You’ve heard the story before. Technology pushes onward and a new media replaces an aging stalwart. In the 1980s, it was Betamax vs. VHS tape. Today, it is Blu-ray vs. HD DVD.
The traditional DVD is on its way out. There’s little disagreement about that. The DVD player’s red laser is losing its appeal and the new blue laser of upstart competitors is gaining more attention. Alternatives boast considerably more storage space and flexibility—necessities as the HDTV era establishes itself and consumers’ tastes for products loaded with extras grows. The only question is who comes next. There are two primary contenders, Blu-ray and HD DVD, but no clear winner.
HD DVD disks will hold 15 GB of data on a single layer, 30 GB with dual layering. Tests substantiate a 45 GB capacity with a theoretical limit of 60 GB. That 15/30/45/60 line looks good compared to today’s DVD. However, when one compares it to Blu-ray capabilities at 25/50/100/200, it seems unthinkable that HD DVD could grab a market share advantage.
HD DVD, however, has a few advantages. First, it’s cheaper to make. Compared to Blu-ray, factory retooling is a breeze. Second, it’s probably sturdier. Bother options have thinner protective layers than the DVD, but one may be able to pierce the Blu-ray’s protective shield too easily. Third, HD DVD is closer to being ready for mass production and distribution.
Major players have lined up behind both options. Hopes for cooperative abandonment of the competing options for a standardized format have dissipated. One of the two options will probably emerge as the “next big thing. " That outcome could be determined by storage capabilities, market penetration, consumer preference or durability. It might also be decided by who can first develop an optimal security system to appease studios and content producers concerned about piracy.
VHS trumped the ostensibly superior Betamax back in the days when videotape was cutting-edge. Soon we’ll learn whether consumers are ready to embrace the massive storage advantage of Blu-ray or the “it was here first" appeal of HD DVD.
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