More Spin in Next-Gen Disc War

The advent of Blu-ray and HD DVD isn't the first time I've covered a format launch- DVD was still pretty fresh and new when I started in this biz in the late 90s. Things have changed a lot since then, especially in the way that the PR machines are operating and interacting with the online community. And what better evidence of that is there than the fact that esoteric technical details like "yield rates" and "cycle times" are a frequent water cooler topic among the uninitiated?

For those who don't frequent these areas of the various forums out there, yield rates refer to the percentage of properly working discs out of a run, or batch of replicated discs. The higher the yield percentages, the better the profitability. Cycle times refer to how long it takes to replicate a single disc.

Of particular interest here, it's claimed by Blu-ray's detractors that yields of 50GB dual-layer discs are low, and that the cycle times are ridiculously long. Therefore, according to these rumors, those discs are very inefficient end thus expensive to produce. Further, rumors persist that getting yields as high as they are requires staying well under the 50GB capacity limit. This is a big deal because Blu-ray's main story vs. HD DVD is higher disc capacity.

HD DVD's side of this equation is the opposite. From the get-go HD DVD has claimed as one of its strengths its similarity to the DVD format, which makes replication cheaper, faster and easier. Yields are claimed to be in the mid-to-high 90s, and it's also been claimed that dual-layer HD DVD discs cost far less to produce than 50GB BDs. All of which is admittedly very difficult to qualify or verify in any meaningful way.

Nevertheless, I'm guessing that there might be some truth to this given that the Blu-ray PR machine actually felt the need to speak to the press about its replication prowess. Kinda like boxing- you never see a guy mock that the other didn't hurt him unless he actually did get buzzed at least a little.

Sony's disc replication facility itself put the word out this week that it's produced its 10 millionth 50GB Blu-ray Disc, that yields are improving and even approaching that of standard DVD, and cycle times are also improving, i.e., getting faster. But one thing the people responsible for releasing this information didn't count on is the David Vaughn factor.

Vaughn is kind of the new guy around here, and he's just immersed in all things format war. Dude has his ear to the ground on this stuff.

So, this week a Sony DADC exec is quoted in Video Business as saying that BD50 yields "have increased steadily and are consistently between 75% and 79%." Dave emails and says, "hey wait a minute...", and then digs up an article from Consumer Electronics Daily from October of 2006 that quotes a Sony exec as saying that "yields are averaging 80% on single-layer 25GB media," while 50GB yields were then "ever so slightly less."

So, the question Dave asked me is, if yields are steadily increasing as production ramps, why, according to Sony's own numbers, are the yields still so suspiciously similar a full year later? Were the numbers last year actually much lower than claimed? Are the numbers this year still inflated or on the money? Should we care?

I don't know how much any of this will or won't matter. But Paramount went exclusively HD DVD, and Paramount's CTO Alan Bell looked me in the eye and stated that he recommended this path in part because he believed HD DVD replication was more viable as the format moves into mainstream production numbers. Rumors are persisting that Warner, the remaining dual-format major studio is approaching a moment of decision. So perhaps this isn't the last we'll hear of this.

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COMMENTS
compson's picture

You guys are good to leave this stuff posted. Some people apparently feel the same way sitting behind a keyboard as they do behind a steering wheel: common courtesy be damned, anything goes. Yet no one has refuted David Vaughn's observation of the puzzling pattern of Sony's statements. Has the format war--which most people on the planet haven't even heard of--really reduced people to this?

David Vaughn's picture

Compson, While I don't prefer to receive personal attacks, I think leaving them here makes a very good point to show the immature and somewhat pathetic behavior that some show in this "war" that I agree, 99.9% of the public could give a damn about. As you have noted, not one person has given a plausable explanation as to the actual topic of discussion in Shanes Blog, namely, why did Sony bring this up in Oct ober of 2007? Why have their yields improved from "in the 90's" in 2006 to 85% in 2007? These aren't rumor's as some fanboys would call them, they are statements from Sony DADC directly!

Claude's picture

I find the above fixation on what Sony DADC proclaimed in 2006 and 2007 as regards to yield rates somewhat strange. It's quite possible that the "in the 90's" comment may very well have been off the cuff as opposed to a more accurate "85%" figure coming out in 2007. I won't denigrate Mr. Vaughn on his observation, but unless these figures are official and signed off on by Sony, they are just quotes and ballpark figures thrown out by execs without backup.

