The next generation of DVD players and disks, ones that support high-definition screens, are now starting to go on sale. But even if you are an early adopter who can afford the high price tag, you might want to wait until the digital dust settles.

If you remember the Betamax vs. VHS format battles from the early 80’s, this new war will look mighty familiar.

On one side you have one group of manufacturers and their content supporters with Blu-Ray and on the other side a similar group with HD-DVD. As you might expect, although the disks look similar, one format will not work in a player of the other format.

Also mirroring the earlier contest, one player uses more advanced technology and offers more features (Blu-Ray). The other one is cheaper and most people won’t be able to tell the difference in picture quality. The Betamax/VHS contest was very much the same.

The difference today is that now you have computer and video game companies in the mix along with the traditional TV/video manufacturers.

But movies are only one front in the format war. In throwing its weight behind Toshiba, Microsoft has expanded the fight into the computer and game industries. Later this year, Microsoft will start selling an external drive for its Xbox game that will play HD-DVD discs, countering Sony’s effort to turn PlayStation into a high-definition DVD player by adding Blu-ray technology. Microsoft and its ally Intel have also convinced Hewlett-Packard to consider making HD-DVD drives for computers. This would give Toshiba an answer to Dell, which remains committed to the Blu-ray format.

As always, the electronics and big media companies could care less about their customers (that would be me and you). They just want to get something new and hot in the marketplace to make up for the fact that DVD players have become low-profit commodity items.

Meanwhile, some people have other reasons not to buy into either of the new formats. Like built-in restrictions on both the recording and playback features, allowing the media companies to control the content played in the drives.

Welcome to the future. It ain’t pretty watching dinosaurs fight.

blu-ray, hd-dvd, big media