2017 New Year's Comment: What's HDVD?

Fine-arts shows in HDVD look and sound better than DVDs or even broadcast high-definition TV. I define high-definition video and sound as 1080i or better video together with at least 4.0 high-fidelity surround sound.

The term HDVD stands for five different ways to distribute high-definition video and sound:

  1. High-Definition Video Disc
  2. High-Definition Video Downstream
  3. High-Definition Video Download
  4. High-Definition Video Device
  5. High-Definition Video Display

High-Definition Video Disc now means Blu-ray. (There was a competing disc type called HD DVD.) Blu-ray is the optical disc promoted by Sony. It's the only optical disc format now generally available for HD content. (By "optical disc format", I mean it looks just like the music CDs you are familiar with.) The conventional wisdom was that Blu-ray with 1080p would be the last optical medium used for HD recordings. Wrong. Now being introduced to the market is an improved version of Blu-ray called "4K Ultra HD Blu-ray."

High-Definition Video Downstream and Download. If a fine-arts title is available in high-definition, then one day you may be able to get the title by downstreaming or downloading it into your media center or a PC.  We say "one day" because it's quite a daunting project to get an Internet bit stream properly integrated with a typical home theatre based on an AV receiver, a big screen, and a 5.1 set of speakers. But this is already starting to happen with movies being offered by NetFlix and others.

In the fine-arts arena, the New York Met has for some time had their Met Player streaming download service. You can get a high-definition video picture of sorts together with stereo (44 kHz /16-bit) sound. This is OK with some folks, but I think opera benefits from surround sound, which the Met doesn't offer. Many other players are entering the market with a blizzard of different distribution schemes. The first general Internet service to focus on downstreaming of fine-arts titles would appear to be www.medici.tv.

Reviews in the past suggested that the actual quality of downstreamed or downloaded product was not as good as hyped.  How will the PQ and SQ of such offerings compare to the wonderful results we are now getting with discs? How practical/flexible will a one-time rental be? Will subscribers get access to subtitles in different languages and the extra features often found on a disc? And will Internet distribution schemes be able to cope with all the new features offered by the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray standard? If you are using downstreaming or downloading as an alternate to buying fine-art Blu-ray titles, please let me know how it is going!

High-Definition Video Device. Now we start looking further over the horizon and consider any transportable media (other than spinning discs) that could be used to make a video. The best example of this would be the read-only flash memory device. If you don't know about this, let me describe it this way: You get in the mail from your seller or rental company a smooth solid-state (no moving parts) object about the size of a postage stamp. You stick the end of this into a small hole on your audio-visual amp or PC. Then you watch Aida on your big high-definition television screen with wonderful surround audio. At the moment, this is, of course, just a day-dream---I've yet to see or hear of anything being proposed along these lines.

High-Definition Video Display. Maybe one day somebody will invent a smart TV that works. You look at order lists of operas, ballets, and concerts on the Internet and enter what you to want to see. You then turn on the TV, and the opera is there. You have no idea how any of this works and you don't care. Or maybe the display will be reached by putting on something that looks a bit like a fighter pilot's helmet which makes you think you are actually in the Momus Cafe with Mimi watching Musetta sing her way back into Marcello's heart. If you're a bass, push a button and Colline's part will mute so that you can sing it yourself. Believe it or not, technology is being worked on now that might allow such things to happen.

Are New Standards Worth the Trouble?  Up until now, Blu-ray has not distinguished itself sufficiently from DVD to set the HD market alight. But I think 4-K Ultra HD Blu-ray probably will finally be the end of DVD. (I have not discussed here all the things that make 4-K Ultra HD Blu-ray much better than plain-Jane Blu-ray. There are plenty of places on the Internet where you can learn about this.)

I started this website about 9 years ago when Blu-ray first came out. Maybe I started too soon. But if the HDVD era didn't really get started in 2008, I think it will start for sure in 2017.

At this time, nobody is suggesting that broadcast television will in the foreseeable future go to a standard higher than 1080p. But we can now expect that the standards used in motion-picture houses and high-definition home theatres soon will soon be divorced from the world of television broadcasting.

The Future is Always Arriving. Not long ago there was a big push to bring 3-D to television. But it appears 3D has flopped in the fine-art sector. But as technology advances, 3D may one day be feasible within the 4-K Ultra HD Blu-ray form factor.

The industry is already making 8K TV displays, but indications are this will be for the commercial markets only.

 4-K Ultra HD Blu-ray includes many improvements in surround sound. But there could be even more radical changes ahead. In nature, you hear surround sound with only two ears. The brain knows where each sound is coming from because it arrives at each ear at a slightly different time. So how do you take advantage of this ability of the brain in a home theater? First, you make two recordings with microphones about 7 inches apart (that's how far apart typical ears are). Then you pipe in the recording from each mike to one ear only and the listener will hear everything in surround! Bet alas, if sound from one side bleeds to the other side of the head, "crosstalk" occurs and the surround effect is lost.

"Real" stereo is being done now with earphones, but the problem remains that earphones are earphones. Others are working on using stereo speakers together with noise cancellation to deliver only one channel of sound to each ear.  If they can figure out how to this, you might need only two speakers in your home theater. (The AVR component would be considerably more sophisticated than is the case today.)

Back to HDVD. So you see I coined the term HDVD in 2008 to stand for all the technologies that could in the future allow us to see as well as hear high-quality recordings of fine-arts subjects. I thank God for letting me live long enough to see this start to happen. In the last 8 years I've been able to enjoy (often in many multiple versions) 125 wonderful ballet/dance works, about 250 operas, a ton of classical music (including all of Mahler and Bruckner), and some great Shakespeare plays.

This I did in my little 10 x 12 HT whenever I could work it into my busy working-life schedule. And this website is my report to you (with a lot of help from friends) on what I've learned.

Of course, it would have been even better to see all this live. But only a fanatical billionaire with a private jet could have covered all the ground I have.

Hank McFadyen in Dallas, Texas