Blu-ray vs HD DVD: State of the Union Division
Well, as far as HD DVD vs. Blu-ray goes, it looks like we've pretty much passed the point of no return now; with each passing day it seems less and less likely that a compromise will be reached on a next-gen format. The ongoing peace talks between the two camps, which have been on-again, off-again for months now, seem to have finally dissolved. It's disappointing, but however you feel about the fact that the HD DVD and Blu-ray factions squandered countless chances to make it right and come together, it looks like in just a few short months they're going to be duking it out mano a mano right in our livingrooms. There may not be a lot we can do to fight back - apart from refusing to adopt either format out of sheer spite of their pigheadedness - but no matter what we might as well at least arm ourselves with the knowledge necessary to understand the nature of the situation at hand.

Here's the background:

Philips's development of the Laserdisc in 1969 yielded many of the technologies Sony carried over and adopted when they eventually partnered with way back in '79 Philips to create a little something called the CD. Both companies were hard at work together once again in the early 1990s on a new high-density disc called the MultiMedia Compact Disc (MMCD -- original name, guys), but their format was more or less abandoned in favor of Toshiba's competing Super Density Disc (SD), which had the vast majority of backers at the time, such as Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Mitsubishi, Pioneer, Thomson, and Time Warner.

The two factions cut a deal, brokered by IBM president Lou Gerstner, on a new format: DVD. Toshiba wound up on top after the dust settled in 1995/1996, and Sony and Philips, who weren't cut in on the standard (and royalties) nearly as much as they'd have liked, immediately started work on a next gen system. The Professional Disc for DATA (aka PDD or ProDATA), which was based on an optical disc system Sony had already been developing in the side, would eventually become the Blu-ray disc. Toshiba, not to be outdone by its rivals Sony and Philips, also started work on a next gen system, the Advanced Optical Disc, which eventually evolved into the HD DVD. But after thirty-five years of optical audio/video disc development we're back where we were years ago: two money-grubbing would-be standards bearers swiping at one another, threatening to wreak havoc on the consumer electronics industry. Apparently history really does repeat itself.

So here's the technical nitty gritty before we drop the graphs n' charts on you. Both Blu-ray and HD DVD use the same kind of 405nm wavelength blue-violet laser, but their optics differ in two ways. Since the Blu-ray disc has a tighter track pitch (the single thread of data that spirals from the inside of the disc all the way out -- think: grooves on a 12-inch vinyl single vs. an Elvis Costello full-length album with 40 songs), it can hold more pits -- information -- on the same size disc as HD DVD even with a laser of the same wavelength.

The differing track pitch of the Blu-ray disc makes its pickup apertures differ, however -- 0.65 for HD DVD vs. 0.85 for Blu-ray -- thus also making the two pickups technically incompatible despite using the same type of lasers. HD DVD discs also have a different surface layer (the clear plastic layer on the surface of the data -- the part that collects all your fingerprints and scratches) from Blu-ray discs. HD DVD use a 0.6 mm-thick surface layer, the same as DVD, while Blu-ray has a much smaller 0.1mm layer, which enables the laser to focus at that 0.85 aperture.

Herein lies the issues associated with the higher cost of Blu-ray discs. This thinner surface layer is what makes the discs cost more; because Blu-ray discs do not share the same surface layer thickness of DVDs, costly production facilities must be modified or replaced in order to produce the discs. A special hard coating (Durabis) must also be applied to Blu-ray discs to ensure they're sufficiently resilient to protect the data that's a mere 0.1mm beneath the surface -- this also drives the cost up. The added benefit of keeping the data layer closer to the surface, however, is more room for extra layers, and way more potential data than HD DVD.

Still with us? No? Blu-ray discs are more expensive, but hold more data -- there, that's all.

So now that you know why Blu-ray discs cost more and why Sony / Philips and Toshiba are all harshing on one another so much, we can get to the really important stuff: the numbers and who's supporting who.

Update (2.15.2008): Obviously a lot's gone down in the past couple of years, specifically with regard to format support. Granted, both Blu and Red have gotten a vast number of bit players to join up as members of their respective consortiums, but content is where it counts, and as of early 2008 HD DVD is officially on the ropes.

