HD - High Definition DVD Players - HD-DVD - Blu-Ray DVD

With the reduction in prices for HDTV's and the release of high definition DVD players, aka HD-DVD Players and the Blu-Ray DVD Player, the whole market is seeing an upsurge in activity. But sorting out all the options can be confusing. Here are some simple guidelines to help you make an informed choice.

Even though it seems hard to believe, DVD formats are more than ten years old. The initial DVD disc offered many times more storage (4.7GB) than the average CD (around 700MB). Double sided DVD was soon available and doubled the capacity. There are also double layered DVD discs which increased the capacity again.

Despite some early technical difficulties, the DVD soon became a read write medium, not just read only. With that change came another round of acronyms to understand. DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM are the three most common. All types can be recorded on.

The following table shows the four types of DVD disc, their capacity and play times.

Disc Type Capacity Maximum Play Time
Single Sided Single Layered 4.7 GB 120 Minutes
Single Sided Dual Layered 8.5 GB 240 Minutes
Double Sided Single Layered 9.4 GB 240 Minutes
Double Sided Dual Layered 17 GB 480 Minutes

DVD-RAM is the more expensive option, but can, in theory, be re-written 100,000 times over many years. Also, since they store data non-sequentially, they are more useful for video editing than the other types. However, not all players can play this DVD RAM discs.

DVD-R can only be recorded onto once. Discs are cheap, so that is not a problem these days and the format is compatible with nearly any player on the market.

DVD-RW, though, is only slightly more expensive and can be recorded onto many times. Not quite so many as DVD-RAM - only 1,000 times, in theory, but that is many more times than most people will need.

That was the state of things until very recently. Now comes the interesting part. Two new formats are coming onto the market and they are lining up for a good old fashioned format battle. HD-DVD, developed by Toshiba, and Blu-Ray from Sony have more in common than they have differences but one type will not play on a machine made for the other.

HD-DVD will store 15GB (30GB on dual-layer discs), while Blu-ray does better at 25GB (50GB on dual-layer). But the time differences are minimal. HD-DVD will hold about 8 hours of movies, etc and Blu-ray 9 hours. (100GB, quad-layer, Blu-ray discs are in development.)

Toshiba has lined up support for its HD-DVD format from Microsoft, Intel and a few movie studios. Blu-ray is supported by nearly every major movie studio including Paramount and Disney along with Apple, Dell and several other PC companies.

Early HD-DVD machines from Toshiba (the HD-A1 and HD-XA1) are already on the market, retailing for around $500 and $800. Reviews are mixed, but that is usually the case with machines targeted at early adopters.

On the upside, they can display high definition discs in 720p or 1080i, and will show what your HDTV is really capable of. Blu-ray will display 1080p, the highest quality possible, assuming your TV has this capability. Few yet do.

A dozen HD-DVD movies are already available, including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Serenity, and Phantom of the Opera. More are slated to become available in both formats soon.

For those who like to adopt the latest and greatest and are willing to accept some of the limitations always found in first generation technology, the new formats offer astounding visual quality. Be prepared to replace your equipment, though, in a couple of years once the format situation settles out and the bugs in the early machines are overcome.

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