What is HD DVD?
Like Blu-ray Disc, HD DVD is a high definition optical disc format intended to replace the older DVD standard. HD DVD was developed by the DVD Forum – the organization the developed the DVD format – whereas the Blu-ray Disc format was developed by the Blu-ray Disc Association. Both formats increased the capacity of optical discs by replacing the red (650 nm) laser of DVDs with a violet (405 nm) laser. The smaller wavelength of a 405 nm laser allows the 0s and 1s (bits) to be encoded using less physical space, allowing an increase in the number of bits per track and tracks per layer. Additionally, both formats introduced new technologies intended to make videos more interactive, such as introducing Picture in Picture (PIP) and downloadable web content. Players and videos for both formats debuted in 2006.
HD DVD and Blu-ray both encode video using the VC-1 or H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression standards, as well as the older MPEG-2 standard used by DVDs. Generally speaking, videos released in both the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats are likely be indistinguishable from one another because they will probably use the same bitrate and encoding.
HD DVD and Blu-ray differ in three obvious regards. Blu-ray uses Java for interactive content, while HD DVD uses Microsoft's HDi. Whether either method offers an advantage is debatable, but both methods are superior to the pre-rendered MPEG video clips that were used to animate interactive menus on DVDs. Like DVDs, Blu-ray Discs can be region-locked – although there are only three regions instead of DVD's six regions – while HD DVDs are region-free. Finally, Blu-ray Discs can encode 25 GB per layer, compared to HD DVD's 15 GB per layer. Blu-ray Discs were able to achieve this higher recording density, despite using the same laser wavelength as HD DVD, by placing the recording layer 0.1 mm from the surface of the disc, whereas HD DVD maintained the recording layer at the same depth as in DVD discs (0.6 mm). Placing the recording layer a mere 0.1 mm made Blu-ray Discs more vulnerable to scratches than CDs, DVDs and HD DVDs, so Blu-ray Discs must also be coated with a scratch-resistant "hard-coating". HD DVDs were less expensive to manufacture because they could be produced using existing DVD manufacturing processes. A desire to avoid the need to develop a new manufacturing process is likely why the DVD Forum favored maintaining the recording layer at 0.6 mm from the disc surface, even at the expense of capacity.
What happened to HD DVD?
The primary manufacturer of HD DVD players was Toshiba, while the primary manufacturer of Blu-ray Disc players (at least initially) was Sony. Beyond the relative merits of both formats, Blu-ray had an advantage because Sony owned one of the "Big Six" movie studios: Columbia Pictures. Initially, both formats enjoyed the support of three of the Big Six. HD DVD was supported by Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Brothers Pictures, and Blu-ray Disc was supported by Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. Warner Brothers and Paramount later supported both formats, although Paramount abandoned the Blu-ray Disc format in August 2007 (except for titles directed by Steven Spielberg). By August 2007, HD DVD had the exclusive support of two of the Big Six (Universal and Paramount) and one "mini-major": DreamWorks SKG. Warner Bros. released videos in both formats, although they continued to release some titles exclusively for HD DVD.
Although studio exclusivity was likely a factor, the Blu-ray Disc had a second advantage in that Sony incorporated Blu-ray Disc support into the PlayStation 3 video game console. Although Microsoft eventually released an HD DVD add-on for the XBox 360 console, every PlayStation 3 sold supported Blu-ray Discs, creating an automatic market for Blu-ray Disc videos. Between format support from four of the Big Six movie studios, and the market created by sales of the PlayStation 3, sales of Blu-ray Discs far exceeded that of HD DVDs. On 4 January 2008, Warner Bros. announced plans to abandon the HD DVD format. This led to a chain reaction of format abandonment by studios and retailers. Toshiba announced that it would cease production of HD DVD players and recorders on February 19, which led Universal Studios to announce support for Blu-ray the same day, followed by Paramount Pictures the next day. The HD DVD Promotion Group was officially dissolved on 28 March 2008.
What is the current state of HD DVD?
Between 2006 and 2008, HD DVD and Blu-ray/HD DVD combo players were produced by a number of companies, including Toshiba, Samsung and LG. An HD DVD add-on was created for the XBox 360, and it could also be connected to a PC. Additionally, there were HD DVD readers for PCs and laptops, as well as "multi-blue" drives by LG that could read HD DVDs in addition to reading, and sometimes writing, Blu-ray Discs. Windows Vista and later can read HD DVD discs if an HD DVD-compatible drive is connected to the computer, but HD DVD-compatible software is required to watch the videos.
Popular software that supported watching HD DVD videos on a PC included ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre, Cyberlink PowerDVD, InterVideo/Corel WinDVD HD, and Nero ShowTime. All of these products removed support for HD DVD in subsequent versions. At this time, there appears to be no commercially available products that support the HD DVD format.
Why does this website exist?
HD DVDs generally look and sound as good as Blu-Ray videos, and some videos were only released in high definition on HD DVD. HD DVD is a good format, and thousands of people still own HD DVD videos and players. HD DVDs are still widely available at thrift stores and online auction sites, and tend to be less expensive than Blu-Rays. Many HD DVDs are also contain a DVD layer, and may cost less than even their DVD equivalents. This website exists as a resource for people who want to continue to enjoy the HD DVD format.