In the 1980's two competing video formats fought it out in American living rooms. Betamax, released by Sony in 1975, was arguably the better technology. In fact many musicians used the technology to create digital recording a decade before digital recording became commonplace. However VHS, released by JVC in 1976, allowed significantly longer recording times (the original Beta format was limited to one hour, VHS could record 6).
A new war is looming between two incompatible types of high-definition video discs scheduled to hit the market later this year. Hollywood studios have committed to releasing scores of high-definition DVD movies later this year. Two camps backing incompatible next-generation technologies, led respectively by Sony and Toshiba, have as yet failed to agree on a way to unify their products.
The two technologies are known as HD DVD and Blu-Ray. The core difference between the two formats lies with a single aspect of the disc — a thin layer of plastic that sits just above the metal surface on which data is written. An HD DVD disc calls for a 0.6 millimeter coating, while a Blu-ray disc requires 0.1 millimeters. Blu-ray's thinner coating is the secret behind the disc's higher capacity. Since the laser travels through a thinner layer of resin, it's able to focus more sharply and write 67 percent more data onto the disc itself.
Sony's Blu-ray gets its name from the blue laser that, in addition to other techniques, allows it to store substantially more data on the same sized disc than a DVD. One single-layer Blu-ray disc can hold about 25 GB or over two hours of HD video plus audio, and the dual-layer disc can hold approximately 50 GB. The have already demonstrated 200 GB eight-layer technology. Blu-ray is supported by Apple; Dell; Hewlett Packard; Hitachi; LG; Mitsubishi; Panasonic (Matsushita Electric); Pioneer; Samsung; Sharp; Sony; Twentieth Century Fox; and Walt Disney.
Toshiba's HD DVD has a single layer capacity of 15 GB and a dual-layer capacity of 30 GB. HD DVD media is less expensive to manufacture than Blu-ray Disc which require re-tooling of DVD disc production lines. HD DVD players can also rely on some of the same technology as conventional DVDs, making it easier to build players that can handle both generations of disc. HD DVD is supported by Canon; Fuji; NEC; Onkyo; Paramount; Ricoh; Sanyo; TEAC; Toshiba; Warner Home Video.
If history is any indicator of the future, Sony may have learned its lesson and Blu-ray's larger recording capacity will win out. Their plan to include a Blu-ray drive in its PlayStation 3 should give it a strong foothold.
HD DVD Promotion Group
Blu-ray Disc Association
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