More chips in the HD DVD facade

Paramount, one of two major studios on the fence (the other is Warner), releasing both formats, seems to be leaning toward Blu-ray with some of their newer released. They’ve begun to take advantage of Blu-ray’s capacity advantage over HD DVD. On August 28th, Blades of Glory will be their first title with a lossless/uncompressed soundtrack, with PCM 5.1 – only on BD. The HD DVD release won’t get it. Two weeks later Face/Off gets high-definition extras – again, only on BD. The HD DVD release won’t – apparently due to the lack of room.

The recent Flags of Our Fathers release also saw a high bitrate AVC encode on the Blu-ray version.

This is a switch from the early days when Paramount would give HD DVD VC-1 encodes and Dolby Digital Plus audio, while they dumped the same title on BD in MPEG-2 with just Dolby Digital. It looks like they’re really starting to treat Blu-ray right, and use the advantages the format brings to provide superior releases.

And Optimum Home Entertainment, a UK distributor that was formerly in the HD DVD camp, announced Blu-ray releases of Wold Creek, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Host due November 12th. So they’re now supporting both formats.

A lot of HD DVD fans have said how none of these announcements mean the end for HD DVD, and I agree. Just because Blockbuster went Blu doesn’t mean the end. Or just because BJ’s Wholesale Club or Woolworths won’t be selling HD DVD. But all of these stuff adds up. More and more we’re seeing retailers pulling back from HD DVD, if not directly embracing BD exclusively. And more and more content providers and studios are announcing Blu-ray exclusivity – and we’re not seeing that for HD DVD. Now we have a former HD DVD exclusive vendor adding BD. Most people still shop, and rent, in stores – and I say that as a geek that buys just about everything online and has for years. Online rentals are a small part of the market. ‘E-tail’ doesn’t even come close to retail. So the ‘it is still available on the web’ argument is really quite weak.

Death by a thousand cuts is still death. HD DVD needs to die so we can put an end to this war and heal the split in the market.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • HDTiVo

    I’d like to know if blu-ray winning the format war will affect the strength of MS WMV-DRM in the download world.

    If there were a shift in console market share toward PS3, could another format dominate and lead to a shift in the download mix?

  • megazone

    Perhaps – but MS DRM is used widely. Amazon Unbox uses it (for non-TiVo), Akimbo uses it, Microsoft uses it, I think Movielink may use it. It is the dominant DRM for online video purchasing and rental. Apple, of course, uses FairPlay.

    I don’t know if Sony would just take the easy way and use MS DRM, or develop their own. I’m not sure what they use on their Connect music downloads – or whatever it is called now.

  • Mr. Tangent

    Hear hear!

    I personally have not (and will not) buy any HD-DVD or Blu-Ray titles until this whole format war subsides. And I’m an early adopter and a spendthrift by and large. So I’m the person that these people are really wanting to buy their titles (i.e. target market). Until the war is over I won’t support either side (although, for the sake of full disclosure, I did buy a PS3 but I won’t buy a Blu-Ray disc… yet).

    It’s puzzling why Toshiba (et al.) and Sony (et al.) could not rectify the differences (and they are minor, technically speaking, considering they’re both relying on blue wavelength lasers and the familiar optical disc) and agree on one format. In the end, they’re costing themselves *billions* of dollars because the consumers are confused and hesitant to repeat what is essentially another VHS/Betamax war. No one wants to be in the position of having the Betamax player of old (although most people don’t know that Betamax actually did live on, but only used by professionals).

    I’m not blaming either camp since all parties are guilty — and I DO want to see Blu-Ray win and I DO think it is the superior format for its greater storage capabilities alone — but Sony is sometimes so bullheadedly stubborn (and arrogant). The original Betamax format aside, they’ve routinely created their own formats and not really taken the time to standardize them with the industry at large, relying on their stature and influence to muscle them through the market; witness Minidisc and UMD for two obvious examples.

    If Sony were more conciliatory they would have swallowed their pride — knowing that in doing so greater profits could be reaped (not to mention a less confusing myriad of formats for the consumer to navigate) — and standardized their formats and opened them up for other manufacturers. This only relates peripherally to Blu-Ray, since it is standardized and is adopted by multiple companies (more so than HD-DVD in fact), but the fact remains that Sony sometimes does themselves a disservice by how they (try to) force proprietary formats on the consumer. As it relates to HD-DVD/Blu-Ray, however, both parties (Toshiba/Sony) are equally to blame for the current quagmire that is this generation’s format war.

    With all that said, I am firmly in the Blu-Ray camp, feel it is the superior format and wish that HD-DVD will continue to be marginalized at a fast pace and die as quickly as possible. Having two formats is only costing the industry large sums of money and causing headache for the consumer.

