High Definition format wars, who cares?

Blu ray DVD

I don't believe I've put my foot down on either side of the Next generation DVD war. You got the whole HDDVD vs BluRay thing and then you got every large company coming down on one side or the other. Some of them like Samsung have pledged to support both in the same drive or at least the same unit. But in this world of Networks do we really need another disc format? Well I personally don't think so. I remember the day when I got the Toshiba Tablet PC i'm typing this on now. It has no Opitical drive and I always thought this is kind of scary because it assumes your always in a networked environment or dependant on memory cards. But its worked out for the best because all my media is on a network drive and its been simple to copy stuff from CD via another machine. Anyway I found this really interesting thread in Slashdot today by WhiteWolf666.

The 3rd technology has already emerged.

H.264 on standard DVD, with the upgrade path being ANY sort of higher capacity device.

H.264 means you can do 1080p (not 1080i, but 1080 progressive) with 5.1 audio in 1 MB/sec. That's about 3.5 GB per hour. That gives you 2.5 hours of 1080p on a standard DVD disk. You can squeeze the main title in 2, and then use the remainder for all the other stuff in SD. Or, make it a two disk set. Both of these will cost FAR, FAR less than blu-ray or HD-DVD.

H.264 enables SD TV over standard broadband, NOW. Take a look at this: http://www.apple.com/macosx/cnbc/ [apple.com] . Thats technically 480p content. Its playing at 675 kbit/sec, or 84.73 KB/sec. 720p content is similarly small; you'll have no problems whatsoever fitting everything you'd want on a single title blu-ray disk onto a standard dvd if your encoding with H.264 on 720p.

I suspect with a really smart encoder, using intelligent VBR type stuff, you can get 1080p down to an average of 800-900 KB/sec. Perhaps even less. If someone can get the standard DVD above the 3 hour of footage barrier, blu-ray/HD-DVD immediately become a niche market, at least until HDTV 2.0 comes out. Oh; and new displays, as well. But even with _today's_ setup, you can fire up Final Cut Studio, and produce a 2.5 hour feature length movie, slap in on a standard DVD in 1080p, and then put all your extras on the second disk.

H.264 enables 1080i HDTV on a standard dual layer DVD. You need a beefy processor to play it back, but various manufacturers have already produced embedded decoders. H.264 is the future of IPTV, of satellite transmission, even cable transmission. Most likely, the “upgrade” path is H.264 on standard disks, and then the elimination of disks altogether.

Why would I _EVER_ carry a pile of blu-ray disks around when I could simply walk with an iPod, or a mobile phone, or a flash disk, or some other portable media library, and wirelessly (bluetooth 4.5, or 802.11n, or whatever) “rent” a video from the blockbuster kiosk? Heck; strip out the middleman; just buy the movie from iMovie store, or Amazon's movies, or Walmart Video Online. Whatever; it doesn't matter.

Someone asks afterwards where the popular content is. Which reminds me of this great quote from Doc Searls article on Linux Journal titled The Home produced movie revolution

The next era the one in which the bulk of producers will emerge from a mass market formerly filled only with consumers will begin when video customers begin to realize they can produce higher-definition video than what they can get over their cable and satellite connections. That will happen quickest for customers who buy 1920 x 1080 screens to take full advantage of their new 1920 x 1080 camcorders. While spending under $2000 for both.

This may seem like a dream, but I'm not so sure were that far off now. For example I met the woman behind the amazing and very brave Modfilms site. The creative thinking behind modfilms is staggering and not only that, she's fully commited to it being a success. And lets be honest, how many times have you wanted to remove parts of a film?

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.