Projector Central. Is Blu Ray dead?

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http://www.projectorcentral.com/blu-ray_2.htm

Blu-ray: Can it Survive?

Evan Powell
July 14, 2006
ProjectorCentral.com




They say the outcome of a war is not determined on the battlefield, but rather in the strategy rooms long before the first shot is fired. And so it is with the great "format war" between the new high definition video disc rivals HD-DVD and Blu-ray. From our vantage point, it appears that HD-DVD has already won. It only remains for the various battlefield moves to be played out before it becomes obvious. The real question now is not whether Blu-ray will win, but whether it can survive to capture a reasonable share of the home theater market.

HD-DVD is currently well-positioned to take the lion's share of the market for one very simple reason: HD-DVD offers a much better value proposition to the consumer. That value proposition comes in the form of three formidable advantages: (1) At this writing, HD-DVD image quality is clearly superior to Blu-ray, (2) HD-DVD player prices are half those of Blu-ray, and (3) HD-DVD has twice as many movie titles on the market as Blu-ray, and that ratio will hold through the end of this critical launch year. In short, HD-DVD is aggressively delivering what the consumer wants today. Meanwhile, Blu-ray is far behind the power curve with overpriced and underperforming products. If it does not turn itself around its survival as a vehicle for home theater movies is questionable.

Image Quality
We have spent the last two weeks with Blu-ray and HD-DVD, doing various side by side comparisons with two identically calibrated Optoma HD7100 projectors. How do the formats compare to each other, and how much of a leap forward from standard DVD do they represent? Based on the discs that have been brought to market so far, HD-DVD wins in a runaway.

We started by viewing the film U-571 in both standard DVD and its new HD-DVD version side by side. The DVD was played on the Oppo 971 DVD player, and the HD-DVD disc was played on the Toshiba HD-A1. Both players were set to feed the signals at 1080i via DVI.

The result: a night and day difference. The HD-DVD image was much higher in contrast and showed beautiful detail in high resolution that was completely lost in the DVD. It was smoother, cleaner, and much more three-dimensional. The standard DVD looked surprisingly dull and grainy in comparison. This was true despite the fact that the U-571 DVD is actually a much better than average video transfer.

This dramatic improvement in image quality was apparent across all HD-DVDs we have seen thus far. From the outset we were happily surprised by the substantial improvement in image quality being delivered by the $500 Toshiba HD-DVD player. And after investing $1000 for the Samsung BD-P1000, we were expecting to see at least comparable results. After all, the player is twice the money, and the discs are encoded in the same 1080p resolution format. How different could it be?

Quite different, as it turns out. The Blu-ray launch delivered a rude surprise—picture quality that is moderately better than that available on standard DVD, but not rising to the level of anything one could call high definition. We viewed The Fifth Element, Terminator, and The House of Flying Daggers side by side in their DVD and Blu-ray versions, deriving the same results from each test: the Blu-ray discs showed somewhat better contrast and detail over their DVD counterparts. But the difference was not nearly as dramatic as the comparisons between DVD and HD-DVD. Moreover, none of the Blu-ray discs matched the higher quality of the HD-DVDs.

Rumors are circulating that the problem with Blu-ray is due to an alleged defect in the HDMI output of the Samsung player. Some have said that one needs only to switch from HDMI to component video output to solve the problem. There is a bit of truth to this. We do see marginally better images from the Samsung player on most discs when using component video. But the improvement is not dramatic. The resulting image still looks only incrementally better than DVD. So while the use of component video yields a somewhat better picture, it does not transform Blu-ray into a great deal for the money. Furthermore, it should be noted that the Blu-ray demo disc being used by many retailers at the moment plays just fine over the Samsung BD-P1000's HDMI interface. There is not the slightest hint of a defect in the player with this particular disc. So we are more inclined to suspect that this oddity is related to Blu-ray disc quality, and will reserve judgment until more is known.

Part of the reason for Blu-ray's present lackluster image quality may be attributed to a strange confluence of unfortunate events. First, they have not yet been able to successfully mass-produce dual-layer Blu-ray discs. That means the storage capacity on the first releases is limited to 25 GB rather than the 50 GB available with the dual-layer structure. Second, someone decided to use MPEG-2 on these initial releases. It appears that 25 GB is not sufficient storage space for high quality video at 1080p/24 resolution when compressed via MPEG-2. Somewhere along the line vital video information is not making it onto the Blu-ray discs, and it is visible on the screen.

The solution to this problem would be to either switch to a more efficient codec like MPEG-4 or VC-1, or solve the problem related to manufacturing the dual-layer discs. We have no idea how long it will take before either of these solutions find their way to market. But once either one of them shows up, we have little doubt that Blu-ray image quality will rise to the level of HD-DVD. However, there is no reason to imagine Blu-ray quality would ever exceed that of HD-DVD.