David Vaughn's picture

Claude, These were not "off the cuff" remarks. One was from a specific interview about production of BD and HD DVD discs. If the numbers he said are incorrect, then he either wasn't prepared and made up the number (which proves Shane's point), intentionally misled the panel, or was accurate. The second quote from Oct ober of 2006 as well was with another Sony DADC executive specifically dealing with replication. Again, he knew what the subject was going to be about and the same scenerio applies above...made up, misled the reporter or was accurate. You can try and spin this any way you like, but the fact is that Sony DADC has been very inconsistent in their public statements in regard to yields on BD discs. So the question remains...Which numbers are correct? 2006 or 2007?

Shane's picture

At the risk of continuing a debate not worth continuing, Claude, are you kidding? Just quotes? This is information disseminated directly to the press by Sony. How much more official does that need to be? And if they are issuing statements to the press that are "off the cuff" the onus for the accuracy of those statements remains with Sony, not the press for reporting it.

Tyler's picture

Well, it certainly looks like the fan-boys have dropped in.... I am very glad that your publication has been very neutral on the "war". It's amazing how some people react when you point out the very real current flaws in the BD format. Before the formats were introduced, I was 100% for BD over HD. Since then, they have done pretty much everything possible to drive me away as a customer. It still does have the POTENTIAL to be the technical superior format, but they haven't got there yet. My solution to this dilemna will be purchasing the upcoming Samsung dual-format player that will meet 1.1 profile.

Claude's picture

Shane & David - I'm not trying to defend the Sony execs who were interviewed and the difference in their quoted numbers, but having worked for large corporations my whole life, I see this all the time. Why doesn't one of you follow-up with Sony and see if you can get the real answer? On a sidenote, most of these threads that deal with Blu-Ray and HD-DVD here and on other Forums quickly degrade into name-calling, supporting one side or the other, or both (format neutral). It's very sad.

Claude's picture

I've e-mailed Sony DADC asking about the press releases referenced above. If I get an answer I will post it here or send it to Shane and David. Since I'm just an audio/videophile they may not respond. We shall see.

Claude's picture

One last thing. Tyler - Out of curiosity, what has the BD format done to drive you away as a customer? I'd really like to know.

Shane's picture

Claude- I don't really care if Sony or Blu-ray's PR team has a reason that they offered contradictory information. At this point would a third set of numbers actually add any clarity to this? To me it's far more interesting that Sony felt compelled to speak publicly about this at all, and when it did so it contradicted itself compared to last year. My original Blog post, which we've gotten far away from, was actually intended to pose something of a tone of amusement that something so obscure is a regular topic of conversation online. I know people in post production, and I know lots of people behind the scenes on both sides. And while I get lots of information from all of them, I don't consider myself an expert here. But there are people who log on here who sure talk in certainties like they're experts. And even funnier to me are the people who clearly favor one format over the other who charge us with bias, and even people who have professional vested i

Shane's picture

Damn character counter failed me again! Said I had six left! The last sentence was: there are people who have professional vested interests in one format or the other who charge others with being biased. And there are obviously people who read one Blog post of mine outside of the context of the last two years of coverage I've provided on the format war and claim the same.

Claude's picture

Shane - Actually, after all this, I'd really like to know what the real story is. So, even though you don't care, I'll let you know IF I ever hear anything. I love Ultimate AV and even more when it was a print magazine. Of all the publications out there the guys who write here and for Home Theater as well as Stereophile are professional and write excellent reviews. I've lived and breathed this stuff for over thirty years now and sometimes wonder if it's healthy or not. I don't always agree with what is written and conclusions drawn, but that's ok. We all have our own views. I'm hoping that this format war ends soon so that we can all get to discussing the equipment and software instead os each other!

Shane's picture

Another point in my piece was this issue has become politicized, part of the PR spin that comes from both camps. In this climate I don't know if any info I get from either camp is the "real story." The only sense in which I care about the format war being over is if it becomes apparent to me that the pundits are right, and that neither format can be successful enough with the mainstream to survive with both formats competing. I don't mind buying and owning two players, which is what I've done. My wife knows which player the discs from the red boxes go into, and which player the ones in the Blu boxes go into. That's good enough in my house. And yeah, I sure own a lot of Blu-ray Discs for someone who's allegedly biased against the format. Puh-leeze (that wasn't aimed at you Claude, but at the people who have logged on here and read this one piece and now believe this to be an HD DVD fan site).

