VCD can hold up to 700 MB of data, while DVD can hold up to 4.7 GB (single layer) and 8.4 GB (dual layer).

For a high definition video, we are talking about higher capacity. Please welcome the new comer, Mr. Blu-ray and Mr. HD-DVD. HD-DVD offers up to 15 GB (single layer) and 30 GB (dual layer), while Blu-ray offers up to 25 GB (single layer) and 50 GB (dual layer). Bigger capacity may be released soon in the near future.

So, what’s new?
Both HD-DVD and Blu-ray use blue laser instead of red laser used in conventional CD/DVD system. Blue laser has shorter wavelength (405 nanometer) compared to red laser (650 nanometer). Shorter wavelength means that the information/data can be packed in higher density. Higher density means more data can be stored inside a same size media. We see no surprise why in the same (12 cm) disc, the HD-DVD and Blu-ray can have higher capacity compared to CD or DVD.

Sony is the giant behind the Blu-ray, while Toshiba for HD-DVD. They also have their own alliances. Some vendor have released the player, while others prefer to wait. LG has released dual format player (supports HD-DVD and Blu-ray), but some people complain that this player has some problem. It doesn’t support the interactive HD-DVD feature (iHD), but supports the Blu-ray interactive. A big IT company like Acer offers their notebook with either HD-DVD or Blu-ray drive. They give the decision to their customer.

LG BH-100 Super Multi Blue Player, supports both Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Offers no support for iHD.

LG GGW-H10N Super Multi Blue for PC. It may read/write Blu-ray disc, but only read HD-DVD media. You can’t write HD-DVD media with this drive.

IT Industry: Intel and Microsoft choose HD-DVD
Two well known companies in IT industry, Intel and Microsoft, have chosen HD-DVD (X-box 360 is HD-DVD, right?). This is no surprise because currently HD-DVD offers higher capacity (30 GB) at affordable price. The 50 GB Blu-ray is nowhere available in the mass market – very limited I think (some people said due to the higher production cost). The HD-DVD manufacturing process is derived from the standard DVD, while Blu-ray is totally new. The manufacturer needs to modify their plants in order to manufacture the Blu-ray disc. No wonder why this technology will ask for higher price.

Though this two big companies have chosen HD-DVD, the other IT companies prefer to wait or prefer to offer dual solution. Just like Acer that we have discussed before, they offers both HD-DVD and Blu-ray drive in their notebook line-up.

A Combo Player: Do and Don’t
Well, some people imagine about a combo player. It means that this player can play both Blu-ray and HD-DVD. A nice imagination, but quite possible to happen. This mainly because the price will be very expensive. Some also say that the production of Blu-ray’s laser device is very limited (due to the difficulty, perhaps?) So, that explains why we have a lot of delays in the launch or Blu-ray player including the PlayStation 3.

Off course, some vendor try their luck in designing a dual format or combo player. But I guess, none of them, until now, able to create a perfect combo player in terms of price-to-performance. One example from LG above is a perfect example. It is a nice player, but can’t play the interactive HD-DVD feature. The PC version even can’t write the HD-DVD media.

Video Format (current status, today, 26 February 2007)
Actually, the main idea of Blu-ray and HD-DVD is for high definition video. So we have to look in the field well. For now, most movie are available in 25 GB Blu-ray or 30 GB HD-DVD. Only some (very few, or maybe none of them) available in 50 GB Blu-ray.

Another bad thing is most Blu-ray movie (currently, today) are encoded with MPEG-2 format, while HD-DVD enjoys the VC-1! This means bad. Very-very bad. The Blu-ray movies can’t compete with VC-1. Not even close. One of the movies that I’ve watched myself and very disappointed is the House of Flying Dagger (Blu-ray, MPEG-2). I think, this Blu-ray movie even can’t compete with the high quality DVD Region 1! Exaggerate? Perhaps. But honestly, I can’t waste my money for US$1000 Blu-ray player and US$ 35 movie if they still choose MPEG-2 as their video format. On the other side, the VC-1 on HD-DVD is superb. No surprise here because VC-1 and MPEG-2 is like comparing you old notebook with your latest dual-core notebook. Another good thing is the player cost for HD-DVD is cheaper than Blu-ray.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD will be on the same stage when both use the VC-1.

Audio Format (current status, today, 26 February 2007)
Blu-ray actually supports uncompressed PCM for highest audio quality (or Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD for saving the space). HD-DVD at best only supports Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD (lossless compression). I believe we will hear no difference in this two, but for the sake of a perfectionist, perhaps Blu-ray will win their heart.

But currently on the market, Blu-ray is using Dolby Digital audio only (it’s a standard in DVD format), while HD-DVD is using Dolby TrueHD (lossless) as their standard. Of course, this Dolby Digital on the Blu-ray is not even close compared with Dolby TrueHD on Blu-ray.

Again, Blu-ray and HD-DVD will be on the same stage if Blu-ray either uses uncompressed PCM or Dolby TrueHD while HD-DVD surely will stick on Dolby TrueHD.

What should I buy?
It’s too early to decide. If you have extra $ and want to see the high definition video immediately (make sure you have HDTV, 760/1080p), then HD-DVD surely the best choice for now. Affordable price (around $500 vs $1000 between HD-DVD vs Blu-ray player) and higher quality movie (currently) are two main reason. Blu-ray perhaps will offer more movie in the feature because all Sony Pictures’ studio will release their movie in Blu-ray only. This is going to be a big hit for HD-DVD fans out there.

For your information, almost all of this high definition player will support scaling feature. It means that you can play your old video (DVD) with higher quality (it will scale up the 480p resolution of your old DVD video to the higher resolution). So you can watch your old movie with higher quality. Currently, HD-DVD player offers better scaling than Blu-ray player.

If you want to wait, we still have much time. Wait until the price reaches the affordable line and wait until the market is more mature.

Conclusion (26 February 2007):
Well for now, I can’t deny that HD-DVD is leading the way. Toshiba is preparing the triple layer HD-DVD (around 51 GB capacity). The 2nd generation HD-DVD player also available, with affordable price (around US$ 500). While Blu-ray? Oh well, they are trying to solve their own problem with production cost of the dual layer Blu-ray. With single layer (25 GB), no VC-1 and with Dolby Digital audio track only, Blu-ray has no chance beating the HD-DVD. For the sake of simplicity, currently (today, when I’m writing this article), HD-DVD offers better quality than Blu-ray. Period.
But HD-DVD should be careful. All Sony’s studio will release their movies in Blu-ray only. Okay, HD-DVD perhaps offer better quality for now, but without any good movies in HD-DVD, it’s going to be useless. As if you have the sharpest knife but nothing to cut. If Sony can cut the production cost, then switch to VC-1 and Dolby TrueHD or uncompressed PCM, the we can say, “astalavista HD-DVD!”