Blu-Ray wins HD wars

 

Toshiba drops out of HD DVD war


Toshiba has said it will stop making its high definition DVDs, ending a battle with rival format Blu-ray over which would be the industry standard. 
Following a review of its business, Toshiba said it would stop production of HD DVD players and recorders. The HD DVD format has suffered as major US film studios backed the Blu-ray format, which is being developed by electronics firm Sony and partners.
Analysts said the move would allow Toshiba to focus on other products.

"It was an agonising decision for me, but I thought if we kept running this business it would have grave ramifications for the management of our company," Toshiba president Atsutoshi Nishida said.

"We made a quick decision, judging that there is no way of winning the competition," he said.

Tipping point 
Toshiba said the tipping point came last month when Warner Bros' followed a number of other film studios in deciding to release its movies only in the Blu-ray format.

"It shows what a highly competitive market it is. When it comes to video, it is the person with the most content that wins," Gartner analyst Paul O'Donovan said.

Warner Bros' decision means an estimated three quarters of new film releases will be available on Blu-ray discs. Other major studios backing Blu-ray include 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney and MGM.

Last week, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, announced it would sell high-definition discs only in the Blu-ray format at its 4,000 US stores.

In the UK, DSGI, which owns the Currys chain, said it would stop selling HD DVD players after Toshiba's announcement.

Video rental firms Blockbusters and Netflix will also offer customers only Blu-ray.

Universal, Paramount and DreamWorks studios signed up to produce movies in HD DVD, but Toshiba's withdrawal is expected to significantly reduce the number of films available in the format.

Industry boost 
The end of the battle is expected to give the industry a boost, as it removes uncertainty for consumers over which format to buy.

"The industry can now focus on getting the right product to the consumer, at the right price and in the volumes required," Paul O'Donovan said.

Toshiba will continue to supply retailers with HD DVD machines until the end of March this year.

After that, Toshiba will provide technical support to the estimated one million people worldwide who own HD DVD devices.

Microsoft offers an HD DVD drive with the Xbox 360 games console. The company told the BBC it did not believe the apparent end of the format would have an impact on Xbox sales.

"It is games that sell the consoles and the Xbox has the largest next-gen games library," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

Toshiba also makes HD DVD drives for PCs and laptop computers.

The HD DVD versus Blu-ray battle has been likened to the VHS versus Betamax war of the 1980s.


So, What is HD?

DVDs are the current standard for data storage, and perhaps more importantly the publishing format standard as well. The question is however, how much longer will they be sufficient? A much anticipated battle, or ‘format war’ if you will, is in progress similar to that seen in the 1980’s between VHS and Betamax. This time around the same companies have fallen into the same camps and war is ensuing between Blu-ray and HD DVD technology.

Blu-ray Disc (BD) is one of the next-generation optical disc formats currently being proposed. It is designed for high-definition video and high-density data storage. The technology was developed by a group of companies working under the name Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA). The main supporter of this technology is Sony. As you can tell by now, the main competitor to Blu-ray technology is HD DVD, which is backed chiefly by Toshiba.

HD DVD has been recognized as the only format of approved next-generation technology by the DVD Forum, which is a group of 230 companies who develop and define DVD formats. Members of this forum include every big name in music, movies and the computer industries, while Toshiba is the organization maintaining the forum. The vote to name HD DVD as the successor of DVD technology was 8 to 6, and many of the companies within the forum are backing Blu-ray technology.


Blu-ray Technology
There are three types of Blu-ray formats planned:

· BD-ROM for pre-recorded media such as software, games and movies

· BD-R (recordable) for HDTV recording and PC data storage

· BD-RE (rewritable) for HDTV recording and PC data storage

As with all new technology it will initially be more expensive to run.


Capacities
Blu-ray supports more data capacity per layer compared to HD DVDs. That is 25GB per layer versus 15GB of HD DVD. Technically it can fit three different capacities; 25GB is merely the average, these capacities are 23.3GB, 25GB or 27GB. This equates to over 4 hours of high definition video with audio.

