Why HD DVD is more technically advanced than Blu-ray


Since forever it seems that there is this idea that Blu-ray is "more technically advanced" than HD DVD. This was based on Sony's PR as far as I can tell, so now I feel it is necessary to call out the gaping holes in Blu-ray to prove how much more technically advanced HD DVD is in fact. [Note I am talking about Blu-ray Movies here, not the older, incompatible data-only format].

There is of course one way where BD is more advanced: disc capacity. 50G BD discs can now be made, and a few movies are using these (though for no good reason: the extra capacity isn't being used for anything terribly useful, its just wasted with uncompressed audio, or two copies of the movie, or huge bitrate MPEG2 video. Ug).

BD Missing Features

What many folks don't realize is that there are different Levels for BD, and all of today's BD players only support the lowest level (1.0). This means that these players do not support these features:

  • Advanced audio codecs (Dolby Digital Plus, DTS Master Audio, DD TrueHD) [a few players offering a smattering of support here but it isn't mandatory]
  • Network hardware
  • Secondary video decoder
  • Persistant storage
  • Reliable interactivity

Why are these good features?

Advanced audio codecs get you kick-ass sound, but without wasting all your disc space doing it (like PCM does). I mean you could in theory rip your CDs to uncompressed WAV files, but who does? You use a lossless format if you have the space or demand maximum audio quality, or a lossy format to save space. BD doesn't have those choices: audio is either DVD-quality DTS/DD or WAV-equivalent files.

Network hardware is very handy for firmware updates. However very soon the first network-aware HD DVD titles will be released (starting with Blood Diamond), and we'll start to see the potential this adds to the high definition experience.

A secondary video decoder allows for two simultanous video streams, i.e. Picture in Picture. This has been often used on HD DVD titles for Directors Commentaries that you can actually watch the director (and how scenes were shot etc) at the same time as the movie itself. Elephants Dream uses it to show the difference between HD and SD side-by-side.

Persistant storage allows titles to save information in the player, and the most common usage right now is Bookmarks. I find this great for recording those classic demo scenes to show off the format (e.g. King Kong meeting the Dinos). It can also be used to remember user preferences (e.g. language choice). With networking, a whole lot more use can be made of it in the near future.

Reliable interactivity means a lot: it means nice menus; it means PIP; it means games; Blu-ray's interactivity is Java-based (BD-J) and is simply not up to the task: try running the Disney title Gauntlet on the Samsung player for example: there is a great video on YouTube of how embarassingly bad BD-J is. "Chicken Little" is another deeply inconsistent and flaky BD-J title, though it appears to work on the PS3 at least. As it should: the PS3 has way more horsepower than any stand-alone player, and is probably the only current player that stands a chance of being software upgradable to Level 1.1 and maybe beyond.

All of these features are mandatory for HD DVD players. As every player has them, title authors can confidently use them on their discs and know they will work for everyone.

The BD folks have often talked about "Level 1.1" and "Level 2 Players" which have these features, and that they would be coming in July 2007. However that date recently got moved back to October 2007, and note that this is the date for new players to be released: titles that use these new features will be later still, plus the old players will still be available for sale. This also assumes that title creators will be willing to put in the time to add Level 1.1 or 2 features, despite the fact that most of the user base won't be able to use them for an unknown amount of time. BD-Live, which is BD's networking support, remains an optional feature even on the October-timeframe players.

The PS3 Factor

It is my personal opinion that without the PS3, Blu-ray would have died by now. With almost every BD player costing over a grand and selling in low volumes, BD support would have collapsed had the PS3 not come along at a low-ish price point and offering the best BD performance. If the PS3 remains the only mass-market BD player, is that enough to keep BD going? (UMD anyone?)

Player Support

Ah but the BD folks say, there's all those BD player manufacturers. Samsung, Pioneer and Panasonic are it right now (the other players are ODMed versions of those). BD players are still strangely expensive (considering they have less hardware in them than HD DVD players: no ethernet, no storage, no secondary video decoder etc). Pioneer just proudly announced a "next generation BD player" which is exactly the same as the original one, except it has TrueHD and DTS-HD audio support and a cheaper price: features HD DVD has had from the get-go. Still no networking, PIP, Level 1.1 etc.

