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Format Wars Redux: Blu-ray Disc vs. HD-DVD

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Format Wars Redux: Blu-ray Disc vs. HD-DVD

The future of high-def recording rests with two competing optical
formats: Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD. Here's why both matter.

Melissa J. Perenson, PC World
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

We've been down this road before. In fact, I can clearly see the ruts
left behind by the wagon wheels that have already taken this path,
long before Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD ever existed. (HD stands for both
High Definition and High Density.) Format wars are nothing new; but
this time, the stakes are sky-high on all sides--for Hollywood, for
hardware manufacturers, and especially for consumers, who are facing a
quandary akin to the Betamax-VHS battle.

Why should we care about this latest format war? Simply put, the
outcome will determine the way we get high-definition entertainment
content. Since Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD are disparate and incompatible
optical disc formats, the outcome will also determine what we buy to
replace our living-room DVD player.

The way things are going, though, later this year two competing types
of player, based on two different formats, could replace the DVD
player. If HD-DVD sticks to its stated timeline, we should be seeing
the first HD-DVD players by this fall. Note I say should; external
factors could conspire to throw off that ambitious timeline. The
estimated ship time for the first Blu-ray products is a bit further
out--end of this year, or beginning of next.

Much Ado About Something

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, backers of the two
formats trotted out the presentations and the proverbial dog-and-pony
shows, each trying to one-up the other with product and alliance
announcements. In HD-DVD's corner is the DVD Forum, the industry
association that created the DVD format, and Toshiba and NEC; the
Blu-ray Disc Association includes almost every major consumer
electronics company, except Toshiba and NEC, who are backing HD-DVD.

But slick prototypes and familiar rhetoric aside, most media attention
focused on two big-ticket content announcements--and the fine print
contained therein.

In a glossy presentation at a ritzy Bellagio nightclub, the HD-DVD
camp announced support by three studios--Paramount Pictures, Universal
Pictures, and Warner Bros. Producing over 50 films in HD-DVD, as
Warner Bros. intends to across all of its units (including HBO Home
Video and New Line Cinema) is no small commitment. Nonetheless, I
noticed that while some of the nearly 100 titles announced were very
high-profile (including Warner's The Matrix and Harry Potter series)
and Universal's The Bourne Supremacy), others were less impressive
(Universal's Van Helsing and Waterworld, Warner's Catwoman and
Gothika). The movie industry certainly made a flourish with these
announcements, but they lacked sufficient meat to convince me that
HD-DVD is Hollywood's sole path of the future.

Even more notable was the lack of any announcement regarding New Line
Cinema's crown jewels, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Had the company
committed to releasing Lord of the Rings in HD-DVD, I might have felt
this was more than just a toe in the water for the studios.

As it was, I found the announcements vague and noncommittal. After
all, per the fine print, none of the Hollywood studios is pledging to
release films in HD-DVD only. It's entirely plausible we'll see
content in two disc formats--on similar-looking media. At least with
Beta vs. VHS, you could easily tell which tape cartridge was which
(big and bulky=VHS); imagine moseying up to the store shelf to choose
between similarly designed, same-sized packages for The Lord of the
Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I can hear the internal dialogue
now: "Is this movie in HD-DVD? Or Blu-ray? And which one do I need?"

Meanwhile, the Blu-ray Disc Association wasn't silent. Although no
movies were announced, Disney reiterated its support for Blu-ray. And
with the announcement of gaming giant Electronic Arts' commitment to
Blu-Ray, the Association cemented that format's future as the disc of
choice for console games. Factor in Sony's backing of Blu-ray and the
company's announced plans to support Blu-ray in its future PlayStation
gaming consoles--and suddenly Blu-ray looks like it has the gaming
market niche sealed up. No matter which way Hollywood goes, Blu-ray
will exist, in this scenario.

Microsoft has already thrown its weight behind HD-DVD for the
next-generation Xbox. However, recent rumors on the Web suggest that
Microsoft will support only standard DVD in the Xbox 2. If true, that
would certainly tip the scales in Blu-ray's favor as the next-gen
platform for gaming.

More Alike Than Not

I'll save a recitation of the detailed disc size, layer thickness, and
dyes for another time. Physically, both Blu-ray and HD-DVD media are
dye-based optical discs, similar in size to today's DVDs. Both formats
pack more data on the disc by relying on a blue-laser diode instead of
the red laser used in current DVD technology. The blue laser has a
shorter wavelength, which allows it to read more data packed into a
given space.

Although neither Blu-ray Discs nor HD-DVD media will work on existing
DVD players, both formats incorporate laser designs that make them
backward compatible, so devices based on them will play back current
DVDs and audio CDs. And both formats will use the same video
compression schemes: MPEG-2, H.264, and VC-1. This development evens
the playing field with respect to the video codec, at least.

