DVD vs. Blu-ray, which is better?
If you are an avid moviegoer, a lover of music or you are a hoarder of computer data, and you must resort to using an external drive, you are probably already aware or have a decent knowledge of DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
I am all three of those things.
But what exactly is a DVD or a Blu-ray and which one is the best choice for you?
I know what you are thinking, and you are wrong.
It's not all about image quality.
They are actually more complex than that and you haven't probably never even thought about it.
Although DVDs and Blu-Ray are both used to store sensitive, collective data and other entertainment media they all come with different and unique features.
The Difference Between DVD vs. Blu-ray
I know what you are thinking, Blu-ray has a razor sharp image, and the DVD is left behind in a blurry view.
That's it, end of the story.
Although the above statement is somewhat true and the most apparent contrast between DVD and Blu-ray always comes down to the image quality, there is actually a lot more when it comes to the details of each device.
You might find that the many differences between the two are surprisingly quite interesting and compelling.
But for you to get into all of that, you must first understand what a DVD and a Blu-ray are. Yes, they are more than just a little disc that you pop into your player. They are their own unique advancement in the world of technology.
Understanding the DVD
The DVD is the second generation of compact disc (CD) technology that is still wildly used around the world today. It is still used as a storage device for data and a platform for multimedia such as videos.
It is most known as the commercial application used for the playback of recorded motion pictures or television programs.
Although it was originally an initialism for "full digital video disc," many people referred to it as a "digital versatile disc" instead.
The reason for this was to reflect its widespread use for all data including that of non-video applications.
With that said:
Today the official name of the format is simply called the “DVD,” and the letters of the name have no specific meaning.
Similar to the original CD, the purpose of a DVD is to store compact digitalized or binary data onto one common format. A single-layered optical disc can store up to 4.7 GB of data and supports standard definition video.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an optical disc as an electronic data storage medium that can be written to and read from using a low-powered laser beam.
Stay with me:
The DVD included the use of a red laser beam in order to read and write data.
With the introduction of the DVD optical disc a new primary choice for watching movies at home had been adapted and although it exceeded its predecessor, the original CD, it almost entirely replaced the videotape (VHS).
It was a new era of digital media.
Blu-ray is the next generation of the disc and the successor to DVD technology. Similar to CDs and DVDs, the Blu-ray disc is designed to display video and store large amounts of digital data.
However, unlike the DVD with its limitation to standard definition, a Blu-ray capacity is much larger allowing it the capability of supporting high definition video and audio.
That's not all:
Just like the name would suggest, Blu-ray involves the use of, you guessed it, a blue laser optical disc technology in order to read and write data to the disc. It replaces the red laser technology used by the DVD.
A blue laser has a significantly lesser wavelength than the red laser, which can focus more tightly than the red lasers ever could. As a result, Blu-ray is able to store more data than the DVD in the same amount of space.
As Merriam-Webster states, a wavelength is a distance between two successive crests or troughs of a wave, measured in the direction of the wave.
To give you a better example:
A single-sided DVD can only store a maximum of 133 minutes of standard video where a Blu-ray is capable of holding up to 13 hours of high definition video without any loss of image or audio quality.
That is a very large difference!
Check out the video below:
Here's What You Need to Know Before You Decide Which One Is Best for You
The endless debate over which device is better comes down to your own preference. Whether you care about the quality of the picture, have an HDTV and can afford or not.
No one can tell you which you should choose but below is a more technical detailed explanation over the significant differences you will notice between using DVD vs. Blu-ray.
DVD standard definition
No, not a literary definition.
The DVD uses red laser technology and is only capable of handling the capacity to store and playback in standard definition video.
The storage capacity of a DVD is limited. Although it exceeds the original CD, a single layer DVD can only store about 4.7 gigabytes (GB) of data. This is the equivalent of a two-hour long movie.
However, the double layer or DVD-9 discs can hold up to 8.7 GB which is twice the amount of the single layers.
The standard video is encoded with MPEG-3 compression technology. This technology includes a bitrate that maxes out at 9.8 megabits per second (Mbps) which usually averages with an output of 4 to 5 Mbps.
