The Format War - A Big Nothing

The press has been awash with stories on the current format war between HD DVD and Blu-Ray. These new formats should be taking us into the next decade with style - HD is the new big thing, from TV channels to gaming and even mobile phones, the HD buzzword is selling hardware like hotcakes, but with HD DVD and Blu-Ray the story is somewhat different. Even the early adopters are being more cautious than usual.

Why is this?

Well - throughout the press all we’re seeing are each ‘camp’ taking pot-shots at each other, scoring cheap points (Blu-Ray outsells HD DVD one week and vice versa, the PS3 is selling poorly, Blockbuster drop HD DVD in most of their US stores) while consumers keep their distance waiting for that day that one or the other capitulates. Unfortunately, by the time that happens, disc-based formats will be old news and neither HD DVD or Blu-Ray will have made it big.

The only chance either format has is if they both survive and feed off each other’s publicity. Dual-format players have to be the way forward - no sensible member of the public is going to buy two expensive pieces of hardware to clutter up their already crowded living rooms. Warner are going to trial their Blu-Ray/HD DVD hybrid discs, but these shouldn’t be needed and offer more drawbacks than benefits - they’ll have no disc art and will be far more fragile. The format war should NEVER happened - it’s all well and good having studios pick their preferred format based on technical needs and costs, but the end user shouldn’t have to do the same.

The move to HD is confusing enough with different resolutions and connectivity standards without that off-putting need to decide which films you don’t want to be able to buy. You see, that’s the problem - consumers are going to realise that whichever format they choose, they won’t be able to buy everything they want, so why should they bother if that old DVD format that everyone owns offer them everything they need.

HD as a whole needs to offer consumers more, not less. HD releases of new films should come out either before or day and date with DVD from the start, they should offer more content to justify all of this hot air about storage capacities and there should be wide-spread promotion as a whole.

The studios should choose whether a particular film should be released on Blu-Ray (if it needs more space) or HD DVD (if it doesn’t), and all customers should need to do is pick up the film they want in their local Asda and come home and play it regardless of which hardware they’ve bought.

All of this confusion is forcing HD DVD and Blu-Ray into a niche and unless there’s an urgent rethink in the next few months, by this time next year we’ll be using our broadband connections to download the latest HD films to our PCs directly from the studio servers. It’s going to be a struggle for either format to become anything more than the new ‘Laserdisc’ and it’ll be impossible if this pathetic ‘war’ continues for much longer.

4 Responses to “The Format War - A Big Nothing”

  1. paulwjm Says:

    I agree in some respects but I don’t there will be a ‘rethink’ - the companies that have backed either format have now invested too much time and money to simply back down. It will only stop now when one of them loses, as in their sales become insufficient to continue releasing software/hardware. It may be that both of them end up in that boat the way things are going. Your suggestion about studios choosing format according to how much space something needs won’t do the trick either because there’ll still be two formats and the consumer confusion will remain.

    I don’t think the resolution issues are as confusing as you might initially think - virtually every film has been released with a resolution of 1920×1080p and if your display is 1080p compatible then you’ll be getting the most out of it, put in simple terms. 720/768 displays obviously will only display the image at a percentage of its potential, but still there’ll be an improvement over DVD.

    I love good image quality and bought into DVD pretty much immediately because all of the signs for a successful format were there for me and even I can’t bring myself to invest in HD until this mess is sorted out. Having said that I have seen some great HD demos (not all demos are up to the mark) and I am pretty excited about moving forward when the right time comes.

  2. robertsharp Says:

    I find the format war as irritating as you do, but I think you’re wrong about online downloads. In theory I have 8MB Broadband, but in reality it rarely gets above 4MB, but I’m okay with that. I don’t want to do the math to work out how long it would take to download 50GB worth of Blu Ray movie content on the present network (or even the network a year from now), but it would be a call back to the days of dial up, no mistake. You could be talking days if everybody was doing it. How does that qualify as “on demand”?

    People always talk as if the big fat broadband pipe was just around the corner but I for one am not seeing any evidence of it reaching me any time soon. I think online downloads will have their place in the future marketplace, but they won’t be for everyone. I certainly don’t see them as the physical disc killer a company like Microsoft would like them to be. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think ANY online download service is currently offering DVD extras as well as the movies.

  3. paulwjm Says:

    Plus, us film collectors do actually like to collect movies and having a bunch of stuff floating around on a hard drive doesn’t quite do it for me. Then again, we don’t know how subsequent generations are going to see it - I personally wouldn’t want to listen to my beloved music on a tinny little mobile phone speaker (whilst simultaneously inflicting it on everyone else) for example, but today’s yobs, sorry, youths seem to find it of value.

    It’s worth noting that both formats are capable of pushing the storage boundaries beyond two layers by the way, at least theoretically.

    I don’t want to see anyone lose a fight but if the studios/hardware manufacturers are insistent on punching each other to death then somebody is bound to get hurt - we can only stand back and watch.

  4. ColinP Says:

    While I agree that a physical product is a better option for everyone, I do think that unless there is a way of ending this stupid ‘war’ quickly, HD on disc is going to really struggle to get started.

    Blu-Ray is technically superior, but the rushed execution, unfinalised specs and DRM potential make it a nightmare for consumers. HD DVD doesn’t have the storage capacity of its rival, but everything is there and working as expected. It’s cheaper and offers everything that is required for stunning HD audiovisual presentation.

    Any talk of further layers is pointless as far as the home entertainment discussion is concerned - hardware doesn’t support this and unless the studios want to make the current installed base of either format obsolete no films will be released to take advantage of additional layers.

    The extra capacity of BRD could be used to offer more content, but even then I can’t see studios cramming everything onto one disc when they can make more by spreading it across two.

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