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Analysis: HDTV, future of DVD, and HDMI

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Digital Spy's Alan Jay analyses the medium-term development of HDTV in the UK.

At a recent Toshiba road show in the US they demonstrated their upcoming HD-DVD specification and a few more details became available as to what we can expect from the format when it launches in the US late (November) this year – it will launch with 89 titles available in HD. The audience reaction was very positive to the comparable images shown in both standard DVD and HD-DVD.

The most interesting thing for people buying TVs at the moment is that Toshiba have stated that their HD-DVD Player will ONLY output high Def on the player's HDMI output (plus other digital connections) the analogue output will be downrezed to 480 lines (in the US - expect the equivalent, no doubt, in Europe). The Toshiba player will also have a USB interface to allow connection to computers for enhanced content and interactive options direct off the disk. In addition mastering of the underlying DVD content will be based on 1080p - but there was no discussion on the resolution of the MPEG4 images.

The HD-DVD disk will come in 3 sizes when first launched. There will be 15Gb / 30Gb / 45Gb disks (single / dual / triple layer) and there will also be a fourth variety which will have a SD-DVD version on the reverse side of the disk, allowing retailers to have a single version of new films on the shelves and allow consumers to build a library before they have the equipment.

These disk sizes translate into 4, 8, 12 hrs using MPEG-4/AVC compression. The switch to MPEG4 of course means that the fight that is about to break out between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray is one about how much content can you offer on a disk. The reality is that for a basic movie in MPEG4/AVC the amount of disk space you need is very little more than you can get on a current generation DVD 9. How consumers will view this with a format war about to break out is going to be very interesting to see. The reality is that Blu-Ray will win the computer war because it offers greater volumes form day one and for computer manufacturers it is a great advantage. But for the consumer it will be dependent on other things and only once the machines are delivered will we find the answer as to what seems to be taking the lead.

As you can see Toshiba will be trying to ensure that studios are confident in the security that they are offering with HD output only being available on the secure digital outputs (HDMI and IEEE1394). So once again if you are thinking about buying a HD capable screen make sure it has HDMI.

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