High-def DVD or Not, Hang on To Your Old DVDs

One important issue that often is omitted from the accounts of the battle over the two new HD formats for DVDs is that both HD-DVD and Blu-ray apparently will be backwards compatible.

So there will be no need to toss out all those still-new DVDs that North American consumers have accumulated in the past couple of years to make room for the new HD discs. Both formats also have something else in common: They are dual-layer and use blue lasers. (In the world of lasers, color matters.) While the HD-DVD format could take hold in North America (according to some early predictions), the Blu-ray format from Sony could capture the rest of the known world, which is a lot of people.

Yet one of the two formats appears to have a leg up on its competitor when it comes to speedy rollout. According to the March-April edition of Vision magazine from the CEA, the HD-DVD format could become more widely available to consumers sooner and at a lower price (at least initially) than Blu-ray discs. It seems that HD-DVD utilizes manufacturing techniques very similar to those used for the current generation of DVDs. Therefore, third-party duplication houses won't have to retool their factories significantly to produce HD-DVDs. This likely will mean HD-DVD discs will be first-to-market by maybe a few months in the United States and Canada (possibly by late this calendar year).

Blu-ray HD discs require a new manufacturing process with higher transition expenditures, although Blu-ray proponents contend that manufacturing costs can be brought nearly in line with HD-DVD's costs during the next year. And while both formats hold several times the content of today's DVDs, Blu-ray holds even more than HD DVD.

And this just in... Conceivably, this whole incompatibility issue might be rendered moot: Some reports began circulating early this week as a result of the Sony management shake-up of a few weeks ago, Blu-ray and HD DVD rightsholders appear to be discussing a possible common standard for both systems. Don't hold your breath, but stay tuned.