History of DVD

by Robert Chapin

Dr. Pat Hammet

Mrs. Delena Carlisle

Engineering 100, Section 304

Friday, September 24, 1999


In May of 1994, Sony and Philips announced that they would be cooperatively developing a new high-density medium known popularly as Digital Video Disk (DVD) (Dwyer).  This infant technology was to be the successor to compact disks (CD-ROM) for computers, and replace VHS tapes and laserdiscs in the entertainment industry.  A disk the same size as a CD but with five to ten times the data capacity would be very useful indeed.  The distribution of some large video games that would otherwise reside on a set of many CD’s would only require a single disk.  DVD audio would be a great improvement over the already crystal clear and popular CD audio.  Watching movies that would normally require you to flip sides on a laserdisc could live up to the same standards of quality, and far surpass them.

Development of this new technology immediately invited problems of a political nature.  Toshiba and Warner Home Entertainment announced their own project to develop similar, yet specifically different DVD technology at the same time (Dwyer).  The two duo developers would soon find out that the market for potential licensees of the new specifications (e.g. disc and drive manufacturers) would be unreceptive to two competing and incompatible formats of DVD discs.  Organizations such as the Hollywood Digital Video Disc Advisory Group also had a reasonable interest in the development of this technology.  Movie distributors began stirring up controversy about the necessity of copy protections in the DVD specification.  It seemed as though anyone and everyone wanted a say in deciding which methods of video and audio compressions would be used, and details as specific as the color of the book that the DVD specifications would be published in.  All of these concerns led to costly delays for the consumers and manufacturers who expectantly awaited a single seamless solution.

Sony was the first to showcase its DVD technology.  John Eargle described the demonstration that was held at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in early January 1995.  In his article, The great DVD debate, Eargle quickly said, “its color and sharpness were more than a match for the Laserdisc,” but his focus was on the technical specifications that had been officially announced in December (Pemberton).  Because the new DVD disc would be identical in shape, size, and appearance to a CD, “minimal changes in manufacturing methods will be required for mass production” (Eargle).  The increased data density of a DVD was attributed to a laser of a color higher in the light spectrum and a technology being developed with 3M that would allow the laser to be refocused to a second “layer” in the disc.  Having a double-layer disc increases the capacity to 7.4 gigabytes.

“Three weeks later, on January 24th in Beverly Hills, Time Warner and Toshiba held a press conference to announce their version of the DVD.”  The “DVD debate” had begun.  Eargle reported two technical differences between the DVD versions.  First, Toshiba’s disc was “double-sided” to give it a capacity of 10 gigabytes.  Although this was an obvious drawback, it did make the disc bigger and better than Sony’s version.  Second, Toshiba used thinner discs, yielding a density that bested even Sony’s DVD.  This allowed for a higher data rate, which would improve the quality of an MPEG-2 picture.  (The Motion Picture Experts Group has set this standard for video compression.)  Additionally, “thinner discs permit shorter manufacturing cycle times.”

The contention building between the two formats and their developers was illustrated in Heather Pemberton’s, Has Hollywood fallen in love with Time Warner/Toshiba’s DVD? Matsushita, Thomson, Hitachi, Pioneer, MCA, and MGM/UA were now supporting Toshiba’s DVD format and assisting in the development of its final specifications.  As reported, “their format is being quite widely reported as the winner in the effort to establish a common format.”  This article focused on the movie-related specification that the eight party development team had been emphasizing.  At the time, the group’s obsession with packaging movie specifications into the DVD standard seemed logical.

During the spring of 1995, the conflict between the two developers had been fueled by Toshiba’s own development of a two-layer disc called SD (Super Density).  Sony and Philips were then tightly grid locked in competition.  Then, in December of that same year, after a playful yet appropriate allusion to Chinese literature, Ken Pohlmann coveys the news of an alliance between the two formats.  In The Art of War, Pohlmann begins by writing that “something” had motivated Sony, Philips, and the Toshiba posse to unite in their efforts to create the DVD.  More specifically, that “something” was a report by Apple, Compaq, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, and Microsoft in which the software and hardware giants collectively refused to support the dueling standards.  The agreement to work together toward the DVD standard was centered in the mutual exchange and pooling of technologies.  The developers (now ten corporations large) would use Toshiba’s SD disc, with its thinness and high data density, in combination with Sony’s “data coding methods,” called EFM Plus.

Eight months later the assemblage of DVD inventors were still quibbling over how to produce a five-inch disk.  Every detail of the standardization had to be agreed upon.  The still Hollywood-supported group had decisions in front of it regarding protocols specific to movie reproduction and distribution around the world.  DVD players and titles were expected to hit the consumer market in late 1996 (Pohlmann), but it was already August of that year.  The product development lead-time was getting out of hand.  Philips and Sony then took it upon themselves to break off the stagnant relationship.  On August 5th they announced that they would be licensing the DVD specification (MacLellan), allowing the DVD-Video standards to continue in development for months to come, without further hindering the manufacturers who were antsy to pay for use of the patents.  One month later an agreement was made with Toshiba and Warner to formulate the split of royalties with Philips, the licensor of the patents (Wall Street Journal).

