Space Ramblings

The Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD Wars Drag On

With the summer ending and the winter coming soon, there is no sign that the senseless war is about to end, instead it’s about to get even dumber.

People who own an HD DVD player can forget about watching “Spider-Man 3” in high definition when it goes on sale during the holiday season. The movie from Sony Pictures will only be available in the Blu-ray DVD format. Likewise, people with Blu-ray players won’t be able to enjoy the action-thriller “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which Universal Pictures will release only in HD DVD. These exclusive arrangements, plus aggressive price cuts for high-def DVD players, are designed to persuade consumers to finally embrace one format or the other.

That’s one way of putting it but why would customers bother? After all most people want to see more than one set of studio offerings on DVD. Embracing one DVD format means choosing between one set of movie offerings and another and where is the gain there? Do you choose Spider-Man 3, Bourne or Pirates 3? It’s all senseless in the end. And customers who do purchase an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player and don’t do the research beforehand to find out that they’re incompatible will be promptly pissed at both sides for locking them into an incompatible competing format. In short, everyone loses.

The entire format war has been utterly destructive to Sony, with the PS3 falling victim to the price hikes and money losses necessitated by shoving in the white elephant of Blu-Ray. Sony is ahead in the format war but it’s already sacrificed so much for so little. Meanwhile the HD-DVD alliance has wasted all their efforts on a losing horse on top of everything else.

But most destructive has been the willingness of studios to choose one side or another, thus ensuring that their own High Definition DVD sales never really go anywhere and that they wind up trapped committing to an immature High Definition market while the standard DVD market continues to wither. Every company from Blockbuster to Universal that commits to a side in the war is taking a knife to their own business. And that is the simple reality of it.

Consumers are not going to pick a side in the format wars in any great number. For the most part Blu Ray and HD-DVD are evenly matched in the strength of each alliance and neither side has a real plan to break the stalemate. Thanks to a hot Sony movie studio and the PS3, Blu-Ray is marginally ahead but not significantly. With the major players having weighed in, the stalemate will not be broken Beta vs VHS style. Instead consumers will mostly avoid the new players or buy at random, leading to even more market fragmentation as people who purchase an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player on sale find themselves unable to buy titles from the other side. The result will be consumer frustration and a loss for both sides.

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