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Old 21 Dec 2007, 08:21 PM   #1
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Default HD format confusion

As I've mentioned in another thread, I'm currently writing a Buyer's guide for Blu-ray and HD DVD. After getting through the first seven chapters, I'm convinced that the average consumer has absolutely no chance in getting to the bottom of HD, because there's just so much new stuff to digest.

When DVDs first came out, people were pretty confused. Component cables, SPDIF/optical/coaxial, region control, Macrovision. But the new stuff people have to learn to understand every aspect of HD movie is just astonishing - even I'm having trouble with it all. Of course it has to be said that the average consumer won't need to know the difference between Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to enjoy HD, but I truly feel sorry for sales people and for people that are just a little bit more curious, because they will have a very hard time to get to the bottom of everything.

In case you think I'm exagerrating, here's a run down of the things I've come across when writing the guide:
  • New Disc formats: 2 different disc formats (4 if you include AVCHD and HD Rec)
  • New Video formats: 2 new video codecs (AVC, VC-1)
  • New region system: 3 new regions for Blu-ray (A, B and C)
  • New copy protection system: 3 new systems (AACS, BD+, Rom Mark)
  • New audio formats: 5 new audio codecs (Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD High Resolution, DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1/7.1 LPCM)
  • New video connectors: 2 new connector (pre HDMI 1.3 and HDMI 1.3)
And it doesn't end there, the region system used is different to that of DVD, which still exists for these HD players so you have to remember 2 different region systems. For the audio formats, 4 of the new formats can be bitstreamed, decoded to LPCM or transcoded to a legacy format - only some of these techniques support the old SPDIF/optical format, and most of them require HDMI output to a HDMI receiver. Unfortunately, some codecs are mandatory and some are optional on Blu-ray/HD DVD, and so different players will support different sets of options for each audio format (for example, the Toshiba HD-A35 will bitstream these formats, but the flagship HD-XA2 will not). And only HDMI 1.3 will bitstream these new HD formats, older versions of HDMI can only do LPCM. Imagine a beginner when DVD was released and having to check which version of the component output you had to find out which audio you can do bitstreaming with, whatever that is ... madness.

The funny thing is that the two competing format is not really the main cause of confusion I think - it's all the other stuff that's confusing, and I'm wondering perhaps too much new stuff has been added to HD in one step. This has happened because DVDs are such a success in licensing terms that just getting your codec licensed for the next-gen DVD format could mean huge money for the future.
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