To put it simply:
The lower the bitrate is, the more compressed the video has to be. The compression can result in distortion, pixelation, image blurriness, and other visible issues with video playback.
Some DVDs include “anamorphic widescreen” to avoid these issues. This coding will support the playback of video on a modern 16:9 widescreen TV without zooming.
But it is not universal.
Most older DVDs only support a letterboxed version of this idea. The letterbox presents the image in a small box surrounded by distracting black bars on the sides at the center of the screen.
This view makes the video appear to be playing in widescreen without stretching it across the entire panel. It basically creates an illusion by blacking out the rest of the screen.
DVD video is stored and played at the frame rate of 29.97 frames per second (fps) or 25 fps. However, the majority of movies are at 24 fps which the DVD does not support.
To play a movie or video in the required 25 fps, it must be slightly sped up, playing about 4 percent faster than intended. If the film needs to run at the rate of 29.97 fps the process is a little more complicated.
The process deals with taking individual frames of the film and displaying them on screen longer than others.
Doing so can result in unwanted video choppiness.
You don't want that.
DVDs are also said to support the lossless CD-quality of uncompressed audio, and in theory, it sounds great. However, the reality of the lossless audio requires too much space to store and rarely used.
Instead, most DVDs use the compressed lossy sound in Dolby Digital or DTS which supports bitrates of up to 448 kilobits per second (kbps).
Blu-ray high definition
Blu-ray uses blue laser technology and supports multiple resolutions, but the vast majority of movies released on Blu-ray are in high definition or “Full HD,” with a 1920 by 1080 resolution.
This resolution is exactly six times higher than the standard of 720 by 480 of the DVD's output.
Blu-ray has adopted the new VC-1 or MPEG-4 AVC video codecs which allow for a much better video quality at lower bitrates than MPEG-2. These devices also have a higher average bitrate with the maximum reaching up to 40 Mbps.
The real benefit that Blu-ray offers is its lower bitrate.
With such a low bitrate each second of video data can contain four times the amount of information on your screen, resulting in a much brighter, more precise, and sharper picture quality.
All HD video, including Blu-ray movies, will be set in the 16:9 aspect ratio of modern HDTVs by default which means no zooming or letterboxing will be required during playback.
The original 25 fps and 29.97 fps are still supported on Blu-ray, but unlike the DVD, Blu-ray also has the ability to support 24 fps without the need of changing the speed or time of the movie to match the disc, which means that it preserves the film’s original framerate.
When it comes to the audio, just like the DVD, Dolby Digital and DTS audio are used by Blu-ray.
The maximum bitrate for Dolby Digital is raised to 640 kbps making the sound more prominent and clear.
Most Blu-ray movies include the lossless, CD-quality sound. Either in uncompressed PCM format or the particular, losslessly-compressed formats of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio which can support up to 7.1 surround sound.
Blu-ray also adopted the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which is a new immersive surround sound format that allows more channels of audio to be clearly heard. Channels such as extra wall speakers or individual upward speaker units installed in a room.
To see the difference for yourself, watch the video the video below:
Technical statistics of DVD vs. Blu-ray
As you already know, the apparent difference between the two devices is the change in resolution quality. But there are a few other things you should consider about optical technology.
High definition Blu-ray
The storage capacity of a standard Blu-ray disc is about 25 gigabytes (GB) of data. The dual layer versions of Blu-ray discs can hold more, holding up to 50 GB. The more massive storage available on a Blu-ray disc allows for an overall higher quality in video and audio that to be stored.
The standard DVD can only hold up to 4.7 of data. A dual layer DVD can hold a total amount of about 8.5 BG to 8.7 BG. Although the dual layer DVD disc can contain more than the standard, it is still a much less capacity than the standard Blu-ray disc.
Image and audio quality
High definition Blu-ray
Blu-ray discs can playback in true HD format and support resolutions up to 1920 x 1080. The frame rates of the highest resolution can reach up to 29.97. At the lowest resolution frame rates can increase to 59.94. With the larger storage capacity of the Blu-ray disc, it can hold more information and data. This storage can allow for much higher quality in video and audio.
