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Early HD DVD and Blu-ray Players Cause Installers and Programmers Headaches Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 July 2006
Man, is it sharp on the cutting edge of home theater technology. In the process of installing Blu-ray and HD DVD players into systems throughout the new AVRev.com reference theater, as well in many of our reviewers’ homes, logistical problems abound. HD DVD’s two-minute load times were the first and the worst of the issues but are seemingly mitigated by a 45-minute “firmware” update that can be burned onto a DVD and ripped onto the player. Still, load times are painfully slow compared to those of a $55 DVD player from Costco. HD DVD seems to suffer from making connections with other devices needed to create the elusive “handshake,” a bond between player and HDTV that supposedly prevents us all from stealing copyrighted material despite the fact established precedents say we can in fact make a copy for our own personal use. This video chastity belt is drawn so tightly that it could cut off blood flow to HD DVD if they don’t let it out a notch or two. Simply put, consumers aren’t going to adopt HD DVD if the players don’t offer the same ease of use as a simple DVD player, yet cost five to ten times more money.

Early Blu-ray players have their own issues, too. While load times are better, the first-to-market Samsung BD-P1000 is missing an RS232 output. RS232 is an accepted and standard format for control systems like Crestron, AMX and Control 4, which allow your remote control systems to reliably take control of a player in the scope of a complex system. Today’s Blu-ray players are getting the tiny IR emitters glued to their front panels with hopes that the glue holds (always an installer nightmare). Without the emitter sending the needed signals from a smart remote, you have the makings of a system control nightmare. At $1,000 retail for the first Blu-ray player on the market, it is a reasonable expectation to have such a standard control option.

Back at the HD DVD camp, things get worse when you try to seamlessly switch from an HD DVD player to another HDMI source and then back. Currently, in my reference system, once you get a movie going, you are best suited sticking with the movie. God forbid you might want to pause it to check the scores on ESPN HD via another HDMI source (for example, an HD-TiVo). The system will switch to the HD-TiVo, no problem, but getting back to the HD DVD player, nine times out of 10, will require a full restart of the Intel-based Windows computer known as my HD DVD player. Moreover, an actual computer could remember where I was in the movie and thus wouldn’t require me to hunt down the chapter and try to get back into the film.

It seems as if the two HD disc camps launched products that they knew were heavily flawed in order to basically have the early adopters do beta testing on the formats, connectivity and overall use of the machines. As one who invested thousands upon thousands of dollars on both formats, I can tell you I am only impressed by the picture and, amazingly, that isn’t even true of all of the discs. The studios offered up some less than spectacular movies for release on both formats (Goodfellas and Apollo 13 are great movies, but look either grainy or washed out on HD DVD, while a standard like The Fifth Element is hit and miss in terms of video quality on Blu-ray, depending on the scene).

With the release of HDMI 1.3, one would have to hope that the connectivity of these players in both formats will improve. Certainly, the audio and video performance will improve, but with the clunkiness of the players at this point, one can certainly understand why custom installers and many retailers are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for better players. It’s just too dangerous right now on the cutting edge.

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