This is the second buyer's guide in a series of two that cover Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, and hybrid or combo players that can handle both types of media. This guide covers the Blu-ray players and recorders that are available, along with hybrid or combo players; the first guide appeared on February 21, 2007, as the HD-DVD Buyer's Guide.
Those readers who didn't catch this first installment will probably benefit from reading the introductory materials on pages two and three of that story, because they set the stage for the discussion here with more details on several topics.
First, you'll find a description of what makes high definition DVD content worth bothering with, which can be summarized somewhat flippantly - but also accurately -as "better sound, better picture." You'll find the skinny on resolutions and scan types supported, laser specifics and resulting data densities, and data rates on Blu-ray and HD-DVD media.
Second, there's a brief description of the video codecs used for high-definition video on Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs, including discussions of Advanced Video Coding (AVC) and Video Codec 1 (VC-1).
Third, you'll read explanations of the multi-channel surround sound formats available on high-definition Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs, including Dolby Digital Plus (DD+ aka E-AC-3), Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, and DTS-HD Master Audio. For more information, there are pointers to more technical data on HD-DVD FAQs at eMedia, and the "official information outlets" for both HD-DVD and Blu-ray.
Finally, there's an interesting discussion of the differences between HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Blu-ray uses a tighter track pitch of 0.32 micrometers, compared to 0.40 micrometers for HD-DVD (and 0.74 micrometers for conventional DVDs). Blu-ray also has a higher numerical aperture, which is a measure of the ability of a lens to gather light and resolve details at a fixed object distances: it is 0.85 for Blu-ray and 0.65 for HD-DVD. Together, these combine to deliver higher data density for Blu-ray: up to 25 GB per layer, compared to 15 GB per layer for HD-DVD.
This difference is somewhat offset by HD-DVD manufacturing being sufficiently similar to conventional DVDs that it can use the same bulk reproduction equipment, whereas Blu-ray cannot. It's also the case that Blu-ray gear costs considerably more than HD-DVD gear, and that combo players or drives that can handle both formats cost even more than that.
Most of the HD-DVD players mentioned in the preceding guide cost between $500 and $1,000, with drives running anywhere from $200-429. Blu-ray prices run double these amounts on the low end, with a 20% premium for equivalent combo units ($1,200 is the suggested retail price both for the player and the drive, according to LG). Though the combo drives may appear to make the HD-DVD versus Blu-ray face off moot, they do so at what is a substantial price penalty today - for a real "Alexandrine solution" to emerge, these prices will have to come down.
For this guide, as with the previous one, we ignore the growing crop of notebook PCs that include Blu-ray drives or offer them as configuration options. What we concentrate on here is the current crop of Blu-ray players (and the odd burner) along with information about hybrid or combo player and drives that have also recently become available. These include a player and an internal PC drive, both from Korean electronics giant LG, along with brief mention of some media center PCs from vendors that can be configured with both types of drives - and presumably with the LG combo drive, too. We also provide a few comments and speculations about what else is coming soon (or is already here) that may also bear consideration.
We'll also be doing a companion guide on Blu-ray players as a follow-up to this piece, in which we will also discuss an emerging but very expensive crop of hybrid players that can handle both HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats (albeit with some occasionally interesting caveats). But first, a technology overview, including speeds and feeds, and potential but not always potent differences between the HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats and related technologies.