There is also the option of dual-layers: 46.6GB, 50GB or 54GB, which is roughly 8 hours. Currently BDA are researching 100GB and 200GB technology with 4 or 8 layers, this keeps the technology ‘future proof’. Also in the works is an 8cm disc variation with a 15GB capacity, rather than the regular 12cm discs.


The Name
The Blu-ray name comes from the technology itself; it uses “blue” laser technology (technically it is a blue/violet color), rather than the red laser used for normal DVDs. The Blue laser uses a shorter wavelength then the red laser; 405nm as compared to 650nm. CDs use a 780nm wavelength.

The smaller wavelength allows more data to be stored in the same amount of space. This is due to the smaller ‘spot size’ that is achievable by using the blue laser. The focus of a laser is limited by the amount of diffraction. Diffraction is the bending and spreading of waves, light waves in this case, when it meets an obstruction.

In the case of laser technology however, that light will naturally begin to spread the further it gets from the laser itself (you can see an example of this simply with a torch shining against a wall, the further away from the wall, the more the light spreads.) This is where other factors must be introduced to help focus the laser. Those used in BD technology include an increased numerical aperture than ones used previously (0.85 as compared to 0.6 used for DVDs), a higher quality dual-lens system, and using a thinner cover layer on the disc to reduce optical effects.


The Disc

The disc itself is coated in a hard protective layer made of a clear polymer, providing the discs with superb scratch resistance. The user can even clean their BD discs with a tissue without a second thought. This protective layer technology came into use due to the fact that the original Blu-ray discs were extremely susceptible to damage unless in a caddy. This caddy was a deterrent in that it was not as appealing to manufacturers and distributors due to the extra cost, nor as familiar to users as the HD DVDs.

The BD-ROM discs support MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC High Profile and VC-1 video codecs, which allows Blu-ray discs store up to four hours of video per layer. For audio it supports PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, DTS-HD and Dolby Lossless formats. MPEG-2 TS has been incorporated to allow direct recording from HDTV broadcasts without picture quality loss as well. The ability of optical discs to randomly access means that it is possible to playback video whilst simultaneously recording.

BD-RE and BD-R will be backwards compatible to MPEG-2. New codecs will be introduced and supported as they evolve over time. The technology will also include Java cross platform software for interactive menus on the discs, as compared to the pre-rendered segments used on current DVDs. This may also incorporate network connectivity enabling updates via the internet of the Blu-ray technology. This would mean that you could add new content such as subtitles in different languages as needed. The Java version of the disc will be called BD-J.


Security

Regional codes for the BDs will be different to DVDs; there are only going to be three regions. 1= US, Canada, Mexico, South America, Japan & East Asia (excluding China) 2= Europe & Africa 3= China, Russia, and all other countries.

BD+ is a technology that allows dynamically changing encryption security. It is the method in which the data on the BD is encoded to prevent copying of the media. By constantly changing, it means that cracking one BD does not result in having all discs being cracked, as was the case with DVDs using CSS technology and the release of DeCSS in 1999 which allowed all DVDs to be cracked.

Digital watermarking has also been incorporated into BDs. Digital watermarking is a way of including a hidden copyright notice within the media, thus preventing duplication or reproduction without authorization. AACS is also to be included and is a product of AACS LA. This type of protection will also be used on HD DVDs, but is not receiving good press, so is not the primary source of protection for BDs.

BDs will also finally incorporate HDCP, High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. This is a licensed technology that allows only licensed players to display the media at full resolution. Any players that do not have HDCP will either display a smaller sample or nothing at all. A HDMI interface can be used as it does include HDCP encryption.


Applications

The baseline data transfer rate of the Blu-ray technology is currently 36Mbps. 2x speed prototypes are in development with the intention of going up to 8x in the future. The numerical aperture used, 0.85, allows higher speeds. It also means that BDs require less recording power and lower disc rotation speeds to achieve the same data transfer rates as DVDs and HD DVDs.

