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HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray, round 2: an update

HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray, round 2: an update

Within just a couple of days of their respective release, CNET posted reviews of the world's first HD-DVD and Blu-ray players: the Toshiba HD-A1 in mid-April and the Samsung BD-P1000 in late June. We were underwhelmed, to say the least: Toshiba's HD-DVD player scored a 6.7, with Samsung's Blu-ray offering close behind with a 6.6. Since both reviews were originally posted, however, four things have happened:

1. More HD-DVD and Blu-ray titles hit the market.

2. Samsung admitted that its player has a technical flaw that adversely affects its video quality.

3. Toshiba released several firmware upgrades to the HD-A1.

4. CNET obtained long-term review samples of both players, so we could spend more time living with each of them.

Taking all of that into account, we went back and updated the reviews of both players extensively. As of today, the reviews reflect our up-to-date analysis and testing on both products, as well as a new ratings formula that emphasizes performance (which can largely be considered video quality): 25 percent of the overall rating is design, including the box itself, the onscreen display, and the general usability of the product; 30 percent accounts for features; and 45 percent for performance--largely video quality, but also overall responsiveness and operational stability. To make a long story short: The Toshiba HD-A1 still comes out on top, but the Samsung has receded to a distant second.

Here's how it breaks down:

  • Samsung BD-P1000 (formerly rated 6.6, now 5.8): HD-DVD beat Blu-ray to market by a couple of months, so the first Blu-ray player had a lot to prove. Unfortunately, the Samsung BD-P1000 didn't live up to the hype. Far from a panacea, the player's vaunted 1080p video output didn't offer a discernible improvement over the 1080i HD-DVD alternative. Then came the news that the player included a chip with a video-processing setting that was downright faulty. We'll take another look once Samsung addresses the issue; they're said to be issuing a workaround in September. Until then, we had no choice but to knock down the $1,000 player's performance score another peg.
  • Toshiba HD-A1 (formerly rated 6.7, now 6.9): Upgrading the Toshiba to the latest firmware (version 1.4) smoothed out some of the HD-A1's rough edges, but it didn't deliver any substantive improvements that we could see. More important to our evaluation was the availability of more HD-DVD movies and the arrival of the Samsung to provide us with a head-to-head Blu-ray challenge. If you're strictly looking for the best HD picture quality, the Toshiba HD-A1 is the way to go (for now), and the fact that it costs only half as much as the Blu-ray competition is a nice bonus. So why not a more enthusiastic endorsement, ratings-wise? Simple: The HD-A1 is still just as deathly slow as before, and it retains some problems when interfacing with HDMI switchers such as A/V receivers.
  • For the record, we retain our neutral stance: our recommendation is that average consumers steer clear of all HD-DVD and Blu-ray players for the immediate future. Of course, we know there is many an early adopter out there who's ready to buy. For those of you who must have the latest and greatest video products, the Toshiba HD-A1 (or one of its variants) is definitely the better choice versus the Samsung Blu-ray offering.

    So, the war is over and HD-DVD won, right? Of course not: we'll be seeing several more Blu-ray players before the end of the year from the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Philips, and Pioneer--and, of course, the Blu-ray-compatible PlayStation 3. And the HD-DVD camp is no doubt working on a second generation of players--if not recorders--as well. Perhaps more importantly, future HD video-mastering techniques have nowhere to go but up, and more capacious discs, such as double-layer Blu-ray titles, could be video-quality game-changers. This is only the beginning, and there's sure to be many twists and turns in the format war throughout the rest of this year and beyond.