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What to Watch: Blu-Ray or HD-DVD?
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What to Watch: Blu-Ray or HD-DVD?



From the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas comes the likely answer to a question you may not even have heard. The answer, apparently, is Blu-ray. And the question is, which successor format to the DVD is winning, HD-DVD or Blu-ray? To which we might add the clarifying questions: what's the difference between Blu-ray and HD-DVD and who needs a successor format to DVDs anyway?

Well, for the answers to these questions and others, we turn to our reporter, Laura Sydell, who is covering the Consumer Electronics Show. And Laura, let's take those questions in reverse order. First of all, what's wrong with the -that venerable product of the 1990s, the DVD player?

LAURA SYDELL: Nothing's wrong with it. It's just that technology marches on. These days, everybody talks about high-definition video. And that's what you won't get on a DVD. So more people are buying their HDTVs. And if you put a DVD on it, it doesn't look as good. You want to get either a HD-DVD or a Blu-ray technology because it's going to look better on your television set.

SIEGEL: Okay. What is the difference between HD-DVD and Blu-ray?

SYDELL: Well, I think to most consumers, they're not really going to see the difference. The differences are things like how they make the product. So Blu-ray is actually a bit more costly. The biggest difference, however, is which companies are backing which technology. So Microsoft and Toshiba have been backing HD-DVD, and Sony is the big backer of Blu-ray. The studios say they like both technologies better than DVD because they're more secure, it's harder to steal them. But Blu-ray is even a little bit harder to make copies of.

SIEGEL: And in what ways is Blu-ray wining the race?

SYDELL: Content. That's the key. Many of the studios were releasing movies in both formats for a while, and some studios chose only one. But now, Warner Brothers has announced that it's going to start releasing its movies only in the Blu-ray format. And that means that about 70 percent of the movies are going to be on blu-ray. So if I were a salesperson in a store and you were saying to me which player should I buy, the Blu-ray player or the HD-DVD, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you to buy the HD-DVD anymore.

SIEGEL: But what if I go to the video rental, assuming such a place still exists in another few years, and I say, I don't have either a Blu-ray or an HD-DVD. I just have an old DVD player.

SYDELL: Well, for a while, I think DVD is going to be around. It's not like it's going to go away overnight. It will take a while, as it usually does with any technology.

SIEGEL: Now, when you look at video pictures from either of these competing systems and an ordinary DVD on an HD screen, do you see remarkable differences among them?

SYDELL: Yes. I would say there is. It's much, much clearer. But, you know, the biggest difference, really, besides the picture, is that it can have features like interactivity or you can do things like, for example, be watching a movie, click it, and all of the sudden, the director can point to scenes and talk to you about it as the movie is actually playing.

SIEGEL: And if we armed people with their own remote devices and HD screens, and they watch both Blu-ray and HD-DVD images, do we think one is significantly better than the other one?

SYDELL: Well, of course the manufacturers who are backing one format or the other will tell you, yes, ours looks better. But I don't see any difference. So I don't think consumers would actually see the difference between the two products. I should add that here in the hall at CES, Blu-ray is packed. There are all kinds of people looking at that technology and not so many over at Toshiba. Although, Toshiba says the war isn't over yet.

SIEGEL: Okay, thanks. NPR digital culture correspondent Laura Sydell at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Thank you, Laura.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

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