Tyler's picture

Claude, to answer your question: a) started off using BD-25, giving less performance than HD-DVD. Many movies still made on BD-25 today. b) started off with inferior transfers, it appears this has been fixed in general. c) utterly screwed things up by rushing to come to market only 3 months after HD-DVD. It is LUDICROUS that it is taking 1.5 years after launch to still only partially match HD-DVD on interactiviy. And unlike HD-DVD, the first THREE gens of players cannot be upgraded with firmware for this and are, IMO, partially obsoleted. It is likely that the first two 1.1 profile players will be dual-format players...how embarrasing for BD is that? d) Fox using DTS-MA, which no player can decode even in the 3rd gen players. In general, poor audio implementation compared to HD-DVD. e) bad BD-J implementation - POTC taking 1-2 minutes to load, silly. Who knows how many more future titles will do this? f) finally, the BD's pure BS and FUD campaign against HD-DVD. It has truly sickened me.

Tyler's picture

Like I said, I was 100% for BD before all this started. I saw the higher capacity, the higher bit-rate, identical interactivity, and possibly only a slightly higher cost. Since the launch, they have soured me for the reasons I posted above. The upcoming dual-format Samsung player looks like the first complete (or complete enough) player coming out and it also plays HD-DVD in full capacity. Perfect, I can enjoy all HDM without worying about "blue vs red".

Fred's picture

Tyler - you da' man!

Claude's picture

Tyler - You have some good points especially the rush to get a player out (Samsung) and the initial poor transfers. However, there is nothing wrong with BD-25 as long as it's a good transfer. Interactivity is subjective. I personally could care less. PQ and AQ is it for me. As to load times, my PS3 loads VERY quickly. No issues. It's also quite possible that DTS-MA could very well be in a future fimware update. There have been some bumps and bruises....same on the HD-DVD side, but it's not as bad as you make it out to be. I personally have no intention of buying an HD-DVD player because I don't want to explain it to the real boss...my wife! Of course I will if Blu-Ray somehow fails, but it doesn't look like that will happen.

David Vaughn's picture

Tyler, The only thing I would disagree on is that the audio on BD is every bit as good as the audio on HD DVD and sometimes better. Uncompressed PCM is a space hog, but it does sound pretty damn good.

Shane's picture

Claude- interactivity issues are not subjective in the sense that it's a pure and simple fact that Blu-ray is lagging far behind here. All of the standalone players currently in release, even the third-gen players, are not only not compatible with upcoming interactivity, the entire playback experience of BD-J titles is saddled with horrendously slow load times, lock ups and in some cases new movies not even playing. What's worse in my opinion, is that recent problems have apparently been caused by BD+, which is not an interactivity feature to my knowledge, but an additional layer of copy protection that doesn't benefit consumers at all. Comparing HD DVD 's hiccups to what's happening with Blu-ray is not appropriate in this regard. Toshiba's first and second-gen players are all compatible with all of the new HD DVD features. HD DVD players are getting better and faster while interactivity is added. Blu-ray playback is currently getting worse for all players but the

Claude's picture

Shane- I have not had any problems playing any discs with my PS3 including the FF2 which I just purchased last week. I haven't timed the load time, but it is VERY fast. No problems with lockups. I feel for the folks who have these problems. I'm just happy I bought a PS3. Having said that, I will most likely buy a standalone BD player in the future and of course I'm hoping all this is figured out so I am not crying. I still don't care about extras or interactivity. I loved Superbit DVD's. If a standalone player can be updated by firmware download, then baring any hardware prevention issues, hopefully these problems can be worked out for those people out there. The growing pains of early adoption. Heck, my Sony KV-34XBR800 TV is incompatible via HDMI(PS3) to DVI even though the set is HDCP compliant! Works fine with my Directv HR20. I'm using Component because of this.

Tyler's picture

Claude: Whether or not YOU care for the interactivity features, the fact is that BD has completely blown it on this. Some studio have held up releases because of this. Your lack of concerns about playback issues are mostly due to your use of the PS3 instead of a "proper player". There is NO way that I'm going to put a game machine in my equipment rack to play movies...especially with Sony's dumb decision to give it a bluetooth remote. I do find your BD-25 comment pretty amusing, given that one of the constant BD marketing pitches is greater capacity than HD-DVD. :)

Tyler's picture

David: Well, I would certainly agree that lossless PCM is awesome, however, it doesn't sound any better than TrueHD or DTS-MA which is much more efficient. The problem is that with Fox, the ONLY lossless option is DTS-MA, which no player can decode (at least the new BD-P1400 can send it over bitstream). BD is better than HD-DVD in having more lossless audio releases I believe. That is a nice plus in their column. Shane: Yes, the increased DRM and region coding of BD, yet another negative. If BDs were primarily played back on computers, I'm sure we'd discover another "rootkit" disaster from Sony....