While both formats will continue to support existing audio formats,
advanced audio codecs are still being nailed down, as is the
copy-protection scheme.

So which format has the advantage? As its name implies, HD-DVD is more
closely related to its predecessor--but only in that the disc's
physical structure is virtually identical to that of current DVD
media. Proponents of the HD-DVD format point to that trait as an asset
that makes ramping up production more seamless than doing so with
Blu-ray Discs.

By contrast, Blu-ray requires an entirely different manufacturing and
replication process, one that will require some infrastructure
investment up front for manufacturers. Surely this will make a
difference--but only in the early days. I've yet to hear anything that
makes me think HD-DVD holds an insurmountable advantage. The question
is, how long will it take for the technologies needed to produce
Blu-ray Discs to ramp up and get the manufacturing costs down? Because
the transition to HD-DVD involves less up-front expense, that format
has an early edge.

When it comes to capacity, though, the point advantage goes hands-down
to Blu-ray. Never mind the various rewritable and recordable specs;
read-only specs are the only ones that matter for prerecorded
Hollywood content. A Blu-ray Disc holds a whopping 25GB on a
single-layer disc and 50GB on a dual-layer disc. By contrast, HD-DVD
holds only 15GB on a single-layer disc and 30GB on a dual-layer disc.

And here's a reality check, folks: A standard 135-minute movie,
encoded at 12 megabits per second, will require about 12GB to 13GB of
storage, just for the video of the film alone. Factor in up to 5GB
more for a high-end, DVD-Audio-level soundtrack, plus space for
additional audio tracks (to support the requisite Dolby Digital and
DTS), multiple language tracks and extras, and suddenly those 30GB
dual-layer HD-DVD discs sound like they're going have a tough time
handling all that content.

Before Hollywood commits to a format, it needs to remember that this
next content-delivery format choice is for the long haul. What works
in the context of today's standards for "roomy" won't necessarily work
three years from now. And no one has ever regretted having too much

Survey Says...

So what's going to decide this race? If it's first to market, HD-DVD
may cross the finish line first--if the Advanced Access Content System
copy protection scheme is finalized by March. That technology is
holding up the finalization of read-only disc specs for both HD-DVD
media and Blu-ray Discs. HD-DVD proponents have selected AACS for
digital rights management; backers of the Blu-ray format are still
finalizing their copy protection plans, but consider AACS as a front

If AACS is delayed--and several industry folks I've spoken with feel
this is likely--Toshiba and NEC may have a difficult time making their
aggressive launch schedule. According to an NEC engineer, the company
will need a minimum of three months after AACS copy protection is
completed and the HD-DVD-ROM specification is finalized in order to
get a HD-DVD drive into production. Consumer electronics products,
such as the HD-DVD players that Toshiba will be selling, typically
require even more time to market, to account for design, manufacture,
and testing.

Even if AACS doesn't arrive on schedule, HD-DVD may still have a few
months' lead on Blu-ray. Some Blu-ray Disc products may ship by the
end of the year, but sources say it's looking more realistic for the
beginning of 2006. And both formats could be delayed if the
finalization of AACS drags on far beyond March.

In the contest of names, I have to say that it's a draw. HD-DVD is a
marketer's dream: The format is blessed with a name that needs no
introduction, given the hype over high-definition broadcast
technologies and the off-the-meter popularity of DVD. But Blu-ray has
a sea-breeze-like coolness factor. Together with Sony's pledge of
PlayStation support, Blu-ray has a niche already carved
out--regardless of which camp, or camps, Hollywood chooses to back.

Regardless of which format wins, an even newer optical technology is
already waiting in the wings, ready to douse cold water on the victory
parade. Backers of the Holographic Versatile Disc announced this month
that the format will support mammoth 200GB media when it launches in
the fourth quarter of this year--posing a direct challenge to
blue-laser-based storage formats like Blu-ray and HD-DVD.,00.asp

"Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none." -- Benjamin Franklin
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Black Locust
Posts: n/a
In article <(E-Mail Removed)>,
Ablang <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:

> Regardless of which format wins, an even newer optical technology is
> already waiting in the wings, ready to douse cold water on the victory
> parade. Backers of the Holographic Versatile Disc announced this month
> that the format will support mammoth 200GB media when it launches in
> the fourth quarter of this year--posing a direct challenge to
> blue-laser-based storage formats like Blu-ray and HD-DVD.

LOL! This is just getting so stupid. 3 competing formats? **** all this
high def nonsense...

> ===
> "Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one;
> enemy to none." -- Benjamin Franklin

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we.
They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people,
and neither do we." - George Dumbya Bush
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Posts: n/a
This may be the most stupid article ever written that claims any technical
understanding. Total crap.

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