Should you upgrade to high-definition DVD?

Many people spend thousands of dollars on an HDTV only to find out that their TV has brought out the truth about DVDs: they are not, in fact, high definition. In fact, the low-priced (and quickly disappearing) EDTVs will do just as good a job at displaying DVDs as your fancy new HDTV. Until recently, the only way to see real HDTV quality video was to watch HDTV programming on selected television stations. For pre-recorded movies, you were stuck with the relatively low-definition DVD. Some higher-end DVD players claimed to upgrade DVDs to HDTV quality, but in fact these “upconverting” DVD players can only simulate higher definition by extrapolating from the video on the DVD – they can never truly produce HDTV quality. In fact, there was no way to watch true HDTV images off a recorded disc until now.

The past few months has witnessed the release of two different high-definition media players: the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player and the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-Ray Player. Much like in the prior Betamax vs VHS format war of the 1980s, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are two competing formats both offering similar high-definition video in incompatible formats. Both types of players can play conventional DVDs, but they cannot play each other’s discs.

Blu-Ray has been the favorite for some time, with more companies behind it, including heavyweights like Sony and Panasonic. However, with the release of Samsung BD-P1000, the tables have turned somewhat. The only Blu-Ray player available seems decidedly disappointing, with relatively unimpressive video quality compared to the Toshiba’s HD-DVD player. In addition, the number of titles available for Blu-Ray is significantly fewer than already limited number of discs available for HD-DVD. The Toshiba player is also significantly cheaper than the Samsung.

So is it game-over for Blu-Ray? Not so fast. Both of these players have significant limitations (the Toshiba player is notoriously slow to load discs, and has other early-product annoyances). If you had to choose one of these players today, Toshiba’s HD-DVD player seems like a better bet, but there’s no guarantee that just because Toshiba seems to have won the initial high-definition battle that the HD-DVD format will win the war. Your best bet is to wait as additional players for both formats are released in the fall, when the real victor in the format war is likely to be determined.

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