At the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) trade show in Denver, a company promoting a new high-definition optical disc format demonstrated set-top players and high-definition movies that cost far less than ones that use the competing Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD formats. The only faux pas: Arriving late to a two-party format war that consumers are already reluctant to support.
Next month, New Medium Enterprises’ 1080p set-top players, which use the HD VMD (Versatile Multilayer Disc) format, will go on sale on Amazon.com and in stores such as Radio Shack and Costco for around $150–about half the cost of the least-expensive 1080p HD DVD player, and perhaps a fourth the cost of the least-expensive Blu-ray player. The movies that work in them are similarly inexpensive.
“Expect a small premium over DVD [discs], and a big discount over Blu-ray and HD DVD,” says Jim Cardwell, an advisor to the company and former president of Warner Home Video.
Instead of the blue-laser technology embraced by the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps, the HD VMD format uses the red-laser technology already used to create DVDs, and as a result, keeps the cost of manufacturing discs and drives low, says Eugene Levich, director and chief technology officer of New Medium Enterprises. He said that manufacturing a Blu-ray drive costs ten times as much as manufacturing a DVD or HD VMD drive, because the latter two are essentially the same drive but with different firmware.
HD VMD discs, which hold up to 30GB on a single side, are encoded with a maximum bit rate of 40 megabits per second; that’s within spitting distance of Blu-ray’s 48 mbps, and quite a bit more than 36 mbps for HD DVD. The format uses MPEG-2 and VC1 video formats to encode at 1080p resolution for the time being, and will possibly move to the H.264 format in the future.