Sure, you have high-definition cable service, but why have a huge, flat, 1080 high-definition TV when your DVDs and games are only giving you boring, vanilla, standard-definition quality? The HDTV revolution is here and there are two optical disc formats that are trying to be the successor to the fantastically popular DVD standard.
Enter Blu-ray and HD DVD.
Separated At Birth?
The two formats have quite a few similarities:
- Industry Support
Blu-ray's backers include a group of consumer electronics, entertainment studios and PC manufacturers, led by Sony, Apple, Dell, and HP. The HD DVD format is supported by a similar list of companies, led by Toshiba, NEC, Microsoft, and Intel.
- Blue-violet Laser
Both technologies use a 405nm blue-violet laser to read and write data from discs where DVDs and CDs use a relatively large red laser. This means more data density on the same size disc.
Both have single-layer, double-layer, and eventually triple-layer versions as well as read-only, writable and rewritable formats
And now for the differences:
Blue-ray can hold more data on the same number of layers than HD DVD. This means a single-layer Blu-ray disc can contain 25GB while a single-layer HD DVD can only hold 15GB. The same holds true for double-layer discs (50GB and 30GB respectively).
- Maximum Video Resolution
Blu-ray discs store movies in 1080p (progressive) format while HD DVD movies are 1080i (interlaced). Progressive-scan is theoretically better than interlaced which means Blu-ray's 1080p movies will be smoother and cleaner, but only if you have a 1080p-capable display.
- Production Costs
HD DVDs are similar enough to standard DVDs (for production purposes) that changing production lines to support the new format involved only slight alterations. Blu-ray, however, will take more effort. This means lower production costs for producing HD DVD media, especially seen in blank media costs.
- Movie Studio Support
If you want high-definition movies, your choice in formats will probably be dictated by which camp your favorite movie studios fall into. Currently, there are more than 50 movies released in each format but only a few titles are available on both formats.
What the new formats mean to entertainment and computing
"Do I have to buy all of my movies again?"
No, both types of drives are backwards compatible with the now-inferior DVD technology. But these new formats promise High-Def versions of your favorites and enough extra storage to have even more bonus features than you're used to, so there might be quite an incentive to upgrade your movie collection.
The line has been drawn the clearest in the console gaming arena. Sony is including a Blu-ray drive in the upcoming PlayStation 3 for the storage capacity that immersive gaming experiences in HD will require. Microsoft will start shipping an HD DVD external drive in November for their year-old Xbox 360 platform for movie playback, though their games will not be released on the high-capacity format.
Stand-alone and internal recorders are available for both formats as well as writable and rewritable media. When you're buying recordable media, you'll simply choose the format for the recorder you own.
One Drive To Rule Them All
"Is this the VHS vs. Betamax thing all over again?" It is too early to tell which format will come out on top. Or perhaps they will live together in perfect harmony, side by side in the A/V component racks of tomorrow. However, today's early adopter will need to purchase one of each drive (or both next-gen gaming consoles) if they wish to play all of the high-definition media available.
HD DVD Products
Blu-ray Disc Association