NOTE: On Friday, January 4th, 2008 Warner Brothers Entertainment announced that they would be going with the Blu-ray format exclusively (as of end of May). A spokesperson added "The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger. We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers."


As we stated in our original, article from August 2007 (below) - "Warner may be the most important studio producing new formats and if they go with only one new format soon then I would say 'the war is over'."


So what does that mean? It means that Blu-ray, barring some dramatic and unlikely turn of events, has 'won' the format war. Almost all of our points below hold true but we now recommend that consumers interested in going high-definition choose Blu-ray (as opposed to both or cheaper HD first). We expect the last two studios producing HD format discs - Universal (with their HD exclusivity contract over) and Paramount - to announce sometime this year that they too will produce hi-def DVDs only in the Blu-ray standard.


Although region coding still remains an issue, we feel confident that hacks will continue to surface to combat both the region enforcing of SD's through hi-def players and Blu-ray's A,B,C separation (only truly utilized by 20th Century Fox Blu-ray DVDs at present.)


BOTTOM LINE: We feel this is a very positive step for home theatre film fans and DVD-ophiles. The Warner statement above holds very true - the confusion, holding most people back, should be almost totally alleviated. Consumers can embrace high-definition with confidence now. It will probably be the very last hard film format in existence for home use with downloading and streaming as an eventual part of future entertainment.





I decided that it’s time for DVDBeaver to speak up about the new DVD formats seeing as what a hot topic it continues to be and we have now reviewed over 80 titles in either HD or Blu-ray. I, personally, own one of each new format players (a Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD Player for close to a year and a Sony BDP-S300 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player for over 3 months). As opposed to individual email queries - I thought it might be better to state my observations in one big lump. By the way I really like what my friend Donald says 'I'm in the cineophile camp. Just give me great movies that look as good as possible, regardless of the format.' Bravo!

Take into account this is just my opinion – how I see things and... I'm wrong all the time. Thanks to Donald, Eddie and the DVDBeaver Listserv for informative data and enlightening discussion. Topics include (linked):


Impartiality           Backlash           Not Leaving the Party
Protection           Supported by           Compatibility
Taking full advantage           Criterion and...           Region coding and standards
Technically Speaking           Ready Yet?           The Players          Price
 Classic vs. Blockbuster (availability)           Remember Beta? Or SACD? Or is it Cost?
Replacement           Is It Really Worth It?             Patience
Who Will Win?                BOTTOM LINE



NOTE: When we use the term 'SD DVDs' - we are referring to standard definition DVDs - the ones that have been inexistence for the past 10 years.



Just to clear some things up at the start – I have no bias – I’m not paid (nor any of our reviewers) by any corporation or organization to side with one format over the other (or to even support both!). DVDBeaver has always encouraged (from our official statement) ‘… individuals respecting their favorite films with the definitive digital edition available to them…



When the new formats were initially announced I was rather indifferent – perhaps even a bit disappointed. After VHS and then Laserdisc I thought SD DVD was the last frontier that home film presentation would populate. I had built a substantial SD DVD library of a few thousand titles – many of which I could view repeatedly for the rest of my life – and I still believe this is true by the way. If I didn’t have DVDBeaver and a feeling of obligation to inform the readers of the value of HD/BR I probably wouldn’t own a new format player at this time.  But I do… and I do. I still realize how some DVD-o-philes can get their communal backs up about the building wave of new formats as if it might threaten their diligently built, meticulously organized and treasured SD collections. It is an understandable, though perhaps irrational, defense mechanism. But fear not…


Not Leaving the Party:

Just to assuage some apprehension - SD DVD isn’t going anywhere folks. It took over ten years to get a standard DVD player (or 2, or 3!) in every home in the industrialized world (global estimates approach the 100 million machines mark). So it will be around with all new releases for at least the next decade – probably longer. As long as people are willing to purchase SD DVDs then studios will produce them – and like everything else electronically consumer oriented – they will get cheaper and cheaper. We don’t endorse piracy to any degree but when criminals can digitally video a theatrical film, then stick it on a dual-layered, progressive and anamorphic DVD and sell it with box with cover art for $5 then that only means SD DVD will proliferate for a very long time (legally and illegally). Profiteers with a rare VHS tape and a standard computer constantly duplicate onto DVD and sell via eBay – it is rampant. Actually part of the whole reason for the HD and Blu-ray push is for the studios to protect their ‘property’ – but more on that below.



