HD-DVD (high-definition DVD)

What is HD-DVD (high-definition DVD)?

HD-DVD (high-definition DVD) is a defunct high-capacity optical storage medium that was once seen as the successor to the DVD. A standard single-sided, one-layer DVD can hold 4.7 gigabytes of data and 8.5 GB if it's a double-layer disc. A single-layer HD-DVD stores up to 15 GB of storage capacity, and a dual-layer disk provides up to 30 GB.

A double-layer HD-DVD can store up to eight hours of 1,125-line high-definition television (HDTV) programming or up to 48 hours of standard-definition television programming. The data transfer rate of an HD-DVD drive is approximately 36 megabits per second (Mbps). That is more than enough to accommodate digital TV signals, which are transmitted at 24 Mbps.

How does an HD-DVD work?

HD-DVD is based on the Advanced Optical Disc technology that Toshiba and NEC developed in the early 2000s. The disks store data using a series of microscopic pits. HD-DVD technology uses a blue laser to read the opposite side of the pits and reflect the laser's light to a sensor. The player reads data from the sensor as digital signals.

HD-DVD disks are able to store more data than a conventional DVD because of the following features:

  • Lasers with a shorter wavelength. HD-DVDs use 405 nanometers in the visible blue range compared with 650 nm in the visible red range for a conventional DVD. Blue lasers have a larger storage capacity and enable higher resolution than red lasers.
  • More sophisticated data compression. DVD players reproduce data from disks that use the MPEG-2 data compression standard. An HD-DVD player can use either MPEG-2 or the more extensive MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding and VC-1 video compression standards. These more advanced standards enable higher-quality video and smaller file sizes.
  • More closely spaced tracks. The pits on an HD-DVD are smaller than those of a conventional DVD. This enabled the tracks to be closer together. The track pitch or spacing on a DVD is 0.75 micrometers, while the track pitch on an HD-DVD is 0.40 μm.
  • The speed advantage. HD-DVDs players read and play back data from a disk three times faster than a DVD player. They also use High-Definition Multimedia Interface, or HDMI, technology to send digital signals to an HDTV with no need for analog conversion and the quality issues that causes.
photo of optical disks
HD-DVDs are one of various types of optical storage disk formats.

The great Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD format war

When HD-DVD technology was first introduced, it offered several advantages over Blu-ray, an optical disk format for high-definition video that stores large amounts of data. The HD-DVD format was more in line with the standard DVD than the early Blu-ray disks, making disks cheaper and easier to produce.

In November 2003, the DVD Forum selected HD-DVD as the successor to DVD by a vote of eight to six. In March 2006, Toshiba released the first consumer HD-DVD player. Many industry experts believed the Toshiba player would lock in HD-DVD as the industry standard.

Despite these advantages, Blu-ray remained a dominant force, in part because the disks could handle more capacity than HD-DVD. In most other respects, the two formats were comparable, including in the following three ways:

  1. They both supported 405 nm blue laser technology.
  2. They both could work with the same video and audio compression technology.
  3. Both were the same size as a standard DVD, and either type of player could run standard DVDs.

At this point, the momentum was behind HD-DVD, especially after Intel and Microsoft endorsed the format in 2005. However, both formats gained the support of big-name movie studios:

  • Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures backed HD-DVD.
  • Sony and Disney joined the Blu-ray camp.
  • A few studios supported both formats, most notably Warner Brothers, but they were the exception.

The balance of power started to change as more studios aligned with Blu-ray, putting the future of HD-DVD in doubt.

The final blow came in January 2008 when Warner Brothers announced its exclusive support for Blu-ray. That ended the debate about which technology would emerge as the victor. A month later, on Feb. 19, 2008, Toshiba announced it would stop developing, manufacturing and marketing HD-DVD players and recorders.

Since then, Blu-ray players and disks have emerged as the industry standard for optical storage and are now the fastest optical media on the market. Blu-ray disks store as much as 128 GB of data.

Check out the future of optical technology and the changes 5D optical storage might bring.

This was last updated in February 2022

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