Choosing Poorly in the HD Format War

It appears that Santa made a boo-boo.

Just two weeks after a very HD-DVD oriented Christmas in my house, Time-Warner and Paramount have dropped their HD-DVD exclusivity and switched allegiance to Blu-Ray. This leaves Toshiba's HD-DVD camp as lonely as a Crystal Lake bonfire after a Jason Voorhees visit. And me with a technology that is potentially DOA.

Apparently the lower price-point of the HD-DVD players and more feature-rich media wasn't enough to convince movie houses to ignore the truckloads of money Sony is rumored to be driving into their lots. That and the belief that Blu-Rays are more secure. It's not over for HD-DVD, but it certainly looks as if Blu-Ray has the edge and if Sony can ever gain some momentum with the PS3 (which comes with a Blu-Ray player built-in), then they will finally, once and for all, win a format war after a long, long string of failures.

Or maybe nobody will?

Time-Warner issued a statement saying that their switch to Blu-Ray was done to help eliminate confusion on the part of consumers. I'm guessing consumers apparently couldn't understand that movies with a blue case played on Blu-Ray players and those with a maroon case played on HD-DVD players. Bull. That's like saying that people don't understand that Xbox games don't play on a PlayStation. I understand the majority of Americans can be pretty thick at times, but are we color blind too?

If the announcements of these two companies dropping their HD-DVD exclusivity doesn't create a surge in Blu-Ray player sales within the next three months (combined with post-holiday sales) then I think it will be pretty safe to say that neither format is going to replace DVDs and that, instead, consumers will simply wait for the next big thing. As it is, I already had a Radio Shack register jockey trying to sell me a cable that supports up to 1440p, which doesn't exist yet.

As for me, I'm disappointed to hear that HD-DVDs may not come out on top, but I'm not regretting the purchase. I've been saying all along that at $199, the Toshiba HD-A3 (with 7 free movies) was cheap enough to be worth getting even if Sony's Blu-Ray format eventually became the standard. And I still believe this, especially given the fact that we hadn't yet bought an upconverting DVD player. Standalone Blu-Ray players are still upwards of $399 and although they are now offering rebates for 10 free movies, that's double the price of Toshiba's model (the 1080i version, not the 1080p). Also, we hadn't bought any living room technology in over 3 years which, in today's universe, is a lifetime and after downloading HD movies over Xbox Live we realized we were really missing out.

There are some really good movies out there on HD-DVD and both Best-Buy and NetFlix have enough of a library to keep us entertained for many months to come. And should the HD-DVD movie selection follow the not-so tragic path of the UMD movie format, then I guess we'll just have to buy a combo-player or, who knows, maybe even a PS3. I figure by then there'll have to be something worth playing on it.


Anonymous said...

IMHO, Online Delivery is where everything is heading. So, in the end both of these formats are going to lose.


Doug Walsh said...

Yeah, you're probably right. Especially if they get that download time down to mere minutes instead of hours.

I've downloaded a few HD movies over Xbox Live so far and each time it took upwards of 6-8 hours. Had that have been a much faster service I would have never even bought the HD-DVD player.

But there's always going to be that urge to own and possess a physical object. I for one have had a bit of trouble letting go of CDs and games and accepting the idea of owning games and music that I download.

A sizable portion (in my estimate) of the DVD buying public considers themselves collectors to a certain extent and a big part of the joy of that hobby comes from holding and displaying the physical object.

It's going to be an interesting future.

Criscipline said...

Honestly, where do you come up with this stuff? "As lonely as a Crystal Lake bonfire after a Jason Voorhees visit"? Do they just come to you or do you have a list somewhere that work your way down?