DVDs: The Next Generation

For some of us, it feels as if it were only yesterday that we repurchased our entire home movie collection to make the jump from VHS to DVD.

Times had changed, and it was obvious at a glance that the significantly improved picture and sound quality, coupled with a whole host of never-before-seen features, made it well worth the time and money.

But if you thought you could just sit back and enjoy the high-quality DVD presentation, you were sadly mistaken. It's time to open up those wallets again and get a trash bag ready for your DVD collection.

In one corner, there's the Blue-ray format and in the other, HD DVD. Both are new kinds of DVDs that can hold massive files for high-definition versions of movies.

But how will consumers choose one over the other, and do we really need the upgrade?

Which One Should I Buy?

Both HD DVD and Blu-ray are supported by huge multimillion- and billion-dollar electronics and computer companies, and the Hollywood movie studios own the content that these new formats will contain.

For consumers, it will be tough to figure out which product is best. Even industry analysts say that picking a front-runner is difficult at this point.

"Microsoft is putting their weight behind HD DVD," said Joni Blecher, associate analyst for Jupiter Research. "But you also have Dell and Apple putting their weight behind Blu-ray."

Most consumers will likely buy whatever makes sense for them, and that could be driven by another generation war: video-game consoles.

The PlayStation 3 is expected to use Blu-ray, and there are reports of an HD DVD drive for Microsoft's Xbox 360. Blecher said that will get the millions of consumers who play video games vested in the format used by their games of choice.

"The release of the PS3 later this year and Xbox 360 will actually drive sales a lot," she said. "Whatever format people have in their home is probably the one they'll buy when they have to pick."

Of course, if you're a procrastinator, she said you can always pick up a dual-drive unit, which will include drives for both HD DVD and Blu-ray.

Do I Need to Upgrade?

Blecher said that just because there's a new format out there doesn't mean people will buy it.

"You have to give people a good enough reason to upgrade," she said. "The difference between DVD and VHS was demonstrative, but how much of a difference will we see in the next-gen DVDs?"

The penetration of HDTVs and the desire to take advantage of the clarity those sets offer will also be a major factor, but Blecher said the cost and value may drive consumers to buy or sit on the technology they already have.

"Price and content that is unique are key," she explained. "The new DVDs are expected to cost around $30 or $40."

It'll be up to consumers to decide whether or not they think it's worth it, though she did point out that if you already own an HDTV and a good-quality, progressive-scan DVD player, the change will likely be minimal.

What's the Difference?

Both formats have the capacity to hold high-definition versions of films, but there are differences that go beyond their respective names.

First of all, Blu-ray players will use blue lasers to read the information encoded on the discs, unlike the red lasers currently used, which the HD DVD players will continue to rely on.

Also, with 50 gigabytes, or gigs, of space, Blu-ray holds much more data than HD DVDs, which store only about 30 gigs. Current DVDs can hold up to 8.5 gigs.

When Can I Get One?

Early adopters who want to get their hands on the new technology can pick up a Blu-ray player from Samsung for about $1,000 at the end of May.

Toshiba was scheduled to release two HD DVD players today, one costing around $499 and the other about $799, but the devices were held, as there aren't any movies available in the format yet.

Though no movie studios have come out to exclusively support either format -- why would they when they could sell to two groups of consumers? -- they have shown support for the change.

By the end of the year, Blue-ray and HD DVDs are expected to flood DVD stores, though it'll be up to consumers to decide which one sticks around.