November 29, 2005 4:00 AM PST

New high-definition DVDs to use old video technology?

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
As Hollywood readies its new and controversial high-definition DVDs, at least one major studio is leaving some of the most advanced parts of the new disc formats on the table in favor of technology that's more than a decade old.

That could mean disappointment for some of the tech industry's biggest names, particularly if other studios follow suit. Companies such as Microsoft and Apple Computer have been betting that their work on advanced video software formats, called codecs, will help them sell their own products.

Alphabet soup
The lexicon of video technology often sounds like a foreign language. Here are a few key terms.

Codec A technology for squeezing audio or video into smaller packages for easier storage or transmission. The name is derived from a blend of either "coder-decoder" or "compressor-decompressor."

Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) An international industry organization that ratifies standards for audio and video technologies.

MPEG-2 A set of multimedia technologies finalized by the MPEG group in 1994. Typically used as shorthand for the video codec, finalized in 1994, that is used today on DVDs, cable networks and in many other places.

MPEG-4 AVC A later video standard finalized by the MPEG group. Also known as H.264 or Advanced Video Coding.

VC-1 The version of Microsoft's Windows Media 9 video codec submitted to industry standards bodies for use on DVDs and elsewhere. Was temporarily known as VC-9.

It's a little-known but equally intriguing subchapter in the yearlong fight between Blu-ray and HD DVD, two incompatible hardware technologies for high-definition DVDs, backed, respectively, by consumer-electronics manufacturers Sony and Toshiba.

Video codecs (a contraction of "coder-decoders") are important because they determine what quality of video can be squeezed into a given amount of digital storage space, or can be sent over a DSL or cable television line. The codec is an essential part of a DVD.

Microsoft surprised many two years ago when it submitted its Windows video technology, called VC-1, to technical standards bodies in hopes of seeing it appear on the new DVDs. Other technology giants hold patents in a rival advanced format called MPEG-4 AVC.

Last week, studio giant Sony Pictures quietly voted for "none of the above," and took a swipe at the new codec formats. The new advanced codecs aren't immediately necessary for discs released in Sony's high-capacity Blu-ray format, Sony Pictures executives said in an interview with CNET, and the studio would instead use the 11-year-old MPEG-2 video codec used on today's DVDs.

"Advanced (formats) don't necessarily improve picture quality," said Don Eklund, Sony Pictures' senior vice president of advanced technology. "Our goal is to present the best picture quality for Blu-ray. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, that's with MPEG-2."

None of this alphabet soup of acronyms is likely to mean much to the average consumer. Once the discs come out, it will be a matter of matching a Blu-ray disc with a Blu-ray player, or an HD DVD disc with an HD DVD player. The discs should play as simply as they do today, no matter which underlying video format is being used.

But the studios' decisions could mean a great deal to companies that have invested heavily in creating or supporting the new video technologies. Microsoft has been betting that the adoption of its advanced video format by Hollywood studios, cable networks and satellite TV companies will help Windows-based devices capture a bigger share of the home entertainment market.


Correction: This story incorrectly stated the storage capacity of some new DVDs. The smallest standard Blu-ray disc will hold 25GB of data, while Warner Bros. is planning a 9GB disc.

See more CNET content tagged:
Sony Pictures, codec, HD-DVD, studio, cable network


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its Gigabyte! not megabyte...
its Gigabyte! not megabyte...

how did the editor miss this one?
Posted by aduljr (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i can't imagine that how they could of screwed up that bad
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Someone's not paying attention here.
Dear Mr/Ms Editor:
Please check your choice of words. Megabytes was written instead of Gigabytes over four times. I thought the first one was just forgiven. But, to see it appear over three times more tells me someone is slipping.
Thanks for the ad-financed article. Always informative.
Posted by Dead Soulman (245 comments )
Link Flag
A lot of this these days in internet news publications
The rush to get the article out on the internet first is resulting in a lot of information published with no regard to accuracy.
Articles published with spelling and grammar issues that would get a failing mark on grade school level English papers!
Movie descriptions by people who obviously never watched the flick!
Internet hoaxes covered like they were real news!

Megabyte? Gigabyte? What's the difference right? In a hundred years who will care whether this artile had any credibility whatsoever, and whether it's author had any pride in attention to detail or not, right?

