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Front Page » October 11, 2005 » Tech Tips » Evolution of the DVD
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Evolution of the DVD

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Digital Video Discs, or DVDs, made their debut in the mid 1990s. Engineered with extremely high storage capacities, DVDs were intended to be the digital replacement for aging video technologies like VHS. The new discs quickly became popular among consumers because of the superior video quality and interactive features, and easily became the de-facto standard for digital video & multimedia.

A decade later, DVDs are still the movie-medium of choice. However, DVD capacity has become a major limitation as many newer, higher-definition movies no longer fit on a standard DVD disc, which holds up to 4.7 gigabytes (GB).

In response to the demands for higher-definition video, the DVD industry has proposed two new DVD standards, which provide much higher storage capacities than traditional DVDs: HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in the technology realm about these two standards, and what each proposes. Unfortunately, differentiating between hype and reality isn't easy. Many consumers are more than confused.

Both proposed standards use blue lasers to read or write, which offer a higher-wavelength than traditional DVDs, which use red lasers. This means that that information can be packed on the disc at a higher density - ultimately leading to greater storage capacities. Unfortunately, the industry won't stick to one standard, which could lead to major problems for consumers in the next few years.

Technology companies Toshiba, Sanyo, NEC, Microsoft, Intel, multimedia companies HBO, New Line Cinema, Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Warner Home Video stand in favor of HD-DVD, which provides estimated storage capacities of about 15 to 30 gigabytes (GB). The proponents of HD-DVD say that HD-DVD discs will be cheaper to produce than the Blu-ray counterparts, and that HD-DVD is more compatible with traditional DVDs.

Technology companies Sony, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Pioneer, LG Electronics, Dell, HP, Apple Computer, gaming software company Electronic Arts, and multimedia companies Twentieth Century Fox, Vivendi Universal and Walt Disney are supporting the Blu-ray standard, which provides estimated storage capacities of 25 to 50 gigabytes (GB). Proponents of Blu-ray tout higher capacites and claim that Blu-ray is also backwards-compatible with traditional DVDs. They also claim Blu-ray related prices will be reasonable once the technology hits the mainstream market.

Many have inquired why both standards cannot be embraced. Because both standards are so different, designing equipment (like a player) that can handle both standards is technically and economically unfeasible. As a result, video stores would have to ensure movies were available in both formats. Moreover, consumers would be confused as to whether a particular disc is compatible with their player. A lack of a single standard also could mean hefty prices for players/writers and discs alike.

Many experts in the industry say the situation is very similar to the old VHS versus Betamax debate, where the format wars waged on for many years.

Until a victor emerges, consumers ultimately stand to lose. For the time being, most consumers should be reluctant to openly accept either standard. In the mean time, it's probably wiser to stick with traditional DVDs if possible.

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