THE NEW BLUISH DVD FORMAT BATTLE BEGINS
By George Margolin, Editor
Before we get into the DVD wars to come, let’s
revisit what came before.
In the Beginning -- there was the battle of
Sony was first with its Beta format which
provided great quality
Then came JVC with its VHS format and
longer playing time.
And although it didn’t provide quite the same
quality as Sony’s Beta, it gave longer recording time, so a 2 hour TV movie
could be captured and played back on one tape..
So VHS won the hearts and dollars of the
viewing public. Thus BETTER quality, failed and LONGER play time won!
More recently came the battle of the DVD
recording formats, with “Plus” and “Minus” persuasions. (Actually the "Plus"
and "Minus" designations were brought on by the newer kid on the block -- the
"Plus" group to indicate their "superiority" to the "Minus" group. Even
though there is not much serious difference between the two under MOST usage
circumstances. So here -- we will eliminate the pejorative ”Minus” and refer
to it from now on as "Dash" to differentiate from the "other" (Plus) group,
And we’ll refer to it as "DASH-R AND DASH-RW" to lower the decibel levels
created by some of the Plus, marketing folks).
The Dash (read “-“) format was off the blocks
first. And it worked quite well with some limitations as an editing medium.
And the first re-writeable iterations "seemed" to require a lengthy (as much
as an hour) PRE-formatting before use and the inability to record and erase
randomly for editing. This, however was actually a common MIS-conception with
DVD-RW. Pre-formatting is not necessarily required as the media could be
formatted on the fly. But though this mis-conception was fodder for the
"Plus" group’s marketing cannons -- it made little difference. Why? Because
most users neither cared nor would have been bothered, since about 90% of the
recordings are made using write ONCE media. And only about 10% were using the
re-writable formats, Write-once (DVD-R) formats do NOT require formatting at
Thus these two opposing camps and formats
shared more positive similarities than negative differences. But those
Promotional talking points, coupled with the fact that Dash could not be
universally played on ALL then current DVD home players and because the first
Dash recorders and media were only designed to record at 1X (normal playback)
speed, meant a two hour show took two hours to record AFTER the pre-formatting
IF it were an RW disk. With a write-once disk, which required NO
pre-formatting -- the 1X recording limitations were actually a function of
the limitations of the reading and writing technologies in the beginning
stages of this marvelous recording technology.
But, these perceived mechanical and media
"limitations” left the door open for a competitive “improved” approach
designed to eliminate these pioneering low cost optical device
Though some may consider the "improved”
approach of the "Plus" group largely (but certainly not entirely) marketing
hype, its competitive introduction rapidly advanced the capabilities and speed
of BOTH systems. The Plus method for DVD recording and playback system was
pioneered by Philips, Ricoh, HP, Thompson, and other “heavy hitters”, while
Sony supported Dash systems in many of their consumer devices.
It pays to remember that "DASH" had a strong
early start and worked very well for its time. But the "Plus" camp claimed to
permit playability on a slightly larger percentage of the older (let’s call
them “legacy) TV-top players and the fact that its recording hardware and
media speed started out at 2.4 times faster than that of the original 1X Dash
In addition, the +RW re-writeable disks,
required only a few minutes pre-recording set-up time. So its more than two
times recording speed advantage and quick start helped it get off the ground
despite the fact that the “Dash” units had a few years marketing advantage.
And though it seemed that the Plus group was
the first to provide faster than 1X recording speeds, when they first arrived
on the market, it must be noted that Pioneer had already introduced their 2X
DVR-A03 recorder and media in 2001 -- BEFORE the +RW machines shipped from
Philips, HP, Ricoh and Thompson.
And while the Plus system used a similar
physical sized disk, it provided a new type of precise positioning indicators
throughout the disk, which they felt permitted much more latitude in writing
and editing, whether video or computer data. It consisted of a High frequency
“Wobble Grove,” while the Dash formats use a “land prepit” scheme permitting
BOTH formats to have a similar, if not exactly the same degree of address
And while the RE-writable Dash disk had to be
completely erased before RE-writing, the Plus disks could be RE-written
without wasting reformatting time and losing all the material on it. To be
fair, the Dash Re-writeable disk can be "quick formatted' in about two minutes
-- but that destroyed all the information on it.
