Ok, so I've seen a couple of guides on here talking about the format war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD and I thought I would give people a quick guide of my own as I know most people are unsure on the differences between the two and which they should go for, if either. I will go into some technical details but I'll try to keep it more of an informative consumer guide rather than an opinion based techy report. I'll try to cover the basics and also some things that its worth knowing when and if you decide you want to take the leap into the HD (high definition) world.
So just quickly, high definition is basically a new standard that offers about 4 times the quality of standard definition (SD). You get improved picture quality, colour definition and clarity amongst other improvements as well as better sound quality.
Now it gets a little bit more confusing in terms of the standard of HD (I know I still haven’t even mentioned Blu-Ray or HD-DVD yet). There are different resolutions – 720p, 1080i and 1080p (where p is progressive and i is interlaced).
The first resolution format is 720p which is an image comprised of 1280 lines along the horizontal by 720 vertical lines (1280x720).
Scanning is done by drawing a line of pixels before the next one is drawn. Because of the sequential scanning, 720p is better able to handle motion and is actually superior to 1080i for that reason.
The second is 1080i (1920x1080) and is displayed as two fields that are interlaced. Interlaced scanning "draws" the picture on the screen firstly by filling in all the odd-numbered scan lines and then filling in all the even-numbered scan lines. Done very quickly, the eye only sees one picture on the television. You get a bit more detail with 1080i but the interlaced image is not as smooth as a progressively scanned one.
Finally, you’ve got 1080p – the ultimate high definition resolution. 1080p is a progressive scan and so all pixels and lines are displayed at the same time (as with 720) but obviously with a higher resolution and so increased picture quality.
Many broadcasters currently only broadcast HD channels at 720p (this will change in the future) and so the only way to view full HD at 1080p is via HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, which leads us nicely onto the main topic for this guide. Hopefully I haven’t lost you in the above paragraphs.
Now, I am neither for nor against either of the 2 HD formats and (hopefully) offer an objective view, as there are certainly some aspects which bring up heated debating points between fans of either format.
Let’s start with HD-DVD…what is it?
Well put simply it’s a next generation DVD that supports the HD standard – so clever how they got HD-DVD from that eh? It is, I guess, the logical progression from DVD. It is backwards compatible so if you go out and get yourself a nice new shiny HD-DVD player you can still watch your current DVD’s on it, and they may even look a little clearer due to a process called upscaling. (I’m not going to cover that here).
As for the technical specs (kept simple) – an HD-DVD has a capacity of 15GB or 30 GB (single and dual layer respectively) which equates to about 4 or 8 hours of HD images respectively. So if an HD film is about 2 hours long you have plenty of space left for lots of extras and better sound.
HD-DVD is the format introduced by Toshiba, and they have not, for some reason, given any other manufacturers permission to produce HD-DVD players (other than for Microsoft to stick one in an Xbox 360). So your choice when buying a HD-DVD player is a range of Toshiba models and nothing else. They have, however, managed to keep prices quite low for their players in comparison to the more expensive Blu-Ray players.
There are various factors that change over time such as Studio backing – this is where HD-DVD is falling down hugely. As of May this year Warner has moved to release films exclusively on Blu-Ray and there are rumours that Paramount have a clause in their contract allowing them to “go blu” as well if Warner did. If this is the case then currently of the major studios HD-DVD only enjoys support from Paramount (unless the above is true) and Universal.
So, now for Blu-Ray Disc (BD)….
Blu-Ray, as you may have guessed, is the alternative to HD-DVD should you wish to jump on the HD bandwagon. It is a format introduced by Sony and actually has slightly superior capacity. On a standard Blu-Ray Disc (BD) you are able to cram 25GB or 50GB onto single and dual layered respectively. That is not to say that the quality of a BD is better than that of a HD-DVD, it simply means that you are able to fit more on it, which is no bad thing. There are some other technical differences which could push you in the direction of thinking that Blu-Ray is, or can be, better quality such as the higher video bitrate. If this is the case I am not sure if you would be able to see the difference, I certainly haven’t.
But should you wish to buy a Blu-Ray player there are many manufacturers to choose from – Sony (standalone players and the PS3 is quite a good BD player as well), Samsung, Philips, Sharp and Panasonic to name a few. They are, however, more expensive overall than a HD-DVD player. Ask a HD-DVD fan why this is and they will tell you its for market penetration and they have kept production costs down to pass onto the consumer – ask a Blu-Ray fan and they will paint a different picture of Toshiba slashing prices to offload their players in a war they know is lost…it’s up to you to make your own mind up.
Either way, Sony and their Blu-Ray format have done something right – their support from the major Hollywood studios consist of Columbia Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, Paramount, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros, so you could be spoilt for choice. Other support such as Blockbusters saying they will only now stock BD and larger American film renting companies have now said the same, simple due to the overwhelming support and sales of Blu-Ray.
It is looking more and more like Blu-Ray will become the new standard HD format, and to be honest I don’t see why anyone would be against this – both formats offer the same quality and if you anyone tries to say that HD-DVD is better than Blu-Ray or vice versa don’t listen – many things have to be taken into account (standard of player, standard of TV, standard of cable and even the standard of the equipment used to shoot the original movie).
So that’s that then, I would recommend Blu-Ray over HD-DVD but only because of the support it has by the major studios and companies. There are various other things that can be considered such as new firmware updates (Blu-Ray’s online feature), region coding (HD-DVD is free of this but Blu-Ray has region restrictions) but ultimately studio support seems to have decided this “war”.
I hope this little guide helps, hopefully it has given you a little insight into the HD formats and where each one stands at the moment.