HD DVD Interview with Microsoft's Sage Schreiner
I was able to interview Sage Schreiner, HD DVD Program Manager at Microsoft, regarding some observations I made at CES this year. These primarily had to do with the differences between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD in terms of resolution, specs of the released players and the HD DVD media. Here is the interview:
Audioholics: When does HD DVD plan to release 1080p output players? All of what we saw at the show was 1080i.
Sage: The HD DVD players announced so far will not support 1080p outputs -- yet. This is in part because the latest version of HDMI (the only one supporting 1080p as mandatory) is still being finalized. There are CE [consumer electronics] HD DVD players "in the works" that will ship later and are expected to have 1080p outputs, but nothing has yet been announced.
Also note that advanced 1080p displays can also do their own conversions from 1080i to progressive. There are no limitations in HD DVD as a format (i.e., both BD and HD DVD support the same native formats: 720p/60, 1080i/60, 1080p/30). It's only a player or a display issue whether there's a conversion to 1080p/60.
Finally, note that PC playback will always be progressive playback. Ditto the Toshiba laptop announced at CES; it will playback 1080p.
Audioholics: The second question I had is based n some feedback I received from the RCA booth whereby they indicated that the titles were not currently mastered in 1080p. Are you aware of whether the movie studios are planning on re-releasing HD DVD software titles in the 1080p format once the second generation players are available? The overarching question is - are the studios aware of any eventual plans for 1080p and the timeline for these second generation players?
Sage: The initial / first generation content will be encoded at 1920x1080p/24. Case in point, playback from a PC, right now, will output 1920x1080p/24 without doing any conversion steps.
The primary issues around encode quality are: quality of the source, encode method used, and bit rate. Modern codecs, like VC1, are capable of delivering a better quality encode at a more moderate bitrate than MPEG2. The primary limitation you will see with 1st generation movies in either format is the use of MPEG2 to encode, even at high bit rates. On a quality 1920x1080p display, MPEG2 will not look as good as VC1 (or H.264). Most (if not all) of what was on display in the HD DVD booths was VC1. You may want to investigate the actual encoding method of a given movie to really get a handle on its likely quality.
Audioholics: So even the first generation of media will be encoded in 1080p/24, but HD DVD players (for now) will provide only 1080i/720p support?
Sage: Just to be clear, the content is all 1080p/24, not 1080i. As an FYI, while 720 is an HD format, I don't know of anyone encoding 1st generation movies at 720p.
Audioholics: It seemed that BD did a better job at pushing 1080p/24 and stating that their players will be 1080p compatible when they come out (though there were a few players that claimed 1080i/720p output).
Sage: Again, keep in mind that the content will be encoded in the same format in both BD and HD DVD - mostly 1080p/24. It's only a player or display issue whether it's displayed to 1080i/1080p. Once HDMI is finalized, we expect HD DVD players to begin including 1080p outputs.
By the way, from my own booth touring, the only 1080p BD player that I saw was the Pioneer Elite player. All of the others were 1080i players.
Audioholics: Will Microsoft's Xbox 360 eventually feature a generation 1 HD DVD player (720p/1080i)?
Sage: I don't believe that the specifics of Xbox 360 playback were announced.
Audioholics: I want to make sure that our facts are correct and that we are not missing out on any important factors in our coverage of the two formats. Is there any additional insight or information you would like to provide?
Sage: A couple of additional notes:
- All 1st generation HD DVD players will ship with iHD support, allowing much more flexible interactivity design than DVD.
- All 1st generation HD DVD players will ship with features such as Picture-in-Picture, that content authors can take advantage of.
- All 1st generation HD DVD players will ship with network connectivity.
As you may have seen in TG Daily , key interactive features (e.g., PIP, Networking) won't be available in the original BD players. Samsung's player specs in the BDA booth didn't even include BD-J. So, much of the interactivity in the BD spec is optional.
Audioholics: Thanks a ton for taking the time to speak with us about this and helping to clear up some of the misconceptions associated wth the format and its generation 1 release.
- Clint DeBoer