Claude's picture

Tyler - What does that comment mean? It doesn't even make sense. The PS3 IS a "proper player". We all have our own needs and desires and I really thought long and hard about putting the PS3 in my rack, but I have not regretted it. It's been great. It's a superior product. As to Bluetooth...it makes no difference to me because I've found that my family doesn't use the universal remote I bought and would rather use the remote(s) that came with the equipment. It may not suit YOUR needs, but it works for us. As to BD-25, we are talking about good PQ which CAN be had on a BD-25 not greater capacity. Shane - This thread has gone way off topic. On a side-note, I did receive an atomatic e-mail reply from Sony DADC and the Press person is out of the office to return in a couple days. I did forward my inquiry to her stand-in.

Shane's picture

Guys- I'm about to run out the door but wanted to respond to some of this. The PS3 is unequivocally a proper player. However, using it isn't exactly the same as a standalone player, which a lot of enthusiasts will prefer. The remote is a little different, etc., and some of the menu choices are a bit different too. But the PS3 is by far the fastest, most reliable BD player out there, and it appears to have all the hardware necessary to be compatible with even Profile 2 requirements. It is currently the only BD player I recommend spending money on without qualification. Especially the $399 model. And it's a bitchin' looking piece of kit that I actually like showing off in my rack- I have it standing vertically and it draws a lot of oohs and ahhs! Claude is on the money that BD-25 is capable of excellent picture quality, but let's face it, "we have 50GB and they don't" is Blu-ray's story.

Shane's picture

Claude- Just curious. Sony has already offered contradictory information. Why is a new response going to be regarded by you as having value? To me it would become a question of deciding which of three numbers I should regard as valid instead of only two.

Claude's picture

Shane - It is bitchin isn't it! I would like Sony to tell me what the "valid" numbers are out of curiosity more than anything. It may not be of value, but I'd like to see it.

Tyler's picture

Sorry, it's just a matter of taste to me. I'm not using a game machine in my home theater..and I do have a universal remote. :) When I said "proper player", it was a matter of form factor and usability than denigrating the superior performance of the PS3. Why is it that the PS3 can do MUCH more than BD standalones that cost $1000? I thought the research showed that PS3 cost Sony $7-800 to build? Regarding the BD-25, as Shane said, the BD group has CONSTANTLY used greater capacity as one of its major advantages...anyway it's nice having a civil debate on this subject unlike at avsforum..

Claude's picture

Tyler - I had the same taste as you and really sweated over my choice as I'm not much of a Gamer, but I don't regret it. To answer your question, the PS3 is essentially a computer. It's a VERY powerful computer with a Cell processor. This capability is not available in the standalones. This really gives it a leg up especially in this day and age of constant change and firmware updating. My neighbor works in the software end of the computer industry and his company bought the PS3 for him to use at home for computer modeling purposes! Believe it or not that's all he has used it for and says it's the most powerful machine he has ever used at home. He has Linux loaded on it.

Shane's picture

Claude- I would be very surprised if the real numbers weren't what was recently quoted. to me the story was interesting in that the same numbers were given before, but also that production has ostensibly ramped up a lot since last year, but yields apparently aren't. And Claude is 100% correct- it's all the Cell. And the Cell isn't even available for Sony standalones. Sony sold over 100 million PS2s. They are anticipating the same kind of success over the long term with the PS3. All their resources and money is there. Think about what kind of processing power you need to do all of the things required for real-time gaming at 1080p resolution! And the Cell took years to develop- there apparently isn't anything else like it. And get this- guess who was one of the co-developers, along with IBM? Toshiba! Does that tell you how long ago development on that started? On FF4, I'm getting 35-40 seconds on the PS3 to the first Fox logo/menu. Not great, as long as it doesn&

Shane's picture

As long as it doesn't get worse. I'm actually surprised how long some of these BD-J discs take to load even in the PS3 given that it can load a non BD-J disc in less than 10 seconds. And I think that bodes poorly for standalone players- if the PS3, with all of its processing power takes that long to load these discs, I fear for what will happen when more interactivity starts to appear on Blu-ray. I think that these two to three minute load times are unacceptable for second and third-gen standalone players. This is significant for two reasons. One, Tyler isn't alone in not wanting a game console. Two, I think there's some truth to Blu-ray Disc sell through not being 1:1 with PS3 penetration. If it were, Blu-ray would be outselling HD DVD by a lot more than 2:1. In comparison, BTW, with the second and third-gen Toshiba players the most recent web-enabled titles load in 25-30 seconds. Not perfect, but again, anything in the 30-40 second range works for me.

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