The Blu-ray/HD-DVD Format Battle

Blu-ray and HD-DVD are the future for data and video, but industry infighting and lack of a single standard may slow broad adoption. Although Blu-ray is likely to

June 20, 2007

6 Min Read
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The DVD-VIDEO and CD formats were some of the most successful technologies ever to hit the market. They made it into nearly every home and quickly supplanted their tape-based predecessors. They demonstrated that tech industry cooperation can be a huge boon to enterprises and consumers alike. Then the DVD Forum, the consortium responsible for the DVD format, fractured over that format. It spawned DVD-R while an opposing association spawned DVD+R. The split created a huge mess for customers, but that was solved by drives that can read both formats.

After the DVD format debacle, it seemed that there was no way the industry could split again. Yet here we are with two competing next-generation formats: HD-DVD from the DVD Forum and Blu-ray from the Blu-ray Disc Association. These two groups are guilty of putting first-to-market status and profit ahead of their customers.

Why does it matter that there are two formats? Competition is healthy, right? It matters because companies will have to choose between the two, and a format war means there is the possibility of picking the Betamax equivalent.Unfortunately for enterprises wanting to invest in this new technology right away, there's no way to ensure protection against a quick trip to obsolescence. We recommend keeping an eye on the prospects and technology behind HD-DVD and Blu-ray, but wait until the market shakes out before making an investment.


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Format Evolution

There are good business reasons, especially for small and midsize enterprises, to take advantage of the huge data capacity of HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Data transfers, backups and archiving can all be done more efficiently because of the huge data capacities of these next-generation formats. But a big factor that companies need to consider is the sheer difficulty in changing media. For years the floppy disk dominated as the medium of choice, even when it was clear that it was insufficient in both speed and capacity, because of the virtually universal installed base. Eventually, Compact Disc largely replaced floppies and has been a default format for years; any replacement for it faces the same hurdles CD faced on its path to replace floppies.

HD-DVD (High-Definition DVD) uses a red 650-nanometer laser to read and write disks. The current capacity of HD-DVD is 15 GB per layer. A dual-layer, single-sided HD-DVD has a capacity rating of 30 GB (greater capacity is likely in the future). The laser technology used in HD-DVD equipment is the same laser used in past DVD formats such as DVD-Video and DVD+/-R. The main selling point for HD-DVD is its backward compatibility with existing players, ubiquitous and inexpensive laser, and the fact that manufacturers need to make only a small change to press HD-DVDs.For enterprises, HD-DVD's big advantage is simply its backward compatibility. That, combined with the availability of DVD drives in modern servers, make the idea of a greater capacity format that can be read in existing drives very appealing. However, neither HD-DVD media for data nor drives are currently available, and so pricing is unknown.

HD-DVD's main competitor is Blu-ray, named for the blue-violet 405-nm laser it uses. A singled-sided, single-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 25 GB of data; a single-sided, dual-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 50 GB of data (as with HD-DVD, greater capacity is likely in the future). Because of the shorter wavelength, a Blu-ray disc can hold more data than its red-laser counterpart. A Blu-ray rewriteable single-layer disc costs $17 to $25, versus less than a dollar for data DVD or CD media. And Blu-ray discs cannot be read in a standard DVD player. In addition, manufacturers of Blu-ray media need to purchase expensive new mastering equipment to produce Blu-ray discs for data or video. There are Blu-ray data writers on the market for standard PCs and servers with 5.25-inch slots, but they are very expensive ($500 to $650) and all first-generation products.

Problems, Period

Although both formats offer significantly more data capacity than standard DVD and the promise of easier media storage, quite a few servers out there still don't even have DVD drives, let alone one of these extremely new formats. The universal optical format for most enterprises is the CD, with its paltry 700-MB capacity. The sheer number of machines with CD drives eclipses DVD and leaves little hope that HD-DVD or Blu-ray can make enterprise inroads in the near future.

The DVD+R/DVD-R format wars ended not because one technology gained dominance, but because manufacturers produced drives that could handle both formats. This is certainly a likely outcome for the HD-DVD/Blu-ray format wars as well, but that will take time. There is a perception by equipment manufacturers that there might still be a "winner" in this format war.


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For enterprises interested in only the data aspects of HD-DVD and Blu-ray, the proper course of action right now is to do nothing. Pundits are trying to use sales of HD-DVD and Blu-ray video equipment and movies as an indicator of who is winning the format war. The truth of the matter is that only high-end video enthusiasts are purchasing these products, and these early sales are unlikely to determine the eventual winner, if there even is one. Enterprises should sit tight and wait for the first generation of HD-DVD data writers to appear and for subsequent generations of Blu-ray data drives to come out. All of the equipment available today carries a hefty price tag and the stink of first-generation engineering. n

Steven J. Schuchart Jr. is Network Computing's managing technology editor. He was formerly an analyst for competitive intelligence firm Current Analysis. Write to him at [email protected].

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