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HD-DVD Will Not Make Today's DVDs Obsolete

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Many people talk about the future HD-DVD format with fear that their current growing collection of SD-DVDs (Standard Definition DVDs) will become obsolete. I'd like to put that fear to rest.

Will HD-DVDs look better than the very best SD-DVDs?

I'm sure. But how much may not be as earth shattering as many people might think.

Here's why: most people compare hi-definition video to the DVD image they watch on their 4:3 480-interlaced NTSC television.

It's a no-brainer: HD is night-and-day better.

But DVDs aren't NTSC resolution. They're Standard Definition resolution and can actually be midway up the DTV resolution ladder. Component video, 480P, and 16:9 all go a long way to providing significantly better image quality than what comes out of even the best 4:3 NTSC televisions.

When you compare high-definition to DVD's maximum resolution, such as 1080I right next to a 16:9 480-progressive display of the same standard DVD, the high-definition looks better (and more 3-dimensional), but not in a night-and-day "trash your DVD collection" kind of way. 720p and 1080P HDTV would result in a more dramatic improvement over SD-DVD. Naturally videophiles will stand in line to replace their favorite titles on HD-DVD the moment they appear. But they will not be putting their existing collections by the curbside the moment that HD-DVD player arrives.

This is partly due to another reason. That HD-DVD player, which on the one hand threatens to usher in a whole new library of films, will also produce the best image from your current SD-DVD discs you ever saw. To say that such a player will display your collection in glorious 16:9 480P on your HD display is an understatement. Already some companies (Princeton Graphics, for example) are producing DVD players that not only provide 480P output, but also scale to 720P and 960P output from today's discs with user-selectable scanning rates. Add to that the ability to upscale 4:3 letterboxed DVD software to 16:9 and your current collection of movies will give the impression of being near hi-definition in quality.

Not to mention that just because a HD-DVD format finally gets introduced won't mean that all of your favorite titles will instantly appear on it! You'll be glad you have the movies you do, but even happier for the discs which have been 16:9 (anamorphically) encoded. You can always sell your SD-DVDs one-by-one to your HD-challenged friend as their HD-DVD replacements become available.

Will HD-DVD make the current 16:9 issue with today's DVDs moot?

Lots of people say why worry about 16:9 anamorphic for today's SD-DVD when HD-DVD will make the whole issue moot. They feel the claim foolish that 16:9 encoding of today's SD-DVDs is some sort of "future proofing" since even a 16:9 SD-DVD won't satisfy the videophile once HD-DVD becomes available. My volley back is that even if a particular videophile does feel that strongly about preferring HD-DVD software, it's important to realize that some studios may never release certain titles on HD-DVD for fear of piracy. In that case, where a particular title never emerges on HD-DVD or takes 10 years to do so, that additional 33% resolution that current 16:9 encoding offers will probably mean even more to you then than it does now. Simply put, 16:9 is one of the most effective ways a DVD mastered today can be made "HDTV-friendly."

The future looks bright, and the promise of HD-DVD and HD-DVD players makes it brighter; even for your collection of existing DVDs.