Blu-ray and HD-DVD Basics

The story behind Blu-ray and HD-DVD

HD-DVD was discontinued in 2008. However, information on HD-DVD and its comparison to Blu-ray is still contained in this article for historical purposes, as well as the fact that there are still many HD-DVD player owners, and HD-DVD players and discs continue to be sold and traded on the secondary market.

In 2006, HD-DVD and Blu-ray were introduced as possible successors to DVD. The reason, DVD was not a high-definition format. Although DVD upscaling was possible, it didn't convert standard DVD into true high definition. Blu-ray and HD-DVD delivered true high-definition resolution (up to 1080p) playback capability from a disc without upscaling.

Let's take a look at who was behind each format and, in the case of HD-DVD, what it offered.

Blu-ray
  • Players and discs are widely available.

  • Players are compatible with DVDs and CDs.

  • Players not 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 not compatible with Blu-ray discs.

  • Supports up to 1080p resolution.

  • No region coding playback restrictions.

  • Limited disc capacity.

Spiderman 3 Blu-ray Disc vs Transformers HD-DVD

Blu-ray and HD-DVD employ Blue Laser technology (which has a much shorter wavelength than the red laser technology used in DVD). This allows a disc the size of a DVD to hold an entire film at HDTV resolution or allow the consumer to record two hours of high definition video content.

Blu-ray Disc Format Support

Blu-ray was initially supported on the hardware side by Apple, Denon, Hitachi, LG, Matsushita (Panasonic), Pioneer, Philips, Samsung (also supported HD-DVD), Sharp, Sony, and Thomson.

Samsung and Thomson also supported HD-DVD

On the software side, Blu-ray was initially supported by Lions Gate, MGM, Miramax, Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, New Line, and Warner.

HD-DVD Format Support

When HD-DVD was introduced it had been supported on the hardware side by NEC, Onkyo, Samsung, Sanyo, Thomson, and Toshiba.

On the software side, HD-DVD had been supported by BCI, Dreamworks, Paramount Pictures, Studio Canal, and Universal Pictures, and Warner. Microsoft had also initially lent its support to HD-DVD, but no longer, after Toshiba formally ended HD-DVD support.

All HD-DVD hardware and software support was discontinued and shifted to Blu-ray by mid-2008.

Blu-ray General Specifications

  • Storage Capacity – Pre-recorded Playback Material (BD-ROM): Single-layer (25GB) - Dual-layer (50GB).
  • Storage Capacity – Home Recording (BD-R/BD-RE): Single-layer (25GB) - Dual-layer (50GB).
  • Data Transfer Rate: 36 to 48 Mbps (Megabits per Second) average, capable of up to 54 MPS. This exceeds the 19.3 Mbps transfer rate approved for HDTV broadcasts.
  • Disc Properties: New format required retooling and/or construction of new disc manufacturing and replication plants.
  • Video Specifications: Compatible with full MPEG2 Encoding, as well as MPEG4 and VC1. 3D using MVC encoding is optional.
  • Audio Specifications: Only Dolby Digital, DTS, and Uncompressed PCM are required for all players. However, the following formats are optional: Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio (almost always included after the first generation of players).
  • Network Capability: Although the Blu-ray format supports networking and internet capabilities, built-in networking and ethernet ports on individual Blu-ray Disc Players was optional for the first couple of generations. However, almost all Blu-ray Disc players now offer internet and network connectivity. Refer to specific brands and models you may be considering.

HD-DVD General Specifications

  • Storage Capacity – Pre-recorded playback material (HD-DVD-ROM): Single-layer (15GB) - Dual-layer (30GB) - Triple Layer (51GB developed, but never brought to market).
  • Storage Capacity – Home Recording (HD-DVD-R/HD-DVD-Rewritable): Single-layer (20GB) - Dual-Sided Disc (40GB) - Dual Layer (35GB proposed).
  • Data Transfer Rate: 36 Mbps (Megabits per Second). This exceeds the 19.3 Mbps transfer rate approved for HDTV broadcasts.
  • Disc Properties: Format similar to existing DVD disc structure, requiring minimal upgrading and retooling of existing DVD disc 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 required to be network-enabled and be 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. There are three "Profiles". These profiles involve the capabilities of specific generation Blu-ray Disc players.

  • Profile 1.0: This profile covers all Blu-ray Disc players made before November 2007. Players in this category have one video decoder and no internet connection. This means these players can't access PIP (Picture-in-Picture) embedded content on Blu-ray Discs, nor can they access Web-enabled content included on some Blu-ray Discs. Of interest is that 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 1st, 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. However, it's not required that a Blu-ray Disc player has an internet connection to qualify as Profile 1.1 compatible.
  • 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 also requires the inclusion of an Ethernet connection (Wi-Fi is optional), which enables more flexibility in accessing additional features that may be included on Blu-ray Discs and more sophisticated web-enabled feature accessible via the high-speed internet port. This brings the Blu-ray Disc format to the same place as HD-DVD players have been from the initial introduction of that now-defunct format.

