I’ve finally leapt into the High
Most of you that know me may be
thinking, “Didn’t he already do that?”
Well, yes and no. There’s been no shortage of HD in my house with Dish Network’s HD, over-the-air (OTA) HD broadcasts, and
XBox 360 HD gaming and movie downloads. However, there are limitations to all
of the above…
Dish Network, although great quality, by its nature has to compress the signal somewhat. Like
other satellite and cable providers, they also decrease the resolution to allow for more bandwidth and thus provide more channels. Although still much better than standard definition,
this practice of “down-rezing” often results in decreased picture quality and ultimately it appears it is here to stay.
Over-the-air digital HD broadcasts
are awesome but quality varies by the network and the whims of the local stations’.
Also there’s the nuisance of commercials and weather warning interruptions. (Show
me the tornado or hurricane in HD. Then we’ll talk.) Still, football in HD can’t be beat (sentiments echoed by my wife).
XBox 360 gaming in HD is breathtaking. I also love the ability to download HD movies from the XBox Live! Marketplace. There are some drawbacks, though. HD
movie downloads can only be stored for 2 weeks. Once you’ve actually initiated
playback of a movie, however, it can only be stored for 24 more hours. At which
time you’re required to “rent” it and download it again. It’s still more convenient
than driving to a store to rent a DVD. Another drawback, albeit minimal, is that
the maximum resolution for XBox Live! Marketplace HD movie downloads is 720p (my TV is capable of 1080p).
Now enter high-definition
optical media. There are currently 2 competing formats, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc (BD). There are enormous amounts of information about each of these formats available on the web, so I won’t even attempt to go into great detail here. Quite simply, each of these formats involve discs that look just like regular DVDs, but the technology
contained on the discs allow for image resolutions up to 6 times greater than that of standard definition DVDs. The increased storage space on these discs also allows
for much more extra’s and features. Although this relatively new media looks
like a regular DVD, it is not playable on a standard DVD player. HD DVD and Blu-ray
Disc, theoretically capable of offering equal picture quality, are not compatible with each other. Therefore, at this point in the format war, the consumer is left with 4 options:
- Side with one format over the other. Taking a chance that whichever format
you choose loses the war and you’re left with a decaying format and a blunted disc collection.
- Purchase a player for each of the 2 formats. The cost prohibitive nature
of this scenario not withstanding, you’ll still face at least some early obsolescence when one of the formats ultimately dies.
- Purchase a hybrid player capable of playing both formats. This sounds good initially, but the price of current hybrid players is a deal-breaker
at least given my limited budget.
- Wait until the war has a decided victor. You may be waiting a long time. Meanwhile, you’ll be missing out on high-definition nirvana. The worst part of this scenario is if enough consumers adopt this philosophy, the industry could potentially
fold. The media industry will see blunted sales, thereby drawing the conclusion
that high-definition media is only appealing to a niche market and that the average consumer is simply not interested. This is a real concern.
SOAP BOX ALERT: The fact is, many consumers think DVD equals high-definition. They’re
still comparing the improvement of DVD over VHS tapes. Despite all the marketing
of HD, the average consumer doesn’t realize that standard DVDs offer only 480p resolution while high-definition discs (HD
DVD or Blu-ray Disc) offer up to 1080p. While those numbers mean nothing to most
consumers, once he or she actually sees real HD, they’ll undoubtedly understand what a difference HD makes. Sadly, the average consumer still thinks that purchasing an HDTV will instantly result in HD viewing. While
purchasing an HDTV is a start, the “garbage in, garbage out” rule still applies: Unless
you connect a high-definition source to that HDTV, you won’t see anything in HD.
Until last week, I’d decided to
adopt option #4 (wait until the war’s over). My budget just doesn’t allow for
shelling out a minimum of $300 for a player that may well be obsolete in a year or so.
Truthfully my impulsive nature would have dictated that the budget be-damned, but my wife, ever the voice of reason,
discouraged this irresponsible leap. That is until I found a way to get an HD
DVD player for free!
