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HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray: The Next Format War


First came the battle between VHS and Betamax for the home video market. Betamax tapes had superior image quality, but were more costly than VHS; the Betamax format is now extinct. Next came the much quieter battle between Sony and Philips' MMCD format and the SD format backed by a host of companies, including Toshiba, Matsushita (Panasonic) and Time-Warner. The first of these "format wars" ended with a clear victor after years of costly struggle; the second ended in a compromise which gave birth to the DVD format as we know it today.

We are now in the midst of another format war, this time over the future of in-home high-definition media. On one side is HD-DVD, a format created by Toshiba and NEC; on the other side is Blu-Ray, created by Sony, Matsushita, and Philips. Each format has significant backing, and the first consumer units are scheduled to be released within months. It is no longer a question of which format is "better." The debate now is about which format will catch on faster, and therefore win.


The HD-DVD format, developed and proposed by Toshiba and NEC, was introduced to the DVD Forum in November of 2003 and approved as the next-generation DVD format. The DVD Forum was founded by the companies involved in the original DVD format war to make sure that compromises could be reached regarding the future of the format. Since Blu-Ray was never submitted for consideration, it could not be approved or rejected by the DVD Forum.

HD-DVD discs, at the time of this writing, promise a single-layer capacity of 15 gigabytes, or over three times that of single-layer DVDs. They accomplish this by using a blue-violet laser with a shorter wavelength than the red laser used in current DVD drives. This means that discs can have information more tightly packed on the disc, enabling far greater storage capacity on the same size disc. Dual-layer discs are capable of holding 30GB, and Toshiba has announced a prototype three-layer disc with a capacity of 45GB. These discs are capable of holding between two and five hours of high-definition video with audio track.

The primary advantage of this format is a low manufacturing cost. Since HD-DVD media is so technically similar to standard DVD media (it uses the same layer thicknesses as DVD, made of similar materials), the discs can be produced with only a slight modification to existing manufacturing lines. This appealed to many companies, and led to an early rush of support from several large studios. Current supporters of HD-DVD include Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo, and Microsoft, in addition to New Line Cinema, Paramount, Universal, Time-Warner, and the official approval of the DVD Forum.

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