HD DVD vs. Blu-ray: who cares?

Since its 1997 debut, the DVD format has gone on to become perhaps the biggest success in the history of home theatre and consumer electronics. But will the current king of the video hill still be number one by the time it hits its 10th birthday?

In our little home-theatre department here at CNET, we knew it was only a matter of time before one of our well-informed readers asked us whether DVD would go the way of VHS, considering the rising chatter on Blu-ray vs HD DVD, the new high-def, high-capacity disc formats on the horizon. Sure enough, a couple of weeks ago, the anticipated query popped over the transom: "Hey, do you think I should start selling my DVD collection now?" wrote Vince from Los Angeles. "And which format do you think will win, Blu-ray or HD DVD?"

In case you're new to the whole next-gen DVD discussion, Blu-ray and HD DVD are two competing high-capacity disc technologies backed by various consumer electronics and computer manufacturers (yes, they are a computer storage media as well). On one side of the ring you have Blu-ray's captain, Sony, with a roster that includes Panasonic, Samsung, Dell, HP, Philips, and several other industry heavyweights, and on the other (HD DVD), Toshiba, NEC, and a couple of other upstarts. Both formats use blue laser technology, which has a shorter wavelength than red, allowing it to read the smaller digital data "spots" packed a lot more densely onto a standard-size disc. HD DVD is capable of holding 30GB or a full-length high-definition movie, plus extras, on a prerecorded double-layer disc (compare that to today's limit of 9GB for standard double-layer DVDs). Blu-ray will go up to 50GB at launch, and Sony is reportedly working on a quad-layer 100GB disc. Cake-box me a stack of those, please.

A couple of expensive Blu-ray players/recorders, the Sony BDZ-S77 and the Panasonic DMR-E700BD (around US$2,000), have already been released in Japan. But expect the war to touch off on these shores at the end of 2005 or in early 2006 and for it to really heat up when Sony launches its PlayStation 3, rumoured to include Blu-ray support. Before I give my take on whether you should stop buying DVDs and which format will win, here's a brief description of each, with their potential advantages and disadvantages.

Camp Blu-ray

Backed by: Sony, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic), Mitsubishi Electric, Philips Electronics, Pioneer Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, TDK, and Thomson Multimedia.

Fight song: "We're better, you know it."

Advantages: Getting the early start, Blu-ray has enjoyed more mindshare than HD DVD, as well as a conglomerate of powerful backers that rivals President Bush's "coalition of the willing" in size and scope. Technologically, the biggest edge Blu-ray appears to have over HD DVD is that it offers 30 per cent more capacity and is designed for recording high-def video. Rewritable BD-RW discs, with similar features to Panasonic's current DVD-RAM discs, can play back content while recording to the disc at the same time. Also, Sony owns Columbia Pictures and recently bought MGM, which gives it a leg up on releasing content. And PlayStation 3 certainly will carry a huge chunk of clout in the marketplace.

Disadvantages: Real or not, the biggest knock against Blu-ray is that the discs -- initially, at least -- will be more costly to produce than HD DVD media (Sony claims otherwise). Until recently, the other knock was that unlike DVD-HD, the Blu-ray spec did not include support for more advanced video compression codecs such as MPEG-4 AVC and Microsoft's VC-1, in addition to the MPEG-2 codec. But the Blu-ray Group recently announced support for those codecs, so they're now on even ground on that front.

HD DVD posse

Backed by: Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo, and Memory-Tech. Microsoft is also supporting HD DVD in its next version of Windows (support for Blu-ray is on the table).

Fight song: "We're evolutionary, not revolutionary."

Advantages: The name itself, HD DVD, is far more consumer-friendly than Blu-ray. HD DVDs carry the same basic structure as current DVDs, so converting existing DVD manufacturing lines into HD DVD lines is supposedly simple and cost effective. Memory-Tech, a leading Japanese manufacturer of optical media, stated that producing HD DVD discs would initially cost only 10 per cent more than for existing DVDs and that it could quickly bring the cost down to match that of standard DVD.

Disadvantages: HD DVD simply can't boast the same storage capacity as Blu-ray. It's confusing, but it appears that the rewritable HD DVD-RW will go up 32GB, while the recordable HD DVD-R discs will only be single layer (15GB). The other downside is that with Sony holding the rights to Columbia Pictures and MGM movie and television libraries, there will probably be a hole in HD DVD's content offering -- don't expect to see MGM/UA's James Bond movies on HD DVD, for example.

Outlook: Too close to call
Blu-ray had the early lead, but HD DVD has been making inroads, garnering support from major studios Warner, Paramount, Universal, and New Line Cinema, who've decided to play it safe and back both formats. From a marketing standpoint, HD DVD appears to be positioning itself as the more practical high-def DVD solution, an extension of the format rather than a leap beyond it. The Blu-ray group, for better or worse, is taking the bait and campaigning on technological superiority. Unfortunately, as a result, the press has jumped on the whole VHS vs. Betamax analogy -- you know, the old "the best technology doesn't always win" story, which doesn't help Sony.

