Blu-ray drives only $1 more than HD-DVD

The conventional wisdom was that while Blu-ray might have the edge technically, HD-DVD drives are far cheaper. Once again, I put conventional wisdom to the test and find something that might surprise you.

In the battle between competing next-generation optical storage formats, HD-DVD and Blu-ray have their advantages and disadvantages. HD-DVD supporters have long claimed their format was cheaper than Blu-ray, so I decided to put that to the test. The decision this week by Dell to add Blu-ray drives as an option to their high-end notebook computers provided the perfect opportunity.

For this article I compared prices on laptops from four manufacturers that offer HD-DVD or Blu-ray as an option: Dell, Toshiba, Sony, and HP. No discounts, promotions, shipping, taxes, or coupons were considered.

First up is Dell. Like all the companies examined, Dell restricted the upgrade to their highest-end machines. I configured two Dell XPS M1710 systems with these specs in common:

XPS M1710 Red (2.33Ghz Core 2 Duo, 17" 1920x1200 LCD, 2GB 667Mhz SDRAM, 100GB 7200rpm hard drive, 512MB GeForce Go 7950 GTX, free Dell 725 printer, Intel PRO/Wireless 2945a/g)

The only difference was the optical drive. One had a regular DVD and the other supported Blu-ray: 

Regular DVD: $3547 (8X CD/DVD Burner (DVD+/-RW) with double-layer DVD+R write capability)

Blu-ray: $4023 (BD/DVD/CD burner w/double layer BD write capability)

Blu-ray Premium: $476

Next, I went to the Toshiba site (Toshiba is one of the main proponents of HD-DVD). Unfortunately I was unable to create two configurations that differed only in the optical drive:

Toshiba G35-AV600 (1.83Ghz Core Duo, 17" 1440x900 LCD, 1GB 533Mhz SDRAM, 2x80GB 5400rpm hard drives, 256MB GeForce Go 7300, Intel PRO/Wireless 3945a/b/g, Bluetooth) with DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive

Price as configured: $1899.99 

Toshiba G35-AV660 (2.0Ghz Core 2 Duo, 17" 1920x1200 LCD, 2GB 677Mhz SDRAM, 2x120GB 5400rpm hard drives, 256MB GeForce Go 7600, Intel PRO/Wireless 3945a/b/g, Bluetooth) with HD DVD-ROM and DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive (in one optical drive)

Price as configured: $2999.99

HD-DVD Premium: These two models are so different they can't really be compared (but look at the HP numbers below).

For the third machine I went to Sony, creator of the Blu-ray format. Using the Sony Style web site I created two machines with these specs in common:

Sony VGN-AR270 (2.0Ghz Core 2 Duo, 17" 1920x1200 LCD, 2GB 533Mhz SDRAM, 2x120GB 5400rpm hard drives, 256MB GeForce Go 7600 GT, Wireless 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth)

Regular DVD: $2469.98 (DVD+-R DL_DVD+-RW_DVD-RAM Drive)

Blu-Ray: $3019.98 (DVD+-R DL_DVD+-RW Drive with Blu-Ray Disc Support / FA06-IRX3820)

Blu-Ray Premium:  $550

Finally, a reader from my Apple/Dell article suggested I take a look at HP. HP gets kudos for an easy to use web site that offers a single check-box to choose the optical format. So starting with the following common configuration we can easily see how much moving to HD-DVD would cost:

HP dv9000t (2.0Ghz Core 2 Duo, 17" 1680x1050 LCD, 2GB 533Mhz(?) SDRAM, 2x120GB 5400rpm hard drives, 256MB GeForce Go 7600, Intel PRO/Wireless 3945a/b/g, Bluetooth)

Regular DVD: $1749.99 (Super Multi 8X DVD+/-R/RW w/Double Layer Support)

HD-DVD: $2224.99 (HD DVD ROM with SuperMulti DVD+/-R/RW Double Layer)

HD-DVD Premium: $475 

Conclusion:

For home use, the cheapest alternatives are currently associated with game systems (Sony PS3 and Microsoft XBox + HD-DVD external drive). Stand-alone players are still too expensive for all but the most devoted early adopters. But if you want tons of data and high definition movies on the go, getting one of these drives in a notebook computer is the only option.

There are many factors in deciding what format to go with, including studio support, capacity, interactive Java content, and media cost. But as the prices for HP and Dell notebooks show, there is practically no difference now in the price of the drives.

Note: As one reader pointed out, the Blu-ray drives in these laptops can read and write CD, DVD, and Blu-ray formats (up to 50GB). The HD-DVD drives cannot write in the high capacity format so you're limited to about 6GB of data storage.