Blu-Ray leaps ahead

The war over the format for next-generation DVDs has taken another interesting turn, with Warner Brothers defecting from the HD-DVD camp. Well, not qu

The war over the format for next-generation DVDs has taken another interesting turn, with Warner Brothers defecting from the HD-DVD camp. Well, not quite defecting. More a case of hedging its bets by announcing it'll support both Sony's Blu-Ray format and its previous disc of choice, Toshiba's HD-DVD. Warner’s decision follows a similar move by Paramount last month.

You see, there’s currently a big spat over the future of video discs. Why? Because you can't fit a full movie's worth of high-definition video onto a normal DVD – and the increasing popularity of high-def TVs means that a new disc is needed. Or so the big electronics companies believe. And Hollywood is naturally rubbing its hands in glee at the idea of selling you the same films all over again.

The problem, however, is that the pursuit of profit has led to two competing formats. Both Blu-Ray Disc (BD) and High-Definition DVD (HD-DVD) cram a up to six times more information onto familiar 8cm silver platters, and both allow recording. In fact, there's very little to choose between the two, except the names and the companies who are backing them. You’ll find full details here.

But this could all prove academic. High-def broadcasting is already big in Japan and America, and will be taking off all over Europe in time for next year’s FIFA World Cup. High-def video on demand, through cable, satellite or over the internet is also imminent. Meanwhile, increasing hard drive capacities mean this can all be stored at home.

Which begs the question: do we even need another disc format? Are BD and HD-DVD merely the video equivalent of SACD and DVD-Audio – a small-scale, high-quality technology for enthusiasts? After all, If the mass market was so worried about quality, we wouldn’t be embracing MP3 quite so wholeheartedly.

There is one caveat. The PlayStation 3 will ship with a Blu-Ray drive, bringing high-def video to millions of people without them even knowing. Will those people be willing to pay the £20-plus that we’ll undoubtedly be asked to shell out for Blu-Ray films? The smart money says it's unlikely.

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