Part of the initial drive fuelling High Definition discs was pressure from the studios to establish locked software that could not be duplicated as SD DVD piracy costs them untold billions of potential dollars. Well, the new formats have not done a good job of that as their ‘code(s)’ were cracked for both formats earlier this year. In the race for the #1 spot this issue seems to have been placed on the back-burner. Presently though it is not cost effective to duplicate on any scale (even for large corporations!). Time and money will play this result out.  


Supported by:

Among the larger media companies in the U.S., Blu-ray is supported by 20th Century Fox, Buena Vista (Disney, Touchstone, Miramax), MGM Studios (partially owned by Sony, home video distributed by Fox), Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Brothers (including New Line and HBO), and Lionsgate.

HD is supported by Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures (including DreamWorks Pictures), DreamWorks Animation (which is actually a separate company and not a part of Paramount/DreamWorks), Warner Brothers (including New Line and HBO), and The Weinstein Company.


Hardware manufacturers give Blu-ray more support but I don’t know how big a factor this is as Toshiba (HD) is such a large company they are capable of supplying the current (and probably future) demand for hardware. I suppose it could be a issue if you consider marketing although I still think price is a much larger redflag. We had a report that Toshiba reached an agreement with Wal-Mart for 2 million machines to be sold at $299 US. Some say that Blu-ray players are expected to reach that price point by the end of this year (2007).



Imagine, at the introduction of the DVD format, a VHS player that also was able to play DVDs – to my knowledge this animal never existed back then but if it had then I suspect that DVD would have been popular at a much more expedient rate. The best thing about the new format players is that they are backwards compatible – meaning the new format machines, outfitted with both red and blue-laser diodes, play SD DVDs just easily - thank you very much . Actually I noted that SDs played on a new format machine appear as crisp as my upconverting Samsung HD-850 DVD player did (it’s on the shelf now). So when you purchase a new format player (odds are many will one day – most likely within the next 2 years) then you need not throw out your old SD DVDs. Hallelujah! You’ll only require one player (more on the region coding issue though below).  So when your SD player breaks down – you may wish to consider an HD or Blu-ray player as a replacement. This seems just as progressively thinking as those who purchase combo DVDs (have SD on one side and HD on the other) before they even own an HD player. Of course everything is dependant on current prices – or how much you might save monetarily if you will inevitably be purchasing in the future. It is something to consider.


Taking full advantage:

It doesn’t seem to be very efficient to own an HDTV (capable of 1080p/1080i/720p) but to view your favorite films in 576/480p resolution.  If you watch brilliant quality HD television broadcasts eventually 480p DVDs will start to look very inferior to you. 1080p can be at least six times the resolution of 480p. In a perfect world we should maximize our viewing systems potential – SD is definitely lagging behind home theater technology.


Criterion and:

I have spoken at length on the phone with Criterion president Peter Becker discussing this very issue. Criterion has no imminent plan to go one way or the other in regards to the new formats. They will continue to release in SD – seeing no reason to gamble on a new format choice at this time. You may recall that they were one of the last major production houses to go 16X9 – so a conservative approach is part of their business plan/policy. Individuals who wait for direction from Criterion before indulging in the new formats should be very patient – I don’t think anything is happening soon. NOTE: In a disparaging aberration for Hi-Def - Criterion’s SD of Spartacus is actually superior to Universals HD-DVD of the same film! This is the only title that I am aware of where SD bested HD (of course, there may be others).