Please note that the following numbers and
percentages are arguable and were provided by the participants and competitors
in each side.
The “Dash” side claimed compatibility with
about 80% of the legacy players and the “Plus” folks claimed that “Dash” was
playable on only about 70%. The Plus folks also claimed that “Plus” disks
were compatible with “up to "90%" of the existing DVD players. But, it was
and is a matter of testing on your own equipment to see if it works with one
or the other, because sometimes the Dash disks were readable where the Plus
disks were not and vice versa. And, both the Dash and the Plus sides claimed
a slight edge in compatibility.
COMPETITION PUT THE MARKET IN OVERDRIVE
After the initial introduction of the “Plus”
format," things changed -- FAST! The “Dash” group advertised their highest
recording speed 2X, then boosted it to 4X and more. While the “Plus” group
upped theirs faster than 16X as we write this, while still retaining the
ability to selectively RE-write their re-writeable disk line.
Fortunately this is all in the history books.
Compatibility ratios depend a great deal on how one defines “compatibility”—
does this mean ability to spin up, or does it mean play through an entire disc
without any hiccups? The good news is it doesn’t matter much because almost
every player shipped for the past couple of years onward will play either
camp’s discs equally well.
But while both camps were beating each other
to death and dividing the market -- -
Sony rocketed out with a DUAL format DVD
burner, forever changing the landscape.
SONY -- always perceived as a premier
manufacturer, COMBINED the two standards into ONE burner, obliterating much of
the competition. At that point users could buy whichever type of disc they
wanted, or which were the most compatible with their DVD players, or which
were cheaper! So the consumers won because Sony’s clever move forced ALL DVD
Burner manufactures to offer Dual format systems.
With trivial differences in the price of the
single or dual format machines, who, in his or her right mind would buy the
single medium machine? Apparently NO ONE! SO DUAL RULES!
But the story and the competition continues
---- DOUBLE LAYER DEBUTED -- WITH ITS DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE -- DOUBLE YOUR DATA
Philips, a particularly competent and
innovative large company, combined the “DOUBLE LAYER” technology used in
manufacturing the kind of play-only disks made for marketing of motion
pictures, with their writeable and re-writeable players. They and their very
high class consortium of giant companies (including Sony, HP, Ricoh, Thompson
and more) -- created a line of Double Layer burnable and Re-Writeable disks
that were Planned to be readable on virtually all current home DVD players..
In other words, they designed within the
capabilities of the now-selling home players to virtually DOUBLE the capacity
of burnable DVD disks. This means that they could now record about 8.5 GB on a
single sided disk, although this media, selling at more than three times the
price of a single layer disk.
As the late night TV Commercials say: “But
that’s not all!” These new burners played and burned virtually ALL the
current disk types and at the latest speeds! They are virtually all able to
write CD-Rs, CD-RWs, DVD Plus and Dash Rs AND Plus and Dash RWs.
Even better for consumers, if not
manufacturers, the prices of these devices have PLUMMETED! With ads this
week, for Double Layer machines from Sony, Toshiba and the excellent ones from
Pioneer and Plextor, at the highest current speeds, are selling close
(above/below) $50. Who could resist? Not I!
NOW IT’S THE ATTACK OF THE KILLER BLUE LASER
The big bad Blue Lasers have now attacked the
winners of the DVD battles.
Another War of the Recorder Worlds has already
begun, even before the dead bodies of the Plus vs. Dash -- combined with
Double Layer soldiers, are dragged from the battle field of Optical Storage.
But this war is not being fought with flying disk shaped UFOs, but with real
optical storage discs for your own computers and set-top DVD players.
Once again there are TWO flavors of technology
ready to duke it out in the market place. Their opening salvos have already
been shot across the bows of the movie studios that will NEED the kind of
storage density that either or both camps can provide in the short term -- for
the burgeoning HUGE market for MONSTER screen HD TVs and the HD players needed
to store and play the new class of videos – already being delivered – at no
increase in cost – by Netflix.
(Keep “short term” in mind.) It is clearly a
replay of the Sony Beta vs. JVC VHS format wars. And this time the two sides
are named: Blu-Ray (also called BD) vs. HD-DVD.
