Blockbuster deals a blow to the HD-DVD format

Blockbuster, a major retailer of movies for rent and/or sale, has announced that they will no longer carry the HD-DVD format. Opting instead to only offer the Blu-ray format for High-Definition movies in their stores (approx. 250 stores across North America currently offer both formats). The decision was based on claims that 70% of customers have chosen the Blu-ray format over the HD-DVD format. Seeing the disparity in volume between the two formats and the finite space to stock movie titles, Blockbuster chose to discontinue future availability of the HD-DVD format.

“The consumers are sending us a message. I can’t ignore what I’m seeing,” Matthew Smith, senior vice president of merchandising at Blockbuster, told the AP. This is a significant blow to the HD-DVD format and a not so subtle nod for the Blu-ray format. Given their size and influence on the market, consumers who regularly frequent Blockbuster to rent or purchase movies and looking to purchase a hi-def player will be motivated to choose a Blu-ray player due to the overwhelming choices of Blu-ray product to rent in comparison to the HD-DVD format.

Obviously the consortium behind the HD-DVD format is not happy and sees Blockbusters choice as shortsighted and premature. “I think trying to make a format decision using such a short time period is really not measuring what the consumer is saying,” said Ken Graffeo, co-president of the North American HD DVD Promotional group.

Even though it’s still early in the format war, HD-DVD has just suffered a major set back similar to what marked the demise of the BETA format in magnetic video tape during the 80’s. Is this the beginning of the end for HD-DVD or just the beginning of another installment in the battle for market supremacy? The competition has been great for lowering prices, but eventually one of the formats will have to bow out or combine forces if they hope to survive, but will it be too late by then?

Universal holding true to HD DVD

In 2005, Toshiba secured exclusive backing for their HD-DVD hi-def video format from such prominent film studios as New Line Cinema, Paramount, Time Warner, Universal Studios, and Viacom.  Today, Universal stands alone as the sole exclusive supporter for the HD-DVD format.  The other major studios who originally backed HD-DVD, will continue to release home video content on the HD-DVD format, but have also adopted the Blu-ray format to hedge their bets.

To clarify Universals position, Ken Graffeo, executive VP, marketing at Universal Studios Home Entertainment, declared in a published interview,

“…every HD DVD player made has to have an Ethernet port for online connectivity. And every player had software to support unique, interactive viewing experiences either programmed onto a disc or available online.”

“In Blu-ray, the interactive specs are still just an option. …A lot of their players can’t even support the interactive BD-Java software.”

However on the Blu-ray front, not only did they pick up major support through the adoption of their format by previously HD DVD only studios, but they still have the exclusive backing of studios such as Sony (Sony is a key developer of the Blu-ray format and a major content provider), Disney, MGM, and others.  It begs the question as to whether Disney and MGM will follow the likes of Paramount and Time Warner to support both formats or will the consortium of support for Blu-ray push Universal to also adopt a two format stance.

The war of formats continues with no end in sight, but the question must also be raised, will it be the studios that will decide the format winner since they provide the content, or will the consumer make the decision based on hardware prices.  Currently HD DVD holds the advantage in player pricing at $299 compared to Blu-ray’s recent $499 bow for players.  Only time will tell, but it’s too close to call at the moment.

Blu-ray and HD DVD titles are gaining ground

As further proof of the gaining momentum of the High Definition format, it was reported by distributor Warner Home Video that the Oscar winning movie “The Departed” directed by Martin Scorsese, is the first release to sell a quantitative 100,000 copies. The movie is being offered in both the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. Considering the significant price gap between the HD DVD/Blu-ray versions and the standard DVD versions, this is a very good sign that the Hi-Def format carries a lot of pull with the consumer. This just further proves the gaining momentum of the format and that the future of optical media lies in the larger hi-def format.

Prices are beginning to drop as the battle heats up.

The battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD is still on-going with no signs of a clear leader. Blu-ray has the edge in that they have what appears to be a larger selection of supporters amongst the movie, game, software, and drive market. In fact, HD DVD does not even have a recordable drive on the market and Blu-ray is well into their second generation of recordable drives. The key advantages HD DVD seems to have right now is that the players are cheaper and it’s considerably less expensive for the replication plants to switch their lines to HD DVD as apposed to Blu-ray.

