Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Blu-Ray/HD-DVD War

Like many, we got an HD-DVD player in December.

Here was the logic: "They keep predicting the end of this battle, but it keeps going on. Picking one or the other seems like a fool's game. But they make combo players that will play both, which seems like a fairly safe thing to have when the battle finally ends."

But then we went to the store. Combo player: $1,000. HD or Blu-ray individually: less than $400 each. It would have been cheaper to buy both players than to buy the combo player. So there goes that theory.

But even I think that bringing two DVD players into the house at once is excessive, so we figured we'd get one of them now and would probably eventually wind up with both at some future date. So we looked at what was available on both formats.

We found that Blu-Ray seemed to focus primarily on hot new releases, especially of the action and violence and gore variety. Lots of Die Hard, lots of Saw, lots of focus on what came out last week. HD-DVD, on the other hand, seemed to have a much broader range. More obvious catalog titles (Robin Hood, Casablanca, Clockwork Orange).

So we got a Toshiba HD player. It turned out to have an added advantage of intelligent upconversion. Unlike our other upconverting DVD player, this one didn't automatically stretch everything to a 16:9 aspect ratio. It recognized the difference between a 4:3 signal and a 16:9 signal, and it upconverted 4:3 pictures while maintaining the 4:3 aspect ratio.

Two months later, Warner Bros. stopped releasing titles in HD-DVD format, and Toshiba announced that they were killing the format. After the biggest Christmas season ever, after having sold more HD-DVD players in December than they'd ever sold before, they yanked the carpet out from under their customers. And Best Buy "generously" offered a $50 gift card to anyone who bought an HD player from them in December.

A few weeks ago, we happened to be in Best Buy with that $50 gift card.

There was an "open box" LG combo HD-DVD/Blu-Ray player for $300. The one that had been selling for $1,000 at Christmas, the one on that very day available on the other side of the store for $600, selling over here for $300. The sticker on the outside of the box was marked with check boxes giving the store the opportunity to say whether the product was missing parts or damaged, but these boxes weren't checked. So we combined the $50 gift card with a couple other gift cards we had, and we took home the combo player for a cash outlay of about $100.

The only problem was that it turned out not to have a remote control. We called Best Buy to complain and talk about this. It turns out that they do not consider the remote control to be a "part" that can be "missing." If an open-box DVD player does not have its remote control, that doesn't constitute a "missing part" because they assume that whoever buys it will just come back to Best Buy and buy a universal remote from them. (Yes, that's they way they put it: "We just figured you'd buy a universal remote from us to replace it.")

I wrote to Best Buy online to complain that their doing this was, in fact, misleading us about the actual cost of the product. If we had known in advance that we'd be paying $350 or $400 instead of the $300 that the box showed, we might have felt differently about buying it in the first place. Their response (direct quote from e-mail): "
Though I cannot verify what signs were on the boxes at the store that day, I would like to offer you a $30 gift card to assist you with the purchase of a universal remote."

Yes, in essence they might as well have said, "You are probably lying about the store failing to mark the box as having parts missing, but in my generosity, I'll graciously give you $30 toward a universal remote just to shut you up."

The good folks at Best Buy just don't know when to stop digging, do they?

So now we have a combo player that seems to work fine.
We found a remote that will work with it. It doesn't upconvert as well as the Toshiba (it stretches all pictures to 16:9 when upconverting), but it plays both Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs. All in all, regardless of the rigmarole and corporate pig-headedness, it was a darn good deal.

But we're still less likely to spend a lot of time or money at Best Buy.

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