  • megazone

    I don’t blame you for not buying either one yet – a lot of people are doing that. And that’s the problem with the format war. Personally I tell people to either not buy either one, or buy just Blu-ray. Buying HD DVD just prolongs the war. Because of the way the sides formed, there is simply no hope at all that HD DVD will ‘win’ and BD will go away. That just will not happen, ever. Sony alone is enough to keep BD on the market – between the PS3, Sony electronics, Sony PCs, and Sony Picturues, Sony Music, MGM, and their other studios. But Fox and Disney also have shown no signs at all of supporting HD DVD, and, in fact, have made some rather negative comments about it.

    So the only real possibilities are BD winning and HD DVD going away, or the war ending in an uneasy truce with both formats persisting indefinitely. Which isn’t good for *anyone* as dual-format players are inherently more expensive – due to the need for dual-licensing, as well as needed two lenses (one for BD, one for HD DVD), or a more expensive lens that handles both. Plus the need for software to handle both formats. It isn’t good for retailers because they have to deal with two formats. Studios have to pick a side or do both. Manufacturing doesn’t get the same economies of scale as production is split. It is an all-around loss.

    If you look at the BD/HD DVD category posts here they go back to before either format was released, and I talk about the, then-pending, format war. I didn’t really expect it to happen. I really thought the two sides would come to an agreement to avoid the war. And in the end I really expected Toshiba to blink in their game of chicken and not bring HD DVD to market. And I was, unfortunately, wrong.

    I don’t agree that both sides are to blame though – I squarely blame the HD DVD camp, and mainly Toshiba. From very early on it was clear than the BDA was picking up more members and Toshiba was failing to sign on allies. The group that became the BDA repeatedly extended invitations to Toshiba to join, and were repeatedly rebuffed. Obviously I don’t know what went on in the back rooms and all, but in public the proto-BDA was very open and encourages the HD DVD folks to join. The fundamental issue seems to be money. Toshiba has a lot of patents on the tech in DVDs – and by extension, HD DVD. So they many revenue off those licenses. BD is a new format and they don’t have the same rights. That’s why Toshiba was so adamant on pushing the DVD-based system – money.

    If Toshiba joined the BDA they wouldn’t make the same revenue on licensing. And, apparently, Toshiba decided to play all-or-nothing with the market. They thought they could kill BD in the market with HD DVD and then control the format, and make more licensing revenue. The risk, of course, is that HD DVD dies and they lose big because they didn’t contribute to BD and thus don’t have their licenses involved. So this is a high-stakes game for Toshiba, more than anyone, and that’s why they’re digging in their heels and subsidizing players, doing anything they can to find *some* niche for HD DVD, instead of yielding. It is fairly clear that they gambled wrong, and now their only hope is to fracture the market and establish HD DVD as a secondary format and hope player makers make more dual-format players so they can license HD DVD to them. And whatever studios back HD DVD will have to license it as well.

    BD and HD DVD are really almost *identical* in every way but two. One is the physical disc. They’re both 120mm, with an 80mm variant – just like CD and DVD. HD DVD is just like DVD – it is two .6mm platters, back to back. Each side can have 2 data layers (3 with Toshiba’s experimental design). The fact that HD DVD uses the same format and materials as DVD means it can be produced on the same presses, with minor changes. But it also limits the data density of the disc – the data can’t be packed as tightly, so they only get 15GB per layer. Toshiba’s experimental design pushes this to 17GB.

    BD has a 1.1mm backing layer, and a .1mm coating, and uses different materials. This provides better optical qualities, allowing data to be packed more tightly. This gives 25GB per layer – actually the specs had three densities, 23.5GB, 25GB, and 27GB, but 25GB seems to be what the industry settled on as the norm. And this is conservative – experimental discs have pushed this to 50GB per layer. (100GB dual-layer discs.) The thing is, higher densities need more precise optics and drives, which makes them more expensive. 25GB was a compromise point in cost/capacity. It is easier to just add layers – 50GB dual-layer is standard, but 100GB 4-layer and even 200GB 8-layer discs have been tested. BD has a lot of potential – HD DVD doesn’t.

    The other major difference is the interactive system.

    BD uses BD-Java aka BD-J. This is a Java profile that allows for some fairly sophisticated functionality, as it is a full programming platform. BD-J is based on other standards already in use worldwide. Many set-top boxes around the world run MHP, Multimedia Home Platform, or its evolution GEM, Globally Executable MHP. These standards form the basis for ACAP – Advanced Common Application Platform – which is part of the ATSC broadcast digital TV system in the US. As well as OCAP – OpenCable Application Platform – which is used by digital cable systems in the US. And there are others. So BD-J is in good company, and shares a lot with standards used in millions of STBs around the world, many of them made by the same vendors who also make BD players. So you can see why it appeals – they have working knowledge of the system.

    Toshiba decided to reinvent the wheel. Toshiba was already working with Microsoft on various efforts, and they ended up creating a new system for interactive features called HDi (formerly iHD, which I think looks better too). HDi is an XML-based scripting system that uses ECMAScript (aka JavaScript), CSS, SMIL, and other web standards. But it brings them together in a new way and there are changes. It is a new system or systems, and it doesn’t have the raw potential of BD-J as as programming platform.