Studio Support

Here BD does have a theoretical advantage right now. However Fox don't seem terribly interested in actually releasing very much, and Disney who have a great back catalog don't seem to be doing as much as you might expect: Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean are coming soon, but still no classic Disney movies on the horizon. Why not? Also some studios who support both formats choose not to release some titles at all on Blu-ray as it cannot handle them (e.g. Batman Begins, Matrix Trilogy, Constantine) or they release the Blu-ray version with dumbed down features compared to HD DVD (e.g. Blood Diamond, V for Vendetta). For the titles that are ostensibly the same on both formats, the HD DVD version still offers features Blu-ray can't, like bookmarks, zoom, TrueHD audio and Tivo-style time bar. Despite the theoretical studio difference, the total number of available titles on both formats worldwide is almost identical.

Conclusion

HD DVD is clearly the more technically advanced format. It has had features for over a year now that BD still doesn't have, and isn't likely to have anytime soon. Time to call FUD on BD's "technical advantages". As the old adage says, size is not everything...

Comments (28)

  1. nobodyman says:

    I think this is a great post and does a good job of highlighting the technical merits of HD-DVD over Blu-Ray,  but I think it will fall on deaf ears for no other reason than it comes from a Microsoft source.  This is understandable – I feel it’s only prudent to always take a vendors claims with a grain of salt, regardless of the source.  

    So that’s why linking to that video on youtube was BRILLIANT.   Ultimately all of these technical differences are irrelevant unless they culminate in a better viewing experience.        The best way to vet these claims is to have people see it for themselves.   You should really do alot more of this.  Heck,  Microsoft should take it to the streets and start posting on Youtube themselves (c’mon,  swallow that pride!)

    Slightly off the subject —  I find it surprising that the majority of technical journalists & tech bloggers are ignorant of what differentiates  HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray.  

  2. Andy-Pennell says:

    Thanks nobodyman. Is a "Microsoft source" any worse or better than a "Sony source"? If you look back to say three months before launch at what each camp was saying about their format, I think you’d find that in retrospect one camp was a lot more accurate than the other 🙂

  3. sessha says:

    I’ve been reading your posts for a while. You really are pushing HD-DVD. Personally, (for my own reasons) I hope that HD-DVD succeeds over Blu-ray.

    However, until the format war ends and a single format becomes the standard, I will not invest in either technology, no matter what advantages and disadvantages either have over each other.

    Besides PS3 owners, I do not personally know a single person who owns either formats. There are very few new DVDs in either format, and very few rental stores even stock those that are out.

    I will not waste money and shelf space for something that could end up being obsolete in a short amount of time.

  4. nobodyman says:

    I think that Microsoft does an extremely good job of connecting their engineers with their customers.  By contrast,  Sony has a very controlled & deliberate PR machine.  You almost never get quotes from Sony designers/engineers. It always comes from a marketing goon who only speaks in hyperbole.

    But while the Microsoft approach works very well with the software development community,  I feel that Sony’s has the advantage when it comes to traditional PR — not to mention hollywood ties,  product placement tie-ins (ever noticed how every PC in a Sony Pictures flick is a Vaio?).

    So while I would sooner trust a Microsoft source over a Sony source, it’s almost a moot point.  Sony isn’t winning by being truthful(  In fact it’s almost the opposite).

    Not to sound like a broken record, but I cant underestimate how powerful that youtube video is.  All you’d have to do is by the rights to that clip and air it during the superbowl.  Done deal.  It’ll be betamax all over again.

  5. JHyde says:

    This article could barely be called objective, and makes points without giving full information, let alone, describing shortcomings of HD DVD, via Toshiba or x-box.  The author himself spreads FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt).

