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A Two-Format High Def Launch May Not Be So Damaging

6 Dec, 2004 By: Kurt Indvik

Last week's announcements from a number of Hollywood studios placing their support behind the HD-DVD high definition format appears to be the beginning of a squabble that may or may not sort itself out before both HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc launch their formats a year from now.

The concern from studios up till now has been that a dual format launch scenario would only serve to confuse the consumer and be a death knell to the whole next generation disc concept. Consumers will throw up their hands and walk away from making a decision on which format to choose and, some argue, get their high definition content from the growing broadband possibilities.

While some think that the two sides will find a compromise and release some sort of hybrid single format, I think the chances of that are unlikely. First, at least from what I have heard initially from the Blu-ray camp, the technical hurdles to such a compromise are considerable. Second, and perhaps most importantly, I don't think the two sides believe a dual format launch will be all that damaging. In so many words, I have heard executives say that there is time in the initial phases to let consumers make the choice over which format wins, even as they slowly continue to become more enamored with high definition content in general.

Many consumers have had their DVD players for only a couple of years, so it's going to be a number of years more before they even consider rolling over to a new format, if they can be convinced it's that much better than what they already have.

I talked with Tom Wolzien, the highly regarded senior media analyst for Sanford & Bernstein, about the ruckus raised last week, and he had this to say:

“For me the question is whether the quality improvement for library filmswill be so significant that consumers will decide to roll over their existing DVD libraries (which would be huge), or whether the newapproach will be most appropriate for new releases, and consumers will be satisfied with DVD quality (made even better by enhanced displays). To the extent that it is the just latter, then the new system will slowly become a replacement without much impact on the studios except for the improved digital rights management.”

It now seems quite obvious the evolution of the next generation high definition disc will involve a protracted period of alliances forming and a turf battle waged before a final “winner” is chosen. Though the ideal of a single format launch would have been more powerful, a dual launch reality may not be as damaging as some would believe.

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