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The Need to Find the Common Ground in the High-Def Format War

20 Jan, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I had what I thought was this great idea for our Fourth Annual Home Entertainment Summit, which Home Media Retailing — yeah, that's our new name — will be producing in June.

“Let's get all the studio presidents together, lock them in a room (with the obligatory antitrust attorney, of course) and not let anyone leave until we've agreed on a single standard format for the next-generation optical disc,” I mused to the head cheese, Don Rosenberg.

Our wily publisher, however, yanked me right back into reality, as he tends to do from time to time.

“That's going to be too late,” Mr. Rain-on-T.K.'s-Parade said. “By then, they'll already be in the manufacturing process.”

I hate to say it, but Don's right. When DVD was launched in the spring of 1997, a single format had long been agreed on — for at least a year, if my memory serves me well.

Right now, it's January. The first high-definition discs are supposed to arrive in stores in time for the fourth quarter, which means the first titles could be out in October or even late September.

That's eight months from now, and there's no compromise in sight. Over the past couple of weeks, I've spoken privately with most of the presidents of the six majors and four minimajors. Every last one of them literally begins to shake at the prospect of a format war. No one knows what to do.

For my part, I am going to scream, rant and rave about the need to unify every single week in this space until I get my way. It's got to happen; it can't not happen.

I keep hearing that the big stumbling block is that the technologies are too far apart, that Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD can't merge because they are the technological equivalents of apples and oranges.

And yet, if they both come to market, we're going to be left with applesauce and orange juice.

Someone, something, has got to give. I know Blu-ray claims to be the superior format, but heck, so was Beta. And while HD-DVD proponents cite an easier transition from the existing manufacturing process, I don't recall that being an issue in the transition from VHS to DVD, which involved a complete from-the-ground-up overhaul.

Each camp has its advantages and disadvantages, but surely there must be some common ground.

Maybe it's not a technological issue after all, but a business one. Is there something Blu-ray can offer the competition — a piece of the action, maybe? — enticing enough for HD-DVD to come on over? Or vice versa?

I'm just throwing out ideas, here. Time is running out, and I really don't know what else to do.

Sadly, I don't think anyone else does, either.

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