Blu-ray and HD-DVD Basics

The story behind Blu-ray and HD-DVD

Blu-ray and its rival, HD-DVD, both were introduced in 2006 as possible DVD successors. Since DVD wasn't a high-definition format, Blu-ray and HD-DVD aimed to fill the high-def gap with greater depth, color, and image detail for users. HD-DVD was discontinued in 2008, while Blu-ray is still a popular option for home theaters. Here's a comparison of the Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats, their impact, and their current availability.

Even though HD-DVD was discontinued in 2008, HD-DVD players and discs are still sold and traded on the secondary market.

Spiderman 3 Blu-ray Disc vs Transformers HD-DVD
Blu-ray
  • Players and discs are widely available.

  • Players are compatible with DVDs and CDs.

  • Players aren't compatible with HD-DVD discs. 

  • Supports up to 1080p resolution.

  • Supports region coding playback restrictions.

  • Large disc capacity.

HD-DVD
  • Players and discs discontinued.

  • Players are compatible with DVDs and CDs.

  • Players aren't compatible with Blu-ray discs.

  • Supports up to 1080p resolution.

  • No region coding playback restrictions.

  • Limited disc capacity.

The History of Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD

The Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats both use blue laser technology, which has a much shorter wavelength than the red laser technology used in DVDs. This allows a disc the size of a DVD to hold an entire film at HDTV resolution.

When it was introduced in 2008, companies such as Apple, Denon, Hitachi, LG, Matsushita (Panasonic), Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Thomson championed Blu-ray on the hardware side. Samsung and Thomson also supported HD-DVD, along with NEC, Onkyo, Sanyo, and Toshiba.

On the software side, Lions Gate, MGM, Miramax, Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, New Line, and Warner all supported Blu-ray, while BCI, Dreamworks, Paramount Pictures, Studio Canal, Universal Pictures, and Microsoft initially lent support to HD-DVD,

By mid-2008, however, all HD-DVD hardware and software support was discontinued, and these companies shifted their attention to Blu-ray.

Blu-ray General Specifications

Here's a list of Blu-ray's properties and other specifications.

Storage Capacity: Pre-recorded Playback Material (BD-ROM)

  • Single-layer: 25 GB
  • Dual-layer: 50GB.

Storage Capacity: Home Recording (BD-R/BD-RE)

  • Single-layer: 25 GB
  • Dual-layer 50 GB.

Standalone consumer Blu-ray Disc recorders aren't available in the U.S.

Data Transfer Rate

There's an average of 36 to 48 Mbps, with capabilities up to 54 Mbps. This exceeds the 19.3 Mbps transfer rate approved for HDTV broadcasts.

Disc Properties

The new format required retooling and construction of new disc manufacturing and replication plants.

Video Specifications

Blu-ray is compatible with full MPEG2 encoding, as well as MPEG4 AVC (also known as H.264) and VC1 (based on the Microsoft Windows Media Video format). Video resolutions from 480i to 1080p (in either 2D or 3D) can be implemented at the content producer's discretion.

Audio Specifications

Only Dolby Digital, DTS, and uncompressed PCM are required on all players. Other formats, including Dolby Digital PlusDolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio, are optional. However, almost all Blu-ray Disc players made since 2008 incorporate Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio onboard decoding, undecoded bitstream output, or both. Also, most Blu-ray Disc players are compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive surround-sound audio encoding.

Network Capability

The Blu-ray format supports networking and internet capabilities, and most players now have a built-in Wi-Fi connection option. Most Blu-ray Disc players also provide internet streaming capabilities, such as access to Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, and Amazon Video.

HD-DVD General Specifications

Storage Capacity: Pre-recorded playback material (HD-DVD-ROM)

  • Single-layer: 15 GB
  • Dual-layer: 30 GB
  • Triple Layer: 51 GB developed, but never brought to market.

Storage Capacity: Home Recording (HD-DVD-R/HD-DVD-Rewritable)

  • Single-layer: 20 GB
  • Dual-Sided Disc: 40 GB
  • Dual Layer: 35 GB proposed.

Data Transfer Rate

HD-DVD has a data transfer rate of 36 Mbps. This exceeds the 19.3 Mbps transfer rate approved for HDTV broadcasts.

