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Who is winning the format war: Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD

December 10th, 2007 by Maxim · 8 Comments · 7,268 Views

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In the middle of holiday season, electronics seem to be one of the gifts of choice. HD TVs are almost half cheaper then a year before. Cable and Satellite compete for HD content viewers. Rental companies offer movies in high definition. When DVD became media of choice 7-10 years ago and replaced VHS, DVD players were a no-brainer as far as Christmas gifts go. But what about movies in high-definition? There are two major formats trying to win the eyeballs, and for many consumers two formats is one too many. The consumers are smart and they were sitting on the sidelines waiting for the format war to be over before they commit to buying the hardware to play the high definition DVDs in their home theatres. We hope this article will help you to make the right choice this season.

  1. Brand. BD (Blu-Ray) is technology from Sony, an electronics and entertainment company. HD-DVD technology was developed by Toshiba and NEC, and is largely supported by Microsoft, a software company. Some call it an “evil corporation” for their Windows dominance and for their business practices which was a subject of several anti-trust lawsuits and a current action by European Commission.
    pro: Sony is a very high-tech company. When it comes to engineering you can trust Sony to come up with an interesting and elegant solution.
    con: Sony technology usually comes at a premium price, which bring us to the next point. Also look below at Sony’s track record.
    By the way both BD and HD-DVD use blue laser – since it uses shorter wavelength, at least 3x the information can be stored on the disk. But the formats are different.
  2. Price. An average BD player costs about $500, not counting the only BD player cheaper then that – Sony Play Station 3. Again, after recent discounts. This is Sony’s last move in a trench war with HD-DVD: trying to undercut it and win the customer base by lowering the price. HD-DVD hardware was cheaper from the start. Even if you don’t want to buy an HD-DVD player attachment for your XBox 360, Toshiba and others make these players with up-conversion and 1080p for $300 or less. This Christmas there’s a $199 HD-DVD player on the market.
    HD-DVD player price:
    $180 (Xbox 360 accessory, Xbox 360 not included);
    $199 and more (stand-alone players);
    $999 for combo player
    BD player price:
    $499 (PlayStation 3 80GB); $399 (play Station 3 20GB)
    $499 and more (stand-alone players);
    $999 for combo playerPart of the reason why HD-DVD is cheaper is because HD-DVD can be used using same manufacturing process as good old DVDs, while Blu-ray disks require mandatory hard coating to prevent damaging scratches, since the disc information is closer to the surface and more vulnerable to wear and tear.
  3. Brand name. How many people know what BD is? But when you say “HD-DVD” they know what you are talking about. It is one of the major reasons why Sony spends so much on advertising and promoting its format. There are ads on TV, along the highways, on tall buildings… I am yet to see an HD-DVD ad. And I think I should: not evangelizing and marketing HD-DVD format is not going to help to win the war.
  4. History. Despite brilliant engineering solutions Sony engineers developed over the years, Sony has a very bad history of making their technologies standard, while it’s the opposite for Microsoft. Remember Sony’s Beta-Cam? MemoryStick? Super-Audio CD? Atrac? Minidisc? I barely remember UMB. Where are they now? To give you an idea for how bad it was for Sony, they don’t even support anymore their own MemoryStick on their high-end digital photo cameras.
    But when Microsoft makes something it becomes de-facto standard overnight. At least it’s true for their software.
  5. Quality of picture and sound. BD can support a lot more data then HD-DVD – almost 3 times more. But when it comes to HD movies, there’s no difference in quality: it’s still same 1080 progressive-scan lines on TV. Actually, HD-DVD will be better because it uses a better codec which requires cheaper hardware to decode and it loses less information during compression. So what if BD can have more data? As far as quality goes, BD does offer ”lossless” sound track, but I doubt that an average consumer (HD home theater owner) will notice the difference in quality. DVD audio offers comparable quality. BD may be able to support higher bit-rates in the future, which would require increased capacity of 4-layer Blu-ray disks – and they are still under development. Question is: will the average consumer be able to tell the difference between 25MB/sec and 35MB/sec. In terms of audio, there are many differences. While HD DVD support for the new Dolby Digital Plus audio codec is mandatory at 3.0 Mbit/s, support for Blu-ray players it is optional at 1.7 Mbit/s. Furthermore, HD DVD players must be able to decode the new lossless audio codec Dolby True HD, but this is optional for Blu-ray players.
