The HD battle.. and why I would rather see Blu-Ray win December 17, 2007 at 8:58 pm

For those who don’t know.. or just haven’t paid attention, there’s a battle going on in the marketplace right now about which format should replace the current DVD one.. the 2 competing formats are HD-DVD and Blu-Ray (HD and BD from here on out).  If you really want more info, I suggest  this page at Wikipedia as a good starting point. They have a few pages there, with a really good chart comparing HD and BD with DVD for added info. You’ll note from the linked page that there are a few other competing ideas too, and there’s downloads, but these are the 2 big dogs. I pretty much discount downloads for Hi-Def content anyway, as the data sizes for storage and the required download times just won’t really work… today.

Anyway, if you check the nice table near the top of the linked wikipedia entry, you’ll note that when it comes down to it, HD and BD are very similar. As far as codecs go for video and audio on the discs, they’re pretty similar. BD does edge out a bit in tending to prefer higher bit-rates for most stuff. Basically where there are differences, BD wins.. aside from Dolby True-HD audio which HD requires a higher bit-rate on. BD has higher data transfer rates and because it has a lot more storage (50Gig vs 30Gig for the 2 dual layered) BD movies are more likely to have the uncompressed audio stream and can have the video done at a higher rate for better quality. Of course the resulting quality all depends on how the studio has the video and audio done… and right now the studios that release both will tend to do well enough for HD, then just dump the same thing onto BD (I would too.. why pay more to have another version done for BD?). 


Most of the arguments for people that want HD to win tend to boil down to 2 things: 
1. HD players are cheaper. This is true, however that gap is closing fast, especially things like today’s announcement that Sony dropped a player’s price to $299.99 which is a pretty big change. 
2. People say they’ll never trust Sony again after the Rootkit scandal from a couple years ago. True, Sony was stupid here, but frankly this is a dumb stance considering Microsoft is the developer of the HDi interactive layer on HD disks (BD uses a Java version) and is a HUGE backer of HD… I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll pick Sony over Microsoft as a company to trust any day. 

So basically the format war boils down to.. they’re very similar, most people can’t tell the difference, and I really don’t care that much who wins.. though right now I give an edge to BD. The larger space available and higher bit rates for data transfer win me over as well. 

Tonight though, I had my first experience that makes me dislike HD even more. First a little info: I have both a BD and HD player… well, actually I have a Playstation 3 and an Xbox 360 with the HD-DVD addon. Thus far I have had no issues with my PS3 at all… and every movie I’ve bought (I have about 24 BD movies to 7 HD ones) in BD has worked flawlessly. Including all the interactive bits I’ve messed with, like the interactive Liar’s Dice game on the 2nd Pirates of the Caribbean set. I have had, however.. issues on the HD side. First off, I’ve yet to see a BD get scratched to where it won’t play.. in fact, I’ve not seen a scratch show up (one big thing Sony pushes in the BD spec is an anti-scratch coating it uses). I have had one of the “hybrid” HD/DVD disks scratched to unplayable out of the case though (the movie was Smoking Aces)… because the cheap box’s hub that holds the disk broke. 


The problem tonight was with the much-touted release of the Bourne Ultimatum “hybrid” disc. I booted up my 360 and put it in.. and the disc failed to read popping up a warning. I reset the xbox and it read… immediately telling me there was an update for the “game” (stupid xbox message calls movies games too), which I applied. When it started playback again, it asked me if I would allow a cookie for some web content thing it wanted to do.. I said yes, and a “loading” screen appeared.. and then stopped. I could exit playback but re-entering the disk showed the same loading screen, and it froze again after 2 seconds. I did a quick search online and found people mentioning the online part sucking (apparently Knocked Up has issues too). I found that I could get past the frozen bit by either unplugging the console’s network cable (yeah, that’s a good fix) or if I hit OK inside the 2 seconds I had before the thing froze. I was then able to disable the network access from HD movies altogether (else it locks every time). I even snagged a quick video of it to show what it does (yeah, quality isn’t exactly up there):

 

Once I’m into playback, the disk seems fine… looks great, sounds great, etc. The fact that the HDi layer is this fragile though (HDi includes the web bits and/or interactive programs from what I understand… check wikipedia) is beyond asinine. I shouldn’t be surprised, Microsoft isn’t exactly known for stable software. This is nonetheless very frustrating when the PS3 just works.. every time.  Granted BD doesn’t require network access in every player (though the PS3 will support it if it doesn’t already I’m sure).. but who really needs it all the time for movies anyway?  This difference in how the two have performed for me is just another small push over to the BD side.

Small other note that likely has nothing to do with the HD/BD spec vs the consoles… the 360 takes about double the time to just read and start playback of the HD discs when compared to the PS3 and BD movies.  Notice it’s a good 14 seconds from the time the xbox menus go blank (very first frames of above video) before the “loading” screen shows up.  Oh, and frankly, the playback on the PS3 is just nicer then the 360.. the interface is better, and the info you can display is better.  That’s personal preference of course, but the PS3 clearly shows nice info like video codec and bit-rates, audio codec and bit-rates, and you can quickly toggle between time displays (up or down) for title or chapter.  The 360 just seems to show time played and time remaining and I don’t see anything on codecs.  The remote for the PS3 is a lot nicer.. both in look/feel and that they stuck to bluetooth whereas the 360 remote (maybe there’s a new one, not sure) is IR and frankly it sucks rocks when the unit isn’t directly facing you.  I used to have my consoles installed in a cabinet facing 90 degrees from me and the 360 was a pain to use the remote with, and I HATE using the game controllers for movie playback.  Why they even bothered with an IR remote when the console also already have wireless built in for the game controllers is beyond me.  

Update: After some net searching, I found suggestions to clear the 360 cache.  Doing that fixed the hang, so I can hit OK to skip even after 2 seconds, but the download appears be barely get anywhere (if at all).  Thus I refer back to the line above with asinine in it again. :)

Update (a bit later):  *sigh*  I get about 2/3 into the movie and run into tons of playback issues.  The thing hangs, I can hear the disc trying to re-read again and again, until if eventually gives up (15+ seconds each time) and usually poorly catches up again after several more seconds of jitter and audio-sync issues.  It got so bad I finally gave up and flipped it over, and moved it into my PS3, and watched the standard DVD to finish it.  Yes, I checked for dust and it seems fine, nor can I see scratches.  First ad on the DVD side is a pro-HD-DVD bit too.. oh the irony.

Update (again): I removed “(barely)” from the title.  After the later problems I had with playback (and it’s not the first time I’ve seen that on the HD side) it pushed my support for Blu-ray over even more.

Update (ok, this is getting crazy): For those that wonder about my mention of the problems, you can see from a google search that there are a lot of issues with the web content hanging, and playback issues in general out there.

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