It's funny and sad at the same time.
Posted by a473497 (11 comments )
Link Flag
Look at the time it was published
"Published: November 29, 2005, 4:00 AM PST"

Still, they should correct it. It's pretty embarrassing.
Posted by (56 comments )
Link Flag
I emailed the author on this
This needs to be corrected simply because the nontechnical people will become even more confused.
Posted by ray08 (64 comments )
Link Flag
this error just ruins the article
Unfortunately, this type of error implies that the author is unfamiliar with the storage requirements of digital video, and tends to spoil an otherwise good article. It is surprising noone caught this error until after publication.
Posted by cschow (1 comment )
Link Flag
Hollywood sets the tech pace?
What a joke! I am SO sure that Hollywood is going to ram this down all of the tech mfg's throat. Get on board, boys, the train is leaving the station and you're not going to stop it.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
25 megabytes - we're really going backward
Since the new Blu-Ray format will only have 25 MEGABYTES of space as it says in the article we are really going back to Jurassic ages here. If Mr. Eklund was a little more in touch with technology, which by the way is a fundamental part of his position in Sony Pictures, he would have noticed that the product Sony will sell actually has a storage space of 25 GIGABYTES.
Posted by fhaidach (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sony vs MS
"We're really trying to set this apart from DVD," Eklund said. "Sony Pictures' belief is that in order to launch the HD format, it should be done without compromises."

Seriously, what Eklund is saying doesn't make any sense. With the new codec you could cram BETTER quality picture onto the discs on less space. It's better than MPGE2 which BTW has MORE to do with DVD than the MS codec.. I guess it's just a Sony vs MS thing.
Posted by myskja-20768122239468344470015 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What about non MS operating Systems ?
Do you really think that if we were forced to use something like WMV ( or some other MS format encumbered with patents ) for the content on DVD's that the owners of MAC's would really appreciate it?

What about us Non-MS or Non-Apple computer owners ( I have mostly Linux based machines ) ? Should I be left out of being able to purchase new DVD's just because I don't want to have to purchase Windows license JUST to watch my legally purchased DVD on my legally purchased DVD Drive on my legally purchased computer JUST because of some format that might save a small percentage of space at the cost of interoperability ?
Posted by Sir Geek (114 comments )
Link Flag
Plastic is not fantastic anymore
Sony is loosing their edge step by step. We will not buy plastic
discs to watch HD, we will use our 24Mbit internet connections and
the new codecs.
Posted by boboengren (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You might
use your 24 Mbit connection, I won't. 24Mbit=3Mbyte. 24 Gbyte=8000x3Mbyte. That's 8000 seconds or about 130 minutes, just over 2 hours, to download the 24 gig DVD. I'll rent it from the store, thanks.
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Story corrected
We've fixed the megabyte-gigabyte error to provide the correct storage capacities.
Posted by Jon Skillings (249 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OH c'mon this sucks!
If you want the best quality why don't you just store the freaking movies in BMP format? MPEG2 is LOSSY, and don't tell me it's not because i've seen the square artifacts in DVD movies. If those movies had been compressed to the SAME filesize, but using MPEG4, we wouldn't see those square artifacts in low-gradient scenes.

Sony, be warned: You messed up once with your rootkit. Don't mess up again with MPEG2.
Posted by rickg22 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
LOL, I don't think 25 gig is enough space to store a normal flick as bitmaps let alone one in HD.
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Each codec has issues
Artifacts on DVDs can be due to many issues. DVD is space limited to 8.7GB, but it is also bandwidth limited to about 11Mbps transfer for the entire stream - which includes the video, audio (all the tracks), subtitles, etc.

The problem isn't MPEG-2 - sure it is lossy, so are MPEG-4 and VC-1. Each codec has content they're better suited for and content they don't handle as well. Given enough space and bandwidth, MPEG-2 is perfectly fine - the new disc formats, especially Blu-ray, provide both.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
Follow the money
I saw an MPEG-4 demo at 9Mb/s that looked like a VCR eating the tape; the rep from the largest-desktop-software-company-in-the-world wanted us to think it was great. If it's intraleave MPEG2 at 65+ Mb/s, it starts to get up there with 16mm film quality. Most DVDs (interleave - shares pixels between frames) look better than a lot of digital TV channels.
Posted by tbox (2 comments )
Link Flag
Passing on lower manufacturing costs? Yeah right.
Translation: That could mean cheaper prices for consumers, if the savings in manufacturing costs are passed along.

