While the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps were slugging it out at IFA 2007, British company New Media Enterprises (NME) quietly launched its next-gen high def format - HD VMD, or High Definition Versatile Multilayer Disc.

HD VMD uses the same 12cm disc as a regular DVD, but a proprietary manufacturing process increases the number of layers and so adds extra capacity. HD VMD discs typically have a storage capacity of 5GB per layer with triple-layer pre-recorded discs already available.

HD VMD even uses similar red laser technology to that found in DVD and is capable of delivering 1080i/1080p video signals at a bit rate of 45Mbps (Megabits per second). It also includes support for Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound formats, and NME hopes to add next-gen surround formats like Dolby TrueHD soon.

So what does this all mean?

HD on the cheap

One of the supposed benefits of the HD VMD system is that discs and hardware are incredibly cheap to make.

"European consumers have waited for an HD solution at DVD pricing; and with HD VMD, we believe we have met this desire through a stellar quality, high-definition disc and player at a price point that almost anyone can afford," says NME CEO Mahesh Jayanarayan.

To prove it, NME has launched its first HD VMD player - the 622 - for just £119, along with five new movie titles. These join a slowly growing content library of 150 titles for Europe that include 16 Blocks, Apocalypto, Passion Of The Christ, Lord Of War, Lucky Number Slevin and We Were Soldiers. Pre-recorded titles cost between £13 and £16 each, around the same as a regular DVD movie.

The 622 will also be joined by a higher spec version - dubbed the 777 - before Christmas and will be available from Amazon, Dabs and other online stores. Both players are backwardly compatible with DVDs and include 1080p video upscalers, which Patrick Henningsen - the company's marketing communications director - says "are the best on the market and for the best price".

Henningsen also said that the HD VMD format doesn't suffer from any of the problems that plague its Blu-ray and HD DVD rivals - problems like slow loading times, 24p content playback, etc.

"We're really excited about taking on a couple of companies [Sony and Toshiba] who already had an early start... We have the advantage because we're a small company and we can concentrate on a market [low cost HD] that's being completely ignored by the big players," says Henningsen.

HD VMD specs

  • Disc (single side) HD VMD15 and HD VMD20
  • Disc Diameter:; 120 mm
  • Disc Thickness: 1.2 mm
  • Laser Wavelength: 650 nm
  • Native Resolution for all models: 1920 x 1080p
  • Video codecs: MPEG- 2, MPEG-1, VC-1, H-264(AVC)
  • Audio codecs: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS
  • Data transfer rate: 45Mbps
  • Video bit rate: 45Mbps
  • Security: AES, AACS available
  • Additional features: USB port, card reader, HDMI, internet connectivity