HomeTechnologyNewsWhat happened to HD-DVD? - Daily Report

What happened to HD-DVD? – Daily Report

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Like VHS and BetaMax, there was once a format war between the winning Blu-ray format and the now defunct HD-DVD format. The war between these two formats ended in just two years, so what happened?

blu-ray vs. HD-DVD: the technical aspects

Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD technology were developed independently, although they both had the same goal: to store content for the new generation of HD televisions. From the user’s point of view, both formats are quite similar. You put a disc in a player and then an HD movie plays.

Under the hood, there are numerous differences, most of which aren’t big enough to warrant a discussion. For example, the Dolby Digital audio bitrate for Blu-ray is 640 Kbps, while the number for HD-DVD is 504 Kbps. It’s a measurable difference, but it means little to nothing when viewing content.

The biggest difference between HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs is the amount of data stored on each layer. HD-DVDs can store 15GB of data, while Blu-ray Discs can store 25GB of data. That’s a significant difference, and coupled with a noticeably lower data transfer rate for HD-DVD, it meant that better quality video and more additional content was possible on Blu-ray compared to HD-DVD.

HD-DVD was developed by the DVD Forum as a direct successor to DVD, so it is based on the same technology. This meant that relatively minor reorganization would be required to move from DVD production to HD-DVD. On the other hand, HD-DVDs would have the same materials and scratch-resistance as existing DVDs, while Blu-ray offered higher levels of durability but would be more expensive to manufacture.

Toshiba was the main manufacturer to put its money into HD-DVD, although major optical disc players such as HP, NEC, Canon, and Ricoh also supported the technology. On the Blu-ray side, Sony was the main proponent, which would prove to be the main deciding factor as to who would win.

Sony was instrumental

The entrance to Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California.
Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

Sony was the main developer and defender of Blu-ray. Its position as a movie studio and general entertainment giant helped put the nail in the HD-DVD coffin far more effectively than any technical differences between the formats.

Early in the format war, Sony convinced several studios to join their own Blu-ray compatible studio division. This included Disney, Miramax, Touchstone, Warner, Paramount, and Lions Gate. On the HD-DVD side were Universal Studios, Paramount, Warner, The Weinstein Company, Dreamworks, and New Line Cinema. Some companies hedged their bets by supporting both formats.

Sony knew that the studios were concerned about piracy, and the added focus on Blu-ray copy protection is probably why it received strong support from the studios. However, Sony’s Playstation division would allow it to make a pincer attack from two different main entertainment markets.

Enter the PlayStation 3

Close-up of the Sony PlayStation 3.
pisaphotography / Shutterstock.com

As with the PlayStation 2, which doubled as a DVD player, Sony included a built-in Blu-ray player with every PlayStation 3 sold. While this undoubtedly contributed to the substantial launch price of the PlayStation 3 (which was still selling at a loss even then), it also meant putting Blu-ray players in millions of homes.

Once player hardware is placed under televisions, people are much more likely to buy movies in its format. In contrast, the Xbox 360 shipped with a DVD drive and offered an HD-DVD drive as an optional external add-on. This acceptance approach made it less likely that customers would go out of their way to buy an additional unit, especially for a disputed format.

There’s no telling how much of an impact this had on HD-DVD’s demise, but the Xbox 360 had a sizable lead over the PS3, and Microsoft sold a lot of them in the early stages of that console generation. It is conceivable that having so many HD-DVD drives in homes would have boosted HD-DVD purchases significantly.

How the format war ended

On February 19, 2008, Toshiba effectively threw in the towel when it announced that it would stop developing, manufacturing and marketing HD-DVD. Universal Studios, an exclusive sponsor of HD-DVD, announced the same day that its content would be coming to Blu-ray.

The entire supporting infrastructure and management structure for HD-DVD was soon disbanded and dismantled. With Blu-ray as the only format offered, it became safe for consumers to invest in a player and discs. Anyone with an HD-DVD player was an unlucky victim of this brief conflict.

Did Blu-ray really win?

While Blu-ray is the only current and possibly last physical optical media for HD content, it may have been a Pyrrhic victory. It didn’t take long after the end of the format war for online streaming to quickly eat up the market that Blu-ray would otherwise have had for itself. As bandwidth and more efficient video codecs have become faster and cheaper, the convenience of streaming or buying digital movies has taken its toll.

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X both have Ultra HD Blu-ray drives, ensuring a strong install base for the medium, and 4K TVs will become the most common resolution sooner rather than later. Still, the convenience of Internet-based services is hard to beat. Even if streaming is technically inferior when it comes to sheer quality, it seems that Blu-ray holds its own thanks to moviegoers and collectors. At the same time, paradoxically, the original DVD format remains the physical format of choice for millions of people around the world.

RELATED: Is it better to watch a 4K movie on Blu-ray or streaming?

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