It’s official: Toshiba, the leading partner in the HD DVD camp, has waved the white flag. The next generation DVD format war is over. Blu-ray wins.
The move to stop production of HD DVD players and recorders was an “agonising decision”, according to Toshiba president Atsutoshi Nishida, but one that the company had to take after “judging that there is no way of winning the competition.”
Looking back, the tipping point came when Warner Bros. decided to join Sony Pictures Entertainment, MGM, Disney, 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema and Lionsgate, by defecting to the Blu-ray camp — resulting in an estimated three quarters of new film releases being available exclusively on Blu-ray.
What followed was to some extent inevitable. Blockbuster, Netflix and Wal-Mart all dropped support for HD DVD, and Best Buy also said it would favor Blu-ray. The old adage, “follow the money”, which in this case means content, applies.
“It shows what a highly competitive market it is. When it comes to video, it is the person with the most content that wins,” says Gartner analyst Paul O’Donovan (BBC News).
The technical and commercial superiority of each format – HD DVD and Blu-ray – is likely to be debated for years, as is whether the consumer drew the short straw in all of this. But the fact remains that Blu-ray will be the disc format of choice going forward. (I’m feeling a little smug at this point having recently bought a PlayStation 3 with its built-in Blu-ray drive – for once I backed a winner!).
However, a much longer battle lies ahead – HD downloads – leading some to argue that the next-gen DVD format war is irrelevant. In the future consumers won’t buy physical media, they’ll purchase and download it over the Internet.
True but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
High definition downloads from services such as iTunes, XBox Live and Vudu are in their infancy, and the competing standards of HD DVD and Blu-ray pale into insignificance compared with the many formats and DRM schemes that make up digital downloads. Moving to HD downloads also puts a greater strain on broadband speeds, bandwidth and storage. The latter isn’t an issue for rentals but for those who like to own their movie collections, be prepared to bulk up on hard drive space.
Of course, the biggest lesson that the burgeoning HD download market can learn from Blu-ray’s success, is also its biggest hurdle. Content wins. And this is where every HD download service currently falls short. Until the major studios treat HD downloads on par with physical media in terms of title availability and release windows, consumers will continue to vote with their wallets for DVDs and now Blu-ray.