At this point we should address what can only be characterized as a hoax—the notion that Blu-ray must be technically superior to HD-DVD because the Samsung player outputs 1080p, whereas the Toshiba player is "only 1080i." One high-end home theater retailer told me last weekend that the reason you pay $1000 for the Blu-ray player is for the "higher resolution 1080p output." This is absolute baloney. If you encounter any retail sales rep feeding you this line, keep your wallet in your pocket and leave the store.

The truth is this: The Toshiba HD-DVD player outputs 1080i, and the Samsung Blu-ray player outputs both 1080i and 1080p. What they fail to mention is that it makes absolutely no difference which transmission format you use—feeding 1080i or 1080p into your projector or HDTV will give you the exact same picture. Why? Both disc formats encode film material in progressive scan 1080p at 24 frames per second. It does not matter whether you output this data in 1080i or 1080p since all 1080 lines of information on the disc are fed into your video display either way. The only difference is the order in which they are transmitted. If they are fed in progressive order (1080p), the video display will process them in that order. If they are fed in interlaced format (1080i), the video display simply reassembles them into their original progressive scan order. Either way all 1080 lines per frame that are on the disc make it into the projector or TV. The fact is, if you happen to have the Samsung Blu-ray player and a video display that takes both 1080i and 1080p, you can switch the player back and forth between 1080i and 1080p output and see absolutely no difference in the picture. So this notion that the Blu-ray player is worth more money due to 1080p output is nonsense.

(As a side note, 1080p could offer a subtle improvement in motion smoothness if (a) the player was able to output at 24 frames per second, and (b) you happened to have a video display that could take 1080p/24, which is a rarity these days. In the future it is probable that both HD-DVD and Blu-ray players will output 1080p/24. But neither one does it today, so it is not relevant to the present competition between the formats.)

So why all the confusion? If live video is originally captured with an HD video camera in 1080p, that is a much higher resolution than capturing in 1080i. The reason is that when an HD camera captures in 1080i, it is scanning 540 odd lines at one moment in time, and the 540 even lines at a subsequent moment in time. So in motion sequences, vertical resolution drops to 540 lines rather than 1080. Furthermore, interlaced capture produces motion offsets in the reassembled frame, resulting in the interlacing artifacts that people don't like. That does not occur with either HD-DVD or Blu-ray 1080p film-sourced material since it is all progressively scanned from film frames that represent single moments in time. So this material can be transmitted from the player to the display via 1080i without introducing interlacing artifacts.

The Price Factor
Currently we have the bizarre phenomenon of the $500 Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player delivering a markedly better picture than the $1000 Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player. As noted previously, this is due primarily to the inadequacies of the Blu-ray discs, and not the relative merits of the two players. Once the Blu-ray consortium is able to issue discs encoded with VC-1 or MPEG-4, the image quality should begin to rival that of HD-DVD. But that is the best one can expect. Since both formats will (a) encode film in 1080p/24, (b) eventually use VC-1 and MPEG-4 as preferred video codecs, and (c) output via HDMI, there is no material difference in the technologies that would cause one to produce a better quality image than the other. In point of fact, image quality variances between titles will be dependent on the quality and condition of the original film source and its restoration rather than any inherent differences in the HD-DVD or Blu-ray processes.

Retailers who are currently promoting Blu-ray over HD-DVD point to two "advantages" of the Samsung player over the Toshiba player. The first, already discussed, is that the Samsung BD-P1000 outputs 1080p whereas the Toshiba HD-A1 does not. For reasons just discussed, this feature is not worth an incremental $5, much less $500. Now, if either player could output 1080p/24, that would be a small advantage worth mentioning. But neither one will do that, and 99% of the HD video display systems on the market wouldn't recognize that signal even if they did.

The second purported advantage of the Samsung player is that it loads faster, and indeed it does. Everyone has complained about the slow load times on the Toshiba HD-A1. However, let's put this into perspective since the Samsung is not as fast as a conventional DVD player either. Starting from power off, without a disc in the drive, the Samsung player takes 25 seconds to boot up and open the drawer. The Toshiba player takes 39 seconds to do the same thing. So the Toshiba player requires you to wait an additional 14 seconds in this part of the start up cycle.

