In 2004, the physical specifications for Blu-Ray Disc were finalized. In January 2005, Sony announced that they had developed a hard coating polymer for Blu-ray discs. Cartridges, originally used for scratch protection, were no longer necessary and were scrapped. The BD-ROM specifications were finalized in early 2006. AACS LA, a consortium founded in 2004, had been developing the DRM platform that could be used to securely distribute movies to consumers. However, the final AACS standard was delayed, and then delayed again when an important member the Blu-ray Disc group voiced concerns. At the request of the initial hardware manufacturers, including Toshiba, Pioneer, and Samsung, an interim standard was published that did not include some features, such as managed copy.
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The first Blu-Ray Disc titles were released on June 20, 2006. The first ever movie to be released in Blu-ray is the 2003 film Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. The earliest releases used MPEG-2 video compression, the same method used on standard DVDs. Te first released using the newer VC-1 and AVC codes were introduced in September 2006. The first movies using the 50GB dual-layer discs were introduced in October 2006. The first studio-only release was made in March 2008.

Much like the format war which emerged between Sony’s Beta format and JVC’s VHS format in the early 1980’s, Sony was once again embroiled in a bitter format war whose winner would claim dominance in the Blu-Ray field. The DVD Forum, chaired by Toshiba, was deeply split over whether to develop the more expensive blue laser technology or not. 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 standard DVD-9 discs. In spite of this decision, however, 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 finally adopted by the DVD Forum and renamed HD DVD the next year, after being voted down twice by the DVD Forum members who were also Blu-Ray Disc Association members. The possible conflict of interest prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

HD DVD had a head start in the high definition video market, as Blu-Ray Disc sales were slow to gain market share. The first Blu-Ray Disc player was perceived as expensive and “buggy” and there were few titles available. This changed when the Playstation 3 was launched since every PS3 unit also functioned as a Blu-Ray disc player. At CES 2007, Warner proposed Total Hi Def – a hybrid disc containing Blu-Ray on one side and HD DVD on the other. – but it was never released.

By January 2007, Blu-ray discs had outsold HD DVD’s and during the first three quarters of 2007, BD outsold HD DVDs by about two to one. In a June 28, 2007 press release, Twentieth Century Fox cited Blu-ray Disc’s adoption of the BD+ anticopying system as a key factor in their decision to support the Blu-ray Disc format. In February 2008, Toshiba withdrew its support for the HD DVD format, leaving Blu-ray as the victor.

Some analysts believe that Sony’s Playstation 3 video game console played an important role in the format war, believing that it acted as a catalyst for Blu-Ray Disc, as the Playstation 3 used a Blu-Ray Disc drive as its primary information storage medium. They also credited Sony’s more thorough and influential marketing campaign.

On January 4, 2008, a day before CES 2008, Warner Bros. (the only major studio still releasing movies in both HD DVD and Blu-Ray Disc format) announced that it would release only in Blu-Ray Disc after May 2008. This effectively included other studios that came under the Warner umbrella, such as New Line Cinema and HBO – though in Eurpoe, HBO distribution partner the BBC announced it would continue to release products in both formats. This led to a chain reaction in the industry, with major U.S. retailers such as Best Buy Wal-Mart, and Circuit City and Canadian chains such as Future Shop dropping HD DVD in their stores. A major European retailer, Woolworths, dropped HD DVD from its inventory. Netflix and Blockbuster – major DVD rental companies – said they would no longer carry HD DVD’s.

Related Links:

Wikipedia entry
Samsung Blu-ray Resource Center