The reporter should look at the manufacturing costs of an iTunes download vs. a CD. The "manufacturing" costs of iTunes on a per unit basis are negligible... yet iTunes downloads often cost as much or more than CDs.

For a more glaring example, look at Sprint's music download pricing. $2.49 a track!

Entertainment products use value-based pricing. Manufacturings costs have little to do with.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Uh... not exactly
You could be right, but if you're going to reference the iTunes
music store, I have to point this out. At Borders, a new, 12 track CD
often costs 16-23 dollars. At the ITMS, you could buy the same CD
track by track for $11.88, or maybe $10 if you click "Buy Album." I
think one way that Apple is able to do this is by not having to
factor in production costs and packaging.
Posted by jdmills (5 comments )
Link Flag
Who's gonna win?
Anybody remember the VCR wars? Sony's Betamax lost that one to VHS; not because the format was inferior but simply because it was too proprietary and Sony made garbage players with too many moving parts. Now Sony is the main backer of the also too proprietary Bluray tech. After seeing what Sony has been up to with audio cds, who wants to buy or rent movies on Sony disks of any kind? History DOES repeat itself : )
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reality check
Sony is the primary backer of Blu-ray, yes. But the specification is controlled by the Blu-ray Association, which includes pretty much every electronics manufacturer other than Toshiba and NEC, the primary HD-DVD backers. On top of that it includes Dell, HP, and Apple, most of the Hollywood studios, software venders, etc. BD has a much broader support than HD-DVD.

You should also check history. Betamax didn't lose to VHS because of any issues with the players, in fact, Betamax players are generally considered high quality and long lasting. And commercial Betamax systems were very successful. The problem was the proprietary issue - Sony refused to license the technology widely, while VHS was available to pretty much anyone. Betamax lost on business grounds.

If anything, BD is more like VHS and HD-DVD is more like Betamax, based on the backing each format has.

As for the rootkit fiasco - I've worked for large corporations (Lucent, GTE) and what one division is doing has little to do with what another division is doing. I think that the rootkit issue could be a good thing in the end - there has been a stuggle between Sony's electronics group and Sony's media groups. The former doesn't like strong DRM, the latter pushed for it. I think the rootkit could swing the power to the electronics people pushing for more open platforms.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
No choice to be made
It's not just a matter of pick your DVD player that matches the
movie format.

Why does the Average Joe need to know the difference between
Blu-Ray and HD-DVD? Seriously, this will be nothing more than
a tiny niche product until a unified format is developed. Look at
what is going on with the competing audio formats.

The fact that they're not even using the newer technology says
that this stuff isn't ready for prime-time.

These companies need to start developing stuff that HAS DIRECT
benefit. We are not just some lambs to call up to buy your new
technology because you need to make your numbers. There
needs to be value in it from our perspective as well.
Posted by m.meister (278 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think HD content is the value
Personally I think that getting content in 1080i (or better 1080p), or even 720p, is the direct benefit. Plus being able to save HD content to media, more storage for data backups for PC use, more interactive content, etc.

The codec isn't a big deal, consumers don't need to care about it.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
Pure stupidity
and pure short sightedness.

Have these guys never heard the old english expression "Penny wise and pound foolish"?

They will save a few pennies per disk now by avoiding paying royalties on the proprietary parts of MPEG-4 AVC (aka H.264), but the rest of the "video industry" will be moving to the newer codec. The next generation DVD guys (HD DVD or Blu-ray Disk) will have to retool/convert to the new codec eventually, and the conversion will be both more difficult and more costly in the future.

Anything that depends upon transmission will move to the new codec as soon as practical. Transmission bandwidth is always limited, and will use the best, stardized codecs in order to transmit as much as possible in as small a bandiwdth as possible. As the story states this includes the satellite industry. However it also includes such other systems as video conferencing (even Apple's iChat already supports it if you have a fast enough Mac). Within the next five years the aggregate of the transmission markets will rival those of the next generation DVD market.

The developers of Blu-ray Disk and HD DVD need to not be left behind. I can understand backward compatibility, but they should press content providers to produce in the best standardized formats. It will be easy to make the change to MPEG-4 AVC at the same time as the disk change. Doing anything less is just short sighted.
Posted by shadowself (202 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're way off base
First of all both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD specifications require players to support MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, and VC-1. So there will be no problem in the future.

