Format Wars: Was HD-DVD the High-point of Definition?

Previously on our blog we’ve looked at the various film format wars which have raged with each successive generation. Already we’ve looked at the relative merits of watching movies on laserdisc, and the end of the Betamax era. Of course, just because a format falls out of favour doesn’t mean that all is lost – as experienced converters of formats such as VHS and Betamax to DVD, we’re always on hand to bring back your memories.

In the Red Corner

Today, we’re going to look at that near-forgotten format, HD-DVD. You probably remember the blue-coloured Blu-Rays and the red-topped HD-DVD cases sitting side by side in apparent harmony in video store aisles up and down the country. And how long did that last? It seemed like about a week, at most. Actually, the two formats duked it out for three years before Blu-Ray was declared the victor.

Snap back to 2005. HDTVs have hit the market, and now companies are looking to entice the public into shelling out for one. What better way than with super-shiny movies that rival even that of the big screen? The two backers for each format was Sony, in the blue corner, and, in the red corner, Toshiba.

Defining Differences

Sony, of course, were still smarting from their Betamax backing, and they threw everything they had at Blu-Ray. With good reason, too – a simple look at the specs show Blu-Ray to be superior in almost every way. The discs could hold 25GB, compared to HD-DVD’s 15GB; their bit-rate for video stood at 40Mbit/s, while HD-DVD could only manage 29.4Mbits/s; and Blu-ray made mandatory hard-coating of their discs, to prevent scratching. On the page, then, the win easily belonged to Blu-ray. Also, Blu-ray is a far catchier name than the pretty stale and unimaginative HD-DVD, which is the Ronseal is names.

That’s not to say HD-DVD was without its merits though. The format, given its heritage, used existing DVD player technology – and that made them cheap the produce. In fact, when they first appeared, HD-DVD players were around half the price of a Blu-ray player, which retailed for around £1000. They even had the backing of several movie studios, including Warner Bros., who hedged their bets and backed both. But… Ah, there’s always a but…

Game Over

The problem with Betamax, beyond its poor recording length, was that without people buying Betamax players the format couldn’t compete. HD-DVD players suffered the same fate – but not for the same reasons. The format may have had the backing of companies like Microsoft, who released a separate HD-DVD player add-on for their Xbox gaming console, but Sony went one better.

The Japanese tech giant installed their Playstation 3 consoles with Blu-ray disc drives as standard. Sure, they sold the consoles at a loss, but it helped put Blu-ray into the hands of so many people that HD-DVD had no chance of catching up. Then, in 2008, Warner Bros. dropped their backing of HD-DVD. It was game over.

Having said that, although Blu-ray won this short-lived format war, it wasn’t quite so clear-cut. Sony lost a lot of money backing their discs, and even today DVD still remains the top format for movies. After all, everyone has a DVD player, and it’s the format we choose when it comes to transferring your home movies from older formats into digital ones. So, if you’ve got old Betamax videos and want to relive those moments in greater clarity, then we’re on hand to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us on 0800 592 433 and our experienced team will be absolutely delighted to assist in any way they can.