Format War and the Path to Peace – the Final Three Nails?

Posted by Dave Cowl on February 17, 2008 
Filed Under: Blu-ray, Format War, HD DVD, Retailers, Studios

Let me start by saying that the following commentary is my personal opinion only, and not necessarily the official view of the site.

I have been watching the format war since back when HD DVD was called Advanced Optical Disc. Since those times there has been a roller-coaster ride with HD DVD making the first appearance, followed by BD releases, with some drawing considerable criticism regarding image quality.

Since that time we have watched both formats slug it out, with Blu-ray, in many ways, playing catch up with both codec choices (AVC is now the dominant codec on Blu-ray where originally the older MPEG2
codec was) and dual layer discs (which thankfully are also the majority now), as well as interactivity options.

We saw studio defections from both sides. We saw retailer and rental deals cut. Every bit of news was a new ‘nail in the coffin’ of one or other formats.

Starting this year though we have seen the final push in the strategies of the two formats. Blu-ray has taken the strategy of nailing down content while HD DVD, aside from the Paramount deal, has taken the ‘direct to consumer’ approach, aiming to build a user base via inexpensive players with free movie titles included. Some have said that the rapid discounting of players and free movies has diminished the perceived value of the hardware and software titles, and contributed to Warner’s decision.

While there has been a lot of debate about what would win or lose the war for either format, including the lack of interactivity on Blu-ray titles, the rumoured yield problems and the ‘DVD included’ Combo discs, I have always felt that the content is what drives the buyers. I have always believed that all the other factors, except perhaps the PS3, have been second order effects.

As such, in order for the end result of only one format, I think one of two things had to happen: For HD DVD, they had to get Disney titles on the format – for Blu-ray that had to get Warner titles exclusively to the format. Other studio defections alone would not have the desired effect. Of course, just before CES this year, Warner made the choice that they (and I) believed would bring an end to the format war.

Since that announcement there have been many other what I would call
’second order’ announcements, which many have said are more ‘nails in the coffin’ for HD DVD. While they have their importance, I believe that there are only three nails left – those held by Paramount, Universal and of course Toshiba.

It is widely believed that Paramount are poised to announce the ‘re-support’ of Blu-ray. In a lot of respects, they are well poised to do so with many titles already authored for the format. The word is that Transformers has been authored (in 2007) though was never pressed, so there is some time to market for that particular title.

It remains a mystery as to what Universal’s plans are. While we heard the rumours in late 2007 that Universal was looking into BD authoring and replication, the expectation of a CES announcement of
Blu-ray support never came to pass. One can only assume that with the recent wave of Blu-ray support announcements that they are working on their strategy moving forward. Certainly their lack of HD DVD release announcements gives some pause regarding their format intentions.

Toshiba of course really holds the ‘final nail’ – if they decide to stop making the hardware, being the sole source of players, the format is pretty much doomed. I will admit that I was surprised to see the NHK report claiming that Toshiba is ending support for HD DVD. While I would prefer to hear that officially from Toshiba, I guess it is hard to keep moves on that scale a secret from the press.

Moving forward, I can only hope that a resolution to this conflict will result in more peaceful times. Movie lovers can unite and discussion at the forums can go from arguing about whether the HD DVD or the Blu-ray release is better to just complaining about what is wrong with the Blu-ray release…

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6 Responses to “Format War and the Path to Peace – the Final Three Nails?”

  1. Ryan on February 17th, 2008 6:50 pm

    Nice reflections – I found it to be very honest. I think there were things said here that we have all thought, no matter which side we were on. The problems lingered as second thoughts in our minds. I know I, as well as a lot of others, was blinded and stubborn for a while. Now hopefully we can all come together and enjoy our packaged HD media … that is until a new format, or method emerges to challenge Blu Ray.

  2. Belard on February 18th, 2008 1:54 am

    Bravo… Dave!

    While the format war has been heated, I say it wasn’t personal. The “fighting” we about ending the format war more than anything else.

    Personally, with Disney going to BLU from the start, along with SONY Pictures, that’s about 30% of the movie market right there locked up. I also looked as the technical aspects.

    Funny thou – both sides had their problems and both sides used it against each other. Both were still beta products as far as I’m concerned.

    Still, I won’t be buying a Blu-Ray player until the price is lowser or a PS3. But the fact that this war is over means more people will buy the Blu Players – PERIOD. There are no issues other than mastering quality from the studios.

  3. Felix on February 18th, 2008 2:06 am

    I’ve been watching BD closely since Disney announced its exclusive support back in um… 2005. I am also a fan of playstation, and Kingdom Hearts games. Obviously, I sided with BD since the beginning. I’m just glad it wins.

    I don’t know about Universal, but it seems they have a lot of works to do. But when the first Universal titles are out in blu-ray, I am going to get it.

    I am always a blu-ray supporter, but I was a neutral buyer (3 HD DVD only so far). I have to say I enjoyed BD more.

  4. Belard on February 18th, 2008 4:14 am

    For fun… check out these YouTube videos about Da-WAr… Warning, some curse words are in it. but they are funny.

  5. HighDeaf on February 19th, 2008 5:02 am

    Blu-ray started the nasty. Sony owns Disney, MGM, and various other studios–so they had the jump in content from the beginning. The thing I still find most disturbing is the general glee Blu-ray supporters have in supporting a studio owned Entertainment format. Toshiba, LG, etc.. just made players, and X-box IE Microsoft video games.

    Sony will own the home video market from here on out. They also happen to run large media outlets. When this monopoly comes back and bites us on the bum– see Toyota vs american car manufacturers..Ill be laughin my butt off.

  6. Dave Cowl on February 19th, 2008 11:35 am

    Wow – I don’t know where to start.

    Let’s kick off with: Sony doesn’t own Disney. MGM is distributed by Fox, not Sony. Sony doesn’t own Blu-ray.

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