Can I Play an HD-DVD on a Blu-ray Disc Player or Vice-Versa?

If you have HD-DVD discs, your playback options are limited

HD-DVD (high-definition DVD or high-definition versatile disc) was once a Blu-ray competitor. Both technologies debuted in 2006, with Toshiba primarily backing HD-DVD. The HD-DVD format was officially discontinued in 2008, but HD-DVD players are still out there, and users still sell and trade HD-DVD movies. Unfortunately, you can't play HD-DVD discs on a Blu-ray player, and you can't play Blu-ray discs on an HD-DVD player. Read on to learn more about these incompatible formats.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Beowulf HD DVD movies on a red background

Blu-ray and HD-DVD Similarities and Differences

The Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD formats are incompatible, which means they can't be used in players meant for the other technology.

Still, these formats do have some similarities. Both provide up to 1080p video resolution output and are compatible with most Dolby and DTS surround-sound formats, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as uncompressed PCM. Both use blue lasers to read the disc pits containing digitally stored audio and video information, and both types of discs are the same size.

But the pits on an HD-DVD are a different size than Blu-ray Disc pits, and HD-DVD discs have a 15 GB per-layer storage capacity, in contrast to a Blu-ray Disc's 25 GB per-layer storage capacity.

Each format uses different methods for placing and reading audio and video information, and the disc menus are constructed and navigated in different ways.

The Politics of Blu-ray and HD-DVD

When the two formats were made available, manufacturers didn't want to pay the licensing fees required to use both formats. The HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc patent holders (mostly Toshiba vs. Pioneer and Sony) put pressure on manufacturers to adopt one format, excluding the other. This resulted in a format war where some movie studios and player makers lined up on the HD-DVD side, while others championed Blu-ray.

In an attempt at cross-compatibility, LG and Samsung released a limited number of players (three in the U.S. market) that could play both HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. However, they withdrew these combo players in 2008 when Blu-ray officially won the format war.

If you own a Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD combo player by LG (LG BH100/BH200) or Samsung (BD-UP5000) and have HD-DVD discs to play, you have something very rare in the history of consumer electronics.

Combo Disc Confusion

Some manufacturers made HD-DVD movie discs with an HD-DVD layer on one side and a standard DVD layer on the other. If you locate one of these discs, you can play the standard DVD layer in a Blu-ray Disc player, but if you flip the disc and insert the HD-DVD side, it won't play.

Warner Bros. developed a disc that was Blu-ray on one side and HD-DVD on the other, with the idea of releasing movies in both formats on a single disc. This idea, however, wasn't adopted by either the Blu-ray or HD-DVD backers.

To further confuse matters, HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc players can play DVDs and CDs that don't conform to either HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc specifications. This is because both types of manufacturers wanted to make their players more attractive to consumers by including backward-compatibility with CDs and DVDs. They added a focus-adjustable red laser assembly to their players in addition to the blue lasers needed for HD-DVD or Blu-ray.

The Bottom Line

HD-DVD discs can't play on a Blu-ray Disc player, and Blu-ray Discs won't play on an HD-DVD player, except for the few HD-DVD/Blu-ray Disc combo players that briefly emerged.

If you're wondering about the types of discs your Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD player will accommodate, consult your user manual to see compatible and incompatible disc formats.