The optimal hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA quantitative assay for clinical use remains to be determined. We examined the sensitivity, linearity, and variability of a novel second-generation antibody capture solution hybridization assay, the Digene Hybrid Capture II assay (HCII), and compared it with another widely used solution hybridization assay, the branched-DNA (bDNA) assay (Quantiplex; Chiron Corp.). Our results showed similar and satisfactory assay linearity values, as well as interassay and intra-assay variability values, for both HCII and bDNA assays across different ranges of HBV DNA. Ninety-one percent of 102 serum samples from hepatitis B surface antigen-positive patients showed concordant results with the two assays. The HCII assay was more sensitive than the bDNA assay by 1 dilution, with the lowest reading being 0.9 pg/ml (3.8 pg/ml by bDNA assay). The HBV DNA seropositivity rates for the 102 samples were 58, 67, and 97% by bDNA, HCII, and nested PCR, respectively. While the relationship between results obtained with the bDNA assay and those with the HCII assay was nonlinear, with the bDNA assay yielding values 2.83 +/- 0.92-fold higher than those of the HCII assay, especially at high HBV DNA levels, a linear relationship was observed between the two sets of data after logarithmic conversion. The formula for interassay conversion of results was derived as follows: HBV DNA by HCII (picograms per milliliter) = 3.19 x [HBV DNA by bDNA (megaequivalents per milliliter)](0.866). The HCII assay was technically less complex and required a shorter assay time (4 h) than the bDNA assay (24 h). We conclude that the HCII assay compares favorably with the bDNA assay and offers the additional advantages of increased sensitivity and shorter assay time. The increased sensitivity should be particularly useful in monitoring the efficacy of antiviral therapies and detecting the emergence of drug-resistant HBV mutants.