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What are the HD DVD and Blu-ray High Definition Disc Formats?

Last Updated on Friday, November 30th, 2007 8:03 PM

HD DVD and Blu-ray logosMuch like HDTV is the successor to standard analog TV that we've had for decades, HD DVD and Blu-ray high definition optical discs provide higher quality images and better sound than their standard definition DVD counterparts.

Whereas DVD has a resolution of 720x480, both HD disc formats have a native resolution of 1920x1080. If you do the math, you'll find that to be 6 times the total resolution of DVD! (It is possible for these discs to be created using the lower HD resolution of 1280x720, but to date, all movies have been produced at 1920x1080)

In addition to the incredible increase in video capability, the audio capabilities of HD DVD and Blu-ray have also been increased over what's possible with DVD. More audio channels are possible with higher bitrates, which means that these formats are capable of higher audio performance than DVD. At the top end of the quality scale is the fact that lossless compressed audio is also possible on HD DVD and Blu-ray discs.

For more information about the audio formats available on HD DVD and Blu-ray, please see the following documents:

Because both the video and audio encoding methods are more advanced than what is available on DVD, all this additional performance can be provided on the same-sized discs as DVDs!

Do I Need an HDTV To Watch High Definition Discs?

Connecting your player to an HD display capable of 720p and/or 1080i/p via the component or HDMI connections is the only to view the high definition picture in its full glory.

While you can connect HD DVD and Blu-ray players via connections that exist on standard definition TV's (composite and S-Video on the video side), you're not going to be able to enjoy the full benefits of the formats. If you don't have an HD-capable display yet, you will still be able to enjoy the interactive features and additional content provided on these discs, but they won't be in high definition.

Can I Watch Standard Definition DVD's in an HD DVD / Blu-ray Player?

Yes. HD DVD and Blu-ray players are capable of playing traditional DVD's. In fact, many players are excellent at upsampling the DVD resolution to the HD resolutions, so while it's not as good as watching that movie on HD DVD or Blu-ray disc, it may produce a better image than having your TV upsample the image or using an upsampling DVD player.

Can I Watch HD DVD or Blu-ray Discs in a DVD Player?

While the discs are the same size, it is not possible to play HD DVD or Blu-ray discs in a standard definition DVD player.

Example of an HD DVD / DVD Combo DiscSome HD DVD titles, however, are HD DVD / DVD Combo discs. This means that one side of the disc is the high definition side that can be played only on an HD DVD player, while the other side can be played on a standard DVD player (in standard definition, of course).

Such discs are clearly labeled "HD DVD Combo" at the top of the box. Please see the example of the "Evan Almighty" HD DVD / DVD Combo disc to the right.

So What's the Catch?

As you have noticed, two formats are being mentioned here. Yes, there are two separate and technically exclusive high definition disc formats. It is not possible to play an HD DVD movie in a Blu-ray player, and likewise, it's not possible to play a Blu-ray disc in an HD DVD player.

What's the Difference Between the HD DVD and Blu-ray Formats?

HD DVD is the official successor to DVD, being sanctioned by the same group of companies, called the DVD Forum. Blu-ray is a competing disc format that is not compatible with HD DVD, and vice versa. Many of the companies that are part of the DVD Forum are also part of the Blu-ray Disc Association. No, it doesn't make any sense that there are two formats to us, either.

Both formats are relatively new, so there aren't many discs available for either format when compared to DVD. As of November 2007, there are 375 discs released on the HD DVD format and 442 discs on the Blu-ray format. Sales are also a very small percentage of their DVD counterparts, with a popular HD title selling 100,000-200,000 units and the same movie on DVD selling 8 million units.

Movie studios are mixed in their support for the two formats. One studio, Warner Bros., produces movies on both formats. Universal, Paramount, and Dreamworks produce movies solely on HD DVD. Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, and MGM produce movies exclusively on Blu-ray.

As far as players go, HD DVD players tend to be more full-featured than Blu-ray players, and they are also less expensive. As of November 2007, the least expensive HD DVD player (the Toshiba HD-A2) can be purchased new for $198. The least expensive Blu-ray player (the Sony BDP-S300) can be purchased new for $419.

All HD DVD players are capable of connecting to the Internet for firmware updates and online features that movie studios include on discs. Some Blu-ray players have Internet connections as well, but not all of them do. All HD DVD players are capable of advanced features like picture-in-picture commentaries, where a secondary video can be shown as an inset over the movie as it plays. This capability is possible on the Blu-ray format, but the player must be able to support what's called "Bonus View," which is not supported on all Blu-ray players.

Like DVD's, Blu-ray discs can be region-coded, so that discs can play only in certain regions. For example, a disc sold in the United States and coded as playable only in that region cannot be played on a player coded as being in another region, such as England. HD DVD's do not have region coding, so it is possible to import movies from England, Germany, Japan, or India and have them play in any HD DVD player around the world. This can be helpful when some movies are not available on HD DVD in the United States, but are available in other countries and can be imported. (HD DVD players do follow the region coding rules for standard definition DVD's, however.)

Because differences exist between the two formats, and in the players for each format, please be sure that the movie titles and features you deem important are present in the player and format that you purchase.

Can I Buy a Player That Plays Both?

Yes! Some manufacturers have realized that there is a market for people who want to have one player that can play both formats.

Samsung has announced the availability of its BD-UP5000 Blu-ray / HD DVD combo player, which can play discs of both format as well as standard definition DVD's. It boasts an impressive feature list and a $1,000 price that reflects the cost of combining two technologies into one player. The player is expected to ship in late 2007 or early 2008.

LG produced a player in early 2007 called the BH100, but it lacked the necessary features of the HD DVD format that it wasn't even able to display the HD DVD logo on the player. They are following that player up with a more respectable offering, the BH200, that is supposed to be fully compliant with the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats. The $1,000 player is expected some time in late 2007.

What Does All This Mean to You?

The most compelling difference between the two formats is the movies available on each format.

This means that you will either need players that support each or you need to pick one format and buy that player, and then watch the high definition movies from the studios producing movies on the other format. Since the players will still play standard definition DVD's, you have that as an option for movies not available in the format of your chosen player.

No matter which format you choose (if you have to pick one), the results are very impressive! If you have an HD-capable display, you owe it to yourself to check out these new HD disc formats!

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