The optical laser-based disk storage technology introduced with audio compact disks (CDs) and later improved with near-cinema-quality digital video disks (DVDs) may still seem like cutting-edge for some of us (anybody out there remember audio cassettes?). But we all know the cycle: cutting-edge today, obsolete tomorrow.
As usual, technology is continuing its relentless march forward and electronics engineers are beginning to unleash the next generation of high density/high definition optical disk storage. Similar to the early VCRs that used one of two competing formats, VHS and Betamax, two high-definition formats have hit the market at once: Blu-ray and High Density DVD (HD-DVD).
Blu-Ray and HD-DVD both offer substantially increased audio, video and data recording capacity, as much as ten times more. On the data side, the Blu-ray format really packs a punch, offering 50 gigabytes of capacity while HD-DVD checks in with a more modest 30 GB. By contrast; CD capacity is 650 megabytes and DVD capacity is 4.7 GB. With this increased storage capacity, movie studios can record their movies in high-definition TV format.
Yes, just as the movie rental industry is completing the transition from VHS to DVD, they will begin offering yet another format for your viewing pleasure. The catch is that you will need an HD-TV and an HD-DVD or Blu-ray disc player to take advantage of the crisper, almost multi-dimensional images the new format offers.
These increased capacities will also permit software developers to distribute higher resolution audio and graphic content, and you’ll be able to store thousands of photos or MP3 files.
On a technical capability analysis alone, Blu-ray looks to be the superior format. It provides 40 percent more data storage than HD-DVD and scales to a slightly higher HD-TV resolution of 1080p, while HD-DVD tops out at 1080i. However, the HD-DVD format has what could be the winning hand in this poker game – a much lower price!
The HD-DVD technology is an evolutionary step forward for the DVD manufacturers, making it less costly to retool their plants for HD-DVD production. A quick check at Circuit City found Samsung and Sony Blu-ray disk players selling for $999, while an RCA HD-DVD player was only $499 (these prices will come down as production and sales ramp up).
For those concerned about the future of their extensive music and video libraries, don’t worry. Both of the new high-density formats are backward compatible with the CD and DVD formats. In fact, with the new players’ relatively high price tags, you may be tempted to hold off on making the switch—until you begin seeing the new formats in your favorite movie rental store.
Having two competing formats for the next generation of high-density/high-definition optical storage will certainly be confusing, but it will be fascinating to watch the marketing battle. While the manufacturers are busy competing for the market share, movie studios are playing it safe by releasing movies in both formats. Which format will win you ask? Ultimately, you, the consumer, will determine that by casting your vote at the cash register.
Until next time, remember to backup your important files, update your anti-virus program, check for security updates, ignore those “phishing” e-mails, and have fun computing!
Questions and comments on this article can be directed to Jim’s e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. All of Jim’s technology columns are available online at his blog: http://jec1230.blogspot.com.