It’s time to evaluate the latest battle that can only be matched by the war between VHS and Betamax. I don’t want to get into too many technical particulates, I’m going to look more at the social and economic side - as I’m sure this will have a greater influence over which format will dominate. Saying that, lets start with the obvious comparison;
Technical Comparison: HD-DVD offers 15GB per layer, per side - about 3 DVDs worth of data. Interestingly, you can also purchase (although, they are limited) Combo-DVDs that have a DVD film on one side and an HD-DVD film on the other. Blu-Ray on the other hand can store 25GB per layer, but lacks the combo-discs (although it’s theoretically possible in the same way). However, the Blu-Ray standard requires players to support Java, that can be used for the Menus of the Blu-Ray movies. This could lead to movies coming with basic games that you can play on your TV alongside highly interactive menus or making of features. While both discs support essentially the same video formats, Blu-Ray supports a higher audio bit-rate allowing for better 5.1 dolby surround audio. All in all, Blu-Ray wins this round, but history shows that technical details rarely state the winning format.
Film Studio / Corporate Support: One of the two main issues that I would consider the main decider in which format will win, is the economic issue of support. To date, Blu-Ray is exclusively supported by Colombia, MGM, Disney, Lionsgate and 20th Century Fox (5 studios). HD-DVD only has 2 exclusive supports, Universal and Weinstein. Paramount, Dreamworks, Warner Brothers and New Line Cinemas currently support both formats. A quick search of Amazon shows an almost equal number movies in each format available: 420 Blu-Ray titles and 439 HD-DVD titles. HD-DVD got off the ground quicker, so I think the Blu-Ray titles may have started being released a little later, explaining the slight short-fall.
As for support for the actual media. Toshiba, Microsoft, NEC and Intel actively support HD-DVD. Microsoft and Intel probably being the major factors here, as they will be releasing hard-ware to the general public for their format, probably much favouring HD-DVD in their updates for Windows (but they will not be able to deny Blu-Ray either). Blu-Ray has garnered support from Apple, Dell, HP, Panasonic and Sony, an equally impressive line-up in the industry.
In my eyes, the two formats are pretty equal on technological corporate support, but Blu-Ray wins outright on the film studio support. Sony, Disney and Fox were the three most profitable / biggest film studios last year, and they all exclusively support Blu-Ray, so this round also goes to Blu-Ray.
Consumer Support / The Console War: I’m going to be fairly blunt on this one. I personally believe that the X-Box 360 and the Sony PS3 are going to be the biggest factor in deciding the winner of this battle. The X-Box 360 has an add-on that allows you to play HD-DVD discs, where the PS3 allows for it out of the box. Currently, the stand-alone players for these 2 formats are very expensive, and purchasers will be a fairly limited group of people until their prices crash. However, the console market is much wider, and will really help to get these formats into society, and out to the people that really matter - the young adults that love their hordes of films and massive flat-panel TVs.
To a point, this is part of a bigger discussion - which console will dominate in a years time. If the PS3 dominate’s, then the answer to this round is easy - Blu-Ray will almost definitely win right out. As PS3 owners get hold of higher definition TV’s, they’ll buy high-definition movies, which will what their console supports - Blu-Ray. However, if the X-Box 360 wins the war, it won’t be so clear cut… As you won’t just be able to go out and spend £15 on a film just to see what it looks like on your console - you’ll have to purchase an add-on drive first. So, even if the consoles near-tie, then I suspect that Blu-Ray will still come out on top. However, if the X-Box 360 wins, it could go either way.
Current Conclusion: I’d always thought that Blu-Ray had a slghtly cooler name, but never really had an opinion over which media would likely still be available in 2-3 years time. I’m now convinced that the wire-wool resistant Blu-Ray ROMs are going to the dominant media. Either way, there’s no way I would splash out on a £500 player for either at the current time, unless I was going to get a shiny new games console. And even in that case, my decision would be biased towards the PS3, but solely because of the nature of the console (you can install Linux onto it, it supports SETI@Home out of the box and it’s got some amazing titles lined up for it). All in all, I think that Blu-Ray deserves to win, and with the massive of support that it has from Film-Studios and the PS3, I think it most likely will.