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HD DVDMany of you are eagerly anticipating the arrival of HD packaged media. While HD media has been available for purchase in one form or another for many years (D-VHS/D-Theater and WMVHD), HD DVD promises to be the largest distribution to date within months of its release. This article will cover the basics of HD DVD audio and video, gives a brief overview of the two Toshiba models arriving in March, and concludes with a listing of HD DVD movies that will be available upon release (and soon thereafter).

Video Basics

For those of you reading this article who are already aware of what HD DVD is, you can skip to the next section. But for those who would like some clarification, read on. The basic disc structure is the same as DVD (size, layers, etc.), but the compression and laser technologies involved are completely different.

Laser SpectrumTraditional DVD's utilized a red laser for reading to and writing from the disc. HD DVD utilizes a new blue-violet laser. This new blue-violet laser has a 405nm wavelength vs. the red laser's 650nm. This shorter wavelength allows for much higher data density since the blue laser can write a much narrower data track. The net effect is that HD DVD can store more than 3 times the number of bits as traditional DVD's.

HD DVD also utilizes more advanced compression techniques than did traditional DVD. It can employ MPEG-4 AVC and VC-1 (aka Windows Media 9), whereas traditional DVD's were strictly MPEG-2. These compression advances allow for roughly twice the data storage as traditional DVD. For a direct comparison of these two specifications, see the table below:

Disc typeDVD-ROM
HD DVD-Rewritable
Disc diameter120mm120mm120mm120mm
Disc structure0.6mm
x 2 substrates
x 2 substrates
x 2 substrates
x 2 substrates
32GB(Under development)
Playback time*
Recording time*
4.7GB, SD resolution:
8.5GB, SD resolution:
15GB, HD resolution:
over 4 hours
30GB, HD resolution:
over 8 hours
15GB, HD resolution:
over 4 hours
20GB, HD resolution:
over 5.5 hours
32GB, HD resolution:
over 8.5 hours
Laser Wavelength650nm
(red laser)
(blue laser)
(blue laser)
(blue laser)
User bit rate11.08Mbps36.55Mbps36.55Mbps36.55Mbps
Track pitch0.74µm0.40µm0.40µm0.34µm

Audio Basics

In addition to AC-3 (Dolby® Digital) and MPEG codecs currently supported by traditional DVD, HD DVD has added Dolby® Digital Plus (lossy) and DTS® (lossy) as mandatory codecs. Support for 2-channel Linear PCM and 2-channel MLP (True HD) are also mandated. The HD DVD standard also allows for DTS® HD (lossless) as an optional codec. with respect to the two currently available Toshiba units, the audio capabilities are equally as impressive as their video capabilities. Their press release says it best:

The mandatory audio formats for HD DVD include both lossy and lossless formats from Dolby Labs and DTS® - including the newly developed Dolby® Digital Plus and DTS-HD.

The lossless mandatory formats include Linear PCM and Dolby TrueHD (only 2 Channel support is mandatory). The TrueHD format is bit-for-bit identical to the high resolution studio masters and can support up to eight discrete full range channels of 24-bit/96k Hz audio. Another lossless format (specified as an optional format) is DTS-HD. This employs high sampling rates of up to 192kHz.

Both models feature built-in multi-channel decoders for Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD (2 channel), DTS and DTS-HD. The HD-XA1 employs the use of four high performance DSP engines to decode the multi-channel streams of the wide array of audio formats. These high performance processors will perform the required conversion process, as well as the extensive on-board Multi-Channel Signal Management including: User Selectable Crossovers, Delay Management and Channel Level Management.

Hardware Comparison

Slated for release next month are two HD DVD players, both from Toshiba: the HD-XA1 ($799.99) and the HD-A1 ($499.99). Both players are backward-compatibile, allowing playback of older CD and DVD formats. Both players also support copy-protected playback via HDCP at 720p and 1080i over HDMI, and will scale a traditional 480p DVD source to either 720p or 1080i to match your television's capabilities.

Toshiba HD-A1 Toshiba HD-XA1
Toshiba HD-A1 Toshiba HD-XA1

The differences between the two players are arguably minimal, but that is subjective.

On the audio side, the XA1 has four high performance DSP engines which allow not only for audio conversion, but also improved audio signal management (user selectable crossovers, delay management, and channel level management). Of course, if you're using a separate receiver or audio component to do this processing, there's no advantage.

The XA1 also employs several construction advancements over its A1 counterpart. It includes a motorized door which conceals the disc drawer, function buttons and USB ports. The XA1 also includes three different interfaces and a motion-activated, backlit remote control. A double chassis construction is also employed by the XA1 to add stability and strength and minimize vibrations. And to finish it off, the HD-XA1 adds insulated stabilizing feet.

