Here's the main problem with the high-definition formats: the discs are very costly to produce, while DVD is dirt-cheap. Sure, it won't be many years before HD DVD and Blu-ray are as inexpensive as DVD is now, but until then, what do the smaller, independent producers do?
There is a solution of sorts -- namely, burning high-definition video to a traditional DVD and using an HD DVD player to view it. But, we hear you scream, if you can put HD on a DVD then why do we need HD DVD at all? Well, the answer is twofold. Firstly, you can't play HD material back on a regular DVD player, because the decoding hardware isn't up to the job, and the data can't be read off the DVD quickly enough. And secondly, movies need more disc space than an 8GB DVD can provide.
What HD DVD on DVD -- aka 3x DVD -- offers is a cheaper alternative to HD DVD, which will suit producers of shorter content, or studios looking to release lower-cost media (cough porn cough). It could also find support with people who have HD camcorders and want to burn their movies to some sort of disc, but don't want to spend money on an HD DVD or Blu-ray writer.
So how is HD on DVD going to make your life better? Well, for one, it's quite likely we'll see PVR-type devices capable of recording HD from TV stations onto DVD before we'll see affordable HD DVD or Blu-ray writers. For home use, it makes perfect sense, because writable DVDs are cheaper than chips and most people only record short programmes. Also, TV stations are notoriously frugal with their bandwidth allocation. So while an HD DVD might be encoded at 20Mbps, TV stations are likely to be broadcasting at half that, and only ever 720p or 1080i, as opposed to.
Toshiba is releasing a home recorder called the Vardia RD-A301 that does all of this, and has a built-in 300GB hard disk. It's available in Japan for a huge number of yen that equate to around £430. See: nice and cheap, and it plays back HD DVDs too. Which has to be a bonus. Will the RD-A301 make it out of Japan? Who knows? Of course, there's still stuff-all to record in the UK in HD because this machine won't be able to record from Sky or Virgin HD. But it's a start. -Ian Morris