HDTV on DVD: Will blue lasers be too late?

WARNING: there are acronyms in this item. There’s no way to avoid it when discussing technical standards, but it’s an important story, so hang with me on this one.

Last month, Nero and KiSS announced that they will create a DVD recorder capable of recording and playing back content using MPEG-4 compression. This is a relatively new standard that is up to 4 times more efficient than the MPEG-2 encoding that is used by the current generation of DVD players and recorders.

The magic word item here is “4 times”. HDTV uses roughly four times as many pixels as SD (standard definition) televisions that we’ve used up until now. MPEG-4 was developed to let decent quality video be sent at slower transmission rates. But it also can be used to send better images at existing rates. And this level of compression may be sufficient to put a typical movie in HDTV resolution on a standard DVD that can be read with a standard DVD red laser drive. If this were to happen, it would mean that we wouldn’t need to move to the next-generation blue laser DVD drives. And we wouldn’t care whether HD DVD or BluRay beat the other; both would lose, at least for now. We’d still need to buy new DVD drives,because we’d need new models that have the MPEG-4 support. But they’d likely still be a lot cheaper than the blue laser models.

A full discussion of MPEG-4 could take pages, or even a book. It’s also known as H.264, and Advanced Video Coding (AVC). And it’s being widely adopted for terrestrial digital broadcast (including Europe and Korea) and satellite broadcast (including DirecTV and Dish Network in the USA), because it transmits more data in less time.