Voting with Dollars

Back before I became a starving student artist, I was something of a videophile. Julie and I have a large collection of DVDs and a full surround-sound set-up. Now that I am no longer a starving student artist and have a full-time job again, the siren call of the Home Theater has been beckoning to me.

Last month, we decided to use a bit of our tax-refund toward the purchase of a new HD TV. After careful consideration, I decided that the Sony Liquid Crystal On Silicon (LCOS) rear projection was the way to go. As I understand it, LCOS is sort of the best blend of Digital Light Projection (DLP) and LCD. Being a Micro-mirror device, it doesn’t have the problems with backlighting washing out the blacks the way LCDs often do. Also, being a three-chip design, it doesn’t employ a color wheel which can cause the rainbow-effects on some DLP sets. Moreover, as I understand it, almost all of the current generation of DLP sets use a technique called ‘wobbulation’ to acheive the resolution of 1080p. What that means is that they don’t really have the full two million pixels necessary for true 1080p display but will accept at 1080p signal, blending some of the pixels together to make up the display.

The Sony LCOS sets do have the full two million pixels need to display a full 1080p signal. Sony brands their LCOS TVs with the SXRD designation. We got the smallest set SXRD set that Sony sells, though that is still a hefty 50 inches, and I have to admit it looks huge in our home theater room.

Now that we have a tele with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (higher than most computer monitors) it has become painfully clear how abysmal the source material we’ve been watching is. The only solution is to get HD source material—either by upgrading our Satellite connection to include the HD package, or upgrading our DVD to one of the next-gen HD formats (or both).

Since it is the end of the network broadcast season, I think we’re going to wait though the summer before upgrading the satellite. We really don’t watch much television during the summer anyway. That leaves an upgrade to the DVD system as the best method to get HD source material.

Unfortunately, as you may know, there is currently a format war on with the next gen movie formats. In one corner is the HD-DVD standard, which was supposed to be the standard. Then there is the Sony contender, Blu-Ray. Buying during a format war seems like a bad idea. That said, it also seems as though this war is not going to be won by either side in the foreseeable future. Blu-Ray has a slightly higher capacity, but also has more layers of Digital Rights Management (i.e. what big companies use to ensure that you can only use the media you purchase from them in the approved manner they proscribe).

Other than that, they are pretty identical in terms of capablities. The big difference right now is which studios are backing which formats. Many are releasing movies on both formats, though obviously Sony (Columbia Tri-Star and MGM) is only releasing Blu-Ray movies. Likewise with Fox and Disney at this point. Universal, however, is only releasing on HD-DVD, and though Warner is starting to release Blu-Ray, most of their available material is HD-DVD for now.

So no clear winner in that regard. I guess what it come down to, then, is who do you want to control the standard? I really like Sony hardware—as I said, I purchased one of their television sets. However, their media arm strikes me as Fascist.

I know that sounds harsh, but I think the title is one that they have earned by the way they treat their customers. Recently Sony has modified their standard DVDs to have bad data on them. These bad sectors are intended to make it more difficult for people to copy the DVDs they purchase from Sony. End result: Many people were unable to watch the movies that they paid for because the players had trouble with the discs, and it didn’t stop anyone who really wanted to copy movies from doing so.

Even worse, Sony previously added software to their audio CDs that will install itself on your computer with or without your permission. It was designed to make it impossible to copy the music from your legally purchased CD onto your computer for use with portable music players like the iPod. The so-called “Sony Root-kit” also had the side effect of making the computers vulnerable to third party hackers. Removing the software often corrupted the hard drive of the computer it was on. And all because they didn’t want you do be able to listen to the music you had purchased, on your computer. Had this software been release by a 18 year old kid instead of a multi-national corporation, they would have locked him up and thrown away the key.

For reasons like these, Sony’s media arm has earned my sincere distrust. I do not want them to control the next-generation movie standard. And I think any sane person would agree that they can’t be trusted to own the standard, as they routinely create discs that don’t conform to the existing standards.

With that in mind, I have purchased an HD-DVD player. Hopefully Fox and Disney will come around and start releasing their movies in the HD-DVD standard. I’d be only too hapy to trade them some of my money for a movie that would play in my shiny new HD-DVD player. Stand-alone HD-DVD players are currently outselling Blu-Ray players, so hopefully it is only a matter of time. That said, I really don’t think this is a war that is going to end any time soon. Especially since there are plans to make discs that contain both formats, as well as players (LG just released one) that will play both formats.

For me, I’m voting with my dollars for the standard I think will best serve the consumers—HD-DVD.

– Jeremy


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2 responses to “Voting with Dollars”

  1. Shaun Sparks Avatar
    Shaun Sparks

    No mention of the new Sony Playstation 3 coming with a built in Blu-ray player? Knowing the popularity of their playstations would give them a leg-up in the HD war, they decided to give themselves a boost up by building in a blu-ray player, thereby forcing consumers to accept their standard as the standard. Fortunately for consumers, this initially backfired on them due to the unexpected initial popularity of Nintendo’s Wii. Of course, though this was the initial response PS3’s, sales have steadily inproved and the company recently decided against releasing a scaled down version of the ps3 (apparently with a scaled down price) because sales of their full version started doing better. Many market analysts are touting this as a triumph for Sony as well as the beginning of the end for HD-DVD. A clear winner has yet to be decided….

    In the meantime, Im content to adjust my rabbit ears on my 24″ old-school when the picture starts to get to fuzzy to make out whats happening. 🙂

  2. april Avatar

    Sony’s Blu-Ray will ultimately lose the HD-DVD war because they have already stated that they will not allow pornography on their Blu-Ray discs. Ugly as it is, America as a whole will not stand for this, and it will become more apparent as High Definition-capable home entertainment systems become the norm.

    Many people don’t realize this is why video cassette tapes won. Sony, back in the day, released a much better product to compete with the VCR tape but refused to allow pornography on it, crippling its future.

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