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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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War Is Over (If You Want It)

WARNING: Adolf Hitler uses objectionable language, above.

This YouTube clip puts the whole HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray thing in perspective, all right. From press reports you may have gathered that the competition for an HD standard on little plastic discs (remember CDs? CD-ROMs? DVDs?) was a fight to determine the future. It still seems to me -- and most consumers, apparently -- that it's a case of refighting the last war. Or several wars before that.

As of last fall, somewhere between 13.7% (Nielsen) and 36% (Consumer Electronics Association) of American households were estimated to have "tuners capable of receiving HDTV signals" -- and somewhere between 40%-60% of those are "still being fed exclusively with standard-definition content" (from the trade magazine Broadcasting & Cable, October 30, 2007).

The revised deadline for switching all over-air television broadcasting from analog to digital is February 17, 2009 (it had originally been in 2006). But that's not HDTV, it's just a digital signal. It doesn't apply to cable (although many cable systems are now all-digital, as are satellite services like DirecTV and DishNetwork). All TVs sold since March, 2007, have to be digital-capable, and older TVs can be upgraded with the addition of an add-on digital tuner.

According to Nielsen, DVD players, which were introduced 11 years ago (1997), finally surpassed VHS players in US households... a little over one year ago, in the third quarter of 2006. And DVD (its path to acceptance having been prepared for by CDs) is one of the most quickly adopted technologies in history.

So, how compelling is the incentive for upgrading to a high-definition DVD technology, requiring new players (or player-recorders) and new discs? Most consumers can't get the benefits of it yet, and most people with HD televisions (especially the majority with sets less than 50 inches wide -- 42-inch models being the most popular) don't think the quality improvements between standard DVD and HD-DVD or Blu-Ray are all that significant, especially if they already use regular players that upconvert to 720 or 1080 resolutions (though not to true HD).

By the time high-definition television (even at the current standards) is widely accepted, will we still be relying on plastic discs -- that have to be physically transported, whether bought or borrowed -- to deliver the "content"? How sad if that proved to be the case.

Meanwhile, congratulations Blu-Ray. Perhaps you are not the Betamax of 2008. But you are the CD-ROM of tomorrow.

(tip: Jeff Shannon)(thanks to Kristin Thompson for the new link!)

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