You're pretty much entirely incorrect otherwise.

Switching codecs in the future will cost *LESS* than doing it now. Right now studios already have authoring systems that can do HD in MPEG-2, most do not have systems for MPEG-4 or VC-1. So there is no cost to use MPEG-2 today. The standard for pretty much any authoring system is that, over time, costs go down and capabilities go up. So the longer a studio can wait to upgrade to the new software, the more they'll get for their dollar.

As for transmission changing. ATSC is MPEG-2 and it is unlikely to ever change because it would obsolete all existing ATSC tuners/receivers. With the upheaval of the switch to ATSC there isn't going to be any switch to MPEG-4 in the foreseeable future. Cable is also mainly MPEG-2 and will remain so for a while because of the CableCARD mandate and the deployed base of digital cable boxes and CableCARD devices. Satellite companies will be using MPEG-4 for new HD services, but most channels will remain MPEG-2 for the foreseeable future due to the tens of millions of deployed systems.

It doesn't matter that other devices, like video conferencing, the iPod, PSP, etc, are supporting H.264/MPEG-4. That's a different market and those devices won't be handling HD content due to both screen resolution and storage requirements.

It is not easy to make the authoring transition when making the disc change. The two aren't closely related. Both entail risk, and exacerbating the risks by doing both at once would be the short sighted move. Make the physical transition to the new media first. Once that settles down and it is established, then you can make the codec transition. Doing both at once not only entails more risk, but more costs up front, which are better spread out over time.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
Author's thanks on MB/GB
Thanks to everyone who pointed out the absurd oversight in the original version of the article, using megabytes when we meant gigabytes. A 25 MB disc would hold about five medium-quality MP3s. It would have to be some pretty powerful compression indeed to fit an HD movie on that disc!
Posted by klaxonator (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's the copy protection...
The only rational reason I can think of for using MPEG2 on either HD DVD or Blue-ray DVD is the movie studios just want the new copy protection technology these formats provide.

This would explain why some Hollywood studios prefer the HD DVD format, even though it is technically inferior and less future proof than Blue-ray DVD. My guess is they want to switch over to a new format as soon as possible and as cheaply as possible to once again prevent consumers from copying DVDs.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Even Bill Gates recognizes that BD+ (unique to Blue-ray) is anti-consumer:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

And guess what, the latest studios that endorsed Blue-ray did so AFTER the BD+ protections were added.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What about keeping today's DVD with new codec
I have an alternate proposition. Drop the whole Bluray vs HD-DVD argument, at least for distributing movies. Instead focus on the hardware you have today. Plain vanilla DVD-9. Use your time to work on the MPEG4-AVC and gasp VC-1. Let the studios choose wither MPEG4-AVC or VC-1. Make sure all HighDef DVD hardware can decrypt, decode and playback both MPEG4-AVC and VC-1. Now sell this hardware to people. They can buy any movie that has the logo HighDef-DVD.
No more wrangling on Bluray vs HD-DVD. No more worrying about changing assembly lines for new manufacturing. Just new codec support in DVD player hardware and PC/Mac hardware. Same media. No assembly line change. However, DVD authors need new equipment for encoding. Bite the bullet.
Posted by bommai (172 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That would be very expensive...
All of these codecs are encumbered by various
licensing and patent issues. So much so, that
it's becoming a significant part of the cost of
the player and the DVD.

MPEG-4 also has issues in that it's a huge spec
-- the product of industrial contributors aiming
to get their pet features and IP in rather than
something with a cohesive and well-thought-out

Sony is right though, MPEG-2 might not squeeze
every bit of compression possible, but it's
pretty straight forward, it's familiar, it will
work, and the IP position on it is more

Putting all three codecs in a player will be
prohibitively expensive. I also doubt that two
formats will be tolerated long. Since higher
capacity media in the same form-factor is
already available, it would seem that the
controversy over Blu-ray and HD-DVD is not
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
H.264 requires lot of processing power
In my experience H.264 codec requires lot of processing power. I
can play DVD (I believe MPEG-2 compressed) without any problems
on iBook G4 (POS) where as it seems to struggle to play H.264,
1264 x 720 Quicktime video. I guess things are better with
Windows computers and G5. But, H.264 does need some heavy
processing power which could get very expensive to put in every
consumer DVD player. If there is enough disk space -like in
BuleRay, just increasing the resolution and keeping the same old
compresion scheme makes more sense.
Posted by indrakanti (90 comments )
Link Flag
Thats' what Warner wants to do
Warner is pushing the BDA to add another item to the Blu-ray standard - red-laser DVD9 discs using MPEG-4 AVC or VC-1 for HD content.

