New York — Chances for format unification seemed to be dimming this week as the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) began flagging attention to a consumer survey it commissioned, which it says shows consumers “overwhelmingly prefer” the Blu-ray Disc (BD) format to the rival HD DVD format.
Maureen Weber, HP’s optical storage general manager and BDA’s spokesperson, said any format war that might develop will be short lived, citing the survey of 1,200 consumers conducted in May, showing 58 percent of respondents prefer BD, 16 percent prefer HD DVD, and 26 percent are undecided.
Among those qualified as “extremely interested” in purchasing a next-generation optical disc format 66 percent favored BD, 19 percent were undecided and 15 percent favored HD DVD, said Weber.
The study, which includes both quantitative and qualitative research, was conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, using male and female respondents between the ages of 18 to 64. The mix included high-definition TV owners and HDTV intenders (representing 50 percent of the mix) with HDTV-ignorant individuals comprising the remaining 50 percent, Weber said.
Weber is taking the results of the “independent consumer study” it commissioned on a tour of media publications, she said, in part to counter claims by rivals that the BD format, particularly its 50GB recordable dual-layer disc, is “vaporware.”
Weber offered a working 50GB disc sample, adding they are in limited production now in Torrance, Calif., and dual-layer recordable discs are now offered for recorders selling in Japan.
In addition, the BDA is trying to make its next-generation disc system known to the public as members of the HD DVD camp, including Toshiba, NEC, Thomson and Sanyo, prepare to launch the first HD DVD players late this year.
Blu-ray Disc markers are targeting a mid-2006 format launch, offering at least some BD recorders and BD recordable PC drives in the initial equipment releases, Weber said.
Meanwhile, a representative of the HD DVD camp blasted the survey for failing to offer “a fair comparison of the features” of each format, “most specifically failing to mention that HD DVD has announced a 45GB disc,” said Mark Knox, advisor to Toshiba’s HD DVD promotions group.
“The survey also apparently failed to mention that you can make HD DVD discs on today’s equipment with relatively modest changes, which translates to a reasonable cost to the disc and a wide variety of disc options for the studios, whether it’s a twin-format disc, an inexpensive DVD-9 or massive HD-45,” Knox said.
Weber said respondents were not told about HD DVD’s proposed triple-layer 45GB disc format because it had just been announced and had not been approved by the DVD forum. She said doubts remained (in the BD camp) about that system’s technical viability.
Knox said that the 45GB triple-layer, HD DVD disc announcement was not made until after extensive due diligence and working production samples were in hand. He added that today its status and viability have been further verified by a 0.9 document that is currently circulating. Additionally, a twin-format HD DVD disc proposal has been approved by the DVD Forum steering committee.
In presenting the next-generation optical disc concept, survey respondents were given a range of benefits such a system would provide including clearer pictures and sound, higher disc capacity, the ability to add various interactive features, faster seamless menus than DVDs, and book marking capability.
Weber said 70 percent all respondents and 87 percent of extremely interested respondents selected backward compatibility with current DVDs as an important factor in selecting a next-generation optical disc system.
Weber said BD players and recorders will employ optical pickups that will read both BD and DVD content. In addition, 57 percent of respondents said the ability to play a movie in both high definition and standard definition via a combo disc that plays in current DVD players was also important.
Weber said JVC’s hybrid, BD-ROM disc format, which has been approved by the BDA, will support both high-definition (up to 25GBs) and standard-definition movies (up to 8.5GBs) on a single-sided, triple-layer disc if content providers elect to package films in that manner.
Backward compatibility with DVD has also been touted as a key feature in the rival HD DVD format, said Knox. In addition, HD DVD will offer content producers a dual-sided disc that can be used to place a standard definition film on one side and a high definition film on the other side.
Also important (rating a 9 or 10 on a 1 to 10 scale) to 62 percent of all respondents and 76 percent of extremely interested respondents was the ability to play the same disc in your computer, gaming console and next generation DVD player.
Weber pointed out BD discs will be supported in Sony’s next-generation PlayStation 3 gaming console, and HP, Dell, Panasonic, Sony and Apple will support BD in PCs.
Knox pointed out that HD DVDs also will be playable on forthcoming HD DVD PC drives. Microsoft has not yet officially announced support for HD DVD as an upgrade to its next-generation Xbox.
Also testing well in the survey was storage capacity. Sixty-four percent of respondents and 82 percent of extremely interested respondents rated larger disc storage capacity (25GB to 50GB for BD compared to 4.7GB to 8.5GB for DVD) as a 9 or 10; while 60 percent (77 percent of extremely interested respondents) said longer standard definition recording times (20 to 30 hours vs. 2 hours for DVD) and the ability to fit a movie as well as its bonus features onto a single disc each rated a 9 or a 10.
Also tracking highly – 60 percent of all respondents and 70 percent of extremely interested respondents – was the ability to have both widescreen and full screen versions of a film on a single disc.
In comparing BD to HD DVD, 82 percent of all respondents and 87 percent of extremely interested respondents selected BD due its affiliated hardware/blank media companies including Sony, Dell, HP, Hitachi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Apple, TDK, Thomson, Sharp, LG and JVC. Another 16 percent of all respondents said they were split between the two.
When shown lists of movie studios that have agreed to support the two formats, 20 percent selected BD (24 percent of those extremely interested) for Disney, Miramax, Touchstone, 20th Century Fox, MGM, ESPN and Sony Pictures. Thirteen percent selected HD DVD (10 percent of those extremely interested) for Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros, HBO and New Line, and 67 percent (66 percent of those extremely interested) said they were split between the two.
Meanwhile, one feature not covered in the survey, but growing in importance to videophiles, is the ability of next-generation products to output signals in 1,080p resolution for display on new 1,080p HDTV microdisplay and flat-panel devices.
Initial HD DVD players will offer only 720p and 1,080i output, Toshiba has said. The first Blu-ray players are likely to offer some form of 1,080p support — probably 1080p at 30 frames per second (fps) — according to Andy Parsons, Pioneer Business Solutions Division senior VP. “But the first thing we all have to do is agree to what 1,080p is,” he said.
“The BD format specifies progressive 1,080 at 24 fps or 30 fps, and 24 fps could be flashed up three times per image, giving you a 72 fps display rate, that would look quite good,” said Parsons.
Parsons said he didn’t understand recent arguments on video enthusiast chat rooms calling for 1,080p at 60 fps on next generation disc systems.
“Film is shot at 24 fps, what’s the point of having 60 fps on the origination material [source],” he said. “That’s kind of a huge waste of bandwidth because all you’d be doing is encoding the same frame twice or two-and-a-half times as opposed to having 60 discrete frames generated by the source material.”