Recently both the HD DVD and Blu-ray camps have announced price reductions for various products. It’s clear that Toshiba (for HD DVD) is focused on trying to lure the video market by lower the price of their entry-level HD-A2 model players to $299.99 with in store rebate. This is approx. $300 lower than most Blu-ray players hoping to grab more consumers leading to a higher demand in HD DVD content.

Blu-ray is taking another approach by reaching out to a wider audience. Recently Pioneer announced that the BDC-2202 Blu-ray drive can be added to their PC systems for $300. The device also includes software that can record video from camcorders directly to DVD or Blu-ray discs. In trying to reach out to the growing consumer and business markets which are creating their own content, Blu-ray is attempting to reach a broader audience. Millions of drives are installed in PC’s every year as a standard accessory and Blu-ray looks to be preparing themselves to take over that market.

In the end, there are more players looking to offer dual capabilities so that you can play both the Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, as no one wants to have an obsolete player because the format they chose lost and went the way of the dinosaurs. Currently, only Blu-ray looks to be capitalizing on the recordable market and that could be the factor that swings success in their favor. We will see.

HP starting what I think will be a trend

On April 5th, 2007, I wrote how LG was the first to announce the new combo Blu-ray/HD DVD drive. According to articles published on both PC World and PC Magazines online sites, Hewlett Packard (HP) will add these new drives to their line of retail personal computers. I see this as the first step toward moving a higher percentage of the consumer market toward the next generation hi-def video and larger storage capacity of the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats.

In this case, equipment suppliers such as HP are covering their bet by offering both formats so that if one format should win out over the other, their product will not become obsolete. No one wants to pay an extra $800 ~ $1,200 to include a next generation drive that may become an afterthought within a year. At this time, it’s impossible to determine who will win the format war to “replace” DVD and both formats may find a large enough customer base to co-exist, so HP, LG and I’m certain many to follow are going to gamble on the option with the lowest risk involved.

Personally, I’d wait and get the cheaper DVD writer instead. Customers are better off purchasing a single or multiple drive Blu-ray or HD DVD duplicator with a USB connection like the SharkBlu from Vinpower Digital. Why get a single drive tied to your computer like a tether, when the customer can get a multipurpose SharkBlu able to work as an external Blu-ray or HD DVD burner and portable duplicator. The price difference is negligible and the opportunities are far broader. If you’re going to step into the next generation of media, make sure you’re using the right equipment to produce and make copies of your master disc.

When it comes to Blu-Ray and HD DVD, companies are pulling out all the stops to come out on top!

With the growing competition between Blu-ray and HD DVD, LG has launched the very first high definition disc player called “Super Multi Blue” (BH-100 as its model name) that is compatible with both Blu-ray and HD DVD in early January at the consumer Electronics Show(CES) held in Las Vegas to seize the fire. But don’t go wave the white flag in the format war just yet. Videophiles find the player’s flaws that stop it from being just perfect.

This winner of a Best of CES award was certainly one big catch of the eye at the show event. As the rep demonstrate discs labeled with both Blu-ray and HD DVD watermark playing in the same set top box, throngs of press and exhibition goers gathered in front of LG’s booth to watch the impressive moments. As Dr. Hee Grook Lee, president and chief technology officer of LG Electronics, explained, “the Super Multi Blue Player was developed to end the confusion caused by the current competition between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. Customers are no longer forced to choose between the two formats.” However, video gamers and TV fans might have different opinions.

Based on the recent review by TV fans, the Super Multi Blue Player doesn’t support interactive menus and some of the special video features like a HD DVD player do. The visual quality is good, according to the review writer, but not beyond expectation. With the retail price at $1,199, this player actually cost more than two cheaper Blu-Ray or HD DVD players. So unless you are strongly motivated to have one disc player instead of two, fans suggest waiting for more peace keepers in the HD format war to come.