The DVD Format War Hits Consumers

The DVD Format War Hits Consumers

The BDA (Blu-ray Disc Association) is a group of consumer electronics and PC companies who jointly developed the Blu-ray standard. Companies who are members of the board of directors include Sony, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Pioneer, Twentieth Century Fox, and Walt Disney Pictures. The list goes on and on, but this is just a sampling of the heavy hitters behind this specification.


The name Blu-ray stems from the fact that the device uses a blue-violet laser to read and write the disc. Using a shorter wavelength than CDs and DVDs, the Blu-ray specs can store a much more substantial amount of information in the same amount of space. The Blu-ray disc uses the same 12cm size as current CDs and DVDs.

Okay, what’s so good about Blu-ray anyway? On the surface, it seems to be the better of the two technologies. By default, a single layer Blu-ray disc can store up to 25 GB of information, whereas HD-DVD can store only 15 GB. A dual layer disk can store up to 50 GB, again compared to only 30 GB by HD DVD.

On the horizon, TDK, another member of the board of directors on the BDA, recently announced that they have created a Blu-ray disc capable of containing 200 GB. This may not be ready for mass production, but it shows that, without a doubt, Blu-ray technology is a serious contender.

But Blu-ray has its problems too. For starters, it is said to be about six months behind HD-DVD in terms of market readiness. As with all new hardware standards, Blu-ray is also slow; a single speed unit can transfer only 36 Mbit/s. Blu-ray 2x drives are able to transfer at a more respectable 108 Mbit/s.

The biggest problem with Blu-ray right now is availability. As of the time of this writing, the only Blu-ray product I could find available here in the US is the the new Pioneer BDR-101A. This is a computer component, capable of 2x Blu-ray reading and writing, as well as DVD and CD features. Its price? A whopping $999.

There are a number of Blu-ray machines in the pipeline, many of them slated to be released in mid-2006 (which should be any time now). But again, these machines are priced at $999 and up, which makes them a VERY expensive option.

Why so expensive? It seems that the authoring process for Blu-ray requires a whole new tooling process. Current hardware could not be easily converted to work with the new format, but had to be completely re-designed. This requires a new investment on a large scale from both hardware manufacturers and people wishing to publish material on Blu-ray media.


HD-DVD is the evolution of what used to be called the AOD (Advanced Optical Disc) standard. This is the format that the official DVD Forum decided would be the HDTV successor of the standard DVD. Yes, there is a standard forum, and no, Blu-ray was never even submitted to the DVD forum for consideration.

HD-DVD is similar to Blu-ray in that it also uses a blue-violet laser to read and write information to and from the disc. It also adheres to the 12cm size that CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray all share.

The HD-DVD format, by default, does not have the same capacity as Blu-ray. A single-layer HD-DVD disc can hold 15 GB of data, while a dual layer disc can contain 30 GB. Toshiba has recently announced a triple layer disc, which pushes the capacity to 45 GB. This is very close indeed to the current storage afforded by Blu-ray.

The good news about HD-DVD is that it is already here. On April 18, 2006, the first HD DVD player and movies were released in the United states. At this point in time, more than 30 titles have been released in this format. The best news? The HD-DVD players are more affordably priced, starting around $500 (half the price of the Blu-ray).

These things, by themselves, are enough to give the HD-DVD an incredible boost over the Blu-ray specification, but it’s not over yet.

HD-DVD, unlike Blu-ray, is largely compatible with current DVD reading and writing hardware. This means it is a much less expensive technology for hardware vendors and media publishers to adopt, given the complete re-tooling they would need to move to Blu-ray.

Now that the war has trickled down to immediately affect the consumers, what do we do now? Which would be the right product to use?

The answer to this might not be as clear cut as you think. Consider these facts:
[li]Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD players will be backwards compatible with current DVDs. There will be no need to replace your whole collection. [/li]
[li]Major studios have announced intentions to publish on one, the other, or even both formats. [/li]
[li]The actual Blu-ray and HD-DVD media are comparably priced, at approximately $20/disc. This will obviously come down, with time. [/li]
[li]Both formats support HD resolutions up to 1080 lines, which keeps them fairly even, quality-wise. [/li]
[li]Both formats include many levels of copy protection, aimed at protecting the rights of the content owners. [/li]
[li]Microsoft has announced that both Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats will be available for the XBOX 360, as external components. [/li]
[li]Some hardware vendors have announced they will create unified hardware solutions that work with both standards. [/li]
[li]Both standards will support hybrid, which contains a regular DVD format underneath the new generation format, so the DVDs will still work in traditional DVD players. The users will just not have access to the higher quality video, and the additional special features.
So my question, at this point is why? Why do we even HAVE two standards if they are so similar? How confusing is it going to be for a consumer when he goes to the store to buy a movie, and it’s sitting there in three formats on the shelf? Which one does he pick?

Maybe none. There’s already a new format on the horizon that is attempting to be the next generation format, and replace HD-DVD and Blu-ray. It’s called HVD (Holographic Versatile Disc), and discs using this technology can hold 3.9 TERABYTES of data. That is over 160 times the capacity of a single layer Blu-ray disc.

Between you and me, this is one war that I think I may just sit out. If HVD is where we will be in a few years, I’ll just wait.


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