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High Definition: Choosing Sides

It seems these days that no matter which way you turn, there are people arguing passionately for or against something. Democratic candidates, Republican candidates. More taxes, less taxes. PC or Mac.

The other color space that carries some weight in the world of motion pictures is the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) standard gamut, which is wider than BT-709 because its colors are derived from filtered light, not phosphors. DCI is truly a consensus standard, developed through numerous meetings of groups like SMPTE's DC.28 committee over several years. However, it's a good bet that the vast numbers of HDTV viewers in this country have no idea what DCI stands for, or that it can provide the wide, punchy color gamut that xvYCC and Deep Color promise to deliver in your brand-new LCD or DLP.

The Blu-ray/HD DVD skirmish itself was a good example of marketing clout gaining the upper hand over consensus. The Blu-ray blue-laser DVD format, which was largely developed by Sony, locked up several prominent movie studios and media companies like 20th Century Fox, Disney, and Warner Home Media. On the other hand, the now abandoned HD DVD format, developed by Toshiba, was actually approved by consensus of the DVD Forum, an international association of “hardware manufacturers, software firms, content providers and other users of Digital Versatile Discs,” according to the group's Web site. The DVD Forum went on to say that “HD DVD is the only next-generation format approved by the DVD Forum, which functions as the official international DVD standard development body for all technologies bearing the authorized DVD and HD DVD logos.”

All fine and dandy, except that Sony is listed as a founding member of the DVD Forum, along with fellow Blu-ray advocates Matsushita (Panasonic) and Pioneer. Apparently, consensus is a good thing, as long as it doesn't affect the bottom line.

As for HDMI and DisplayPort, it's déjà vu all over again. HDMI, which evolved from DVI, is licensed and administered by HDMI Licensing, an offshoot of Silicon Image. The latter was an original partner in the development of DVI, along with Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu, NEC, and IBM.

Meanwhile, the folks at VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) were holding meetings, proposing standards, drafting papers, and reaching consensus on their vision of the next-generation display interface, DisplayPort.

In essence, Silicon Image “pulled a Sony” by quickly developing an interface in-house that solved CE manufacturer's needs for a secure, intelligent high-bandwidth video and audio connection as the HDTV marketplace took off. There was little need for meetings and no consensus required—simply evolve single-link DVI to a new connector, add an audio interface, and start printing up those licenses.

The VESA process was more deliberative and indifferent to hot market trends. And there are several dozen patents associated with DisplayPort, something that might give manufacturers pause as they ponder a tangle of licensing agreements and royalty payments. In the meantime, HDMI has essentially become the default standard for consumer displays, media players, and set-top receivers.

I'm sure we haven't seen the end of these “us vs. them” battles. The companies that win stand to reap windfalls, while those that lose face consequences. But it all makes for good theater, I guess.

Contributing editor Pete Putman is president of ROAM Consulting in Doylestown, Pa. He can be reached at

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