High-definition DVDs spark high street war

Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent

Tuesday October 17, 2006

The Guardian

A new battle to win the hearts and wallets of movie fans kicked off yesterday, as the first of a new generation of DVD players hit Britain's high streets.

The launch of Samsung's Blu-Ray disc video player marks the first blow in a much anticipated face-off between two rival systems scrapping to succeed the hugely popular DVD. But consumers are being warned to choose their sides carefully, as Blu-Ray and its rival, HD-DVD, are incompatible.

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Both formats are aiming to capitalise on the arrival of high definition television. Most new TV sets are compatible with hi-def, but current DVDs are not advanced enough to handle the larger pictures.

While both new systems offer similar picture quality, they have different selling points. Blu-Ray, created by Sony and backed by a wide consortium, offers up to five times as much storage space as a DVD. But HD-DVD, championed by Toshiba and Microsoft, is much cheaper.

Either way, shoppers will need deep pockets. Samsung's player costs £999, and next week Panasonic is launching a Blu-Ray player at £1,299. Next month the first HD-DVD player is due out for £500.

"It's very difficult to tell which is better than the other," said Andy Kerr, the deputy editor of What HiFi? magazine. "For the first couple of years these will still be premium products, but then there will be a tipping point and prices will drop."

In the 1980s, shoppers who had bought Betamax video recorders were left high and dry as VHS became the standard, and experts warn that the wrong decision could once again leave them stranded.