The remainder of the specifications for these two players are essentially the same, as outlined in the table that follows:

SpecificationHD-XA1, HD-A1
Disc playback:HD DVD, DVD, DVD-R/-RW/-RAM, CD, CD-R/-RW
HD output:Yes, using HDMI at disc native resolution
Video DAC:11-bit/216-MHz
Video up-conversion for DVD:720p/1080i
Enhanced black level:0IRE/7.5IRE selection
Letterbox and pan-and-scan support:Yes
Built-in audio decoders:Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, and DTS-HD
Dolby TrueHD compatible:Yes (2 channel)
Signal processors:Four 32-bit floating-point
Audio DACs:Multichannel 24-bit/192-kHz
HDMI audio support:Yes, up to 5.1 L-PCM
Dynamic range control:Yes
MP3 and WMA playback:Yes
On-screen display:Yes, trilingual: English, French, Japanese
Bit-rate display:Yes
FL dimmer:Yes
Fast forward:Yes
Fast reverse:Yes
Slow play:Yes
Step play:Yes
Time search:Yes
A-B repeat:Yes
Screen saver:Yes
Parental lock:Yes
HDMI (ver. 1.1):1
ColorStream Pro component video:1
Composite video:1
Stereo analog audio:1
Analog audio:5.1 multichannel
Coaxial digital output:1
TosLink optical digital output:1
Ethernet 10/100 port:1

Other hardware planned for later this year are as follows:

Toshiba HD DVD Slim DriveToshiba Qosmio Notebook PC w/ HD DVD Drive
Toshiba HD DVD Slim DriveToshiba Qosmio Notebook PC w/ HD DVD Drive
NEC HD DVD-ROM Drive(No Image Yet)
NEC HD DVD-ROM DriveMicrosoft HD DVD Drive for Xbox 360


HD DVD discs employ menuing and advanced navigation via "iHD." This advanced interface allows for many new features unavailable in traditional DVD's. The most notable of which is the ability to navigate through the HD DVD and associated options as an "overlay" to the content, without interrupting your viewing.

You may have seen stories in the past few days about some of the interactive features not being available immediately at launch. I have not been able to confirm this, but I think I found the source of this in their latest press release:

Design specifications and dimensions are not final and subject to change. Firmware upgrade required for full interactive features.

And while they don't define "full interactive features", it should not be a big deal for most as this will likely be done directly via the ethernet port, similar to the latest TiVo's.

For content protection, HD DVD utilizes the Advanced Access Content System (AACS), which is a standard for content distribution and digital rights management. For media that is AACS-enabled, these players will be required to recognize an Image Constraint Token (ICT), inserted into the movie data, and scale the analog output (over component) down to 540p. This is still better than standard 480p DVD, but far from HD resolutions. As well as preventing illegal copying, AACS provides "Managed Copy", which essentially allows content transfer from the HD DVD to other device (like a home media server).

The decision to ICT-enable content is up to each studio, and each studio is likely to go their own way. From Video Business Online:

No studio would comment on whether it plans to take advantage of the Image Constraint option.

Within the AACS consortium, however, Warner Home Video was consistently the strongest proponent of the idea, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is not a member of AACS, but has argued against the idea in other forums.

AACS-member Disney, as well as non-members NBC Universal and Paramount, are likely to take advantage of the option, according to sources with knowledge of the studios' thinking.

Although Sony is a member of AACS, where it sometimes clashed with Warner on the issue, sources said it is still unclear whether Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will take advantage of the ICT option now that it is in place.


Below is a list of titles expected to be available this year, with the expected date listed for those that had it available. Also, Netflix has recently announced that they will be making these titles available in their library for rental as soon as they are available. Those films listed below as links are available for pre-order.

