Warner Goes Blu – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So by now you all must have heard about Warner Brother’s decision to go Blu-ray exclusive from May 2008. Make no mistake about it, this is a huge blow for HD DVD. Almost a third of all HD DVD releases come from Warner, and without their releases, the  number of HD DVD releases will look quite poor compared to Blu-ray. HD DVD still has a chance though, but it depends on Paramount and Universal sticking with the format and on one of the Blu-ray exclusive studios to go red (or at least neutral). But what does this all mean for the HD consumer?

The good news is that, if HD DVD decides to throw in the towel, the HD format war will effectively end and HD format confusion will be a thing of the past. This is good for the type of consumers that don’t really know or care about formats, and simply want to stick a disc in the player and press play. It will also help retail outlets as their floor space is limited and having two formats makes things a lot more difficult. Even for HD DVD owners, the short term might be good in that Warner HD DVD prices might drop in order to clear stock (and if Paramount/Universal follows, their movies will be discounted too), so there’s some bargains to be picked up soon.

The bad new for consumers is that a victory for Blu-ray is a victory for region-control and DRM. Reading the forums, even some Blu-ray supporters are not entirely happy if this leads to Warner adding region control to their discs. For those not lucky enough to live in a Blu-ray Region A zone (US, Canada), we are stuck with poor selections, high prices and late releases (the release date for Ratatouille has been pushed back yet again to March, even though the DVD version will be released locally next week and people in Region A has been able to enjoy the movie for months now). Without the format war, there will also be less Buy One Get One Free sales, and the Blu-ray people have already hinted at stopping the hardware price drops, even before the Warner announcement. And what about Profile 2.0? There is no Blu-ray player on the market that can match the feature set of a $99 HD DVD player, and with HD DVD possibly fading away, there won’t be any pressure for the Blu-ray people to release cheap 2.0 players anytime soon or even make 2.0 mandatory. And when 2.0 players are eventually released, will we see them at $99, or will it be closer to $999? So higher hardware and movie prices might be something we may have to accept, and that’s not really good for consumers at all.

And the ugly? Blu-ray also supports more DRM, including BD+. This will mean that people wanting to backup their movies or to convert them to a more portable format will find things very difficult indeed. The AACS has promised the managed copy function, but only at the insistence of the HD DVD supporters (since Blu-ray also uses AACS, they went along reluctantly as well). With managed copy, you are allowed to make a limited number of copies of the movie, including for portable devices – it’s the only part of the AACS DRM that is slightly consumer friendly. Microsoft and HP specifically forced managed copy to be implemented as a mandatory feature because their vision of the home computer is all about networking and home servers – managed copy allows this to become a reality. But with the HD DVD supporters out of the picture, will be ever see managed copy or will it be scrapped in favour or more hard-line DRM that will prevent server based movie playback? Nobody knows.

It’s probably a bit premature to eulogise the HD DVD format, because I feel there are still some twist and turns in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, having HD DVD has forced movie and player prices to drop much faster than expected. It has also forced managed copy to be accepted by Blu-ray (whether they implement it or not, is another question). The majority of HD DVD releases being 30 GB has meant that Blu-ray, initially favouring 25 GB releases, has ramped up their support for BD-50 discs. HD DVD’s use of next-gen video codecs has also forced Blu-ray to implement MPEG-4 AVC support faster than they would have liked, since they originally preferred the inferior MPEG-2 format. And even today, HD DVD’s interactive features lead the way, forcing Blu-ray to speed up their profile 1.1 and 2.0 release schedules. My opinion is that HD DVD has had a far more positive effect on the HD market than Blu-ray with their Profile, region and DRM confusion, so it’s a shame to see Warner abandon a format that wanted to do the right thing by the consumer.

So having one HD format is great, but that one format being the region control and DRM loving Blu-ray format might not be so great. One can only hope that Warner continues their region-free approach to releases, and that it forces other Blu-ray studios to consider doing the same. If HD DVD will truly end as a format, then I hope the current HD DVD backers will get on-board Blu-ray and force the BDA to implement some of the best things about HD DVD, like one single profile, region-free movies, less DRM, managed copy and cheaper hardware prices.

The next few months will be very interesting indeed…


2 Responses to “Warner Goes Blu – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

  1. Weekly News Roundup (6 January 2008) « Blog Archive « DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Just what the world needs, another blog « Warner Goes Blu – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly […]

  2. The HD Format War: End Game? « Blog Archive « DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] I’ve already touched on the subject in my earlier blogpost about the Warner decision, but for this post, I want to concentrate on the future of HD, with the […]

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