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You are at: Home nav1 The DVD Format War - HD-DVD vs Blue-Ray

The DVD Format War - HD-DVD vs Blue-Ray

In what has been billed as Beta vs. VHS II, DVD manufacturers are squaring off in a new battle to determine which version of the high definition DVD will survive

The high definition DVD technology is new. It is so new, in fact, that the new DVD format hasn't even shown up in stores yet. That, however, is going to change soon. The competitors haven't been able to decide which format will survive, so just as was the case with VHS vs. Beta, it may be the consumers who ultimately decide.

The first high-definition DVD format is HD DVD. It is the official choice of the group that backs conventional DVDs. The second format is Blu-ray. Blu-ray is backed by most of the large consumer electronics manufacturers. There is a small chance that a compromise can be reached between the competing factions, but the time for any agreement is running short as the initial devices and discs have to be on the shelf before the onset of the Christmas shopping season.

There is likely too much difference in the competing formats for any agreement to be reached. This is not a good situation for either consumers or retailers, both of whom would prefer, as always, one standard format. The table below illustrates some of the differences between the competing formats in terms of data capacity, resolution, motion picture studio support and key patent holders (source: LA Times).

  Current DVD HD-DVD Blue-Ray
Data Capacity (per layer) 4.7 gigabytes 15 gigabytes 25 gigabytes
Maximum Image Resolution (pixels 640 x 480 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Thickness of Recorded Layer 0.6 mm 0.6 mm 0.1 mm
Key Patent Holders 10 electronics companies and Time Warner Toshiba, NEC, Time Warner Sony, Philips, Matsushita, Pioneer
Studio Backers All Warner Brothers, Universal, Paramount Sony, Disney
Retail Launch 1997 2005 Spring 2006

Blu-ray is the clear front-runner in the battle for dominance in the high-definition DVD market. In addition to having larger capacity, they have a key agreement with Sony, who plans to include a Blu-ray drive in its PlayStation 3 console. Disney is also supporting the Blue-ray format.

Critics of the Blu-ray format cite concerns regarding manufacturing costs, the disc's resistance to warping, and various reliability issues. The critics argue that the HD DVD format is able to be mass produced and that they can produce hybrid double layer DVDs. The double layer DVD allows for the new HD technology on one side and the existing DVD format on the other.

Electronics companies need new technology to boost sales

Many consumers ask, "Why do we need a new DVD at all?" To answer this question, it is necessary to understand how the consumer-electronics market operates. When new technologies emerge, the prices of the products associated with the new technology are very high and only the early adaptors purchase the products. The prices gradually fall and more and more consumers purchase the products. Eventually, the prices fall to a very low level and market saturation occurs.

This is precisely what has happened with the DVD market. DVD players, first introduced in 1997, have become the fastest growing consumer electronics device of all time and are now in two-thirds of U.S. homes. Sales of players have slowed recently, however, suggesting that the saturation point has been reached. This has prompted consumer electronics companies and the entertainment industry to search for new technologies to boost their revenue and profit.

A new HD DVD format may be a tough sell to consumers

Playing a DVD in a different format is not as simple as popping into your existing DVD player. Viewing the new DVD technology will require a high-definition television. A very small percentage of U.S. households currently own an HD TV. The number is rising steadily, however, as an increasing number of programs are being broadcast in high-definition.

High-definition DVD promises a better picture just as the old DVD format promised both better picture and sound than VHS. Will the promise of a superior picture be enough to convince consumers to embrace the new format? We think it will be a tough sell.

On the surface, Blu-ray would seem to be the better, more advanced technology. It features more capacity - 25 gigabytes, compared to 15 gigabytes for the HD DVD - and is thinner than the HD DVD. Despite this, the HD DVD has advantages that may make it the choice for consumers reluctant to change out their still new viewing devices.

HD DVD is compatible with existing DVD players

HD DVDs have a thicker coating, thus, they are the same thickness as existing DVDs. This, in turn, means that manufacturers do not have to retool their production facilities to produce the discs. This gives the HD DVD a huge price advantage over its Blu-ray competitor.

The HD DVD player is also able to use some of the same technology as existing DVD players. This makes it possible for consumer electronics companies to produce players that are compatible with both the old and new formats.

Blu-ray is a totally different technology than the existing DVD. The totally different formats make it unlikely that a compromise will be reached. This does not bode well for consumers or retailers, both of whom would prefer one standard format. In the end, the battle for supremacy between the two formats will likely result in slow sales for both. Consumers are much smarter than consumer electronics companies give them credit for. They will wait for one format or the other to emerge as the victor. By then, it may be too late for either format to catch on.

DVD Format War Links:

Battle Brewing Over New DVD Format


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