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HD DVD vs. Blu-ray: Which Should I Buy?

Blu-ray and HD DVD are the two new competing formats designed as the next step in DVD technology to bring high-definition movie content to our HDTVs. Unfortunately, the two formats don't play nicely together, so no HD DVD player will be able to play Blu-ray movies and no Blu-ray player will be able to play HD DVD movies. If you really want to go high def, which format should you choose? We can't decide for you, but we can let you know what we know about each format.

Studio Support: Ideally, you'll want to pick a player that will be able to play lots of your favorite movies, so the number of different studios supporting the formats could be a key factor.

Format Features and Specs:

While both sides claim technical superiority in this format battle, the capabilities of the two different formats are not really all that different. The biggest difference is in the capacity of the discs. Blu-ray boasts up to 25 GB on single-layer discs and 50 GB on double-layer discs, with HD DVD at 15 GB and 30 GB. This could mean that longer movies in full 1080p resolution could be fit on a Blu-ray disc than on an HD DVD, or that Blu-ray could be able to offer more extra features on discs. In practice, we have yet to see this with the titles released so far. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray players are backward compatible with older DVDs, and both can upconvert regular DVDs for viewing on an HDTV.

Gaming: If you're big into console gaming, this could be a deciding factor for you. The Sony PlayStation 3 console uses Blu-ray technology and can be used as a Blu-ray player. Microsoft's Xbox supports the HD DVD format through a compatible drive sold separately.

Which Format Is Going to Win? This is a fair question to ask, but not an easy one to answer. If you choose one format and the other becomes more popular and eventually "wins" the format war, will you still be able to get movies that play on your machine? At this point (May 2007), when there have been thousands of machines sold in both formats and there are hundreds of titles available in both, we find it hard to believe that the studios would quickly abandon good customers on either side. If one side in this battle gave up and conceded defeat, owners of those machines are likely to still see content available for some period of time. This is really a question the studios will have to answer in the event that we do have a winner (and loser).

Other Options for High-Definition Video: The founder of a big software company out of Redmond, Washington suggested that this is likely to be the last format war. That's because we're approaching the point where high-definition movies could be available as downloads. Why pay for plastic discs? Currently, downloadable video is only available at resolutions comparable to or less than that of regular DVDs. One solution available now is the combination of Amazon Unbox and TiVo that lets you buy movies and TV shows on Amazon Unbox and have them downloaded to your TiVo machine for watching on your TV at a resolution near DVD quality.

We have no indication of how far out HD-video downloads might be. It sounds like a great idea that everyone would love, but so does fusion power. We recommend living in the present. If you want high-definition movies on your HDTV now or in the foreseeable future, you'll need to choose between HD DVD and Blu-ray, or consider an upconverting DVD player.

Upconverting DVD Players: In the near term, people who don't want to pay the price of a new HD DVD or Blu-ray machine could opt for an upconverting DVD player. Good upconverting DVD players are now available at prices more affordable than HD DVD or Blu-ray players. Upconverters use software to analyze the original 480p DVD video signal and interpolate the missing information to fill in the gaps and output a higher resolution version. The images are not going to be as good as those from the native 1080p HD signal coming from an HD DVD or a Blu-ray disc, but according to customer reviews on these items, many people think it's good enough and some claim they can't tell the difference. Check out our full selection of upconverting DVD players, read the customer reviews, and see if you think one of these upconverting players is good enough for your needs.