Top 10 Questions About HD DVD and Blu-ray Page 2

6. Will Blu-ray and HD DVD players play DVDs? Absolutely. Both camps know that their formats are going to be a hard enough sell without forcing people to have one player for old-school DVDs and another for high-def discs. But whether HD DVD and Blu-ray players will be able to handle all of the flavors of recordable DVD as well as more esoteric formats like DVD-Audio and SACD is still unclear.

7. Can we expect to see Blu-ray and HD DVD recorders?

Yes. The first Blu-ray recorders actually debuted in Japan in 2004 but aren't expected to arrive in the U.S. until this summer at the earliest - primarily because the copy-protection specifications haven't been finalized. The HD DVD camp hopes to finalize the specs for its recorders by the end of June, which means the first recorders for that format won't arrive until late this year or early in 2007. Prices for blank discs haven't been set yet.

8. What kind of copy protection will the formats use?

To placate Hollywood's fears about piracy, both HD DVD and Blu-ray use a digtal rights management (DRM) scheme called Advanced Access Copyright System (AACS). All video sent via protected digital outputs - HDMI and DVI with HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) - contains vigorous copy protection. AACS also discourages analog copying with a digital flag called the Image Constraint Token, which causes the player to downconvert the resolution of video sent through outputs without HDCP. It's up to the studios whether to activate those flags, and there's been an increasing amount of public pressure on them not to do so. (For more on Image Constraint, see "Inside Blu-ray & HD DVD.") AACS also provides for Mandatory Managed Copy (MMC), which lets you make at least one copy of a high-def disc to store on a hard drive or transfer to a portable player. The conditions under which content can be copied still haven't been finalized.

Blu-ray also uses ROM Mark, which digitally watermarks discs to thwart piracy, and BD+, a renewable security technology. Since BD+ allows codes to be updated if the copy protection is hacked, some fear that the studios could use it to alter MMC or keep it from being implemented. It's still unclear how BD+ and MMC will coexist.

9. Will the new discs have more interactive features than DVDs?

Yes. At the most basic level, both Blu-ray and HD DVD have pop-up menus that let you select options - such as selecting different scenes or bringing up a director's commentary - without having to exit the movie you're watching. There has also been talk of being able to go online to play interactive videogames, to receive extra materials such as additional foreign languages, movie promos, or music videos, or to make purchases, all while you're watching the movie. But it's still not clear how much of this advanced interactivity will be available with the first-generation players.

10. Is there a chance the two sides will still agree on a single format?

At this point, each camp has too much invested in its format to simply fold its tents. So a compromise is unlikely unless one format becomes clearly dominant and the other capitulates.

Unfortunately, if the camps agree on a single format after HD DVD and Blu-ray have launched, people who bought into either of the two formats early on could find themselves stuck with obsolete players. Analysts expect high-def discs to take longer to gain a foothold than DVDs did exactly because many people will put off buying a player until a clear winner emerges. But some industry observers are warning that if Blu-ray and HD DVD take too long to catch on, they could quickly be eclipsed by on-demand delivery of high-def content via cable, satellite, phone lines, or the Internet.

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