DVD Goes High-Def

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Caveats Ahead

Clearly, these new formats offer something beyond what today's DVDs can. As with any new format, however, change is already on the horizon--and you should be cautious before you leap.

For one thing, while the first Blu-ray Disc players for the living room, due out this summer, output at 1080p, none of the first-generation HD DVD players do so. 1080p produces smoother action sequences than 1080i. The latest HDTVs support 1080p, and Universal and Warner Brothers already encode their HD films at 1080p. Second-generation players will support 1080p, according to the HD DVD Promotion Group, but release dates are not set.

Another consideration: no managed content. All first-generation Blu-ray and HD DVD devices use an interim version of the copy-protection scheme, which doesn't support the ability to legally copy a movie from disc to disc, or to another device, like a portable player (click here for details).

Yet another gotcha: To enjoy the full-resolution HD image, you'll need a High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection connection over DVI or HDMI (click here for more on HDCP). Any HDTV with HDMI should be covered, but many PC monitors and older sets with DVI only may not. An HD copy-protection element allows Hollywood studios to degrade output over analog or non-HDCP video connections, to 960 by 540 pixels--half HD's full resolution. Most studios say they won't do this at the outset, but the capability exists--and many of those same studios made sure it was available.

And don't expect either camp to ship any living-room recorders until end of year or the beginning of 2007.

Too many factors are still up in the air to pick a winner in this format war. In terms of hardware, studio commitment, and pure specs, Blu-ray has the edge. However, HD DVD's significant price advantage may end up deciding the issue. If you don't need to be the first on your block with an HD movie player or you don't have dozens of gigabytes to archive, you may be best off waiting a bit to take the high-def DVD plunge.

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