The fight between Blu Ray disk and HD DVD

William Henry Vanderbilt said: “The public be damned.” Marie Antoinette said: “If the people have no bread, let them eat cake.” And, “The jackals are fighting over who gets the biggest slab of meat off the suckers.” Author unknown.

Suddenly we can’t wait for blue laser technology to arrive so

we can get beyond the war of words to real products!

Imagine – five times the storage capacity and a real choice – Blu Ray Disk or HD DVD. Yes, the two standards are totally incompatible, but don’t worry they will eventually work out their differences. When they do, you’ll get to buy new burners, new players and new media all over again.

Oh, we forgot to add that both sides have embraced some super digital rights management (DRM) technology that Hollywood would “”like”” included before they are going to knock out copies of their stellar masterpieces. The cool and super advanced DRM technologies include digital watermarking, programmable cryptography and self-destruct codes. Don’t try and decide which is best for everyone involved.

Don’t the three sound like something you just have to buy and put in your home?

Digital watermarking is something they call a ROM Mark. It really only applies to the pre-recorded media you buy, such as movies, music and games. Don’t worry about it because they say you’ll never even know it is there. It was used in today’s DVD technology but you could easily defeat it just by writing over it with a permanent marker.

Both sides like Advanced Access Control System (AACS), which requires your player to maintain connections to the content provider through the Internet. If your disc doesn’t pass their security check it isn’t a big thing. The provider will simply send your player a “”self-destruct code”” ROM update that will blow up your player.

Ok so it won’t physically blow up. You simply won’t be able to use it until a repair technician reprograms the player.

And your entire library of discs that may have been encoded with the broken security may be unplayable also.

That is so cool!

Just in case you get past these two hurdles, they’ve added a third. This is a renewability method that lets content providers implement dynamic updates of compromised code. This is advanced form or CSS (content scramble system) they used before which was defeated in hours after it was released and is called SPDC.

Simply stated, every time someone cracks the code the encryption algorithm will “”learn from its mistakes”” and improve the code. That’s a challenge no DEFCON hacker can refuse.

If these fail Hollywood has a fallback plan when the 15-year-old kid cracks it: All their lobbyists will put the squeeze on the U.S. Congress or House of Commons to “”protect us from ourselves.””

Don’t worry, their lawyers will continue to have paychecks by suing every Tom, Ricardo and Harriet who might have an illegal copy.

Both sides (and they will continue down their separate revenue – oops technology paths) are determined to win and have lined up an almost equal number of hardware and content providers. They are quite similar technically but dramatically different in the important areas of media structure and write/read techniques.

Our personal life has been so preoccupied with the here and now – MPEG-2 (the dramatic increase of quality storage/viewing over MPEG-2 – VHS) – that we missed the big picture. There is another standard out there and it isn’t exactly “”brand new!””

Contrary to what the blue technology folks would like you to believe, they didn’t invent the superior storage capabilities of MPEG-4 or H.264. The technology – an open-standard – has been around since 1998 and it’s being widely used except in storage.

It’s big in broadcast and it’s big in wireless content delivery. Truth is H.264 delivers the best compression efficiency for a wide range of applications – broadcast or satellite delivery, DVD, video conferencing, video-on-demand, streaming and multimedia messaging.

It is so good that Microsoft developed its own version, Windows Media Video 9 (previously called VC-9 and now VC-1/AVC). From the industry’s perspective H.264 is a great codec because it scales beautifully from mobile content phones/devices up to high-definition broadcast.

Since it makes efficient use of bandwidth and the distribution spectrum, H.264 broadcasters have already begun using the technology to send digital TV. It will be an efficient technology to use when they begin streaming video across the Internet to your home.

In their leading-edge fashion Apple integrated H.264 into the Mac OS and QuickTime early this year, and frankly, we never even noticed the news. So this past weekend we visited an Apple store to see if it was as good as their Web site PR said it was. It is darn good!

Even though you who are already Mac diehards know this, the “”real world”” doesn’t. But the sales person also showed us how we didn’t have to wait for blue ray technology to store and play back high definition DVDs. Mac users simply use Steve’s DVD Studio Pro to write the high def content to a regular DVD+/-R disc. It was a COMPLETE high def movie and nothing was lost in the writing. Everything was there!

It was almost enough to convert us from Windows to Macs. Almost.

The problem was that you could only play the high def DVDR disc on the Mac system since there were no MPEG-4 or H.264 players available. But with the number of chip people making combination MPEG-2/MPEG-4 – H.264 chips it shouldn’t be too difficult to produce a combination player that reads the discs as well as a DVD recorder that writes huge volumes to today’s DVD media should it?

[“”I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”” Howard Beale, played by the late actor Peter Finch, in the 1976 film Network.]

There have been a number of research reports recently that have come to the conclusion that we aren’t interested in upgrading to the next generation of DVD technology – burners/media. But then all too often we don’t know what we want.

We didn’t know we wanted:

-Stereo instead of mono

-CDs instead of LPs or cassettes

-Stereo TV or HDTV

-DVD instead of VHS

-Digital or MP3 Audio

-Digital instead of Analog photos, film

We did want:

-pictures on radio

-color TV to replace B&W

We got:

-CD and DVD-Video

-Personalized, Customized Audio, Video

-CD and DVD Photos

-DVD quality TV, time-shifting, archiving, playback

But deep in the back of our minds, we know we don’t want someone tell us that the product we just bought is going to be replaced by something yet to be defined, that is marginally better than the product we have today and at a significantly higher cost.

Perhaps it might be better to have a low-cost burner and/or recorder that wrote your high def content to your present sub-$1 disc? Say perhaps writing in MPEG-4/H.264? You know, one that could also write your regular MPEG-2 content to the disc you’ve just begun using regularly?

We expect to see a few of these hit the market this next year. In fact you may see them at the January CES show.

Max Spindle is the pseudonym of an industry insider

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