    • For example, not all BR titles are MPEG-2, and both formats provide support for any HD codec.
    • Pioneer has networking. It is not completely absent, nor will it be as it matures. We have yet to see real public interest in interactivity.  Have you seen the HDi API and what you can do with it? I’m not impressed.

    • Where is comprehensive HDMI 1.3 on HD DVD? (only the more expensive XA-2)  Where is HDMI on x-box?

    • Storage. HD DVD will never be able to exceed BR, and in general, BR address’ storage needs in video and game consoles. It has different goals. Have you watched the YouTube video of using a pen, knife and steel wool on a BR in an attempt to damage it?

    Please, each format and their capabilities have pros and cons, and neither one is ultimately superior to the other.

    Without splitting hairs, both formats look and sound great.

  6. Andy-Pennell says:

    JHyde: I didn’t say all BR titles are MPEG2: just that a bunch of disc space is wasted by using it. A little over 60% of BD titles use MPEG2 for the main title in fact.

    Of course I have seen the HDi API: I work with it every day. I also see fabulous looking interactivity created with it, that works on all players, something I have yet to witness on a BD-J disc.

    For pure audio and video, both formats should look great: same video codecs, some overlap on audio codecs too. My main beef is with the technical failings of BD, which are mostly on the interactivity side.

    The Pioneer has a network port, true. However as it is not a BD-Live-capable player, no BD title can actually use it.

  7. Andy-Pennell says:

    nobodyman: you are right, when it comes to mainline PR, Sony kick our a** all over the place. That’s one reason why I finally got off mine and put this post together, to make my own little contribution for our camp.

  8. Andy-Pennell says:

    Turns out my post was basically plagiarized on AVSForum and has generated a very active thread of its own: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=848507

  9. Gwyn Cole says:

    Very interesting post! You’ve highlighted the differences well.

  10. Good post!

    I like to mention that this post is not just a nice little analyzis focussing some of the main issues, it is also VERY neutral. Thats no bashing, thats having a pratical look at things from a consumer point of view.

    "Have you seen the HDi API and what you can do with it? I’m not impressed."

    While the interactity features are just getting started and just scratching the surface, why dont you have a look at

    The Fast and The Furious Tokyo Drift, Miami Vice, Freedom (Bandaii Japan) or Smokin Aces. Right now with HDi programming we are observing the next step moving from gimmicks (technically working but useless) to features (download of additional/alternative subtitles e.g. fan script, menue skins, trailers etc.)

    In the very near future we will see download and copying of soundtrack or music mp3 files to external mp3 players via home network or USB connectors. Thats were there is a real consumer benefit in usability, and it works on ANY HD DVD player. Blu-ray hasnt got a technical problem here, Blu-ray has CONCEPTIONAL problem by offering more optional feautures (in theory, like Java games etc.) but way less mandatory features.

    Question to BD folks "How do you establish e.g. music next-gen disc with interactive features if you have no idea if that actually works on the buyers player? Sounds like huge marketing trouble to me.

    There is tons of stuff one could talk about on the industrial side, like almost no independent replicators have invested in Blu-ray, AACS is mandatory on Blu-ray, a highly subsidized cost structure on the BD side while HD DVD is only partly subsidized and is moving into normal structurs etc. but in the end I guess its the

    consumer experience and expectations

    that will decide this. It was imho a bad error of Sony to market BD as "better" than HD DVD, while both formats are sooooo identical in the specs. 2 ways to do the same thing, 1 easier and cheaper, the other one harder and more expensive, which way you go?

    And no everything depends on PS3 as last hope. Lets say thats the river card, Sony announced a monster hand but wouldnt hit the draw. Are you sure you want to go all-in on that one? Thats the question for all the manufacturers and publishers, everbody who needs to invest money on this.

    I just dont get it. I dont see the rising Blu-ray market, all I see is burning money for modest consumer experiences (PS3 top games, anyone? GT HD? Hello?)

    B.R.