Once you drop a disc into the tray and press the close button, the Samsung player take 32 seconds to recognize the disc and commence delivery of the image to the screen. The Toshiba player takes 60 seconds to do this. So the incremental wait time to load and play is 28 seconds. The bottom line is that it takes an additional 42 seconds to power up the Toshiba HD-A1 and get a movie playing compared to the Samsung BD-P1000. True, that can seem like an eternity for consumers used to the instant response of a DVD player. But in the grand scheme of things, we don't see this as a big factor in deciding between the formats, especially when there are differences in image quality to worry about.

In short, it is difficult to see what the consumer gets for the incremental $500 investment in Blu-ray over HD-DVD. At the moment, Blu-ray delivers moderately faster load times and less impressive picture quality. Sometime in the future (hopefully soon), Blu-ray discs will begin to look as good as HD-DVD. But when they do, the consumer will still be asked to pay a $500 premium to see them. There is no rational justification for this price differential.

Film Studio Support
The most unsavory aspect of this entire format war is that some of the major film studios have elected to take sides. This, more than any technical issue, is causing many consumers to sit on the sidelines and wait for some clarity. Quite understandably, nobody wants to invest in the next Betamax fiasco. It seems that Sony would have learned a lesson with Betamax, in that attempting to dictate an industry standard sometimes doesn't work out so well. But here we are again, with Sony now holding the substantial film libraries of Sony Pictures and MGM as hammers over the consumer: "Buy the expensive Blu-ray players, or you won't see our films in HD." Other studios, notably Disney, Fox, and Lion's Gate have joined with them and, as of this writing, indicated that they will release their films only in the Blu-ray format (although Disney has recently indicated that it is considering support of HD-DVD).

There is one little problem—all the money these studios want is currently in the consumers' wallets. And consumers do not react kindly to threatening "buy this or else" marketing propositions. The success of the HD-DVD format is clearly in the interest of the consumer. Not only does it represent a much better value today in both performance and price, but if Sony's Blu-ray is to survive at all, the influence of HD-DVD in the marketplace will drive down the prices of Blu-ray through natural market competition. Either way, the consumer wins with a healthy HD-DVD presence in the market.
Thankfully, a number of major studios have taken a pro-consumer position in this battle. Universal Studios has established a solid commitment to HD-DVD and refuses to lend any support to Blu-ray. Others like Paramount/Dreamworks, Warner Bros, New Line Cinema and HBO have taken the position that the customer ought to be able to acquire their films in whatever format they choose—they will release their titles in both HD-DVD and Blu-ray editions. The good news is that the combined film libraries of Universal, Paramount, Dreamworks, Warner Bros, and New Line Cinema contain many thousands of titles. Their collective support of HD-DVD is more than sufficient to ensure the success of the format. The films from these studios alone will give the consumer who chooses HD-DVD a lifetime of great HD movie viewing.
So we must ask ourselves as consumers: How big of a deal is this fuss over studio support anyway? What if I invest in HD-DVD today and Disney decides not to support it after all? Our answer is an emphatic so what? Not being able to see a Disney film in HD is not the end of the world. Disney films will always be available on regular DVD. You can pop those DVDs into your HD-DVD player anytime you want, upsample them to 1080i, and see them in very close to the same quality as Blu-ray is delivering today. Problem solved.

Meanwhile, you'll have a huge variety of titles from the HD-DVD friendly studios to select from, so you can enjoy true HD quality at prices that are much easier on your budget. If Disney, in the end, chooses not to actively support HD-DVD, the company will simply lose out on your HD disc purchases. Oh well, that's the breaks. Let Disney management explain to their shareholders why they backed what is now looking like it might be the lame pony in this horse race. This is not the consumer's problem.

We believe the Hollywood studios will eventually wake up to the fact that HD-DVD is not only in the consumer's interest, it is in Hollywood's interest as well. HD-DVD's low prices and high performance will ensure a rapid proliferation of HD-DVD players in consumer households. That will, in turn, fuel a new boom in HD disc sales and rentals. There are many hundreds of millions of dollars to be made in the HD revolution, and the "Blu-ray only" studios are just shooting themselves in the foot by not supporting technology that is in the consumer's best interests.

Conclusion
HD-DVD has proven itself to be an outstanding value for the money. Blu-ray has not. If Blu-ray is to survive it needs to drop the price of its entry level players to $500 and increase the quality of its discs. In essence, it needs to match the price/performance benchmark established by HD-DVD. Surely better Blu-ray discs will be forthcoming at some point. But from the looks of things it may already be too late. HD-DVD is solid, it delivers superb quality for a nominal price, and there are twice the number of HD-DVD titles on the market as BDs. The outlook for the holiday season is that there will be over 400 HD-DVD titles released, while Blu-ray will be lucky to have 200.

