Hi-Def DVD: Door #3?

At the CEDIA conference in Denver next month, the proponents of Blu-ray and HD DVD will be doing their best to convice professional installers of home entertainment systems to use their high definition DVD technology. However, a third choice will be making its U.S. debut; New Medium Enterprises will introduce their HD VMD technology. The acronym stands for High Definition Vesatile Multilayer Disc, and the technology has an important difference from the other two big competitors.

HD DVD and Blu-ray use blue lasers, instead of the red lasers used by standard DVD and CD players. The blue light is needed because it has a shorter wavelength, and thus can read smaller pits in the disc. The smaller size lets the pits be packed closer together, increasing the disc capacity to 15 MB to 50 MB (depending on the technology and whether there are one or two data layers).

HD VMD uses a standard red laser. Instead of using smaller pits, it just uses more of them: up to 20 layers. This gives the discs a capacity of 20 GB or more, which is plenty for a full-length movie in high definition. The advantage of the red laser is that it costs much less than the blue laser, which should make the player much less expensive.

All the big Hollywood movie studios have lined up behind one or the other or both of the two main high definition DVD technologies. HD VMD has the support of BAC Films, which is a large film distributor in France. The company expects to have deals with other European film distributors soon.

The problem with HD VMD is that you still need to buy a new player, and it’s not clear that the company can take advantage of the cheaper laser to price the players competitively. And then they still need to get retail distribution of the product, and support of the movie publishers to distribute content in this format. The company already has some success in Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, but it has to be a long shot for taking hold in this country. DivX and MPEG4/H.264 compression on standard red laser DVDs have also been touted as low cost solutions for high definition movie distribution, but these have not gained much commercial momentum yet either. HD VMD is an interesting idea, but it will be an uphill climb for consumer acceptance.