It's said that only blue laser technology will suffice for optical disc-based delivery of HD video applications. But not everyone needs to publish big-ticket movies with all the trimmings or capture HD broadcasts in native MPEG-2 form. Using MPEG-4 AVC or VC-1 compression (both required by BD and HD DVD specifications) changes the rules and makes current writable DVDs practical vehicles for many HD tasks. For example, one hour of 720p resolution material fit neatly on a 2.66GB DL (8cm) camcorder DVD, over 100 minutes on a standard 4.7GB, and three hours on an 8.5GB DL—more than enough to capture many broadcasts, hobby HDV camcorder videography, school projects, corporate, institutional, and government training and presentations, kiosks, commercial prototypes, and much more. Even at the high bitrates and 1080i resolution expected from Hollywood blockbusters, these same ordinary writable DVDs record anywhere from 25 to 40 to 75 minutes.
The history of optical storage technology has taught us that new formats are not born innately compatible. Rather, seamless interchange develops only over time as hardware, firmware, software, and discs gradually mature and adapt to each other's idiosyncrasies. So, good intentions aside, early recordable and rewritable BD (BD-R/RE) and HD DVD (HD DVD-R/RW) products will suffer compatibility problems. Obviously, during this painful childhood and adolescence there will be consumer and professional desire and need for a reliable method to record, view, and distribute HD content. And while writable DVD is not without its evils, it's here and relatively dependable.
Beyond writable DVD's predictable recording and playback compatibility are low cost and pervasiveness. BD and HD DVD prices are still up in the air, but it's safe to assume that new manufacturing processes, low production yields, high profit imperatives, a galaxy of patent royalties, and limited competition will keep discs and devices expensive and scarce for some time to come. By comparison, there's a massive installed based of computer DVD burners, new units to be had for as little as $40, and discs widely available for 20 cents (4.7GB) to $4 (8.5GB). Surely the ability to record and disseminate HD content economically is an important way to drive consumer and commercial interest in the next generation of optical disc and digital video delivery technology.
While some existing methods (DivX HD, WMV HD DVD, QuickTime 7, etc.) allow HD content to be stored on DVDs, all of them critically lack universal support and consistency. Thus, to me, not only should BD and HD DVD devices play and record HD content to and from writable DVDs, but do so in the same modes and application formats used for their indigenous BD (BDMV/BDAV/HDMV/BD-J) and HD DVD (HD DVD-Video/VR/iHD) discs. This will ensure that material is always playable (on devices within the same format family) and created and presented in the same way, independent of the type of disc and hardware used. And if no compromise between BD and HD DVD is achieved, there's even the remote possibility of writing bridge DVDs containing BD and HD DVD-compliant material to play on both types of equipment.
Add these features now before next generation products hit the market. The industry will have to act quickly or squander yet another opportunity.
Hugh Bennett (email@example.com), an EMedia contributing editor, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems (www.forgetmenot.on.ca), a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is the author of Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, both published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).