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By Larry Dixon

Locked in a death match that harkens back to the Betamax vs. VHS wars of 25 years ago, two competing and incompatible formats designed to deliver HD (High-Definition) content from a HD DVD player to your HDTV, are in a stand off. Behind the scenes, the battle has been raging for years between the electronics manufacturers, movie studios and lawyers, but now the conflict will enter the arena that matters: you—the potential consumer. The first generation of DVD was born in 1997 and has had a spectacular run, but its days are numbered due to the oncoming HD DVD technology. In one corner, there is Blu-ray DVD, backed by Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Apple and others. Supporting the HD DVD format is Toshiba, Microsoft, Sanyo and Intel. Some companies like LG are on both sides of the fence, which presumably puts them on the eventual winning and losing sides. Since the players use different technologies, the HD DVD’s themselves are not interchangeable.

The Blu-ray players will require the Blu-ray discs; the HD DVD discs will not play the Blu-Ray discs, but will play discs made for them. Confused yet? Already the retail chains are getting an earful from consumers wondering why they have to suffer from the inability of companies to reach an agreement on a standard format. In addition, the news from Sony and Toshiba is that the delays continue in the introduction of the players. Think “sooner” or “later”, just like Vista, the new operating system from Microsoft (configured to play HD-DVD’s) that the release date keeps getting pushed further back. The movie studios (concerned about piracy) are planning to release most films in both formats, but consumers will have to be very careful to not buy the wrong DVD for their particular player.

There is also a split decision among the movie studios; supporting the HD DVD format contingent is: Universal, Studio Canal, Paramount, Warner, and the Weinstein Company. The Blu-ray side is: Paramount, Sony Pictures (MGM/Columbia Tri-Star), Disney (including Touchstone and Miramax), Fox, Lions Gate and Warner. The players will retail in the 500 to 1000 dollar range. There is concern in a few circles that some HD televisions might not be compatible with the copyright protection on the DVD units. And new costly cables to connect the units to the televisions could be another source of consumer dissatisfaction. If that wasn’t enough to add to the woes of Sony and Toshiba, it is estimated that only ten percent of US homes are properly configured to enjoy the superior audio available on the High-Definition DVD players, and only around 12 percent of the homes have the HDTV’s to appreciate the improved picture quality. Whether it’s hooray for Blu-ray, or the other way, we will not know for a few years, but it will definitely be an exciting chapter in the history of technology.

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