The Blu-ray vs HD DVD Format War

Technology 7 Comments »

With news that the battle for a standard high definition format is over, for the first time since 2000 when both Sony and Toshiba began experimenting with blue lasers and optical discs, we are have an industry standard format.

The emergence of the high definition battle in 2000 was primarily down to technological advancements in blue lasers. With a shorter wavelength than red lasers which are used in standard DVD, less space is needed to record each bit of data with blue lasers, therefore enabling more information to be stored onto a DVD size disc.

As a result this extra space made high definition recording commercially viable, and such a standard format was required. This gave birth to both HD DVD and Blu-ray, with both formats engaging in an eight year battle to become the industry standard high definition format.

Backed by two of the worlds leading electronics manufacturers, each format had its advantages as discussed previously on The Shelf in numerous technology posts, but throughout the duration of the stand off there has no doubt been only one looser, the consumer.

The Format War
In 2000 Sony first unveiled its Blu-ray technology followed by the developed of Ultra Density Optical (UDO), a blue laser optical disc format that was proposed to replace magneto-optical discs.

In 2002 Toshiba then released its own high definition offering in HD DVD, resulting in two different high definition formats, resembling the video format war of VHS and Betamax.

In 2003 Sony released its first Blu-ray disc recorder in Japan, although this initial offering lacked support for pre-recorded movies making this an expensive first step to next generation video.

In 2004 Toshiba followed suit with the launch of its first HD DVD player which came inclusive of backwards compatibility to DVD, but by this time Mitsubishi, Dell and Hewlett-Packard had all already thrown their support behind Sony’s format.

Also in 2004 Sony announced plans to include its Blu-ray DVD player in its upcoming PS3, whilst Disney also publicly backed the format. At this time Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, HBO and New Line Cinema had all announced support for HD DVD.

In 2005 Sony then saw its support from Hewlett-Packard regress as the firm retracts exclusivity agreements and decided to back both formats. As talks of a joint single format inevitably got nowhere, consumers grow increasingly frustrated with the two rival formats.

Growing increasingly frustrated Paramount then later followed Hewlett-Packard in pledging support to both formats giving consumers the choice.

In 2006 Microsoft entered the frame announcing that a HD DVD add on drive would be released for the Xbox to compete with Sony’s built in Blu-ray player in the PS3, whilst and another exclusive Blu-ray agreement was altered when LG also started manufacturing a HD DVD drive.

At this point both players are commercially available; HD DVD in the form of the HD-XA1 and Sony’s Blu-ray PS3 games console is also launched.

In an effort to end the format war in 2007 LG release a duel player whilst Warner Bros releases a prototype disc which holds both HD DVD and Blu-ray layers compatible with each player.

Later that year both Paramount and DreamWorks grant exclusivity to HD DVD, whilst Sony says it will use Blu-ray Discs in all high-def video recorders in Japan.

In November 2007 Toshiba then drops the price of its HD DVD player under the magic $200 mark, as at the same time Sony begins selling a lower cost version of the PlayStation 3.

In 2008 the long running battle to find an industry standard format concluded. In January Warner Bros. announced that it will stop offering its movies on HD DVD amidst news that Blu-ray sales are out performing those of its rival.

Later that month Toshiba reduced the cost of its HD DVD players to $150 followed two weeks later by NetFlix and BestBuy announcing they will phase out HD DVD, and four days later by Walmart making the same announcement.

On February 19th Toshiba formally announced that it will phase out production of HD DVD players and recorders by the end of March 2008, surrendering the field in a long running battle with Sony’s Blu-ray.

So why was the eventual winner Blu-ray?
With all the weight of major Hollywood studios behind it Blu-ray did seal the majority of releases in its format by 2008, whether exclusive of not, but with the increasing debate about DRM software many believe it was the presence of a digital lock on movies called BD+, a far more sophisticated and resilient digital rights management system than that offered by HD DVD that secured studio backing.

“The adoption of BD+ as part of the Blu-ray disc specification was a key factor in our decision to publish on the format.” “This added layer of content protection gives Blu-ray yet another distinct competitive advantage.” Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment executive Mike Dunn

Both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats used an anti-copying system called AACS, which has already been cracked; but Blu-ray employs BD+ as an extra layer of protection. BD+ is optional, not all Blu-ray discs use it, and has not yet been compromised, despite claims to the contrary.

Many also believe that the death of Blu-ray was more of a suicide than a death, and on Tuesday it was a Blu-ray bigwig who was the latest person to lay such a claim.

Not down to technical standards or studio support, it is claimed that Toshiba’s decision to offer sale price on HD DVD hardware in November 2007 sealed the formats fate.

“I guess what sealed Toshiba’s fate was its $99 pricing on Black Friday [in the US]. That pricing must have discouraged every manufacturer from entering the HD DVD player market.” - Masayuki Kozuka, a planner for Panasonic’s

“I believe Chinese manufacturers’ entry to the US market was [the] HD DVD supporters’ last hope. Given the market price at $99, however, it became impossible for any other manufacturer but Toshiba to enter the market.” – Masayuki Kozuka, a planner for Panasonic’s

What ever claims are made about Blu-rays triumph the reason for its success is no doubt a culmination of a few of them. Blu-ray does have enhanced DRM management, has tackled interactivity issues where HD DVD was initially superior, and Toshiba no doubt did devalue there own product in trying to get market share, where as Sony created an established customer base with the inclusion of Blu-ray in its PS3 consoles.

