Sony claims victory in format war

I believe it was Led Zeppelin that said, “The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath.” Those wise words are certainly applicable now, as the dust of a 2-year-long format war settles and Sony’s Blu-ray stands triumphant over the battered and weary HD DVD. Toshiba, HD DVD’s creator, announced Feb. 19 plans to cease development, manufacturing and marketing of HD DVD hardware in the wake of steep sales drops and loss of studio support.

It looked bleak for HD DVD back in January, when Warner Bros. announced that it would begin working exclusively with the Blu-ray format as early as June 2008. Universal Studios followed suite, as did The Weinstein Company soon after. HD DVD clung desperately to Paramount, its last major studio supporter, and dropped the retail price of its players by 40 percent in a last-ditch effort to gain a foothold. But it was all for naught.

Blockbuster went Blu-ray exclusive, Wal-Mart announced that it would stop carrying HD DVD in its stores, Paramount defected to Blu-ray and Netflix began phasing the discs out of its inventory. That was all she wrote for HD DVD.

So what does this mean for the consumer? Well, if I’m being honest, it won’t affect us much at all. According to a survey published by The Diffusion Group, only one-third of U.S. households that do not currently own a high-definition television are interested in purchasing one over the next six months. A Forrester Research study found that 25 percent of U.S. households are not interested in ever investing in a hi-def player.

But what about the 750,000 HD DVD players collecting dust on U.S. household entertainment centers? Well, congratulations, HD DVD owners: you’re now the proprietors of $300 useless, plastic boxes. That’ll teach you to jump the gun in a format war.

Compare that 750,000 HD DVD players to 3.4 million Blu-ray units and I’d say it was clear four months ago that Sony had the edge. According to Nielsen VideoScan, since the format war’s inception, the U.S. market share was 65 percent for Blu-ray and 35 percent for HD DVD. And in Japan, Blu-ray holds a whopping 90 percent of the market share.

The war was long (not as drawn-out as VHS vs. BetaMax, mind you), but it was fairly one-sided. Blu-Ray held the advantage from the get-go, and it can be safely attributed to the PS3. Sony’s Playstation 3 gaming console comes standard with Blu-ray compatibility (and offers easy future upgrades for hi-def hardware), while Microsoft’s Xbox 360 requires an add-on to even play HD DVDs. According to DisplaySearch, gaming consoles account for 85 percent of worldwide high definition media players currently in consumers’ homes.

In other words, HD DVD never really stood a chance.

I’m fairly happy to see a definite end to the conflict. My Blu-ray player sits cheerfully on my entertainment center now, glowing with pride in its victory.

“Blu-ray,” I tell it. “You’re the champion.”

I am, however, still displeased with the pathetic lack of classic films currently available on Blu-ray. HD DVD held the advantage in that arena. But with the six major studios shifting support exclusively to Sony’s format, we should see a flood of vintage pictures hitting the shelf in blue-rimmed cases. That means Kubrick, Kurosawa and Hitchcock in Blu-ray. Yum. And dare I pine for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies in glorious hi-def?

I’d also like to see Blu-ray utilize special features a little more. HD DVD had things like director’s commentary with multiple camera angles. Blu-ray has that crisp, beautiful high-definition picture and killer sound, but it needs to amp up the whole package to win the hearts of non-techies. Blu-ray discs have a 25-gigabyte storage capacity (50-gig on dual-layered discs), so let’s put it to good use, Sony.


  1. I am SO. FREAKING. PROUD. of myself for waiting for the dust to clear. I didn't buy EITHER, knowing that each had the potential of biting me back in the face with its uselessness. (And I haven't the $$ to buy a 360/PS3 to really decide anyways...((actually I'd screw both and get a Wii)) :P

    BUT! I'm glad it's finally over. No I can coerce the 'rents to buy the shiny new box of blu-ray awesome :DD

    You know what's weird though? I've never really seen many commercials for blu-ray, most of them were for HD. Like...a handful of blu-ray...and A LOT of HD. What a cuurazy turnaround. (But then again, I haven't been watching TV lately so that might be the case.)

  2. You and me both, Marilyn. Neither format was heavily advertised, and the truth of the matter is that neither sold very well. Blu-ray won and will take all the glory, but until there is a tangible, physical shift of formats (i.e. VHS to DVD), the average consumer isn't biting.


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