Is the High Definition Format War Over? (Yes, it is)

So how does one end a format war? Do you do it quickly and out of the blue, like Warner’s Blu-ray exclusive announcement? Or do you do it gradually as to soften the blow? Or perhaps news is leaked and your hand is forced.

It certainly sounds like the third of the above scenarios has come true for Toshiba and HD DVD. Just before the weekend, reports circulated that Toshiba was about to drop HD DVD. Toshiba did not issue any statement since their press department was closed for the weekend, although most news services took the earlier report’s word that Toshiba had officially made the announcement. It was only on Monday that it was revealed Toshiba had not made any official announcement yet, and that the earlier reports only cited unnamed sources that may not even have worked for Toshiba. But the earlier leak had the effect of forcing Toshiba to respond, and with all major news outlets writing off the format and no doubt affecting consumer sentiment, it has really forced Toshiba into a corner. If it doesn’t drop the format, it will be accused to extending the format war unnecessarily. While this is tinfoil hat category stuff, you’ve got to wonder which parties were responsible for the leak in the first place. Some say it’s Toshiba wanting to soften the blow, but there are surely better ways to do this with a gradual withdraw over months, not days. The fact that Toshiba’s PR department was caught unawares during a weekend suggests something a bit more unplanned.

While Toshiba are still denying that they have made the decision to cut back, if not completely stop, HD DVD development and production, the rumours about the format’s imminent demise haven’t stopped. The latest news says that Tuesday (that’s today) will be the day Toshiba officially announced something.

Update: Toshiba has, as expected, announced the discontinuation of their HD DVD business. In a press release available on the official Toshiba website, the following statement was made:

Toshiba Corporation today announced that it has undertaken a thorough review of its overall strategy for HD DVD and has decided it will no longer develop, manufacture and market HD DVD players and recorders. This decision has been made following recent major changes in the market. Toshiba will continue, however, to provide full product support and after-sales service for all owners of Toshiba HD DVD products.

Toshiba HD DVD: RIP?
Toshiba HD DVD: RIP

Whether a format declaration is forthcoming or not, I think it is clear that if there was to be a winner of the format war, it will be Blu-ray and not HD DVD. Unless Toshiba can pull a rabbit out of a hat and get another major studio to back its format, the format war is all but over, and it has been since Warner’s announcement.

Those that have followed my ramblings will know that I hold a soft spot for HD DVD. While I have both formats, and I’ve spent more money on Blu-ray (mainly due to it having more movie sales), I like HD DVD due to it’s more consumer friendly approach, and I have recently grown to dislike Blu-ray due to a reason not entirely related to the technical aspect of the format (more on that below). No region coding, no excessive DRM in BD+, and no messing around with unfinished specs, are all major advantages of the format. And from an environmental point of view, HD DVD’s usage of existing DVD manufacturing technology means it is more Earth friendly than Blu-ray’s demand for new manufacturing plants and assembly lines to be built (and it will be cheaper for us consumers in the long run, because the cost of building these new facilities will be passed onto us eventually). It is a shame that HD DVD as a format looks to have failed, but the positives is that it may signal the end of format confusions. HD DVD’s role in the format war has also allowed prices to drop faster, forced some studios to turn away from region-coding (Warner, Paramount and Universal all haven’t used region coding, so far) and has given us a preview of what Internet connected features will be like when Blu-ray Profile 2.0 (“BD-Live”) is launched later in the year.

As for how Blu-ray has (almost) won the war? Well, I think it has to do with the greater studio support (thanks to its studio-friendly, consumer un-friendly features), greater support from CE manufacturers, and of course, the PS3.

