The options for high-definition video open up this month with the arrival of both Sony's Playstation 3 and an add-on for Microsoft's 18 month old Xbox 360 console.

The Blu-ray drive built into the $1199 PS3 machine and the $249 HD-DVD drive from the Xbox will allow you to play new DVDs that hold many times the amount of data regular DVDs store.
That means movies can be delivered in higher resolution boasting better image and sound quality and interactive features beyond the standard menus of DVDs.

(graphic by Phil Welch, Herald on Sunday)

I recently watched the latest Bond flick Casino Royale and a preview of the rather bloody historical action movie 300 in high-definition on the PS3 and the improvement when viewed on a high-definition flat screen TV is remarkable when compared to a standard definition picture.
Blu-ray and HD-DVD drives are also being built into computers and DVD recorders allowing you to duplicate the entire contents of your computer hard drive or record hundreds of hours of TV on a single disc.

The consumer electronics industry is divided in its support of the rival Blu-ray and HD-DVD systems and Hollywood has also taken sides in the latest technological battle. Expect to see movie titles in both formats begin to pop up in stores in the next few months.

But even as the new generation of DVD players roll off the production lines in increasing numbers, scientists in the US are working on their successors, and once again, rival technologies will likely lead to yet another next generation battle for supremacy.

New discs will be released in the next few years that offer 300 times as much storage as today's DVDs. That's 1.5 terabytes of data on a disc, or twenty times the capacity of an average computer hard drive. The massive boost in storage comes down to a new way of packing information onto a disc - holographic storage.

While current DVDs use a reflective, pitted surface on the disc to store information, holographic discs create a 3D image within the disc, storing multiple images containing the data on the same light-sensitive polymers making up the disc.

When the disc drive's laser is shone on the disc at different angles, different layers of information stored on the same sliver of disc are revealed. It's sort of like looking at a painting from different angles and detecting new attributes each time.

Two American companies - InPhase and DCE Aprilis are developing differing versions of holographic storage, which is being closely examined by consumer electronics makers planning their product roadmaps beyond Blu-ray and HD-DVD.

The new discs will require a completely new drive to play them and will likely be slightly larger than today's DVDs. Initially, the drives will be very expensive - tens of thousands of dollars, and used only in the bsuiness sector for large-scale data back-up.

But eventually, they will form the basis of a new format for consumers, allowing even higher resolution video to be squeezed onto a disc. For us consumers, that will mean a better home theatre experience if we invest in the new drives and even higher resolution TV screens. That's something to think about when you produce your credit card to buy that long sought after Blu-ray player. It's the next big thing, but it's already on the road to obsolescence.

High definition Blu-ray drives get their mass market debut on March 23 when the Playstation 3 goes on sale in New Zealand. A gaming console featuring Sony's impressive Cell processing technology, a 60GB hard drive, numerous connectors for digital cameras, game controllers and music players as well as wireless and Ethernet networking, the Blu-ray drive makes it ideal for playing high quality movies. Retailers are yet to confirm details of what Blu-ray movie titles will be available at the PS3's launch. One title, Casino Royale, will be given away when new PS3 owners sign up the the Playstation Online netwwork. Son'y has some 4000 copies to give away locally.
Price: $1199

Available from later this month, the HD-DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 connects to the games console and displays movies in native high-definition (1080i resolution). That means movies recorded in high-definition will look much better when played on the Xbox add-on drive and a suitable high definition TV set. A dual-sided HD-DVD disc can store 30GB of data, six times more than a regular DVD. The drive also supports hybrid discs which come with HD-DVD and standard DVD recorded on the disc, so it can be played back at standard definition on regular DVD players. Interactive features such as the ability to flick through chapters while a movie is playing and watching behind the scene footage play in a pop-up screen during the movie, give greater flexiblity when it comes to navigating the contents of a disc.
Price: $249

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