As a consumer you really don't want that. 9GB is not enough for high quality full length HD video. To fit it into that space you have to use a lower resolution, like 720p instead of 1080i - and definitely not 1080p, and/or turn the compression up much higher - resulting in a lower quality image. You also drop the extras normally found on a DVD. It'd be quite a bit like the 'Superbit' DVDs that are out there, stripped of all extras, using all available space for the video with minimal compression. Most consumers opt for the normal version with the extras instead.

As a consumer you'd still need a new player since you need higher data transfer rates and a decoder that can handle the new codecs at HD resolutions (there are some DivX systems with MPEG4 support, but generally not for HD), so you may as well get a *real* HD standard and not a kludge like that.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
good though
but probably too late for that...wheels are already in motion
Posted by df561 (94 comments )
Link Flag
This is unsurprising
I'm not surprised Blu-ray will probably use MPEG2 for now. When you have 25GB, minimum, to play with, you don't need to jump to MPEG4 or VC-1. There will be enough teething issues with the new format, jumping to new authoring systems doesn't make a lot of sense. The authoring infrastructure that exists today revolves around MPEG2 since that's what DVD, satellite (Dish and DirecTV), ATSC, and most digital cable systems use. Some satellite is just starting to switch to MPEG4 for HDTV, but most will be MPEG2 for a while. Don't change too many variables at once if you don't have to, incriment the changes. The new codecs have their own peculiarities. Remember the first days of DVD? I do - a lot of discs had artifacts and other issues because the encoding engineers were still learning how to tweak the compression for different types of content, and the software was still evolving. HD-DVD is more likely to need the new codecs since it has less room.

In the end, for consumers, it means nothing. Both formats support all three codecs.

As for Warner's plans to cram HD onto a 9GB DVD using VC-1 - they've proposed that to the BDA, it hasn't been adopted at this time. And it makes me cringe. Even with VC-1 that's not much room, so they'll probably need to lower the resolution (720p, not 1080i, let alone 1080p) and crank up the compression.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is so yesterday technology!
Sorry, apart from spelling mistakes, anything ex SONY, speaks of hidden rootkits, and zero customer rights , irrespective of the laws. Me, the newer and better and superior Holographic recording like the MAXELL 300 gigabyte disc with expansion to 1.6 terabyte by 2010, will get my dollar! As for any technology supplied/supported by SONY, these days!, it is last years technology and overpriced, with user restrictions and limitations added for free!!!!! SONY IS SO YESTERDAY! like the use of mpeg2, and releasing the lame duck box office dog total loser, like Charlies Angels Full Throttle as a demo disc for this technology, shows the absolute contempt and cavalier attitude towards any potential customer!!!!!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Switch to decaf
The Maxell holographic discs will be very, very expensive - way more than BD - and also targetted strictly at data use. Backups, etc. You're not going to see any media releases on that format in the foreseeable future. Keep in mind that the technology used in Blu-ray was commercialized several years ago as a data backup system by Sony, and has been out in Japan as a consumer product for a couple of years. It takes a long time for these things to come to market as a consumer product.

And the demo disc argument is silly - it is just for compatibility testing, the content doesn't matter that much. It seems like a good choice - lots of fast motion and action, explosions, etc, which stress codecs.

Get some perspective.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
Get real, folks.....
... the point is that movie makers will stay with the MPEG-2
codec to maintain the quality of the movies. MPEG-2 is less lossy
than MPEG-4 or H.264. Maybe most people can't see the
difference, but it IS there. ANd the MPEG-4/H.264 codec war
hasn't been exactly settled yet.

