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HD DVD vs. Blu-ray Disc - Did the Right Technology Win?

Ben Arnold, our Guest Blogger, is a long time worker in the tech support industry and loves to get his hands dirty supporting the latest gadgets and computer technology; that is, when he's not battling the frigid Eastern Iowa winter weather. He wanted to share his latest thoughts on the format war with the readers of InventorSpot.com.

Here's his article:

* * * * *

If you've paid attention to any gadget news over the past week then you are probably aware of the big news in the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc for the title of successor to the DVD. First, last week, Warner Brothers announced that they would be moving to Blu-ray Disc exclusively. Then, Toshiba announced that they are officially bowing out of the format war. This is all well and good, those of us who still remember the Betamax vs. VHS format war have been hesitant to pick a side in this struggle. But now that the dust is potentially settling on this conflict, a consumer has to ask themselves, "did the right format win?"

This question may be harder to answer than it initially appears. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc have features that are identical or very similar. For instance, both formats rely on a blue colored laser whose shorter wavelength (405nm) allows for more data to be stored on the physical disc. The discs for both formats will appear identical as they are the same diameter and thickness. Both formats support the same video and audio codecs and both discs share the same 1920x1080 maximum video resolution.

With a few exceptions, the differences are a little less apparent. The biggest difference is the capacity. HD DVD holds 15GB on a single layer disc and 30GB on a dual layer disc. Blu-ray Disc holds 25GB on a single layer and 50GB on a dual layer disc. Although not an issue as of today, the second major difference initially was the amount of support for each standard. Blu-ray Disc came out of the gate with seven of the eight major movie studios on board while HD DVD only had three of eight. Various other differences in the underlying technologies do exist, such as their interactive content engines (Blu-ray Disc uses BDJ - or Blu-ray Disc Java and HD DVD uses Microsoft's HDi). Although HD DVD has a very slight edge in data transfer rates for data, Blu-ray disc has the edge in data transfer rates for audio and video content.

It would seem, then, that Blu-ray Disc had an advantage from the get go, both in terms of the technology - higher capacity discs and faster throughput speeds, as well as in adoption. Inclusion in the Sony Playstation 3 seemed to be a big boost to the Blu-ray Disc camp, but the lukewarm response to the PS3 resulted in a lower impact than expected. HD DVD's lower hardware costs were a prime boost to their sales numbers early on.

Ultimately, if Blu-ray Disc equipment goes down in price in the first half of 2008, then the outcome of this format war will be advantageous to consumers. With a higher capacity disc, higher performance specifications, and now seemingly ubiquitous adoption, Blu-ray Disc will hold more content and put it into the hands of consumers. The final variables in this equation are yet to be decided. How fast can the remaining supporters of HD DVD switch gears to their long-time opposition? How will consumers who jumped on board with HD DVD respond? How will Blu-ray Disc fare against online content? The answers to these questions and others remain largely up in the air at the moment.

Ben Arnold
Guest Blogger
InventorSpot.com

References: blu-ray.com and thelookandsoundofperfect.com
(Updated to correct error per comment below.)

Comments
Feb 20, 2008
by gorman (not verified)

Oh, thank god. For a second

Oh, thank god. For a second there I thought that the PS3 was going to be a complete waste of money.

Feb 20, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

Quote: "Blu-ray Disc came

Quote: "Blu-ray Disc came out of the gate with seven of the eight major movie studios on board while HD DVD only had TWO of eight."

Note 1: HD-DVD launched with Universal (exclusive), Paramount (both) and Warner (Both). That's 3 not 2.

Although HD DVD has a very slight edge in data transfer rates for data, Blu-ray disc has the edge in data transfer rates for audio and video content.

Note 2: Seeing as how EVERY BD-ROM drive shipped with 1.5x speeds and now are up to 6x speeds for BD-R, the first part of this statement should be past tense... HAD.

Feb 20, 2008
by Ben Arnold (not verified)

Good Catch Anonymous!

That was a good catch Anonymous! I double checked my research sources and did see that I skipped over the Paramount announcement of launching titles for HD DVD. Previously, I had only counted Universal and Warner.

Feb 20, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

Other considerations

Two important considerations the author didn't consider:
--Media costs. Blu ray disks are almost absurdly pricey, and most won't be using them for data until the cost drops radically. And why should I pay $10 extra for a movie that really doesn't look significantly better than an upconverted DVD?
--DRM. It's a big deal to a lot of people, and unfortunately the most heavy-handed big-brother approach won. DRM on a blank disk? No thanks!

Feb 20, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

Everyone ignores Blu-ray's scratch resistance

Being multiplatform, I've been using both types of discs for a while. I take very good care of my stuff, but as with my CDs most of my HD DVDs have some slight scratches on them at the very least.

Blu-rays, on the other hand, have a different type of protective coating that keeps them in pristine condition. All of my discs look like the day I bought them, and some of them I've had for more than a year.

Now, I'm more careful than this, but I have a friend who also leaves his discs (mainly games) lying around all the time, and all his PS3 games (which are on Blu-ray disc) are all flawless.

Feb 20, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

Actually...

Blu-rays DO look significantly better than upconverted DVDs, IF you have the right television.

