Blu-ray and HD-DVD Basics

Spiderman 3 Blu-ray Disc vs Transformers HD-DVD
Spiderman 3 Blu-ray Disc vs Transformers HD-DVD. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to

Original Publish Date: 04/03/2005
NOTICE: HD-DVD was officially discontinued on February 19, 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 will continue to be sold and traded on the secondary market for some time.


DVD has been very successful, and will definitely be around for some time.

However as implemented, DVD is not a high-definition format. DVD players typically output video in either standard NTSC 480i (720x480 pixels in an interlaced scan format), with progressive scan DVD players capable of outputting DVD video in 480p (720x480 pixels displayed in a progressively scanned format). Although DVD has superior resolution and image quality, when compared to VHS and standard cable television, it is still only half the resolution of HDTV.

Upscaling - Getting More Out Of Standard DVD

In an effort to maximize the quality of DVD for display on today's HDTVs, many manufacturers have introduced upscaling capabilities through DVI and/or HDMI output connections on newer DVD players. Upscaling is a process that mathematically matches the pixel count of the output of the DVD signal to the physical pixel count on an HDTV or Ultra HD TV, which may be 1280x720 (720p), 1920x1080 (1080i), 1920x1080p (1080p), or 3840x2160 (4K).

The upscaling process does a good job of matching the upscaled pixel output of a DVD player to the native pixel display resolution of an HDTV, resulting in better detail and color consistency. is currently implemented, upscaling can't convert standard DVD images into true high-definition images.

True High Definition DVD Arrives

HD-DVD and Blu-ray delivered true high-definition playback capability from a disc, with units adding recording capability also available in some PCs and Laptops.

Standalone HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc recorders, were never made available in the U.S. market. However, as of February 19, 2008, HD-DVD has been discontinued. As a result new HD-DVD players, or any possibility of recorders, in that format, are no longer be available.

For reference, Blu-ray and HD-DVD both employ Blue Laser technology (which has a much shorter wavelength than the red laser technology used in current DVD). Blu-ray and HD-DVD enables a disc the size of a current DVD disc (but, which much greater storage capacity than a standard DVD) to hold an entire film at HDTV resolution or allow the consumer to record two hours of high definition video content.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD Format Information

However, there is a catch with regards to high definition DVD recording and playback; up until 2008, there were two competing formats that were incompatible with each other. Let's take a look at who was behind each format and what each format offers, and, in the case of HD-DVD, what it offered.

Blu-ray Format Support

At its introduction, 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 (Note: 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. However, as the result of the discontinuation of HD-DVD, Universal, Paramount, and Dreamworks are now on board with Blu-ray.

HD-DVD Format Support

When HD-DVD was introduced it had been supported on the hardware side by NEC, Onkyo, Samsung (also supports Blu-ray) Sanyo, Thomson (Note: Thomson also supported Blu-ray), 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 fromally ended HD-DVD support.

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

Basic Specifications Of Blu-ray and HD-DVD

Although both Blu-ray and HD-DVD support both recording and playback of high definition material with the same expected result, there are technical differences between the two formats.

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 on 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 on the first couple of generations. However, almost all Blu-ray Disc players now offer internet and network connectivity. Refer to specific brands and models that 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 and Player Profiles

In addition to the basic Blu-ray Disc Format and Player specifications. There are three "Profiles" that consumers need to be aware of. These profiles involve the capabilities of Blu-ray Disc players, and have been implemented by the Blu-ray Disc Association as follows:

1. 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 that these players cannot access PIP (Picture-in-Picture) imbedded content on Blu-ray Discs, nor can they access Web-enabled content included on some Blu-ray Discs. As a side note, all HD-DVD players are required to have these capabilities built-in from day one.

2. 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 of imbedded PIP commentary content and other interactive features included on some Blu-ray Discs (also referred to as "Bonus View"). In addition, some profile 1.1 players allow direct access to web-available firmware upgrades. However, it is not required that a Blu-ray Disc player have an internet connection to qualify as a Profile 1.1 compatible player.

3. Profile 2.0 - This profile is referred to as "BD Live". Essentially it is similar to Profile 1.1, but adds a 1GB memory storage capacity and also requires the inclusion of an Ethernet connection, which enables more flexibility in accessing additional features that may be included on Blu-ray Discs and more sophisticated web-enabled feature access 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.

