HD VMD to Battle Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD

A cheaper high-def format?

At the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) trade show in Denver, a company promoting a new high-definition optical disc format demonstrated set-top players and high-definition movies that cost far less than ones that use the competing Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD formats. The only faux pas: Arriving late to a two-party format war that consumers are already reluctant to support.

Next month, New Medium Enterprises' 1080p set-top players, which use the HD VMD (Versatile Multilayer Disc) format, will go on sale on Amazon.com and in stores such as Radio Shack and Costco Wholesale in the US. for around $US150--about half the cost of the least-expensive 1080p HD DVD player, and perhaps a fourth the cost of the least-expensive Blu-ray player. The movies that work in them are similarly inexpensive.

"Expect a small premium over DVD [discs], and a big discount over Blu-ray and HD DVD," says Jim Cardwell, an advisor to the company and former president of Warner Home Video.

Red-Laser Technology

Instead of the blue-laser technology embraced by the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps, the HD VMD format uses the red-laser technology already used to create DVDs, and as a result, keeps the cost of manufacturing discs and drives low, says Eugene Levich, director and chief technology officer of New Medium Enterprises. He said that manufacturing a Blu-ray drive costs ten times as much as manufacturing a DVD or HD VMD drive, because the latter two are essentially the same drive but with different firmware.

HD VMD discs, which hold up to 30GB on a single side, are encoded with a maximum bit rate of 40 megabits per second; that's within spitting distance of Blu-ray's 48Mbps, and quite a bit more than 36Mbps for HD DVD. The format uses MPEG-2 and VC1 video formats to encode at 1080p resolution for the time being, and will possibly move to the H.264 format in the future.

Levich said the video quality is "at least as good" as that of the other formats. Using a projection system, HD VMD reps showed me clips of "We Were Soldiers" and ">Apocalypto". The movies looked very good--not as stunning as I expected, but I'd just arrived from the CEDIA show floor, where every television vendor uses phenomenal, highly doctored content to show off their products.

The HD VMD format supports up to 7.1-channel Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS audio output, though it will not offer the high-bit-rate Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio surround-sound codecs.

Multitalented, Inexpensive Players

The ML622S and the ML775S players each have a single HDMI 1.3 connection and can play HD VMDs, DVDs, CDs, and MP3 CDs, as well as a few other formats. The ML622S costs about $US150; the ML775S will cost slightly more. The ML775S adds USB ports and a media-card reader for displaying photos and playing video content from devices such as thumb drives and external hard drives. Both players have Ethernet ports designed for downloading firmware updates, not the interactive features supported by HD DVD and Blu-ray. They come in black, red, grey, and white.

At launch, 20 US movie titles will be available, including many from Mel Gibson's Icon Entertainment International. That's pretty sparse, and the list doesn't include that many hot titles. Of course, Blu-ray and HD DVD didn't start out with many more than that either, and New Medium Enterprises says that much more content from around the world, including many Bollywood titles, will be available.

Cardwell says that if the set-top players sell well, that will convince more major studios to sign on for HD VMD. But without content, buyers may be reticent to buy the set-top players. However, HD VMD players work with other, non-HD VMD content--and because they're inexpensive, buyers may be willing to take a chance.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Comments

Comments are now closed.

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?