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Home Improvements With a Home Entertainment Center

Aug 15, 2008
With high-definition television (HDTV) growing in popularity, HDTVs are much lower in price now than when they first came out. You can also pick up high-definition DVD players, or HD-DVD, and Blu-ray Discs (BD) for them.

Before jumping into home improvements with these latest gadgets, though, heads up. Follow these basic guidelines to help you and your family make educated decisions about them.

Digging in to the Next Generation of DVD

Remember when DVDs came out in the marketplace? It was roughly 10 years ago. The initial discs offered multiple times the storage capacity (4.7G over the basic CD (around 700MB, seven times less than DVD).

Then double-sided DVD came out, doubling the capacity. And of course double-layered discs were next in the evolution chain, thus you had:

Type, Capacity, Maximum play time

* Single-sided, single-layered 4.7 GB 120 minutes

* Double-sided, single-layered 9.4 GB 4 hours

* Singled-sided, dual-layered 8.5 GB 4 hours

* Double-sided, dual-layered 17 GB 8 hours

Despite some early technical difficulties, the DVD soon became a read-write medium, not just read-only. With that change came another round of acronyms to understand. DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM are the three most common. All types can be recorded on.

Now don't forget the DVD-RAM, more costly, yet supposedly able to be re-written 100,000 times over the course of many years (OK, so the better ones, anyway). And since their stores data is non-sequent, they are said to be better for video editing than the other types. A downside, though, was that not all players can read this kind of data.

DVD-R can only be recorded onto once. Discs are cheap, so that isn't a problem these days and the format is compatible with nearly any player on the market.

DVD-RW, though, is only slightly more expensive and can be recorded onto many times. Not quite so many as DVD-RAM - only 1,000, in theory, but that's many more times than most people will need.

That was the state of things until very recently. Now comes the interesting part. Two new formats are coming onto the market and they're lining up for a good old-fashioned format battle. HD-DVD, developed by Toshiba, and Blu-ray from Sony have more in common than they have differences but one type will not play on a machine made for the other.

HD-DVD will store 15GB (30GB on dual-layer discs), while Blu-ray does better at 25GB (50GB on dual-layer). But the time differences are minimal. HD-DVD will hold about 8 hours of movies, etc and Blu-ray 9 hours. (100GB, quad-layer, Blu-ray discs are in development.)

Toshiba has lined-up support for its format from Microsoft, Intel and a few movie studios. Blu-ray is supported by nearly every major movie studio including Paramount and Disney along with Apple, Dell and several other PC companies.

Early HD-DVD machines from Toshiba (the HD-A1 and HD-XA1) are already on the market, retailing for around $500 and $800. Reviews are mixed, but that's usually the case with machines targeted at early-adopters.

On the upside, they can display high-definition discs in 720p or 1080i, and will show what your HDTV is really capable of. Blu-ray will display 1080p, the highest quality possible, assuming your TV has this capability. Few yet do.

A dozen HD movie discs are already available, including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Serenity, and Phantom of the Opera. More are slated to become available (in both formats) soon.

For those who like to adopt the latest and greatest and are willing to accept some of the limitations always found in first generation technology, the new formats offer astounding visual quality. Be prepared to replace your equipment, though, in a couple of years once the format situation settles out and the bugs in the early machines are overcome.

Beam me up, Scotty!
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