Next Generation DVD Authoring: Why Blu-ray Disc is Better Than HD DVD

In the coming months there will be contentious debate about which format is better, HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc (BD). There are some clear technical advantages BD has over HD DVD such as higher capacity (50GB for BD v. 30GB for HD DVD) and higher data rates (50mbps for BD v. 31mbps for HD DVD.) These are no small factors when you consider the file sizes and data throughput required to display 1080p HD video.

Both formats have had a rough start, but as more players start rolling out, and authoring and production work flows start to settle, the formats will be on more even ground for true comparisons, not based on first-generation players and problematic software issues.

The marketing machines are already kicking into high gear and the winner and of this format battle may be determined by hype, not technical merit. That’s coming from the consumer’s perspective, but which format could prove best from the perspective of next-generation DVD authors?

Once again I have to give the nod to Blu-ray Disc. There are basic technology aspects as stated above, but from an authoring standpoint, there are advantages to working with BD over HD DVD. Granted there are not currently a lot of authoring tools available. With the exception of Sonic Solutions, there are not any HD DVD/BD authoring applications on the market as of July 2006. That’s bound to change in the next 6-12 months, but for now, most HD DVD and BD titles are being hand jammed, a process more akin to software development than DVD authoring. When fully implemented authoring programs do become available, it will soon become clear why BD is better.

So why is Blu-ray Disc better? First, as a basis for comparison, I’ll give a brief synopsis for authoring HD DVD. There are two modes for authoring HD DVD: standard content authoring and advanced content authoring (iHD.) Standard content authoring is an improvement over current DVD-Video authoring, with more robust and capable menus than are currently available. Menu navigation for standard content authoring, however, is very similar to DVD-Video. The real magic happens with advanced content authoring, also know as iHD. This unleashes a whole bunch of possibilities like animated pop-up menus, uninterrupted playback while accessing these menus, picture-in-picture and integrated networking among other things. It’s pretty exciting to think about what you could actually do with it. The drawback with iHD is that it is coding intensive, requiring knowledge of XML, UML, XPATH, Javascript and DHTML.

Similarly, BD has two authoring modes, High Definition Movie Mode (HDMV) and Blu-ray Disc Java (BD-J). Here is where differences start to emerge. HDMV is the basic authoring mode, sort of the BD equivalent of standard content authoring for HD DVD. The difference is that, in this basic mode, BD authors will be able to create animated pop-up menus with uninterrupted playback and other features that would have to be coded in iHD. Blu-ray Disc also allows an author to superimpose HD video over the HD movie, a feat that HD DVD can’t currently substantiate. So, when the applications become more available, BD authors will be able to achieve these sophisticated features without having to write a line of code.

Then there is BD-J, a coding intesive method which further extends the capabilities to include networking and 32-bit graphics (as opposed to 8-bit graphics in HDMV,) and has all the power of Java. BD-J is developed using Java 2 Platform Micro Edition (J2ME,) “the most ubiquitous application platform for mobile devices across the globe.” This is the same platform used for interactive TV and a growing list of web-connected multimedia devices. Can you say ‘interoperability’ everybody? Could your Blu-ray Disc player push content to your cell phone, Palm Pilot or iPod? It is certainly now within the realm of possibility. To be fair, iHD could probably do this too, but not in its native language and not without a yet to be developed translator.

So when you remove the fractious elements (Sony, Toshiba, Micrsosoft) from the debate and compare the two technologies on technical merit alone, Blu-ray Disc has clear advantages over HD DVD. And from a DVD authoring perspective, BD is a much more accessible format when it comes to interactivity. But time will tell which format prevails, if the technology succeeds at all, and as we’ve seen in past format battles, the better technology does not always win when fought in the public forum where perception counts more than facts.

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