HD-DVD Gets a Boost

If you enjoy watching movies at home, you are probably looking forward to the eventual release of movies in high-definition (HD) format. Unfortunately, there are two technologies competing for space in your living room -- the Toshiba-backed HD-DVD format and the Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) -backed Blu-ray format -- and neither seems inclined to work toward a single standard.

Last week's announcement that both Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) plan to support HD-DVD certainly didn't clarify matters. Instead, the situation is looking more and more like an elementary-school playground scuffle.

In the press release, the two computer heavyweights cite a variety of technical factors for their decision. The arguments include:

  1. Easier manufacturing transition to HD-DVD from ordinary DVDs. (True.)
  2. The superiority of the HD-DVD format for notebook computers. (A matter of opinion.)
  3. The fact that both standard definition and HD movies can be stored on one disc. (True, but also true for Blu-ray.)
  4. The higher capacity of HD-DVD at launch. (False.)

The capacity issue can be confusing, because discs can have varying capacities. Essentially, the issue boils down to whether a disc has a single-layer structure -- a 15-gigabyte capacity for HD-DVD and a 25-gigabyte capacity for Blu-ray -- or a dual-layer structure (twice those capacities). The Blu-ray group claims that its dual-layer 50-gigabyte discs will be available at launch, and according to my math, Blu-ray's 50 is bigger than HD-DVD's 30.

In response to the Microsoft/Intel announcement, members of the Blu-ray association, in particular Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , released a statement saying, in effect, "Ours is better than yours." In addition to responding to the misleading issues in the Microsoft/Intel announcement, the Blu-ray contingent claimed to have the superior format for personal computers in general. Somehow, I'm not surprised that they would have this opinion.

The decision by Microsoft and Intel to support Toshiba's platform certainly must have been influenced by their desire to see their products sitting in our living rooms. Microsoft's Xbox has been playing second fiddle to Sony's PlayStation, and Sony's consumer electronics live in millions of homes. Perhaps Microsoft and Intel believe they can gain an edge over Sony by killing off Blu-ray.

But rather than squabbling over which technology is superior, we would all be better served if the two sides could just get along and merge. I really don't care which format, or combination of the two, ends up being the standard. I just want to be able to watch HD movies at home without having to worry that someday I will have to switch sides. If both formats are released, it will be up to the market to decide who wins -- just as 20 years ago consumers were forced to choose between VHS and Betamax. I don't plan to vote with my money until I know that my choice isn't going to end up on the losing side.

For related Foolishness:

Dan Bloom owns shares of Microsoft. He welcomes your feedback.


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