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The Life of P

Make Love, Not HD DVDs

I have not yet weighed in on the end of the high definition format war, now formally over following Toshiba’s announcement that shortly they will be ceasing production of HD DVD devices. This obviously leaves Sony’s blu-ray as the victor, presumably having learned from the famous failure of their betamax format to VHS and thus being willing to spend vast sums to win over major studios. It is, of course, content that decides competitions like this, not innate quality. On paper blu-ray the higher capacity blu-ray certainly looked to be the better format but as it stands things are not quite so clear cut for the consumer.

HD DVD was arguably a more direct evolution of the old format so production of both media and, more visibly, the players were much cheaper. The consumer is now saddled with the more expensive format and with the early victory for blu-ray, there hasn’t even been the competitive need for major cuts in player prices. The other issue is that the blu-ray movie format is still in flux. The java system used to provide interactive features has caused issues and there are already three tiers of players. The earliest adopters with profile 1.0 players are left out in the cold, while profile 1.1 and now profile 2.0 players leave one wondering whether there is any guarantee to the consumer that the format is going to be properly finalised at all. Certain discs have severe problems playing on earlier players, while others experience boot times of up to 90 seconds. The PS3 is the only blu-ray player that can be updated to keep up with these changes. Buying a standalone (and often more expensive) player is just too risky even with the war won.

A strange aside to all this is that, as well as blu-ray, Sony have spent a huge amount developing the cell processor which powers the PS3. Last year they arranged to stop production and transfer the technology to Toshiba who would produce the processors for them. The finer points of this deal were only recently settled leading some to suggest Toshiba may have been bought off through favourable terms in return for ending the format war early.

So the end of the format war does not make it safe for most consumers to bite the bullet and buy a blu-ray player just yet. If you want one now, the PS3 is the safest bet since it’s impressive processing power means that firmware updates should be sufficient to keep it on the cutting edge (and really it must be up-to-date if the Sony wish to maximise the advantage of holding the winning format).

Another question several people have asked me is what this means for Microsoft and the Xbox 360. Not a huge amount really. They hedged their bets supporting HD DVD via an external add-on rather than integrating it into the console. It is almost inevitable that a blu-ray add-on is in the works (rumour says they already have operating units in Redmond). The real difference is that the PS3 has suddenly become a much more appealing prospect as a second console and so it seems the gaming world will have a three-horse race after all…

6 Comments

  1. We experienced the load problems with the blu-ray player already. We all pitched in and bought my dad one for Christmas this year, thinking it would be alright. And he was really happy with it.
    Then he went out and bought some movies on blu-ray, like Bladerunner and the whole Die Hard set and stuff like that. Well, Bladerunner took something like 45 seconds to load up, and the 4th Die Hard disc refused to play at all. The other three were fine, but the fourth wouldn’t play on the blu-ray player.
    Incredibly annoying.

    The quality is great on the films that worked, but I’m not terribly happy with the use-ability of the (very expensive) player, as it wouldn’t play these (very expensive) discs, which were bought within a week of each other. I’m actually really unhappy that we spent that much money for a gift for my dad that turned out not to work properly.

    He hasn’t said anything negative about it, but knowing him, I’m sure he’s not happy either.

  2. Out of interest, what make is the player you bought? In the States Samsung are facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly knowingly selling defective players.

    I think Pirates 3 has been one of the main offenders for hideously long load times, but then frankly that just serves as a warning of what to expect of the film itself.

    As the post suggests my view is that consumers have ended up with the better format on paper, but a very short straw…

  3. Indeed. I was just giving you a consumer report to back up your point. 🙂

    Ummm…it may very well be a Samsung, actually. I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’ll ask my dad.

    Ok, so I’ve just read that article you linked, and…how can a big company like Samsung knowingly sell faulty merchandise? Did they not know that consumers aren’t stupid, and we’d figure it out eventually?

    Well, I wish I had known about this before we bought that player. 🙁

  4. http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/855/855021p1.html

    This makes me happy… so much for an XBOX “Exclusive”! At least they weren’t stupid like Microsoft with and release it for PC when the graphics were hideously outdated!

  5. That comment should read “Microsoft with Halo”, not “Microsoft with and”… that just doesn’t make sense!

  6. Yep, I’m glad to see it hit the PC since I don’t want to see Bioware betray their roots. And by all accounts so far the higher resolution means graphics looking even prettier on the PC.

    I’ll be interested to hear what performance is like since the Xbox 360 version was plagued with texture popping (not unusual for an Unreal Engine 3 based game but it was getting excessive). Also would like to know if they are revamping the menus: radial menus make sense for a gamepad but probably aren’t the best fit for mouse/keyboard control.

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"Luck is the residue of design."

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