Region coding and standards

Most of us who are aware of all the issues regarding the region coding of DVD find the entire concept absolutely ridiculous and it is patently ‘consumer unfriendly’. The DVD Forum/major studios preferred to divide up the world into 6 'region codes'. This is to help them improve profits by controlling, or price fixing, one specific market. In general terms it amounts to gouging regions where they feel they can obtain the most money or infrequently selling off copyrights to alternate and often inferior, DVD production houses where they deem it less profitable. Being 'region-locked' you are limited by what you can watch and are certainly forced to accept quality standards of the DVD copyright owner/production company of a specific film in the region in which you reside (unless, of course, it is Public Domain). Most of my serious cineophile friends own region-free DVD players to overcome the region ‘coding’ of DVDs. This allows them to purchase DVDs from anywhere in the world. HD is not region coded and will play anywhere – meaning you can buy an HD-DVD from any country in the world (possibly the one selling it the cheapest) and it will play on your HD DVD player no matter where you live. Blu-ray is still clinging to the principle of region coding – having divided the world up into 3 geographical sections (I hope the guy who thought this up was fired!). I don’t know if this will become prevalent – ex. Warner Blu-ray DVDs are all region free but the mere concept of certain production houses enforcing this is so off-putting it may be a factor in pushing some to HD. It was part of my decision to go HD first (that and Classics vs. Blockbusters issue below). By the way, we can finally throw out NTSC/PAL/Secam/ standards for DVD with the new formats – it is no longer an issue – thank goodness.


One point – North American made and sold HD players play only region 1 (or region 0) NTSC SD discs. European HD DVD players play only region 2 (or region 0) PAL SD DVDs... and so on. HD players are not region free for SD DVDs – nor are Blu-ray players. I suspect a hack will eventually evolve to combat this and give new format players region free (for SD) capability. I hope so.


Technically Speaking:

Blu-Ray discs have a larger storage capacity than HD, but they also cost more to produce (more on technical specifics in Remember Beta? Or SACD? Or is it Cost?). Audio is different too, but I won't get into that right now. So far, of those titles offered in both formats, there is virtually no difference in image quality even when different video codecs are utilized.  (Sometimes, Paramount used different codecs for its HD and Blu-Ray titles.  This is no longer relevant because Paramount and DreamWorks Animation are switching to HD-only.)  Warner sent me about 15 titles in both formats and I've had a chance to compare visually and there is no difference that I can ascertain (Warner uses the same encode for titles with opposing new formats). A dual-layered HD-DVD is capable of holding about 5 hours of HD programming – far in excess of standard film times – if bonus features exceed this we may see them move to a 2nd disc as they do with SD. A dual-layered Blu-ray DVD can hold a whopping 9 hours of HD content. The latter is far more than I require to watch any of my favorite films and 1 film per disc is enough for me personally speaking. 


Ready Yet? :

There was some talk a while back that the BD-Java component in Blu-ray (and several secondary features) had still not been finalized – with an upcoming Oct. 31st, 2007 deadline stated for compliance. I’m quite out of my league here and as I understand it these features are not essential for normal playback. Statements regarding current Blu-ray player’s possible incompatibility with future Blu-ray discs seem to be a non-issue as far as we are able to determine. If it does prove to be true then it would be a significant public relations blow to Sony (they already have enough on their hands) and I’ll assume they would have to find some firmware solution for all past Blu-ray players sold. Essentially this should not be something worth considering in determination of a new format machine to buy.


The Players:


Both of mine are pretty heavy pieces of equipment (compared to SD players) and painfully slow in ‘booting’ up (Blu-ray is a bit bigger and seems slightly slower to power up). Other than that I don’t have much to say. Both remotes seem to have the same number of buttons – but I don’t use the majority of them. I’m a simple man (Play – Pause – get a glass of Château Latour 82’ – Play…. yeah, I wish). Blu-ray has the potential for a few more bells and whistles but nothing I am overly excited about. My Blu-ray player has had far more glitches so far (freezing, skipping and audio disappearing) with phoned tech support stating a ‘plug out – plug back in’ solution (funny they said the same thing to our reviewer Leonard Norwitz). I should state that most of the time my Blu-ray player performs quite efficiently. The biggest difference in the two of them was the...



Stand alone Blu-ray players are significantly more money to buy at present than HD players (roughly approaching 3 times the cost right now but the gap is closing). This is a major factor in holding many people back from going Blu-ray or Hi-Def. This and, obviously, not wanting to invest in ‘the loser’ (whichever that may be prove it be). A lot of the market is ‘game’ driven with Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox capable of playing their respective new formats. I’m not a ‘gamer’ and don’t know enough about this to comment but I understand it is a significant enough number to help the new format DVD sales.


