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Straight Talk from Bill Crutchfield

What you should know about the new high-definition disc formats

Bill Crutchfield

Bill Crutchfield, company founder and CEO

High-definition disc players are some of the most exciting and important new products available today. But, before buying one, you need to understand two major issues. First, there are two competing and incompatible formats — HD DVD and Blu-ray™ Disc. Second, the movie studios can embed some consumer-unfriendly copy protection features into the technology.

Competing formats

Some of you may remember that there were once two incompatible formats for VCRs — Betamax and VHS. Both systems had their benefits. Unfortunately, they were incompatible. If you had a Betamax VCR, you could not play VHS tapes and vice versa. I had to buy both a Betamax and a VHS VCR in order to ensure playback of available rental movies. When Betamax finally was abandoned, many of us ended up with a library of Betamax tapes and no new source of machines to play them on. The same situation could develop with high-definition discs.

Both of the high-definition disc formats have strong supporters within the consumer electronics industry and the Hollywood studios. Each format provides truly spectacular performance, with up to six times the picture information of standard DVD. For those of us with high-definition televisions, each format brings a whole new level of enjoyment to our home entertainment systems. Unfortunately, like the old Betamax and VHS VCRs, the two new formats are incompatible.

Film strangling disc graphic

If some Hollywood studios have their way, owners of older HDTVs may not be able to view true high-definition video from their new high-def disc players.

As it now stands, some movies will only be available in the HD DVD format while others will only be available in the Blu-ray format. Therefore, we may need to buy both an HD DVD and Blu-ray player to have the ability to watch all of our favorite movies in high definition. Then, if one format is abandoned by the manufacturers as Betamax was, we may end up with a library of high-definition discs and no source of new players.

Will it work with your TV?

The Hollywood studios claim to have lost billions of dollars to DVD piracy, and therefore want to incorporate copy protection measures into these two new high-definition disc formats. Some of the protective measures under consideration have unfortunate consequences for consumers. Most notably, they may restrict the high-definition output of these players to only HDMI or specially compliant DVI connections.

Like me, if you bought an HDTV several years ago, it can only receive high-definition signals through its component video input. It does not have either an HDMI or DVI input. Consequently, if some Hollywood studios have their way, we may not be able to watch new-generation discs in high-definition on these older HDTVs.

High-definition disc players are a wonderful and almost necessary addition to a high-definition TV or home theater system. But as I have noted, there are some unfortunate pitfalls at this time. We at Crutchfield hope that the manufacturers will act in the consumers' best interests and settle on one format, and that the studios will not insist on consumer-unfriendly copy protection features.

Tell us what you think

If you are concerned about this issue, too, please let us know by sending an e-mail to We will forward your comments to the consumer electronics manufacturers and to the Hollywood studios.

For the latest developments in HD DVD and Blu-ray, see our high-def disc update article.

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