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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 4/10/2005The trick in writing about IT is knowing what to ignore — and I've found the Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD debate very ignorable so far. As a PC user, that side of things only becomes truly interesting once the media becomes recordable and as far as can be ascertained that's still a long way off for either.

Tuesday 4/10/2005

The trick in writing about IT is knowing what to ignore — and I've found the Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD debate very ignorable so far. As a PC user, that side of things only becomes truly interesting once the media becomes recordable and as far as can be ascertained that's still a long way off for either.

Even when the more immediate issue of digital media adoption is considered, there are too many questions that need actual product. Will Blu-Ray's ultrathin protective layer stand up to real life? Will the lower cost of production and user-friendly name make HD-DVD the people's choice? Will Microsoft's ill-defined support for HD count for a hill of beans compared to Sony's commitment to shifting units of BR? What does it mean if a company says it'll support a particular format, but won't be drawn on whether it'll include it with its hardware?

The wind is definitely in Blu-Ray's favour, though. Studios are moving across, the HD-DVD drives will be later to market than thought thus losing one big advantage, and Blu-Ray is increasingly seen as having a longer life thanks to its theoretically larger maximum storage capacity. Whether it's ever economic to make the big versions isn't so important; it's an option that HD doesn't have.

Perhaps none of this matters. A CD, DVD, HD-DVD or Blu-Ray disk is nothing more than a collection of bits, attractive only because of convenience. In the early days of CD-ROMs, that convenience was overwhelming: it would have taken more than a day of expensive phone calls to deliver that information over even the fastest dial-up modem. Today, a DVD's worth of information will arrive over a 24Mbps DSL link in an hour — at a flat monthly rate that pans out at a penny or two for that much time. It's not easy to consume an entire DVD in an hour, so storage that's merely bigger will have no advantage much of the time. Online deliveries of media should appeal mightily to the studios too: in place of nasty invasive DRM they can do customised watermarks that identify the purchaser and say "Do what you like with our IP, but if you're bad we'll come looking".

The whole Blu-Ray/HD-DVD battle assumes we'll still be sticking slivers of polycarbonate in our slots in ten years' time. If we are, a much more important battle will have been lost.