Batman Begins3/28/2006Warner Home Video
Constantine3/28/2006Warner Home Video
Million Dollar Baby3/28/2006Warner Home Video
The Phantom of the Opera3/28/2006Warner Home Video
Twister3/28/2006Warner Home Video
Apollo 13MarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
Cinderella ManMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
DoomMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
JarheadMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
SerenityMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
Sky Captain and the World of TomorrowMarchParamount Home Entertainment
Sleepy HollowMarchParamount Home Entertainment
The 40 Year-Old VirginMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
The Bourne SupremacyMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
The Chronicles of RiddickMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
The Italian JobMarchParamount Home Entertainment
The Manchurian CandidateMarchParamount Home Entertainment
U-571MarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
Van HelsingMarchUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
We Were SoldiersMarchParamount Home Entertainment
Four BrothersMarchParamount Home Entertainment
SaharaMarchParamount Home Entertainment
Aeon FluxMarchParamount Home Entertainment
Lara Croft: Tomb RaiderMarchParamount Home Entertainment
U2: Rattle and HumMarchParamount Home Entertainment
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire4/11/2006Warner Home Video
Lethal Weapon4/11/2006Warner Home Video
The Last Samurai4/11/2006Warner Home Video
Training Day4/11/2006Warner Home Video
Unforgiven4/11/2006Warner Home Video
Goodfellas4/25/2006Warner Home Video
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang4/25/2006Warner Home Video
Swordfish4/25/2006Warner Home Video
Syriana4/25/2006Warner Home Video
The Matrix Trilogy4/25/2006Warner Home Video
Blazing Saddles5/9/2006Warner Home Video
Dukes of Hazzard5/9/2006Warner Home Video
Full Metal Jacket5/9/2006Warner Home Video
Rumor Has It5/9/2006Warner Home Video
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines5/9/2006Warner Home Video
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory5/16/2006Warner Home Video
Ocean's Twelve5/16/2006Warner Home Video
The Green Mile (Special Edition)5/16/2006Warner Home Video
Troy5/16/2006Warner Home Video
12 MonkeysLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
BackdraftLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
Conan the BarbarianLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
Dante's PeakLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
DuneLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
End of DaysLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
Mission Impossible TrilogyLater this yearParamount Home Entertainment
Pitch BlackLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
Spy GameLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
The Bone CollectorLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
The ThingLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
WaterworldLater this yearUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
SevenNo Date GivenNew Line Home Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings TrilogyNo Date GivenNew Line Home Entertainment
Black RainNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
BraveheartNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
Coach CarterNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
ElizabethtownNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
Forrest GumpNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
GhostNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
GreaseNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
Save the Last DanceNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
School of RockNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
SpongeBob SquarePantsNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
Star Trek: First ContactNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
The Ultimate Star Trek Movie CollectionNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
Vanilla SkyNo Date GivenParamount Home Entertainment
DerailedNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
The LibertineNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
TransamericaNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Mrs. Henderson PresentsNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
HoodwinkedNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Wolf CreekNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
The MatadorNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Lucky Number SlevenNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Breaking and EnteringNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
DecameronNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Last LegionNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Young HannibalNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Scary Movie 4No Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Sin City 2No Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
PulseNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Passion of the ClerksNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
KillshotNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
AwakeNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
School for ScoundrelsNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Grind HouseNo Date GivenThe Weinstein Company
Band of BrothersNo Date GivenWarner Home Video
FriendsNo Date GivenWarner Home Video
The AviatorNo Date GivenWarner Home Video

Where can you try it out?

Just a few days ago, Toshiba released the details of their "HD DVD Tour", which was announced at CES this year. Below is the Toshiba HD DVD Tour Schedule -- Press Opportunities:

1) New York, NY -- Feb 22, 2006, PC Richards -- NYC and Feb 21, Electronics Expo -- Paramus, NJ
2) Boston, MA -- March 1, 2006, Tweeter -- Newton MA
3) Chicago, IL -- March 1, 2006, ABT Electronics -- Glenview, IL
4) Washington, D.C. -- March 15, 2006, Myer Emco -- Fairfax, VA
5) Miami, FL -- Best Buy, Miami, FL
6) San Francisco, CA -- March 1, 2006, Fry's Electronics -- Sunnyvale, CA
7) Seattle, WA -- March 8, 2006, Fry's Electronics -- Renton, WA and March 7, Best Buy -- Bellevue, WA
8) Los Angeles, CA -- March 15, 2006, Fry's Electronics -- City of Industry, CA
9) Dallas, TX -- March 22, 2006, Fry's Electronics -- Plano, TX
10) Atlanta, GA -- March 8, 2006, Best Buy -- Atlanta, GA


Editor's Note: This is intended to be a living document, so if you have anY additions, suggestions, or comments, please let me know via the "Comments" section below.

Posted by Shane Sturgeon, February 28, 2006 10:12 AM

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About Shane Sturgeon

Shane Sturgeon is the Co-Publisher and Chief Technologist of HDTV Magazine, an industry publication with HDTV roots going back to 1984, when Dale Cripps founded The HDTV Newsletter. Today, HDTV Magazine is a leading online resource for HDTV news and information and captures the eyes and imaginations of over 3 million visitors annually. Mr. Sturgeon has a background in information technology and has served in various consulting capacities for Fortune 500 companies such as J.P. Morgan Chase, Verizon Communications, Proctor & Gamble and Nationwide Insurance. He has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Wright State University.