Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
It’s official (or at least will be by 2009): High Definition is becoming the norm.
And with a new era of big, shiny TVs and an American society that’s known for usually wanting things bigger and better looking, along came the High Definition format war. Like VHS and Betamax long before, HD-DVD and Blu-ray are fighting for the title of the one true next-generation video format.
And while Sony lost the earlier war with their choice of Betamax, it looks as if they’re set to win this one with Blu-ray. Sales figures are showing that Blu-ray is clearly pulling ahead of HD-DVD in the format war, and more and more studios like Warner Bros. are announcing that they will support Blu-ray exclusively. So before long, it looks like we may have our new standard for disc-based entertainment.
Problem is, does anybody really care?
Sure, it’s easy to walk into an electronics store and marvel at “Planet Earth” running on a beautiful 52” TV in glorious HD. Sure, with sporting events like the Super Bowl, watching in HD somehow feels leaps and bounds above watching in Standard Definition. Sure, the idea of having Megan Fox on as big and as sharp of an image as possible when watching “Transformers” is extremely appealing…
But is that enough?
We’re living in somewhat odd times as far as entertainment goes. Instead of being entranced by the new flick at the movie theaters every week, a lot of us spend more time watching ridiculously idiotic and extremely low quality videos on YouTube. And we enjoy it. Some people (OK, probably a lot of them) would apparently rather download a video of shaky-cam “Cloverfield” shot on an even shakier cam by some dude who snuck his camcorder into the local Cinemark.
Let’s face it. As appealing as the new technology is for some of us, has anybody really spent several hundred dollars on an HD-DVD/Blu-ray player and said, “Great! Now I can watch “Borat” in 1080p!” Somehow I doubt it, especially when the HD format tends to cost around $10 more than the standard DVD at retail. Besides, most DVD players now will upscan standard DVDs to 1080p (or another of the higher resolutions), which, while not looking as good as the HD format, still looks pretty good.
That’s not to say that these formats don’t matter on some level. They hold much more data (Blu-ray can hold 50 gigabytes – 6 times what a normal DVD could), which has potential in a number of areas. It would be great if we’ll soon see the end of “special edition” DVDs that have all of the extra features that the company was too cheap to include in the standard package, as it would require two discs. It may be a long shot, but since movies like “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” contain their “special edition” features on the Blu-ray disc, it’s certainly possible.
Moving to a new disc format also makes sense for video games. As games become bigger and bigger (and better and better looking), they need more space for all the game assets, no matter how good their data compression is. While the Xbox 360, with its DVD-only drive (you can purchase an HD-DVD add-on for the system, but Microsoft has stated that it will never be used for games themselves) has already seen games that require more than one DVD, the PS3 – sneaking a “cheap” Blu-ray player into gamers’ homes everywhere – won’t likely see that problem. In fact, with so much room on the disc, some developers have taken to including every single language track they produce (English, Spanish, French… you name it) onto one BD that they can more easily ship worldwide.
High Definition is no doubt nice, and it’s no doubt the future of our TV experiences. But I think it’s yet to be seen whether or not the general consumer is quite ready to start replacing their DVDs with something else.