DVD is, by some measurements, the greatest success in consumer electronics history. Following its 1997 debut, it took the format just a few years to completely conquer the home-video market previously ruled by VHS tapes. Before DVD even reached its 10th birthday, however, the electronics industry and the Hollywood studios began putting it out to pasture. Two rival next-generation formats--Blu-Ray and HD DVD--are now vying to become the successor to DVD's throne. Both display movies in full high-definition resolution, addressing one shortfall of the current DVD format, which is only standard-def. The video and audio quality of both formats can be truly spectacular when shown on an HDTV with a quality home theater audio system, surpassing even high-def television itself in fidelity and impact.
The bad news? To get that improved fidelity, you have to decide between either a Blu-ray player or an HD DVD player, and you won't be able to play certain studios' movies on either one. For example, if you're a sci-fi fan and want to watch The Fifth Element (Sony Pictures), you'll need a Blu-ray player, but if you want to watch Serenity (Universal) you'll need an HD DVD player. Yes, combo players that can handle both formats are available, but they currently cost more than actually purchasing two players, one for each format!
As a result of the format war, most HDTV owners should refrain from buying a Blu-ray or an HD DVD player in the short term. There are some exceptions to this recommendation however. Gamers getting a Sony PS3 can use the console to play Blu-ray discs, while Xbox 360 gamers can get an add on that lets their consoles play HD DVD discs. Meanwhile, early adopters who insist on taking the HD disc plunge can take some solace in the ever-falling prices of HD DVD (and to a much lesser extent, Blu-ray) players. If one side eventually loses the war and stops producing movies--and it's possible that neither side will ever "lose"--the loss will sting less with a cheaper player. It's also worth remembering that all of these players also play back regular DVD discs, converting them to higher resolutions, which can sometimes improve video quality.
In the next few pages, we'll take a look at both formats, examine how they compare to one another, and highlight the advantages--and disadvantages--they offer compared to the current generation of DVD. But if you're looking for a prediction on the outcome of the format war, you're not going to get it here. As of early fall 2007, both sides are firmly entrenched and neither shows any sign abandoning the fight soon.