In addition to the strength of the HD-DVD release, the technology has a latent cost advantage in manufacturing. HD-DVD players can be built at lower cost, and that will translate into lower prices to the consumer. Faced with this challenge, Blu-ray will eventually need to deliver image quality that is superior to HD-DVD in order to justify premium player prices. It is certainly not doing that today, and we do not believe there is any realistic chance that it could happen in the future.
For these reasons, we enthusiastically endorse HD-DVD. If Blu-ray can ever demonstrate that it is able to deliver similar quality at similar prices, or even better quality at a premium price, we will be happy to endorse Blu-ray as well. But based on the less than stellar performance of Blu-ray coming out of the starting gates, we wonder whether it will survive in the home theater market.

Our message to consumers is this: Do not be concerned by the demands of the "Blu-ray only" film studios who ask that you pay top dollar for Blu-ray players to see their movies in HD. The HD-DVD launch has established that you do not need to spend $1000 or $1500 to see great HD films in your own home. If some studios don't want to accommodate you, buy from those who will. At the very least, the competition between HD-DVD and Blu-ray will ensure that prices of both formats become rapidly accessible to the maximum number of consumers. On a final note, think about this: Your real objective should be to get the absolute best picture possible for the budget you are willing to spend. In order to meet that objective, you will be much better off buying HD-DVD and investing the incremental cash you would have spent on Blu-ray in a higher quality projector or flat screen HDTV instead. Once consumers begin to spend big money in pursuit of their own best interests, the studios will fall into line.
 
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JoeSp

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Once again someone trying to use a crappy Samsung Blu Ray DVD player that has already been reported to having serious problems to a decent Toshiba HD-DVD player. I will keep my reserve until I read about Sony's or Pioneer's Blu-RAY players and see if Blu-Ray is still lagging behind HD-DVD!
 
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sahovis

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From what i got out of this article, the reviewer was mostly criticizing the crappy blu-ray discs over the player. He even said that once they get a 50GB disc using better compression technology, then maybe Blu-ray can compare to HD-DVD. Until then, it doesn't matter who makes the player if the medium it uses is junk. Anyways, like most others in this forum, I'm sittin' on the sidelines a little while longer.
 
navychop

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Do people that write this stuff believe that the first horse out of the starting gate is always the winner?
 
teamerickson

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navychop said:
Do people that write this stuff believe that the first horse out of the starting gate is always the winner?
He's just restating that Blue Ray promised a better poduct and they have not delivered on hardware or software.
 
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I belive that if he had an equally product on PQ as the Toshiba player, he would have given you an honest answer. Obviously, the Samsung player is a bad answer (for the Blu Ray supporters). I want to see other BR players other than the Samsung. One significant statement that he made was the price difference. That will hardly change whether it is a Samsung player or a Sony player. There's a huge difference between $500 and $1000. Sony better give consumers something worth the extra $500 for their BR player.
 
vurbano

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Guys, its a review of BluRay in general. And 1/2 of the problem is the disks and the studios encoding the movies. The Author properly addressed the entire problem. The point is that even if BluRay gets it "right" its still double the cost of the HD DVD players. And the really ironic part is that inorder to get the sammy BluRay player down in cost, the smart engineer would rip out the chip set doing the 1080p gymnastics.

Why?

To reduce the cost inorder to compete with HD DVD.

But what do you have once you do that?

Basically the existing HD DVD player that lets the HDTV do the proper inverse telecine conversion from 1080i to 1080p.
:rolleyes:
 
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JoeSp

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How do you know that Vurbano? How do you know that the Samsumg player isn't 75 % of the problem. Maybe 90% of the problem. Where do you get the basis for making the claim. Is there another Blu-Ray player out there that you can make a comparison? Until that happens, we really won't know if all of the Blu-Ray movies are bad or the player is bad. After some experiance with Samsung DVD players I tend to lean towards the Samsung player. This is not going to be over anytime soon.

Oh, and btw, there is no gynastics going on with the output of the Blu-Ray discs -- all hd video on both formats is in 1080p. Check your sources. Also , is there really 1080i camera that records video in split frame? I don't think so, I think that they are all 1080p. At least the station engineer at one of my local HD OTA stations says that they are. HD video is shot in 1080p and converted for 1080i output. Based on this alone the above review is a sham. While stated that the video from the componet output is better then the HDMI output for the Samsung the reviewer does not state if the projector used does better with componet video or HDMI video. Nor does he make any statements how the projector handles componet over HDMI.

Other than these ommisions, I will agree that current Blu-Ray material (movies and the Samsung player) do not meet up with the level set by the Toshiba HD-DVD players and the HD-DVD movies.
 