One thing is for sure however, those who rushed out and bought a HD DVD player for nearly £450 when first released will be undoubtedly disappointed about Toshiba’s pull-out.

Brain Controlled Neuro-Headset Set : Gaming Revolution

Gaming, Technology No Comments »

I read an article today which demonstrated the latest development in gaming technology, a device which allows gamers to interact with virtual worlds using only their thoughts and emotions. The technology is called a neuro-headset and interprets the interaction of neutrons in the brain, and is due to go on sale in the latter part of 2008.

In the past year gamers have already seen the Nintendo Wii expand the market for gamers with the introduction of a motion control interface, but the neuro-headset is an even bigger leap forward, the prospect of which is sure to get gamers foaming in anticipation of its release.

Designed by Emotive, the neuro-headset is able to identify over 30 different emotions, expressions and actions.

“It picks up electrical activity from the brain and sends wireless signals to a computer” said Emotiv’s president Tan Le.

In this technology Emotiv has successfully created a brain computer interface, a technology with the capability of reading electrical impulses and translating them into commands that a computer game can interpret.

Beyond the gaming industry and the idea of controlling characters in virtual environments through only brain activity, many are excited about the wide range of applications a technology such as this could have.

Brain computer interface based technology will no doubt play an important component in the future 3D internet as well as the future of virtual communication, and as the technology develops it may well be possible to shape music and atmosphere around the emotions of the individual users across a platform of different media.

With limited news released, The Shelf will be sure to follow this story up as it unfolds.

PlayDigital Offers DRM Free Downloads

Music, Piracy 20 Comments »

Launching an online music download store has been a popular online money maker with the rise of portable mp3 players, and with that, online retailer is the latest company to announce that it has launched such a service, but this time with a difference – its downloads are DRM free.

Providing music tracks without digital right management copy protection will allow customers of PlayDigital to download tracks and albums onto most mp3 devices. Tracks with DRM are restricted to what players that they can be played on, and can even be restricted to a set amount of plays.

Amazon has released a similar service in the US offering DRM free music to its customers. Amazon did have plans to launch in the UK, but PlayDigital is now the first DRM free music download service to enter the UK market.

With the launch of PlayDigital, Jersey based is challenging the dominance of Apples iTunes service in the UK with Apple selling tracks with DRM included. Tracks bought without DRM from PlayDigital will not only be cheaper but can be played on more mp3 devices including Apple iPods.

The DRM free songs that are to be offered initially are made up from records from the catalogues of EMI, with expansion planned throughout the services first six months pending major deals with other record labels enabling PlayDigital to sell their DRM free music tracks.

Top 100 tracks will be available for 65p as opposed to 79p on iTunes, with albums available from £4.95.

Orange and T-Mobile Launch Mobile TV Service

Mobile, Technology No Comments »

Plans of a joint pilot project between mobile operators Orange and T-Mobile have been announced that will provide a multi-channel TV service to mobile users in the west London area in late 2008.

The pilot service will be broadcast using NextWave Wireless UMTS MBMS based TDtv solution, meaning a mobile handset with TDtv technology will be required. Equipped handsets will be able to receive up to 24 channels of high resolution TV as well as 10 digital radio stations.

The pilot scheme will demonstrate how the cost of providing high quality mass market mobile TV and multimedia broadcast services can be significantly when mobile operators share widely-available unpaired 3G spectrum and a standards-based TDtv broadcast network.

Such unpaired 3G spectrums are available in over 50 other countries, and so will demonstrate an innovative model that can be easily replicated. It also hopes to prove there is a demand from mobile customers for such services.

The channels that are expected to be included in the line up are thought to include the most popular broadcast channels in the UK.

Orange and T-Mobile are two of the operators that currently have mobile TV offerings in the UK, but that is currently restricted to low resolution streamed content.

“The results from the technical trial of TDtv in Bristol last year were extremely encouraging, and this joint pilot of the service in London is an excellent opportunity for us to properly explore the great potential available to our customers from the technology,” said Orange’s product and innovation director, Paul Jevons, on Tuesday.

Government Turns Up Heat On ISP’s and Online Piracy

The Interwebs 3 Comments »

In the latest step to curb music piracy in the UK, the government is considering plans to cut internet access to users who continually download copyrighted music and films illegally.

A Green Paper, part of a draft consultation due for release next week, has suggested that should the plans go ahead, internet service providers would be required to take action against customers who accessed pirated material.

Within the proposed plans it has been suggested that users who regularly break copyright laws will face a ‘three strike’ policy, which after prior warning would result in the termination of their broadband contract with the internet service provider.

Having previously been explored on The Shelf, music piracy has been of growing concern for music and film companies that claim illegal downloads cost them millions of pounds in lost revenues. In previous attempts to combat the problem file sharing legislation was proposed back in October 07 to up the pressure on internet service providers. This it seem is a step to clamp down on the individual users infringing on copyright laws too.

It has been suggested that with such legislation, internet service providers that did not enforce the proposed rules would face prosecution, and customer details made available to courts to ensure civil proceedings could take place.

It seems that this draft, although targeting end users who illegally download, does add further pressure on ISP to come to an agreement with the entertainment industry on ways to control illegal file sharing.

Although talks are ongoing so far they have failed to secure any commitments on the policing illegal activity. With a voluntary scheme only in its early stages it seems the government is growing impatient and is once again willing to increase the pressure on both parties with the threat of legislation.

It seems though for now a voluntary policy scheme is the preferred option for both parties at the table, and whether any legislation proposals make it further than draft stages will no doubt depend on whether there are any developments here in the near future.

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