Many manufacturers are starting to produce Blu-ray products. They are incorporating them into stand-alone recorders, game consoles, laptops, and PCs. BDA is recommending that manufacturers produce BD drives that are capable of reading DVDs. As such, optical heads have been created that can read CDs, DVDs and BDs. Panasonic released the first drive to support this, the SW-5582, and Pioneer has announced their drive will be released during the first quarter this year. The PlayStation 3 will also incorporate a Blu-ray drive.


HD DVD Technology

There are three types of HD DVD formats :

· HD DVD-ROM for pre-recorded media such as software, games and movies

· HD DVD-R (recordable) for HDTV recording and PC data storage

· HD DVD-Rewritable (recordable) for HDTV recording and PC data storage

The big advantage of HD DVD technology is that it will not cost much money to adapt manufacturing methods from current DVD procedures for these discs, as will be necessary for Blu-ray manufacturing. This should keep the cost of HD DVDs down for consumers as compared to BDs.


Capacities

HD DVD discs will have a standard 15GB capacity on a single layer, which is noticeably smaller than Blu-ray Discs, while dual-layer HD DVD discs will be available with a 30GB capacity. Dual and triple layer discs allowing larger capacities for read and write functionalities are currently in development.


The Name

HD DVD stands for High-Definition DVD. The initials of DVD originally stood for Digital Video Disc, but the DVD Forum argued that they should actually stand for Digital Versatile Disc, as can be used for many different applications, thus more accurately describing its purpose. As this dispute was never settled, DVD officially now stands for nothing. As the DVD Forum only recognizes and supports HD DVD, they state that HD DVD stands for High Definition Digital Versatile Disc.


The Disc

HD DVDs use the same blue laser technology as Blu-ray Discs. This is why HD DVDs provide more memory capacity than DVDs despite of its other similarities.

The difference between Blu-ray and HD DVD is the size of the aperture used on the optical pick-up head inside drives andplayers. Blu-ray uses a 0.85 aperture whereas HD DVDs only use a 0.65 aperture. Finally compare that to current DVDs’ 0.6 aperture. The reason these are different is because of the surface layer of the actual discs. Their thickness limits the effectiveness of the laser due to optical effects.

HD DVDs have a thickness of 0.6mm, the same as current DVDs, which is why the aperture is only marginally larger, thus limiting the discs capacity. BDs have a surface that is only 0.1mm thick, which reduces optical illusions, and enables the larger aperture to be used.


Security

HD DVD-ROMs will include protection which is expected to be produced by AACS LA. This technology, called AACS, will also be included on BDs. AACS is backed by companies supporting both Blu-ray and HD DVD technologies. AACS uses similar security measures as CSS, which failed in the past, thus raising concerns regarding its effectiveness. The technology was in fact voted most likely to fail by IEEE, the largest organization in the world for ‘the advancement of technology related to electricity’.

The difference between CSS and AACS is that instead of having group decryption keys that were allocated to a particular player model, every player will have an individual ‘key’ used in a broadcast encryption scheme. This allows licensors to identify individuals who have leaked their keys. They can then disable a particular player’s functionality with future media as well as carry out legal action against a specific individual.

HD DVDs will also incorporate digital watermarking to protect their products. Watermarking is a process of hiding a copyright notice within digital media that will prevent duplication or reproduction of media without authorization.


Applications
HD DVDs include the same compression formats as BDs; MPEG-4 AVC, VC-1, and MPEG-2. MPEG-2 TS has been used to allow direct recording from HDTV broadcasts without picture quality loss. The current data transfer rate is 36.55Mbps. It will of course be backwards compatible with DVD and CD technology, this is where its appeal lies, however that does not mean Blu-ray technology is not backwards compatible.

The first lot of HD DVD players arrived in March 2006. Microsoft did not include a HD DVD player in their Xbox 360, but released an external add-on drive late in 2006.  

 

 

 

 

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