  6. Features. HD-DVD offers cool features right now, such as online content accessible from networked stand-along HD DVD players. Another great thing about HD DVD is that they have done away with DVD Regions. On original DVD format and on Blu-Ray format the movies are locked in to a region, so if you bought a movie in Japan or UK you could not watch it on a DVD player sold in United States. But with HD DVD you can! Both technologies support MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 for video compression. Virtually every HD DVD released uses an advanced codec (VC-1 or H.264) for video compression, reducing the required space for equivalent quality video. The first generation of Blu-ray Disc movies however, used the older and less efficient video codec MPEG-2, and many new titles still do. Both formats support 24p – the format of traditional movies. Every HD DVD player has the ability to play back two simultaneous video streams (”Picture in Picture: PIP”) and connect to the internet, whilst early Blu-ray players have neither feature. Blu Ray player may or may not support BD-J: Blue Ray uses Java for its interactive features.
  7. Existing sales. In 2007 BD were outselling HD-DVD almost exactly 2:1. The problem is the official statistics do not disclose what part of BD sales were actually games for the PlayStation 3 console, and what part of it were movies. Yet, the sales are still so brisk that a descent movie released on HD DVD may outsell all BDs of the year and shift statistics in HD-DVD favor. It’s also unclear what part of total sales is “5 free HD/DVD or Blu-ray with a purchase of HD DVD/Blu-ray player” deal offered by many retailers this year. Both formats combined represent only 2.5% of total DVD sales.
  8. Studio support. Sony has done something right this time and went after the studios’ support for their format. Most studios pledged their allegiance to BD. However there have been some defectors in both BD and HD-DVD camps. After “Transformers” came out exclusively on HD-DVD, creator Michael Bay said in an interview that he would rather release it on BD “because that’s where money is right now”. At the same time, Paramount and Dreamworks Animation have decided to drop BD support and release movies exclusively on HD-DVD.Current BD camp: Columbia Pictures, Disney (Touchstone and Miramax), HBO, Fox, Image Entertainment, Lionsgate, Magnolia Pictures, New Line Cinema, Studio Canal, Warner Bros.Current HD-DVD camp: Dreamworks, HBO, First Look Studios, Image Entertainment, Magnolia Pictures, New Line Cinema, Paramount, Porn Studios, Studio Canal, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., The Weinstein Company/Dimension.So if you factor in small studios and porn industry, HD-DVD has got more studio support. Otherwise the two formats appear to be even with 10 studios each on their side. That being said, both MGM/Columbia Tristar and Fox are owned by Sony, so they are likely to continue BD support.
  9. Manufacturer support.
    Blu-ray: Hitachi, Mitsubishi, LG, Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Philips, Thomson/RCA
    HD-DVD: Toshiba, LG, Thomson/RCA, Onkyo, Samsung
    HD-DVD is supported and promoted by “HD DVD Promotion Group”, namely Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo, Microsoft, RCA, Kenwood, Intel, Venturer Electronics and Memory-Tech Corporation. The HD DVD format is also non-exclusively supported by Acer, Asus, HP, Hitachi Maxell, LG, Lite On, Onkyo, Meridian, Samsung, and Alpine.
    Blu-ray is supported by large corporations, with companies such as Apple, Dell, and Panasonic backing it. Blu-ray Disc was started by Hitachi, LG, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Thomson in February 19, 2002, with Panasonic, Sony, Pioneer, and Philips as the back-bone of the foundation. Several members of the Blu-ray organization’s Board of Directors who had originally pledged to support Blu-ray Disc later also supported HD DVD, such as Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, and LG.
  10. DVD rentals. Netflix offers movies in both formats. Blockbuster has HD-DVD for online customers, but you won’t find HD-DVD in their stores.
  11. Retailer support. Best Buy and Circuit City have kiosks for Blu ray – who bought them those? 
  12. What’s Maxim getting this Christmas?
        – Onkyo TX-SR705 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver with 1080p up-conversion and HDMI switching and pass-through and TrueHD support - $510
        – Toshiba HD-A35 – HD-DVD High-definition DVD Player with 1080p up-scaling – $349
    For Maxim, the format war is over.

p.s. There’s also a possibility of getting Canon HG10 HD hard-drive camcorder for $619 this holiday season – my HD home theater dream would be complete.

