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Intermittent Issues:
HD and the Format Wars (2002-2005) Part 2

By Ben Gruchow

July 27, 2015

This battle is not as close as you might think.

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Part 2 of a 4-part series on the advent of HD cinema.


Welcome back. We pick up where we left off in Part 1, which involved the genesis, development, and growing acrimony between parties as to which direction to take HD in for an optical consumer format. The two parties consisted of Sony, Columbia, Disney, and 20th Century Fox with the Blu-ray disc; and Toshiba, Universal, Warner Bros., and Paramount with HD-DVD. When we last left them, all negotiations to attempt a compromise and consolidated HD format had failed, and both formats were ramping up for release.


The Format War

Here’s the funny thing in all of this: Blu-ray and HD-DVD, when it came right down to it, really weren’t very dissimilar at all. Both formats utilized the blue-violet laser diode and the 405 nm wavelength; both formats were ultimately planned to offer dual-layer capacity. HD-DVD had the advantage of using a more familiar structure for pressing data; Blu-ray offered more raw storage space (in theory). The differences between the two formats were far more political than they were functional, but I think we’ve probably covered that enough. What it came down to, in the real world, was how each format was deployed.

HD-DVD was out first in April of 2006. The initial wave of releases included The Last Samurai, Million Dollar Baby, The Phantom of the Opera, and Serenity. Blu-ray followed that August with 50 First Dates, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, Twister, Underworld: Evolution, xXx, The Fifth Element, and The Terminator.




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Out of the gate, Blu-ray faltered considerably against HD-DVD in a qualitative sense. None of this had much to do with anything inherent to the Blu-ray format; prices for HD-DVD discs were perhaps slightly lower than Blu-ray, but you can easily chalk that up to aggressive marketing. It was instead down to an asterisk that Sony had left out of their talking points, and to smarter utilization of the HD-DVD storage space. The asterisk had to do with disc layers.

Blu-rays did not ship with a caddy, in order to maintain a familiar form factor. A Blu-ray on Day One of release looked identical to a DVD or CD. However, the underlying reason for the caddy’s existence hadn’t been addressed; the wider aperture of the laser lens meant more precise focus and more storage space, but it also meant that the data had to reside significantly closer to the disc’s surface than for CDs, DVDs - or even HD-DVDs, which utilized an aperture only slightly wider than a standard DVD’s. This left the Blu-ray disc more susceptible to damage, but it also meant that even a single-layer, 25-gigabyte disc was more prone to both manufacturing errors and read errors, due to less wiggle room when it came to divots on the layer. This was an issue that was mostly down to Blu-ray being a new technology, and new technology will almost always produce a lower yield of usable product at first.


Continued:       1       2       3       4       5       6       7

     


 
 

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