Friday, July 29, 2005

Next Generation DVD Formats for Newbies

I have to say that it's getting to be an exciting time. Blu-ray and HD-DVD are just around the corner. I was quite excited when I had initially heard that Blu-ray and HD-DVD were in talks over a compromise over which standard would become the next generations DVD standard, but when talks were halted and neither of them could compromise, it got me thinking about what's to come. I'm going to try and dumb this article down a bit for people who might not know about the formats at all or might not be all into the technical talk.

Now, in the bluecorner, Sony brings you the format to beat all formats. Blu-ray is what Sony is hoping everyone wants. As you can see by the name, this isn't just another DVD. Although both of the next gen DVD players will use blue lasers (much thinner allowing for much more data to be stored on the same sized disc), Blu-ray uses a slightly different process of writing and reading the disc. Instead of the data being stored in the middle of the disc (DVD's now a days smash the data between 2 pieces of plastic), the data is stored right at the surface of the bottom of the disc. This helps the disc read and write more data because there isn't anything to distort the light from the laser. The problem with this is that fabrication of the discs requires factories to invest in some expensive equipment to replace their current DVD production equipment. Making it great for the consumer but not so great for the factories who will be stamping them. Currently, there is a standard for Blu-ray that offers about 27GB of data on a single layer disc (Current DVD's hold 4.7GB) and 54GB on a double layer disc (compared to 9GB, currently). For HD content, 2 hours could take up about 15 to 20GB. The increase in capacity will allow for much more High Definition video and audio to be passed through to your TV. A 100GB, 4 layer disc has also been created that reads and writes even faster than the other discs but this hasn't been made a standard yet.

In the red corner, Toshiba heads the consortium to put HD-DVD in everyone's home over the next few years. HD-DVD is pretty much just as the name would tell you. It's a DVD (just like the ones you have at home), but it holds more data because the data layer is closer to the bottom of the disc. The fabrication process for the HD-DVD will be so similar to plain old DVD's that Toshiba is stating that any factory used to make DVD's will be able to press HD-DVD's with only a slight tweak to the already existing hardware. This is good news for the factories and slightly good news for the consumer because the process of writing the DVD's will be easier and cheaper meaning the consumer will probably pay less. The problems arise in the capacity arena. A single layer HD-DVD disc will hold roughly 20GB while a double layer disc will hold only 30GB. Blu-ray definitely has the 1st place ribbon for capacity.

In my opinion, Blu-ray is the superior disc format. I was waiting for Toshiba to back down and just pretty much bend over for Sony so that they could at least be part of the next generation DVD race in my eyes. They both move at about 36Mbs (as opposed to 10Mbs for current DVD's) but Blu-ray holds more data and overall changes the optical media process instead of just enhancing it a little bit. Blu-ray will also be included in the PlayStation 3. Does anyone remember when the PlayStation 2 came out? No one had a DVD player. They were just coming out. The prices were just finally starting to drop. But the PS2 was definitely my first DVD player. The PS3 will do the same thing by getting the Blu-ray technology into the hands of the hard-core fans first (i.e. gamers) and there for selling Blu-ray discs faster which will eventually trickle down to the movie studios which will start the ball rolling faster and get more studios involved in making discs for Sony. Very recently a lot of retailers have gone on the record to verbalize their concern for the next generation DVD formats, stating that it would cause a lot of confusion for the consumer to have 2 competing disc formats. I agree with this, but I also wouldn't mind being alive for another Betamax vs. VHS war. It's all about marketing now. Whoever can get the most discs out from the most studios with the most attractive price, wins. I haven't seen any plans from HD-DVD yet so we will just have to wait till the end of the year or the beginning of next year to see.

I'm not quite done yet. Blu-ray and HD-DVD are the next generation DVD formats. Less than 5 years after DVD started becoming popular, it's being replaced. Don't worry, your new player will play your old DVD's. But what's coming next? I don't remember hearing about Blu-ray or HD-DVD when DVD came out. I just knew there was a blue laser that would let discs hold a whole lot more data that current DVD's, but I never caught wind of any actual idea's or any companies actually doing things with it. This time I have. Before this next generation of DVD comes out, there are already a lot of different companies developing the NEXT next generation DVD. Holographic discs are becoming pretty popular by advertising anywhere from 200GB to 1 Terabyte of data on a single disc. Holographic memory is also another idea, which could completely change the size and shape of the format. Holographic memory is on a rectangular piece of plastic. And then there's Pioneer. Pioneer has just started developing a new DVD format that will use an ultraviolet laser instead of the blue laser to reach capacities of at least 500GB. So after were done choosing a format here, we're going to have quite a bigger challenge when the next next generation starts to roll.


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