Everywhere that I have seen the new format DVDs for sale, both online and brick and mortar, they are generally the same price (for the same titles) with few variations. I don’t think this is a reason to choose one over the other at present although for different titles - HD, overall, is less expensive. One should note that both players are going down in price, as will Hi-Def DVDs, and I have no idea where they will end up at. 


Classic vs. Blockbuster (availability):

There are more Blu-ray releases than HD at present (both offer over 200 titles though right now). There are many more new film/blockbusters presently in Blu-ray (Pearl Harbor, Chicago, Pirates of the Caribbean(s), upcoming Spiderman(s) etc.) in DVD where HD has some more classically oriented titles than Blu-ray does (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, RAN, Spartacus, Forbidden Planet, Mutiny on the Bounty etc.) but a decent percentage of existing titles in the new formats are supported by both thanks to Warner and, in the past, Paramount.


Remember Beta? Or SACD? Or is it Cost?:

Will history repeat itself? Consistently in the discussion of this High Definition DVD ‘format war’ (I don’t really like that term) the old Beta/VHS issue is always brought up. Sony, and its Beta tape format, trying to aggressively monopolize the market lost out as JVC allowed the use of their, inferior, VHS standard to populate without royalty cost. The same thing won't happen with Blu-ray but something important could... about price. Without getting too technical (ex. I won't discuss the 405nm wavelength blue-violet laser or Blu-ray's tighter track pitch than HD etc.) but cost is something anyone can appreciate. Because Blu-ray discs have a thinner surface layer (holding more data) a special hard coating must also be applied to them to protect this data – and so it costs more than in, simpler, HD production. Over huge volumes does this make the expense negligible? I don’t know. All I am saying is that it costs more to produce a Blu-ray DVD than it does an HD-DVD. Will this be the determining factor in studios switching only to HD (as Paramount –Viacom and DreamWorks Animation have chosen to do recently)? I suspect it will be - but is it enough of one to affect the outcome? No one knows that. Price may be HD's last playing card in the deck - but it's a strong one. No one knows if it's an Ace yet.


Is it possible that one or both of the new formats go the way of SACD? Super Audio CD (SACD) is a read-only optical audio disc format, still in existence, which provides a much higher fidelity digital audio reproduction than current music CDs. It was developed in around 2000 by Sony and Philips Electronics. SACD has never made significant progress toward acquiring consumer acceptance although it is reportedly the best sounding home CD format. Of the two I suspect Blu-ray has a better chance of going this route because of player price but I doubt either new DVD format will creep into anonymity (it's turned into a very expensive dogfight). Incidentally SACD is alive and well - there are almost 5000 SACD titles available (although keep in mind 90,000 unique CD titles are produced each year worldwide.) I don’t know too many people who own an SACD player although Sony's PlayStation 3 game console can play them. Incidentally the OPPO DV-970 Universal DVD player also plays SACD and is retail $149 US. (NOTE: the format war between SACD and DVD-Audio will not be discussed here – another topic entirely).


So if it cost more to produce BR discs than HD then I envision less studios up-converting bountiful releases from their vault (we tend to like the obscure rather than the mainstream here at DVDBeaver)… and hence my suggestion that it has more chance of going niche (SACD’ing as it were). I wouldn't like this as it is the abstruse cinema (DVDBeaverites crave) that tends to be the first forgotten.         



Will you have to replace all your discs? Well, that is a choice only you can make. I will probably replace my favorite 50 odd films that would benefit most from a superior presentation (as they, hopefully, continue to come out). I will also buy new format DVDs for stuff I don’t own in SD (like I did with Goodfellas – relax, I owned the laserdisc) or stuff I have not seen but am encouraged to by reviews (like Black Snake Moan).


Is It Really Worth It?:

In my opinion… absolutely. If I knew some new format DVDs would look this good I would have bought sooner – I think just Casablanca and The Searchers are worth the upgrade alone – even if nothing else was available!

