Movie Format Wars

There is a long and distinguished history of format wars in the home entertainment industry. Even the original analog record was a showdown between Edison’s cylinder and Columbia disc record. Like any good format war, consumers were unable to exchange these media between two different types of hardware and eventually one of the formats won.

DvdPlayerButtonsThe high-def video market is about to be the next format battlefield. There are two prevailing technologies that stand to dominate this niche, the Blu-Ray format from Sony and the HD-DVD disc from Toshiba.

Sony has certainly learned some lessons from the media wars it has lost in the past, and they now have access to an extensive movie portfolio by virtue of owning both Columbia and TriStar Pictures along with the extensive library of movies from MGM Studios. This is an interesting tactic and has allowed Sony to accelerate the delivery of content to BluRay.

Unfortunately, this tactic didn’t help with SACD and will likely not help here either. The HD-DVD format is similar to DVD from a manufacturing perspective and will therefore be easier to mass produce than the BluRay counterpart. As such, we can expect other movie studios to embrace HD-DVD and quickly get to market with new media.

There is another significant difference, and that is the capacity of a single layer BluRay disc is 25GB and a single layer HD-DVD is only 15GB. Since it is reasonable to anticipate single layer discs as the dominant format initially, it seems clear that you will be able to store more data on a BluRay disc than an HD-DVD. What does this mean to high-def movies? It will mean your resolution is slightly diminished from 1080p on BluRay to 1080i on HD-DVD, but this is relatively minor considering there isn’t an HDTV capable of displaying 1080p at the moment.

From a format capacity standpoint, BluRay may very well be able to corner the PC market and HD-DVD will then be relegated to your living room. The fact that a multi-layer BluRay disc could store 100GB of data would make it a fantastic media for anyone looking to build offline data storage or enterprise backup systems.

Meanwhile, HD-DVD makes an excellent format for your living room HDTV and existing manufacturing facilities can get these discs into mass production quickly. Backward compatibility means that some HD-DVD discs can include both HD-DVD and DVD movies on the same media. While your PC will likely support HD-DVD playback, most users will be happy to burn BluRay discs for backup and rely on less expensive DVD discs for HD-DVD archival purposes.