For High-Def Disks, Conversion Is a Better Bet

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A format war, not to mention outrageous prices, is stopping most of us from investing in a high-definition DVD player. So I decided to test a standard disk player that tries to convert the image into something close to the clarity and vivid picture of high definition. I've been testing one of the latest models from Oppo, a company with a good reputation for "upconverting" players. I even tested it head to head against an HD DVD player from Toshiba.

The verdict: The image from the Oppo can't match the Toshiba's, but it gives you more bang for the buck.

The Oppo player uses software to guess what details are needed to make standard DVD video appear to be high definition. The HD DVD image still appears sharper, but the Oppo does a great job of injecting a standard disk with some of the lifelike sheen that makes high definition so appealing. And at $230, the Oppo DV-981HD costs about half the $400 that it takes to buy Toshiba's HD DVD player. Even more expensive are high-definition players from Sony and others that support Blu-ray, the competing format in the video battle.

Upconverting players can't match extras that are promised in the high-definition products, including interactive features. But so far, those are disappointing from what I've seen.

The Oppo DV-981HD that I tested can perform its own tricks, including playing Super Audio and DVD Audio disks. Those formats are fronts in yet another format battle, that one between next-generation audio CDs–and one that has helped prevent either from catching on.

The same fate might befall the formats in high-definition video, too. So if you're hungry to get disks for your HDTV, it seems best to invest in a player like Oppo's rather than risk being a costly casualty in the video format fight.