June 28, 2006
Alright yesterdays post got me a bit fired up, I think it’s time we clear up some myths surrounding the supposed technical superiority of Blu-ray over HD-DVD. Immediately after the initial announcements of Blu-ray and HD-DVD back in 2002, the Blu-ray camp began floating the idea their format was technically superior to HD-DVD.
Well, as with all things consumer electronics, specifications rarely tell the full story. Many companies plan on certain features and functions for their products but whether those specifications actually make their way into the final product is another story.
Granted both formats are still evolving (firmware updates and potential dual layer introductions) and I readily acknowledge what I’m about to layout here only applies to today, however it’s still important to note the distinctions between what was promised and the reality.
Myth: Blu-ray is superior because it supports 1080P and HD-DVD doesn’t
Reality: This myth stems from the players themselves and not the actual disc formats. All HD-DVD’s released to date are encoded at 1080p; Blu-ray and HD-DVD are no more defined by their respective players than the DVD format was. Many of the first DVD players didn’t support DTS, but do you hear anyone claiming that DVD doesn’t support DTS?
No, neither the HD-A1 or HD-XA1 currently support 1080p output, but with Toshiba’s third HD-DVD player/recorder supporting 1080p output, I think its safe to assume that all future HD-DVD players will do the same.
More importantly only a handful of the 1080p displays on the market today accept 1080p input, they take 1080i and internally de-interlace it to 1080p, this is why Toshiba chose to forgo 1080p output on the first two players. It was a simple matter of real-world functionality versus a perceived benefit.
The truth of the matter is the majority of the 1080p capable displays on the market, have the ability to internally de-interlace 1080i video to full 1080p resolution. So 1080p from HD-DVD is technically possible right now.
Myth: Blu-ray supports lossless audio where HD-DVD does not.
Reality: You know, I don’t even really know where this one comes from, but I’ve heard this fallacy floated around by both retail salesmen and supposed authorities alike.
HD-DVD supports Dolby TrueHD (lossless) and DTS-HD, currently the DTS-HD decoding is DTS core (lossy) only. It’s assumed that full DTS-HD (lossless) support is coming by means of a firmware update. Either way, Dolby TrueHD is supported right now, and definitely qualifies as a lossless format.
Myth: Blu-ray has more capacity.
Reality: Follow me carefully here, because the distinction I’m going to make does not rule out the possibility that Blu-ray will indeed, ultimately offer more storage capacity.
While Blu-ray is (theoretically) capable of delivering a dual-layer 25GB disc for a total of 50GB’s, the truth of the matter is, the Blu-ray (movie) titles Sony has shipped thus far are on single layer 25GB discs.
So in reality as of today Wednesday the 28th of June 2006, HD-DVD discs at dual-layer 15GB for a total of 30GB offer more capacity than Blu-ray, I’ll repeat that, as of right now HD-DVD is delivering more capacity than Blu-ray. That kind of flies in the face of everything we’ve heard about Blu-ray thus far huh?
The HD-DVD camp has even reported the development of a 45GB (3-layer) disc. And while I’ll have to take a ‘believe it when I see it’ stance on that one, I’m a lot more likely to believe someone who promised less capacity (It was assumed the first HD-DVD’s would be single layer 15GB) and delivered more, over someone who promised more capacity and delivered less.
Of course Sony could trump all of this by delivering their dual-layer 50GB discs, or even their 4 layer (yes four layers!) 100GB discs, but until it’s on the store shelves and playing in Blu-ray players, you’ll have to forgive me for being less than convinced.
Myth: Blu-ray has better image quality than HD-DVD.
Reality: I’ve yet to find one article, early review or credible observation from a trusted source, that flatly states ‘Blu-ray looks better than HD-DVD’. All the Blu-ray reviews I’ve read thus far all throw in some caveat or disclaimer, that seems to indicate HD-DVD’s performance hasn’t been eclipsed, even if they liked XYZ feature in Blu-ray more.
My own observations (Which I freely admit weren’t with a system I was intimately familiar with) found the exact opposite to be true. So far I’ve viewed, ‘House of Flying Daggers’, ‘Hitch’ and ‘Ultraviolet’ and the Blu-ray demo disc on a 61” 1080p Samsung rear-pro display. Flying Daggers had severe macro-blocking in scenes with single fields of highly saturated colors.
The same thing presented itself in ‘Ultraviolet’ during a close-up of Mila Jovovich’s midriff; I again noticed distinct pixilation as if the subtle changes in skin-tone simply weren’t being rendered. It was as if this section of video just got a wash of color as opposed to the subtle shading I’m used to seeing from HD-DVD.
Hitch on the other hand was just plain bad; I noticed more macro-blocking and shading problems, and less sharpness than the other two titles to boot. It was better than DVD but not better enough to justify the expense.
While the Blu-ray demo disc did indeed have better image quality than the full length Blu-ray movies. I have to assume with the demo disc coming in it at 30 minutes or so, Sony was able to take full advantage of Blu-ray’s bit-rate, whereas they couldn’t with the full length films.
HD image quality is by and large dictated by its bit-rate, MPEG2 is an ancient (in relative terms) video codec. VC-1 is two to three times more efficient than MPEG2, and thus far it seems to be apparent, that Blu-ray’s smaller disc sizes are only exacerbating this inefficiency.
Until Blu-ray either adopts VC-1 as their sole video codec or releases Blu-ray movies on 50GB discs, it’s very unlikely that Blu-ray’s image quality will even match, much less surpass that of HD-DVD’s.
HD-DVD is simply delivering higher bit-rates and overall better image quality, than Blu-ray is capable of with the combination of MPEG2 and 25GB Blu-ray discs.
In theory with 50GB discs Blu-ray could greatly improve its video quality even with MPEG2, but again until it’s on shelves and in players it’s just a theory.
Like I stated earlier, much of this could change with the introduction of dual-layer, 25GB (50GB total) discs from Blu-ray. But this begs the question if Blu-ray part deux only matches and doesn’t surpass HD-DVD in video quality, why the $500 premium?