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The Future Of AV Media Distribution

Apple recently announced its newest iPod, which will play music videos and TV shows. Granted, image resolution is low (320x240 pixels), and it will take 15 to 20 minutes over a broadband connection to download a one-hour program.

I own two JVC D-VHS VTRs, and must admit they haven't gotten much use. The LG unit is primarily used for recording HD video clips for product testing, but I could easily dump its contents off to another hard drive, or burn them to one of the new dual-layer DVD formats. There are plenty of DVD recorders around, although at present they're only intended for recording standard-definition video. Prices range from $200 up to $1,000 for fully featured combination models, and many models support external recording through that same FireWire interface.

We're still awaiting the arrival of HD-DVD and Blu-ray — two formats that play back packaged HD media (and will ultimately record it, too). Disc capacities are 15 GB and 30 GB in the HD-DVD system and 25 GB and 50 GB with Blu-ray, and data can be written and streamed at 36 Mb/s. Both formats are expected to debut in the first quarter of 2006, and will be primarily aimed at the home theater market, although there will no doubt be interest in each of them from education, worship, and government markets. The success or failure of either format will depend largely on consumer acceptance.

From this perspective, it would seem that HDRs and flash RAM will become the formats of choice for recording and playback, simply because the data transfer speeds are so fast, and both technologies continue to drop in price rapidly as capacity increases. Flash RAM also provides lots of storage in a very compact size and isn't as susceptible to environmental stresses as optical disc media.

However, the latter also has its place, and that may ultimately be in archiving files. Flash RAM is much more likely to be re-written over and over, while DVDs and other optical discs are probably best suited as “write-once and store” formats.

The sizes of the media files being recorded on a regular basis will determine which is more appropriate — a 4 GB flash RAM card has about the same capacity as a 4.7 GB DVD (around two hours of SD video), but writes and dumps data much faster. Whichever formats ultimately win out, you can be assured of one thing — each format's proponents will spend lots of ad dollars to convince you their recording and playback system is the best.

Pete Putman is a contributing editor for Pro AV and president of ROAM Consulting, Doylestown, PA. Especially well known for the product testing/development services he provides manufacturers of projectors, monitors, integrated TVs, and display interfaces, he has also authored hundreds of technical articles, reviews, and columns for industry trade and consumer magazines over the last two decades. You can reach him at pete@hdtvexpert.com.



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