The war between the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats


After visiting the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies 2006 in Japan, it seems to me that the cold war between the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc (BD) isn’t going to end anytime soon.

Both the Blu-ray Disc Association and the HD DVD Promotion Group must find their own way out of this situation, because while both are engaged in a tough battle, they must also race against time, since other technologies could emerge to steal the market away if they are unable to establish themselves in the home-theatre scene.

The HD DVD-makers have taken the lead in terms of both the hardware and software, but the movie companies are still waiting to see how the situation develops, so there are not many titles available.

Recently, HD DVDs were released for new animations such as “Brave Story”, from Warner Bros, which will be marketed on November 23, as well as some TV series. But the rest are old movies, although there are some that were co-released with DVDs.

Meanwhile, there aren’t enough Blu-ray titles on the market for consideration, although the manufacturers are planning about five to six titles per month. Titles like “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Producers” will be released in mid-November.

By studying the HD systems of both sides, it is clear that they aren’t hoping for much success in the home entertainment business, but rather are heading for HD recorders, instead of just players, as well as the computer market, which allows the systems to be used to their fullest capacity.

Hollywood Studios are also not confident about piracy prevention, so movies are not being released as quickly as anticipated.

I think that this year, the scenario for players and discs will be dimmer. If the makers can’t create a synergy between the two systems, then they will have to maintain this parallel movement. The manufacturers will lose out, as well as consumers.

Hollywood is not choosing sides, but wants to make sure of its own benefits – and the format that is more effective in tackling piracy. The BD format has a sophisticated anti-piracy system, so we will have to wait to see whether it becomes as successful as expected.

Sony is the inventor and leader of the BD format and has decided to produce a BD recorder, spelling an end to negotiation between the company and the Blu-ray Disc Association. Sony’s action effectively rules out a synergy of formats, and play-only BD players are of no interest to consumers.

Sony has tried to find more use from the Blu-ray disc’s 50GB memory space, so its BD recorder is filled with recording technology, timer technology and 1080-pixel resolution. There is also a 250GB or 500GB hard disc. The new Sony BD recorder will be launched on December 16.

Meanwhile, Sony’s BDP-S1 BD player will be marketed before the recorder (on October 25) and will cost about Bt40,000, which is higher than Toshiba’s HD-DVD, while the recorder will cost about Bt100,000.

Most BD manufacturers (Panasonic and its affiliates) are eyeing the computer market by designing the Blu-ray Rom Drive for desktop computers in Japan.

This means that they’re unsure about the market for BD in the initial stages, and are entering the computer market as a good means of reducing the risks of the home-theatre market. There is also bigger volume in the computer market.

This is an advantage, since HD-DVD manufacturers are still not selling an HD-DVD Rom drive. Toshiba, however, has incorporated an HD-DVD Rom drive into its notebook computers, offering the ultimate laptop computer.

Toshiba has also made a portable HD-DVD Rom drive that can be conveniently hooked to a regular PC or notebook via a USB cable. Its price, when it is launched in November, should be about the same as the BD players.

There is a distinct possibility that consumers will choose one format for home entertainment use and the other for computer use. But, since there is still no way of exchanging information between the two formats, the market for both remains gloomy.

If the BD player is launched later this month, then we might be able to see which format has the edge.

While monitors, such as LCD or plasma TVs, have already reached the 1,080-pixel resolution level, neither the BD nor HD-DVD format has been so active. Both types of players are still compatible with conventional DVDs, due to the small number of titles available in each format.

With offence and defence being shared by both formats, it will take until 2007 before we can predict what will happen next.

By Wijit Boonchoo

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