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EDITORIAL

THE HD DISC FORMAT WAR:
THE WAR THAT SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN

Up until now, I have had nothing to say on the HD disc format war. The reason I remained silent is because I supported the concept of One Format Only being released into the marketplace, knowing full well that a format war would be bad for consumers and bad for the future of any disc based HD content delivery system. Publicly, I have supported neither the Blu-ray Disc nor HD DVD formats. Privately, I have not made a hardware or software purchase for either format, although on several occasions I have been sorely temped.

From where I sit, I can see that the HD disc format war has done a lot of harm to consumers and the blame for this has to be attributed to both the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps. Instead of hedging their bets to see who would end up holding the most viable patents and garnering all of the royalties, there should have been a concerted effort to reach a compromise and release a single HD disc format (they did it with standard definition DVD).

Would this have delayed HD discs coming to market? Sure, but I am still of the opinion that HD content on disc was brought to market about six months to a year too early anyway. Standard DVD was still going strong and HD TV sales were only starting to build momentum when HD DVD and Blu-ray were prematurely released into the marketplace. I will give HD DVD credit; their product was more polished when first released, thus forcing Blu-ray into a premature release cycle and a game of "full specification" (profile) catch-up. Of course, the geek in me loves Blu-ray’s theoretical technical superiorities: larger capacity and higher data throughput. Driving the final nail home on why competing two formats was such a bad idea was the fact the certain studios were only releasing titles on HD DVD, while other studios were releasing titles only on Blu-ray.

Okay, now didn’t anybody learn anything from the VHS versus Betamax debacle? I guess not, otherwise we wouldn’t have had two competing HD disc formats released into the market. The ensuing HD disc format war left consumers with three options. Support one format or the other (and miss out on certain studio releases), support both formats (too expensive for most) or support neither format (a lot cheaper and the preferred choice of a whole lot of consumers).

Supporting one format or the other has resulted in a HD DVD versus Blu-ray mentality with online pissing matches a daily occurrence, not to mention plenty of hurt feelings from said pissing matches, even more so, as one format begins to emerge as the potential winner. I am sure that there will be many amongst the losing side that will have an axe to grind against those on the winning side; something that could have been avoided had there been no format war to begin with.

Supporting both formats is the route that a lot of early adopters chose, and it cost them a lot of extra money and leaving them holding the bag on one format that will eventually fall by the wayside. This is not only bad for the consumer, but also bad for the marketplace, as the money spent on the loosing side could have been put to better use buying a new receiver or a better hi-def display or even more HD software on a single HD disc format. Heck, they may have even ponied up for a higher end player if there was only a single format.

Supporting neither format has frustrated a lot of consumers (including myself) that have chose to sit out the format war. There are many consumers that have wanted to jump in and start enjoying movies and other programming in hi-def, but didn’t want to be left holding the bag by choosing the wrong format. From personal experience, let me tell you that the 2007 holiday season was very tough. Every trip to Costco or Bestbuy or even Sam’s Club resulted in me standing in front of the Blu-ray and HD DVD demo stations with my mouth agape. Heck, I almost threw a player into my shopping cart on more than one occasion, but I managed to restrain myself, even though my restraint left me dissatisfied and even more frustrated by the HD disc format war, which was and is a completely unnecessary exercise that could have and should have been avoided at all costs. Not only has the format war been frustrating to consumers it has really been bad for the marketplace in more ways than the expected two. Sure, potential Blu-ray and HD DVD sales have suffered by the perceived consumer apathy towards the two hi-def disc formats. However, the really surprising side effect of the HD disc format war was the fact that standard definition DVD software sales have diminished because consumers have put off purchasing certain DVD titles, that is until the winning HD disc format emerges, thus allowing them to avoid at least one round of studio preferred double dipping.

So do we have a winning format emerging? Maybe. Warner has announced that it will begin supporting Blu-ray exclusively come May 2008 (with New Line is also going exclusively Blu). Taken with the number of other Blu-ray exclusive studios, Warner’s decision gives Blu-ray a hold on approximately seventy percent of the titles that could be released into the marketplace as disc based HD content. Blu-ray clearly has an advantage on the software side. Had Warner chosen to become HD DVD exclusive, the market would have been split about even, which would have protracted the format war. And even if Warner stayed format neutral, it would have had the same format war protracting effect.

Were monies exchanged under the table to convince Warner to become a Blu-ray exclusive? Don’t know. Don’t care. In the big picture, Warner becoming a Blu-ray exclusive and moving studio backing clearly behind one format is the only decision that makes any sense. Continuing the format war would leave both Blu-ray and HD DVD as niche formats, with neither ever having the potential market penetration of standard DVD. We need One Format Only right now, otherwise HD content will be relegated to a download medium that consumers will have to pay for time and again- and forget about supplemental features.

Consumers interested in the future of disc based HD content need to start supporting one format right now. At this juncture, I personally feel a lot more confident about purchasing a Blu-ray player than I do about HD DVD. As for the HD DVD exclusive studios Universal and Paramount, I would imagine their exclusive contracts must have a termination date or an out clause, so eventually Blu-ray titles will be appearing under their banners as well.

I have hated every second of this format war, and even with a winner pretty much in sight, the whole debacle has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So, once again let me make it clear that consumers should have never been put in a position where they needed to make a choice of one HD disc format over the other. Right from the beginning, there should have been One Format Only--DMG

Read my follow-up editiorial:

Blu-Ray Disc Wins The HD Disc Format War, But The Battle For The Averrage Consumer Has Just Begun


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