    Niran

  11. Ant says:

    I have both formats and play them through a PS3 and the Xbox 360 Add on. The only problems i get from HD DVD are the combo discs. but not had one single problem with Blu Ray. i really like HD DVD for the extra interactivity, But when you can’t sometimes get these features to work due to these stupid combos being made, i’m starting to side with Blu ray

  12. Pardlijk says:

    Now that’s a biast post if I’ve ever read one. I’m no chearleader for either format, there’s very little between them to start a cat fight. As for this post, well, it’s a perfect example of why you shouldn’t read these kinds of posts.

  13. Andy-Pennell says:

    So Pardlikj, why wouldn’t I be biased? See what team I work on. In any case, do I have any factual mistakes here (except the V for Vendetta one)?

  14. Bill Sheppard says:

    Yes, factual mistakes:

    a) More than a "few" titles are BD50.  Of this year’s releases a majority are.  Further, how is this wasted space when far more Blu-ray titles have lossless audio than do HD DVD titles (suggesting HD DVD doesn’t have enough space)?

    b) Persistent storage is mandatory on all Blu-ray players.  Not a huge amount (for models released prior to November 1st), but enough for bookmarks and preferences.

    c) "Every" HD DVD player has the features you mention?  What about the LG combo which doesn’t support HDi?  It may not carry an HD DVD logo, but it’s clearly being used as an HD DVD player and the public perceives it as such.  And I’m not sure how valuable your mandatory TrueHD support is when the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on can’t output that lossless sound as anything but recompressed lossy sound.

    d) You claim Blu-ray titles can’t support bookmarks and "Tivo style time bars".  They can and they do.

    e) You also ignore the other areas where Blu-ray is superior.  In addition to storage capacity, how about bandwidth (67% higher, allowing for better quality audio/video, more audio languages, more interactivity interleaved with the A/V, etc.).  What about the secondary video supporting full-screen 40Mb/sec full-bitrate (as opposed to the limitation of SD video at 4Mb/sec for HD DVD)?  What about the far more advanced writability for Blu-ray media (where are all those HD DVD burners?), including far higher capacities on the roadmap?  What about the benefits of the scratch-resistant coating?  What about the common software platform Blu-ray shares with cable (OCAP) and broadcast (ACAP) television, allowing content to far more easily migrate between broadcast and optical?

    You’re telling half the story, which is what I’d expect given your employer, but it’s half the story none-the-less.

    c)

  15. skerby says:

    Found the following on a Gizmodo post…

    BD is technologically superior. Wow, a Microsoft blog pushing HD DVD – could that be because MS has an interest in HD DVD? BD offers all of the features of HD DVD, and more. Now, it is true that the BD spec *requires* players to support less (BD 1.0) than the basic HD DVD spec, but there are higher level specs (BD 1.1, BD Live, etc) which vendors can choose to support, and the discs are fully compatible across layers. This allows CE vendors to compete on features. As the market grows we may see very basic players and loaded players. And the claim that all current players only support the basic 1.0 spec is wrong. The BD spec is also progressive, with new requirements being phased in as mandatory over time. This helped the format launch with more CE support – HD DVD’s higher requirements contributed to its lackluster vendor support. Not a good move for HD DVD.

  16. Andy-Pennell says:

    skerby: "BD offers all of the features of HD DVD and more" is plainly wrong: please actually read my post to see why. No BD player supports anything >BD 1.0 today, any many have trouble with even that (see the Liars Dice video on YouTube).

  17. Andy-Pennell says:

    Bill: You’re making a lot of claims, but as I don’t have access to the actual BD specs I’d like some specific info from you, you seem to know more about BD than I. I hope you’re not making the mistake of basing your claims on Sony press releases, now are you?

    Please tell me how much pstorage today’s BD players actually have.

    The LG combo is not a logo-ed HD DVD player, which is why it cannot handle the interactivity. Duh.

    Please tell me which BD titles do bookmarks and Tivo time bars, I’ll update my post to suit.

    Please tell me which BD players have secondary video support.

