Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 17:48 GMT
The HD format battle rumbles on
Chris Long, Reporter, BBC Click
By Chris Long
Reporter, BBC Click

Sales of high definition televisions have gone through the roof. But once you buy one, you need some high definition content to watch. But with two competing DVD formats, it is a difficult choice.

Rival DVD format stands
Blu-ray and HD DVD are still fighting for supremacy

Technically there is little to choose between the two competing formats - Blu-ray and HD DVD.

Sony and Philips are behind Blu-ray and Toshiba and Microsoft have backed HD DVD

In this fight both Microsoft and Sony are using their respective next generation games consoles as vehicles through which to promote the different formats.

Sony's PlayStation 3 has a Blu-ray drive built-in but owners of the Xbox 360 have to pay extra to get a HD DVD player for their console.

"HD DVD players are selling more than Blu-ray players but that tends to be driven on price at the moment," said Daniel Aziz, marketing manager at electronics giant LG.

"However, when you do add in the elements of games consoles the PS3 is helping to drive more sales on Blu-ray than HD DVD," he said. "We are seeing around 3:1 in favour of Blu-ray discs being sold."

PlayStation 3
The PlayStation 3 is driving sales of Blu-ray discs
When it comes to stand alone players price is the guiding issue. There are more Blu-ray players around but HD DVD drives are cheaper and prices are coming down quickly.

"Last year we launched our product at 600 euros (428)," said Oliver Van Wynendaele, a manager in Toshiba's HD DVD group. "I knew the price would go down within a year but I didn't expect it to be so fast."

"We are half the price of where we were one year ago," he said. "The DVD took three years to cut the price in half," he said.

Perhaps what is most important to know is that the quality of your high definition movie is not dependent on the format on which it is shown.

Blu-ray and HD DVD are just storage formats. And, like storage jars, they do not affect what is kept in them.

The discs vary in how much data they can carry. HD DVD holds around 30 gigabytes and Blu-ray around 50. Work is already going on to boost Blu-ray storage capacity to 200 gigabytes
The Bourne Supremacy on HD DVD and Superman on Blu-ray
Hollywood studios are releasing films on the format they prefer

Because a Blu-ray disc has more storage space than HD DVD there is extra space left after the film has been put on the platter. The extras - out-takes, features, deleted scenes - that come with today's movies typically sit in these spaces.

Features menu

And that reveals probably the most obvious difference between the two formats. The special features interface.

Blu-ray is Java-based system and the HD DVD software was developed by Microsoft.

This is where the real difference between the discs appears.

In a HD DVD movie the extras are accessible at the same time as the film with the menu selection bar coming up at the bottom of the screen when the film is playing.

The Super Multi Blue DVD Player
LG's Super Multi Blue Player plays both Blu-ray and HD DVD content
By contrast Blu-ray discs have an interface similar to a DVD where all the extras sit on a menu accessed only by stopping the movie.

Sony perhaps underestimated the importance of this menu system because it released a new version of it - called Bonus View - to match what was available on HD DVD from the beginning.

Those with older Blu-ray players can upgrade the firmware within the machine to get at these extras. This does highlight how new the technology is if owners are being asked to upgrade their electronics to cope.

With the competing formats aiming to match each other on quality of images and extras it will be down to content, which films are available, to decide a winner.

There are lots of films out in both formats but rather than releasing all their news films on both, many Hollywood studios are putting their films out in one or the other.

It is perhaps no surprise that many consumers have held back from buying any HD gear to see how the battle shakes out. Others are plumping for combo drives that play both formats.

But it could be a long time before a clear picture emerges of which format is the winner.

Sony upbeat in DVD format battle
12 Jun 07 |  Business
Toshiba raises stakes in DVD wars
10 Jun 05 |  Technology
Your Blu-ray questions answered
20 Oct 06 |  Technology
Next-generation DVD battle begins
19 Apr 06 |  Technology
November launch date for HD-DVD
04 Sep 06 |  Technology
Next generation DVD war hots up
22 Jun 06 |  Technology

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