There are great similarities and some serious,
serious, differences. Note the two “seriouses.” Between the "Blu-Ray (BD)
and "HD DVD discs."
First off -- They BOTH use burning and playing
technologies that (more or less) EXIST TODAY, but with different takes on disc
construction and burner production and manufacture.
Second -- Both use blue/violet lasers of 405
Nm (nanometer) wavelength. This, alone, permits AT LEAST 2.6 times the data
density over a current DVD’s RED laser of 620 Nm. But there are further
differences explained below.
The numbers indicate smaller wavelength, which
equals closer packing of smaller data dots (bits), which translates into an
INSTANT advantage in data storage of video or other information.
Third -- They are BOTH capable of recording a
full length HDTV film in exquisite quality, plus many of the “normal” add-ons
of DVD merchandising, like commentaries and behind-the-scene looks, multiple
languages and camera angles and more.
Fourth -- They would BOTH greatly improve the
optical disk capabilities for computer data as well. BUT -------
THE DIFFERENT BLUE DEVILS ARE IN THE
Their differences result from their two
approaches to technology. The HD DVD school -- wants to build burners and
discs that they can reproduce by the millions using only slightly modified current
disc stamping equipment, even if this means that they can’t produce the same
capacity or bit rate as Blu-Ray discs.
also means that the DVD PIRATES will be able to continue their piracy without
having to shift (BUY$$$) costly, new equipment. Good for the thieves but bad
for the studio originators who spend millions PRODUCING, not COPYING original
STORAGE – SIZE DOES COUNT -- BIGGER IS
At this point HD DVD’s maximum storage is 15
GB on a single layer disc and about 30 GB on a double layer disc.
But the Blu-Ray folks have already
advanced to the next stage of optical recording technology. This provides
much greater storage -- 25 GB on a single layer disc and 50 GB on a double
layer disc, meaning that they’re STARTING OUT with a full 40% greater storage
than HD DVD. It also means that they bypassed the older, perhaps obsolete,
technology of their HD DVD competitors.
Remember? I commented earlier about “short
term?” Well, here it is. The HD DVD approach may “work” for “now,” but it
can hardly be expected to be adequate in the very near future. (Next month
Also, even though the fight for deliverables
has hardly begun, the Bu-Ray camp can already provide 166% more bang for the
buck related to Replicated discs (the kind we buy in the store). And even
when the HD-DVD side is doing double layer recording -- this means an
approximate additional 166% advantage of the Blu-Ray discs for recording.
WHICH BLUE FLAVOR TO CHOOSE -- WHICH WILL WIN?
So I ask the question -- If someone were to
offer you a choice between two diamonds of equal beauty, quality and
brilliance, with one being a full 166% LARGER, for the same price, which one
would you pick? (No coaching from the audience, please.)
Or, because I often have need to drive a truck
or a van, if someone offered to sell me a truck that carried more than half
again as much as another truck -- at the same price and if this stronger,
higher capacity truck were the same physical size and weight, got better gas
mileage AND WENT FASTER -- would I need to be Einstein, to figure out which to
choose? I think not!!
While it is clear that, compared to current
red laser DVDS, Blu-Ray and HD DVD are both desirable choices for our
entertainment and data storage -- doesn’t it seem strange that one is already
an advanced technology and the other is, at the moment, not even state of the
And while HD DVD may have enough recording
density for many, if not most, of today’s HD Video titles, it is
clearly NOT the right choice for our growing archival computer data needs.
Please look at the following simple chart:
I have two to four 250 GB drives on each of
the two main computers on my desk, so let’s see just how many of which medium
I need to back up ALL the information on just ONE of my 250 GB drives:
250 GB 1.4 MB
Floppy 178,571 Floppies
250 GB 700 MB
CD 357 CDs
250 GB 4.7 GB
DVD 53.2 DVDs
250 GB 8.5 DL
DVD 29.4 DBL DVDs
250 GB 15 GB HD DVD
250 GB 25 GB Blu-Ray
250 GB 30 GB DL HD-DVD
8.3 DBL HD-DVDs)
250 GB 50 GB DL Blu-Ray
5 DBL Blu-Rays