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Are Studios Committed to Two HD Formats For the Long Haul?

17 Aug, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

It's interesting to see the dynamic the next-generation format launch is taking, now that there are honest-to-goodness purchasable products for both HD DVD and Blu-ray on store shelves.

It seems some retailers are a bit miffed at the whole situation; at least, some speaking at the DisplaySearch HDTV Conference are.

I don't blame them.

I've always felt that having two high-definition formats in the market puts a lot of the educational onus on retailers — retailers who already are spending vast amounts of time bringing their customers up to speed on myriad HDTV options there are.

There are so many decisions consumers are making in stores these days — when they go to purchase TVs, phones, computers, game platforms — they rely, to an extent, on that retail environment.

Backers from both fronts continue to say its possible for two high-definition disc formats to co-exist.

They point out those products like the ones I mentioned above are examples of multi-formats that seem to work in the market.

But personally, I don't believe it will work that way for high-definition discs, at least, not unless some things change a whole lot.

I have to give props to Steve Nickerson from Warner. For years he's been out in front of us eager journalist-types, technophiles and non-technophiles, answering questions, presenting data, and his message has been pretty clear and consistent all that time.

He made a good point at the Entertainment Media Expo as he rattled off a presentation that must be haunting his nightmares by now.

He talked about Macintosh computers, and how Apple's market share, at the highest, has never been more than 30%.

And yet, he said, if you talk to Mac owners, they're likely to tell you they wouldn't trade those machines for anything.

I agree with that, being a Mac lover personally, but I don't think it's quite a fair comparison to make when it comes to HD DVD vs. Blu-ray.

It's not a fair comparison because I know that Apple is fully committed to its products. I can rest assured that I will forever have access to upgraded software, new hardware, new tools, new toys, all compatible with my Mac computer.

Can the studios say the same about both high-definition formats?

I'm not sure. I don't think it is enough of a sure bet for the consumer to be totally confident in choosing one or the other format right now.

I don't think you can even truthfully compare the two new high-def formats to gaming platforms right now either.

Sure, Xbox and GameCube are far behind Sony PlayStation in market share, but the gamers who have selected those options know that Microsoft and Nintendo aren't going anywhere. They can count on getting new games for a long while if not forever. (Granted, the GameCube may go the way of the Do-Do in the wake of next-gen gaming products, but it's had a pretty good run and gamers got a real bang for their buck out of it).

Can consumers depend on the studios to support HD DVD and Blu-ray with software forever and ever amen?

Probably not. I think most of the most savvy home entertainment users feel that way, and they are the only ones buying right now.

A couple of solutions to that unease would be players that play both formats, or a broad release schedule of titles from ALL suppliers on BOTH formats. How likely either of these things are to happen remains to be seen,

As much as the two camps want to say it doesn't matter that two formats came out and one doesn't necessarily have to “win,” I can't help but wonder what the high-def world would look like right now if the launch was more like DVD.

Nickerson last week also pointed out that DVD coming out in a single, united format (who really counts DivX... really) was an anomaly.

It was the exception, not the rule, he stressed.

Well, I say, follow that thought a step further, look how well that “exception” turned out for everyone.

Too bad for consumers we're back to “the rule.”

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