So, the MPEG-2 codec will work very nicely for HDTV - it just
needs the higher capacity DVD's - HD=DVD, Blu-Ray, or

In time, maybe people will recognize that MPEG-4/H.264 is
virtually as good a codec, and generates much smaller files. H.
264 might be able to put HDTV on a conventional DVD - maybe.
Still would need a new DVD player, tho.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's what Microsoft is banking on
The XBox 360 is capable of playing back hi-def video decoded with VC-1. With millions of devices out there, Microsoft may be able to convince some studios to go this route instead.
Posted by Chung Leong (111 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Price: give it a rest already!
I"m tired about hearing of price of manufacturing Blu Ray Discs.
What are we saying?
A 25USD DVD that comes out, the manufacture costs of the disc(s)
inside is about waht 0.18 cents or so? And that with blu ray these
will jump?
lets say by 5 times. That is still under a dollar.
Any new 'manufacturing costs' we find on the new generation DVD
are not created at the manufacturing plant (IMHO)
Posted by blahgablagha (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sony's Scared
All this talk about MPEG2 being cost effective or having better DRM misses, I think, the most obvious point this article brings up. Namely, that Warner Bros was going to make a BluRay hybrid based on cheaper DVD manufacturing techniques. With the better compression codecs, they would be able to fit a high def movie on one of these 9GB discs. Both things drive a stake in the heart of Sony's argument regarding BluRay's superiority to HD-DVD.

We all know HD-DVD is the most cost effective of the two formats. However, BluRay champions constantly, and thus far effectively, use the greater capacity argument to offset that serious cost disadvantage. Now here comes one of your own backers with a plan that pretty much negates that assertion. I mean come on - if you can get even a 780p version of a movie on a 9GB BluRay hybrid disc, then the 15GB minium of HD-DVD is looking pretty damn good - especially for the money. 30 and 45GB discs are positively decadent! The whole house of cards Sony has built in justifying their push to make BluRay dominant just comes crashing down.

When you factor in the other issues - such as the 3-5yrs either format will need to become as popular as DVD currently is, and the extreme likelihood that some other technology (maybe holodiscs, maybe high capacity flash memory) will supplant them both in that time - then the high investment costs of BluRay look even more ridiculous than sober assesments already make them out to be. If I'm Sony, I need to find some way - any way - to end the capacity discussion in my favor and get the cats herded once and for all. Enter MPEG2.

With MPEG2 Sony has, finally, a legitimate case to make regarding capacity issues. Certainly Warner's 9GB disc plans are stopped in their tracks. And just as certainly, while HD-DVD will probably get a high def MPEG2 movie within 15GBs, it will be at a real disadvantage in terms of extras. That would be fine for a hybrid BluRay disc, but NOT for a technology that's trying to present itself as a full-fledged challenger to BluRay.

Sony is adopting MPEG2 in order to bolster it's case that HD-DVD isn't 'big enough', and that the increased costs of 'going blue' are thus worth it. With MPEG4 or H.264 alone, that argument slowly reveals itself to be a red herring. With the same codecs on an even smaller hybrid BluRay disc, it's a big honking red light for any studio's CFO (not to mention the buying public). Sooner rather than later, all those companies - and the public - would wake up and give less support to Sony's format.

Sony turning to MPEG2 is a last, desperate measure by them to keep their rhetoric in line with reality. If what this article says is true - that the studios will follow Sony's lead on this - then it may even succeed. But, all other considerations aside (which I think also favor HD-DVD in general) if this is what it takes to make BluRay a success, I'm becoming more and more convinced that HD-DVD is the better alternative.
Posted by bcsaxman (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well Said
You really got down to brass tacks and hit the nail on the head (I love these overused cliches).

I completely agree. This is the core issue of the matter.
Posted by Yog Sothoth (37 comments )
Link Flag
Nice analysis
Thanks for the well written insight on the HD-DVD vs BluRay fight. BC Saxman I'm sure you must be a blogger or writer because your thoughts on the subject left me with a better understanding of the core issues then the article.

Good Job!
Posted by (43 comments )
Link Flag
Agreed but theres likely more to it
If you look back at the history of the current DVD format, you'll see how the various studios have balked at the idea of providing a perfect digital copy. For those of us that were enjoying DVD back in 1998, you'll recall that many studios were very reluctant to release their prized movies.

I'm convinced that Sony is more than happy to use a 11 year old codec to distribute "HD" content just because it knows full well that the picture will remain less than perfect, and basically marginally better than current DVD's upconverted.

Then when you figure that 80% of the US population hasn't even got around to fixing the default red-bloom color cast on their TV's, that almost half of them still prefer full-screen movies, and many only switched to DVD's because the video store/Wal*Mart did, means that the movie studios know the MAJORITY of consumers don't care about perfect quality anyway, hence MPEG2 becomming the easy standard. The less than perfect copy will keep the studios happy to relase movies in "HD".