    This was the other big sticking point in combining the two efforts. Many of the BDA members were happy with BD-J and opposed adding HDi to BD as it would add more complexity and cost to the players, as they’d have to support both. There was too much backing for BD-J to replace it with HDi. Keep in mind there are likely to be combination receivers/BD players/recorders, so systems may need to support GEM and BD-J or OCAP and BD-J, etc, which means they can really be handled with one engine since they share a lot. That wouldn’t be possible with HDi.

    This is also why Microsoft refused to back BD and backed HD DVD. Microsoft hates Java with a passion, and they don’t want to have to license and include a Java-based system in Windows to natively support BD. Or in their XBox 360. But since they own it, they include HDi in Windows Vista and have it available free for XP, and it is in the 360, of course.

    Well, there are a couple of other differences – BD has more content protection. Both BD and HD DVD use AACS as their basic content protection, with basically identical implementations. But BD adds two more featutes – ROM Mark and BD+. BD’s inclusion of these helped sway studios like Disney and Fox into the BD camp.

    Otherwise, BD and HD DVD use the same lasers and the same audio and video codecs. There are some differences between the two on what audio codecs are mandatory for players to support and which are optional, but in reality it isn’t much of a difference.

    Basically you can encode content for HD DVD and drop it onto BD as is – but not necessarily vice-versa as BD has more capacity so you might have content too large for HD DVD.

    If you really want BD to win – I’d suggest buying movies for your PS3. What ways the market is dollars. The more retailers see BD leading, the more they’ll push the format – and the more HD DVD is marginalized. The more studios see BD selling, the more likely they are to back BD exclusively. And, the big one, the more BD out-sells HD DVD, the more likely Universal is to drop their HD DVD exclusivity. Universal is the linchpin for HD DVD. As the only major studio backing HD DVD exclusively, they’re single-handedly keeping the format alive. If people could get all of their movies on BD, they’d have no reason to buy HD DVD players at all. Right now the majority of content is on BD, but if you want anything from Universal, including NBC TV series and their other TV networks, it is only on HD DVD.

    The best way to get Universal to crack is to hurt them in the wallet. Don’t buy their HD DVDs, and buy BDs from other studios. If the other studios are seen to be profiting from BD more than Universal is from HD DVD, they’ll be under pressure to switch, or at least do both – not the least of the pressure would be from their own shareholders. Once Universal releases titles on BD, it is really over. Even if they kept release HD DVD, there would be no real reason to buy them.

  • Mr. Tangent

    Great retort, megazone. I spoke too hastily in my original post with regard to abstaining from buying Blu-Ray titles. While I haven’t yet bought one, I intend on buying Blu-Ray in the future. Ideally I would like to punish both sides for their respective roles in this format debacle, but I am thoroughly sold on high definition content. DVD is, generally-speaking, of questionable quality visual-wise and therefore I will invest soon in HD content. Almost everything I want in the immediate future is on Blu-Ray (the upcoming Bladerunner Ultimate Collector’s Edition, Oldboy, etc.) with the BIG exception of Season 1 of Heroes, which is HD-DVD only. :(

    In lieu of buying lots of HD content, I did sign up for the HD package on my cable and am going to set my Netflix to send me Blu-Ray movies when available instead of DVD soon (they also have an HD-DVD option, but I would abstain even if I had a player for aforementioned reasons of not wanting to support that format). If Netflix reports their numbers (and more people sign up to have Blu-Ray titles sent instead of HD-DVD) this could conceivably help tip the balance of power in Blu-Ray’s favor, much like what happened recently with Blockbuster supporting only Blu-Ray in stores.

  • HDTiVo

    To mention another, Vongo uses WMV DRM. I never know what to call it; MS DRM, WMDRM, protected WMV?

    Anyway, similar to the BD/HD-DVD format war, I think it is important to settle on a DRM standard. Doing so will reduce the costs of players and content distribution. While not as great a difference as buying two physical boxes (or a combined box), it is still important.

    We don’t need STBs that can download movies to have to handle and license multiple DRMs.

  • Morac

    I think this article is all the proof you need that BD has basically won the war. If thieves won’t even HD-DVD discs, what chance is there that people will actually buy them?

    I’m hoping HD-DVD goes away as well. Target’s refusing to sell HD-DVD players and Blockbuster dumping the HD-DVD discs will definitely help, but with Microsoft backing HD-DVD I don’t think it will be a quick death.

    Then again Microsoft has their video download service to fall back on in case HD-DVD fails. Toshiba has nothing to fall back on so one would think that Blu-ray is destined to win.

    But on the other hand there are reports that the coating layer on Blu-day discs is starting to rot and come off (though it may just be a bad batch). And there are more HD-DVD releases this month than Blu-ray release and the HD-DVD release of 300 has more exclusive features than the Blu-ray version does.

    So HD-DVD may not be in it’s death throws after all.