Personally, I think a better analogy is the whole SACD vs. DVD-Audio fiasco -- you know, the war that no one seems to care about and no one's winning. In other words, Vince, hold onto your DVD collection; you have time. There are all kinds of copy-protection details to iron out, lots of politics, and some prices that need to drop a zero (people are just starting to buy DVD recorders, for crying out loud). Me, I'm ballparking the end of 2006 before anything interesting really starts to happen in the high-def disc arena. Until then, put in a well-transferred DVD and sit a little farther back from your TV. It all looks like HD from the other side of the room.

Are you waiting for Blu-ray or HD DVD? Or are they both just an evil plot to get you to buy yet another copy of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back? Get your two cents in below.

David Carnoy is an executive editor for CNET Reviews.



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Serginator posted a comment   

I care on the Movie, not how fancy it looks.

 

adult industry posted a comment   

There was a comment above stating about how the porn industry will determine. Well, yah, most porn is plain regular DVD. I don't want or care for blu ray because I don't care about being able to count the amount of pubic hairs someone has. I don't need THAT kind of quality in video image!

 

are you guys educated? posted a comment   

the only reason these blu ray discs have a 50gb capacity is because a blu "ray" laser is smaller than the red one used for regular dvd's, which means the tracks can be burned very very small, meaning more space. In order to actually save data ONTO a blu-ray disc, you'll need a blu-ray drive. And me, being someone who likes burning DVD's onto my computer, I don't even want to think about the horrors of compressing a 50GB blu-ray disc so that it only takes up 1GB of hard drive space. Also, I like DVD's because I REALLY do not care to count the amount of pores someone has on their face! That type of quality is useless.

 

Not stupid posted a comment   

to the pshipleynz comment, we are not stupid, i have bought off burn direct for years and never had a problem and while i havent bought off their ebay store i know they are part of a company that has massive warehouses all over the world and have always given me my fix of import games and now blu ray and a few hd dvd movies since i got a ps3 and xbox360.
i looked you up on google and found you post your rubbish same comment around all different forums and that you have been banned from ebay - i wonder why! maybe you are a sore loser competitor?
i have been to one of their stores when i was in brisbane and the staff that work there are really decent, sure there may be some other places that carry imports but these guys have been around for as long as i can remember and always have the best range of games and movies anywhere in australia at least
to anyone wanting a great supplier check out their website at www.burn.com.au and i am happy to recommend them without a hesitation

back to the topic of which format, i really hate the fact that all the stores like jb and ezdvd took months to even get any hd dvds then dumped them quicker than you can blink! i see there are new players that can play both formats so this topic could almost be a moot point! one thing i will say is that hd dvd always required movies to be in high definition where as blu ray hasn't had this meaning some blu rays are not really much better than the dvd version!

/end rant

 

Laidback posted a comment   

Mechanical players are supsect to wear and tear, Solid state memory has and will advance in leaps and bounds, just take a look how much they have in the last couple of years.. Give it five years from now and both the hard drive and Disk players may be replaced by a solid state media, just be midful solid state hard drives are already being produced, albeit a little pricey at the moment//

 

daicare posted a comment   

Blu-ray has won and HD has lost and all is good.

 

pshipleynz posted a comment   

Dear Regions Suck!

I do not recommend Burn Direct for purchasing HDDVD or Blu Ray.

Check out their feedback and also their responses before you consider buying. Their User name is
burndirect_brisbane

Phone (07) 3252 1888
Also Emails are
jason@burn.com.au
ebay@burn.com.au
Your best bet is ....
internetfraud@bigpond.com ... this is the email address for the police. I eventually did a google search and well .... it was scarey!!

Check out their feedback and also their responses before you consider buying. Their User name is
burndirect_brisbane
Ebay's lawyers can be contacted via

sydney@daslaw.com.au

Dibbs Abbott Stillman
Level 8, Angel Place
123 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000

GPO Box 983 Sydney NSW 2001
Tel: 61 2 8233 9500
Fax: 61 2 8233 9555

Just do a google search and find out for yourself.

 

LAINQNKU posted a comment   

Blue Ray technology is the great. HDDVD is very small as capcity!

 

Dlriom posted a comment   

How many of you here can actually use HDDVD or BLU RAY? I just bought a new plasma a year ago and unfortunatley its not 1080i so a HD player is of no use to me anyway unless i fork out a huge amount for a TV.
I believe that by the time HDDVD and BLURAY get there act together they will be outdated anyways.

 

wbreck13 posted a comment   

x-box 360 can also play hd dvd's


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