Casablanca - available on HD from Warner


The Searchers - available in both Blu-ray and HD from Warner


Hi-Def DVD unfortunately supports an addictiveness that I am trying to evade. It is ridiculous how good some of these new discs look and sound (not all are worthy upgrades in my opinion though). As well as more vibrant colors and less digital noise, the new formats can occasionally present a kind of 3 dimensional rich depth – something I never recall getting - even from 35mm cinema. A large factor in getting a Blu-ray machine for myself was how great my HD-DVDs looked.  All HD and Blu-ray DVDs that I own are superior to their SD counterparts (excepting the aforementioned Spartacus) – to varying degrees. BBC’s Planet Earth is also a stunning essential purchase in my opinion. I can’t wait for such announced titles as The Seventh Seal, The Wild Bunch, a lot of Kubrick including 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, also coming are Deliverance, then Blade Runner… and this is just the start. I think the more titles that are released the better the chance that one format, or both, will survive. This is what we eventually want – the merging of great films with the highest technology home theatre standards available.     



There is nothing wrong with being prudent and waiting but the only warning is that if the new formats are not supported – they both may ‘dinosaur’. Honestly though I can’t see that happening – and my sole encouragement is strictly for the DVD quality which often borders on the fantastical. I went HD first because it was cheaper - but the image quality actually sold me on buying Blu-ray too. I doubt any purchaser of a new machine will ever regret the decision once they start to utilize the new format potential. Many folks may wait till there are at least a dozen or so titles that they really want before taking the plunge – I suggest to you that, in some cases, it may be as wide a gap in the quality of compact disc audio over cassette tapes - a kind of a renaissance for home theater film lovers.


To take advantage of the competing formats the best course of action for a consumer may be to own both players as prices of the machines continue to drop. This way you are not a patient 'victim' on the sidelines waiting for one to disappear (this may take a long while, by the way) and you aren't gambling on a victor by buying only one. Then it doesn't matter to you which becomes ultimately dominant and you have the greatest selection of Hi-def DVDs to choose from. You are benefiting from their dogfight as they strive for public acceptance.


Who Will Win?:

Well, first off you and I, the consumers, will win in my opinion if one or both formats proliferate the marketplace. With competing sides existing at present - prices drop as each segment battles for your business. I think it probably behooves the existence of one format for ‘us’ in the long run but as there is competition right now neither format can sneak slowly into the market – testing sales along the way and backing out when it becomes cost-inefficient. Presently new format production is going ‘balls out’ as the saying goes to gain the monopolizing standard – both are financially losing causes right now (Blu-ray and HD-DVD sales are definitely not through the roof). Heaven forbid if it was only one format alone out there what price we’d be paying for players and possibly discs. Understandably, profit is the major concern (Sony is as typically greedy and monopolistic a company as Microsoft) and they might price themselves out of the mainstream consumer market if they won too easily and it would go the exact route of SACD with only a relative handful of hardcore purists indulging and far from every title upgraded. Sony’s Blu-ray technology is superior (just like their Betamax and SACD were/are) and there are more blockbuster titles available than competing HD but as history tells us this doesn't have to be the crux issue in becoming the defacto standard – it is about money and HD is cheaper for the player and also cheaper to produce the discs themselves. If a consumer is thinking they may want to go Hi-Def and require 2nd and 3rd machines (possibly for their bedroom and/or basement) then cost can definitely become an issue.


Then again sales numbers will be the huge issue and at present Blu-ray are outselling HD by 2-1 and the gap appears to be growing. The volumes, presently, are still a drop in the bucket to what is corporately expected. Still though I, personally, prefer the better classic selection of HD at present. It is quite obvious that the one that sells the most will 'win'. I'm no Nostradamus and again shrug my shoulders as to who that will be in the long run. Another point: Blockbuster, Target and BJ's Wholesale Club have all decided to promote Blu-ray exclusively where the pornography industry has pledged themselves to HD-DVD. The latter is not as big an issue as it was in the Beta/VHS war where many claim 'porn's' decision to go VHS ended that battle. Pornography is too rampant on the Internet and SD for purchasing of Hi-Def DVDs to radically affect the new format war but all of this divisiveness makes consumer decisions harder and harder.


