Is a new format war coming?
It was 2006, I was happily collecting DVDs when I came across a news item detailing ‘the next step in home entertainment’. It was HD-DVD or ‘high definition DVD’ – it offered movies in a full HD 1080p resolution (1920-by-1080 pixels) which at that time was still a relatively new concept. DVDs are presented in 480p (640-by-480 pixels) and stored in discs that hold about 8 GB.
Films presented in high definition meant that it would be occupying more space – hence the HD-DVD disc has been beefed up to about 30 GB on a dual-layer configuration. This also allowed more features to be presented on the disc including menus that you can access while watching the movie, and other interactive content.
HD-DVD was mainly backed by Toshiba and Warner Bros. and a special HD-DVD drive was introduced by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 that enabled it to be adopted easily by the public.
However, Sony has also been busy preparing to introduce its next-generation format called Blu-ray, being named after the blue-violet laser used to read the disc. It offers a higher capacity compared to HD-DVD: 50 GB, meaning that it can include all bonus content like behind-the-scenes video and interviews all in one disc.
For months it reminded us of the Betamax vs VHS format wars, and we all knew that the Sony-backed Betamax was the one who bites the dust. Some preferred HD-DVD since it was cheaper to manufacture compared to Blu-ray. Blu-ray however was preferred by some because of the larger capacity it can hold, meaning that it can be used not only for films but for storing content like video games and other data.
I personally prefer HD-DVD back then, and I even invested in a Toshiba HD-DVD player that came with a free copy of The Bourne Supremacy. I remember enjoying how clear the image was, especially after viewing it on my newly-purchased Samsung Full HD TV (Smart TVs weren’t a thing back then).
But came late 2006 when Sony finally introduced the PlayStation 3 that uses Blu-ray as its primary format. The console came with a Blu-ray drive, and at that time, it was the cheapest one available. For consumers, buying a console that includes a Blu-ray drive was the economical choice.
Film companies have then started pledging support for Blu-ray, and while HD-DVD has its own backing, that support finally fell through when Warner Bros., one of its biggest backers, said that it will stop manufacturing HD-DVDs in favor of Blu-ray.
“For Sony, Betamax’s loss is now Blu-ray’s win.”
I was personally disappointed because having invested in an expensive player, I struggled selling it because well, no one wants it. I managed to sell off my months old HD-DVD player at less than half the price to a collector. I then went to the store and got myself a PlayStation 3.
The rest they say is history. Blu-ray is now a premium format for home entertainment. Even as streaming services have started to become popular, Blu-ray is still the preferred physical medium (DVD is on its way out). Newer consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One now support Blu-ray.
By this time, you have already heard about 4K Blu-ray. It still uses the Blu-ray disc, but with more layer,s it can hold a bigger capacity (think about 100 GB) which is the requirement for 4K videos. The funny thing is that Microsoft now supports a 4K Blu-ray drive on their console while Sony is still using a normal Blu-ray drive.
It’s still early if 4K Blu-ray will be a big hit like Blu-ray a decade ago, but format war always happen with every generation and I won’t be surprised if a new one will come along in the next few years.