HD DVD & Blu-ray

Scary as it may sound for consumers, I’m afraid we’re in for another format war over the next few years. After the whole confusing debacle of DVD-RAM vs. DVD-RW vs. DVD+RW, it seems like the technology industry hasn’t learned and once again consumers will be faced with two competing formats, both of which are claiming to be the next generation optical format.

Right now it’s impossible to say which format will win out, with masses of industry support for both. Blu-ray has the majority of the consumer electronics market behind it, while HD DVD has the support of the DVD Forum and backing from Toshiba and NEC. But the format has got a real shot in the arm from the fact that both Microsoft and Intel are backing it over Blu-ray.

I’m not going to go into excessive detail here about HD DVD and Blu-ray since I’ll be covering this in a separate feature, but I will touch on the basics. The basis of both these formats is that they offer high enough capacity to store high definition media. Whereas a standard DVD disc can store 4.7GB per layer, an HD DVD can store 15GB, while Blu-ray can manage a whopping 25GB. It’s this extra capacity that the Blu-ray consortium will cite as a clear superiority for the format, especially since Sony has already achieved eight layer engineering sample discs with a capacity of 200GB! The current theoretical limit on HD DVD is three layer, offering a maximum of 45GB per side, which is still 5GB short of the Blu-ray dual layer capacity.

There is of course the question of whether the extra capacity offered by Blu-ray is indeed necessary though. After all if 30GB gives you enough space to store a high definition movie encoded at a decent bit rate, with multiple soundtracks, do you really need 50GB or even 200GB? The Blu-ray camp will tell you that the extra capacity will mean a whole host of extra features like director’s commentaries, behind the scenes features, documentaries and the like, but I wonder how many average consumers would ever watch the extra features on a DVD, let alone watch hours upon hours of extras on a Blu-ray disc. I’m fairly certain that most DVD buyers will watch the movie and never once consider listening to a feature length commentary. Don’t get me wrong, I know that some people love the extras, myself included, but I think that we’re the minority.

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