Keep in mind that although it is not required in order to view Blu-ray, you will not receive the full benefits of high definition video without an HDTV. So if you plan on using Blu-ray, it is highly recommended that you own an HDTV to enjoy and experience everything Blu-ray has to offer.
With its much smaller capacity to store information and data, the standard DVD isn't capable of HD video quality playback. The highest resolution that the standard DVD can support is 720 x 480 with a frame rate of only around 25 frames per second.
High definition Blu-ray
Blu-ray capacity allows space to store more information and data on each disc. On many Blu-ray movie discs, you will find additional special content. The extra content is usually all stored on one single Blu-ray disc. This content can include extras such as director commentaries, behind the scenes, and much more.
With the smaller storage space of the standard DVD, the additional content will be limited. However, some movies will include a second bonus separate DVD in order to hold unique content. The second disc can still only hold up to 4.7 or 8.7 of data.
High definition Blu-ray
Being of newer technology, Blu-ray is not universal. Although most all the new releases are on Blu-ray, many of the older films are either not yet available or have no plans in switching to the new format. Blu-ray, players can also play the standard DVDs and CDs so you can still watch all forms on the one player.
DVD has been around since 1996 so owners of a DVD player will have a much broader selection of viewing options. However standard DVD players are not capable of playing the new format of Blu-ray. So it is not possible to perform all disc formats on a single player.
High definition Blu-ray
When first introduced the price of a Blu-ray disc or player could run a little high. Although the cost is still somewhat higher than that of the standard DVD, they more affordable than ever. On average a Blu-ray disc will cost double the price of a standard DVD. That said, the benefits of the Blu-ray can outweigh the price.
The one significant advantage that the standard DVDs and players have over Blu-ray is the price. Standard DVDs are significantly less expensive than Blu-rays. They are the best option if you are on a tight budget.
From the above simple comparison between the two formats, we can see that Blu-ray has the ability to offer a much better overall quality content than DVD but will cost more money.
DVD discs may be cheaper, but the storage capacity is very limited.
You can also take note that the DVD players are not compatible with the blue laser of the Blu-ray discs but that the Blu-ray players are backward-compatable which means they can still play all your favorite DVDs and CDs without any complications.
The History of the Great Format War: DVD vs. Blu-ray
Most people are unaware of the great historical battle between the optical drives. It was a dark time in industrial history with many casualties.
No, I am not joking.
Ok, maybe just a little bit.
But there was a "war" known as the format war where the founding companies of the different devices wanted to "rule the world" of technology with their product.
And only one could be left standing.
How the DVD came to be
The density optical storage device known as the DVD was initially developed in the early 1990s. But did you know that the DVD we know today was not the original intentional format that was in development at that time?
The DVD began as a technology and not as a product.
The fact is:
Not one but two different competing formats were currently in the works before the DVD ever came into existence.
One storage device was known as the Multimedia Compact Disc (MMCD). This device was backed up by the top companies of Sony and Philips.
The second storage device was called the Super Density Disc (SD), which was supported by many different companies. Its support came from big companies such as Toshiba, Mitsubishi Electronic, Time-Warner, Hitachi, Pioneer, JVC, Matsushita Electonic, and Thomson.
You may not recognize all the companies listed here, I know I didn't, but I am sure that a few of them will ring a bell.
Not wanting to repeat the costly format war between VHS and Betamax that occurred in the 1980s, IBM's president offered a compromise. IBM's president lead an effort in the hope of uniting the two parties into a single common format, and he was able to convince the companies to come together.
Watch the video below for more information:
Sony and Philips agreed to abandon the MMCD format under the condition that the SD would include two modifications. Both of these modifications were related to the servo tracking technology of the device.
The first one was to allow the adoption of pit geometry for "push-pull" tracking. Where the second modification was to include the Philips' EFMPlus technology.
By adding the EFMPlus technology to the device, it allowed the disc to hold a higher capacity of 4.7 GB over the SD's original 5 GB limit. Other than the larger storage capacity, the EFMPlus technology would provide a greater resilience against damages to the disc such as scratches and fingerprints.