Disc Properties

The format was similar to the existing DVD structure, so it required minimal upgrading and retooling of existing DVD manufacturing and replication plants.

Video Specifications

Compatible with MPEG2, MPEG4, and VC1 encoding. 3D was never included as part of the HD-DVD options, as the format was discontinued before 3D was introduced.

Audio Specifications

All HD-DVD players were required to incorporate the following: Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, and uncompressed PCM, as well as standard Dolby Digital and DTS.

Network Capability

All HD-DVD players were network-enabled and equipped with a built-in Ethernet port for downloading firmware updates and other interactive features.

Blu-ray Disc Format Player Profiles

In addition to the basic Blu-ray Disc format and player specifications, three "profiles" describe the capabilities of specific-generation Blu-ray Disc players. You should be able to play most Blu-ray Discs on most Blu-ray Disc players, no matter their profile. There is, however, some profile-specific content that is accessible only on certain players.

The HD-DVD format doesn't have a profile system. All HD-DVD players incorporated interactive and internet features.

Profile 1.0

This profile covers all Blu-ray Disc players made before November 2007. These players have one video decoder and no internet connection. They can't access PIP (picture-in-picture) embedded content on Blu-ray Discs or web-enabled content. (All HD-DVD players were required to have these capabilities built-in from day one.)

Profile 1.1

This profile adds a second audio/video processor and 256 MB of memory storage to all Blu-ray Disc player models introduced after November 2007. This allows access to embedded PIP commentary content and other interactive features included on some Blu-ray Discs (also referred to as "Bonus View"). Some profile 1.1 players also allow direct access to web-available firmware upgrades, though not all Profile 1.1 players have an internet connection.

Profile 2.0

This profile is referred to as BD-Live. It's similar to Profile 1.1, but adds a 1GB memory storage capacity and requires the inclusion of an Ethernet connection (Wi-Fi is optional). These players are better at accessing additional content on Blu-ray Discs and web-enabled features.

You may be able to upgrade the firmware and memory for some Profile 1.1 players via an external flash card or drive if they have Ethernet and USB input connections. Upgrade the Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray-equipped game console to Profile 2.0 with a downloadable firmware upgrade.

How Blu-ray and HD-DVD Impacted the Consumer Market

While Blu-ray enjoyed immense hardware support, HD-DVD had the advantage of simpler production and lower startup costs. This was because manufacturing plants making DVD players, discs, and movie releases could easily create HD-DVD products, as well.

But Blu-ray had better storage capacity, so Blu-ray Discs could easily accommodate full-length movies and extra features. Though HD-DVD countered this by implementing multi-layered discs and VC1 compression technology, Blu-ray ultimately won the format war.

You can't play a Blu-ray movie on an HD-DVD player, or vice versa.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD Availability

Blu-ray Disc players are widely available and reasonably priced worldwide. Used or unsold HD-DVD units may still be available on eBay or other secondhand sites.

Blu-ray movie titles are released on a weekly basis, and there are thousands of titles available priced about $5 or $10 more than DVDs. New HD-DVD releases stopped in 2008, and there are few available on the secondary market.

The DVD format is far from obsolete. DVD is currently the most successful entertainment format in history, and all Blu-ray Disc players (and any HD-DVD players still in use) can play standard DVDs.

Blu-ray Region Coding

  • Region A: U.S., Japan, Latin America, East Asia (except China).
  • Region B: Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand.
  • Region C: China, Russia, Remaining countries.

HD-DVD had no region coding.

Could Both Formats Have Survived?

At one point, manufacturers considered solving Blu-ray and HD-DVD incompatibility issues with combo players. LG actually released two Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD combo players, the BH100 and BH200. Blu-ray and HD-DVD hybrid discs were even discussed.

Ultimately, however, these hybrid offerings were abandoned when the HD-DVD format was officially discontinued in 2008.

Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc

Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and players hit store shelves in 2016, bringing 4K resolution and other image enhancements to a disc-based video format. Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players can play 1080p Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, CDs, and USB media, and can upscale older content. They also support internet connectivity and network streaming and offer HDR (High Dynamic Range) capability, which provides viewers with a greater range of colors and more image information.

For more details on how Ultra HD Blu-ray relates to both DVD and Blu-ray, read our article Before You Buy an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player.