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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?

The HD DVD versus Blu-ray debate is not about the physical media itself.

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.

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Article Topics

News · Digital Media · Blu-ray · All topics

About the Author

DrFlick, Play
I provide consulting and implementation services for manufacturers and consumer electronics installation companies on new technologies, products, and strategies related to standards-based Distributed Audio, Video, Communications, and Control (DAVCC) systems for the home and consumer market spaces. My long-term goal is to be instrumental in the development and deployment of entertainment systems on space stations and space colonies.

12 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by CptGreedle  on  02/05  at  10:52 AM

BD-j, being javascript, is restricted only to what the program can program.  This means anything that a java programmer can think of and figure out, he can program.  HDi does not have this advantage.  Sure its easier to use now and has full internet capabilities already, but you are limited in what you can do with it.
Besides, the facts show people don’t care so much about interactivity on movie discs.  300 by Warner Brothers added exclusive extras to the HD DVD that the Blu-ray release lacked.  Although the price was similar, the Blu-ray outsold the HD DVD by more than 3 to 1.  Similarly, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix added exclusive extras on the HD DVD release, and still the Blu-ray outsells it at a similar pace as 300.
Interactivity is nice and all, but it does not sell movies.  Most people just want to watch the film, not play games or shop online or chat.  They can do that on their computer after the movie.

Posted by Land of the Lost  on  02/05  at  11:33 AM


Studies have shown that HD DVD users are infact using the internet features, I read somewhere it was about 33%. That is not bad for and early adoption. Also the reason Blu-ray is outselling HD DVD is because figuratively there are more BD players out there. We shall see if the companies embrace BD-J or start delaying movies because of how time consuming Java is!

Posted by jbrown  on  02/05  at  12:23 PM

Even if HDi was far and away the coolest bonus-feature architecture in the history of mankind, it would not save HD DVD.

If I REALLY like I movie, I might, sometimes, but very rarely check out the bonus features. To be honest, I would usually throw them all in the toilet if it meant there was more room on the disc for better audio or video quality. And the sad truth is that if the bonus features are on a separate disc, the chance of me seeing them are even further reduced. When I watch a movie, I want to be engulfed in the story and taken to another place during that time, not distracted by random pop-up messages and “did you know” useless facts. There’s a reason some scenes were deleted, for the most part, they suck. Obviously some people love the bonus features, I just don’t know any of those people.

Posted by Steve Harbor  on  02/05  at  12:59 PM


I personally don’t see these interactive bonus features ever being a big determining factor for consumers. Sure, some folks will check them out on their first few disks just for the novelty, but after that, I just don’t see the masses using this stuff much.

And what’s with the vaguely condescending headline? Who you callin’ stupid, Flickinger!!? (j/k)

Posted by Liam O'Gorman  on  02/05  at  01:23 PM

How about this for a spanner in the works, interactivity on SD DVD..

Posted by Ken  on  02/05  at  01:32 PM

I’m not happy with the java menu’s and java interactivity. Outside of the PS3, PS3 movies with java really bog down the stand alone players, not to mention the incompatibilities they keep running into.

Haven’t had those problem with movies using HDi.

Posted by t-rex  on  02/05  at  02:23 PM

BD-J is not javascript - it is java. And the two are completely different programming languages. The interactivity language in HD DVD is a combination of XML, javascript, and markup and more closely resembles something like AJAX.

Posted by General E. Lectrick  on  02/05  at  10:57 PM

I have to agree with Greedle.
People for the most part want to see & hear a great movie. The rest of that stuff may impress the reviewers… but at the end of the day, most of our clients could care less. (I’ll bet most don’t even know how go into the set up portion of the DVD’s to make any adjustments)

Posted by DrFlick  on  02/06  at  02:23 AM


Sorry about that.  MY original heading was “It is all about the Interactivity.”  “They” like to change things to try to “attract more hits.”  I do not believe anyone is “stupid” when it comes to views on this topic and definitely would not invoke that phrase on my own.


Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  02/06  at  09:30 AM

yeah, one day Derek will kill us for messing with his titles, but we’ve done worse!

Posted by Crude Dude  on  02/07  at  07:21 PM

Let me get this straight:
1.HD DVD spec was finalized before they released their first players.
2.All HD DVD players can access web content.
3.Most HD DVD players are cheaper than Blu Ray players.
4.BD-J is difficult to program and only newer Blu Ray players support it.
Yet most studios prefer Blu Ray…something isn’t right.

Posted by jbrown  on  02/08  at  04:10 PM

Online features don’t matter - how many HD-DVD players are even connected to the Internet?

BD-J is difficult to program, unless you know the language. It’s like programming anything else.

None of the HD-DVD players already on the market support discs with more than 30GB, if they add extra layers to compete with Blu-Ray’s 50GB capacity, all existing players will be rendered obsolete. And yes, it has been discuseed, so I guess the HD-DVD spec isn’t as “finalized” as you claim it to be.

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