Capacity
Blu-Ray
HD DVD
ROM single layer:
ROM dual layer:
RW single layer:
RW dual layer:
Highest test:
Theoretical limit:
23.3 / 25GB
46.6 / 50GB
23.3 / 25 / 27GB
46.6 / 50 / 54GB
100GB
200GB
Single layer:
Dual layer:
-
-
Highest test:
Theoretical limit:
15GB
30GB
-
-
45GB
60GB

Codecs
Blu-Ray HD DVD
MPEG-2
Microsoft Video Codec 1 (aka VC1, WMV HD, etc.)
H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC
Dolby Digital AC-3, DTS, linear PCM
Optional: Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD
MPEG-2
Microsoft Video Codec 1 (aka VC1, WMV HD, etc.)
H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC
Dolby Digital AC-3, DTS, linear PCM, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD
Optional: DTS HD
Security
Blu-Ray HD DVD
Mandatory HDCP encrypted output
ROM-Mark watermarking technology
BD+ dynamic crypto (physical layer)
Advanced Access Content System (AACS)
Mandatory HDCP encrypted output (for HD)
Volume identifier (physical layer)
Advanced Access Content System (AACS)

Movie studio support
Blu-Ray HD DVD
20th Century Fox
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Hollywood Pictures
Lions Gate
Miramax Entertainment
MGM Studios
New Line Cinema
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Touchstone Entertainment
The Walt Disney Company
Vivendi Universal Games
Warner Bros.
Dreamworks
Paramount Pictures
Universal Studios


Major movie rental outlets
*Still awaiting final confirmation
Blu-Ray HD DVD
Blockbuster
Netflix
Movie Gallery / Hollywood Video*
Movie Gallery / Hollywood Video*

Nationwide retail and major online support
Blu-Ray HD DVD
Amazon
Best Buy
Circuit City
Costco
K-Mart
Target (said to be mostly Blu)
Wal-Mart
Amazon
Circuit City
Costco
K-Mart
Target

Format founders
Blu-Ray HD DVD
Sony Corporation
Royal Philips Electronics
Toshiba Corporation
Hitachi Corporation

Companies listed as Members of the Board or Managing Members
Blu-Ray HD DVD
Apple, Inc.
Dell, Inc.
Hewlett Packard Company
Hitachi, Ltd.
LG Electronics Inc.
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation
Panasonic (Matsushita Electric)
Pioneer Corporation
Royal Philips Electronics
Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Sharp Corporation
Sony Corporation
Sun Microsystems
TDK Corporation
Thomson
Twentieth Century Fox
Walt Disney Pictures and Television
Warner Bros.
Memory-Tech Corporation
NEC Corporation
Sanyo Electric Co.
Toshiba Corporation

