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HD Formats: How Long Will It Take?

26 Jun, 2006 By: Stephanie Prange

The delays and disappointments in the high-definition format war have proliferated since we overly optimistically reported that the fourth quarter (of last year!) would begin the HD showdown. Since then, one format has taken the initial lead, HD DVD, but it takes that machine so long to load a disc that Toshiba is offering an upgrade to cut down on the wait. HD DVD might be better termed HB DVD (as in half-baked).

Blu-ray Disc, the format that DVD father Warren Lieberfarb so famously termed “vaporware,” has yet to totally disprove that assertion. Recent delays of players from Pioneer and Sony caused concern, and early reports about the Samsung player — not officially available until June 25, but out in limited supply with the software last week — were a bit disappointing. One Best Buy clerk said the picture was grainy. At a Samsung demo, things went a bit more smoothly, but the workings of the discs were still a little slow compared to DVD, and the special features were slim.

Certainly, DVD had its hiccups. I've still got an early Toshiba player that occasionally has a problem playing certain discs. And the pay-per-play variant DivX (now long forgotten) threw a monkey wrench in the works.

Unfortunately, as many speakers at our recent Home Entertainment Summit noted, consumers are buying HDTVs at a fast clip and are clamoring for good HD hardware and content. The question is: if the HD disc formats don't provide it soon, will they go elsewhere?

What made DVD such a success was that it was top-quality (better than predecessor VHS by a long shot), cheaper and easier to use. You didn't have to fast forward through all the previews and ads. For the most part, you could go straight to the menu to any scene you wanted.

If it takes high-def discs a long time to start, it's a step backward. Universal seems to already be anticipating the HD DVD value problem by lowering prices on releases to near-DVD rates.

While no format launch is a dream, this one could easily turn into a nightmare. If the industry doesn't get its act together, consumers will find content somewhere else.

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