HD-DVD Format Makes Public Debut

The first High-Definition DVDs go on sale Tuesday. It is the first shot in an emerging format battle among next-generation DVD players.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

On Monday's, the business report focuses on technology. And today we're looking at a new piece of technology that goes on sale this week.

The first high definition DVDs go on sale tomorrow. Only a few titles will be available, but the idea is that movie fans will be able to watch films at home with a higher quality resolution than ever before.

The sale of these HD-DVDs, keep your initials correct, is also the first shot in a format war with competing technologies.

Here to make some sense of all this is NPR's Laura Sydell.

Laura, good morning.

LAURA SYDELL: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why do we need a new format?

SYDELL: Well, I know you were just getting used to DVDs, right? Basically, what's coming out now will give people even higher resolution. And people are now watching at home on larger screens and here's a disk which hopefully will allow them to see an even better picture.

It also has more interactive features, so you can put a game on the same disk as a movie, and there'll be more discussions with actors, directors, all to keep you watching your TV for even longer.

INSKEEP: Just same DVD you can watch for hours. At least according to the people selling that stuff, what's the competition?

SYDELL: The competition is something called Blue Ray.

Toshiba is backing HD-DVD. The other format is backed by Sony and it's called Blue Ray. And they both have higher resolution, but Blue Ray holds even more content. And there's a big difference in how the disks are made.

HD-DVD can be made using basically the same technology that they use for regular DVDs. Blue Ray requires a whole new manufacturing setting, and so it's a little bit different.

INSKEEP: What about from the consumer's point of view? Do I have to, if I want to buy either one of these technologies, do I have to get rid of the DVD player that I just bought and get an entirely new system?

SYDELL: Exactly. And they won't be cheap either. You're going to pay probably about $500.00 for the HD-DVD player, and you're going to pay $1,000.00 for the Blue Ray player, so they're expensive. And the new disks themselves will also be more than the DVDs.

So I heard, let's see, Wal-Mart will be selling an HD-DVD for $25.48. And it will be probably even more for the Blue Ray disks.

INSKEEP: Do consumers seem likely to line up between either one of these technologies?

SYDELL: You know, most people are predicting that a lot of people are going to just sit and wait and see. I mean why invest all this money in a new technology if you don't know which one's going to win? So there's a sense that for awhile people may just sit back and wait.

INSKEEP: If the companies are able to resolve this dispute over different formats, is there a commercial advantage here, a huge one, because you'd be getting people to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on technology when they thought they had perfectly good DVD players and DVDs?

SYDELL: Well, of course. And at this moment, what's going is that also the film companies and the manufacturers of all these devices know this may be the last opportunity to sell another format. Because the next thing that' going to happen is you're going to have downloads, and the picture will be better. You will get more. You're just going to actually have to pay for it.

INSKEEP: So what can I get on HD-DVD today? What movies?

SYDELL: There's only three or four that are coming out to begin with. There's Million Dollar Baby. You can get The Last Samurai, and Phantom of the Opera.

INSKEEP: Okay. That's NPR's Laura Sydell.

Laura, thanks for being with us early this morning.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION, HD-ME, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne

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