The videophiles amongst us will just look on this as a joke, and that in itself could kill the whole deal, since it's the early adopters who'll decide if HD DVD's take off at all.
Posted by (21 comments )
Link Flag
I disagree
Taiwan just put their 'FVD' format into production. It is basically a tweaked DVD system using red laser and WMV HD - aka VC-1. The dual-layer discs hold just shy of 12GB.

At that capacity they claim you can squeeze 135 minutes of 1080i HD content on the disc. Just video, no extras, etc.

Warner wants to use VC-1 to put movies on an 8.7GB DVD. I've seen that done, for example the Terminator Windows HD disc, and the results aren't pretty. First of all, forget anything but the raw movie - much like Superbit. But even then, the longer the movie is, the worse it looks. The compression has to be turned up very high to get it to fit. For some of the longer movies out there, you couldn't get them on one disc.

15GB is a bit better, but that's just a bit more than the FVD format. When you start talking about long movies (think Lord of the Rings), it is still tight.

Blu-ray's 25GB on a single layer gives more room for HD extras, interactive content, etc. The kind of thing most consumers want. If all people wanted was the movie, all DVD's would be Superbit releases. But given the choice of a Superbit release or a standard release with extras, most people buy the latter.

With home video sales dropping off, studios are looking for new hooks - so we'll see more games, extras, interactive content, etc. And that needs space.

Blu-ray also offers a superior hybrid solution with the BD layers 'over' the DVD layers, for a single sided disc. No need for HD-DVD's compromise of HD-DVD15/DVD5, or the dual-sided discs no one likes.

MPEG-2 is a better codec when there aren't space and bandwidth limits. I'd rather have a 1080i (or better, 1080p) video encoded with MPEG-2 with minimal compression over something squeezed into MPEG-4 or VC-1, especially if they have to compromise and drop it to 720p, raise the compression level, and drop all the extras.
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
I disagree with your statement. Let's call it what it is. Microsoft wanted BLU-RAY to support it's codec, but in doing so, SONY would be indirectly "consenting" to HD-DVD standards. This battle is more than storage, it is a war for the next lucrative market, High Definition. There is a lot at stake, and for SONY to choose a trusty standard like MPEG2 over other compressed codecs, I perceive it as keeping something simple in the already complex world of BLU-RAY (new format, new manufacturing techniques, new media).

Also I believe this has to do with the PC and Video Gaming industries. Microsoft's XBOX360 is the latest and greatest. It is not, however, fully "Next-Gen" since it uses an OLD TECHNOLOGY known as DVD, instead of the rumored HD-DVD drives when it was first announced. So Microsoft is NOT immune to it's own hypocrisy. When SONY's Playstation3 comes out, it will be a true "Next-Gen" console, and to deliver on that promise, SONY is possible taking a shortcut. MPEG2 is an easy and familiar technology that will ease the transition for the movie studios and duplication houses. And when it comes to PCs, when these drives are available for your PC, we will gladly welcome the additional storage space, especially those who use their multimedia features on PCs. Besides, Nero and Roxio support BLU-RAY burning. SO if you need to see your video in these other formats, get you a BLU-RAY PC Drive, with either Nero 7 or Roxio 8 installed, and have at it!

Finally, I believe that BLU-RAY is the perfect marriage for HD for it has, to coin a phrase, "something old (MPEG2), something new (50GB Discs), something borrowed (DVD Backwards Compatibility), and something blue (LASER)"!
Posted by octogon (1 comment )
Link Flag
Does anyone care about owning media?
The whole HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray thing just erks me. All it is going to do is make fewer people buy the machines and media, making it even more expensive.

If it were possible to keep digital forms of movies on a TiVo or XBox, who would want to have the 5-1/4 inch plastic sitting around? Really, does anyone want a DVD, or just the movie on the DVD?

Posted by tbox (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The media doesn't matter
The media itself doesn't matter - except in that it impacts the content. If the media has restrictions that influence the content, then it definitely matters.

However, as for storing everything digitally vs owning media... For now, I'd rather own the media, at least for video. I've started buying most of my music from iTunes, but even that makes me nervous. I own maybe 800 CDs, and in all the years of owning CDs I've only had 1 or 2 get damaged beyond repair. If a CD dies, I'm out just that CD. However, if a hard drive dies I'm out everything on that drive. Unless I have a backup - but with 45GB of music, keeping backups is a pain. (I do.)

