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Causes And History Of The Blu-ray/HD DVD Format War

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In the mid-2000s, the home video market found itself in a situation similar to that of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when VHS and Betamax competed with each other for market share. This time, two versions of the optical disc contended for dominance: Blu ray and HD DVD, both of which first became available to consumers in 2006. Both offered significantly better quality compared to standard DVDs, but the two formats were technically different. A Blu ray player could not play an HD DVD disc, and vice-versa. The market was not big enough for both of them.

The high-definition optical disc format war lasted until 2008, when the HD DVD format began to falter and Blu ray emerged as the champion. Today, only the Blu ray disc remains available.

The format war was bad for business. Any consumer interested in buying the most innovative video player available had to choose between Blu ray and HD DVD. Given the unstable situation, it was always possible for one or the other format to be discontinued, making any purchase risky. Many chose to wait the situation out, and the format war might be one reason why standard DVDs have continued to sell well despite the presence of a technologically superior alternative.

This costly war wasn’t inevitable. After all, when DVDs were invented, an alliance of companies created the DVD Forum, which developed and maintained industry-wide standards. As a result, the standard DVD never faced any serious competition, unlike VHS. Why, then, did the format war begin?

As high-definition televisions became increasingly common in the early 2000s, companies began feeling the need to develop a convenient, affordable medium to record and play back high-definition content. The solution was the blue laser diode, invented by Japanese-American scientist Shuji Nakamura. The blue laser diode permitted storage at a higher density than was previously possible. The Blu ray disc was born.

Beginning in 2002, many major companies responded to this development by banding together into an umbrella organization, as they had with the DVD Forum. However, not all the major players from the DVD Forum joined the new Blu-ray Disc Association. Certain corporations, including Toshiba and Warner Bros., hesitated over adopting Blu-ray, which in its early prototype form was much more fragile than the standard DVD.

After much debate, the recalcitrant members of the DVD forum decided to push forward with their own high-definition optical disc, which would eventually become HD DVD. They formed their own, separate association, named the HD DVD Promotion Group.

Attempts to broker a compromise between the two formats in 2005 broke down, and the war soon began. The battle lines were for the most part clearly defined, with some major studios using only Blu ray, and others using only HD DVD, though some attempted to embrace both formats. Blu ray, however, always had the greater market share. The war came to an end due to several factors, including the decision by Warner Bros. to adopt Blu ray and Sony’s incorporation of Blu-ray into the PlayStation 3. Major retailers quickly dropped HD DVDs, and today, Blu ray is the undisputed high-definition format.

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