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teamerickson

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JoeSp said:
Oh, and btw, there is no gynastics going on with the output of the Blu-Ray discs -- all hd video on both formats is in 1080p. Check your sources.
It's not true 1080p output. The player reads 1080p, than a chip downconverts to 1080i, than another chip upconverts to 1080p. Why? I have no idea.
 
CochiseGuy

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JoeSp said:
How do you know that Vurbano? How do you know that the Samsumg player isn't 75 % of the problem. Maybe 90% of the problem. Where do you get the basis for making the claim. Is there another Blu-Ray player out there that you can make a comparison? Until that happens, we really won't know if all of the Blu-Ray movies are bad or the player is bad. After some experiance with Samsung DVD players I tend to lean towards the Samsung player. This is not going to be over anytime soon.

Oh, and btw, there is no gynastics going on with the output of the Blu-Ray discs -- all hd video on both formats is in 1080p. Check your sources.

Yes, the HD video on both formats is encoded in 1080p. But, yes, there is some "gymnastics" going on. The Tosh / RCA HD DVD player outputs the video in 1080i, so a 1080p display can do its conversion to 1080p - just like it would with a HDTV broadcast in 1080i.

But, to support BD's ridiculous advertising slogan of "True HD", BDA mandated all BD players output in 1080p. So, on top of the Broadcom chipset used in both the Tosh & Samsung player, Samsung added another chip to convert the 1080i from the Broadcom to 1080p. Surprisingly :)rolleyes: ), the Samsung doesn't do as good as job at 1080i/1080p conversion as a $3000 1080p display designed to excel at conversion.

OK, it pratically impossible for us non-insiders to really know if the current inferior quality of BD releases is due to the Samsung player or the poor encoding in mpeg2 in 25GB SL BD discs. However, I would think if those current BD releases were really pristine, the releasing studios (Sony, Lionsgate) would be doing some complaining about the Samsung player. ;)

I think it will be interesting when the first WB BD releases hit the streets Aug. 1. If the first WB BD releases are in mpeg2 on 25GB discs - as I suspect - I think its very likely they will be judged inferior to their HD DVD counterpart. What will the BDA spin doctors be spinning then? I can already hear it - "It's that faulty noise reduction chip in the Samsung player!"
 
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vurbano

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JoeSp said:
How do you know that Vurbano? How do you know that the Samsumg player isn't 75 % of the problem.
1.The Disk size of HD DVD is 30GB with very efficient VC-1 and the audio is not uncompressed.

2.The Disk size of BluRay is 25GB with a very inefficient mpeg2 and HUGE uncompressed audio data.


Its common knowledge that PQ will not improve for Blu Ray unless disk size increases or a new codec is used. :rolleyes:

JoeSp said:
Oh, and btw, there is no gynastics going on with the output of the Blu-Ray discs -- all hd video on both formats is in 1080p. Check your sources.
The Samsung player takes the 1080p from the disk converts to 1080i and then back again to 1080p for output. That equals Gymnastics, unnecessary gymnastics that degrades the picture further inorder to obtain some mythical marketing advantage garbage for blue shirted ,pimple faced, best buy salesmen to spew to uneducated customers.
 
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Zookster

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Forget the poor performance of the Sammy player. The other day I saw a BluRay display at Fry's using a $3500 Sony Viao computer. It was playing "50 First Dates." My immediate impression was "You're joking right, I see motion artifacts and jittery movement."
 
vurbano

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colebert said:
vurbano:hd-dvd::charper:directv

I only vocally support things that delver the goods. I own HD DVD and it delivers. I also am a directv HD customer. But you do NOT hear me running around praising Directv. If anything the D* people hate me because I tell it like it is. Now go take your little warped conclusions and troll elsewhere.
 
JoeSp

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Vurbano, do you think that Sony waiting for HDMI 1.3 that will allow full 1080p transfer to the monitor (if said monitor will acccept and deliver 1080p) without conversion will improve their output? Of course, you have to get good Blu-Ray translations and they have not done that yet.
 
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teamerickson

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JoeSp said:
Vurbano, do you think that Sony waiting for HDMI 1.3 that will allow full 1080p transfer to the monitor (if said monitor will acccept and deliver 1080p) will improve their output?
I believe current HDMI version passes 1080p.
 
tnsprin

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teamerickson said:
I believe current HDMI version passes 1080p.
Of course HDMI 1.3 is the current version. Some probably were designing to support it even before it was released, and assuming software upgradable, may support it. Completely hardware version will take a little more time.
 
Ilya

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teamerickson said:
I believe current HDMI version passes 1080p.
That's correct. All versions of HDMI, starting with with 1.0 allow for 1080p. It's up to equipment manufacturers to actually support it.
 

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