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HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray - What it's about

By Robert B.

Perhaps you've heard about this epic battle being waged over the next format of DVD Ė HD DVD vs Blu-Ray. Well, maybe it's not epic or a battle for that matter, but it's an important development for optical disks. While the disk's physical dimensions will remain the same, these next generation discs have the ability to store many times the data that current DVD's store.

For those of you old enough to remember (I'm not), this brings back memories of the Betamax vs VHS battle.

Basically, the newest generation of DVD formats take advantage of a concept of light, so here's a lesson from those old physics classes.

Current DVDs use a red light laser, next generation discs (Blu-Ray and HD DVD) will use a blue light laser to read and write data. Because blue light has a shorter wave length (405nm vs. 650nm) than red light, more information can be stored on the same area of a disc. Make sense?

For example, current DVDs can store about 4.7gb of data, while a single layer HD DVD can store 15gb and a single layer Blu-Ray DVD can store 25gb of data. I won't get into DVD's with multiple layers or data on both sizes. Basically these DVDs can have multiple layers of data, with each layer able to store the above mentioned capacities.

Another feature being touted by both next generation DVD formats are improved security features to combat piracy and unauthorized coping. These are often a boon for the studios, but a pain to consumers that like to backup or stream their DVDs across the house. I personally don't understand the various security formats and features enough to make a recommendation on which is better.

But one would think that Blu-Ray is the natural choice because of the larger capacity and a typical 2 hour High-Definition movie takes up about 25gb of space.

However, because of the technology and coating required for Blu-Ray discs is more complicated than HD DVD discs, Blu-Ray discs will be more expensive to manufacture. In addition, 2 layers of data on HD DVDs can easily make up the difference. Let's not forget to mention that HD DVD is officially backed by the DVD Forum, an alliance that carries a lot of clout in the field.

At the moment, it appears that every major studio is either backing only one format or both. Iíll hesitate to say which studios are backing which format, as it often changes on a weekly basis. As a result, this battle isn't likely to sort itself out for sometime.

In mid-2006, HD DVD and Blu-Ray DVD players/burners began to hit the market, albeit with a price tag close to $1000 each. They're certainly not in the price range for the mainstream user, however the debut of the Sony Playstation 3 with a built in Blu-Ray reader will likely give the format more presence in living rooms across the world. It's rumored that Sony will sell the gaming systems at a loss because it is the main developer of the Blu-Ray technology.

For some time, it's likely that most movies will be available in the current DVD standard, Blu-Ray, and HD-DVD. However, how long the HD DVD vs Blu-Ray battle will last is up in the air. It will cost more for the studios to make discs in both formats and more for consumers whom will likely buy more expensive DVD players that support both formats.

In the mean time, unless youíre willing to risk purchasing an expensive piece of equipment that could be useless if the format it supports loses, I recommend you tread carefully with these new digital media formats. It's too close to call.