Format wars: The Hi-Def menace

Let’s face it, eventually you’re going to sacrifice your right arm and offer your firstborn child for that sweet 50-inch plasma television you’ve been eyeing since the holidays. Now, before you venture into the depths of (shudder) Circuit City, you need to arm yourself with knowledge to defend against the despicable species known as the sales clerk.

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By Chris Wolf

By Chris Wolf

Let’s face it, eventually you’re going to sacrifice your right arm and offer your firstborn child for that sweet 50-inch plasma television you’ve been eyeing since the holidays.

Now, before you venture into the depths of (shudder) Circuit City, you need to arm yourself with knowledge to defend against the despicable species known as the sales clerk.

This curious creature, which is known to induce massive debt, will spit out foreign words at the checkout counter such as “1080i”, “composite cables”, and “Hi Definition” in order to confuse you into buying an extended warranty and a year’s subscription to the NFL network.

These days, televisions are capable of reproducing images with an unprecedented level of detail–so much detail, in fact, that standard DVD’s are not capable of containing such a large amount of information. In order to take advantage of new display technology, you need to buy a different kind of video disc–a different format.

Unfortunately, since we’re at the very brink of the Hi Definition era, we have to decide on one of two formats to play our movies.

These two formats, HD-DVD (High Definition DVD) and Blu-ray, run on different players, which ultimately do the same thing, play movies that look really good. Like the Betamax and VHS before them, one will eventually be left in the dust.

The HD-DVD players are priced relatively low, between $500-700, compared to Sony’s $1000 for their Blu-Ray machines.

This poses a rather awkward dilemma for you, the consumer, since if you choose the player that loses the format war, you’re a few hundred bucks poorer, and you have a rather large, and expensive, paperweight.

Since the technology is relatively new to the market, there are only about 10 movies available for both the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.

Both machines are backwards compatible, so you don’t have to throw away all your DVD’s and buy the Hi Definition versions.

The Blu-Ray discs can store 50 gigabytes of data, 20 more than what a single sided HD-DVD can hold. Unfortunately, this makes Blu-Ray discs rather expensive. You’re going to be paying upwards of $65 for the 50 gigabyte disc, and $30 for the 25 gigabyte disc.

This might be the breaking point in my opinion, since the HD-DVD is offering discs that hold 15 gigs, and store Hi definition movies just fine, for $20.

I also would recommend buying either a Playstation 3 (Ships November 19th), which plays Blu-Ray and video games, for $600, or an Xbox 360 for $400 and the HD-DVD add on which costs $200. You end up saving a couple hundred dollars, and get a machine to play games on to boot.

Unfortunately, some major movie studios are only offering their movies on one format or the other.

Universal studios, Warner Bros., Paramount, and DreamWorks are backing the HD-DVD format, while Sony, Walt Disney Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox are backing the Blu-Ray. If you can’t live without owning one of these company’s movies, I would consider picking up the format that they’re backing.

If you can’t live another day without owning a Hi Definition player, I would go out on a limb and say pick up a HD-DVD player, but only because Microsoft is backing it, which means HD-DVD drives will start being included in laptops and personal computers instead of DVD drives.

However, the best advice I can possibly give is to wait until the spring to buy a player. The holiday shopping season will be over, and you will have a relatively clear picture of what format is going to win.

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