Come back soon for Maxim’s reviews of these products!

p.p.s. Warner Bros./Warner Home Video recently officially announced something they call “Total HD” (a.k.a. THD or Total Hi Def Disk): a disk that is HD DVD on one side and Blu Ray on another. In November of 2007 they said, however, that the project is still on hold.

** Update **

It has become known on Saturday, February 17, 2008, that Toshiba will abandon its HD-DVD format, resulting in the complete victory for Blu-Ray by companies like Sony, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, Hitachi and Sharp. Read requiem for HD-DVD.

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Tags: Hardware · Home Theater

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Maxim // Dec 27, 2007 at 8:39 am

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    Here’s a great article comparing HD DVD and Bluray.
    For the sake of full disclosure it was sponsored by HD DVD camp.

  • 2 Maxim // Dec 27, 2007 at 8:43 am

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    Toshiba HD D3 HD DVD player is now on sale in Canada for just $99. (in-store only).

  • 3 Maxim // Jan 4, 2008 at 3:45 pm

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    Warner Bros. today officially announced that they are going exclusively Bluray.

    “Warner Bros.’ move to exclusively release in the Blu-ray disc format is a strategic decision focused on the long term and the most direct way to give consumers what they want,” said Meyer. “The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger. We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers.”

    This is going to upset a lot of HD DVD player owners.

  • 4 Maxim // Jan 4, 2008 at 3:50 pm

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    Reuters exclusive about Warner Bros. going exclusively Bluray today:

  • 5 Maxim // Jan 4, 2008 at 4:18 pm

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    Toshiba’s response to Warner Bros going exclusively Bluray:

    “TOKYO, Jan. 4 /PRNewswire/ — Toshiba is quite surprised by Warner Bros.’ decision to abandon HD DVD in favor of Blu-ray, despite the fact that there are various contracts in place between our companies concerning the support of HD DVD. As central members of the DVD Forum, we have long maintained a close partnership with Warner Bros. We worked closely together to help standardize the first-generation DVD format as well as to define and shape HD DVD as its next-generation successor.

    We were particularly disappointed that this decision was made in spite of the significant momentum HD DVD has gained in the US market as well as other regions in 2007. HD DVD players and PCs have outsold Blu-ray in the US market in 2007.

    We will assess the potential impact of this announcement with the other HD DVD partner companies and evaluate potential next steps. We remain firm in our belief that HD DVD is the format best suited to the wants and needs of the consumer.”

  • 6 Maxim // Jan 4, 2008 at 10:46 pm

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    Now there is a report that Warner was paid between $500 and $640 Million to switch exclusively to Bluray.

  • 7 Maxim // Jan 7, 2008 at 8:17 am

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    PS3 Holiday sales total 1.2 million in North America. Read this AP article:

  • 8 Maxim // Feb 13, 2008 at 11:15 am

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    Regarding point [6], there’s now a class action lawsuit against Samsung for not implementing all of the features defined in Blu-Ray profile 1.1, which Samsung claimed it supported. These Blu-Ray players have no way of upgrading to complete Profile 1.1 support because they lack networking features.
    All HD-DVD players ever produced are mandated to have features defined in HD-DVD specification. On the other hand, the only future-proof Blu-Ray player that Blu-Ray Alliance can recommend is a game console – Sony’s PlayStation 3. When HD-DVD format specification was finalized, all manufacturers had implemented every feature mandated by the specification. Sony and its partners had to rush Blu-Ray devices to the market before Blu-Ray specification was finalized and ratified by all partners. As the result, early adopters of Blu-Ray technology with exception of PS3 owners are now potential members of the class that sued Samsung. More lawsuits may be filed against Samsung, Sony and other manufacturers of Blu-Ray players.

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