For video, especially HD video, the economics aren't in favor of digital storage. I own over 1,000 DVDs, and still have hundreds of VHS and some LDs, and I'd need terrabytes of capacity to store all of that digitally. And double that, because with that much data I'd want a RAID system. (I'm looking at building a RAID array media server now, just for iTunes and my TiVoToGo files.)

Eventually I'm sure drive capacities will be high enough, and the price per capacity low enough, to make it a viable solution. But by then we may all have fat data pipes and we'll be watching everything 'on demand' with no local copies, aside from maybe a 'small' cache.

For now I'll stick to DVD, and I plan on going to Blu-ray for HD content. Probably starting with the PS3, since it will likely be the cheapest BD system to start, and I want one anyway. :-)
Posted by megazone (138 comments )
Link Flag
How small is "small?"
Bc Saxman posted: "To the extent that a codec impacts quality, the effect is very small and these new codecs are renown for not having problems in that regard."

That may be true, but forgive me for my lack of faith. For years we've been told about how MP3 is "near-CD quality" compression for audio, yet to a trained audiophile ear there is a clear difference. I will never play MP3s on my home stereo.

The major selling point for HDTV vs. SDTV is the improved video resolution, so why cut more corners to compress the data further, even if the difference is "small?" I can understand doing so for a portable media player where storage is at a premium, but not for a disc-based format for home use where I want the absolute best picture and sound I can afford.

I realize there's a lot more to video quality than the CODEC used to compress the data, but I find it tough to accept any more tradeoffs of image quality for storage space unless there's some very compelling reason to do so. I bet most people would be surprised to hear that VHS has more video bandwidth than DVD, but DVD has a great many other features that make the "small" difference in image quality acceptable. :)

Posted by speleofool (60 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Depending on your definition, VHS may well have 'more video
bandwidth; than DVD. But your vision has to be pretty bad before
you would think that VHS comes anywhere close to DVD for video

I would suspect that your 'bandwidth' claim is not an appropriate
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
I have to agree with Earl
Your comparing VHS (Analog) to DVD (digital) in which digital only use's a fraction of any bandwidth to produce a very good quality picture or image as compared to analog.... but I would have to think a little differently if the comparison was made to Digital VHS over DVD, I remember hearing about Digital VHS or D-VHS a few years back but never saw much or heard much more about it, although at the price point it was stated at back then (over $1000) I had figured it wouldnt take off any time too soon since dvd players had become cheaper and DVD recorder's were becoming more available, anyways here are a few links on D-VHS just for something to read on for those interested -

<a class="jive-link-external" href=",1282,41045,00.html?tw=wn_story_related" target="_newWindow">,1282,41045,00.html?tw=wn_story_related</a>

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Posted by (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Has anyone seen Blu-Ray
I think this whole thing is absurd, however, initially being firmly in the Blu-Ray camp, I have just witnessed the newly release Samsung Blu-Ray playing back 7 titles on a new 1080p Samsung TV. The picture is about as bad as it gets. HD-DVD on a 42" 1080i Sony playing next to it blew it away. It's in the codec. Sony does it again! Take a superior product and finds a way to screw it up. I just canceled my order for Pioneer's new 1080p TV and "Elite" Blu-Ray player. Catch this; the reps are saying that "don't worry" because by Christmas Blu-Ray will be releasing their VCI codec. Oh then I can replace all my crappy Blu-Ray movies that I bought with MPEG-2. Plus this is probably BS as Sony has committed to MPEG-2. All anyone has to do is look side by side at HD-DVD (at 1080i although the discs are recorded at 1080P) versus Blu-Ray and see which is superior. Bye bye BetaMax, I mean Blu-Ray.
Posted by Priaptor (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Too bad everything is left up to big companies. Did anyone think that these companies have gotten big on the backs of the regular Joe or Jane. You are Joe and Jane. If you can come together and figure out how to play all movies with one player you would free those of us who cannot afford hundreds of dollars to spend, but can afford one hundred dollars.
Think about it.
Example, you have two stores side by side. One store sells a suite for 300.00 dollars, the store next to it sells that same suite or one just like it with the same quality, but charges $150.00. Who do you think would make the most money.
Posted by GateKeepersBoss (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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