The intention is that all Blu-ray Discs, no matter what Profile they are tied to, will 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.

On the other hand, some Profile 1.1 players may be firmware and memory upgradable (via external flash card), provided they already 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 just a downloadable firmware upgrade.

NOTE: The HD-DVD format was not designed with a profile system. All HD-DVD players that were released since their introduction, until their discontinuation, from the least expensive, to the most expensive, allowed users to access all interactive and internet features associated with HD-DVDs that incorporated such features.

For a more on the technical aspects of both Blu-ray and HD-DVD, check out How Blu-ray Works and How HD-DVD Works as posted by How Stuff Works, and Blu-ray and HD-DVD Audio Explained - High Def Digest.

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 DVD, most of the manufacturing plants making current DVD players, discs, and movie releases could be used for HD-DVD.

While HD-DVD had the advantage with regards to simpler production start-up, with 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 had 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, while new HD-DVD players are no longer available. However, used or unsold HD-DVD units may still be available via their parties (such as eBay). As of 2013, no standalone Blu-ray Disc Recorders for consumers have been released in the North American market.

One of the holdups with the availability of Blu-ray Disc recording (HD-DVD is no longer a factor) are specifications for copy-protection that will meet the needs of both broadcasters and movie studios. Also, the popularity of HD-TIVO and HD-Cable/Satellite DVRs is also a competitive issue. On the other hand, there are Blu-ray format writers for PCs. There are also a few Blu-ray Disc recorders available for professional use, but they do not have built-in HDTV tuners, and do not 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.

There are films and video content available on both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD format (New HD-DVD releases ended by the end of 2008). There are well over 10,000 titles available on Blu-ray, with titles released on a weekly basis. Also, there are several hundred HD-DVD releases that are still available via the secondary market. Prices for Blu-ray titles are about $5-or-$10 more than current DVDs. Prices for movies, just as for players, continue to go down over time, as competition with standard DVD increases. There are now some Blu-ray Disc players priced as low as $99.

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

While 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, it will not render DVD 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 market until some years after the introduction of the DVD.

Although Blu-ray and HD-DVD players are backwards compatible with standard DVD, they are not compatible with each other. Recordings and movies in one format will not play in any other format's units. In other words, 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 the incompatibility of Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD had been put forth by LG, introduced a Blu-ray Disc/HD-DVD combo player. For more details, check out my Review of the LG BH100 Blu-Ray/HD-DVD Super Multi Blue Disc Player. In addition, LG also introduced a follow-up Combo, the BH200. Samsung also introduced a Blu-ray Disc/HD-DVD combo player. Now that HD-DVD is no more, it is very unlikely new combo players will be made.

In addition, both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps had indicated that 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 players, although not in its high-definition form.

Also, 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. As a result, it wouldn't matter what format player you would have. However, since HD-DVD has now been discontinued, the Blu-ray/HD-DVD hybrid will not be utilized.

Measuring The Success Of Blu-ray and HD-DVD

Although true high definition playback and, hopefully, recording is definitely welcomed, the long term acceptance of Blu-ray (HD-DVD is now discontinued) does not depend on just the on-paper technical specification details but its long term performance in the real world, based on the following:

1. Availability of both recorders and players (recorders never made available in the U.S. for consumers).

2. Availability of pre-recorded high definition recordings (For Blu-ray, as of 2016 well over 10,000 titles, including over 300 3D titles - HD-DVD titles topped off at about 200).

3. The ability to record high definition television programming (has never been made available in the U.S.).

4. Ease of use.

5. Demonstration of significant video quality over standard DVD (HDTV or 4K Ultra HD TV required).

6. PRICE - Since being discontinued in 2008, HD-DVD players can now only be found on the secondary market. Blu-ray Disc players are widely available and start at about $99. Blu-ray Disc standalone recorders have yet to be introduced into the U.S. market (and unlikely ever will).

Final Words

For more information on what to expect from a Blu-ray (or HD-DVD) player, as well as useful buying tips, check out my complete Guide to Blu-ray and Blu-ray Disc Players.

Also, in early 2015, a new disc-based video format was announced, and started arriving on store shelves in early 2016, which is officially labeled as Ultra HD Blu--ray. This format brings 4K resolution, and other image enhancements to a disc-based video viewing experience. For more details, including how Ultra HD Blu-ray relates to both DVD and Blu-ray, read my article Before You Buy an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player.

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