For the most part, major changes are never planned for. They just happen. This is especially true with technology, the next generation of DVD players and titles having been quietly released this month.
HD DVD (short for High Density Digital Versatile Disc), a technology created by Toshiba, has fired the first shot in the next-generation DVD technology wars by releasing the first HD DVD players, the HD-A1 and the HD-XA1, this past March.
The players, priced at $499 and $799, bring additional features not found in current DVD technologies such as greater data densities on each side of the disc, studio-grade picture resolution, improved sound quality, upgraded content-protection systems and better technologies for interactive and Web-based functions. The new player, available in limited quantities, sold more than 10,000 units in its first week on the market.
For the early adopter, the new technology's biggest selling point will be an improved picture quality, screen resolutions jumping to 1080p or the same standard currently in use for digital motion pictures.
Unfortunately, nothing is set in stone, especially where technology standards are concerned. Although first to the U.S. market with a consumer player, Toshiba and other firms supporting the upcoming HD DVD standard face competition from Sony with its Blu-ray Disc technology. Blu-ray, supported by firms such as Apple Computer, Dell, Pioneer, Disney and Warner Brothers, will offer similar technological advances and store up to 25 gigabytes of data on each side of the disc as opposed to HD DVD's 15.
Both technologies will offer backwards compatibility with current DVD titles, although current DVD player systems will be unable to play HD DVD or Blu-ray discs. For the transitional period, studios have offered to include traditional DVD discs along with the next-generation HD DVD and Blu-ray discs sold, although nothing concrete has been announced.
The first crop of HD DVD titles, which were released to market on April 18th, included "The Last Samurai," "Million Dollar Baby," "The Phantom of the Opera" and the sci-fi cult classic "Serenity."
It's guessed that many movie studios will support both HD DVD and Blu-ray technologies instead of solely allying themselves with one technological standard over the other.
"The consumer looking for this unit is the early adopter," said Ken Sickmen, owner of Belmont TV in Alexandria, Va. "It's just bragging rights at this point."
Sickmen went on to add that televisions capable of playing the HD DVD's full 1080p resolution won't be available until later this year.
"Movies provide flexibility in being able to set up your own video library, as proven in the DVD era," said Ross Rubin, an analyst for the NPD Group, which focuses on consumer and retail trends, who explained the push towards HD DVD and Blu-ray technologies. "People want to build a high-impact library that retains the cinematic feel."
"I think it's aggressively priced for an early adopter technology," Rubin said in reference to the $499 and $799 prices for the recently released Toshiba HD DVD players. "The wild card is the PlayStation 3, which could even things up in terms of pricing and availability."
Rubin also mentioned that a hybrid player that supported both formats entering the market could resolve the conflict between HD DVD and Blu-ray technologies. To date, Samsung and LE Electronics have discussed the idea of manufacturing such a unit but stepped down from the claim after the fact. Still, analysts estimate that such a unit may become more feasible in 2007 or 2008 after the market has been analyzed, production costs come down and economies of scale look more affordable for manufacturing ends.
Additional support for the HD DVD technology is en route through other firms that should begin offering their own HD DVD devices throughout 2006. Microsoft, leading the pack, has offered an external HD DVD drive for its Xbox 360 video-game console to be released later this year.
Where a major player goes, others will follow, and in the battle between technologies competing to be the next-generation standard, it'll be interesting to see what the future will bring.
Copyright 2006 by United Press International
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