All Blu-ray Discs, no matter what Profile they are tied to, should be playable on all Blu-ray Disc players. However, any special disc content requiring Profile 1.1 or 2.0 will not be accessible on Profile 1.0 players, and Profile 2.0 specific content will not be accessible by either a Profile 1.0 or 1.1 equipped player.

Some Profile 1.1 players may be firmware and memory upgradeable (via external flash card or drive), provided they have an ethernet connection and USB input connection, while the Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray equipped game console can be upgraded to Profile 2.0 with a downloadable firmware upgrade.

The HD-DVD format was not designed with a profile system. All HD-DVD players that were released allowed users to access all interactive and internet features associated with HD-DVDs that incorporated such features.

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

Based on the extensive hardware support by manufacturers for the Blu-ray format, it would appear logical hat Blu-ray emerged as the standard for high-definition disc playback, but HD-DVD did have one key advantage. Unfortunately, that advantage could not overcome growing support for Blu-ray.

For Blu-ray, new facilities were required for manufacturing discs and players as well as movie disc replication. However, due to the fact that the physical specifications for HD-DVD had a lot in common with standard DVDs, most manufacturing plants making DVD players, discs, and movie releases could be used for HD-DVD.

While HD-DVD had the advantage with simpler production start-up and potentially lower initial costs, the key advantage of Blu-ray over HD-DVD is storage capacity. Because of larger disc capacity, a Blu-ray disc more easily accommodates full-length feature films and extra features.

To counter this, HD-DVD implemented multi-layered discs, as well as employing VC1 compression technology, which allows for more content, without loss of quality, on its smaller storage capacity disc. This enabled the HD-DVD format to accommodate additional features and longer films on a single disc.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD Availability

Blu-ray Disc players are widely available Worldwide, with prices starting as low as $69. HD-DVD players are no longer available. Used or unsold HD-DVD units may still be available via other parties (such as eBay).

There are films and video content available on both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD format (New HD-DVD releases were halted by the end of 2008). There are well over 20,000 titles available on Blu-ray, with titles released on a weekly basis.

There are only a few several hundred HD-DVD releases available via the secondary market.

Prices for Blu-ray titles are about $5-or-$10 more than DVDs. Prices for movies, just as for players, continue to go down over time, as competition with standard DVD increases.

Although the Blu-ray Disc format supports recording, it's not available for U.S. consumers for recording TV programs in high-definition (HD-DVD is no longer a factor). The main reason is specifications for copy-protection that meet the needs of both broadcasters and movie studios have never been met.

There are Blu-ray format writers for PCs. There are also a few Blu-ray Disc recorders available for professional use, but they don't have built-in HDTV tuners and don't have high definition video inputs. The only way to import high definition video into these units is via connection of a high definition camcorder (via USB or Firewire) or via high definition video stored on flash drives or memory cards.

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.

There is (was) no Region Coding implemented for HD-DVD.

Other Factors

Although the introduction of Blu-ray and HD-DVD marked a significant event in consumer electronics history, and Blu-ray has made significant strides in sales of both players and software, DVD is not 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. This was not the case with the VHS to DVD turnover, as DVD/VHS combo players did not come into the market until some years after the introduction of the DVD.

Although Blu-ray and HD-DVD players are backward compatible with standard DVDs, they are not compatible with each other. Recordings and movies in one format will not play in any other format's units. You can't play a Blu-ray movie on an HD-DVD player, or vice versa.

Possible Solutions That Could Have Resolved Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD Conflicts

One solution that could have solved Blu-ray Disc/HD-DVD incompatibility had been put forth by LG, which released two Blu-ray Disc/HD-DVD combo players, the BH100 and BH200. Samsung also released a Blu-ray Disc/HD-DVD combo player, the BD-UP5000. None have been released since.

The Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps had indicated they could produce a hybrid disc that would be a standard DVD on one side and either Blu-ray or HD-DVD on the other. HD-DVD/DVD hybrid discs were available until the end of the format. Current owners of these discs have access to a standard DVD version that would be playable on either format's player, although not in its high-definition form.

Warner Bros once announced and demonstrated a Blu-ray/HD-DVD hybrid disc. This would have enabled a film or program to be put on a single disc in both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats. It wouldn't matter what format the player you'd have. However, since HD-DVD was discontinued, the Blu-ray/HD-DVD hybrid never made it to the market.

For more information on what to expect from a Blu-ray player, as well as useful buying tips, check out our complete guide to Blu-ray and Blu-ray Disc Players.

Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc

In early 2015, a new disc-based video format was announced and arrived on store shelves in early 2016: Ultra HD Blu-ray. This format brought 4K resolution and other image enhancements to a disc-based video format.

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