The Blu-ray vs HD DVD Format War

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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.


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