Friday, December 14, 2007

HD DVD - History

In the mid 1990s, commercial HDTV sets were finally starting to enter a larger market. However, there was no good, cheap way to record or play back HD content. There was no cheap storage medium that could store that amount of data, except JVC's Digital VHS and Sony's HD Betacam.[5] However, it was well known that using lasers with shorter wavelengths would yield optical storage with higher density. When Shuji Nakamura invented practical blue laser diodes, it was a sensation, although a lengthy patent lawsuit delayed commercial introduction.[6]

Origins and competition from Blu-ray Disc

Sony started two projects applying the new diodes: UDO (Ultra Density Optical) and DVR Blue (together with Pioneer), a format of rewritable discs which would eventually become Blu-ray (more specifically, BD-RE).[7] The core technologies of the formats are essentially similar. The first DVR Blue prototypes were unveiled at the CEATEC exhibition in October 2000 [8]. In February 2002, the project was officially announced as Blu-ray,[9] and the Blu-ray Disc Association was founded by the nine initial members.

The DVD Forum (which was chaired by Toshiba) was deeply split over whether to go with the more expensive blue lasers or not. In addition, the proposed Blu-ray disc with its protective caddy was both expensive and physically different from DVD, posing several problems.[10] In March 2002, the forum voted to approve a proposal endorsed by Warner Bros. and other motion picture studios that involved compressing HD content onto dual-layer DVD-9 discs.[11][12] However, in spite of this decision, the DVD Forum's Steering Committee announced in April that it was pursuing its own blue-laser high-definition solution.[13] In August, Toshiba and NEC announced their competing standard Advanced Optical Disc.[14] It was finally adopted by the DVD forum and renamed to HD DVD the next year,[15] after being voted down twice by Blu-ray Disc Association members, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice to make preliminary investigations into the situation[16][17]. Three new members had to be invited and the voting rules changed before the vote finally passed.[18][19]

Attempts to avoid a format war

In an attempt to avoid a costly format war, the Blu-ray Disc Association and DVD Forum started to negotiate a compromise in early 2005. One of the issues was that Blu-ray's supporters wanted to use a Java-based platform for interactivity (BD-J), while the DVD Forum was promoting Microsoft's "iHD" (which became HDi).[20]. A much larger issue, though, was the physical formats of the discs themselves; the Blu-ray Disc Association's member companies did not want to risk losing billions of dollars in royalties as they had done with standard DVD[21]. An agreement seemed close, but negotiations proceeded slowly.[22]

At the end of June 2005, Sun announced that the Blu-ray Association had chosen the Java-based BD-J interactivity layer instead of Microsoft's HDi. This was based on a BDA board vote favouring BD-J 10 to 4, despite a technical committee previously favouring HDi by a vote of 7 to 5[23]. At the same time, Microsoft and Toshiba jointly announced that they would cooperate in developing high-definition DVD players.[24] In a top-level meeting in July, Microsoft's Bill Gates argued that the Blu-ray standard had to change to "work more smoothly with personal computers". The Blu-ray Disc's representatives defended the technology.[25]

On August 22, 2005, the Blu-ray Disc Association and DVD Forum announced that the negotiations to unify their standards had failed.[26] Rumours surfaced that an "unnamed partner" had pressured Toshiba to stick with HD DVD -- in spite of Blu-ray's strong support among Hollywood studios and some analysts saying that HD DVD's days were numbered -- but these rumours were denied by the parties involved; instead, the same reasons of physical format incompatibility were cited[21][25] In the end of September, Microsoft and Intel jointly announced their support for HD DVD.[27]

Hewlett Packard (HP) made a last ditch attempt to broker a peace between the Blu-ray Disc Association and Microsoft. HP demanded that the Blu-ray association adopted Microsoft's HDi instead of its own Java solution, and that Blu-ray adopt a mandatory managed copy feature. If their demands weren't met, HP threatened to support HD DVD instead.[28] In a research report, Gartner analysts Van Baker, Laura Behrens and Mike McGuire wrote that if HP's proposal was accepted, Blu-ray would become the winner of the format war.[29] However, the Blu-ray Disc group did not accept HP's offer.[30]

Launch of HD DVD

On March 31, 2006, Toshiba released their first HD DVD player in Japan at ¥110,000 (US$934).[31]. That was the first HD player available to consumers, beating Blu-ray to the market.[32] HD DVD was released in United States on April 18, 2006,[33] with players priced at $499 and $799.

The first HD DVD titles were released on April 18, 2006. They were The Last Samurai, Million Dollar Baby, and The Phantom of the Opera by Warner Home Video and Serenity by Universal Studios.[34] The first independent HD film released on HD DVD was One Six Right.[35][36]

Sales and Recent Developments

In December 2006, Toshiba reported that roughly 120,000 Toshiba branded HD DVD players have been sold in the United States along with 150,000 units coming in the form of HD DVD upgrade kits for the Xbox 360.[37]

As of April 18, 2007, (on the first “birthday” of HD DVD),[38] the HD DVD camp reported that they had sold 100,000 dedicated HD DVD units in the U.S. alone, (not including any computers with HD DVD drives or Xbox 360 add-ons drives—the latter of which was reported to have sold 92,000 units during the Christmas holiday season).[39]

The first HD DVD Recorders were released mid 2007 in Japan.[40]

In November 2007, the Toshiba HD-A2 was the first high definition player, either HD DVD or Blu-ray, to be sold at a sale price of less than $100. This was done through several major retailers to make room for the new HD-A3 models. These closeout sales lasted less than a day each due to both limited quantities and high demand at that price point.

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