The film studios and manufacturers of home theater equipment are always searching for another format to present films, another gadget to present to the public. The latest contender in this fray is digital tape, D-VHS. On January 30th, 2002, JVC, on the hardware end teamed up with four major film studios, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, DreamWorks, and Artisan to support this new format. Basically, this format is aimed at the small but growing owners of high definition televisions (HDTV). Initial reports claim that this format actually exceeds the definition offered by DVD. Whether this format will survive depends on a number of factors. Some will most likely be the growing popularity of home theater hard drives like TiVo and the advent of the DVD burner. In any case, for now, let's consider the technical specifications of D-VHS.
Right now there is a lock on the hardware side of this new format. JVC has on deck the HM-DH30000. It has been on the market since September of 2001 with a price tag close to $2000. This model supports several formats; D-VHS, D-VHS with D-Theater encryption, and VHS. The storage capacity is around 44 Gig which should yield around 4 hours of high definition material. The bandwidth is an impressive 28 Mbps which exceeds the current HDTV rate of 14 Mbps. The video formats supported are listed as 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. With the standard S-Video output you can view a down-converted 480i/p on a non-HDTV set. in what is called D-Theater mode. (More on that a little later)
Yielding to the current trend of blending the home theater with your computer there is something called i-Link, similar to firewire, that is provided. This seems to be an interim measure since there is already plans to replace this output with more standardized computer interfaces in the near future. One thing to remember with hardware this new is by the time you get it home and set it up a new 'standard' may be in effect.
For the audio side of things the standards are even more liquid at this point. There is the ability to play Dolby 5.1 sound and for multiple audio tracks to be present. Future hardware manufacturers can opt to include DTS but the current standard will not force this on them. In other words, JVS can choose to not support DTS as an audio format. You can wind up with a player that may not take advantage of audio information on the tapes.
The big news with this new format is D-Theater. This is a very robust encryption/decryption method to provide superior quality. Unfortunately, it is not downward compatible with previous D-VHS hardware. (Yes, there has been digital tape around for awhile but this is a new push with studio support) D-Theater is a very high speed format and does permit recording HD source material. The format provides for copyright protection, preventing tape duplication. D-Theater machines will play regular D-VHS and VHS tapes. Chapter stops are permitted although it requires tape positioning and will not be as fast as DVD stop access. Lastly, there are provisions for alternate audio tracks as space permits.
As noted above, there are currently four studios that have come forward to produce D-VHS releases of their films. Titles should hit the streets by June 2002. At this point no studio has committed to DTS support for their films. Pricing may be on the high side with suggested prices initially ranging from $30 to $50.
Fox has announced the initial titles may include: Sound Of Music, X-Men, Independence Day and Die Hard . Universal: U-571. Artisan: Basic Instinct and Total Recall. Dreamworks: GalaxyQuest.
Initially, the video mode will be 1080i with no present support for 1080p mode. They plan on supporting progressive scans in the near future. They have also stated they will retain the original aspect ratio of films up to and including 2.35:1.
Region code will be imposed on the new format.
Warner, Columbia TriStar, MGM, New Line, Paramount and Buena Vista have not committed to this format at this time. This is going to initially greatly restrict the titles that will become available.
Personally, I can't see running out and getting D-VHS for your home theater at this point. First of all it is still tape. This means breaks, snags and stretches. A friend of mine asked me about this recently and I advised that he wait until there is a good DVD burner and for the coming advances from TiVo. Since there are only a few true HD sources out there the recording aspect should be minimal at this point. While the resolution is reported to be better than DVD it takes very high end of equipment to notice. Unless you can really see the difference apply the money you would spend on D-VHS on better DVD equipment of a lot more DVDs for your collection. We are now at the point where technology can provide better sound and viewing than most people can detect. If you need lab equipment to detect the difference why bother?