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Blu–ray vs. HD DVD: Checking Alliances and Choosing Sides

For all the hype, the battle to define a next generation DVD standard hasn’t yet been winning hearts and minds.  Ask an average consumer “Bluray or HD DVD?” and most will give an indifferent sigh or a puzzled “huh?”  There’s no urgency to buy absent a single unified standard.

dvd warsOnly about 3million high definition discs have sold so far (both formats combined).  In contrast, standard definition DVD’s sell about a billion units in the U.S. every year.

Those facts haven’t stopped technology giants, and their competing camps, from raging an all out marketing war for the future.   In one corner there’s Sony, inventor, tech giant and proud father of yet another proprietary technology: BluRay.  They’re hoping BluRay will win, and not join Betamax and the Memory Stick in their archives of “Close but not quite.”  On the other side, there’s Toshiba and its partners championing their less expensive, evolutionary solution. 

(BluRay requires a specialized blue laser in its players, hence the name.  HD DVD is an evolution of DVD technologies than can play with a red light laser like current DVDs)

Yesterday, just as it seemed BluRay was gaining an advantage (outselling HD DVD’s 2:1) , HD DVD stood up and scored a direct hit with the announcement that Paramount and DreamWorks would dump BluRay and go exclusive with HD DVD.  The change will begin next week and gear up for the holiday season with blockbuster movies from The Bourne Ultimatum to Shrek the Third to the Transformers.  The studios were apparently attracted to the lower prices of both HD DVD players and producing appropriate DVDs. The recent sales successes of The 300, powered by Internet enabled special features on HD DVD, didn’t hurt.

It’s a win for Toshiba, arguably a loss for consumers.  Nobody wants to buy a product on the short track to obsolete.  Picking one format over the other now, leaves us with a 50/50 chance of guessing wrong.

Still, for those dead set on making a choice as an early adopter. Here is a layout of some of the alliances to help make an informed decision:

  • Game Players:
    Microsoft has backed HD DVD and sells a companion drive for the Xbox 360. Sony is backing its own horse.  A BluRay drive is included with the PS3.  Vivendi’s Universal Games and Electronic Arts announced support of BluRay in 2005, but ultimately, the game publishers will likely support whatever standards are embraced by game players.
  • Movie Studios:
    Paramount, Universal,  and DreamWorks are backing HD DVD exclusively. Warner Brothers is playing both sides.  MGM (owned by Sony), Lions Gate, 20th Century Fox and Disney have aligned with BluRay.
  • Retail:
    Most stores aren’t taking sides but are instead offering all.   Target, however, will feature BluRay for the holiday season.  Amazon will be selling both but indirectly is supporting HD DVD by selling the format for discs from its On-Demand DVD printing service.
  • Rental:
    Blockbuster announced in June that they would rent only Blu-ray discs in their retail stores.  Blockbuster had been offering both formats but went exclusive to increase available shelf space.  In their mail order business, Blockbuster will reportedly continue to offer both formats.   Netflix will rent both.
  • Porn
    Much as porn is a “hush hush” area of the DVD industry, it was arguably a significant factor in the format wars between VHS and Betamax. The Porn Industry is similarly positioned to be a major force in the high definition battle.    So far, a few companies have exclusively taken a side but most are waiting.  Overall, the balance sways toward HD DVD which is cheaper to produce.  Also, reports are adult films have largely been blocked from working with most of the replication facilities capable of making large volumes of BluRay discs, though that may be changing.  
  • Hardware Partners:
    Microsoft and Toshiba along with Sanyo, NEC, RCA and Intel are behind HD DVD.  Samsung, LG, Hewlett Packard and Hitachi are non exclusive.   Dell, Panasonic and Apple have been supporters of BluRay.


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