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10 Trends for 2007: 8. Optical Drives: Blu-ray vs. HD DVD

The DVD standard has hit a stumbling block in the form of high definition (HD) video. HD video demands more capacity than a standard DVD can deliver, and this is where the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats come into play. Both promise HD quality playback on your HD TV as well as backing up a huge amount of data or recording your own HD videos.

The two formats have a lot in common. Both are based on blue-violet laser drives (which use a shorter wave frequency than lasers found on current DVD drives). These lasers allow new discs to contain more information in the same space. Blu-ray DVDs can store 25GB on a single-sided disc and 50GB on a double-layer disc; DVD HD discs can store 15GB and 30GB, respectively; standard DVDs can hold 4.7 and 8.5 GB respectively. Therefore, a 50GB Blu-ray disc can hold up to 9 hours of HD quality video (23 hours of SD video); a 30GB HD DVD disc can hold 8 hours of HD video. Both formats support resolutions up to 1080p (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) compared to 720 x 480 pixels for standard DVDs.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Regardless of their similarities, the two new standards are incompatible: Blu-ray drives cannot read HD DVD discs, and vice versa. Which one will win the format war?

Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Samsung and Panasonic all support Blu-ray, while NEC, Toshiba and Sanyo are betting on HD DVD. HD DVD was the first to hit the market and is cheaper. In addition, at the moment, there are also more movies available in that format. But Sony’s launch of the PlayStation 3 (PS3) with a Blu-ray optical drive could be what NPD analyst Ross Rubin calls “an effective trojan horse for the Blu-ray format.”

What path will Apple take? He is currently on the side of the Blu-ray format, but no computer manufacturer will decide the outcome of the contest. Consumers will, once they decide the format they want for their content and select the recorders that support it. Computer companies will follow this trend.

Buying advice

Don’t expect a clear victor over the next year (or two). For the rental and playback of movies, for the moment you will have more options in HD DVD format. For burning your own movies and data, Blu-ray offers more capacity. The first hybrid players that support both formats will likely appear throughout this year, although they will be very expensive for the average buyer.

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