Third Contestant In The Format War?
I'm going to try and be kind here. But really, we need a third HD format like we need a hole in the head. Or a new car company. Nevertheless, the folks at New Medium Enterprises invited me to have a look at HD VMD, a low cost red laser high-def format being pushed to challenge Blu-ray and HD DVD.
The format is essentially a multi-layer version of the current DVD format. Current HD VMD discs and players are 3-4 layers, at 15-20GB (about 5GB per layer, similar to current DVD). VME says that firmware updates will upgrade existing players to read up to six layers, which would provide 30GB capacity.
The format is currently using MPEG-2 and VC-1 video compression and only garden variety Dolby Digital and DTS sound- no advanced lossless audio. The format's backers also said that interactivity isn't on the menu right now.
So, what's the advantage compared to the two HD formats we already have? Cost. According to VME red laser technology is much cheaper on every level. Cheaper players; cheaper disc replication and at higher capacity since current DVD lines can be switched over. Of course, HD DVD also boasts similar advantages. But, HD VMD is coming right out of the gate with a player at the magical $199 price point, the ML777 which will be available at Amazon in the 4th quarter of this year.
The demo I saw was not very compelling in terms of picture quality or content. It was very early in the day for me to be subjected to Mel Gibson- first in battle scenes from We Were Soldiers and then some scenes from Apocalypto, a movie that makes 300 seem perfectly tame. So perhaps I was not in the right frame of mind.
I'd call HD VMD the little format that could, but frankly I don't think for one second that it can. As some of the above indicates, I think that HD VMD's backers have some very peculiar perceptions about its HD competitors. And on principal, I'm not very interested in a format that's currently limited in disc capacity, and offers no advanced audio or interactivity. I feel I can get this level of quality from broadcast HD, which I've seldom watched since HD DVD and Blu-ray came on the scene.
Although it has secured some content deals overseas, HD VMD is not currently supported by any major studios here in the US. If or when that happens it might then be appropriate to revisit HD VMD.