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Dolby and dts Make HD-DVD and Blu-ray Grade
Posted Oct 20, 2004 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

After several months of HD-DVD dominance, in September the Blu-ray camp joined in the battle to see who could saturate the market with press releases about the world's two leading unfinished HD disc formats. As the PR piled up, so did the mandates for what's in and what's out (well, actually, just what's in) in terms of formats for the publishing specifications for each disc. Unlike DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray will both carry several video codecs (MPEG-2, AVC/H.264, WMV) as official parts of the spec, and as of late September, both camps have locked in Dolby Digital and dts as well. This presents some interesting scenarios. First and foremost, it future-proofs these future-only formats; it's anybody's guess (well, actually, everybody has a guess, but those guesses tend to vary) which format, if any, will out. And it's great news for authors and content creators in the development and bit-budget wiggle room it gives them. And in terms of the audio codecs, from a consumer perspective, the inclusion of Dolby and dts means that existing audio playback equipment investments won't have to be tossed aside (HD-DVD and Blu-ray would be tossed aside first).

For both video and audio, obviously, there's no point in excluding a codec that may emerge dominant for a media format that doesn't exist yet. On the other hand, the emergent HD-DVD and Blu-ray specs, like the DVD spec before them, are not unilaterally binding in terms of players. We all know DVD players, particularly as the market has matured and diversified in terms of brands and prices, have been all over the map vis a vis media and secondary format support. It's also intrinsic to the DVD player market that the name of the game is producing the dumbest possible player cheapest; part of the genius of the DVD spec is how limited it is, and how dumb it allows those players to be. And it's evident to just about anyone who's tracked the progress of the market closely that DVD players have gotten worse over the years, rather than better, in terms of paring back features and doing the sort of rigorous mix-and-match testing that guarantees media compatibility, not to mention laser life and supporting high bitrate video playback on recordable media (compare any 1999-vintage $300 player to a new $50 model and you'll see what I mean—the 99'er will probably play Blu-ray and old 78RPM records, too). The new players just miss more. So I have to wonder whether this current push to cover every possible codec base in HD-DVD and Blu-ray this early in the game may only mean that in a "maturing" market—there's that word again—we'll only have farther to fall.

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