Blu-ray Vs. HD DVD, a new battle of the formats?

Ah it’s like the good old days of VHS versus Beta or PC versus Mac, at last we have a new battle of the formats to look forward to, this time in the field of the next generation of optical discs. Both formats are based around a CD sized 12 cm disc, but Blu-ray has a larger storage capacity per layer at 25 gigabytes compared with the 15 gigabytes for HD DVD. This compares with 4.7 gigabytes per layer on today’s DVDs.

The name Blu-ray originates from the frequency at which the reading laser operates, being a shorter wavelength, technically a blue-violet. This wavelength allows the laser to access far more information. HD DVD’s explanation is far more prosaic, simply meaning High Definition DVD.

The Blu-ray format is being promoted by the Blu-ray Disc Association. This collection of corporate behemoths includes a number of Hollywood studios as well as those stalwarts of disc based innovation, Philips and Sony. More can be learnt about this body by clicking here.

On the face of it, Blu-ray would appear to have it all. In its favour is the greater storage capacity, the backing of a larger number of major players, but haven’t we had a situation like this before where a format of greater technical merit lost out to a less sophisticated rival? We have and there’s something important to bear in this new rivalry, it is expected that HD DVD will be slightly cheaper.

When I was younger, my father wrote articles occasionally for hi-fi magazines and then more occasionally for the then burgeoning video marketplace. My father was one of those, who could be taken for an expert. He read reviews, he considered the evidence, and he had innumerable demonstrations in shops before deciding which way the family was going to go, VHS or Betamax. You probably can guess which way this is going, he chose Beta.

Beta was better, the tapes were smaller, the picture better, though the machine, a Sanyo I believe was the size of a coffee table. Beta though didn’t sell as well in the shops and VHS continued to pull ahead until it became the de facto format, and even my father a die hard Beta fan had to accept the inevitable and purchase a VHS machine (though he did chose a Sony, the originators of the Beta format.)

VHS was cheaper than Beta, and had superior marketing. These more than made up for the quality differential. Blu-ray is going to start with at least, more expensive than HD DVD, could this mean that history repeats itself? In this case I’m inclined to think not. Where VHS also scored over Beta was in the number of companies that supported the VHS format. The Blu-ray disc association is a formidable collection of household names; taken together they should be able to convince us to pay the premium. Only time will tell.