Important: On 19 February 2008, Toshiba announced that they would no longer continue with the development and production of HD DVD, thus ending HD DVD as a viable HD format. This page was relevant before this announcement, but is no longer relevant now that Blu-ray is the victorious format. It is preserved here for legacy purposes. Please feel free to skip to the next page/chapter if you wish.
Chapter 6: Format Neutrality
What is Format Neutrality?
Format Neutrality means you do not take a side during the format way and basically adopt both formats. You can either do this by buying a dual-format player, or even buying two separate players. Warner Brothers is a format neutral studio as of December 2007, meaning they release movies for both HD formats. If supporting Blu-ray is called "going blue", and supporting HD DVD is called "going red", then being format neutral is "going purple".
Why is it good?
Being format neutral means you get to enjoy every single HD movie release, regardless of whether this studio supports that format or not. Depending on which format you choose, you will end up not being able to play 40% to 60% of all HD movie releases simply because most studios are exclusive. Don't get sucked into the silly format war and have to choose between watching Transformers or Spider-Man 3 - you get to watch both. People often find that being format neutral is a cure for format fanboism.
Being format neutral means you can enjoy all the HD movies
Becoming format neutral can sometimes also help solve the region problem for those of us not located in North America. As mentioned earlier, Blu-ray players are region-locked, and both Blu-ray and HD DVD players are DVD region-locked. You can get around this by buying multiple players that will end up covering most of the regions you are interested in. For example, you can buy a Region-B PS3 player with Region 4 DVD playback, and then buy a dual-format player form the US that has Blu-ray Region-A support and Region 1 DVD playback - thus with just two (albeit expensive) purchases, you've managed to circumvent the Blu-ray and DVD region restrictions for the majority of movies (noting that Region 2 DVDs are often marked as Region 4 as well). The most popular format neutral and multi-region combination, for example in Australia, is a local HD DVD player plus an imported US PS3.
These are all good reasons to go "purple".
Update (5th January 2008): Warner Bros. has just announced that they will go Blu-ray exclusive from May 2008. This is a huge blow for HD DVD, and you might wonder if HD DVD's end is near. But for that to happen, both Paramount and Universal will have to drop their HD DVD exclusive stance and before then, you might still need a HD DVD player to play new releases from these studios. There is no doubt that going format neutral is not as attractive as it was before Warner's bombshell.
Why is it not so good?
Becoming format neutral is more expensive than supporting a single format, especially if you go with a dual-format player. If you go with separate players, then you end up having one more device that you must connect to your TV/sound system and the associated cable mess that comes with that.
Another reason often quoted is that by supporting both formats, you prolong the format war. While this may be partially true, the format war will mainly be decided amongst the studios and CE manufacturers, with consumers playing a very little role unless *all* of them choose one format to support. Too much money and effort has been spent by both sides for them to give up, and with fanboys on both sides digging in, the war will most likely continue. If everyone becomes format neutral, then the war effectively becomes a truce, the next best thing to having a single format (and may help to convince both sides to work together on a single format the next time). But even if one format dies, the low cost of going format neutral means you don't lose much, other than paying slightly higher for a machine that can still be used as a DVD upscaler (not to mention play your existing "failed format" discs).
How do I become format neutral?
Going format neutral depends on what kind of HD player you already have. If you already have a PS3, then buying a Toshiba HD-A2/A3 is the cheapest option. If you have a PS3 and a Xbox 360 (lucky you), then getting the HD DVD add-on drive for the 360 will get you there. If you have a standalone Blu-ray player, then getting a standalone HD DVD player is the best choice. If you have a standalone HD DVD player, then getting the PS3 is the best option (see "Chapter 4: Blu-ray Buying Tips" to see why I recommend the PS3 as your Blu-ray player). And if you don't have a console (and don't want one) and don't have any HD standalones, then getting a dual format player will be the "cleanest" solution, although getting two standalones (or a HD DVD standalone plus the PS3) is the cheaper solution.
Format neutral means you have players for both Blu-ray and HD DVD
Becoming format neutral means you won't ever miss out on not being able to play HD movies
It might also solve region related problems for people outside of Region A
On the other hand, you might not have room for another player and the associated cables clutter
You might be prolonging the format war
Becoming format neutral is not as expensive as you may think