Companies listed as Members, Associate Members, or Contributors
(may include duplicates and/or subsidiaries)
Blu-Ray HD DVD
1K Studios, LLC
Acer Incorporated
Adobe Systems
Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.
Allion Test Labs, Inc.
Almedio Inc.
Alpine Electronics Inc.
Alticast
Aplix Corporation
ArcSoft, Inc.
Arima Devices Corporation
ashampoo GmbH & Co. KG
ASV Corp.
AudioDev AB
Avid Development GmbH
B&W Group
B.H.A. Corporation
BASF AG
BluFocus Inc.
Bose Corporation
Brickbox Digital Media
Broadcom Corporation
Canon Inc.
Cheertek Inc.
China Hualu Group Co., Ltd.
Cinram Manufacturing Inc.
CMC Magnetics Corporation
Corel Corporation
Cryptography Research Inc.
Custom Technology Inc.
CustomFlix Labs, Inc.
CyberLink Corp.
D&M holdings, Inc.
D-Box Technologies Inc.
Daewoo Electronics Corporation
Daikin Industries, Ltd.
DATARIUS Technologies GmbH
Daxon Technology Inc.
DCA Inc.
Deluxe Media Services Inc.
Dolby Laboratories Inc.
Dr. Schwab Inspection Technology GmbH
Dreamer Co., Ltd.
DTS, Inc.
Eclipse Data Technologies
Elpida Memory, Inc.
Esmertec
Expert Magnetics Corp.
Falcon Technologies International
FUJIFILM Corporation
Fujitsu Ltd.
Fujitsu Ten Ltd.
Funai Electric Co., Ltd.
GalleryPlayer Media Networks
Gear Software
General Members
Gibson Guitar Corp.
Global Machinery Co., Ltd.
Gowell Electronic Limited
Hie Electronics, Inc.
Hoei Sangyo Co., Ltd
Horizon Semiconductor.
IMAGICA Corp.
Imation Corp.
Info Source Multi Media Ltd.
INFODISC Technology Co., Ltd.
Infomedia Inc.
Intersil Corporation
Iwatsu Test Instruments
Kenwood Corporation
Kobe Steel Co. Ltd.
Konica Minolta Opto Inc.
Lauda Co. Ltd.
Lead Data Inc.
LEADER ELECTRONICS CORP
Lenovo
LINTEC Corporation
Lionsgate Entertainment
LITE-ON IT Corporation
Macrovision Corp.
Magnum Semiconductor, Inc.
MainConcept AG
MediaTek Inc.
Meridian Audio Ltd.
MIT Technology Co., Ltd.
Mitsubishi Kagaku Media Co.Ltd.
Mitsui Chemicals Inc.
Mitsumi Electric Co., Ltd.
Monster Cable Products
Moser Baer India Limited
MoSys Incorporated
Must Technology Co., Ltd.
MX Production Services
NEC Electronics Corporation
NEC Personal Products Ltd.
Nero
Netflix Inc.
Newtech Infosystems Inc.
NexWave Solutions
NHK Technical Services, Inc.
Nichia Corporation
Nikkatsu Corporation
NTT Electronics Corporation
nVidia Corporation
OC Oerlikon Balzer AG
Omnibus Japan Inc.
Onkyo Corporation
Online Media Technologies Ltd.
Ono Sokki Co., Ltd.
OPT Corporation
Optodisc Technology Corporation
Origin Electric Co., Ltd.
Osmosys SA
Pico House
Pixela Corporation
Plannet Associates
PoINT Software & Systems GmbH
Pony Canyon Enterprise
Primera Technology, Inc.
Prodisc Technology Inc.
Pulstec Industrial Co., Ltd.
Q-TEC, Inc.
Quanta Storage Inc.
Quantized Systems
Realtek Semiconductors
Ricoh Co., Ltd.
Rimage Corporation
Ritek Corporation
Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd.
ShibaSoku Co. Ltd.
Sigma Designs Inc.
Silicon Integrated Systems Corporation
Singulus Technologies
Sonic Solutions
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
ST Microelectronics
Sunext
Taiyo Yuden Co., Ltd.,
Targray Technology International Inc.
TEAC Corporation
Teijin Chemicals Ltd.
Texas Instruments, Inc.
The Cannery
THX Ltd.
Toei Video Company Ltd.
Toho Company, Ltd.
Toppan Printing Co., Ltd.
TOPTICA Photonics AG
Trailer Park
UmeDisc Ltd.
Universal Music Group, Inc.
Victor Company of Japan, Ltd.
VideACE Inc.
Visionare Corporation
Yamaha Corporation
Yokogawa Electric Corporation
Zentek Technology Japan, Inc.
ZOOtech Ltd.
Zoran Corporation
Acer Inc.
ACSES Co.,Ltd.