After the merger between the two technologies, the first DVD was produced which combined the elements of both proposals. It was officially announced in 1995 and finalized in the year of 1996. The optical disc is far superior to the VHS in every way you can imagine. By switching to a CD or a DVD consumers no longer have to worry about wearing out the VHS, making it unplayable.
Over time the continuous playback of the VHS tapes would result in the grinding of the motor. It was also typical for the magnetic tape inside a VHS to break or become twisted and unreadable by VHS players.
I remember this all too well.
I would take a pencil to the gears in the attempt of rewinding the tape up in order to fix it. It was highly frustrating and even though it worked to a point, the VHS would never play the same.
The playback would always have bad spots where the image became distorted, or the audio would sound terrible or just cut out completely.
So after the DVD came out, the majority of the world eventually switched to using the convenient new format and making it the media of choice for home video viewing and data storage. The DVD was better than both the CD and the VHS, leaving little to no room for the VHS to compete.
Although you can still find and view old VHS tapes, the last manufacturer of the VHS player shut down its operations in the year of 2016. The company ended all production after 33 years of creating VHS players.
A brief history in Blu-ray
Although Blu-ray hasn't been around as long as the DVD has, it still has a fascinating little history to be told.
DVDs were supposed to be able to store and playback the HD quality in video everyone had been waiting for, but the capacity of the disc just wasn't enough to produce the sharper images that the consumers demanded.
Sony and Pioneer immediately started to work on a joint project into the development of the DVR Blue. Unfortunately, the disc was nowhere near perfection with the need of being closer to the laser, which caused excessive scratching to the disc rendering them unreadable.
The entire project almost got utterly abandoned.
The new format reached completion in 2005, and only a year later the specifications for the disc system and the disc scratching problem was finally resolved.
At the same time, Sony also decided to place the new drives inside every PlayStation 3 gaming system.
The Blu-ray was a complete revision over the original DVD disc with its blue laser design. It could hold more data, and it could finally give the public the high definition quality that they wanted.
Unfortunately, things are not always so peaceful when it comes to the world of business
The company of Toshiba, together with Warner Bros, decided they wanted a piece of the cake and attempted to launch their own HD DVD format to compete against Sony's success.
Remember how I mentioned earlier about the old format wars of 1980 between the videotape (VHS) and the Betamax? Well, this rash action done by Toshiba and Warner Bros immediately brought it back.
To put it simply, PlayStation 3 put an end to the format war, along with one other popular industry that had the final say on the Blu-ray by merely determining which format would be better to develop.
The other industry that will not be named was also the main reason for the end of the previous format war of the 1980s.
With the format wars over and PlayStation 3's initial success, the Blu-ray made its mark and became the new universal standard of optical storage devices.
Even though Sony and Blu-ray won the format war, the future looks uncertain for the disc.
Where the world has turned its favor toward the cutting edge tech industry of HD streaming over the usage of physical drives.
Streaming video still has it's drawbacks though. These drawbacks include recurring billing and the requirement of high-speed internet in order to stream what you are viewing clearly and without any delay.
Learn more below:
A New Age of Technology
When the first CD drives hit the market, they offered a large storage capacity that could rival any traditional magnetic media at the time.
The introduction of the DVD expanded on this concept with a brand new form of laser technology.
Blu-ray blew everyone away with its advanced capacities of even a larger medium for storage and the ability to support high definition video and audio.
While the growth of the optical drive continues to be good, it comes nowhere near the exponential capacity that the hard drives can achieve. Where the disc is still stuck using gigabytes, hard drives and even flash drives have advanced in pushing into the terabyte range.
With the ability to stream, download, and purchase everything in a digital media format the need for physical distribution is slowly decreasing.
Eventually, the era of the optical drives will phase out, following the fate of the VHS. Perhaps they shall get replaced with even newer technology, or possibly get removed entirely.
But no matter what the future may have planned, both the DVD and Blu-ray will be around for years to come.
Featured image via Pixabay.