Yes, I said free. We’ve had the XBox 360 gaming console since May. While by
itself, the Xbox 360 is not capable of playing HD DVDs, Microsoft made available an add-on drive retailing for $199. That, in of itself, is a pretty good deal, and in my eyes,
a pretty good price even if the HD DVD format dies completely within 2 years. Initially,
Microsoft had a promotional offer where the add-on drive was packaged with a free copy of Peter Jackson’s King Kong HD DVD
(roughly a $30 value).
Recently Microsoft decreased the price of the add-on drive to $179. They also have an offer for 5 free HD DVD’s by mail-in offer. Download the form here (you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader). Specifically, the offer contains 15 HD DVD’s from which the consumer can select
5. I’m usually skeptical about such offers in that I suspect the selection will
be from 15 titles that I’d have little to no interest in watching. To my surprise,
I found 5 titles I would have purchased anyway. At an average cost of $30 per
title, that’s $150 worth of HD DVD’s. Given the player only costs $179, the net
cost is $29. I related my sound logic to my wife, who initially quipped, “This
is why I can’t ever surprise you at Christmas!” But logic (if not compassion)
eventually sunk in, and she succumbed to my pleas.
I then ordered the HD DVD player
from Bestbuy.com that just so happened to have a free shipping promotion. Unfortunately,
the players were on back-order. (No doubt a result of the recent price drop.) Well, I’d waited this long, so what’s a couple more weeks.
While browsing through Wal-Mart,
an activity I rate just below that of anesthesia-deprived wisdom tooth extraction, I happened upon the XBox 360 HD DVD drives
for $169.24. With the 5 free HD DVDs mail-in offer, that’s a net cost of $19.24. Won’t my honey be proud of my frugality! “But
wait, there’s more…”™ Wal-Mart, being well…Wal-Mart, still had some of the original promotional packaging with the free King
Kong HD DVD included. That’s now, 6 free HD DVDs, at an average retail value
of $30 each, equaling $180 savings, coupled with the actual price of the player ($169.24).
That’s…that’s….(I’ll give you non-mathematical-types time to fetch your calculators)…you got it,
--$10.76. I knew this day would come! I’ve finally outwitted that entrepreneurial
despot, Bill Gates, by tricking him into paying me $10.76 to include his shiny new piece of technological goodness into my
now utterly astounding home theater arena. The beast is full…for now.
Ahem…So, I brought home the player
Thursday night and promptly cancelled the backordered drive from Bestbuy.com. I
couldn’t contain myself. I had to install it right away. It took less than 10 minutes. It only involved inserting the
installation disc into the Xbox 360 console, then connecting the power cable to the drive, then connecting the USB cable between
the drive and the console. Voila! Now,
to insert the King Kong HD DVD to bask in the bleeding edge HD glory---my aspirations were thwarted by, “da da da daaaaa….”
(for you non-music types, that’s the opening fanfare of the NFL theme). You see, very little comes between my wife and football. Add to that HD and the first preseason game for her beloved Dallas Cowboys, and you’ve got yourself a woman
to be reckoned with. As a gesture of thanks for her allowing me to purchase the
HD DVD player, I begrudgingly delayed its maiden presentation until after the game.
Finally after a grueling 3 hours,
the football game comes to an end. It being well beyond my bedtime, I immediately
popped-in the disc. As the opening Universal Studios splash screen pierces my
senses, time seemed to stand still. I had an epiphany. A truly life-altering moment that could only be compared to that of Dave Bowman’s venture into the vast
unknown, “My god, it’s full of stars…”
As it turns out, time hadn’t really stood still. The Xbox 360, in true Microsoft
fashion, had locked-up. Mr. Gates’ revenge, no doubt. But the glitch was only temporary and now everything is running smoothly.
I can honestly say that I’ve never seen clarity and realism like the abilities of this player and
medium. I do hope the technology survives and flourishes.