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Is Microsoft fueling the format war?

22 Aug, 2007 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Is Microsoft the big bad puppeteer behind the next-generation format war? An interesting theory has emerged about why, more than a year after the launch of two rival high-definition disc formats, underdog HD DVD is still in the market.

Here's how it goes: Conventional wisdom holds that Blu-ray Disc should have won by now. The format, developed by Sony, enjoys the majority of both studio and consumer electronics support. Granted, it might have been rushed to market, before copy-protection and interactivity were fully ripe, but it's definitely a next-generation format, not a tweener, the way HD DVD is. Heck, the early specs for HD DVD even called for a red laser, not a blue, making it an even closer cousin to standard DVD.

But I digress. HD DVD is exclusively supported by just one major studio, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, with Toshiba the only significant manufacturer of HD DVD players.

So why hasn't the white flag gone up? Most likely, because Microsoft also is in the HD DVD camp, and Microsoft might just have a vested interest in keeping the format war alive. As long as there are two competing formats, you see, there is little chance of mass consumer adoption of either one. The format war may increase awareness of next-generation discs and drive down player prices, but I have a hunch that's not enough to sway significant numbers of potential consumers from plunking down their hard-earned cash to buy a player that might one day soon be obsolete.

Consumers are waiting until one format emerges as the clear winner, and that's precisely what Microsoft wants them to do — wait, and wait, and wait, all the while giving electronic delivery more of a chance to catch on. And it just so happens that Microsoft wants to be a very big player in the electronic delivery arena, having already rolled its dice with Xbox Live. Microsoft doesn't really want to see either packaged-media format succeed, so it's backing the underdog in the hopes of holding off what many see as the inevitable for as long as it can.

This is all just theory, of course. For the record, Microsoft likes HD DVD's managed-copy capabilities for its Windows Media Center and Viiv programs. So does fellow computer giant Intel.

But still, you have to wonder.

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