I recently bought a 42" LCD. I had already owned the Departed on DVD but rebought it on Blu-ray. Even on this type of movie, it's night and day. Facial details are so much more apparent, the environments look so much more rich, and just overall the picture has better contrast and color depth.

Anyone who says that Blu-rays aren't a significant leap over standard DVD either hasn't REALLY spent enough time to pay attention enough, or simply hasn't even seen a Blu-ray in action on a TV that it might actually make a difference on -- namely any HDTV 40" or above.

I do agree, though, that $10 more than a standard DVD is too much. If they REALLY want to push adoption, they need to make it $5 or less, or at least include the standard DVD version for the added $10, kinda like what HD DVD was doing.

The difference in quality is clearly there, though. No doubts there.

Feb 21, 2008
by Ben Arnold (not verified)

I agree that blank media

I agree that blank media costs for Blu-ray are currently pretty pricey for blank media - however, I think if you look at them in line with the costs of other storage mediums for the computer, they are pretty well in line.

Definitely the movies out on Blu-ray are still too pricey for even me to want to adopt the format - if the prices come down as the commentor posted below, then I'd be more likely - and I think so would many other consumers.

Feb 21, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

Is it that much better

I bought an HD-DVD player and started watching HD-DVDs like a lot of other people. As I began to watch SD-DVD intermingled with the HD. To be honest the difference was there but was not that big a difference. I remember the first DVD player I bought and it was a lot better than VHS. Even my Grandmother could tell the difference. I think the early adopters and younger people are, to biggest extent, the people that have bought into BluRay and HD-DVD and probably the younger people getting the PS3 was one of the things that has carried BluRay thus far. The general public will be harder to sell, especially with the high Prices of hardware and media. A DVD player can be purchased for less than $30 now (You can get an Upscaling Toshiba that will even play HD-DVDs for $100-$150) People are accustomed to buyng new releases at Walmart or bestBuy or somewhere for $15-$20.

Feb 21, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

No regrets about HD DVD

I've chosen HD DVD and I have no regrets. It gave me simply what I wanted, movies in HD at an affordable price. Also it still works. Now if it turned to dust then I would have some regret. There maybe no new titles sometime in the future, but I can enjoy what there is as well as my standard dvds upconverted. I don't have any intentions on going Blu Ray. Except for the improved picture I have not been impressed (the price or the name), which sounds generic to me. Don't get me wrong I am a big fan of Sony, but I just don't take Blu Ray serious. Maybe if the prices came way down and they changed the name to something that does'nt sound like something only a nerd would understand I'd give it thought . Until then I'll just wait for the grim reaper to come knocking on Blu Rays door.

Feb 21, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm in my 20's, and over the

I'm in my 20's, and over the past 15 years I've picked up more than 600 CD's and DVD's. I can count my scratched or scuffed discs on one hand. No disrespect, but you don't really take care of your stuff.

My roommates PS3 games, on the other hand, are all scuffed.

Feb 21, 2008
by Ben Arnold (not verified)

I Agree with the Commentor below

I agree with the commentor below who said that the general public will be harder to sell on the benefits of Blu-ray. I happen to personally believe that there is a definite difference between watching even an up-converted DVD and a Blu-ray Disc, but the general public will be more inclined to focus on the increased price of Blu-ray disc players and movies.

Again, I think price reductions in both equipment and movies are key.

Also, what do you guys think about how Blu-ray Disc will fare against the likes of HD content downloads over the course of the next several years as the quality and speed of broadband internet goes up?

Feb 21, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

Well

I understand how everyone here is partial to there brand and by no means wants to feel like they made a bad choice. But lets face it HD DVD lost this battle. Everyone seems to love referencing Betamax but Blu Ray is the better of the two formats much like beta. This time Sony played the correct marketing angle by leveraging the studios and not the consumer. Its higher Capacity (and this is required for all video work either playback or storage) is a clear indicator for its long term adoption. Being a computer user I can see a clear advantage to the IT industry as well as the consumer market. Its archival too, meaning no more DVD rot from poor manufacturing.

The other point to note is the price. Everyone is complaining about the price of the players. I remember my first CD writer cost $400 at 2x speed. You can but a Blu Ray burner for a little more today and a good player sure its around $1000 now. But thats what you get for being an early adopter. Besides if your going to fork out the extra cash to get a high definition television set why are you going to buy the cheapest player? Would you buy a Porsche and put low octane gas in it?

Feb 22, 2008
by JDoors (not verified)

I haven't seen this

I haven't seen this addressed yet: The cost of production. Blu-rays are more expensive partly because they're more expensive to make. Now with HD-DVD out of the picture (so to speak), where's the incentive to bring the cost down for the consumer? Or to include new features? We're gonna get screwed, I suspect.

Regarding picture quality (HD vs DVD), the source isn't the only factor. If you're watching on a smallish TV or a larger one at too great a distance, the human eye may not perceive much of a difference, but it's there if you have an optimized setup (which also requires a sufficiently high quality playback device).

Feb 22, 2008
by Ben Arnold (not verified)

I disagree

I don't think that there will be incentive to screw us. The competition in the console gaming market will keep the price of the PS3 competitive and and thus give Sony incentive to lower the cost of production for Blu-ray Disc players.

I think there are some exciting enhancements in store for Blu-ray in 2008/2009.