COMMENTARY: More on why Blu-Ray’s video quality is so poor compared to HD-DVD

As you read in my last post, the reason Blu-ray’s video quality is so poor in its high definition DVD’s is that the codec being used is MPEG2 – a really boneheaded move by the folks assisting the studios in producing the content.  One might think, "Hmmm.  HD-DVD has access to H.264, VC-1, and MPEG2… but so does Blu-Ray.  Blu-Ray could have used a better codec."
 
Let’s completely ignore the fact that Blu-Ray players are $1000 & that HD-DVD players are $500. The $64 technical question has to be:  Why would the Blu-Ray folks use MPEG2 and why would they encourage such a fundamentally lousy viewing experience for their customers?
 
Apparently, the story I’ve heard is that Sony’s braintrust decided that MPEG-2 produced a better image than H.264 or VC-1 so they went ahead and pushed studio production teams to use their MPEG2 encoding technology in their transfer tools and author the first-release content exclusively in a format that would take much more storage space than the other two codecs at roughly the same image precision.  This made sense when they thought they’d have larger dual-layer disc capacities available at Blu-Ray’s launch.
 
The problem was that they didn’t have the 50GB discs available at launch (they still don’t have mass production apparently – media manufacturing yields are horrible according to ZDnet and various other reports) and had to move forward with MPEG2 encodings but at lower-bitrates on smaller capacity 25GB discs. 
 
Less sophisticated codecs + smaller disc capacities = poorer video quality.  Plain and simple.
 
So can Blu-Ray get better?  Yeah, probably – if they encourage the use of VC-1 or H.264 as the codec in use or they manage to start reliably and affordably producing 50GB Blu-Ray discs – which is unlikely.  But the fact that they didn’t release in anything but MPEG2 even when it should have been relatively easy to produce mastering samples in all 3 codecs for side-by-side comparisons tells me that something technical likely prevented this from happening. 
 
While their Blu-Ray disc production tools description says that they will support encoding in other formats other tha MPEG2 – I’m betting that the first wave of studios using the tools only had MPEG2 as an usable option being that everyone reviewing Blu-Ray discs are saying that the images across the board just aren’t very dramatically different from standard def DVD…most say that the video is just plain disappointing relative to HD-DVD’s demonstrable clarity and quality.
 
Oh.  And in other news, Microsoft demonstrated the XBox360’s upcoming HD-DVD drive.  Apparently, all the playback is done on the Tri-Core processor on the box and in software meaning that the HD-DVD drive is just a drive, which should make it VERY AFFORDABLE.

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