Summary: In time for today's Best Buy Heroes HD DVD promotion, we've got a comparison between the HD broadcast and HD DVD versions of Heroes Season 1.
The Season One box set features a 1080p VC-1 encoding and plenty of extras. I have little doubt that the HD DVD experience is superior to the conventional DVD, but there’s one unanswered question: is the HD DVD version the best way to experience Heroes?
First of all, NBC.com allows you to stream complete episodes at 640x360 resolution over the web. While you won’t be able to watch the entire season, it’s free and at 640x320, you’re getting better quality than standard definition TV. The real challenger will come from ATSC broadcast television. NBC broadcasts the entire season in 1080i HDTV, and owners of televisions featuring video processors capable of doing 1080i inverse telecine will be able to enjoy the full 1080p experience. And it’s free. So does the HD DVD box-set have something to offer? Well, to find out, I went to Best Buy and bought the HD DVD boxset.
Display: Sony VPL-VW50 Projector (1080p24@96Hz 3-chip SXRD front projector)
HD DVD offers nine times the resolution of the streaming content from NBC.com. It’s hard to beat “free” but it’s not even fair to make the comparison.
Comparison 2: ATSC HD broadcast vs. HD DVD
As much of a videophile as I may be, it’s really hard to tell the difference between the MPEG-2 ATSC broadcast and the VC-1 HD DVD. Sure, there’s a bit more texture to Masi Oka’s face, but when you’re comparing the “day-and-date” HD broadcast and “waiting-until-the-season-is-over” HD DVD box set, the winner is the HD broadcast.
The previous scene took place indoors. I decided to take a look at another scene from Heroes, this time in the well-lit outdoors. Here, the added detail on Hayden Panettiere’s face with the HD DVD is obvious.
Owners of HD DVD and Blu-ray players are also going to be owners of an HDTV who watch shows via ATSC over-the-air or digital satellite/cable. In comparing the HD DVD box set of Heroes against the ATSC broadcast, we were surprised to find that the differences were much smaller than we had hoped. While the 1080p VC-1 HD DVD did offer a sharper picture than MPEG-2 1080i broadcast, it is clear that the original source does not have enough detail to really showcase the capabilities of HD DVD. We would hope that NBC Universal move to higher quality film stock or transition to 1080p digital cameras (such as the CineAlta). By doing this, Heroes has had a successful season, the production values can be increased, giving us an opportunity.
As humbling as this may be to the HD DVD camp, the real winner is the consumer and NBC’s top-notch broadcast. With a HD TiVo or a Windows Media Center HTPC, it’ll take about 150GB to record all 23 episodes (less if you edit out the commercials). At today’s HDD prices, you’ll definitely get better bang-for-your-buck by recording your own HD television shows. This may be the reason why there aren’t many HD DVD boxsets scheduled for release by NBC at the moment; with Heroes, they’re relying on the techie market.
Ironically, the situation on the Blu-ray camp is completely different. While the difference between the HD broadcast and HD DVD version of Heroes is relatively small, the Blu-ray-exclusive versions of Prison Break and Lost will probably offer an enticing upgrade to fans of the series. That’s because Fox and ABC only broadcast in 720p. Assuming that the original source was filmed on high-quality cameras and film, the home editions may have as much as twice the resolution of the original broadcast. If this is true, then why aren’t we seeing more Blu-ray TV box sets? Take a look at Fox and ABC’s fall DVD schedule and you’ll see all the big shows Prison Break, Lost, 24, House, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and The O.C. – The Complete Series. Where’s the Blu-ray box set of The OC? I’m sure it’d have the same effect as the Phantom of the Opera HD DVD. Is the cost of Blu-ray disc manufacturing/mastering too high? Or is Fox holding these shows back until the cost of Blu-ray players can compete against HD DVD? Speculation is fun, isn’t it?
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