In the late 1990s, commercial HDTV sets started to enter a larger market, but there was no inexpensive way to record or play back HD content. JVC's D-VHS and Sony's HDCAM formats could store that amount of data, but were neither popular nor well-known. It was well known that using lasers with shorter wavelengths would yield optical storage with higher density. Shuji Nakamura invented practical blue laser diodes, but a lengthy patent lawsuit delayed commercial introduction.
Origins and competition from Blu-ray Disc
Sony started two projects applying the new diodes: UDO (Ultra Density Optical) and DVR Blue together with Philips, a format of rewritable discs which would eventually become Blu-ray Disc (more specifically, BD-RE) and later on with Pioneer a format of read only discs (BD-ROM). The two formats share several technologies (such as the AV codecs and the laser diode). In February 2002, the project was officially announced as Blu-ray Disc, and the Blu-ray Disc Association was founded by the nine initial members.
The DVD Forum (chaired by Sony) was deeply split over whether to go with the more expensive blue lasers or not. Although today's Blu-ray Discs appear virtually identical to a standard DVD, when the Blu-ray Discs were initially developed they required a protective caddy to avoid mis-handling by the consumer (early CD-Rs also featured a protective caddy for the same purpose.) The Blu-ray Disc prototype's caddy was both expensive and physically different from DVD, posing several problems. In March 2002, the forum voted to approve a proposal endorsed by Warner Bros. and other motion picture studios that involved compressing HD content onto dual-layer DVD-9 discs. In spite of this decision, the DVD Forum's Steering Committee announced in April that it was pursuing its own blue-laser high-definition solution. In August, Toshiba and NEC announced their competing standard Advanced Optical Disc. It was adopted by the DVD forum and renamed to HD DVD the next year.
The HD DVD Promotion Group was a group of manufacturers and media studios formed to exchange thoughts and ideas to help promote the format worldwide. Its members comprised Toshiba as the Chair Company and Secretary, Memory-Tech Corporation and NEC as Vice-Chair companies, and Sanyo Electric as Auditors; there were 61 general members and 72 associate members in total. The HD DVD promotion group was officially dissolved on March 28, 2008, following Toshiba's announcement on February 19, 2008 that it would no longer develop or manufacture HD DVD players and drives.
Attempts to avoid a format war
Much like the VHS vs. Betamax videotape format war during the late 1970s and early 1980s, HD DVD was competing with a rival format—in this case, Blu-ray Disc. In 2008, major content manufacturers and key retailers began withdrawing their support for the format.
In an attempt to avoid a costly format war, the Blu-ray Disc Association and DVD Forum attempted to negotiate a compromise in early 2005. One of the issues was that Blu-ray Disc companies wanted to use a Java-based platform for interactivity (BD-J based on Sun Microsystems' Java TV standards), while HD DVD companies wanted to use Microsoft's "iHD" (which became HDi). Another problem was the physical formats of the discs themselves. The negotiations proceeded slowly and ultimately stalled.
On August 22, 2005, the Blu-ray Disc Association and DVD Forum announced that the negotiations to unify their standards had failed. Rumors surfaced that talks had stalled; publicly, the same reasons of physical format incompatibility were cited. By the end of September that year, Microsoft and Intel jointly announced their support for HD DVD.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) attempted to broker a compromise between the Blu-ray Disc Association and Microsoft by demanding that Blu-ray Disc use Microsoft's HDi instead of BD-J and threatening to support HD DVD instead. The Blu-ray Disc Association did not agree to HP's demands.
In November 2006, Microsoft released an HD DVD player
for their Xbox 360
game console for $199. It came packaged with King Kong
and could only play movies.
On March 31, 2006, Toshiba released their first consumer-based HD DVD player in Japan at ¥110,000 (US$934). HD DVD was released in the United States on April 18, 2006, with players priced at $499 and $799.
The first HD DVD titles were released on April 18, 2006. They were The Last Samurai, Million Dollar Baby, and The Phantom of the Opera by Warner Home Video and Serenity by Universal Studios. The first independent HD film released on HD DVD was One Six Right.
In December 2006 Toshiba reported that roughly 120,000 Toshiba branded HD DVD players had been sold in the United States, along with 150,000 HD DVD add-on units for the Xbox 360.
On April 17, 2007, one year after the first HD DVD titles were released, the HD DVD group reported that they had sold 100,000 dedicated HD DVD units in the United States.
In the middle of 2007, the first HD DVD Recorders were released in Japan.
In November 2007, the Toshiba HD-A2 was the first high definition player to be sold at a sale price of less than US$100; this was done through several major retailers to make room for the new HD-A3 models. These closeout sales lasted less than a day each due to both limited quantities and high demand at that price point. In the same month, the HD DVD promotion group announced that 750,000 HD DVD players had been sold, which included stand-alone players and the Xbox 360 add-on.
In January 2008 Toshiba announced that close to one million dedicated HD DVD players had been sold.
As of June 24, 2008, 475 HD DVD titles had been released in the US. As of April 29, 2008, 236 HD DVD titles had been released in Japan. Approximately 232 were released in the UK.
On January 4, 2008, citing consumer confusion and indifference as a reason for lackluster high-definition software sales, Warner Bros. publicly announced it would stop supporting HD DVD by June 2008, and the company would release HD titles only on Blu-ray Disc. This was followed by news of Netflix phasing out support for the format, and Best Buy's decision to recommend Blu-ray Disc over HD DVD in its retail locations and to remove HD DVD players as part of its ongoing "HDTV advantage" promotion. Finally, retailer Wal-Mart announced that it would be supporting only Blu-ray Disc by June 2008. On February 19, 2008, Toshiba announced plans to discontinue development, marketing and manufacturing of HD DVD players while still providing product support and after-sale service to consumers of the format (including firmware updates). The company cited "recent major changes in the market". Shipments of HD DVD machines to retailers were reduced and eventually stopped by the end of March 2008. Toshiba later revealed that they lost about $986 million on the format's failure.
End of releases
The final HD DVD releases in the United States from a major studio were Paramount's Into the Wild, Warner's P.S. I Love You and Twister, on May 27, 2008. In June, the final HD DVD to be released was Freedom: 6 from Bandai Visual. Bandai Visual acknowledged the demise of HD DVD, but stated that it wanted to complete the release of the seven-part Freedom Project, of which six parts were released. The seventh part, due for August 2008, never saw a release. Disco Pigs was announced but postponed, with no new date ever announced for release. Pan's Labyrinth is also notable for being New Line Cinema's only film to ever be released on HD DVD, as they quickly shifted to Blu-ray.
Death Proof was released on HD DVD format by Senator Films in Germany on December 15, 2008. This special release was also a steelbook.
On April 3, 2010, Engadget reported that Anthem Films would release the film Deadlands 2: Trapped on HD DVD in a limited run of 500 copies. This eventually happened in the form of HD DVD-Rs. Deadlands: The Rising announced on September 5, 2010 was released on HD DVD in limited numbers. As with the previously released Deadlands 2: Trapped, the film was pressed on HD DVD-R disc.
Warner Blu-ray Disc replacements in the U.S.
In mid-2009, Warner offered to replace any HD DVD Warner home video release with a Blu-ray Disc equivalent for $4.95, plus $6.95 shipping to the contiguous United States or $8.95 to Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico. The deal required the HD DVD's original sleeve art to be returned to Warner as a proof of purchase. The turn-around time for processing was approximately two weeks. Multi-disc sets were exchangeable at a discount, e.g., $14.95 for the 5-disc Blade Runner release, rather than $24.75. No exchanges were offered to customers outside the United States.