HD DVD vs. Blu-ray: It’s the Interactivity, Stupid!
Eventually the physical disks will go away, but will we be left with two competing formats for interactivity?
Eventually, the disks will go away as we turn more and more towards downloaded content and streaming solutions. Ultimately, the battle of the formats is about interactivity.
When you compare HD DVD and Blu-ray, I believe the HD DVD camp (represented by the DVD Forum) had it right all along. From the beginning, the DVD Forum set minimum requirements that every player had to meet if it were to earn the HD DVD logo.
The HD DVD standards require, for example, that every player have an Ethernet port for supporting the newer interactive features (in addition to getting online updates).
On the other hand, Blu-ray players still are all over the map when it comes to supporting interactivity and other associated features, although efforts are underway to finalize a set of basic Blu-ray standards. The emerging Blu-ray 2.0, called BD-Live, does require Internet connectivity.
I pity the early adopters who bought Blu-ray players that cannot be upgraded.
Battle of the Interactivity Formats
HD DVD and Blu-ray use fundamentally different platforms for implementing interactivity.
HD DVD uses an XML-based solution called HDi, while Blu-ray uses a Java-based solution called BD-J.
HDi is an offshoot of an established Microsoft technology for which Microsoft has provided development tools and "interactivity training" since before HD DVD was born. Even Blu-ray backers have enjoyed the HDi technology for their Internet-related endeavors.
Now that newer features and online services are gelling in the Blu-ray camp, many of these HDi adopters are turning to BD-J for their new interactive, social, and community services. (See Sony's demonstration of BD Live.)
BD-J has one big thing going for it: If you can develop for BD-J, you can develop for interactive cable. BD-J's development platform more closely aligns with the tru2way platform (formerly OCAP) from CableLabs.
Menu structures and interactivity features are similar for both. Many content providers see BD-J as a better path because they can stick to a single architecture for both high-definition DVDs and interactive cable content.
With this compelling case for BD-J, how will Microsoft and other HD DVD backers tilt the scales to HDi? Interactive content developers will feel less of a tug from the PS3 and Xbox 360, and more pressure from the likes of Motorola, with its proliferation of tru2way-enabled cable boxes.
It doesn't look like Microsoft will embrace the BD-J (Java) approach anytime soon as part of its overall content delivery strategy. It seems unrealistic to expect content providers to develop for both HDi and BD-J (and tru2way) in the long run.
Microsoft has a big selling job ahead of them.
IPTV and Media Center Complicate Things
Then again, what if Microsoft dominates the market for IPTV?
If Microsoft stays married to HDi, it would seem logical for the company to use the platform for its MediaRoom IPTV service, which in essence competes with tru2way cable.
If Microsoft incorporates HDi into MediaRoom, and MediaRoom takes off, then HDi could become a dominant platform for interactivity.
It isn't just about physical disks, after all.
Microsoft has another potential ace in the hole and it has to do with Media Center Extender. Today, the Extender platform does not support "DVD remoting," i.e., streaming DVD content from a Media Center to a remote Extender.