    Please give an example of where the "common software platform" has resulted in an easy migration? The BD-J developers I hear about don’t use the word "easy" very often…

  18. Graeme says:

    Stop arguing. The very fact that people are talking about the technical aspects of either format makes me laugh.

    Listen to a consumer. Apparently that’s how you make your money.  Maybe i’m wrong. Most of this rubbish doesn’t matter. Does it play  HD movies. Check. Is the video and audio be it surround or not good. Check. That’s all us little stupid people want. Blockbuster realised it.

    Interconnectivity, picture in picture, downloadable menus. How about just give me the play button on the first screen i get to then i’ll put the disc back in it’s box and bring it out next year when i fancy watching the film again.

    At least i laughed.

    Thanks

  19. ZapVegas says:

    Blu Ray is for suckers that enjoy using controllers from 1995 to play their "Next-Gen" games.

  20. ZapVegas says:

    "Interconnectivity, picture in picture, downloadable menus. How about just give me the play button on the first screen i get to" – Graeme

    Thanks Graeme, for letting us all know that you’re willing to settle for more of the same for the next several years in regard to watching movies at home. Thanks to folks like you Sony has set the bar so low that you’re excited that "Liar’s Dice" loads after only 8 minutes!

    Come to the realization that Sony has punked you once again and play some God of War 2 on your PS3 with the tiny, 12 year old controller that debuted with Frogger.

  21. tedious says:

    "premonition" does have bookmarks and Tivo timebar

  22. Andy-Pennell says:

    tedious: it does? I can’t find any reviews that mention bookmarks on this title, and where can it save them when you eject the disc? BD has no persistant storage.

    Glad it has a timebar – BD: getting there, painfully slowly, one feature at-a-time.

  23. An important day in the next-gen DVD format war: Paramount have announced that they are going HD DVD

  24. tedious says:

    As I know, BD has two Persistent Storage.. one is mandatory and the other is optional

  25. Andy-Pennell says:

    I have not been able to find size of the mandatory storage on BD. "paidgeek" on AVSForum (an anonymous Sony pictures exec) told me it is "modest" in size so I assume it is pretty small. BD-J Profile 1.1 requires it to be 256M, but so far no-one has announced a 1.1 player, and the October deadline is getting closer…

  26. Andy-Pennell says:

    BD mandatory storage turns out to be 64k. K, not M. Not so much "modest", more "paltry" I would say.

  27. Sean says:

    I agree that all these stupid features are unnecessary.  I want to stick the disc in and watch the movie.  I don’t want previews, I don’t want big animated title screens that take 2 minutes to get to the pointless menu on which I only hit the Play option.  Stick in the disc, watch the movie, call it a night.

    KISS is almost always the right approach, people.

    That said, price is a huge factor here.  Amazon has the Toshiba HD-A3 for under $199, and my TV can’t do 1080p so there’s no reason for me to buy a more expensive player.  The cheapest Blu-Ray player I could find was the $399 PS3.  Guess which one I bought?

    I will eventually have players for both, since I’ll be buying a PS3 to complement my Wii (the Wii’s game library is tiny, and the PS3 has some good looking exclusives plus all of the games the Xbox360 has that are worth buying), but I’m not buying the PS3 for Blu-Ray.  It has that advantage, though, in that buying a machine for playing games I get a Blu-Ray player to go along with it.  In all honesty, though, I’d much rather the PS3 skipped the Blu-Ray and dropped the price.  I’d rather have PS2 back compat than Blu-Ray, but Sony screwed that up too.

    I think HD-DVD might be a more clear winner if the Xbox360 included an HD-DVD player from the get-go instead of requiring a $200 add-on.  The Xbox has sold about as many units as the Wii, and if either of those machines had included one or the other format, that format probably would win solely on the grounds of everyone already having a player for it.

    The other near-term eventuality is that the combo HD-DVD/Blu-Ray players (Samsung has one, not sure if anyone else does yet) get cheap enough that the format wars become completely irrelevant.

  28. Windows Presentation Foundation – MSDN – The starting place for all things. Lawrence Moroney – Great

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