HD-DVD is not region-free

in teh great battle of nextgen DVD formats, one piece of information seems to be conventional wisdom: that HD-DVD, unlike Blu-ray, will not have region-coding. At AICN, Massawyrm cites being region-free as one of his main motivations for choosing HD-DVD, for example. But it’s been known for over a year that despite initial reports that HD-DVD would not restrict by region, it has since succumbed to the pressure and will likely have “some form” of region coding eventually. As Ars Technica noted 18 months ago, there’s a chance that this will affect the early adopters (including anyone who buys an HD-DVD this holiday season, it should be noted):

If RPC is ultimately approved and incorporated into the HD DVD format, it is unclear how the players that have already been sold will handle it. The most logical solution would be to allow the current handful of HD DVD players already on the market to play any HD DVD. Unfortunately, history tell us that logic is not one of the entertainment industry’s strong suits, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that region-coded HD DVDs will cause problems for some early adopters.

Note that Blu-ray’s region coding scheme compresses the number of regions down from seven to three – and that includes lumping Japan and the United States into one region, which will definitely turn the economics of the anime industry upside down.

I still personally lean towards HD-DVD for the simple reason of cost. The Toshiba HD-A3 is selling at the $200 price point on Amazon, which is just a fantastic deal (esp if you have or are planning to buy an HD-TV). And there’s $100 players at Walmart, too (though not the name brand). I don’t think the worst case scenario is likely to come to pass because to be honest I don’t see either BD or HD-DVD going away anytime soon – both have years to go before they are a sizable fraction of traditional DVD sales. And there’s always standard DVD formats or the Internet download for the occasional movie I must watch but isn’t available on my format of choice. All of these physical media formats are going to be obsolete eventually anyway.

UPDATE: Anime R1 DVD sales peaked in 2003 and have been declining ever since. I speculate without evidence that 2003 was when fansubbing really started as an industry in its own right – and was a response almost entirely due to region coding alone. It’s also telling that the major players in the industry don’t even mention region coding as they discuss the state of the US market.

Toshiba HD-A2 for $199

The price keeps dropping on HD-DVD; the Toshiba A2 is probably the best known player out there, and it currently sells at Amazon for $227; now comes word that on Nov. 3rd, Walmart will sell it just under the $200 mark. Still, not much point in going for it unless you’ve got an HDTV, but if you do, then the price difference means you’ve effectively got half off the Planet Earth HD-DVD box set (which is probably the single most essential title on HD-DVD to buy).

I’m probably at least a year away from buying an HDTV, let alone a HD-format DVD player. By the time I’m in the market, Samsung will be selling it’s dual-format player and the laser HDTVs should be out.

I choose HD-DVD

A few days ago, HeadGeek at AICN declared he’d taken sides in the nextgen-DVD format war: he chose HD-DVD. I am inclined to follow his lead. At present I am in no position to purchase a HDTV (without which the choice of DVD format is moot), but I am confident enough in HD-DVD to make the decision well in advance.

There are a number of reasons why HD-DVD makes more sense. The fundamental reason, however, is simple: HD-DVD is backwards-compatible with standard DVD. Couple this with the fact that I will have to buy a new DVD player anyway once I upgrade to HDTV (which will be mandatory as of February 17th, 2009). My aging DVD player doesn’t support progressive scan, so watching DVD movies with my old player on a new HDTV would be masochistic. I anticipate that my TV viewing will be driven more by Blockbuster and BitTorrent than by broadcast, so the choice of DVD player becomes even more important. With a single box that supports upscaling like the Toshiba HD-A2 ($250 at Amazon), I get the full benefits of the HD resolution with my existing DVD library as well as any HD content I might be inclined to rent.

The other primary factor is cost. HD-DVD is simply cheaper, and maintains a healthy price advantage over Blu-Ray even despite recent moves by Sony to reduce the price. The irony here is that while BR players are overpriced now, they are likely to become very cheap in the future, because you can always get one at a subsidized cost by buying a Playstation 3. So there’s even more incentive to wait. The price of any gaming console is guaranteed to drop over time; witness that the PS2 now sells for $129. If at some point I do decide that I want a BR version of Lion King (Disney is exclusively BR), I’ll go and buy a PS3 and get maximum value; I anticipate we will see the PS3 at the $300 price point within a few years, especially as the Wii and XBox continue to clean Sony’s clock.

Much has been made of the fact that Blu-Ray enjoys wider studio support, but if there ever really is a movie truly exclusive to BR that I must have, I still can buy the standard DVD and upconvert on the A2, or I can bittorrent it down and watch on my HDTV (DRM on both formats is irreversibly compromised). But how likely is that anyway? Given that King Kong is out on HD-DVD, I’m not worried about Lord of the Rings following suit; and I’m enough of a purist about Star Wars that if Lucas gets his head out of his arse and gives me the Original, Unedited Trilogy (i.e., Han shoots first, etc) then that’s worth buying a PS3 for. Later. I can wait.

All the debate about which format is winning, based on sales, is essentially bogus anyway. The actual numbers of players sold is so insignificant thus far that any advantage enjoyed by one or the other is illusory and can’t be used to predict the longer-term trend. So I’m not worried about being locked into a “losing” format like BetaMax – again, at a bare minimum I will have backwards, upscaling compatibility with my existing DVDs. As far as I am concerned, the “format war” is just hype.

And anyway, Sony is evil. Some things you just can’t forgive.

laser HDTV

My inlaws recently bought a plasma HDTV – a nice 50″ Samsung model. The purchase was the impetus for me to learn a little about the various flavors of HDTV out there; plasma, LCD, etc. In a nutshell, I learned that DLP had the best picture and color, and is thinner than old-style CRT but still cannot be hung on a wall. Plasma is the cheapest, can be hung on a wall, and has great image contrast, but may suffer from image burn in and must be replaced in total if the screen breaks, it cannot be repaired. Finally, LCD has great image quality, is thin enough to wall-mount, and has no burn-in issues, but is vastly more expensive.

Now comes along a fourth technology, laser TV:

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Novalux Inc. is one of the main developers of the upcoming laser TV technology, and promises that its products will deliver appreciable benefits over plasma, LCD and CRT televisions. When compared to plasma and LCD, laser TV technology boasts half the production cost, double the color range, and three-quarters less power consumption.
One area where laser TV may give up to the flat panel technologies plasma and LCD is in profile. The thin profile of flat panels allows users to hang their televisions on a wall, like a picture or painting. Rear projection televisions, by nature, are thicker than flat panels, but thanks to recent developments in the DLP market and the weight savings of laser technology, clever manufacturers may be able to put laser TVs on the wall too.

“The one that Sony had on the show floor was one that they built themselves using our lasers, and it was a thin cabinet TV – maybe 8 to 10-inches – thin enough to mount on the wall,” Niven added.

It remains to be seen whether the manufacturers succeed in making laser TVs thin enough to wall-mount, but even so, 10-inches thick is pretty impressive. The power consumption angle is also particularly interesting as a selling point. These TVs should start to appear in 2008.