In evaluating these articles, there is one in particular which may be flawed.  The title, Has Hollywood fallen in love with Time Warner/Toshiba’s DVD, is the first indication that the author may be biased.  The aforementioned quote, “widely reported as the winner,” is from the first sentence of the article and appears to be wholly unsubstantiated.  The author goes out of her way to show that the “requirements proposed … by the Hollywood Digital Video Disc Advisory Group … are all part of the Time Warner/Toshiba standard,” but does not discuss whether or not Sony’s DVD meets those same standards.  Pemberton does not even answer the question she poses in the title.  The alignment of Warner and Toshiba with several Hollywood companies is the only fact relevant to that question, and is mentioned after the fact that Sony “owns several Hollywood movie companies.”  Her message was unclear.

Despite the bias, there are two critical statements that can be recognized in the article.  One is regarding the increased data density on Toshiba’s disc: that “several industry experts question the usefulness of this claim; there are also some reservations about the statement that thinner discs permit shorter manufacturing time cycles.”  The other critical statement is a slam against “the Toshiba CD-ROM product line managers’ own unfamiliarity with DVD.”  The first statement is as unsubstantiated as the claim it is trying to refute.  The second statement suggests that the author was irritated because she didn’t get the key interview that she needed for this article.

The original intent in researching the History of DVD was to define the DVD as a recently introduced product, then analyze it in terms of engineering processes.  As was discovered and presented here, the DVD began as a technology and not as a product.  When Sony and Philips began work on this new technology, they did not aim to get bought out by a larger company.  With prior experience in licensing the patents on CD technology (MacLellan), these companies set out to establish themselves as having the final say in the successor to the CD.  This is a function in the beginning of product development: concept planning.  They were capable of producing a technology that their customers (the Original Equipment Manufacturers) wanted to license and sell to consumers, who also wanted this technology.

Sony and Philips may have underestimated their competition.  Perhaps sufficient benchmarking would have found that they would have direct competition in their new endeavor.  In the end, they were able to make up for this unanticipated competition in the product-planning phase.  It was this phase in which Toshiba and Warner lost their footing in the market.  Their assumed essential relationship with the movie industry turned out to be a falling block.  Sony and Philips decisively determined which technologies to incorporate and perfect in their DVD format, then carried those technologies through the product-engineering phase.  Both duos were able to manufacture over a million discs “to ascertain mass-producibility” (Pohlmann).  Toshiba and Warner, however, could not weigh the pros and cons of different file formatting techniques in a timely manner.

The final phases of product development, including process engineering, were left up to the licensees of the DVD patents.  The final specification for the technology was specific enough that all discs made to the requirements of the standard would be compatible with all drives that were also made to comply with the standard.  Sony and Philips, in terms of product design concepts, engineered a product that they themselves would not produce.  With the exception of a few timely mistakes, they successfully planned out and defined a new technology, and carried out that plan to completion.  This is the History of DVD.


  1. Dwyer, T.  (1994, July 11).  Format wars are back: CD-ROM battles resemble video brawls of the ’70s [Abstract].  Variety.  Retrieved September 24, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?Did=000000005720081&Fmt=1&Deli=1&Mtd=1&Idx=44&Sid=1&RQT=309
  2. Eargle, J.  (1995, May).  The great DVD debate.  Audio.  Retrieved September 23, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?Did=000000004492296&Fmt=3&Deli=1&Mtd=17&Idx=3&Sid=12&RQT=309
  3. MacLellan, A.  (1996, August 5).  Philips, Sony pooling DVD patents.  Electronic News.  Retrieved September 22, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?Did=000000010059330&Fmt=3&Deli=1&Mtd=17&Idx=6&Sid=1&RQT=309
  4. Pemberton, H.  (1995, April).  Has Hollywood fallen in love with Time Warner/Toshiba’s DVD?  CD – ROM Professional.  Retrieved September 22, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?Did=000000001879634&Fmt=3&Deli=1&Mtd=17&Idx=2&Sid=12&RQT=309
  5. Pohlmann, K.  (1995, December).  The art of war.  Stereo Review.  Retrieved September 22, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?Did=000000009084701&Fmt=3&Deli=1&Mtd=17&Idx=6&Sid=12&RQT=309
  6. Wall Street Journal.  (1996, September 16).  Key firms launching digital video disks reach licensing pact.  New York.  Retrieved September 22, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?Did=000000010232829&Fmt=3&Deli=1&Mtd=17&Idx=9&Sid=1&RQT=309

5 thoughts on “History of DVD”

  1. Pingback: Emily K. Lega
  2. I noticed that all your sources are from proquest. Ive tried to check them out, but I guess my institution doesn’t cover that website. Anyway my question is, Is there any other way I can get to those websites to check them out?

    1. Hi Siutini, that is a good question for your librarian. The cited articles are not websites, so they are probably available in many archives.

  3. Thank you. Oh and by the way thanks a lot for this website, its a big help with a paper I’m doing.

  4. Hi there! Nice History. I remember seeing DVDs back thne in 1995. I was in elementary school then probably 5th-6th grade when they went big. I remember picking up TV shows, movies, and later on Japanese Animation and Cartoon Shows! I still own a ton. I also pick up a Blu-Ray copy, so I buy both formats of the same subjects a lot! DVDs are part of my childhood as well as Music CDs and VHS Tapes!

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