Despite the stronger support of Blu-ray I suspect when parties start switching camps (like Paramount - Viacom and DreamWorks Animation just did - possibly for an under-the-table incentives) this will be the biggest factor determining which gains the significant edge for ultimate survival and dominance. Warner may be the most important studio producing new formats and if they go with only one new format soon then I would say 'the war is over'. If Warner continues to produce a lot of great titles in both new formats (with the exact same quality - same encode), for the next few years, then it makes sense to purchase the least expensive player.


Right now – no one knows the result but although HD is simpler (a lesser product in terms of data volume – not necessarily quality) and not as well supported (less studios - less manufacturers) – it still has a chance to win. It's not over yet and my opinion is that it is far too early to vehemently forecast. Ex. Blu-ray may lose out when strong quality dual players become available (machines that play both HD and BR). NOTE: Actually LG have produced two of them - the LG BH100 High-Definition HD DVD/Blu-ray Player and the LG BH100 High-definition HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc player - but both have technical issues, are expensive and not recommended for a number of reasons including the inability to read HD-DVD menus. It is unlikely that these will become a popular item with consumers because of the cost (they require two pickup heads) and I don’t know that any major manufacturer is currently slated to offering competent ones in the future. But if they were available (and became popular) why would Warner, as one example of a studio that produces both formats, continue pouring money into the more expensive Blu-ray disc when a large slice of their purchasers have the capability of playing both Hi-Def formats? It's a long shot I know but Blu-ray DVDs could eventually cost more and if the general public has apprehension about any significant quality of HD/Blu-ray over SD (which it does - despite owner's enthusiasm) – how can you convince them of Blu-ray over HD? That is one tough sell and a pretty big gamble in my opinion. Still the frontrunner is presently Blu-ray... and it may stay that way or it could prove to be only the first mile of a marathon.



If my brother-in-law phoned me on his cell and said "I just got a bonus at work - I'm at the mall - what new format player should I buy?" I wouldn't know what to say - I don’t know the outcome of this – no one does. No one wants to buy the one, like Beta tapes, that ends up unsupported (or vastly less supported). I might suggest going cheaper HD first as I personally did, and if you are so enamored by the experience - buy Blu-ray in a year when it is, hopefully, as inexpensive. I think there is enough in HD at present (and announced) to satisfy many film fans for a long while and I don't foresee it dying a slow death - it might end up with 5000 titles in the next decade... or, then again, it may not.


I wouldn’t write off either format yet and I'm hoping, and truly believe; at least one will survive to eventually (10 years?) become a standard – so much has been spent (and and is continues to be spent) but the future adjusts so rapidly how can anyone predict it anymore. I have a soft spot for HD as they seem to be the underdog in many people’s eyes - it is region free as well that I expect more arthouse and foreign film titles will be released if HD ends up ‘winning’ (ex. Studio Canal in France – an original HD supporter – has a huge world cinema library to access. NOTE: They just announced they will also support Blu-ray in some titles as well - see HERE). I'll repeat; If it cost more to produce BR discs than HD then I envision less studios up-converting bountiful releases from their vault (we tend to like the obscure rather than the mainstream here at DVDBeaver)… and hence my suggestion that it has more chance of going niche (SACD’ing as it were). I'd like whatever new format ends up conquering to be widespread and reasonably priced as well (for consumer support and for production to make available a diverse enough catalogue of titles).


As a film fan my goal is to experience as close to theatrical viewing as possible and both formats give us vast superiority over SD in that area. I wouldn’t be totally unhappy if Blu-ray started to flourish as long as it remained at a sensible price point, for sales and production, and many titles continued to be offered (not just mainstream blockbusters and an occasional errant foreign/classic film). These really are my only two issues.


Finally, throw your hatred for Sony and/or Microsoft out the window and be a mercenary for your own pleasure and entertainment potential. The new formats are great folks and I think Hi-Def is here to stay – I love spending your money so embrace the future and ‘drink deep from the digital disc pool… or not at all.’ Right now either format will give you some jaw-dropping home theatre experiences and owning both will give you an unfettered choice of what is available in Hi-Def DVD.


Gary Tooze

August 30th, 2007



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