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HD DVD vs Blu-ray in Greatest Gadget rumble: The final battle

HD DVD might be a long-dead format, like Latin, but it lives on in our hearts, and on a Wikipedia page. We decided to re-animate its rotting corpse, and pit it against Blu-ray one more time.

It may have been a while since HD DVD and Blu-ray finished their infamous duel, but that doesn't mean we were satisfied with the outcome. And we demand satisfaction. Our wonderful Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century competition gives us the perfect excuse for a rematch, as just by chance the Sony S470 Blu-ray player has been drawn against the Toshiba XE1 HD DVD machine. If we can't agree on a winner, we're going to have to draw pistols at dawn.

So join Ian Morris and Luke Westaway in throwing down the gauntlet and slapping each other in the chops with effete gloves over an argument that ceased to be relevant some time ago. Thought this most petty of tech scuffles ended when HD DVD collapsed? Wrong: it's back for one last outing. 

As the challenger, Ian kicks off.

HD DVD was launched as a finished product

IAN: HD DVD had a finished spec from the minute it was released, whereas Blu-ray was a mess. If you bought an HD DVD player, you knew it would play the discs with all their extra features and they could all connect to the Internet and allow you access to additional material. The Transformers disc has some good examples of this.

LUKE: Oh come off it -- if we threw our rattles out the pram every time a product was released unfinished we'd never get anywhere! It's in the nature of technology that it improves over time, and we can't hang around forever waiting for boffins to get every little aspect perfect. If you need proof that unfinished technology is no big deal, just look at Blu-ray today -- every disc plays on every player without so much as a whimper of disapproval. Whatever flaws existed at launch, they've been ironed out since.

Blu-ray holds more video

LUKE: And another thing! HD DVD was flawed from the very beginning -- its discs offered a paltry 30GB of storage. Compare that to the muscular 50GB offered by Blu-ray, and it's easy to see why Blu-ray won the war -- more storage space means a higher bit rate, which means better video quality, and there's tonnes of space left over for tasty extras, and those all-important directors' video commentaries.

IAN: You might well say that, but there was never a case where the 30GB capacity was a major handicap. I'll admit some of the discs might have missed out on the occasional lame documentary, or had audio that was compressed. But the results always looked superb. You only have to put that Transformers HD DVD back in a player to see what I mean here. 

And for what it's worth, there was a 51GB disc in the works for HD DVD. Had the format continued, we were told that higher capacity discs would be introduced, and could potentially beat the 50GB Blu-ray limit by one whole gigabyte. It would have been backwards-compatible with most old players too.

On the flipside, if you assume HD DVDs would have remained a little smaller, it means we wouldn't have had to suffer the snooze-fest of 3D, as the disc capacity wouldn't have been up to the job.

LUKE: Ian, I thought taking you down a peg would prove hilarious, but actually this is just depressing -- you're so pitifully wrong-headed I don't even know where to begin... Alright. Firstly I'd point out that if 51GB HD DVD discs were in the works, the format was hardly finished at launch, was it?

HD DVD could have had larger capacities, in theory

IAN: Westaway, you weren't even born when this battle started, whereas I lived and breathed it. HD DVD was finished, but there was a plan to produce a 51GB upgrade later on. Although it might have had problems on some older players. Still, this was no worse than Blu-ray, which went through three different versions, and is now on its fourth with 3D machines.

LUKE: Right, while we're talking about 3D I have the following to say: yes, 3D is pants, at the moment anyway (perhaps another example of not-quite-finished technology), but saying that a lower capacity disc is better because it prevents the technology from evolving is pure madness. 3D might not be the next natural step, but something will be, and I'd bet your house that whatever it is, it'll require more storage. Blu-ray is future-proof, HD DVD is a dusty relic.

Blu-ray interactivity is woeful

IAN: There's another area where HD DVD was clearly better: interactivity. On Blu-ray the menus and other functionality is provided by BD-J, a version of Java. And Java apps suck, that's a simple fact of life. So Blu-ray players were stuck in a quagmire of slow interactive content while HD DVDs zoomed along with their funky HDi system, designed by Microsoft.

LUKE: Heaven forbid a format should use a platform developers are already familiar with! Everyone knows Java, and while it might not be so slick, it makes the developers' job easier. Besides, it's such a minor point -- I've never heard anyone complaining about their Blu-ray menus being too sluggish.

Copy protection was slightly less evil on HD DVD

IAN: There's another thing too -- copy protection is much more restrictive on Blu-ray than it was on HD DVD. Copy protection just harms the people who have legitimately bought the disc. HD DVD had more advanced copy protection than DVD, but it's nothing compared to the restrictive mess that is Blu-ray.

LUKE: You wouldn't steal a baby, Ian -- there's nothing wrong with a little copy protection. For one thing, the vast majority of people who purchase the disc couldn't give two hoots about burning, ripping or copying it, and secondly if you do want to indulge in such activities, this isn't going to stop you.

At the end of the day, Blu-ray already won this battle, and the format is a success. We could spend our whole life looking back and dreaming of what might have been, but frankly I prefer to look forward -- to new horizons, to a bold new future. Dry your eyes Ian, and look no longer on the past. Take my hand, and together we'll explore this glittering frontier. For science.

IAN: Well Luke, first of all, I would steal a baby, and defecate in a policeman's hat. Looking forward is one thing, but what if you could put right what once went wrong? HD DVD should have won the war, and it didn't. Now, our charming, discerning readers have the opportunity to vote for this plucky little format, and set right one of tech history's most cruel defeats.

It's up to you

So, which idiot is the correct idiot? Is Ian on the money with his ludicrous claims that HD DVD is the better format, despite being defunct? Or is Luke barking up the right tree, with his dumb argument that Blu-ray won so it must be superior?

The final say is yours. Just hit the Greatest Gadget vote page, and choose either Sony's excellent S470 Blu-ray player, or Toshiba's superb HD-XE1.