Monday, February 11, 2008

I don't know if I mentioned it, but I bought the HD DVD add-on to the Xbox 360, about six months or so ago. Even at the time, it was clear that Blu-Ray was winning the format war, but the add-on was reasonably priced, having just received a price cut, I had a coupon on top of that, the add-on came with King Kong, and a mail-in rebate offered five free movies. Not the best HD DVD movies available, but either movies I liked, but doubted would benefit from the HD treatment (Casablanca, Blazing Saddles), or movies that should look good, but that I didn't really care about (The Perfect Storm). But the free movies were just enough to make the drive look like a good deal. Especially after taking a look at Netflix, and seeing that they had plenty of HD DVDs for rent.

Overall, I've been happy with the drive. The first HD DVD I watched, other than sampling a bit of King Kong, was the BBC documentary Planet Earth, which was absolutely incredible, and which I almost immediately purchased. So far, that is one of only two HD DVDs I have purchased. The other, Batman Begins, I already owned on DVD, and overall it left me a bit underwhelmed. Standard DVDs look good enough on an HDTV with an upscaling player, for my tastes. So I don't think I'd rebuy DVDs I own in HD DVD (even if the format were not in its death throes).

So, owning the HD DVD add-on, you might imagine I have not been happy to see the recent developments in the format wars. For those not paying attention, HD DVD is getting its clock cleaned pretty well. But I took comfort in one thing: There are still plenty of HD DVDs I want to see available from Netflix. Now it appears that Netflix is abandoning me, too. Now, details are vague, so I don't know if this means Netflix is dropping HD DVD from their inventory, or simply forgoing the purchase of any more HD DVDs. If it's the latter, I'll cope. But if they remove HD DVD from their back catalog, I think I may become an ex-Netflix subscriber. I've been wondering if the public library could handle my DVD needs, and while their selection lags Netflix considerably, I could probably get by, supplementing their offerings with digital vendors (Xbox Live Marketplace, iTunes), piracy, and maybe even the good old-fashioned video store (I miss Kensington Video, and I'm sure they miss me). Or, you know, I could watch the hundreds of unwatched DVDs I've hoarded over the years. In any case, the availability of HD DVD is the main factor that has led me to overlook the fact that I haven't been getting a great value out of Netflix lately (only going through 3-4 films a month or so), and if they're no longer available, I'll probably get my fix elsewhere.

The seeming failure of HD DVD leads one to wonder if I'll purchase a Blu-Ray player. Doubtful. I'd rather watch HD than SD programming, and HD media looks better than standard DVDs, but standard DVDs still look pretty good on an HDTV. So, having spent time with an HD DVD player, while it looks good (especially for nature documentaries), it's not worth a substantial capital investment, in my opinion. Though I have a relatively small HDTV; if you're plunking down a chunk of change on a home theater, a few hundred dollars more for Blu-Ray might be worth it. But for me, I'll wait for digital distribution of HD content to go mainstream.

I'll close with one bit of good news for me on the HD DVD front: Sweeney Todd comes to HD DVD April 1.

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