It is unfortunate that the format war, towards the end, has gotten a bit out of control. With personal insults flying between the two camps, one again wonders why people invest so much into supporting proprietary formats and multi-national corporations. Now I mentioned earlier that I’ve grown to dislike Blu-ray over recent months. And much of it has to do with these Fanboys. While I could write another blog twice as long as this one to explain how I feel, I think this post by AdamNZ that I found on the DTV Forum Australia sums up what I feel best, and I shall end this blog entry with his words:

When Blu-ray and HD DVD began to be discussed at the end of 1995/early 1996 I had no particular preference for either. I still don’t really. There were enthusiasts who preferred one over the other, but everyone realised it was about the movies and the discussion focused mainly on what movies would be coming out on which format. There were a lot of home theatre enthusiasts who really looked forward to the prospects of both formats.

When HD DVD came out people were very pleased about the quality and features straight out of the gate. I expected the same from Blu-ray; and while it wasn’t as smooth out of the gate it improved very quickly and soon caught up. I was pleased that HD DVD was feature-complete, and that Blu-ray had the potential to be even better (the potential it still has). I wasn’t happy about region coding, but I was there at the outset of DVD so I knew this would be overcome eventually so it was an annoyance and no more. I and my friends bought both formats and enjoyed the films.

Then it became clear that the most vocal advocates of both formats were youg people who bought Xbox 360s or Playstation 3s. I thought that was good for adoption, but their annoying arguments based entirely on theoretical benefits and without any direct comparisons or personal experience with the other side really turned me off. I feel this grew at an alarming rate as the formats’ fans (who often weren’t genuine home theatre enthusiasts, just people who supported the format that their console supported) became more and more dominant. People stopped talking about movies and began talking about bandwidth, Profiles and BD+ and all sorts of other issues that aren’t directly relevant to watching movies (and their supplemental materials) in high definition.

This was when I started to become biased. Not toward a particular format, but to the followers. Blu-ray’s most annoying ‘fans’ all seemed to me to have one common denominator: a Playstation 3. I really resented the future of a format being decided by gamers with no direct interest in home theatre. These people had the same 12-year-old’s self-righteousness as the Xbox 360 buyers, but there were more of them. A seemingly unending army of them it seemed.

Sony and Buena Vista were producing some great looking titles, but the people who supported it most were watching discs on 19″ LCD monitors and using the optical output to get stereo, and going on and on about 1080p this, bandwidth that. Most of them only had a vague notion of what they were talking about (not uncommon) but because they seemed so much younger they were quite belligerent that they knew best. Xbox owners suffered a similar affliction, but at least I knew that those with HD DVD had knowingly and deliberately sought out an add-on specifically to play movies. Many of the Playstation 3 posters admitted that they didn’t own a single Blu-ray Disc themselves.

Today I continue to buy Blu-ray (played on a standalone so I can listen to lossless audio via analogue outputs) and HD DVD, and I have seen some great movies in both formats. I am not unhappy that Blu-ray has won the war, but I hate seeing the insufferable gloating of these same owners who claim credit for apparently single-handedly winning the war. I feel like the war was won by children on the back of a game platform.

I just want to throw my slippers and pipe at them and yell at them to get off my lawn. Well, not really as I’m only 32. But I think Blu-ray would have a much better image among home theatre enthusiasts if it wasn’t for its game platform fans. Damn kids! This format war had created more vitriol and division in the last two years than any format war I can remember (including DIVX and Betamax) and I’m glad it’s over. Now if only Blu-ray’s younger fans would shut up and start buying some movies.


3 Responses to “Is the High Definition Format War Over? (Yes, it is)”

  1. Weekly News Roundup (24 February 2008) « Blog Archive « DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] DVD, and Blu-ray, and if you didn’t, you can read my latest thoughts (pre-Toshiba decision) here. While I’m sad that a consumer friendlier format like HD DVD didn’t work out, I’m […]

  2. The HD DVD Fire Sale - Part I « Blog Archive « DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] death of HD DVD was a huge shock to all HD DVD supporters. But find any HD DVD supporter in Australia today, and […]

  3. Blu-ray: A Tale of Two (and a half) Polls « Blog Archive « DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] before Toshiba threw in the towel, I ran a poll on Digital Digest asking our visitors when they were planning on getting into high […]

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