Ad Seeds Co.,Ltd
Allion Test Labs, Inc.
Almedio Inc.
Alpine Electronics, Inc.
Altech Ads Co.
ArcSoft, Inc
AudioDev AB
B.H.A Corporation
Bandai Visual Co.
BEKO Elektronik
Broadcom Corporation
Canon Inc.
CDN Corporation
Clariant Japan
CMC Magnetics Corporation
Corel Corporation
CyberLink Corp
D&M Holdings Inc.
Daikin Industries
Daiko.co,ltd.
Daxon Technology Inc.
Dedicated Devices, Inc.
DigiOn, Inc.
Digital Site Corporation
Disc Labo Corp.
Dolby Labs, Japan
Dr. Schwab Inspection Technology GmbH
DT Japan, Inc.
DTS, Inc.
Ebistrade, Inc.
Entertainment Network Inc.
Exa International
Expert Magnetics Corp.
Finepack . Co.,LTD
Flag,Inc.
Fuji Photo Film Co.
Fuji Plastic Co.
Fuji Seiki Co.
Fujitsu Limited.
Funai Electric Co.
Gear Software, Inc
Gibson Musical Instruments
GM Records
Hamamatsu Metrix co.,ltd.
Hitachi Corporation
Hitachi Maxell, Ltd.
Hoei Sangyo Co.
IDE-AVA
IMAGICA Corp.
Imation Corp
Info Source Multi Media Korea Ltd.
Infodisc Technology Co.
Intel Corporation
Itri
Jp Co., Ltd
Justsystem Corporation
Kadokawa Holdings, Inc.
Kaleidescape, Inc.
Kenwood Corporation
Kinyosha Printing Co.
Konica Minolta Opto, Inc.
Lenovo Japan
McRay Corporation
Megan Media Holdings Bhd
Microsoft Corporation
Mitomo Co., Ltd
Mitsubishi Kagaku Media Co., Ltd. / Verbatim
Mitsui Chemicals, Inc.
Moser Baer India Ltd
MPO INTERNATIONAL
Nero AG
NetBlender, Inc.
NHK Technical Services, INC.
Nichia Corporation
Nihonvtr Inc.
Nikkatsu Corporation
nixbu Entertainment GmbH & Co. KG
Oerlikon Japan Co., Ltd.
Omnibus Japan
Onken Corporation
Onkyo Corporation
Online Media Technologies Ltd.
Origin Electric Co.
Outpost FX (AB) International
Paramount Home Entertainment
Pegasys, Inc.
Pico House Co.,Ltd
Pixela Corporation
Plasmon OMS Sarl
Pony Canyon Inc.
PonyCanyon Enterprise INC.
Proboxx, Inc
Prodisc Technology Inc.
Protron Digital Inc.
Pryaid Records Inc.
Pulstec Industrial Co.
Q-Tec,Inc.
Query inc
Ricoh Co.
Ritek Corporation
Sanken Media Product Co., Ltd.
Shibaura Mechatronics Corporation
Sonic Solutions
Sonopress GmbH
Sumitomo Heavy Industries. Ltd
Super Vision, Inc.
Taiyo Yuden Co.
Teac Corporation
Teijin Chemicals Ltd.
Toei Video Co.
Toemi Media Solutions Limited
Toho Company, Limited.
tokyo laboratory ltd.
Toppan Printing Co.
Toptica Photonics AG
Toyo Recording Co.
Transmix Co.
Trendy Corporation
U-Tech Media Corp.
Ulead Systems, Inc.
Universal Pictures
Vap Inc.
Visionare Corporation
Warner Home Video Inc.

Other interesting facts:
  • The Nichi Corporation, who holds the design patents to the Blu-ray's laser system, sits as an associate member of the HD DVD Promotion Group.
  • Even though Apple sits on the Blu-ray Board of Directors, its DVD Studio Pro software supports authoring HD DVD media.
  • Blu-ray, unlike HD DVD, requires a hard coating on its discs because it's 0.5m closer to the surface. The polymer coating it uses, called Durabis, was developed by TDK and is supposedly extremely resilient and fingerprint resistant.
  • The Java platform is mandatory on Blu-ray as it's the standard for menus/multimedia (i.e. all Blu-ray systems must support JVM).
  • Microsoft, of course, did eventually side with HD DVD -- not surprising, given its number of long-standing IP cross-licensing deals with Toshiba. HD DVD systems continue to run Windows CE.
  • The first consumer Blu-ray device in the US market wound up being the Samsung BD-P1000, and not the PlayStation 3 as expected.
Version 1.5, last updated 2.15.2008

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Blu-ray vs HD DVD: State of the Division